God’s Play is a Featured New Release!

It’s also $0.99. In honor of writing what I consider a particularly bloody scene in my WIP today, I’m going to post another snippet from God’s Play that I considered a bit…gruesome. 🙂

“No sign of habitation. Bad tip, brother.” Henry shakes his head, still scanning with his flashlight. He turns to her and mouths one word. “Father.” My mum frowns, the shadowed creases in her forehead half-lit by the dual beams. Henry treads without so much as a shoe squeak towards the front of the store while Mum and I sweep out, moving like a single pair of headlights.

A door shuts. I jerk my head up. A thump from the back of the warehouse, and something crashes over. The woman shouts. There’s a gun shot. And then, another.

There’s more than one monster.

I pull the Bowie knife, and Henry sprints around a dresser. I turn to him, watching in time to see a wolf jump on his back . There’re no wolves this large― it’s a shape-shifter that’s slipped its human skin. The creature digs into his neck, and Henry’s arm twists around, stabbing it in the side. My knife sails through the air, but it whizzes past the monster’s hindquarter.

I drop the flashlight and pull out both knives. Henry’s light thuds on the carpet, rolling around like a top, illuminating the warehouse like an epileptic strobe light. Behind Henry’s attacker, there’s another pair of glittering eyes. My mother steps forward, throwing a knife at it. Hers connects, a sharp thud in the rib cage, and the creature charges, blood leaking from its side. It wheezes, stumbling like a drunk. She hit a lung― the wolf collapses before we need to bother fighting it again.

Her butterfly knife flits in her left hand, the big hunting knife poised in her right. The second pair of eyes gauges her, but this monster lurks behind a set of drawers. It slinks out of sight, and neither of us have a chance to strike it. One of the shifters growls and sprints across the carpet. It pounds down on me like a speeding train. I pivot, duck, and thrust upwards with my hunting knife . I connect with flesh, slitting the stomach when it leaps over me. The canine shifter staggers into a mattress column, howling with rage, splitting my ear drums.

Deafened, I can’t hear the other one attack. It flashes by, maybe some type of feline, pinning me underneath it . My mother screams. Claws dig into my chest, but I thrust upwards and kick it off like I’m launching from the gymnastics vault. My vision bursts into a thousand colors. I punch my knife hand into the feline, and the blade glints in the flashlight beam after each strike. The animal wheezes, and in its death spasms, falls down on top of me. I gasp under its weight, avoiding the last snaps of its jaw before it goes limp, but my eyes are still popping. The flashlight rolls, spinning the world in dollar store yellow lighting. I fumble for my Bowie knife, numb hand grasping chunks of cheap carpet. There’s a scuffle, and in the beam of light, on the other side of a stack of off-white mattresses, my mum is crouched. She only has her butterfly knife left, and she’s swinging it at the giant wolf approaching her. Its eyes glow like a hell hound’s. She backs up, and through neon color pops, I watch the wolf jump at her. She thrusts the knife into its throat.

Its breath gurgles as it dies, but I can’t see either my mother or the wolf over the mattresses now. The scent of blood floods the air like after a shark attack. It can’t be my mum’s― there’s too much of it. My heart is still beating, and it’s driving the bile up my throat. I’m rocking on one of those cheap county fair rides. The world tilts up and down, whirling me until the little cart breaks and goes flying through the cotton candy stands and into the parking lot.

A hand grasps the flashlight, pulling it off the floor, and turning the world dark. Footsteps crunch over the carpet. The soles are heavy, not practiced and light, so it’s not a hunter. I’m hearing through a tunnel now, so maybe I don’t know. The world is all neon lights and animal stench. Someone speaks, and I think it’s a man, but I can’t understand him. The voice is stretched like it’s in slow motion.

The footsteps come near me. A man leans down, and I look up into the face of a jackal.

