Science Fiction/Fantasy

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On therapy and leather.

Published July 27, 2017 by mandileighbean

I took just a smidge more than a week off because my three nephews were visiting, and they are considerably more than a handful. The oldest just turned 9, the middle one is 6, and the youngest is 3. My sister is something of a saint, no? I foolishly thought I’d have time to update during their visit, but I’m happy to report that I was SO wrong and spent every moment I could with my three favorite gentlemen.

I am also super happy to report that The Charlotte Gusay Literary Agency requested a full manuscript. I shared the news on my Facebook page, and someone commented, “No. They sent me the same letter. They want money,” or something to that effect. I did some research and it seems they do ask for $35, which is not something literary agents typically do. However, the latest incident reported was five years ago and $35 seems a small fee if the agency likes my manuscript and wishes to work with me. I wonder how much of the online reporting is reliable, and how much of it is colored by pissed off people who never made it.

No reward without the risk, right? That being said, I sent an email – which I now regret – inquiring about the “fee.” I hope they don’t think I’m a jerk, unprofessional, or unwilling to pursue this offer. I act impulsively most of the time, which has mostly proved problematic and left me with more than a handful regrets. But that’s not an invitation to a pity party; only a smooth segue to this week’s blog post.

Enjoy! Read. Comment. Share.

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #4.2017: “He’s attractive, he’s funny, he’s rich. Why am I not interested?”

The leather couch looked fancy as hell. It was made of brown tufted leather, the upholstery buttons had a warm golden finish, and the actual shape of the couch was kind of urban and retro. It did not scream comfort so much as it did elegance, so it was exactly the kind of couch one would picture being in a reputable yet chic therapist’s office. The couch perfectly matched the mahogany desk and bookshelves and everything was just so bourgeois and it made Gemma feel worse.

When she had stretched out along the sofa, the leather groaned and drew more attention to itself than Gemma had wanted. She knew, just knew, that Dr. Hoffmann was appraising her cheap cotton shirts and plain cotton tee-shirt, sizing her up to be something worse than what she was (if that was even possible). Gemma should have dressed for the occasion, but what does one wear to their second therapist appointment? She didn’t know; she didn’t know anything, really. And the only instruction Dr. Hoffmann had given was to talk. But what should she talk about? She had chewed her bottom lip for a minute or two in agonizing silence before Dr. Hoffmann finally offered some direction: “How’s the love life?”

Gemma barked a laugh, a masculine guffaw that she immediately regretted, that embarrassed her. She covered her burning face with her hands and apologized. Gently, Dr. Hoffmann reminded her that she had nothing to apologize for and asked about that interesting, swift response. “It’s been complicated,” Gemma said. She slid her hands down her face, stretching the skin and smearing her makeup. “I had my heart broken or whatever – I mean, I guess it was pretty traumatic – but there’s this new guy now. He’s attractive, he’s funny, he’s rich.” Gemma groaned. “Why am I not interested?”

“Well, I think the answer to that question is fairly obvious, don’t you?”

Gemma bolted upright. It wasn’t Dr. Hoffmann’s voice that had asked the question, but someone else. It was someone she had never ever wanted to see again, and someone she hoped she bumped into randomly every day. It was strong but melodic, unremarkable but wonderful, full of contradictions just like its owner, who had been so beautiful and awful all at once. Slowly, like a B-actress in the climax of a fairly predictable horror movie, she turned her neck to the side and saw him sitting in the chair, looking as handsome and smug as ever. It was the heart breaker himself, Jax.

His real name was Ajax; his terribly pretentious parents had actually named him after a Greek god, and its meaning was “powerful eagle,” or something equally as absurd when not living in Ancient Greece. Maybe it wasn’t Jax’s fault he was a complete and total douche bag but more a fulfillment of destiny. How could a guy be anything but a twat waffle with a name like that? His future of seersucker pants and canvas boat shoes had been inescapable. And Gemma had fallen for it, had fallen for it hard.

Gemma was furious and wanted nothing more than to leap to her feet in a manner that exuded that anger and some confidence and she wanted to be intimidating. But her thighs ripping from the leather and the way the leather groaned whenever she made the slightest movement made the whole thing unimpressive and lame. “You can’t be here. This isn’t possible.”

“And yet here I am,” Jax grinned, showing a quick flash of teeth before he smoothed his countenance into something so forced and serious it was comical. “Now, I’d really like to discuss this lack of interest in a suitable partner.” He wasn’t in his usual attire. He was wearing a tailored three-piece suit and looked every bit the medical professional. He even crossed one leg over the other, mindful of the fabric and of creating any unseemly creases.

“Go to hell,” Gemma said. “That’s none of your business. You need to leave.” She surveyed the room quickly. “How’d you even get in here?”

Jax rolled his eyes and his tone was impatient. “You brought me, obviously.”

Gemma shut her eyes tight and shook her head. This didn’t make sense, couldn’t actually be happening, and she had to come back to reality. “I need to find Dr. Hoffmann.” She opened her eyes and headed towards the door. Gracefully, Jax moved to block her exit.

“Then what? You get someone to come in here and find that I’m gone? Or that Dr. Hoffmann’s been here the whole time? They’ll send you to a psychiatrist and you’ll spend most of your remaining days heavily sedated.” Jax smiled sadly. “Imagine the damper that’ll put on your social life.”

“So what is this? Why are you here?”

“You tell me.”

Gemma gritted her teeth. “Don’t act like you’re a therapist and just tell -”

“No, no, I’m serious,” Jax interrupted. “Believe me; I am not here of my own free will. You brought me here to deal with me.”

“Deal with you? I’m so done with you, Jax,” Gemma growled. She pushed past him and returned to the couch. She also returned to her prostrate position and returned to the idea that if she closed her eyes real tight and then opened them, this would all go away.

“That’s obviously inaccurate. If it were true, you could have talked about me to Dr. Hoffmann no problem, but you tried to gloss it over and now here I am,” Jax said. “And you won’t look at me. And you can’t date anyone else.”

“That’s not true,” Gemma shouted. Her eyes popped open and she turned to look at Jax. “I didn’t avoid discussing you, I just didn’t know what to talk about. And I think it’s perfectly normal for me to not relive every single disappointment with you.”

“I was disappointing?” Jax asked, surprised.

