Guardian [Working Title] – Part I.

Someone must have knocked over the universe’s bucket of irony on the day I was turned into the thing I was sworn to protect the world from.

Five years as a member of the Royal Guard, undone in one night.

We were betrayed, had to have been. The horde of vampires we had been tracking for weeks knew we were coming. They were ready, and they were hungry. It was wholesale slaughter, and I lost seven good people before I even had the chance to call a retreat.

Tessa had fallen in her rush to escape the warehouse. I ran back, helped her up, made sure there was no one else falling behind. And just as I was about to make my own exit, he found me, pinning me and smashing my sword hand into the wall.

I did not cry for help. The vampires were already giving chase, having drained the fallen and now ready for more. To call my team back would be asking them to commit suicide.

So I stared defiantly into his red eyes, and waited to die.

“You’re not afraid?” He cocked his head, amused. Playing with his food.

“Nah. Only angry that I couldn’t slay more of you before this rather unfortunate turn of events.”

The vampire actually laughed. A melodious sound, damn him, designed by nature to inspire trust, to lower guards. Look: I’m human, and attractive, won’t you let me in? “Why are you so keen on murdering us? What is our crime, except being different?”

My sword hand twitched at the audacity, and everything in me wanted to plunge the blade into his heart. I knew it was futile to try; rage and adrenaline is still no match for superhuman strength. Instead, I looked at him in angry disbelief, and looked past him to where my teammates lay, exsanguinated and very dead. I had only met them for this mission, but they were brave and good and did not deserve this.

He followed my line of sight and gave an almost sheepish shrug. “You attacked us without provocation. We were defending ourselves.”

“Without provocation!? You’re murderous vermin! Leaving nothing but drained bodies and broken families in your wake, a threat to everyone in this kingdom!”

“Is that what you think?” he hissed, pressing back harder and looking hard into my eyes. His own blazed with a strange, righteous anger. “There are those of us who are evil, yes, but how is that different from humans whose morality has as many variations as there are people? This horde kills only in self-defense. We drain only those who are willing, and never to the point of illness or death. But you wouldn’t know that, would you? Because you’ve lumped us all into one, and came in here only with intent to kill.

“You would think you’d remember the days when your people faced similar persecution,” he grazed his eyes over my dark skin, (low blow, you vampiric asshole) then glared back at me. “But maybe you ought to be reminded.”

I was given no chance to retort before he plunged his fangs into my neck. My sword fell and I cried out at the agony of the bite, my veins and arteries protesting the intrusion. I knew that vampires sometimes secreted a potent anesthetic in their saliva when feeding, so the human would be too high to struggle or feel pain. Clearly, this one had no such intentions. He wanted me to feel it, and every moment of it hurt.

Instinct had me clawing at his arms, pushing at his chest, kicking my legs and trying anything to get him off, even though some rational part of me – drifting further and further away – knew there was no point. I’m going to die, I thought, and the struggling stopped. I gave into it, almost looked forward to it, the throbbing in my neck a distant sensation as I began to lose consciousness.

Everything that happens next, I remember only in flashes.

Falling to the floor, the vampire’s boots walking towards me.

My head being lifted. Tasting iron. Trying not to swallow his blood but being too weak to resist him forcing it down my throat.

His sardonic laugh as he left.

Curling up on my side in the darkness, ringing in my ears, muscles twitching.

Shouts of, “She’s here! She’s breathing!”

Jerking awake for only a moment, gasping, only to hear, “Oh, fuck!” and then a significant blow to the head.

And now I’m here. In a prison that I had helped design, chained to the wall, with a brand new set of fangs and a hunger that I know won’t be quenched by food.

Great.


Read Part II and Part III of this short fantasy story about a young woman becoming one of the monsters she’s spent her whole life fighting against.

Intentional Insomniac

I have become scared to sleep.

Not because of night terrors, or nightmares.