When I lurch awake like a car with no brakes skidding on ice, I see a monster’s face― the jackal. It slips away, turning into the face of all the monsters I’ve hunted. But that’s a hallucination, and I slip back into nothingness. He’s carrying me― it feels like floating. The rain pours over him while he changes back to a man, but it smells like alcohol and the bitter sting of antiseptic.

You’re going to need the XL bleach bottle

There are times when it feels like someone threw your brains into a plastic cup like the dice you play Yahtzee with. Except you’re not playing Yahtzee. You’re playing Jenga and the dice are being chucked at the tower because I don’t understand how family game night works. But I do understand metaphors. And this is a metaphor for how it feels to move. You don’t know what genre-bending mash-up you’ve gotten yourself into, but you’re sure as hell in it. Knock that tower down. Roll a full house. There’s no scoring system for this.

In the Game of Moving, the points are made up. The rules don’t matter.

The first step — plan ahead. (Don’t worry, even if you skip this step, everything else still applies.)

The second step — planning ahead is a pipe dream. It means you might actually get a few things done, but it won’t be enough. You swept the floor? Whoops, do it again. Sent a box to Goodwill? Send another three! You filled your trash yesterday? Look at all this other junk you have to throw out. (You will learn, despite any effort you have made, you’ve still got too much crap.)

graph of throwing crap away

And start packing boxes. Then start packing in earnest. See all that stuff on the floor — it all has to go. Now. You discover you don’t know where to put your hair clips and random headbands because they didn’t fit into your scheme of boxes. Everything ends up traveling together (in questionable wrapping that may result in more than one glass breaking) because making ‘themed’ boxes by ‘type’ of item gets too complicated.

If you don’t have a time turner or aren’t a time lord, you’re going to run out of time. There will be at least one night where you’re scrubbing your kitchen, carpet, or bathroom at 1 am when you say to yourself (because no one is sane enough to help you), “I’m going to die of bleach inhalation. This is such an undignified way to go.”

When you leave a room — after declaring victory on scum, mold, and stains, you’ll sit down at your computer. It’ll be blissful to take a quick rest. When you go back to inspect your handy work, you will blanch in horror. You left a wine stain on the carpet; there’s a line of scum on the shower shelf. You forgot to scrub the wall around your trashcan. The only appropriate response: fuck it — grab the bleach, carpet cleaner, and bucket.

You will clean the floor more than once.

Even after you’re moved everything out and vacuumed up dust bunnies that look like tumbleweeds, it’s not over. You have to do the apartment walk through. You’re confident you’ve cleaned every spot — but you haven’t. You forgot the inside floor of your oven. Pro-tip: oven cleaner is another product you’ll need because you have to clean the oven. If your property manger is nice, you’ll get the chance to clean it up before he signs off on your apartment. If he’s not — whelp, say good-bye to more money.

Somewhere along the line, you lose the lists of what you need and what you don’t. Lists are for people who have plans. You’re being truly spontaneous now — whatever makes this move work is what you’re going to do. It’s an adventure designed for sadist germaphobes. You’re just unlucky enough to be playing their game. But at the same time, you’re moving — you’re onto something new. Something that might be better — but if not better, definitely novel.

So maybe you’re winning the game of moving. You picked bleach as your weapon. Your possessions might be reproducing while you sleep — but damn it, you’re going to win. Because in the Game of Life, you can most definitely roll a Yahtzee.

Basement Magic

I turned my basement into an apocalyptic talent show. The cause of the apocalypse was almost irrelevant — although I preferred natural disasters. The important part was that recovering from an apocalypse required putting on a mixed tape and dancing. Hence, I was very territorial of my reconfigured basement being that it was in the perfect atmospheric arrangement for end-of-the world dance-offs. The space was perfect, and I was definitely going to play this game all week, thank-you-very-much. All my favorite toys (from dinosaurs to Barbies, Disney dolls to action figures) got the invite to rebuild a (much more glamorous) society — with fun and dresses and music.

