Chapter Four

It was 10:35 when I reached the station, according to the clock above the desk.

“What brings you in at this hour?” croaked a detective in a rumpled three-piece suit and a nametag from behind the desk. He held a large coffee cup. He shared some of his perfect teeth and I tried not to cringe.

“Detective O’Neill?” I leaned over the desk and read from his nametag. “My camera was just stolen.”

He sighed. “Alright, kid.” He rifled through a drawer and pulled out a crumpled form. “Fill this out, be specific. Sign here, and here, and here,” he pointed all over the form, as if I were buying a fucking car. I did as he said and put everything I knew on the form, which wasn’t much.

He looked it over and snickered.

“What’s so funny?” I snipped.

He wiped the smile off his face. “I don’t want to get your hopes up, kid. These small items like your Nikon, they’re usually long gone before my guys get a shot. Fucking E-bay,” he said ominously. “You got the serial number?”

Shit. It was probably buried in some filing cabinet in the studio. “Not with me,” I spat out.

“Look, kid, why don’t you head home and find it, then stop by when you have a chance tomorrow? My  guys’ll be in, and we’ll get you squared away,” he shoved my forms in an inbox in the corner of the desk and sat back down. “Take it easy,” he said brightly.

I didn’t return his smile. “Asshole,” I mumbled under my breath as I stormed out. Outside, my hands automatically went to my hip where my camera bag usually hung. Fuck, I literally never stepped outside without my camera. My heart turned out a metal riff. It was going to be a long night.

I hit it and walked a few blocks to chill out. A few blocks turned into a mile and I just kept going. I ducked into a bar and ordered a double malt no ice. This was serious.

“Rough night?” the bartender wiped the counter across from me.

“Yeah,” I said after I’d downed my whiskey. I pushed the glass across the counter.

The tattoo on his wrist caught my eye as he unscrewed the whiskey jug. “Girl trouble?”

“Say that again,” I mumbled as I patted my hip. Fuck, no camera. The light in there was spectacular too. I drummed my fingers on the bar as I drank the second whiskey.

“Gotta keep your strength up,” the barkeep said as he offered me a bowl of peanuts. I ate them steadily one at a time, glad for the distraction, not that it worked, really. The light in there was irrestistible.

“She dump you or what?” Barkeep asked over his shoulder as he washed glasses in the sink.

“Nah, bitch stole my camera.”

“Stole your camera? Damn. What was it?”

“Nikon, D500. Worst part is, I need it for work.”

“Yeah? You’re a photographer?”

“Assistant. Plus I have this blog.” I don’t know why I mentioned the blog, I don’t usually talk about it. But right then it made me feel more important. I ate a few more peanuts and debated another whiskey. Something about the light in there got to me, and before long even the empty glass looked photo worthy. The second whiskey got me thinking that my camera phone might do and I tried it.

“Hold on, man, I haven’t done my hair,” the barkeep rubbed his bald head, smirking.

I shook my head. “Don’t worry, it’s shit.” I shoved the camera back in my pocket and went for the third whiskey. “Hit me,” I said, signaling to my glass with one finger.

He opened the whiskey bottle again, setting off a new wave of craving. I could feel the absent camera bag on my hip. “Tell me about that blog,” he said.

“Not much to tell. It’s just a bunch of photos. Gotta keep em somewhere, right?”

“What’s it called?” he asked. I eyed up the empty bar before I told him. The slat-backed barstools were all lined up but one.

“Aperture Priori,” I blinked and the shot disappeared.

“Aperture Priori,” he considered it for a second. “Ooh, I get it, I get it.” He probably didn’t get it. I ate the last few peanuts in the bowl as a couple of girls made their way into the bar. I’d had more than enough of womenfolk, so I stood up to leave, tossing some money on the bar. “Thanks, man,” I called to the barkeep.

“You’re not staying?” He nodded towards the ladies.

“Nope,” I called as I walked to the door.

“Good luck finding the camera,” he said as the door shut.

Untethered and drunk on the street, it didn’t take long for trouble to find me. Couple of guys, couldn’t’ve been out of high school, jumped me near the mouth of this alley. I was a gimme. I didn’t resist, but they still threw me up against the wall, punched me in the face. Fucking gratuitous violence. I hit the pavement like I was falling into bed. Thanks to the third whiskey I wasn’t scared. Thanks to Eden, I didn’t lose my camera to two thugs. I knew I was in bad when, lying on the sidewalk, I could picture the perfect shot of their retreat.

I didn’t pass out. I sat up and leaned against the bricks. Guys took my wallet, phone, even my watch, so I was on my own. The night was surprisingly busy but it still took awhile to get noticed. If I’d had my camera, I’d’ve had a whole set before the barkeep found me sitting there, black ring forming around my shutter eye.