Gemma rolled her eyes and looked at the ceiling. “What would you call it when you think you’re going to spend the rest of your life with someone and they just slowly phase you out? You stopped hanging out, you stopped calling and texting; it just ended.”

“You wanted to spend the rest of your life with me?” Jax asked, touched.

Gemma didn’t answer. She continued staring at the ceiling.

“If that’s true, you didn’t fight very hard.”

“Seriously?” Gemma challenged. She sat up. “Danielle always says that if a guy wants to spend time with you, he will.”

“Oh, and Danielle knows me really well, does she? She knows all the intricacies of our relationship?”

Gemma faltered. “No, but -”

“It can’t be all on me all the time, Gemma. Was I an asshole? Absolutely. You knew I was an asshole from the beginning though, to be fair.” Gemma was about to protest but Jax continued. “But you kept me from being an asshole and I helped you be a little bit more of an asshole. That’s why we worked. You made me a more thoughtful man and I helped you be less of a doormat.”

“Why did we stop working?”

Jax looked away and shrugged. “I don’t know. That’s probably a conversation we should have though, isn’t it?”

“Yes, definitely,” Gemma said.

And Jax was gone. She was looking at a terribly confused Dr. Hoffmann. “Excuse me, Gemma? I asked you why you laughed.”

Slowly, Gemma sat up. “What?”

Patiently, Dr. Hoffmann leaned forward and said, “When I asked you about your love life, you laughed. And then I asked you why you laughed, and you told me, ‘Yes, definitely.’ I’m just confused.”

Gemma laughed. “Me too, Doc. Or at least I was.” She looked around the room. “Do you think I could step out a moment? I just need to make a quick phone call.”

On new optimism.

Published January 7, 2017 by mandileighbean

“The future’s just a fucking concept meant to keep us from being alive today.”
– “Six Feet Under”

“New Year’s is so weird, the way it makes you think about time. I think that’s why people put so much pressure on themselves to have fun.”
– “Modern Family”

Two posts in the same week from me? It’s been a while; my apologies. I know multiple new posts from me are unheard of (despite my many resolutions); something great must be happening.

And I can assure you that it is.

But let’s be real and start from the very beginning of this year.

Suffice it to say that on December 31, 2016, I let myself hit rock bottom (which is somewhat appropriate, bottoming out on the very last day of the year). I was the fattest I’d ever been and was utterly alone aside from the cat, which does little if anything to make the situation better. It was the first New Year’s Eve I remember ever being alone, and as a result, I went to bed well before midnight and completely missed the dawn of the new year. I mean, I was struggling to keep my eyes open at 9 pm.

Which is completely unlike me; hence, it was – and still is – time for a change. I made a list of everything I hope to accomplish in 2017 (lose 40 pounds, market my new book, learn how to paint, learn how to play piano, learn how to ride a motorcycle, update this blog every Wednesday [while getting back on schedule this upcoming Wednesday … some habits are REALLY hard to break], attend writing conferences to jump start my creative career, create a book trailer for my upcoming release) and so far, I have followed my schedule accordingly.

But to what end?

My newly optimistic (like the throwback to the title of the post? I’m clever in 2017!) foundation was rocked severely when a tragedy struck my workplace just as we all welcomed the new year; a sixteen-year-old revolutionary, a young woman who was as brave and confident and smart as anyone I have ever had the privilege of meeting, passed away suddenly, unexpectedly. The death of someone so young is tragic for so many reasons; it feels like the death of hope, and it’s a stark reminder that the future’s never promised or guaranteed. And this young lady in particular is a most grievous loss because she personified promise and potential. She was never hesitant to give her opinion, which was most definitely a good thing, because she was fucking smart. She had purple hair, she was enrolled in the AP Language course as a junior, she participated in Drama Club in such a delightful, enthralling way, and she just really lived – she gave life a run for its money in her brief time on this spinning globe in a way most of us never will.

Now, the old me (sorry for the seemingly cheesy and inauthentic avalanche of bullshit you may be anticipating now that I’ve used that phrase; but PLEASE stay with me because I’ve never been more REAL in my ENTIRE life) would have eaten my feelings and grotesquely used personal tragedy as an excuse to stuff my face and not move. I would have stayed as I am because it’s easy to simplistically label the world a cruel place and want nothing more to do with anything of it. It’s a defense mechanism to disengage and not try, and my juvenile and unhealthy tendency to revert to dramatics when shocked or rattled has always enabled me to return to this defensive mindset.

Sure, shitty things happen; that’s life. But that’s not all there is, so I embraced the future. I reminded myself that life isn’t as simple as good or bad. A life can’t truly be measured until it’s over, so I planned on continuing to try new things and make changes because my life isn’t over.

So I applied to the St. Augustine Mentor-Author Workshop. It’s pretty exclusive; you have to apply before you can register, and it’s a small-group atmosphere with the specific intention of helping accepted authors get published by a commercial publishing houses. The cost to attend and participate is nearly $3,000 (which I certainly don’t have) but I thought I’d apply anyway so I could say I tried and, obviously, I didn’t think I’d be accepted.

But then I was; I fucking was!

The ONLY problem is the cost, so I became really ballsy and started a GoFundMe campaign. Now, I hate asking ANYONE for ANYTHING (especially money; people get weird about money) but I had WONDERFUL SUPPORT from so many friends, and I currently have 3,649 people who have “Liked” my Author page on Facebook – if each individual gave just $1.00, I’d more than make my goal. And I need to say I tried; if I fail, fine – but I have to try. So I made the GoFundMe page on January 5th, around 5 pm. Making the campaign was surprisingly quick and easy. I also e-mailed Michael Neff from the St. Augustine Author-Mentor Workshop to ask about the last day to register so I could develop a calendar, a timeline (the actual event is at the very end of February). I’m still waiting for a response, but I am ENTHRALLED to announce that my campaign TOOK OFF! Before I went to bed that night – THE FIRST NIGHT – I was nearly one-third of the way to my goal! Friends, family, former students, people I’ve lost touch with have ALL donated in amounts from $5.00 to $300.00! I am COMPLETELY OVERWHELMED by the generosity. love and support from so many different people. The love is UNREAL. I feel like George Bailey from “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

I’m really starting to believe this could be the beginning of something NEW and AMAZING and BETTER. I NEVER thought the GoFundMe idea would work as well as it has so far. At the time of this post, I currently have $1,870.00 of $3,000.00. And it’s all because I took a risk and asked the universe. And I’m thinking it’s also because of Mollie Belasco, the young lady who passed, and her inspiring, wondrous, and all too brief life.