My grandma’s basement suffered a different fate — that of a roller rink in a magical fantasy world. There were werewolves prowling at the doors, but if you were in the bunker turned skating arena, you were safe. It was an extremely 90s pop influenced Fortress of Solitude. Once again, there was a pathological reliance on CDs, mixed tapes, and the radio (these are clearly what you need to survive in a harsh, barely settled fantasy land). The downside to this was there was always a tremendous number of spiders and silver fish in the basement, and these are way worse than dragons, orcs, or werewolves. Apparently those creepers still inhabit fantasy worlds.

In the real world, I’ve been in a tornado and don’t consider the damages of disasters to be funny in the slightest. But that’s what play-acting is — a cathartic way to deal with fear, shame, and guilt. In our age of Big Disasters, it’s not a huge shock that I play-acted those out. There’s something random and completely inevitable about natural disasters — there’s a lack of control. In fiction, you get that control back. It’s magic — it’s choose your own adventure. You get to pour whatever glitter-infused lotion you want onto the things that keep you up at night. Being separated from your family is no problem when you get adopted into a magic, fantasy bunker of disco-awesomeness. Your house is destroyed, but you can rebuild with Batman, Sailormoon, and their dinosaur friends.

But like all things, the literal days of Basement Magic came to an end. Basements are storage places, workshops, and game rooms now. But the macabre fantasies blended together with the touch of absurd (you really need mix tapes to survive) lives on. We all fear something (from silverfish and spiders to failure and death), and we crave community — a place to be safe from the wolves at the doors in our own heads. You always need someone there to help you pick up the pieces. And sometimes, that person is fictional — an idea instead of flesh and blood. And sometimes, that person is a phone call away, and when you don’t know the way back to the basement, they most certainly do.

I was a teenage weirdo

“Don’t be a weirdo.”

That sentence — in one of its many iterations — was everywhere growing up. It wasn’t ‘Don’t be weird.’ Weird was a way you acted, some one-off thing. Nope, weirdo was something you were. It went beyond actions into some shameful personal transgression. Being weird was a phase. Being a weirdo — a character flaw.

And I was a weirdo.

It’s like having a tumor. You can’t see it, but the x-ray is telling you it’s there, so it must be true. People are telling you you’re weird, so you must be. Sometimes, it was because I was too quiet. I would play alone in my bedroom or read. This, apparently, is anti-social, which is a highly suspicious behavior among normal little girls. Hence, I had to come out and play in front of everyone — something I was loathe to do. You can’t read in a living room full of people. Or you at least can’t read without everyone trying to turn it into a social endeavor. What are you reading? What’s it about? These question were, naturally, followed by judgement. Why do you want to read that? That’s such a boring topic! Here, why don’t you read this book about a nice little girl and puppies. And I didn’t want to play pretend in front of my family after I was considered too old for that. Besides, adults just messed up my over-wrought stories and (poorly) mapped-out imaginary worlds. I did not want to change the way these characters interacted, thank-you-very-much.

And then, there were times when I was conspicuous. These were less frequent — but that’s just how my personality shook out. There were times when I couldn’t stop laughing even though all the funny things were only in my head. That, apparently, was also a problem. Gallows humor in an eleven year-old girl is another thing that’s heavily frowned upon. Morbid stories — with too many deaths and epic battles — weren’t kosher for fifth grade creative writing. Nope and nope. Being shunted aside because your brain poured out of your mouth was just as bad as being dragged from the corner where you’re minding your own business.

This, I believe, is what’s called a ‘no-win’ scenario. A catch-22 for you more literary folk.

At least, when you make a mistake, it’s a temporary slip of mind. People can steer you on the right path, hook you up with your true passion. See, you don’t have to be weird! Here’s a way to be normal. Just do this, you’re good at it, and we accept that. But when everything about you do is off, there’s no way to land on your feet. Gee, you get good grades — but don’t really seem to be paying attention, so you can’t be working hard. Except wait — you’re too over-eager. I guess you should try … try something where you don’t have to work with people. Ever. Like, just work in a box. Yeah.