Not because of the anxiety dreams that sometimes (though with increasing consistency, now) plague my nights.

But because sleep has begun to feel like lost time. Wasted time. Any moment where I am not at work is bliss, and to sleep feels like losing out on those precious extra minutes or hours of freedom. It gives me anxiety now, having to go to bed, and my hours have become more and more unreasonable.

I do get tired. My eyes burn, my bags growing darker and heavier, my face more gaunt and haunted. And when I finally do give in to sleep (provided the anxiety dreams don’t return and I’m not waking every couple of hours in a heart-racing panic), I am loathe to wake up because it means facing yet another day.

The weekends, too, are a struggle— a fight between my need to finally sleep in and my fear of wasting the hours that I could be spending on literally anything else that is not work. YouTube, Netflix, writing, cleaning, reading, learning… The possibilities are endless and yet by 8pm, the anxiety starts to set in, even though these days I’m not asleep till past 4am, forcing myself awake by 1 at the latest on weekends (and only ten minutes before, or up to an hour after I am due to sign on to work on weekdays. Such dedication). How is it so late already? How do I only have a few hours left?

It unsettles me, this newfound fear. Logically, I know this is not a healthy way to live, to feel. I know how important sleep is, and how by shirking it I’m only exacerbating my already tenuous hold on mental and emotional stability. But I can’t help it. To sleep is to lose free time, and I need every second of it I can get if I am to survive each work week, crawling along day by day, hour by hour.

I resent what my job has turned me into.

I resent being trapped in it.

But I am still scared to sleep.

And I don’t know what to do.

A Self-Aware Poem

I am,
as the cliche goes,
a mess of contradictions.
Conflicting depictions of self
fighting to emerge
(None with conviction.)

I am,
as the cliche goes,
unsure of who I am, really.
Never sure what thoughts are my own,
never certain of what I’m feeling.

These trite words are all I have.
None of which convey
the real sense, the real heart of the thing
This thing
This cliched struggle inside of me.

I feel too deeply.
I am too earnest.
Pretending that the rage, the love, the despair inside
isn’t the blasting furnace that it is
Hiding grand gestures behind small ones
Suppressing pain
Until it all festers, boils over, merges
And it all starts to feel the same:
Hopeless, and useless
and utterly inane.

Isn’t that how the story always goes?
To reveal too much is to risk rejection.
And when you (I) already feel so worthless
is it worth the risk?
Showing myself? Being proven right?
(Oh god, but what if I finally find connection?)
(Oh god, I am so tired of walking on eggshells.)

I feel too deeply.
I am too earnest.
Heart on my stupid sleeve.
Always struggling to please.
Always hoping to be seen.
Always hiding, hiding, hiding
because who could really love all the earnest, eager,
scarred and scared parts of me?

Bending over backwards.
Trying to be what people need.
Tiptoe, don’t impose, don’t suppose.
Be more, be better, be useful
You (I) don’t matter
I’m just here to fill a role.

More triteness that doesn’t make sense.
Taking up too much space, worthless words, weak rhymes.
A summary of all this stuff:
I am,
as the cliche goes,
always too much.
Yet I will never be enough.

The Return

Neither of us can remember when she started sleeping in my chambers, in my bed. Only that one night, a few months after I had freed her, she had slipped under the covers with nary a word, and curled up against my side. I remember that first night like a still photograph: Auburn hair spilling across the pillow, her bare leg over mine.

All we have done is sleep, with no compulsion for more. It’s comfortable. Comforting in its routine, despite the unusualness of her schedule; every night like clockwork Rhea comes, both our duties done for the day. She sleeps, wakes at 2am to draw or walk or get some air on the balcony, then comes to bed again. Sometimes I join her when she wakes. Sometimes we talk of what troubles us.

I have never questioned why she started to join my bed, and she has never explained. Neither of us has felt the need; it feels the most natural thing in the world. Even on hot nights, our combined body heat adding to the sweat on our skin, we lie pressed together.