So here’s the link to donate: https://www.gofundme.com/expanding-my-writing-career

And here’s a writing prompt for you sit back and enjoy – the first of the new year!

 WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #1.2017: A company representative returns from a sales trip claiming to have met the devil.

 Frank Turner was already loosening his tie as he slowly trudged back to his desk after having been out of the office for five days on a business trip. He’d been out of the state as well, far out on the Western coast. He threw his briefcase thoughtlessly, almost recklessly, onto his desk, not giving a good shit about the papers or mug or the entire cornucopia of supplies that made up office living; no, office survival. Assorted supplies and a picture frame went tumbling to the carpeted floor, making enough of a commotion that most of the co-workers within ear shot turned and looked with shocked, anxious expressions.

“What’s the deal, Frank?” hissed Nicole through gritted teeth. She raised her eyebrows for emphasis, to impress upon Frank that a cool, calm and collected demeanor was highly valued in the work environment and currently, he was none of those things. She was going to continue scolding, but one look at Frank’s pale, contorted face was enough to shut her up.

“I’m sick,” Frank moaned. “I’m real sick. I think I might die.” His last words came out as a half-strangled sob. His emotions and all of the thoughts raging inside him overcame him, and Frank slumped into his chair and let his head fall to the desk cradled only by his thin, trembling arms. He was sobbing unabashedly, weeping like a woman.

Nicole was horrified.

“What do you mean, ‘dying’? Frank, what’s going on?”

He offered no reply, but cried and cried, big heaving sobs. The shocked, anxious faces of their coworkers were creeping closer now, crowding in around them like morbid looky loos at a car accident. Nicole felt the uncomfortable pressure of their presence and immediately resented it. She sprang into action and collected the garbage pail beside her desk before quickly moving to Frank’s side and dropping to one knee. She rubbed his lower back and said, “Frank, please, you’ve got to talk to me. Calm down and let me help you, if I can.”

“I’m beyond help. I’m a dead man,” Frank choked.

“What do you mean? What are you talking about?” Nicole was panicked by Frank’s desperation.

“I’m gonna be sick,” Frank bellowed. Abruptly, he fled from his chair and left it spinning as he hurried to the men’s room. Nicole rose to a standing position slowly, using most of her energy for thinking. With Frank’s physical presence removed, the uproar began to die down and the small space was soon filled with keyboard clicks, murmured conversations and ringing telephones. Nicole had been waiting for just such a return to normalcy and once it arrived, she discreetly strolled to the men’s room. She looked to her left and right to see if anyone was watching – no one was – and then ducked inside.

Frank’s ravaging sobs echoed loudly against the tiled walls and tiled floor. Nicole turned to lock the heavy pneumatic door to make sure no one intruded and then hesitantly called out, “Frank?”

There was a moment of stunned violence. Then Frank’s heavy, subdued voice said, “This is the men’s room, Nicole. You can’t be in here.”

Nicole smiled weakly but Frank didn’t see; he was locked in the farthest stall opposite the farthest urinal. She took two steps forward, emboldened by his rationality. “Frank, it’s okay. I’m just here to talk to you and check on you. What is going on, man? You’re acting…,” she paused, searching for the right word while trying to be delicate, but all she came up with was, “crazy. You’re acting crazy.”

“Maybe I am crazy,” Frank sighed. He offered no elaboration, and Nicole was growing impatient.

With a little bit of an edge, she said, “You have to let me know what’s going on, Frank. You can’t just barge into the office all hysterical and expect me not to want to know why, or expect to not try to help you.” Nicole took a breath and softened. “I’ve been sitting across from you for six years, Frank. You can talk to me.”

There was only silence and Nicole was afraid all was lost. She slapped her open palm on the wall of the stall nearest her and turned, ready to walk out and leave the little shit to figure out whatever was ailing him on his own. She stopped and turned back when she heard the click of shoes on tile. Rounding the corner of the line of stalls, Nicole saw Frank emerge from the last stall. He was sweaty and pale and entirely disheveled. He looked like he was in agony, in absolute misery, and Nicole’s heart hurt at the pitiful sight. His eyes were red-rimmed and his eyebrows were furrowed. The lines of his face were hard and sharp; whatever it was plaguing Frank Turner, he was in it. He looked to Nicole. “You’ll think I’m crazy.”

Nicole smiled in a small way, this time so Frank could see. She hoped it would diffuse some of the tension. “Try me,” she encouraged.

“I met the Devil.”

Nicole was shocked into laughter. Not wanting to be insensitive, she quickly recovered and covered her mouth. She leveled her gaze at Frank with a very serious expression. “You’re going to have to explain.”

Frank’s immediate response was to turn and retreat into the bathroom stall he had so recently exited. Nicole thought he was crazy, Nicole had laughed him, and so would everyone else. He had never felt more alone, and therefore more terrified, in his entire life. He collapsed onto the porcelain throne without an ounce of royalty about him, and then allowed his body to fall to the left, resting against the stall wall. He started crying again; what else was there to do?

Nicole knew she had fucked up, so she walked slowly but with purpose towards Frank’s stall. She paused just before the open door and only poked her head into the stall. “I’m sorry, Frank. Your response wasn’t anything I was expecting, that’s all. I didn’t know what else to do, so I laughed. I’m an asshole, I know.” Frank stared at her in complete agony and misery, and Nicole’s brain became fixated on the phrase “man on fire.” Frank looked like he was burning alive and in a grim way she would never admit aloud, Nicole thought that might be fitting given what he had just confessed to her. Frank only stared, he said nothing, so Nicole took a few more steps into the stall. She kneeled before Frank. “Please tell me what happened.”

Frank swallowed hard and then gasped for air. Was he burning or drowning? Did it matter? So long as there was pain, did the intensity of that pain validate or nullify its own existence? Frank didn’t want to think, so he decided to talk and to occupy himself with the explanation, the wondrous, fantastical explanation that was simultaneously horrifying and terrifying so that Nicole wouldn’t even believe him. But what else was there to do? Just cry? Frank closed his eyes, stayed slumped against the stall’s wall and said, “The first night there, after some bullshit ice-breaker workshop, they served a really nice dinner. I’m talking lobster and baked potatoes and hors d’oeuvres I can’t pronounce. I was looking to chow down, but I wasn’t really looking to make friends, so I claimed a table in a far corner and was perfectly content to be alone. It was an open bar, too. I was gonna stuff my face, drink until I was dizzy, and then stumble back to the room and call it a successful first night. I had a plan,” Frank insisted as his voice shook. He used his sleeve to wipe his eyes and nose. He sniffed loudly before continuing his story.

