I Need to Write

I have always wanted to be a writer. Scratch that, not true–I always wanted to write. I started writing when I was in first grade, and in one form or another I haven’t stopped since. But never the way I wanted to, the way one assumes a “writer” writes; as though that was their job, their living, their passion.

Almost 5 years ago I lost my job. I took two years off for online classes to re-up my skills in hopes of getting another job in the field I wanted. And once those classes were done, while I was job-hunting, I wrote. OH, how I wrote! And I loved it. For nearly three years.

All that time, I lived off first my retirement money, and then off my father’s when he died. (Still job hunting, not that irresponsible!) But suddenly I was notified that the money was gone. No lead time. No warning, not a hint.

Yes, a writer writes. But sometimes a writer HAS to stop writing.

I had to.

I’m exhausted every day, doing nothing but hitting the job search engines and falling asleep in front of my laptop trying to fill in One. More. Damn. Application. It’s desperation time; I absolutely HAVE TO have a job by the end of this month, or I will lose my house. I know finding a job has to be my priority, or all is lost.

And I’m going bugfuck CRAZY.

I MISS writing! I miss my characters. I miss writing down (and finding out!) what happens next. I’m hoping this ‘not writing’ is actually a good thing, that I’ll come back to my WIP fresh, able to look at it with new eyes and see where things might be going wrong, or where something needs tweaking (That’s tweaking, not twerking! Gods forbid!). Or even that I might come up with something to improve what I’ve done, a new twist or new insight.

But I’m afraid that I won’t. I’m afraid I’ll lose my edge, lose the flow, lose my train of thought.

If I really think about it, I’m sure those doubts and fears are due to depression and stress and exhaustion, and that once I get a job (because I refuse to believe that I won’t) and get a chance to catch up I will be able to get back in the groove.

I’ve done it before, snatching every second to write, scribbling in my notebook at breakfast, on my break, at lunch, and then transcribing everything when I get home. I wrote everywhere, every second I could. My chiropractor (the absolute BEST guy in the world!) grins every time he sees me with my notebook, and was the first person to notice–and pointed it out–when I didn’t have it. (I was put on new medication, and my brain leaked out somewhere. That was the first time I was unable to write at all, and I hadn’t even noticed it!) And the first person to hug me when he saw me with the notebook again.

Because I can’t not write. It seems to be my biological imperative. I get crazy, like a junkie needing a fix. Anxious, jonesing, itching, frantic.

I got a call today, for an interview. Exactly the job I’ve wanted, receptionist at a doctor’s office. I’m hoping I get the job.
Not only because I need the money and want to keep my house.

Because I want to WRITE, dammit! And until I have a job, I can’t.

And I can’t live like this.

I’d love to have a garden

I love flowers. Nasturtium, lantana, hibiscus, lavender, hydrangea, orchids, roses… I can even respect the beauty of oleanders, albeit wondering why anyone would want something so poisonous anywhere near anyone they love.

Among my favorites are morning glories, but my absolute favorite is the gorgeous and exotic night-blooming cereus. My cereus currently has seven bunny tails (soft, furry buds), and I’m hoping that the spring rains don’t beat them all off the plant before they have the chance to bloom, as they did last year. This plant was a cutting from the Mother Ship down the street—that one logged in at over 120 blooms a couple of years ago! I can only aspire.

One of the reasons that the morning glories and the cereus are my favorites is because I have two brown thumbs. I’m not a gardener, you see. To call my style of gardening “benign neglect” is to be WAY too kind. But the morning glories grow wild in my garden, and the cereus hums along happily so long as it gets some water when it’s dry. It’s the only plant I take in or cover when the frost warnings come out down here in Florida.

The only other things that grow without anyone tending seems to be Brazilian Pepper and the oak trees. In my yard, those are serious pests! I currently have six—yes, SIX—oak tree saplings growing in and through my chain-link fence, and two more growing up through the hedge in my front garden. I can’t keep up with them. I’m 61 years old with arthritis in my hips and back, I can’t do the work that it would entail to dig them out, root and branch, and I don’t have the funds to pay someone else to do it. And I’ve given up on the Brazilian Pepper. NOBODY can keep up with that!