He did a double-take as he walked by, “Hey, what happened to you, man?”

I shrugged. The whiskey was wearing off, and I was suddenly wiped out. I tried to curl up on the sidewalk, but the barkeep stopped me.

“No, come on,” he pulled me up and wrapped one arm around my waist. “You manage to walk like this?” he asked and I put one foot in front of the other. My mind was empty. Nothing like three whiskeys and a punch in the face to bring you closer to Zen.

“My place is right around the corner, K?” the barkeep announced. I didn’t talk.

He led me to an unmarked green door and up a set of nondescript steps. Nothing mattered. Barkeep opened the door at the top of the steps and pushed me inside. The carpeted floor came up fast and I lay still, feeling oddly like this made perfect sense.

“Hey smart boy, can I get you a drink?” Barkeep opened his fridge and pulled out a beer. He bit off the cap and flicked it at my head. I blinked. He came over by me and kicked me in the gut. I didn’t speak, but a sound emerged from my depths. I blinked again, taking in the dirty toes of his boots. He kicked me again. “This is gonna be fun, man,” he said cheerfully. “Sure I can’t get you a beer?” he asked as he took a gulp and spit it all over me.

He bent down and felt me up, shoving his hands in my pockets. “Shit, somebody robbed you blind, smart boy. Shouldn’ta drunk so much.” I’m not blind, I thought, focusing on the wall behind him. His hands stopped searching and started exploring. I didn’t care. I just lay there, staring at the cityscape over the plaid sofa. Too obvious, I thought, even as I got lost in it.

I woke up naked, reeking of beer. I couldn’t have told you what happened, but I figured the shoot would have been killer if I’d had my camera, and you know, not been passed out cold on the floor. Fuck the pretty girl on the side of the bus. I looked at my torn and smeary body. This was what people needed to see. It hurt to move but I forced myself up, my head spinning, my gut hurting. I didn’t see the guy anywhere, so I pulled my clothes on over my sticky skin, moving slow and keeping quiet. I tiptoed out, leaving the door open behind me.

My reflection met me in the plate glass next to that unmarked green door. Even in the half-light of sunrise I could tell I looked like shit. I touched the swelling around my eye, ran my fingers through my hair, and debated heading home to clean up. But my keys were long gone, and truth is, all I cared about was my camera. I dragged myself down the sidewalk, heading back to the police station. Half a block down the street I patted my hip where my camera shoulda been.

No comments, just questions, please.

Chapter Three

In the dim light of a hallway, the girl stands in front of an elevator admiring her own reflection in the mirrored doors. Her skintight black running suit makes her nearly invisible in the dark hallway, yet she still turns from side to side and nods her approval at her faint reflection. A small ding fills the hall as the elevator comes to a stop. Its doors slowly slide open and light from inside the elevator casts an eerie glow down the dim hallway. Cast into silhouette, the girl’s body breaks down into a series of curves. She freezes, her silver eyes locked on the elevator’s interior.

Inside the elevator stands a tall figure draped in a cloak the color of midnight. From underneath the hood a dark and heavy-lined face emerges, and the girl lets out a shriek.

“Christ, Lazarus,” she chides him with a sharp edge to her voice. “What are you doing in there, anyway?”

“Get on, Elix,” his voice emerges from within the elevator.

She steps inside without complaint and the doors slide shut with a gentle hum. “Thank you,” Lazarus says quietly, his green eyes flashing with a hint of surprise under his hood. “Now we can start.” He sweeps his arm towards the girl in a fluid arc, as if aiming to strike her. The movement is captured in the infinity between the mirrored walls as his finger comes to rest on the button pad behind the girl’s head.

“Jeez,” the girl cries as she jumps back and presses her sleek figure against the mirror behind her. She rolls her eyes as the doors slide closed.  A muffled whoosh accompanies the silence and a moment later the doors open again. The hallway has been replaced by a workroom of sorts, very large and lined with tall windows. Tools and weapons hang on hooks and a large wooden table stands in the center of the room. Artwork is stacked on easels and clipped to the windows. Dust and wood shavings carpet the floor.

Lazarus takes the girl by the wrist and leads her off the elevator. “Surprised?” he asks, a glimmer of humor in his voice. “This is my workroom.” He sweeps his arm out of his cape once again, making a violent arc to display his lair. “Look around, Elix. My things could help you.”

Elix laughs and snatches her hand out of his grasp. “Fat chance,” she mouths under her breath, but she begins to look around, occasionally taking a tool off its hook.

“Familiarize yourself with my things. You’re going to want to remember them,” Lazarus continues, flashing the girl a disapproving glare. “Your journey is simple yet deceiving. Any one of the things you find here in my workroom could save you later. Don’t underestimate anything,” he closes the gap between them and meets her eyes.