“But this guy, this fucking guy, comes and sits right next to me. I mean, goddam, he was practically on my lap. And he’s all smiley and greasy in a three-piece suit that was more than my monthly mortgage payment, and he was so good-looking. I know it’s weird that I noticed that, but think about how physically perfect this guy had to be for me to notice and to fucking be impressed.” He sobbed loudly. “I admit it, I was impressed. As creeped out as I was by his obvious lack of concern for personal space, I was so impressed. His teeth were white and straight, and his hair was elegantly and fashionably disheveled, like he used a fucking ruler to determine what strand fell where. Looking back, I realize how precise and calculated it all was, how awfully manipulative, but in the moment, it was all effortless and … and,” he struggled momentarily for just the right word but finally decided on “cool. He was just cool.”

Suddenly, Frank rocketed forward and let his forearms rest on his thighs. His posture was still all tight and jerky, and his expression was grotesque in its suffering. “I wanted to be him, you know? When he started talking, I wanted to just nod politely and blow him off, not encourage him in anyway. But within five minutes, I was fucking captivated, man. I was laughing and he was laughing, and then he was slapping me on the back and we just kept drinking and laughing and drinking and laughing.” He covered his face with his hands and cried. Nicole was wide-eyed and confused. Was Frank about to come out to her? He had a wife and kids, and Nicole wasn’t sure if she was worthy or responsible enough for the burden of such a weighty secret. She was about to just walk out and let fate take its course, whatever course that may be, but Frank inhaled sharply and kept talking.

“So the place is emptying out, like really clearing out, but him and I are still there, still yucking it up. I think I was even wiping my goddam eyes from crying from laughing so hard when he turns to me, serious as a heart attack, and asks, ‘What is it that you want from life, Frank?’

“I laughed and told him I was too drunk for introspection, but he persisted, he was insistent. So I told him I’d love to make a million bucks. I’d pay off the house and credit card bills, set Dennis and Jenny up for college at least a little bit, and take Michele somewhere really nice that she’d never been before, like Paris or Rome or something. He asked to see pictures of my family and like a goddam fool I handed them over without a second thought. He looked at them, and this was the first time I noticed something was off because he didn’t just look at them, but he really fucking studied them. He brought the pictures up real close to his face and tried to bore into their souls. I kind of snatched the picture back and was all determined to bid adieu when he tells me he can make it happen. He told me he could give me a million dollars, no questions asked.”

Nicole squinted her eyes skeptically. “You believed him?” She was starting to believe that Frank was in some real financial trouble now, maybe he got robbed blind in some kind of scheme, and she was in no position to help. She’d had Ramen noodles for dinner the past month.

“I was drunk!” Frank roared defensively. “I didn’t know what to think, so I entertained the idea and I kept talking. He said there was only one catch, that I only had to do one thing once I had the money.”

“What was that?” Nicole asked.

Frank swallowed hard again and finally met Nicole’s gaze. He was white as a ghost with a green tinge around his edges, like he could spew vomit any moment. “I’d have to kill someone I loved,” Frank said. His voice was cold and without tone or rhythm; it was mechanic and robotic, like he was saying something he’d rehearsed. “And if I didn’t, he would. He said he would kill someone I loved. Then he started laughing like a fucking lunatic and promised I could keep the money either way. All I had to do was shake his hand.” Frank broke down again and Nicole moved to rub his back. She tried to hush him, tried to soothe him, but it seemed futile. His wracking sobs caused his body to heave and Nicole thought he might just pass out from the effort.

“Frank, did you shake his hand?” Nicole asked tentatively, thinking some confession might help Frank, might be cathartic in some way.

“Yes!” Frank exploded. “Isn’t it fucking obvious that I did?” He screamed in desperation, in fear, just a guttural, animal noise. “When I looked into his eyes to see if he was for real, something happened to me, Nicole. So I tried to look somewhere else, and I did, but only for a second. There was this odd birthmark on his wrist that caught my attention. It was all red and lumpy but kind of small. It was circular but had lines inside it. It might have made sense and been decipherable but I felt like I had to look in his eyes. I looked back up and … I can’t explain it and you wouldn’t believe me even if I could explain it, but something happened to me. It was my body that shook his hand, but it wasn’t me. Does that make sense? How could I agree to something like that? It wasn’t me.” Frank was pleading his case, desperate for Nicole to believe him. He needed some kind of validation.

But Nicole was becomingly increasingly suspicious and terrified. Had Frank killed someone? Was that where the extreme emotional display was coming from, some sort of unimaginable guilt? The only thing keeping her in the stall was the very plausible possibility that Frank was confused or wrong. What in the hell kind of a story was he telling, anyway? She leaned away from him, but she asked, “So what happened next, Frank?”

He had collapsed his chest onto his thighs. “I shook his hand and he laughed but it was scary. I knew I had to leave so I high-tailed it back to my room and just collapsed into bed. I slept in my suit and everything.” He looked up at Nicole. “The next morning, when I was sober, I showered and dressed and drank about a gallon of strong coffee, and I found the guy responsible for registration. He had a whole list of names of everyone who was there from every firm. I told him the guy propositioned me to kill someone for him, that the guy was dangerous. He asked me the guy’s name, and I told him, and he checked his list. He checked his list over and over with me standing right there and there was no Lou Sever on the list. He even let me check. When I couldn’t find anything, he said it was probably someone just fucking around and went about his business like nothing was wrong.”

“Did you call the cops or anything?” Nicole asked, striving to be rational and logical.

“I couldn’t, Nicole; I wasn’t even sure if the guy existed,” Frank said with disgust. He was unsure at the moment if he was disgusted with himself or Nicole. He supposed it could have been both. “So I went to the workshops that day, every single one even if I wasn’t technically signed up, and I looked for this guy. I searched high and low, talked to people and asked questions. I hung around the hotel bar like some pathetic loser, just waiting and watching for him to reappear. But he never did, Nicole. I never saw him again.”