So I take my pleasures where I can get them. When I take the dog out for her walk in the morning I say hello to the morning glories that are blooming, and tell them how beautiful they are. And I pet the bunny tails on the cereus and tell them I can’t wait to see them bloom. And I take pictures of them, to document each stage, because let me tell you, when they bloom they are absolutely BREATHTAKING! 8 to 10 inches across, and such a pure white that they glow in the dark. When they go off this year I’ll see if I can post some pictures. If you don’t know, they only bloom one night a year, though sometimes the blooms go off at different times, making the show last for up to a week. If all of mine bloom, that will happen over several days. I love it!

The fun thing about my garden is that it did it its own self. When I moved into my house, the garden was a disciplined hedge precisely cut to within an inch of its life, two beautifully blooming bird-of-paradise plants, and three rose bushes under my bedroom window. The bird-of-paradise never bloomed again, though their foliage remains with a haughty nose-in-the-air stubbornness. Two of the rosebushes died, but the third held on until my house fire in 2004. The fire never touched it (it was all internal), but oddly enough when I moved back in after the house was redone the rosebush was gone. Completely. Root and branch, thorns and all. Just an empty space between the hedges. I can only say “?”

And, of course, the ubiquitous plethora of weeds.

But then the morning glories showed up, and the pothos that I was told was philodendron grew out of its pot and moved in, and a hibiscus appeared in the perfect space where the porch roof turns the corner. And this past year a flowering bush mysteriously moved in at the corner of the house. We have decided it is an azalea, and I gloried in its beautiful explosion of pink petals.

Nobody dug the soil. Nobody planted the bushes. Nobody trims or tends them. Perhaps it was garden fairies, taking pity on my poor, neglected garden and deciding to cheer us up by giving us this gift. If so, I thank them from the bottom of my heart, because they’re beautiful.

The Brazilian Pepper, not so much. I’m pretty sure it was some bird carrying the berries and dropping them into the midst of my crepe myrtle. It has all-but strangled the poor myrtle, its staves shooting up almost overnight through the myrtle’s branches. It doesn’t even have the grace to grow into the myrtle, standing aloof within it while the myrtle’s branches touch and embrace and become one.

Was there a point to this post? Not really. I just wanted to share my wild garden with you. Because, hey, morning glories.

And because life deserves the incredible beauty of the night-blooming cereus.

Today’s rant on Facebook…

Yesterday, while checking posts on my social media, Facebook did a pop-up that hit my angry button, and I fired off this post:

Facebook just asked me to donate to help Nepal. Did Nepal send any money to help after Katrina?

I think not.

Apparently, that struck a nerve with my friends, because I received a number of startled responses, beginning with one that said, tentatively, “umm…you know that Nepal is actually pretty dirt poor, right?” and continuing with some from people who know me less well “And if people only helped those who helped them first, then no one would ever get help. It has to start somewhere.” It continued with some posts that ranged from faintly accusatory to concerned to humorous: “Loving one’s fellow-man should never start with “what’s in it for me?” Not ever.” and “That does not sound like the Warjna that I know. Did you hit your head? Do you have encephalitis? Were you hacked?” and “I’m going with hacked for $200, Alex, er, Alan….

At that point I realized what I had done, and decided I should explain. I posted the following, and I’m posting it here as well in hopes that my point will continue to resonate and put out positive vibes of education:

Sorry. Perhaps I should explain.

First off, yes, I know that Nepal is dirt poor. That comment was sarcasm.

Second, I have no real problem with helping others in disasters. I do that myself when I can, whether it is donating to the Red Cross or reaching out a hand to someone in a parking lot.

What I do have a problem with, and I have said this in my posts time and time again, is that we Americans _as_a_culture_ tend to open our purses for every other nation on the planet, and fail to help our own.

Are you aware that there were people still living in FEMA trailers more than FIVE YEARS after Katrina? That there are people in New Orleans and the surrounding areas today that still have no homes of their own?

We’re all “Let’s send money to Nepal,” “Little children are starving in Africa,” “Japan had a tsunami,” and all the other disasters, when there are little children starving right here in America. When there are veterans living on the streets–if you can call that living. When people with mental illnesses are turned out of hospitals and treatment centers because there is just no money to help them.

Isn’t that a disaster?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t send money to help others outside our borders. I’m just saying we should be sending equal amounts to help people here at home. But there is a stigma to being poor in America that we don’t attach to the poor elsewhere, and that is a shame and a crime. That somehow the poor of America did it to themselves by being lazy and unworthy, and therefor don’t deserve help.