She pretends to shiver and moves past him, running her hand along a row of knives. She removes one, tests the blade, then tries to pocket it. Lazarus restrains her wrist once more. “Put the knife back, Elixer.” His voice is deep and calm. She sneers but returns the blade to its hook. “You’ll find your own weapons,” he continues, “if you need them.” He leads the girl to one of the windows. From their vantage point, the city spreads out like a map before them.

“Look,” he says, indicating the city below. Elix stands beside him by the large window and cocks her head in his direction. “It’s simple. You’ll start from here, make your way through the city,” he draws his finger through the air as if tracing the streets on a map. “You choose your path. You deal with what comes.”

“By myself?” Elix asks.

He nods. “You’ll find what you need down there,” he sweeps his hand across the city. “Take cover if you need to, but don’t hide. You have to keep moving,” he warns. “Remember, nothing is as it seems.”

“Then how the hell am I supposed to know what to do?” Elix snaps.

“That’s what we’re going to find out,” Lazarus says. “Don’t worry, I won’t be far. And you’ll be able to hear me as well.” He turns back to the window while Elix snakes one hand across the counter behind her and clutches a small blade, which she slips inside her sleeve. A second passes and Lazarus takes her hand and pins it to the window behind her. He’s angry but he barely shows it. “What do you think you’re doing?” he growls as he pulls the blade out of her sleeve and puts it back on the counter. “You can’t keep secrets from me. And,” he lowers his voice, “I told you. You’ll find what you need down there.” He turns her face toward the street below.

Elix nods nervously. “Sorry,” she squeaks.

Lazarus gives her a few more warnings then cranks open the large window. A breeze catches the edges of his cape as he steps close behind her.

“I’m going to push you now,” Lazarus mouths into her ear, his hands gripping her shoulders.

Elix looks down at the busy street some thirty stories below and pushes back against his hands. She thrashes with terror, but her scream comes out silent. “Use your voice,” Lazarus demands. “It’s your best weapon.” Then, as he pushes her through the open window, “Take a deep breath.”

As she falls, the air rushes up to meet her face, pulling her hair every which way and displacing her body parts. Watching her drop is a delight.

The ground comes fast and she stiffens, bracing herself for the inevitable smash. A bright yellow string of taxis blurs past, revealing the gray asphalt of the street. Pedestrians hurry by on the sidewalk, so engrossed in their thoughts that most of them don’t notice the girl hit the ground and disappear.

The asphalt gives way and swallows her. She drops until the friction of the cold, dark water slows her fall. She blinks in the darkness and panic takes hold. Spinning and thrashing, she fights the water.

“Swim,” comes Lazarus’ voice from within the water. Elix blinks again. Bubbles escape her mouth but she reaches up and pushes herself up through the dark water. Only seconds pass before she breaks the surface, gulping for air. Buildings rise up around her, most pedestrians don’t notice the pool that’s formed in the asphalt, they don’t see the girl swimming in the street. They don’t see, and just like that the water vanishes and Elix is lying in the middle of the street, wet and panting. A black sedan pulls to a slow stop next to her and a door opens for her.

On the sidewalk, a girl stops dead in her tracks. Pedestrians flood past, jostling her, but her eyes stay locked on the street. She watches Elix emerge from the water, watches the phase transition in the street, watches Elix disappear into the car.

“Did you see that?” she asks no one in particular when the sedan continues down the street. No one answers.

Chapter Two

The first time I saw her, I noticed her but she barely registered. It was a morning somewhere between Monday and Friday, and she was sitting at a table inside a neighborhood café with her books spread out all over the table. Buried in her reading like that, she looked lost. There was no chance of her seeing me. I watched her read through the glass, admiring the near perfect shot. Her wild blonde curls spilled over her shoulders, and her face looked like porcelain. She flipped a page and jotted something down in her notebook with a Sharpie. No way would she notice. I pulled my Nikon out of my bag and set up the shot. I clicked, and she must have sensed something because right then she looked up. Terror morphed into surprise and then into joy as a large smile spread across her face, all in the span of seconds. She smiled like she recognized me, but we’d never met before.

I returned her smile, slipped my Nikon back into my bag, and rejoined the throng of pedestrians on the sidewalk. She sure was beautiful, but beauty was the norm in this part of town. I never expected to see her again. The shot turned out, though. It was good enough that it made the cut into my gallery. My followers thought so too and pretty soon that shot was all over the place. Of course Vivi noticed. “She’s pretty,” she announced, glaring at my laptop with one eyebrow raised. “Who is she?”

“I don’t know,” I answered. “Just some girl on the street,” I pointed at the filename and wrapped my arms around Vivi. “Are you jealous?” I joked.

“Jealous?” Vivi asked, like she’d never heard the word before. “Why on earth would I be jealous?”

“I have no idea,” I answered, kissing her neck.