“Isn’t that a good thing?” she asked slowly, cautiously.

Frank laughed but without humor. “You would think so, especially when there was over a million dollars in my checking account. There were no recent transactions listed in my account summary and when I went to the bank, they all acted like I was insane, like the money had always been there. Michele called me and she was ecstatic. I tried to explain to her what kind of money this was, dangerous money with no sort of trail, but she was already on the way to spending it. And the worst part, the absolute worst part, is that she kept thanking me, like I had worked hard, or done something noble and righteous for this sudden windfall, but I didn’t, Nicole. I didn’t do anything good for that money.” His head fell into his hands.

“You didn’t do anything at all, Frank,” Nicole said. “You just shook some sick fuck’s hand while you were drunk. You tried to give the money back, or at least investigated, but everything was working in your favor.” Nicole grinned. “Maybe it’s a reward.”

“Not from a guy like that,” Frank protested with a deep pout pulling his lips down. “There’s no reward. For a few days, I thought like you, like maybe it was all gonna come up roses or something, I don’t know. I was almost happy flying home, and I let myself think about the future and how easy life would be. It was gonna be so nice,” Frank sobbed. He wiped at his eyes furiously. “But when I got home, Nicole, nothing was easy or nice. It was all completely fucked.”

“What’s wrong, Frank?”

“Michele took Dennis to the hospital because he was real sick. It was sudden and devastating and they’re saying he won’t make it. And he has a new fucking birthmark on his wrist,” Frank said, looking to Nicole with dead, empty eyes. “He has it, Jenny has it, Michele has it, I have it. We’re all going to die.”

Nicole jumped to her feet. She started to slowly back out of the stall. “Frank, I-“

Frank slowly stood. “I only came to work today to do the one thing to stop all of this. I have to kill someone I love.”

“Frank, be serious,” Nicole pleaded. Her voice quivered in its weakness and she kept backing up until her back slammed against the cool, tiled wall of the men’s room. “You just … we need-“

“I love you, Nicole,” Frank said and it was at that moment Nicole saw the blade in his hand as it just so happened to wink in the harsh fluorescent lights.

devil

On steak and eggs.

Published October 15, 2012 by mandileighbean

The other day, when I was running, I noticed the road kill had been removed and had been removed quite thoroughly.  Macabre as it may be, I looked intently at the previously gory scene for any kind of remnants, for any kind of tangible proof that the dead possum had been there in the first place.  There was no evidence – the pavement was stained, no organs had been absent-mindedly neglected, and there was absolutely nothing disturbed or out of place.  Admittedly, I was relieved that my eyes did not take in anything that would upset my stomach, but I was also somewhat saddened.  That poor creature had been wiped from existence.  It was no longer living and as far as I know, I am the only who knows and cares enough to write about it.  I understand that the possum was not a sentient being and was not a pet and that to some factions of thought its death is not a tragedy but a mere continuation of the pattern of existence we are all traveling along.  I can understand, acknowledge, and accept all of that and still be upset because I worry and fear that the same fate belongs to some human beings, some that I may even know.  I have already discussed how a wasted life is my greatest fear.

“Looper,” the new science fiction film starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis tackles that same theme, in a manner of speaking.  It is about time travel and while that may set off some alarms, the story does not become mired down in hypotheticals and impossibilities and trivial aspects.  Rather, the story focuses on the passage of time as humans grow and age and learn and live.  Time spent on Earth means different things to different people and it even means different things to the same person at different times.  It also reviews and challenges the cyclical nature of time and goes so far as to hint, in my always humble opinion, that it is our responsibility to be cognizant of this cycle, and to sacrifice our own cycle of time to break a cycle in which a neighbor is suffering.  “Looper” was a remarkable film and without a doubt, it is a new favorite.

In the movie, both male leads order steak and eggs for breakfast at a diner.  I did the same today.  Yes, I ordered steak and eggs because I saw it in a movie once.  The eggs and hash browns and toast and coffee were great; the steak was okay.  It wasn’t the best cut as it was very fatty, so I’m going to try the order again at a different diner.  The diner experience was not ruined, however.  I talked with an older man about football and his father’s military service.  I thanked a table of enlisted men for their service.  I chatted with an elderly couple about the economy, employment and the weather.  When the female half of the couple observed me hunched over many sheets of lined paper with a pen clutched in my hand, she correctly assumed that I was an English teacher with papers to grade.  However, I was not grading papers; I was working – or trying to work – on my second novel.  Why didn’t I tell her that?  Why didn’t I explain that I was a young, up and coming author?  Why did I falter?

Maybe it’s because I do not have a physical copy of the book and as such, my dream has not truly been realized.  Maybe I’m afraid that if I say it out loud, it won’t come true because it is still only a wish, a desperate fantasy, a silly girl’s imagination running away.

Who knows?

On worry.

Published September 18, 2012 by mandileighbean

“Yeah, it’s all alright.  I guess it’s all alright.  I got nothing left inside of my chest, but it’s all alright.”

–          fun.

I care about people more than I should.  The well-being of others immediately and intensely affects my own well-being.  If someone I know and only mildly care about is upset or aggravated or what have you, then I am terribly anxious and overwhelmed and stressed.  I just want everyone around me to feel loved and to be happy.  I know that sounds ridiculous and like it is too good to be true, but it is true.  I genuinely want nothing but the utmost joy for those that I know and love.

A lot of the time, I worry that I am not as integral to peoples’ lives as I thought.  I am terrified that I do not have friends and that I am alone.  My birthday is tomorrow and I have no plans.  My mom travelled to Virginia to see her grandchildren and I have home instruction.  I’ll be done for the day at 4:00PM.  That is the extent of my birthday plans.  I know that my twin sister is going out on the town with all of her friends.

I can blame my lack of birthday debauchery on work; it is a school night and I do have to be up early the next day.  That is a lame excuse and I know it.

Maybe I just need to be more proactive in planning.  If I held a party, I’m sure people would show up.  Well, I’m not sure and that’s the point of this particular entry.  I give people everything that I have, always.  And no matter how many times I am hurt, neglected, ignored or wronged, I still believe everyone will give me everything they have.  Does that make me foolish?  Perhaps, but I like to believe it makes me special.

And I realize that there are times when I do close myself off and become decidedly anti-social.  I also realize it’s hypocritical for me to fault this trait in others.  I’m just trying to make sense of how I feel, I guess.