It’s 2am. We’re both awake, this time, merely lying in bed. I’m savoring my last night with her, before having to leave for the Academy. Despite graduating years ago, most of us have been called back. An evil is coming; we’ve all felt it. And when the Academy headmaster’s sister turns up, long-presumed dead, claiming to have been buried in ice, we all know that the academy will be the center of it all. Again.

I’m showing her a picture from an older time, one of the few happy memories from the Academy, her chin tucked into my shoulder from behind. Then, with a suddenness that chills, she pulls away. I turn to follow, facing her as she lies on her back, staring at the ceiling.

“How long will you be gone?”

“I don’t know. There’s things we must learn, and relearn, if we’re going to be ready. Especially against an unseen force where we don’t know what to expect.”

Continue reading “The Return”

Choices, Choices

ripple
Photo by Linus Nylund on Unsplash

I open the door, and I see the lake. All my lives ripple along the water.

What could have been. What could still be.

I do not know what to choose. I do not know how to make what I choose real.

Sometimes it’s just nice to look. To daydream, see what makes my heart sing most. (And ignore the voice that says, Anything, anywhere, but here.)

I am trying to listen to my instincts. I am trying to listen for the signs. Are there signs?

I am trying to manage. Between desire, between expectation, between the facts of reality, between the burden of responsibility.

All my lives ripple along the water and I don’t know how to choose. I don’t know that I have a choice. But the longer I stay, the longer and deeper I am rooted here, in the one life I know I do not want.

The stone is in my hand. I feel its weight. The smoothness, the flatness. I grip it tighter, take aim, take aim again, arm swaying from side to side, my body no better able to make a decision, commit to a path, than I am. It just gets heavier. The stone, my arm, my heart, everything.

I drop the stone. I walk back through the door, back to my life. I know one day I might no longer be able to open it, and the choice will have been made for me, then. So I walk through it a lot more often now.

But what is the point, if I don’t know how to choose?

Finding Catharsis

 

thunder storm
Photo by Florian Olivo on Unsplash

All is dark, except for the neon spider silk that streaks across the sky.

All is silent, except the roars that reverberate through the trees, through the earth. Through your bones, through your heartbeat.

Still you run.

The clouds burst and weep, soaking. Cleansing.

Almost there. Almost there. A little further.

You make it. The world spans out before you.

You see nothing. Then everything.

Hear only the rush of water. Then the blasts that nearly pierce your eardrums.

Breathe, breathe, breathe.

Wait. There, the flash of lightning. The thunder that follows.

You scream, your voice joining the sky’s.

Again. Again. Again.

Your pain bursts and weeps, soaking. Cleansing.

Your joy reverberates through your bones, through your heartbeat.

Almost there. Almost there.

Almost purged. Almost free.

Between Worlds

By the time I come to, I’m already running. From what, or whom, I don’t know. all I know is that my heart is pounding, my mind is racing trying to catch up with whatever happened to require me to run, and This. isn’t. home.

The memories return in flashes, as they are known to do. Confusion, pain, passing out. And now I’m in a “here” that is like my own “here,” but not. A world parallel to the one I normally live in- same neighborhood, except not. Same sky, except not. I don’t know how I know, I just do.

I realize what I’m running from when the car screeches around the corner I just turned, long-haired teen with her head out the window, a gun pointed straight at me. Shit. I try (again, my memory reminds me) to explain that I am not a threat, that I don’t want to be here any more than she wants me to be, but she probably can’t hear me between the roar of the car engine and the shots fired from her weapon.

I dodge. Roll. Get up and find myself… elsewhere, again. What now?

This place, I don’t recognize. It’s even more oppressive than the first, feels wronger for me to be here. There are people running somewhere beyond the fence that leads into a theme park, yelling… calling out a name? Someone is missing. Given where I am, it’s most likely a child. Never good when a kid goes missing, especially somewhere as crowded and noisy as a theme park.