“She has fantastic hair, that’s all,” she nodded towards my laptop, oblivious to the nuances in my photo, as usual. She touched her own short dark hair, perfectly arranged and sprayed in place, as if to reassure herself that it was still there. “And people sure like her. Look how much attention she’s getting,” she whined, pointing at my stats. “Don’t forget, we’re meeting Emma and Greg for drinks after class,” Vivi squeezed out of my arms and buzzed around my kitchen, helping herself to a wooden spoon and a small skillet, which she tossed into her large purse.

“Hey, what are you doing? Don’t take my stuff,” I tried to grab her halfheartedly as she breezed past.

“Props for rehearsal,” she called on her way toward the door, as if that explained everything. “See you later, Jason darling,” she grinned from the door, then tossed her leopard-print jacket over her arm and opened the door. “Emma and Greg tonight, around nine,” she said as the door closed behind her.

“Whatever,” I said under my breath. I looked at mystery girl on my screen and sighed.


Weeks went by, then months, and I kept up my pace. Hundreds of new photographs made their way into my gallery, mostly gritty street scenes, and I’d be lying if I said I thought about coffee shop girl. No, I’d forgotten all about her.

Vivi started a fashion design class and I took up a new hobby: hanging with her study group at the library. Libraries weren’t my thing, but Vivi liked to show me off. Happy Vivi meant horny Vivi, and I liked horny Vivi. She’d usually be hanging with her group in one of the study rooms near the back, planning out the week’s designs, but one night she was nowhere to be found. When I didn’t see her crew, I wandered around the stacks. I stopped in my tracks when I saw the blonde girl sitting alone at a table in the corner, deep into her reading. Six months disappeared and for a second it was like I was back there on the sidewalk looking into the café. She didn’t look up when I came closer, and for a second I thought I might be mistaken, that she was someone else. I set my camera bag down on the edge of her table.

“Mind if I sit here?” I asked. She shrugged and nudged her books closer to her as I sat down. The table was small and I kicked her shin as I took my seat. She gave me a sharp look, which turned into surprise when she saw my camera bag on the table. “Hey,” she said with a smile. “It’s you.”

If I’d known then how much trouble a smile like that can cause, I’d’ve grabbed my camera bag and moved on. I’d’ve combed the library for Vivi, stupid Vivi, who only cared about fashion and fuck-me heels. I should’ve known better. Since I didn’t, I sat there and got drunk on her smile. “Jason,” I said stupidly, offering my hand over her pile of books.

“Thanks for introducing yourself this time,” she said. “Eden,” she said her name like an afterthought.

“Big exam?” I asked as I turned one of her books so I could get a look at the spine.

“Actually, yes,” she grinned. “Psych.”

If there was ever a sign that I should hit it, it was that. But I loved her smile so I sat there. “Go ahead,” I grinned, “Try to diagnose me,” I said, leaning back and crossing my arms over my chest. “You’ll probably be disappointed. I’m not very complicated.”

“Everyone is complicated,” she answered. She sounded pretty damn sure. A minute passed as she jotted more notes. “So, how did my photograph turn out?” she flashed me a quick, knowing smile.

I told her the truth. “It was the best photo I’ve taken all year. And I take a lot of photos.”

That made her smile again, bigger this time. Hell, this girl was really getting to me. Too bad that just then I heard Vivi’s voice coming from the lobby. I sank down in my chair.

“Are you okay?” Eden murmured.


She glanced in the direction of the Vivi’s shrill laughter. “That’s your girlfriend, isn’t it?”

I looked. I could see Vivi standing in the lobby, surrounded by her group. Even from where I sat, her animal-print jacket was unmistakable. “Yeah,” I admitted.

“You should go.” Eden dismissed me with her hand and returned her eyes to her work. Of course she was right, my girlfriend was expecting me. But damn, I wanted more of Eden’s smile. Her smile did something to me, and getting more of it suddenly seemed very important.

Still, when a girl tells me to get lost, I take the hint. I stood up and slung my camera bag over my shoulder. I noticed a pen lodged under one of Eden’s books, and I used it to scrawl my number in the margin of her notebook. “You can write upside-down,” she squealed with surprise, her smile returning. “Cool.”

I shrugged off the compliment. “I’ll take you to dinner to celebrate acing your exam,” I hedged.

“Only if you break up with your girlfriend first,” she turned toward the lobby and then met my eyes. “Thanks, though.” She returned to her books without another smile, and I made my way up to the front and put my arms around Vivi.

“Hey, Jase,” she sang. “Where have you been? We’ve all been waiting on you,” she rambled. “Did you get lost in here, or what?”

I was looking back towards the study rooms, trying to see Eden. She was hidden behind the books. Vivi held me by the shoulder.

“Are you alright?” her eyes were brimming with fake concern.