“I’ve given everyone I know a good reason to go, but I came back with the belief that everyone I love is gonna leave me.”

– fun.

PROMPT: A writer’s computer begins to flash messages on its screen, as if trying to communicate.

 

PIECE: Alexa gingerly sipped on her steaming mug of coffee, but despite her carefulness, she still burned the shit out of the roof of her mouth.  She pulled the mug from her mouth and held it away from her, as if it were suddenly going to lunge and do more harm, and ran her tongue along the seared section of her mouth.  She had left the computer desk and the uncomfortable chair to grab a cup of coffee and to get the neurons firing.  As of late, Alexa had felt decidedly uninspired.  Hoping that moving would get the creative juices flowing, she had ventured to the kitchen and now she had returned with nothing to show for the effort but a lame injury.  She rolled her eyes at her own misfortune and was not in the least bit surprised when those eyes landed on the glowing monitor.  It seemed as if she had been staring at the monitor for days and her eyes were dry from the effort.  Freeing one hand from the porcelain mug, she meant to wipe at her irritated eyes when she suddenly halted.

Just there – on the screen – she had seen it.  On the monitor, which had been blank because she had nothing interesting whatsoever to say, were words.  Those words, not coming from her mind nor her typing fingers, came from somewhere and had clearly said, “Not coffee.  Tea.”  Alexa, not breathing, looked all about her to confirm her suspicion that she was alone, dreadfully alone.  She wasn’t sure if the thought that some invisible or incredibly tiny creature had typed the message was more comforting than the possibility that she was simply imagining things.  Gulping hard, she moved closer to the computer.

“You can come back and sit. I won’t bite.”  Another message flashed.  It was there, and then it was gone.

The porcelain mug crashed to the floor.  Hot liquid splashed against her ankles and dampened her socks to the point where they were decidedly uncomfortable.  Alexa was deaf and dumb to how she had disturbed her own universe as she nearly collapsed into the uncomfortable chair.  Her tiny, human brain couldn’t truly comprehend the magnitude of the events unfolding before her, but she did know that she didn’t want the messages to end before she had a chance to write back.  Alexa took a deep breath, her wide eyes sweeping back and forth, and then typed, “Who’s there?”

There was no response.  She sat still for ten minutes, waiting and waiting and waiting.  She had given up, chalking the phenomena up to exhaustion and desperation and nothing more.  Alexa gripped the handles of the chair and made ready to lift herself to her feet when another message appeared.

“Please; like it’s really going to be that easy to figure this out.”

On a sunrise that never comes.

Published September 9, 2012 by mandileighbean

Okay, so the first week of school got the better of me.  I celebrated completing the very first day with students by indulging in dinner.  Karma intervened, however, and the meal wasn’t even that good.  Usually I do cartwheels for shrimp parmesan with pasta from this local pizzeria and restaurant, but it was only okay this time around.  It serves me right, I guess, for trying to break my diet.  OH!  The Giants lost and I was devastated.  It made me cranky on Thursday, but on Thursday, I stuck to my diet.  I was not able to write or read.  I had school work to do and I had to drive my dad twenty minutes to retrieve his medication for PTSD that a coworker had brought home with him.  My dad’s foot was crushed beneath a 300 pound utility pole at work.  He might need surgery and he’s likely to be out four to six weeks … returning after the union goes on strike.  It was all terribly convenient – ha ha! – until Dad’s foreman called yesterday and announced that the strike, which seemed imminent, was now NOT going to happen.  All’s well that ends well, eh?

Friday, I relaxed after work with some colleagues at a local watering hole.  I meant to go to the freshmen football game and I meant to get some serious grading done, but I did neither.  Exhaustion got the better of me and I just crashed.  I think I was in for the night by something like 9:30PM, which is absurd.  Although, I did get exciting news – my gallery pages were done!  I was able to glimpse what my book will actually look like when its printed, and it is amazing!  My wonderful, beautiful and glorious editor, Melissa Newman, knew exactly what I wanted to say and knew exactly what I was trying to create.  She amplified the writing and made it successful, more complex, and more entertaining.  I am still so excited!  I am so anxious to physically hold my novel in my hands.  I am more than ready and willing and able to hit the streets to get the word out, drive profits up and make a name for myself in the literary scene.  My mom worries I’m letting my imagination run wild, but so what?  I truly believe that this is the beginning of something special.  And like a close friend quoted to me on one of my darker days, “Keep on dreaming even if it breaks your heart.”

Saturday was Mikey’s birthday, and it was a really nice time.  I love him and I am proud of him.  I think it is so cool that I get to see him every day at school and be a part of his life in another integral way.  I doubt he’d say the same, but what does he know?  He just turned fourteen.

In contrast to Friday, I was SUPER productive today.  I finished reviewing my gallery pages late last night and sent them on their way first thing this morning.  I graded.  I made copies.  I sent important e-mails.  I organized.  I was, essentially, SUPER efficient.  I hope I can keep that up for more than just the first week of school though.  If I know myself like I think I do, then I will definitely have to work at it.

Hopefully tomorrow’s blog won’t be all about work.  I don’t want to be one of those people who only ever talks about work.  When I was with my colleagues Friday afternoon, the majority of the conversation was about school and blah, blah, blah.  I understand that is a commonality for us and it is logical to discuss what we all know, but I want to be so much more than that.  I don’t want to just be a teacher.  I want to be a writer.  I want to talk about both.  Does that make me pretentious?  I worry that it does.

PROMPT: A boy and his father awaken early to watch the sunrise from their mountain campsite, but they begin to panic when the sky remains dark long into the afternoon.

PIECE: Big Chris and Little Chris, as father and son were respectively known, were sitting beside one another on a decidedly uncomfortable yet entirely appropriate, considering the situation, log.  It was bumpy – just as Little Chris had expected; he knew logs were bumpy because he had been called a “bump on a log” more times than he could count by more people than he cared to count, Big Chris included.  Thinking of his other nickname made Little Chris cranky, as did the bumpy log, as did the fact that Big Chris had rudely awakened him well before the crack of dawn.  Torn from his warm, cozy sleeping bag, Little Chris was now being forced to sit and stare into darkness.  It was pointless.  It was dumb.  Little Chris would rather be sleeping.  He thought this sucked.

