Night in the Cemetery

Mogram Stonecutter sat on the roof of the mausoleum in the dead of night, his lute resting in his lap. His fingers danced lightly over the strings, not playing any tune in particular but rather hitting notes and chords at random. It was an idle habit he had developed over the years when he was bored or lost in thought. This night it was a combination of both.

He was alone in the cemetery, but if the information he had been given was accurate and not some attempt to send him on a fool’s errand, that wouldn’t be the case for long. Others would be arriving soon, but for what purpose he didn’t yet know. Still, the cryptic message he had been given had been enough to incite his curiosity, and his bardic instincts had sensed an interesting story to be told. So here he sat. And waited.

The cemetery was not overly large, but it was not small, either. His vantage point from where he sat allowed him to see the whole of the area. The moon was still new, and the only illumination came from what few stars peeked out around the scattered clouds. This was no trouble for him, of course. Life living underground had adapted him to seeing in conditions where illumination was scarce.

His fingers tickled the strings of his lute once more, this time plucking out an eerie melody that caused the skin of his hands and arms to prickle with gooseflesh. He began to hum, a quiet harmony that ran in counterpoint to the notes he was playing. He parted his lips slightly to allow his voice to more easily flow over the music of his instrument. Melody and harmony tumbled over and around each other, twisting into a song that was both haunting and beautiful.

The air within 30 feet all around Mogram shivered, and several objects nearby lit up with magical auras. It was by no means enough to get a sense for the cemetery as a whole, but it gave him an idea of the area immediately surrounding him. Most of the objects were graves that bore the unmistakable gold aura of Abjuration magic, barriers set to prevent graverobbers, necromancers, and others with unseemly tastes from accessing the resting places of the dead. Others were headstones, obelisks, and similar markers highlighted with the red glow of Illusion magic. Mogram chuckled idly to himself at this. Even in death, there were some who bore their vanity to the grave.

One grave, however, glowed faintly green, the color of Enchantment. Mogram frowned at this. That was an odd one to see in a graveyard. A part of him wanted to investigate further, but he knew he didn’t have the skill to unravel the spell even if he did. He suspected it was some sort of snare for the unwary, but there was no way he could know for sure. Best, he decided, to leave it alone. A skilled wizard could probably take it apart safely, he thought. My luck I’d just end up the thrall of some malevolent sorcerer. He let the music die, both from his lips and from his fingers, and the auras faded away. Once more his fingers plucked aimlessly at the strings of his lute as he settled back in to wait.

Rust, Blood, and Flame

Malika paced steadily deeper into the woods, sword out to the side. Pale blue flames, barely visible, licked along the blade’s length. Near the base, just above the hilt, the only space not utterly consumed by rust, was etched a single word. Truth. It was not, Malika knew, the name of the sword. Rather, it was what the sword most desired, a craving that mirrored her own insatiable hunger.

Around her the noises of the forest continued – the howls and roars of large predators and the heavy footfalls of unseen leviathans. Malika made no effort at concealment. Indeed, she wanted to be seen, to be noticed by the creatures around her.

“Come to me,” she breathed. “Attack me. I am weak. I am food for your jaws. Destroy me.”

As if in answer, a large feline face lunged out of the brush in front of her. Malika deftly stepped to one side, bringing the sword up swiftly as the cat shot past her. The smell of blood, seared flesh, and singed fur filled the air as the cat fell dead a dozen paces away, evenly cloven in two.

Swordmaiden

The little girl entered the forest, armed with nothing but her courage, her grim determination, and the rusty sword strapped to her back. There were monsters in those woods – she could hear their howls, their cries to one another – but she was not afraid. She was a warrior, and these woods would soon learn to fear her. She had faced worse horrors at the hands of her own people. The creatures of the night were nothing in comparison. She calmly, deliberately drew her sword and strode forward, her steps bold and defiant. There would be blood this night, but not one drop of it would be hers.

Beneath the Surface of Artist Attribution

This image crossed my Facebook feed the other day.

beneath_old

It resonated with me immediately because I had just been thinking about how much deep ocean water weirds me out. (Don’t ask me why; I don’t remember the reason why that particular topic had been on my mind.)

But I also recognized the artwork because I own a hardcover of the book whose cover it adorns. And like so many memes that cross social media, this one came with no attribution for the artist. Normally I click on by such things, my ire slightly raised because proper credit has not been given but powerless to rectify the situation due to the challenges of tracing the art back to its original source. Not so in this case. It took less than five minutes to locate the artist’s name and her website, and less time than that to reproduce the above meme using the entire image with proper attribution.