“Let’s go, Vivi,” called a girl with dyed green hair.

“Come on, Jason. Drinks with the girls,” she took my arm and tugged it but I did not move. “Jason, what’s wrong?” she whined, tugging harder.

My feet were suddenly rooted to the spot, so I leaned over. “You go on,” I said into her ear, then I kissed her cheek. “Call me later,” I said and gave her a small wave.

“Are you sure, baby?”She pressed her wrist to my forehead. “You sure are kooky tonight,” she glared at me, a mask of concern hiding her anger. She turned and skipped over to the door. “Hold on, girls,” she called, then blew me a kiss. “Feel better,” she called.

When she was finally gone, I sank down in a chair in the lobby to wait. I set my camera bag on the floor by my feet and watched the students come and go at the circulation desk while I waited for Eden. I thought about what I would say to her and I considered taking her advice and actually breaking up with Vivi. We’d had a good run, Vivi and I, almost a year now. Saturday nights were never boring with her, that much was true. She knew how to have a good time, but her hair never moved. The more I thought about it, the more it bothered me.

I must have fallen asleep. I opened my eyes and found Eden kneeling in front of me, her hands on my thighs. I straightened up and rubbed my eyes. “Hi,” I said.

She didn’t say anything so I continued. “I was waiting for you,” I told her.

“I know,” she murmured, giving me a small smile. “I’m glad.” She tilted her head back and raised her eyes to meet mine in a way that made my ribcage close in around my lungs. I tried pressing back into the chair to put a little more space between us, but she had me trapped.  I couldn’t move without kicking her in the chest, so I sat still and looked into her silver eyes. My air intake slowed to a trickle.

Some time passed like that, neither of us talking. I looked away first, when I noticed the stares we were getting. I wondered how long Eden intended to kneel like that. Just then she bent down, and then she was holding my camera to her eye, trying to take my picture.

“Hey, don’t,” I said, suddenly angry. She clicked the shutter as I tore my camera out of her hands, revealing a large, gorgeous, show-stopping grin. I saw it and forgot my anger. I dropped my camera into my lap and reached for her, grabbing a handful of hair and pulling her head back gently, just to get a better look at that smile.

The security guard shook me awake. I sat up, shocked. He and I were alone. I rubbed my eyes and looked around, but Eden was long gone.

“Library’s closed, sir,” the security guard said. “Time for you to go.” He busied himself setting the locks on the front doors, then stood there holding the last door for me, waiting for me to leave.

I stood up and stretched, then bent down to grab my camera bag. Sure enough it was long gone. Shit. “Someone took my camera,” I said to the guard.

“Musta been your girl,” he said knowingly.

“My girl?” I asked, thinking of Vivi while I walked around the chair once more to make sure I hadn’t overlooked it. Nothing.

“Blonde, about this high?” he held his hand out palm down, in the vicinity of his sternum. “She told me to look out for ya. Nice girl,” he shook his head in approval.

“No,” I started to correct him, but then I remembered pulling Eden’s hair. “Wait, did you see her with me?” I lowered my voice even though we were alone. I moved closer. “Was she kneeling?” I whispered.

He shook his head and boomed, “You musta been dreaming, man.” His laugh filled the library.

“You sure she didn’t leave with my camera on her shoulder?” I snipped.

“I don’t know, man. Take it easy,” he held up both hands. “Just ask her, she’s probably got it safe.”

I started to say that I would if I could, but it dawned on me how ridiculous that sounded. I pushed past him out onto the quiet sidewalk and started walking toward the train. I checked my phone for messages on the way. Only a text from Vivi: Missed you tonight. I hit delete and shoved my phone back in my pocket as I headed down the steps into the station. I was home and crawling into bed before I realized that I ought to file a police report if I ever expected to see my camera again.

If you really want to comment, ask me questions. What are you curious about? No compliments or criticism, please.

Chapter One

The darkness bears weight. A girl makes her way steadily down a deserted sidewalk in the wrong part of town as a black sedan affixed with a set of interlocking circles oozes by under a streetlight. The girl’s footsteps make a quiet rhythm against the dirty pavement.

It’s a hot night and the girl is clad only in thick-gauge wire, her armor. She is wound tightly ankles to thighs, wrists to shoulders, joints exposed, limbs encased. The wires crisscross between her thighs and continue up over her torso, tightening around her heart and finishing off at her throat.

Her armor looks painful.

Her footsteps grow louder in the odd quiet, as she passes city block after city block. The sedan slows almost to a stop beneath the streetlight and a shrill siren breaks out in the distance. The girl turns her head sharply toward the shrieking siren, then looks down and continues walking.

Several minutes pass and the sedan drives off, the siren fades. As it disappears, another set of footsteps interrupt the girl’s steady footfalls. The second set is louder, faster.