Big Chris, on the other hand, was sitting on the edge of his portion of the log, nearly breathless.  He had been remarkably proud of his idea to watch the sunrise with his one and only son.  Big Chris thought it would be a real moment, the kind of moment he had never shared with his own father, the kind of moment Little Chris would recollect in the twilight of his years fondly.  Their campsite was perfect for it; they’d be able to see the whole process and the view would not be broken by trees or craggy cliffs.  It would be majestic – a word Big Chris had never had the opportunity to employ until now.  His smile was big and cheesy, and his pearly whites were the only thing Little Chris could make out in the near total darkness.

It was 6:30AM – just two more minutes until the sun began to rise.  Unable to control it, Big Chris let loose with a booming laugh and an affectionate pat upon his son’s back.  Little Chris only shivered and crossed his arms over his chest.  He was already over it.

It was 6:40AM – and it was still completely dark.  Big Chris was puzzled and did his best to rationalize the sun’s notable absence.  From beside him, Little Chris asked, “What time is it supposed to start?  I mean, shouldn’t it have started by now?”  Little Chris voiced his questions in a small whisper.  He did not know why he was whispering.

It was 7:00AM.  Both father and son sat silent and motionless, trying to control their breathing and desperately searching their minds for a cause.  If they knew why the sun was refusing to shine, then maybe they could figure out how to make it shine.

It was 9:00AM.  Little Chris had retreated back inside the tent.  He didn’t want to be alone, but he didn’t want his father to see him cry.  He was ten years old, and that was too old to be blubbering, to be holding onto Dad around his waist, and to be wiping a snotty, stupid nose against Dad’s tee-shirt.  Also, the only plan he had for making the sun come up was to sleep.  Maybe if everyone went back to sleep and accepted that it was still nighttime, the sun would be there when they woke up, like it always had been and like it always should be.  Little Chris had known that getting up so early was a bad idea; maybe the sun was angry that him and his dad had tried to outsmart it.  Maybe the sun didn’t like anyone watching it rise over the landscape.  Little Chris knew these ideas were childish, but they gave him some comfort as he lay down and cried inside the tent.

Big Chris was on his cell phone.  He was trying to talk to his wife, to calm her down some because she had risen to find that the sun had not.  Hysterically, she was trying to relay reports and expert hypotheses but she was crying so hard she couldn’t breathe, so she couldn’t really talk, and service was spotty at best.  Soon, the call was lost.  It was unnaturally dark, and father and son were alone.

It was 1:00PM.  Little Chris had woken from his “nap,” only to find that his plan had failed, as he knew it would.  He now was cradled in his father’s lap, still crying and shaking.  Big Chris was doing his best to rock his son back and forth, shushing him and trying to soothe him, trying to convince him of the impossible – that nothing was wrong.  Big Chris wanted to cry, wanted to just sit and cry, but he couldn’t do that.  He had to be strong.  He had to keep his son safe.  He was trying to come up with a plan.  Was it worth it to grab some flashlights and try to get back to the truck?  Should they bring the tent and all the gear?

Big Chris didn’t know.  He just didn’t know.

On video games.

Published August 1, 2012 by mandileighbean

I slept late today, despite going to bed at a decent hour.  I woke up feeling useless and felt that way for the remainder of the day.  Clearly, I could have done something productive or even just gone outside, but all I did was sat at this very computer and work on my music library in iTunes.  My library is very, very close to being as complete as it can be, considering I download new songs every day.  It’s not much, and I felt bad about being so aimless and tedious in the day’s activity, but I found a way to rationalize my behavior (as I always do).

Music quite literally is my muse.  When I sit down to write, and I’m talking every single time, I have music playing in the background.  I am pretty sure I mentioned in a previous entry that Her Beautiful Monster basically wrote itself after I listened to “Runs In The Family” by Amanda Palmer a couple of thousands of times.  I’ve developed an inspirational playlist for what I hope to become my second novel and I listen to it constantly; I even have it playing on repeat as I sleep.  A major song on that list is “I’m On Fire” by Bruce Springsteen, and that song also plays a role in Her Beautiful Monster.

For me as a writer, I believe music plays such a large role in my creative process because I think in images.  I see my stories as a movie in my head, in scenes, and every movie needs a killer soundtrack.  For today’s entry, I am going to share with you lyrics to the song “No Place to Hide” by Jace Everett.  The song was featured in an episode of “True Blood” last season and is epic (Everett also sings the theme song to the show, “Bad Things”).  The song is also what I was listening to as I wrote tonight’s prompt.

No Place to Hide

Jace Everett

There’s no place to hide down here
There’s no place to hide down here
Went to the rock, got on my knees
I heard the angels weep for me
No place to hide down here

Now where’s my brother’s keeper?
Who holds the flaming sword?
The field had turned to crimson
Thought I hid it from the Lord
But somewhere east of Eden
His blood cried out from the ground
I hung my head in shame where I was found

There’s no place to hide down here
No place to hide down here
Went to the rock, got on my knees
I heard the angels weep from me
No place to hide down here

Now I’m a wandering stranger
A scar for a name
A mark so deep and black my children’s children feel the shame
Oh merciful and gracious Lord, when shall I be released?
Was blood that has condemned me; only blood can set me free

There’s no place to hide down here
No place to hide down here
Went to the rock, got on my knees
I heard the angels weep for me
No place to hide down here
No, there’s no place to hide down here

There’s no place to hide down here

PROMPT: “You don’t have enough points, sir.”

PIECE: “You don’t have enough points, sir,” said a mechanical voice from somewhere behind Ben.  He whirled around, fast enough to make his head spin, and met an elderly gentleman who seemed spry enough and reminded him of a butler.  Ben cleared his throat and tried to calm his breathing.  Other than trying to regain his composure, Ben did nothing except stare at the old man whom he had assumed was the one that spoke.  As if he could read Ben’s mind and wanted to assuage Ben’s uncertainty, the old man said again, “You don’t have enough points, sir.”

“Enough points for what?” Ben asked, clearly confused.

“You do not have enough points to continue on, sir.”  The old man’s tone of voice was exacting, intimating there would be no room for debate and any pleas for charity or mercy would fall upon deaf ears.  Ben was going to try anyway.