Beneath the Surface - Julie Dillon
Beneath the Surface by Julie Dillon

I’m all for art appreciation and sharing it in new ways that represent various aspects of the human experience. But I wish people would be more conscientious about making sure the original artists receive recognition for those works. Many hours and much work goes into creating that art, and it’s only fair that due credit be given where it’s due.

Facebook: “It’s Too Hard”

This is just one of many reasons why I harbor a fundamental disdain for Facebook’s policies and management decisions. When you’ve set the almighty dollar in a place where it trumps social responsibility in your decision-making process, it’s at that point you’ve betrayed yet again your utter contempt of the actual people that use your services. BOING BOING: Why Facebook’s “It’s Too Hard” excuse for Vietnam war photo takedown is bullshit

Church, Faith, and Returning to the Fold

I went to church today. The first time since April, and probably the first time in years — and maybe ever — I’ve gone solely for myself. Growing up as the pastor’s kid, church attendance was mandatory. It was the same in college, where church attendance was monitored and enforced. Then I was married, later with kids, and church attendance was simply a part of our lifestyle. But I’m not sure how much of my attendance over all these years was because it was something I wanted and needed so much as it was expected because I called myself a Christian and Christians go to church.

But today I went alone. No wife, no kids, just me. I went because the mental block that has prevented me from embracing my faith for so many years finally came down this last week, and going to church wasn’t just something I realized I needed but that I desired. I saw people I haven’t spoken with in months, had good conversations with many of them, received one or two supportive hugs, sat under teaching from I Samuel and Daniel, made lunch plans, and generally had a good morning. I didn’t pretend that things are all good in my life, and the people I spoke with were gracious enough to be understanding of that and to offer what words of support they could, which I greatly appreciated. I even managed to remain awake and alert throughout the sermon without experiencing a sleep attack, something that would have been remarkable just a few months ago.

There’s still a long road ahead and much work to be done on my part. But for the first time in a very, very long time, I’m living my faith for myself and not because it’s something that’s expected of me. As a result I’m finding it far more fulfilling than at any other time I can remember. Like so many other parts of my life right now, it’s a marathon I’m running and not a sprint. And so it continues to be one foot in front of the other, for as long as it takes to reach the goal. Seems like there’s an apostle who wrote something about that once…

Fiction: Dust

A spark of green faelight flitted through the nursery window as the last rays of day faded from the sky. At its a center a faerie, no bigger than a single mote of dust. It flew around the room once, twice, three times, before finally settling on the edge of the cradle.

“Took your time getting here,” sighed a voice light as the wind.

The faerie shook its head, regarding the human infant below sleeping below. “I came when I could, Woost. The child isn’t in any actual danger.”

“Yet,” Woost replied. “It’s only a matter of time.”

“Perhaps,” the faerie said. “These things are never entirely certain.” It paused a moment, contemplative. “Still, best be on with it.”

With that the spark lifted off from the cradle’s edge and flitted around the infant’s head. There was a tiny, infinitesimal sneeze, and a fine mist of dust drifted from the faelight and settled onto the infant’s face. Tiny glyphs formed along her brow, just slightly darker than her skin.

“There,” said the faerie. “That should be enough. For now.”

“What happens now?” asked Woost.

“Nothing,” said the faerie, landing on the pillow next to the infant’s head. “Now we wait. And make plans. And hope for the best. Nothing can happen until the child comes of age, anyway, not now that she is bonded and sealed. And humans age so frustratingly slowly. So we have time.”

There was a long silence, as faerie and elemental alike watched the infant sleep. It was finally Woost whose voice broke the stillness.

“Strange how something so small and fragile and… mortal can be so wound up in the threads of Fate that extraordinary measures such as these must be taken in order to protect it,” he said.

“Such has always been the case, my friend,” the faerie replied. “Fate has always been influenced most heavily by the finite and the measurable. It’s almost ironic that it’s that very mutability upon which it seems to rely.

“Take care of her, Woost,” said the faerie, lifting off from the pillow and flitting to the window. “She’s important in ways only she will be able to understand.”

“I will be the very air she breathes,” the elemental promised.

“I know you will.” And then the faerie was gone.

More Than a Figment

There was a time when I thought my anxiety wasn’t real, that it was a figment of my imagination, an emotional ghost conjured by my subconscious to cover up the other mental health issues I deal with on a daily basis. Having a psychology background I have a healthy respect for the way the human brain can deceive itself. My anxiety attacks were infrequent at best and typically over in five minutes or less. They didn’t interfere, so I shrugged them off.

Image by Mariana Zanatta under a Creative Commons license
Image by Mariana Zanatta under a Creative Commons license

Then in April the bottom fell out of my world, and I was hospitalized. Meds were changed. My depression became less severe, almost manageable. One layer of my psyche was pulled back, revealing another layer underneath that I didn’t even know existed. And it was pissed. Boy, was it ever.