Perhaps I’m a bit touchy on this subject, because it hits close to home. I know some of those people in New Orleans. I have–or had–friends there, some of whom had to leave their beloved homeland and go elsewhere just to find a job and a home. And I have other friends right here in River City who asked to borrow a tent so they could camp out somewhere, because they had no job and no money.

But if anyone is offended by my words then perhaps they should stop and really think about why they are offended. Perhaps it is because my words hit too close for comfort.

Am I wrong, thinking like this? I don’t think I am.

To the one who told me, “And if people only helped those who helped them first, then no one would ever get help. It has to start somewhere,” I’d like to point out that America has been sending aid overseas for a hundred years or more. We have been sending help first. Where is our help, when we won’t even help ourselves?

To the one who said, “Loving one’s fellow-man should never start with “what’s in it for me?” Not ever.” You’re right, it shouldn’t. And that’s not what I said, and it’s not what I’m saying. I’m not even really asking those nations who have been helped by us to help us now. I’m asking US to help us. I’m not even asking us to help us FIRST, I’m just asking us to help US. And it would be nice if we did so in at least some proportion to what we send out.

The comment about this not sounding like the Warjna he knew–that was a sincere note of concern. And he was right, sort of. I usually manage to edit and filter so that my comments don’t come off the way it did. He’s used to more like the rest of this post. Sorry for scaring you, brother.

“…hacked for $200, Alex, er, Alan….” Good one!

*sigh* End of rant. Wish it was the end of the problem.

Depression, frustration, aggravation…

I’ve recently had a horrifying experience. One that has, however, confirmed in me that my true passion and avocation is writing. Sorry if this post is kind of a downer…

We writers all have our doubts, even writers like Chuck Wendig, great and wonderful and entertaining and creative and (are you listening, Chuck?) established and PAID writers. We all have those days when everything we put our hands to is drek. Horrible, awful, meandering, pointless drivel. Days when we’re sure no-one in the world would read more than the first two words before their eyes go up in flames while they’re screaming for the brain bleach.

Then there are days when The Muse, whichever one chooses to patronize us, comes up and lays the smackdown on us and the Magic happens. All those words, all smooth and sleek or broken and glittering like shards of glass, all those words that somehow on any other day never in a million YEARS could we have said them in just that way.

The Magic.

Those are the days I live for, as I’ve said in a previous post. Those are the days that make it all worthwhile, everything, the pain I’ve been through, the heartache, the anger. Those are the days when I know that all of that went into that one, beautiful, perfect piece of beauty. And that’s okay.

Life hasn’t been fun recently. I lost my job almost five years ago, and haven’t worked (for pay) since. Can’t find a job. Running out of money fast now. (Don’t think about that. It will all work out, it WILL.)

In fact, it hasn’t been fun since—yes, really—the turn of the century. Isn’t that the oddest phrase to use? True, though. 2001 was 9/11. My home town. People I had worked with, or at least who worked for the same company I did.

2003 my Mother died of Alzheimer’s. The scariest disease of all the scary diseases in all the universe, because someone who was smart and witty and articulate—is not. Not ever again, never.

2005 I lost almost everything I owned in a house fire. (I won, though. My cats were inside, and they survived, every one.)

2006, after finally getting everything back in the house, (though not unpacked yet, no, of course not) we had a freak rainstorm that flooded the room where—yes, you guessed it—the stuff was stored. There’s the crime, there—the heaviest stuff, of course, was on the bottom. That would be the BOOKS. Gone. Mulch and mildew.

Then, health problem after health problem. Hammer blow after hammer blow.

November, 2012: Two car accidents, the second totaled both cars (not my fault!). Then, NaNoWriMo. I won, in spite of spending a week searching for a new car instead of writing. I won! What a high that was! By the gods, I could beat anything!

December 2012: Don’t ever say that you can beat anything, it tempts Fate too much. A week in the hospital with blood clots in my lungs. No job, no insurance. But I had my laptop computer, and by the gods I was going to write, dammit! NOTHING was going to stop me.

2013: More of the same old. Dad died in late October, but we couldn’t have the funeral until December, my brother couldn’t get her to Florida from Montana. I was too stunned to even understand why.

2014: one of my oldest friends went into the hospital after a fall, then into a rehab for physical therapy. She died three days later, very suddenly, of probably a massive stroke. I really mean very suddenly: I was there. She looked up in the middle of the conversation, said “Oh, no!” and fell over. Then: utter chaos. EMTs, doctors, nurses, machines, ambulance—she was already gone. She was gone before she fell. I saw her go.