A bottomless voice emerges from everywhere at once. “Do you want to run?” It asks. The girl shakes her head and continues her steady pace. The only sign of her fear is the tiny turn of her head to the right, over her shoulder, as she tries to get a glimpse of whatever is coming.

Her wires glow pale orange the streetlight, their recursive, metal tracks holding her together. The approaching footsteps grow louder, and she quickens her pace but does not run. The footsteps match hers.

The man is tall, his knife long. He breaks into the frame and just like that the footsteps stop, just like that he is on her. Sound returns like a slap, a truck rumbles by in the distance and up above, a dog yaps in comic relief.

The girl freezes, then yields to his touch. The angle shifts as she slumps against him, as up ahead a traffic light turns yellow. Another and then another follow in quick succession. This angle reveals the smooth texture of the dirty cement, the deep grooves on the brick buildings.

The villain holds the girl, one arm pinning her elbows to her sides, the other holding the knife to her throat.  She folds into him easily. The streetlight catches the silver gleam of hatred in her eyes. The traffic light ahead turns red and her wires shoot red sparks to match. The sparks fall to the pavement and disappear.

He releases her arms and tangles his fingers in her blonde hair. She yelps when he yanks. That first pain stands out. More sparks fly from her wires, down her arms and legs. She cries with the electrical storm, but she doesn’t call for help.

Traces of the villian’s dark smile appear in his profile. He is enjoying this. The traffic lights go green one by one and he begins to move: His fingers in her hair become fingers on her throat. They dig into her skin as if molding clay. Her head, suddenly loosed of its restraint, thrashes and flies forward. Her gasps come loud as cars cross slowly in the distance. From underneath her armor comes the muffled sound of her heart racing, breaths escape her mouth in smoky drabs that hang in the orange glow. The dog’s yaps come again from above.

The two figures eclipse each other.

The girl’s gasps turn into chokes as the lights pass into their second cycle. Yellow lasts for hours. The wires around her throat come unclasped. Tears burn tracks down her face and lips, and her silver eyes go blank with pain.

The villain lifts her to her tiptoes. Her feet dangle; she doesn’t resist but her eyes are empty; she is elsewhere. Amid the struggle, the wires around her thighs have loosened. His large gloved hands make their way from her throat to her small shoulders. Yellow cycles to red, and red sparks travel down her arms. She drinks the air, then tenses as he throws her back against the bricks. Her armor, still tight around her abdomen, absorbs the smash and her eyes fly open, flashing silver in the darkness. She’s back.

The brick wall knocks loose more of her wiring, revealing pale skin against dark brick.

The green cycle reflects in the villian’s dark eyes. His fingers work again at her throat and she gives way. He pounces, yanking away the already loosened wires, removing her armor. He clears the way of the extraneous. His eyes glint yellow, crazed, hers, silver and angry. His teeth bared, a half-smile on his face, he forces her legs apart with his knee.

A pile of discarded wires lies on the dirty sidewalk. Her pale flesh grates across the jagged bricks making a quiet sound. Green comes around again and his eyes glow hunter. Somewhere this is happening. His fierce grunt and her whimpers merge into a song.

Each thrust snaps her head back. Her face is painted with pain. He quickens his pace while she fades into the bricks behind her.

Her sudden pleasure surprises her as an unexpected orgasm rushes down her ravaged nerve endings and sends another flurry of sparks over her exposed, flushed skin. Her eyes shoot open in surprise, reflecting green now. She smiles and her villain ceases his movements, grabs her by the throat, and throws her, naked and bleeding, to the sidewalk before he darts off down the grimy street toward the traffic light. The dog resumes its barking. The bottomless voice requests help, and in the distance the sirens come again.

If you really want to comment, ask me questions. What are you curious about? No compliments or criticism, please.

My kid has a demon

A month ago I started taking my six-year old to a therapist. He’s shy, and with the onset of first grade, he was talking less than ever. Pretty much his only means of communicating with his new teacher was by whispering into her ear.

When the threat of no recess (hers) and even the offer of a new LEGO set (mine) only seemed to make Gabe more anxious, I complained to another mom, who came to the rescue with a therapist recommendation. This isn’t the first time I’ve weighed the possibility of taking one of the kids to a therapist. In the past I’ve always decided against it, thinking that paying too much attention to the problem would only make it worse. This time, though, Gabe seemed genuinely fraught about going to school, so I called the therapist and Gabe and I have been visiting once a week since.

This week his therapist began with some art therapy. She handed Gabe a sheet of paper and a box of markers, and asked him to draw his worry as if it were an animal or a monster.

Gabe started to draw right away. He drew a devil engulfed in multicolored flames, and even before he finished it I was almost crying. “This is a worry demon,” he whispered into my ear. “He talks to me. He tells me he hates me, he’s stronger than me, and he’ll beat me up if I talk at school.”

