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Calloused | [Short story]


I came upon a blog today by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields that contained a 100-words-or-less photo writing challenge – Friday Fictitioneers.

Below is my answer to the challenge based on the accompanying photo by C.E. Ayer.

ceayr-purple-door.jpg

Stone by stone he built his wall.

Around his heart.

Leaving a mistrusting, too-small doorway with a lock on it for second chances.

No one knocked for none had dared to trespass beyond the chain guard and padlocks.

Love crouched at the wall’s base, waiting, but was unable to grow forward, toward the gateway to his heart. Past the chain links of criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

 
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Posted by on 11/23/2016 in Short stories

 

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Brain Bugs


This morning, as I was drinking a cup of coffee, a day after my 43rd birthday, I felt a convulsive scattering across the roof of my mouth.

I choked. And spit.

I looked down and saw the bug lying upside down in the light brown liquid, its legs kicking profusely.

I stared at it.

I knew what it was. And I knew where it came from.

My brain.

The bugs had been with me for as long as I could remember. They are part of my life.  I don’t like it, they just are.

At first I was afraid of them. Disgusted.  I could feel them crawling over the surface of my hippocampus and through the channels of my amygdala.

I used to scratch my forehead incessantly because I could feel something crawling under my skin,  beneath my skull. Like something had burrowed into my nasal passages at night and worked its way into my prefrontal cortex. And laid its eggs. That’s what my brother always told me. We all heard those stories as kids,  right?

I didn’t know what it was, or if it was even normal.  I was a pre-teen going through a lot of weird changes. A lot of things didn’t make sense at the time.

I remember my first experience with the bugs. I was in middle school at a friend’s birthday party.  Introverted, standing away from the crowd. I didn’t know why,  and I know it sounds selfish, but I just didn’t feel like being there.  The thought of being around groups of people was daunting to me. I forced myself to go,  knowing I wasn’t going to have any fun. I just wanted to be at home,  locked away in the safety of my bedroom where no one could bother…no, harm me.

So while I was at this party,  I felt the itching again. More intense this time.  I was worried someone would see me scratching and scrunching my nose,  point it out to others,  and people would ridicule me.  I tried to hide it. I don’t know why I didn’t go to the bathroom before it happened,  I just stood there. To my complete disgust,  the bug fell from my nose onto my sleeve. I gasped and swatted at it but it just dropped and scurried away into the corner.

I don’t think anyone noticed because no one said anything and people were even coming up to me to talk.

That’s when I knew I was different than a lot of other kids at school.

That was when I knew I had something.

I couldn’t sleep at night.  I could feel the bugs scurrying over the macaroni-like canals of my brain as I tossed and turned.  I was exhausted during the day but couldn’t sleep for beans at night.

I later learned about something called cortisol, and that it made a part of my brain larger and more active.  This is what caused my disturbances – what made it impossible to sleep.

I think the bugs make cortisol in their bodies and then inject it into my brain like venom. It’s what makes me feel and act the way I do.

“It’s just a phase”, my dad said. “Probably from you starting middle school this year.”

“You’ll get better, honey”, my mom comforted.

They just didn’t know.

I didn’t know.

Eventually I came to accept that the bugs were there to stay. I somehow got used to the itching. What choice did I have?

My parents sent me to therapy with my ludicrous and unexplainable rantings of “brain bugs”. The doctor was gentle and understanding while I explained through tears and hanging my head in shame .

“They’re always there”, I sobbed.

“I know”, he whispered. “We’re going to help you.”

I didn’t really understand what the medicine he gave me did,  or what it was called.  It had letters though-I think an “s” or two,  an “r”, and an “i”, or something like that. I was desperate. I couldn’t live like this anymore. Especially when no one believed me.

I took the pills every day like he told me. After a few weeks, the itching began to subside. It was still there,  just not as intense.  Muted. I learned how to keep the bugs more-or-less contained,  though they were always there . At least the medicine helped prevent them from falling out of my ears or nose. I could still feel them moving back and forth inside my skull but I was numb at the same time.  I think the medicine made me feel that way – zombie-ish.

I remember that several months after I began therapy,  I noticed a girl standing by herself in the cafeteria. She was pretty so I didn’t understand why she was by herself. Probably just waiting on some friends I guessed.

Her eyes darted around the room, almost like she was nervous or didn’t want to be there.

And then I saw her scratch her forehead and wrinkle her nose a few times.

When I walked over to her,  she sheepishly looked at me with the one eye that wasn’t hidden behind her beautiful brown hair.

“I’ve got ’em, too”, I told her,  casting my gaze down to the ground.

A tear glistened down her cheek.

“Come on”, I nodded.

She smiled. Her eyebrow lifted.