2015: the last damn straw. After the fire in ’04, I and my cats went to stay with a friend while the idiots who were rehabbing my house did their thing (For 11 months!) One of my cats romanced one of his cats, and pregnancy ensued. Fortunately, only one kitten. She was my affirmation of life, so that’s what I named her: Ankhet. Egyptian for “a living female creature.” In one week she went from being an attitudinal fussbudget to an apathetic ball of fur in the bathtub. Kidney failure, the vet said. There were things they could do—but why? To prolong her life for another few weeks, with no quality? I had to let her go. I had my beautiful furbaby put to sleep.

Now, I don’t know what the hell it is about my doctor, but if I go see her any time I’m stressed, I burst into tears the second she comes in the room. Nobody else gets that response from me, just her. Enough is enough, she says, I want you on antidepressants. I don’t want them, I said. I’ve lived with someone who was clinically depressed. I had long-term friendships with two other ones. I know what it is, I know what it looks like, I know what it feels like, and that’s not what’s happening here. I’m stressed, and I’m grieving. That’s not depression. (Trust me, it isn’t!)

Okay, fine, she says. Then you’re going on anti-anxiety meds. Okay, fine, I said. I’ll try it. She calls it in, I pick it up.

Remember when I said it was the last straw? Back there, two paragraphs. Whoa, was I wrong! A couple of days into it, we noticed that I didn’t “fizz” so much while driving. Idiot cuts me off? Okay, I saw it coming. No reason to fuss. Moron makes a left turn from the right lane? No problem. I have decent reflexes. Hey, I’ve mellowed out! This is good, right? But I was clenching my jaw all the time. Awake and asleep.

Nearly a month into it, I realized something. Two somethings, really. First, that I was having real trouble finding words. Long, frustrating pauses while I tried to dig the damned thing out and finish my sentence. My friends said, yeah, we noticed that. What the hell is that?. And then, I suddenly realized—in nearly a month I had written not. One. Damned. Word.

Not one.

You all are reading this, right? You came here to read this stuff because you’re writers, and you liked some of the stuff I wrote before. And I had not been able to concentrate long enough to string two words together on paper. Think how I felt when I realized that!

You don’t want to see me mad. The Incredible Hulk got nothin’ on me. I got mad.

NOT. FUCKING. HAPPENING!

You are NOT taking away the most important thing in my life, the one thing that makes me ME.

I picked up the phone and called my doctor and said I quit. I’m done. She didn’t want me to stop, but I ‘splained it to her in words of one syllable or less. Not gonna happen.

Okay, fine. That was about a week and a half ago now. As you can see, I can string sentences together in a fairly coherent manner. It took almost a week. I’m now on a different medication (3 days) and my friends are watching out for me this time (not that they weren’t before, just that they couldn’t figure out what was going on the first time). And if this new stuff FUBARs, I’m over it. I have another alternative I’ll look into. We’ll see.

But like I said—if I had had ANY doubts at all about whether this writing thing was for me? No doubts at all, now. There is nothing more important to me than writing. Well, at least, as far as things that I DO. The cats are still more important, they depend on me, and my friends are right up there, but my friends are generally capable of taking care of themselves for the most part. If they call, I’ll come a-runnin’. Drop what I’m doing and go. But that’s a momentary thing. From now on, NOTHING gets between me and my writing.

No power in the ‘verse can stop me.

Not even me.

When I wrote for the Heroes

I write poetry. Sometimes. Sometimes it’s even pretty good. Then there are the other times…

I tell people that there are days when I sit down to write a poem, and it’s okay. Sometimes pretty decent. There are other days when I sit down and WORK on a poem. Fight for it, syllable by syllable, line by line, dripping sweat and anger onto the page to make it happen.

And then there are days—O gods of the holy Words—then there are days when The Muse comes up and smacks you with a two-by-four and it comes out your hand like thunder and glory. Those days are what I live for. Days when it doesn’t matter where you are and what’s going on around you. Because the space in your head is like that sudden silence in the X-Wing when Obi-Wan’s spirit says “Use the Force, Luke,” and you can do no wrong.