I nodded, trying to figure out the questions that would help more than harm. While I was choosing my words, the therapist asked Gabe to draw a weapon that he could use against the worry demon. He turned to another page and drew a red and blue rocket. “This is a worry blaster,” he whispered triumphantly. “Whenever I talk, it blasts the worry demon into ashes and he DIES,” he explained into my ear. “The worry demon’s flames set off the rocket,” he finished, clearly proud of putting the demon’s flames to good use.

Gabe is only six years old. He and the other kids have had a relatively calm childhood so far, and play fighting with his sister and brother is his only actual daily torment. Yet, still, Gabe is living with a demon inside him. He, thankfully, has no idea that mental illness runs rampant on both sides of his family: schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, and dissociative personality disorder, to name a few. No, thankfully, he has no clue that demons are a thing beyond television and Halloween. Hopefully I can protect him from that harsh reality for a very long time.

Yet something about the way he dove into his drawing, so sure of his worry demon, just breaks my heart. Something about the worry rocket, fueled by his demon’s flames, strikes me as uncanny.

The human mind is a mysterious place.


It’s been awhile since I posted something personal, I know. This demon thing has really gotten to me.


Everything hurt, just as I recalled. She lay abandoned on the sidewalk, slumped beside a vestibule and beneath a defunct neon sign that read FREE AIR like a cruel joke. I laughed when I heard the terrier barking. The faint morning sun lit the bruises on her throat and caught in her hair. It dried her tear streaks and reflected the depth of her eyes.  That heavy gauge wire, once invisibly wrapped around her limbs, now lay discarded underneath her on the grimy pavement. It was thicker than I’d imagined.

As I recalled, she lay split open, gaping, undone. From my seat I watched Mark deconstruct her. He laid her out piece by piece, beginning with the delicate fabric of her ripped dress and her long-forgotten bag, a trove of its own, continuing with her deceptively thin limbs, her bloody fingernails, her recursive scratches, her oddly unharmed breasts, until she shrank to a mere collection of items, no longer a person at all. He gently arranged her parts on the sidewalk beneath the unlit neon sign.

As I took stock of her hurts my own body ached.

Mark laid aside her dress, baring her still swollen and dripping vagina, and shot me a sidelong look. “You okay?” he offered by way of condolence. I nodded, once, silently making an inventory of her pain.

He sipped his beer thoughtfully and broke the tension by splicing in an unsuspecting dog walker, that yapping terrier in tow. I couldn’t help giggling when the dog licked her face. Without so much as a look at the gore in front of him, the dog walker gave one last yank on the terrier’s leash and fled the scene, oblivious.

“Nice,” I mouthed.

Mark looked over, gave me a half smile, and kept going. Her body lay skeletal on the sidewalk, its pretenses strewn across the pavement, and for a moment I finally understood her. Gradually Mark began piecing her back together with the combination of a surgeon’s skill and an artist’s eye. He consulted my art book lying open on the table between us and replaced her bruises and scrapes artfully now. He wrapped the wires to accentuate her curves; he draped her dress from her jutting left hip and left just a trace of her wounded vagina showing at the edge of the hem. He arranged her tendrils around her unblinking eyes.

I watched as he brought up the sunlight, streaming it from the narrow gaps of sky above, drawing beams of it down to her, and I sucked in my breath when I saw what it did to her parts. Her hair, her silver eyes, her exposed skin all shone, yet her fingernails turned dirty, each scrape sank deeper, and the newly arranged wires cast dark shadows on her skin. The sun made sense of her pain. It brought her to life.

“Easy there,” he warned, sensing my tension. I watched, silent, and realized what I already knew. She was me. I filed that thought away for later and chugged some beer. Mark lit the neon sign and FREE AIR flashed fluorescent red above the beautifully gruesome scene.

“Perfect,” I grinned. On the screen, she lifted her head and smiled as if of her own free will.

Imagine this piece near the end of a complicated and surreal story. Soon it will be there.

Once I was afraid

This is not a birth story. This is a story about fear.

This is not a birth story, I swear. I’ve had three kids, three labors. Three times, I’ve observed my body open, like a scene from some twisted sci-fi flick. Three times, a baby emerged from my body, impossibly and in spite of all logic to the contrary.

With my first two pregnancies, fear was a constant companion. I felt afraid for weeks, even months, before labor began. Spread out over time, my fear mellowed out into a steady but firm pressure on my mind, akin to a pair of hands squeezing my throat. Let’s call it my awareness of the impossible becoming reality. Over a period of weeks, I coped. I read constantly, I took classes, I nested, I distracted myself from the large, cold hands around my throat.

In spite of all of my attempts at distraction, those hands remained firmly around my throat the entire length of each of my pregnancies.