But hang on… Is that him? I wander closer to the bathroom shed, having caught a glimpse of a small figure slipping inside. There’s a giggle, which means either the child is playing a game in very poor taste, or I’m about to get supernaturally murdered. Which wouldn’t be good, considering I need to get back to my body and get the hell out of here.

“Excuse me,” a frantic voice calls out from behind me. “Have you seen my son?”

Relieved that I am spared a gruesome otherworldly death, I point towards the bathrooms. “I just saw a kid run in there. Was about to check it out when you showed up.”

The man runs past me and rushes in. I hear exclamations of relief, more giggles, stern rebuke. Disaster averted, I begin to walk away, trying to find some way out of this strange place.

“Thank you!” the man calls out. I turn. He has his son on his hip. They are, adorably, in matching pink shorts and white tees, the only difference being the father has no hat to cover his bald head.

I shrug. “No worries, I was just in the right place at the right time, is all.”

“You’re not from here, are you?”

“…No. How can you tell?”

“We always know. The same way you know you don’t belong.”

“How do I get out?”

“Keep walking. Your body will call for you; you’ll find yourself where you need to be.”

“Thank you.”

“Just be careful. There will be beings that do not want you to go back.”

I think back to the homicidal girl I’d just escaped, and smile grimly. “I think I’ve already met one. But I will keep that in mind, thanks.”

With a wave, they set off back towards the park, and I pick a random direction to start moving towards. The city looms out ahead of me, tall buildings and bright billboards, all of it looking and feeling inherently wrong to my senses.

A ripple. A shift. The city looking suddenly extremely close and then much farther away. And then I’m back.

Not home, not yet. But close enough. The same neighborhood where I know my apartment building stands in my world. It isn’t quite in the same place right now. I should be able to see it from where I am.

A gun cocks behind me. Shit. 


“No sudden moves.”

I slowly raise my arms. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”

“What are you doing here? What do you want?”

I hold up one finger. ”I woke up here.” A second finger. “And all I want is to get back to where I’m from.”

“So… You didn’t come here intentionally? You’re not here to profit?”

I laugh. “Profit? Profit off of what? I just got myself stabbed, and I’m lying in a coma somewhere on my planet, or ‘world,’ or whatever the term is. And I need to find my way back to my body so I can wake up.”

I hear the gun being put away. “You can turn around now.” When I turn, I see a little boy standing by the girl; he’s the same boy from the world I was just in. Huh. Interesting. Is there another me in this place too?

Raising an eyebrow, I ask, “Do you always bring little boys with you when terrorizing random people?”

“My brother is here to learn. We protect this place. It has the thinnest barrier between our world and yours, and plenty of people from your world have tried to take advantage. Create some sort of tourism business, as if the fabric could survive that.”

“I know nothing about that. I just want to get home. My body is in my bedroom, in my apartment, which in my world should be around here somewhere. But I can’t see it.”
“Tell me what it looks like. We know this place inside out. We’ll grant you safe passage. In exchange, you don’t come back.”

I reach out to shake the girl’s gloved hand. “Deal.”

Almost immediately after we’ve settled into her car, I hear growls from around us. “Um. What is that?”

“Shit.” She looks to her brother. “Don’t tell mom I said that.

“THAT is what we’re granting you safe passage from. There are things out there that don’t want people finding their way back. You’ve woken them up by coming here, and now they’re after you.”

“What do they want to do to me?”

“Whatever it takes to keep you from getting back to your body. We’re going to have to run. We’re sitting ducks in this car. They’ll tear through it instantly. But if we split up, they won’t know which one of us they’re looking for until – hopefully – it’s too late.”

Reaching forward, I grab one of the girl’s guns. “Guess I’ll be needing this then.”