This was one of those. It was the end of December, 2001, after the fall of the Towers. The company I worked for had people in those towers. I had been born not far from that site. I was invested in that place on a personal level as well as that of a citizen of America, and a member of the human race. It was MINE. And that hurt and anger sat in my chest and closed my throat for all those months. Everywhere I turned were stories of the Heroes. The men and women on Flight 93. Those in the Towers that helped others get out first, and never came out themselves. Steve Buscemi, who stopped being an actor and went back home to be a fireman because that’s what a hero does. The men and women and dogs of the Search and Rescue. The construction workers. Stories like that. And most of all, the first responders of New York: Firemen, Policemen, EMTs, Doctors, Nurses. All Heroes.

It all sat there in my brain and in my heart, while I read Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan books, trying to understand what was happening around me. While I read Gavin de Becker’s The Gift of Fear, trying to comprehend the aftershocks, the shivers that were still within me. Knowing I had to write it out, had to say something, had to say it in a way that MEANT something, something not trite but true, in a way I had never written before.

There I was, reading The Gift of Fear in the middle of the lunch crush at Burger King. The place was packed; the music was blaring, people were shouting to be heard in their not-so-private conversations, and on the other side of the glass was the play area with kids shrieking and bouncing off the walls and windows.

And The Muse came. And none of that chaos could stop me. The words flowed out of my pen like blood and fire and gold, from start to finish, with never a stop. It was all there, all that I needed to say about them, and not one word was wrong. Except… I sat there and looked at it, and there was one line that didn’t scan, that bothered my sense of symmetry. I tried to fix it, and The Muse smacked me down and said, “Leave that alone! That’s exactly the way it needs to be!” And she was right (of course she was right!), because when the music came later—again, all in a rush—that line flowed as smoothly as all the rest, and that was the line that broke my friend’s heart and made him cry when I sang it for the first time, because I had gotten it right.

I sing this song twice a year at my organization’s events on Memorial Day and Veterans Day. And when they stand and clap and scream for me, I tell them NO. I make them sit again, and I ask if there are any Police officers in the room, or their families, or their support staff. And I ask them to stand. And then I ask if there are Military personnel, Firefighters, Doctors, Nurses, EMTs; if their families are there, or their support staff. And I ask them to stand. And I tell the people to look around at those who are standing. I only wrote the words, I tell them. I only sing them. These are the people I wrote about. These are the people I wrote them for. These are the Heroes.

This is for the Heroes. Because this was all I had to give them.

The Watchmen

Every day they wake up
Every day they stand up
Knowing this may be the day
The last day they do –
They are the ones who stand between
Death and the Innocent.

Every day they put on the uniform
Every day they polish the shield
Every day they don the armor
Pick up the weapons, take the field,
Carry the banner
Of the Watchmen.

Every day they greet their friends,
Salute the warrior in each others’ eyes,
Every day prepare to fight the foe,
Prepare to hold the line –
To be the ones who stand between
Death and the Innocent.

Every day they put on the uniform
Every day they polish the shield
Every day they don the armor
Pick up the weapons, take the field,
Carry the banner
Of the Watchmen.

Every day they dance with death
Every day they smile and joke
While Death looks on, awaits their turn
Win or lose against a worthy foe –
Being the ones who stand between
Death and the Innocent.

Every day they put on the uniform
Every day they polish the shield
Every day they don the armor
Pick up the weapons, take the field,
Carry the banner
Of the Watchmen
Carry the banner
Of the Watchmen
Honor the banner
Of the Watchmen.

12/29/01 @ Varina Suellen Plonski

Dedicated to those in service to mankind – the U.S. Military, Police, Firefighters, EMTs and Medical personnel, their families, and all their support services, for being the line drawn in the sand.

What Do You See, What Do You Know?

They say that writers see things differently than other people. I don’t know that that’s true.

I don’t think that we see things differently. I think that we SEE. That maybe we pay more attention to what we see, that we pick up what we see, and handle it, and look at it from different angles. We don’t see differently, we see more. We look deeper than the surface. And then we apply our own observations, our own interpretations, our own emotions, as touchstones and litmus tests and whatever other tests to see if they look real, to see if they feel true. If they feel TRUE.

I haven’t ever had a “love of my life.” But I’ve loved. I’ve loved my parents, and I’ve loved my friends, and I’ve loved my cats. And yes, a special someone or two. I’ve read hundreds, maybe thousands, of books where people love and are loved. I’ve watched TV shows and movies and plays. And I’ve seen my friends go through the motions and the emotions. The highs and the lows and the devastating pain of losing a loved one. And so I know I can write about love. Because even though I have never felt that particular love in my own self, my heart knows how that feels because through my watching and my testing and my simply living—I encompass all these things.