“But I have to get through those large, wooden doors.  My lady is on the other side, in grave danger, and she is waiting for me to come to her rescue,” he argued.  He motioned to the doors before him with gloved hands.  The path led straight through the doors and continued on the other side, and the instructions given to Ben by the old, gypsy woman in the forest at the beginning of the journey had been explicit; do not stray from the path as it will lead to your love.  The gypsy also mentioned that time was of the essence and Ben needed to get a move on.  He had had enough of a delay already, between fighting off the robbers in the woods and evading the monstrous beasts that were chasing him.

“Well, sir, if I may be frank, you should have thought about points before making it this far.”  The old man’s face was impassive, almost impossibly serious.  How could any human being be so stern, so completely devoid of emotion or compassion?  It was then that it dawned on Ben that this man may not be a man at all.

“But I don’t understand,” Ben persisted.  “How was I supposed to know how many points a task was worth?  I fought my way here – do you understand?  I was nearly killed by thieves on countless occasions and as I was surviving, the awful, hideous monsters pursuing me crept closer and closer.  I have spilled blood and shed some of my own.  I have seen terror and have not flinched.  I have earned the right to advance, so let me through!”

The old man did not seem impressed.  He crossed his thin arms over his frail chest and walked around Ben to stand before the wooden doors.  “You may not pass.  You don’t have enough points, sir.”

Ben stopped thinking and his right hand immediately found the hilt of his sword.  What was stopping him from running the old man through?  How many points would Ben earn if he were to slit the old man upon and spit upon the intenstines that fell to the dusty ground?  A demonic smile tried to fit itself upon Ben’s mouth, but he came to his senses before it could fully materialize.  If he were to kill this old man, what would he become?  Ben reasoned he would be no better than the thieves he had killed, no better than the monsters coming after him, and no better than the cowards who had taken his lady love hostage.  He needed a different approach.  He sighed, suddenly weary, and asked the old man, “How can I get more points?”

The old man smiled.

On storms and stories.

Published July 19, 2012 by mandileighbean

Currently, I am anxiously awating the arrival of what is supposed to be one hell of a summer storm. I can hear thunder rumbling low in the distance, like the growl of a frightened dog that begins back in its throat as it backs up and straightens the hair on its haunches to stand at attention. The skies are gray, but the dying sunlight is somehow still managing to poke through here and there so that above looks more like a worn, thin sheet with a bald light bulb shining behind it, like the side of a child’s hand-crafted fort. The oppressive heat that plagued us yesterday and for the vast majority of today has finally started to abate and I am considering taking Jane Eyre out onto the back porch so I can simultaneously read one of my favorite books of all time, and have a front row seat for the storm.

Normally, I like to read one book at a time, but there is so little time and so much to be read, that I’ve decided I can manage two books at a time. I read a chapter a day from Glenn Beck’s Broke: The Plan to Restore Our Trust, Truth and Treasure and as much as I want from Jane Eyre. This way, I can broaden my literary repetoire and still adhere to my beloved favorites. A major benefit will be feeling inspired – reading other creative work to fuel the dying fire of my own.

Let’s hope it works and I can break free of my slump.

PROMPT: “Time out!  Time out!  We can call that, right?”

PIECE: Jacob bounced the quarter against the laminate countertop of the bar which jutted out from the wall, but despite all his athleticism and silent prayers, the coin did not go into the shot glass.  Instead, it bounced wildly away from him, rolled off the other side and just beneath the humming fridge.  The fridge was surrounded by a crowd of partygoers who seemed to quite enjoy their prime location – near the drinking games and the fun times while having liquor and beer close at hand and easily accessible.  It could take Jacob quite some time to maneuver through the bodies to the coin, and then return and get the quarter into the glass.  During that retrieval time, his adversary across the bar could easily get his quarter into the shot glass and play would continue on, and Jacob’s team would lose and it would be all his fault.  He would have to endure friendly teasing that would, in time, become annoying and he’d be forced to chug beers as a consequence and normally he wouldn’t mind one bit, but at the present moment, he was already quite intoxicated and vomiting was a possibility.  He couldn’t puke, not tonight, not when Rebecca was standing by the window, making idle chatter with a female companion who seemed utterly bored and boring.  Trying to think quick but the alcohol did slow him down some, Jacob called out, “Time out!  Time out!  We can call that, right?”

The two teams broke out into riotous laughter, but seemed to acquiesce to Jacob’s request.  The metallic dings of the coins against the counter were silenced and the volume level of conversation increased.  Pleased with himself and smiling, Jacob scrambled over to the fridge and dropped down to his hands and knees.  He turned his head to peer underneath the fridge and his coin should have been right there at the end, bisected by the fridge, half concealed and half revealed.  It was not there, however, and Jacob was baffled.  Where could it have gone?  Did some tightwad, some poor college student, pick it up, not realizing it was a vital component for the intense and competitive game underway?  Jacob rose to kneeling and rested on his heels.  He looked around again, but found neither coin nor culprit.  Sighing heavily, Jacob called out, “Does anyone have a quarter?”

“I do,” called Rebecca from the window.  Mouth agape, Jacob slowly turned his head, so slowly he was sure those around him could hear it creaking.  He turned his head as if he were in a horror movie, turning slowly to try and comprehend the illogical and all too real monster behind him, waiting and ready to pounce.  That’s not what Rebecca was; she was a dream, a beauty, an intellect, a vision.  Hurriedly, he rose to his feet and did his best to walk over to her without weaving and swerving, and thereby revealing just how intoxicated he really was.  Jacob assumed he pulled it off because Rebecca’s smile did not fade as he neared.

“Hey Rebecca, thanks, “ Jacob said as he took the quarter from her outstretched hand and halted to stand beside her.  “Why don’t you come on over and join in the fun?”

“Jake, have you seen these lights?” Rebecca asked, sounding distracted and far away.

Moving closer to the window, Jacob paused a moment to gaze out of the window and into the night sky.  He saw few stars, their brilliance muted by the city lights, but nothing out of the ordinary.  Then suddenly, there was a giant orange flash across the middle of the sky.  It happened again shortly thereafter, and Jacob was near breathless when he said, “I saw that just now.  That’s crazy; how long has that been going on?”

“Since I got here,” Rebecca answered.  “I think they’re getting closer.”

Together, Jacob and Rebecca watched open-mouthed.  The lights were indeed getting closer.  They did not speak, but only stared.

In the morning, both were dead.

P.S. – That storm I was waiting on never arrived; such is life.

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