When I was pregnant with Nate, things felt different. Anna and Gabe kept me busy. I felt foolishly confident. I’d been through labor twice before, I knew what I was doing. I barely read; I took no classes. I relegated my emotions to the far corners of my mind.

Want to know something about me? I’m stubborn. I knew those strong, cold fingers were pressed to my esophagus, but I refused to acknowledge them.

My third labor developed over a number of weeks. I recall feeling annoyed when contractions began at eight months. But I continued caring for my toddlers, I continued doing what I needed to do. I did not permit myself to pay attention to my fear.

The night before Nate was born, I readied the house. I think I might have even baked banana bread. I put everything in order, and I ignored the fingers on my throat. When it was time to go to the hospital, Geoff actually argued that I wasn’t ready because I did not seem afraid, but I was certain.

At the hospital, I calmly signed in, I quietly let the nurses do their thing. In just a little while though, I fell apart. I called my midwife even though Geoff was right there with me. “I’m afraid,” I told her. I was. The cold hands squeezed my throat and shut out my air. Nothing could have prepared me.

“Of course you are,” my midwife said matter-of-factly. She rubbed my back and a few minutes later, Nate showed up and I could breathe again.

Photo via Deviantart
Photo via Deviantart

“Want to guess his weight?” one of the nurses asked my midwife.

“Ten-three,” she answered right away.

My midwife was spot on.

I was afraid once, for good reason.

I have a friend who’s hot

I have a friend who’s hot. I’ve thought so for so long that I can no longer recall what initially attracted me to her. I’ve thought so for so long that I can no longer recall whether I liked her just as a friend first (I did), if her physicality became sexy to me because of how she acts (it did), or if I thought she was irresistibly beautiful (she is) and our friendship grew from there (maybe it did).

I have a friend who’s hot. We’ve known each other for more than 20 years. We became friends in high school. She was the one who painted not just her face but her entire (beautiful, sexy) body for football games. She was the one who dragged me along to the grocery store to buy flowers for a guy she liked. She was the one who was always up for a party. She was the one who tried to get me to sneak a beer with some cute guys when we were 17. She was the one who was always ready for an adventure.

Now listen up, this is important. This friend of mine? She’s smart. Intimidatingly smart. If there’s one thing that’s hotter to me than her body, it’s her mind. I have to work hard to keep up with her intellectually, and I never get tired of it. I always feel just a little less smart than her, and somehow my brain interprets that to mean that I’m just a little less sexy too. I know, it’s not a contest. But if it was, she would win.

That’s cool with me. I have a friend who’s hot, and she makes me work harder than I usually do. She makes me want to be just like her, even if I never quite get there. I have a friend who’s hot, and she makes me want to be just a little imperfect so she can always be hotter than me.

I hate money

I know that sounds ridiculous. Maybe you don’t believe me; I mean, money has never been a huge concern for me as an adult. I owe a debt of gratitude to Geoff for working so hard to make that possible.

But trust me when I tell you that money is a struggle for me. Or, rather, it used to be a huge concern. I grew up dirt poor. Because of her anxiety, my mom couldn’t work outside the home. She didn’t much go outside the home, remember? She received disability, food stamps, Section 8, and occasional gifts from my Bubbie. She sewed small things for a lady with a craft shop.

I grew up poor to the point where not-money had a lot of power over me. I carpooled to school because my mom didn’t have a car, and I lived in fear of being left behind. I was embarrassed about receiving FREE lunch at school. I never had any new clothes unless my Bubbie bought them for me. I missed field trips because my mom had no money for them.

My mom did an amazing amount with the small bit of money she had every month. But the fact was that every single grocery item got tallied up before getting in the checkout line, and the fact is that paying too much attention to money to this day makes me panic.

When I was a kid, I never starved but I did go hungry. There were no snacks and meals were small. My mom did her absolute best. She did better than that. She made our bread, she made all sorts of things from scratch. My mom showed me just how much you can make from almost nothing.

When I was a kid, Bubbie would periodically swoop in and take my mom and me to restaurants or to the mall for shopping sprees. Money was how Bubbie showed her love. She redecorated my mom’s apartment twice. On my birthday every year, she’d buy me a large savings bond, until she stopped.

Bubbie made me hate money. She didn’t mean to, but it happened anyway. She made it so I still don’t trust people giving me money. To this day, I’d much rather give a gift than sell something. And I only buy what I absolutely need. I hate the mall, hate shopping. I barely ever make a grocery list, let alone count up what I’m buying before I get in the checkout line.

Luckily, I have a fairly good, but not perfect, sense of what I need, of what my family needs. I kind of emotionally gauge my purchases and I resist many of my urges to buy things. It’s not a failproof system. But I have kind of insulated myself against money.

In my dream world, there is no money and everyone barters for what they need, because I like to negotiate and I hate money.