And we turned and got into line to buy our food

 
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Posted by on 10/25/2016 in Short stories

 

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The Ivory Tower | [Short Story]


Author’s Note: By its origin, this blog was started as a way for me to grow and survive through my depression, not as a vehicle for me to post short stories. Recently however, I’ve become interested in delving into some ideas I’ve had. This has largely been the inspiration of my good blogging friend Matthew Malin at “Confessions“. One story of his started it all – “A Sheep Named Wolf” and I encourage you to read it before reading any further. Matthew, thank you my friend for your support, encouragement, and for starting me on this journey. I’m interested in seeing where it leads…

Across the plain of Ǚr, far away from the citadel itself, there stood a shining tower of polished limestone. It was a colossal structure. Towering over the fields below. Dominating the landscape to the horizon, over which the plain’s namesake kingdom lay.

It mirrored the sun’s reflection as a fine gem in the crown of the king. Or a polished plate of glass in the courtyard at midday. It pulsed radiance and even from afar off, emitted a brilliance that was known across the plain.

Its alabaster skin was a testament to its beauty. Each stone finely blended and buffed with the other so that all chinked together like a single dragon’s scale.

It was embedded with many different shades of blue polished gems and minerals that blinked at every angle. Not so much as to overtake the gleaming snowy surface. But merely to accent.

Channels of soft, dark azurite ran starkly down its vertical edges, bordered by thin lines of fixed sapphire.

Thick lazulite crystals adorned its horizontal precipices, giving off a faintly cloudy deep green aura, comparable to the ocean’s depths as seen from the gull’s eye overhead. A halo atop the chalk white faces of the tower.

Many knew of its exquisiteness through story or song only, for none in numbers were allowed too close, nevertheless entrance. Only able to cast eyes on it from afar.

Despite all its beauty and grandeur, it became more intimidating in its features, as any outsider drew closer. One would rather call it a citadel than a tower, for it was well fortified and garrisoned many citizens. The same citizens who had built it over the years, enduring the cold winds, stiletto rains, and molten sun.

Though still opulent to the eyes, one could observe battlements and parapets atop the four megalithic walls. Flanking the spire that shot into the sky like a spike into the heavens. Or a compass point by which the rest of the land would calibrate its remaining three directional points.

A selfish, self-centeredness.

An arrogant and haughty feat of engineering designed to show all who gazed upon it the bigotry and seclusion of its citizenry.

A pinnacle of privilege.

The meters-thick walls of the gatehouse itself menaced any who approached its entrance. Appearing as a harbinger and to vex outsiders, warding them away from the inhabitants. Visitors were not taken kindly to.

Several less imposing, yet formidable keeps, buttressed the corners of the tower’s walls. Upon closer observation, the finer subtleties of the tower came into view – murder holes, curtain walls, and arrowslits. Accoutrements of defense and to prevent impregnation.

Encircling the citadel like some leviathan was a moat. Many spoke how when the trench was dug, the moat was filled with blood. Perhaps the result of the dripping sweat and toil from the backs and brows of the builders. Perhaps the result of each family’s dedication and loyalty in assisting their loved ones in the task.

As the population of the garrison grew over the years, and more and more citizens left their families behind, the consistency of the lifeblood seemed to break down. Thin itself out. Devolve and dilute into something thinner and less consistent. A primordial liquid. That of water.

*     *     *

Of the songs sung and tales told of the tower’s beginnings, many knew. They had been passed down through the ages by bards, minstrels, and poets. Alongside firey pits and dusty roads.

Long after the world had been destroyed by Deluge.

And Fire had scorched the forests into plains.

Ages after Wormwood sheared the mountains to the earth.

And Plague had destroyed the animals and Famine had decimated humanity.

Many eons after the earth had been purified and reborn.

Just after man had begun to repopulate the earth.

[Collection of history as transcribed from ruins of the old language]

 The tower’s beginnings coincided with The Great Departing. A time of schism marked by a splitting of the earliest members of the new humanity.

Though not a splitting in the true sense.

Rather a leaving.

A departure of those from their young familial units.

A shunning compounded by rejection and neglect.

Those who had a misplaced reality, replaced with a self-righteous bigotry. A skewed, inarguable view of observable facts. A non-acceptance of the world around them. Complete with all its imperfections.

They were the tower’s builders.

They built its four walls. Those gleaming, soaring partitions that separated them from the rest of humanity.

Self-righteousness facing the north.

Ignorance facing the south.

Bigotry facing the east.

And intolerance facing the west.

They insulated and protected themselves against their loved ones. Their soul mates. Their compatriots. Their mentors. Their childhood friends. And their confidants.

They betrayed them out of their haughty arrogance. Leaving those whom were closest to them out in the cold to be ravaged down to the bones and sinews by the wolves. At times when relationship was needed the most.

And they established their new life secluded from any pollution from the outside world.

A holier-than-thou cocoon life of conceit.

In their ivory tower.

 
7 Comments

Posted by on 05/16/2016 in Short stories

 

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About This Map

About This Map

20160421_104910.jpgMany of you know I survive through clinical depression. And though I am 42 (as of this writing) I’ve struggled with this Specter since middle school. Many of you know all too well, the impact it has had on my life and those around me.

I feel pushed by the Lord everyday, to be as open as I can about it – feeling alone is the worst feeling in the world.

I don’t want anyone to feel like that. No one should.

I feel pushed to face the darkness, and encourage those who deal with the same demons. To talk about my experiences with those who have lost loved ones to this affliction, and may be themselves, pressing on through the awful quagmire of hopelessness.