With a nod, we shove the car doors open and sprint out in all directions. I can’t see anything yet, but I sure as hell can feel I’m being followed. Judging by the sounds that follow my new friends as they sprint off in separate directions, so are they.

The road gives way to dirt pretty quickly, and looking back I can see prints on the ground. Not human, of course. I try to run faster, and as I break out of an alley I almost cry in relief at the sight of my apartment building up ahead. Or at least, this world’s version of it.

The only problem is, whatever’s chasing me seems to have picked up on the fact that I’m the one its looking for, and is picking up speed. I’m going to have to fight the damn thing.

Pulling out the gun, I try to take aim at the space behind me and manage to fire a shot. I miss. Which only serves to piss the damn thing off, because now I can see it, humanoid, grey cracked skin, very sharp teeth growling right at me.

I take aim again, but nothing happens. The trigger is jammed, and I am screwed. As the demon thing bounds closer, I decide there’s only one thing for it. Bracing myself, I hold the pistol like a baton and beat the demon over the head as soon as it’s in range. While it’s still stunned, I stab the gun into its gut as far as it’ll go, which works surprisingly well.

The demon screeches, falls to the ground, and vaporizes like some cliche.

There’s a joke about knives and gunfights in this somewhere.

“You did it!” I turn to see the sister-brother duo running behind me. By the looks of the ash on their clothes, they killed off their pursuers too.

“Yeah! Your gun doesn’t work though. Please fix it.”

“Oh, no… You got Betty. She’s always jamming. I keep meaning to take her out of commission.”

“Doesn’t matter now.” I point to my building. “That’s home. I’m going to get going before more of those demons show up.”

I hand the girl her pistol back with a smile, and scruff the little boy’s hair. “It was really nice meeting you. Even if you were trying to kill me at first. I almost wish I could stay and get to know you guys better.”

With one last wave, and a sheepish goodbye from two (whose names I never learned, I’m realizing) I jog off towards home.

A ripple. A shift. The building looking suddenly extremely close and then much farther away. This had better be it.

And then I’m awake, stab wound and all. Clutching my side, I whisper out, “Thank God,” to the confusion of my nurse, and fall back asleep.

This time, I only dream.

The Exhale

April 9, 2020

I can almost imagine what it would feel like. The wood panels, dusty but strong, under my hands. The light, streaming in from wide windows. The rustle of leaves, the chatter of birds, the sounds of life equal parts isolating and welcoming.

To my mind, it would feel… like an exhale. A breath long held finally sighing out your lungs, the stagnant air dissipating in the breeze. Muscles tight from years of grit teeth, hunched shoulders, curled fists… simply giving way.

It would feel like peace.

There is a joy in simplicity. An over-stated, tired cliche, yet so often and so easily forgotten. There is a joy in the work of hands, in a day that ends with the setting of the sun, in solitude with companionship only when you choose.

It doesn’t sound like too much to ask for— peace, simplicity.

An artlessness that I have spent my whole life seeking.

I may not know, truly, what I want in the physical sense. In the “dreams” sense, the “ambitions” sense, the “capitalist-striving,” “career” sense.

But I know I want a life of easy breaths. Of days with work that will not shatter the earth in order to recreate it, but that will gently heal. Bring comfort and life anew. To a soul, any soul. It would be enough, I think. For me.

Disjointed thoughts seem to be the theme of late. Fragments of images and sensations and wishes, plucked from my mind in near stream-of-consciousness. I do not know how to make sense of it all yet. How to tie it all together into a coherent prose.

So I leave you with this last fragment, perhaps the clearest one so far:

If asked what I am working towards, I can only say: the exhale.

Re: Bad Brain Days, Tightropes, Perfectionism, and Progress

January 19, 2020

The best analogy I can come up with (that’s probably from somewhere else) for trying to make progress with something — in this instance, Parkour/movement in general — is that it feels like walking on a tightrope. There are the good days: when your balance is steady, your focus is sharp, and your steps are confident and well-paced. Then there are the bad days, days like the one I recently had, when it seems like a struggle just to stay on.