Anxiety is new for me. I’ve always been prone to being easily stressed out. But I’ve never been this vulnerable to panic, at least not this way. I view my hospitalization as a pivotal moment in my life. Those four days are when everything changed. It’s like someone flipped a switch in my brain, toggling on a new kind of brain chemistry.

For a while I was still able to pass off my anxiety as circumstantial and irrelevant. I was adapting to sudden and jarring changes in my life situation. I was on new medications that my body needed to get used to. I’d lost my job and was freaking out about not being able to help provide for my kids. I was ‘out’ as an atheist and everyone close to me suddenly knew I’d lost my faith. These are the things I told myself to explain my anxiety and the frequent increases in heart rate and palpitations I felt.

The last couple of days have changed that for me. Life the last month or so has mostly stabilized. I’m getting better sleep now. I’m starting to look for work again. In short, my stress levels as a whole have dropped.

And yet, I step outside into the heat, and my anxiety skyrockets. I worked a baseball game last night for four hours. In a heat index approaching 100 degrees. Over a hot grill. And my heart rate was ridiculously high for most of that four hours. Prompted entirely by physical stress. That was the moment when I realized that my anxiety is a real condition, a real disorder, not just an addendum to a list of other issues I’m living with. There’s a reason why physical activity feels like a kind of living death, why I struggle so much some days to get my body going.

I’ve been afraid for so long that I’ve simply been deceiving myself somehow, that I’ve been subconsciously looking for ways to escape, that I had my brain convinced that it needed to lie for me and to me. I know now that’s not the case. I think this has simply been lying under the surface for a while and dealing, but it was covered up by the severity of my depression. With that better in hand now, it has simply revealed this additional health issue that I didn’t realize existed, let alone needed to be addressed.

It’s almost a relief, really, even in spite of the fact that it’s physically uncomfortable. I know I can push through it, and I do. Frequently. I know it’s not something I can control. It’s not my fault. I certainly didn’t ask for this. And if I could make it go away, instantly, I would. So it’s something to be managed. I’m already learning how to do that. I have good doctors who can help. I have good friends who support me and to whom I can talk when I need it.

Baby steps, people. My mantra. My philosophy for recovery.

Daily Routine – Grinding for XP

I got up this morning, took my meds like I’m supposed to, ate breakfast because my meds require it, started a load of laundry since it’s that time in the week again. It’s been a week since I started sleep treatments with my CPAP, and it’s clear they have made a significant difference. I sleep through the night now with minimal disruptions. My body is starting to feel better rested, even if I still feel tired much of the time. It’s a different sort of tiredness, though, less bone-weary and more “oh, I’m just in the middle of recuperating from some major illness.” It’s a process, albeit a frustratingly slow one.

My depression and anxiety have been constant companions this entire week. The depression itself has been relatively mild. Instead of crippling, it has presented itself more as a lingering melancholy and physical fatigue. The anxiety has actually been the more onerous condition, what with the random heart palpitations that sometimes make it hard to breathe for several seconds at a time. I see my psychiatrist again next week, and this is something that is definitely going to get addressed.

I’m finally trawling for work. I’ve had to lower my expectations somewhat. Every day is an unpredictable set of variables that make it impossible to know ahead of time what level of functionality I’m going to be at. Some days I can glide through with ease. Others require several hours to get started. Applying for the same kind of white-collar jobs I used to be able to do simply isn’t practical right now. So I’m looking for employment that allows me some flexibility while still providing a steady income stream. I have clocks ticking against me, and I’m beginning to feel a sense of cloying panic creep up that’s stifling.

But I’m making progress. Every day of this journey is new and different. I have had to learn patience and self-forgiveness. I have good people near me who support me and prop me up when I need propping. I take large steps when I can and little steps when I have to.

I’m grinding for XP. Maybe sometime soon I might even level up.

Fiction: Light in My Eyes

I lay down for bed and turn out the lamp, but I still can’t sleep. It’s the light behind my eyes that keeps me awake. The room may be pitch black, I may cover my eyes, squeeze them shut as tight as I can. It doesn’t matter. There’s still that light behind my eyes.

I haven’t had a solid night’s rest in weeks. The doctors all tell me it must be some kind of neurological condition. Neuronal misfires in my brain. Unknown stimulation of the optic nerve, possibly from an as-yet undiscovered tumor. The fact remains: they don’t know, and I can’t sleep.

I have my own theories about the source of that light, but no one would ever believe me. They’d tell me that the things I see coming out of that light aren’t real, that I’m losing my mind. But I know the truth. I know they’re real.

I have the scratches on the insides of my eyelids to prove it.

Jack-of-All-Trades, Master of Words