So about this map…Having blogged for almost two years, I am thinking of creating a series of short stories about several heroes and their struggles with mental illness.

I wanted to share the beginning of their world with you.

I wrote a short story on stonewalling in relationships, which inspired me to begin to branch out with my writing.

 
 

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The Horseman Named Stonewall | [SHORT STORY]


walls_001

On the hinterlands of the dismal grey wasteland of Relationship, at the base of Cold Mountain, loomed a dark grey fortress known as Desolation.

Its colossal walls were miles high and meters thick.

The top of the wall was a foreboding omen to those who dared approach from across the tundra. Craggy stalagmites protruded at odd angles like dragons teeth and witches claws. Bones littered the parapet where vultures had dropped the leftover carcasses of their prey.

Vigilant gargoyles with ripped wings gazed out onto the horizon. They perched themselves every 100 yards, digging their talons into the chipped rock of the facade. The commander of the citadel called on their allegiance by name – Defensiveness, Frustration, Exasperation, and Malice. With glowing white eyes, they penetrated the darkness, letting out shrieks of alarm should life approach out of the black.

The commander himself was the sole inhabitant of the fortress. A horseman who sat deep within the cold, grey rock of Cold Mountain.

His name was Stonewall.

He had built the fortress himself after subduing and slaying his enemies – both innocent and those wretches accused of treason against the crown. He displayed their crucified and impaled bodies outside the wall as a warning to his enemies. They flooded the plain as far as the eye could see until the tundra faded into the fog of war. He hung their decapitated heads and tortured bodies from the walls. Signs of failed attempts to gain entrance into his realm.

Sitting in his murky throne room, Isolation – a place of slate and rock, he slumped on his throne of dark cracked granite and twisted oak. The cold iron crown of Pride, atop his swarthy, creased brow.

Over the course of the hundreds of relationships throughout his time as a foot soldier and knight, he strategically and tactically built this place stone upon stone.

An impregnable keep from his witching enemy, Hurt.

He built it to protect him from Hurt and the outside world. A sanctuary where he would be safe and not have to fear about facing his nemesis, along with his chieftains, Regret and Resentment.

It was his last bastion of safety.

His refuge.

He never left. And he never had visitors…the last visitor he had was years ago. It was easier this way.

Less chaos.

Less struggle.

He remained in isolation without friends. Yet unimpeded by with burden of the outside wasteland of Relationship. Unprovoked by Hurt, the horseman maintained a rigid perimeter to be traversed in order to gain access to the outside world.

It both prevented entry and exit.

One moonless night, the harpies atop the walls wailed and shrieked. 

The horseman rose to his feet and stepped to the parapet of his throne room. Gripping his lance and torch, he glanced out into the wasteland.

Hurt was approaching on his steed and along with his chieftains.

Stonewall made his way to the rampart and silenced the guardians atop the wall.

“What is it you want my nemesis?” he shouted.

“I only wish to have a moment of your time my brother,” Hurt volleyed back.

“You have no business here, fool! Turn back and come this way no more! Before I command my beasts to lurch down from these walls and tear your skin off and feast on your bones and entrails.”

“YOU FOOL!” Hurt roared. “Do you think you can withstand my forces? I shall return with legions of my hordes and we shall gain entrance, tear down your walls, and feast at your table as you die.”

“These walls are impregnable and you would be fool to think you can circumvent them and cause harm. If you advance you shall receive no quarter.”

Suddenly, Defensiveness spread its torn wings and dove towards the invaders. Hurt raised his lance and caught the harpy in the throat, instantly dropping it to the ground as it choked on its own blood.

Upon seeing his guardian die, the horseman raised his fist and plunged it towards the ground, signalling Frustration to awaken from its stone shell and harass the invaders. With lances pointed at it, Frustration circled and when spotting his victim, he swooped down and ensnared Regret in his dagger-like claws. Sweeping back to the top of the wall, the harpy dropped his victim, impaling him along the rows of fierce spikes.

Frustration dove again.

Hurt threw out the net and caught the gargoyle in mid-flight, dragging it to the ground. And in one slash, decapitated the beast with his war cleaver.

The horseman summoned Exasperation and the beast dove to the ground below. In one movement, the seasoned guardian grabbed Resentment by his throat and soared back to his nest. By the time he had reached his perch, his victim’s life had been drained. Dropping the carcass, it lunged again towards its victims.

Hurt pulled his bow and an arrow from his quiver and drew on the advancing harpy. And at the precise moment, let his arrow fly, embedding it straight between the beast’s eyes.

No sooner had the guardian’s lifeless body crashed to the ground, then Malice gained flight and pursued Hurt.

As Hurt turned to reach for his sword, the harpy sank its claws into the enemy’s back and tore out his vertebrae, leaving his body collapsed on the ground.

As the raptor rose into the air Stonewall followed it with his eyes. He watched it until it landed on its pedestal and took its original stone form.

The war hardened horseman shifted his gaze to the plain below, pike still clutched in his fist. He had fought off Hurt and his commanders another day.

But at what expense he wondered.

 

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