On this particular “Bad Training Day” or, perhaps more accurately, “Bad Mental Health Day,” nothing felt right. I was listless, fatigued, my brain mired in the kind of fog that even forced movement wasn’t dispelling. Nothing clicked. People around my training spots irked me, and I couldn’t seem to focus or find any sense of flow. It took forever for my muscles to warm, made harder by the cold weather and chill wind. I simply wandered from spot to spot, doing the littlest of bits, trying not to give in to the mounting frustration and self-flagellation that was ever-lurking in the back of my head about the waste of time and transportation money.

I am no stranger to days like these. Whether in Parkour or just life in general, I’ve always had “down-cycles” as I like to call them, in varying degrees of intensity. My whole life, I have struggled with the need to be perfect at everything, all the time, and so whenever my brain or body betrays me for whatever reason, the self-hate can mount to abhorrent levels.

Progress must be linear and constant or less it’s not progress. Everything must be done right the first time, or repeated ad nauseam — ignoring need for rest, food, basic human needs — until it’s something I’m happy with.

Except. I’m never happy with it, because nothing is ever enough.

Be Where You Are

However, on that cold, depressing, “lazy” Parkour day, I tried something different: Acceptance. I accepted that that’s just the kind of day I was having. Where I would once let the frustration give way to recklessness in an attempt to “push through,” I instead attempted to embrace the little I could do. Celebrate it, even. Why risk injury or burnout that takes you out of commission (and end up beating yourself up for THAT too)? Why not just be where you are?

A core tenet in the Parkour philosophy is “Etre et Durer.” It means “To be and to last.” While I always understood what it meant, I don’t think I truly embraced the practice of it until then.

It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t perfect. The temptation to rush across the tightrope as quickly as possible was ever-present. Despite, or in some self-destructive way almost because of, the knowledge that it would likely just lead to slipping off the line completely.

But I am trying to teach myself that I still matter even when I am not at my best.

Learning gentleness towards oneself, just as progress with anything else, is like walking on a tightrope. Some days, it’s steady-going. Other days, you’re just trying not to fall off. But if you can manage that, then you survive to try again, and again, and again.

Continuing to become. Going further. Lasting longer.

Etre et durer.

Starting Over.

December 17, 2019

It feels like I’ve spent my whole life starting from scratch. Dreaming and fantasizing about when I’ll be really, truly free in this discipline – Parkour – that I’ve been in love with since I was child. Dreaming and fantasizing about when I’ll have unbridled control over my body, through land and through air. Dreaming and fantasizing about the strength in my muscles, ready to be utilized whenever I need it.

Dreaming and fantasizing, but never getting anywhere far with it.

Having to keep starting over, because life – and my own self-sabotage – gets in the way. School. Work. My family’s restrictions. My own often-deteriorating mental health.

I thought I was doing better, this year. Not as well as I wanted, not as consistent, but definitely better than I had been in a while. Only to get knocked off course for over three months.

And now I’m starting over. Again. Weaker, heavier, and slower than I was. Having to play catch-up with what was already very little progress.

It felt good moving again, even with the still-tight hold of the stagnation that had seeped into my body. It felt good being outside, trying to recover some of what I’ve lost.

But I don’t want to have to do this anymore. I don’t want to have to be at this place again, three steps back from my one step forward.

It already feels like I’m too old. At 26, if I had just stuck to what I’ve always wanted to do – if I had ignored the noise from the outside world and inside my brain – I’d have had over a decade of experience under my belt. Instead, I’m a lousy beginner, and it feels like I’m so far behind everyone else.

So I am hoping, by finally starting this blog, by keeping myself accountable, by committing myself for good this time, I can start to progress significantly enough for it to matter.

My writing skills are rusty, but then again so is my movement, so I’m starting over in more ways than one.

Here’s to it being for the last time.