When you’re a weirdo, you can’t ever really be good at anything. You’re a weirdo — it denies you personality. Words like nice and friendly, smart and creative don’t stick to you. You think you’re made of something different; not flesh, but maybe some type of rubber. But the genius of rubber is you can stretch it into anything, and it’ll always bounce back. This — this undefinable elastic quality — becomes your personality. Your weirdo code-of-arms is a bouncy ball or one of those metallic blobs you throw at the wall — where it slides down with the gait of an amoeba.

And really, is there anything more weird than feeling a personal kinship with an amoeba.

Amoebas will always be happy to see you. They're very friendly.

Amoebas will always be happy to see you. They’re very friendly.

Limping across a railroad bridge — a guide to regret

Some people go to Disney land growing up (for the record, I did that, too). But some people also go see metal railroad bridges in the middle of nowhere. My parents strongly preferred the latter type of vacation. Hence, how I spent part of my summer when I was fourteen. It was spectacularly uncool — like nearly everything I did growing up. I wanted to hang out with my friends and read Harry Potter, not go see a railroad bridge. Specifically, we went to see the Kinzua Bridge in northern PA.

Behold, turn of the century engineering -- last century.

Behold, turn of the century engineering — last century.

And my dad said, ‘Hey, let’s walk across that.’

So we did — go across, I mean. Not really walk. More like use the splitter-giving wood railing as a guide dog. I would have crawled — if there weren’t gaps wide as my foot in the floorboards. Did I mention the thing was built in 1882? And refurbished to accommodate heavier trains in 1900? I was certain that’s the last time the ‘pedestrian walk way’ was built. It was living history; no one bothered to remind it that in 2001, there were child labor laws, standards to be upheld. Your walkways shouldn’t be small-adult hazards. It wasn’t just ‘don’t step on a crack’, but ‘step through a crack and plummet to your death.’

But I didn’t crawl. But I did whine. I also took frequent pauses, and when I did, it was breath-taking. I remember stopping to watch a deer drink in the creek bed below. It’s one of those idealistic Appalachian valleys they put on post-cards. And the bridge? The bearer of the murder walkway suspended me in the middle of it all. That was nice, or as nice this bridge was going to be to me.

I got the other side, and it was just like the side I’d left. And then, I had to inch my way back across — at least this time, knowing the boards should all hold my weight. My dad, of course, is striding across the railroad tracks, looping across the bridge in twice the time it took me to complete the round trip. I’m still glad a train didn’t come along. I would have pressed myself against the railing and cried. If that bridge had been shaking, the sunny day ordeal would’ve turned perilous. I wouldn’t have wanted to be there during a storm.

I crossed the bridge — there and back again. It took several hours, and was suitably thrilling for a fourteen year-old book worm. But my mom didn’t cross. She got out there with us and turned around. When we got back, she asked how it was. I’m sure I said something like, ‘Horrible, and dad just kept telling me it was no big deal.’

Years later, mom mentioned how she regretted not crossing the Kinzua bridge. You see, it blew down in a storm (I did tell you it was old and definitely a bit unsafe). She said she wished she would’ve done it. And that stuns me. It took a few hours! You let your teenager limp her way across it. What held you back — no, really, what was it?

She couldn’t say. It wasn’t that she has a fear of heights. It’s not that the weather was bad. Maybe the thing was just imposing — somethings just are. There are things that are bigger than us that are (even objectively) a bit unsafe. There’s a risk in engaging those things; they’ve got a power of their own, an intrinsic ability to humble you. But to go out there, to risk several hours of questionable walkways, is worth something you didn’t even know existed. It’s a change jar for your nerves — slowly accumulating to a point where you realize you might be stronger than you suspected.

And not crossing a bridge is a silly regret to have. Especially because you can’t go back. That chance is gone — the bridge is literally no longer there.

Kinzua Bridge in 2013. It blew down in 2003.

Kinzua Bridge in 2013. It blew down in 2003.