They say “write what you know.” But oh, we know so many things that we have never experienced in our own selves. We are rich in experiences that have happened to others. From books, from TV, from movies, from plays. And in those things and the things we have experienced are the seeds to write what we have not.

I have never gone skydiving, but I have leaned against the wind in a storm and felt it hold my body up when I should have fallen. Felt it take my breath away even as it fills my lungs with elation. I have felt my hair whip across my face driving in the car with the top down. So when I see someone leap out of an airplane and spread his arms like wings I know what he is feeling. And if I know it, I can show it.

Write what you know. But remember that you know more than you think.

The White Madness

This is in answer to  flash challenge from a really cool guy, Chuck Wendig. You should go see his blog at terribleminds.com. I do warn you, though, he is definitely NSFW. And so is this challenge. It’s in response to a new app called Clean Reader. I won’t go into it here – check out Chuck’s blog entry titled “Fuck You, Clean Reader: Authorial Consent Matters.” The link is just below. ‘Nuff said.

The challenge is this, and I quote: “So, given all the hullaballoo with Clean Reader (“read books, not profanity”) this week, I thought a flash fiction challenge in pure defiance had some meaning. Thus: I want you to be inspired by that debacle. I want you to write filthily. Or write about filth. Sex, profanity, perversion. Fiction or meta-fiction. Any genre.”

My entry is a cut from my current WIP (Work In Progress). It’s current time, but set on another world. Sometime soon I’ll fill you all in on that. Just now, though, here’s the excerpt. It’s about people who’ve broken the rules, and those who have to deal with the aftermath. It runs somewhat over the 2000 words Chuck asked for, but hey, breaking rules, yeh? Only one cuss word. Said innocently, too. It’s the rest that hurts…

# # #

It was one of the times Deimo most feared; what he called the white madness, when his Master’s eyes were pale as ice and there was nothing human inside. A time when there was nothing Deimo could do to prevent or protect, but only stand and listen, sick and shaking and grieving inside but ultimately and utterly—helpless.

Sometimes, if he was there and could recognize the signs soon enough, he could head off the rage. Could dull its edge by offering his own body for the beating, let his Master spend the madness in the ring by putting up a real fight. Save a life by hazarding his own, where he at least had a chance to survive by his own skills.

But other times…

It had happened before. He had tried, gods knew, he had tried to save the girl, to put himself in between her and his Master, to no avail. She was already dying, and it was weeks before all his own injuries healed.

The worst of it was that his Master remembered what happened. Oh, not what he had done to the girl, no. But that Deimo had tried to prevent him—that, he remembered. The next day Khamasur had called him to the atrium and struck him down with one savage blow that left him dazed and bleeding on the floor, and stood over him with glittering eyes. And told him what would happen to his family if ever again Deimo stood between him and his intent.

Now it was happening again. Deimo had been out of the House, gone to the Citadel to meet with the Security Chiefs of the other Houses for a conference. When he returned, the watch commander told him that the Master was in such a rage as he had never seen, and when Deimo went to the atrium he found the man who had stood guard in his place sick and shaking and cowering in the hall.

What he found in the atrium was pure horror.

Deimo had the halls cleared from the atrium to the Master’s chambers, and threatened dire consequence if anyone so much as stepped into the short hall before he gave permission. He ordered the guard away from the Master’s suite, so no-one would see him covered in blood. Then he took charge of Khamasur, walking slowly with him all the long way through the House as he staggered like a drunkard from the exhaustion of his fit.

In Khamasur’s chambers Deimo stripped off his Master’s bloody clothes, drew a bath and bathed him, and put him to bed. He cleaned up the room and disposed of the bloody robes, then went back down to the atrium.

What Khamasur had done to the girl was brutal. Her body looked as though it had been savaged by animals: beaten and broken, the flesh torn and bloody. He stripped off what remained of her clothes and washed the blood from her body, then wrapped her in a sheet. Then he cleaned the atrium, washing down the tiles and columns until they were once again pristine white.

When he was done he took the body out of the House, carrying the dead girl in his arms and laying her gently across the seat of the car. He drove through the deserted streets down to the Agora and laid her in the shadows on the path nearest the House of Apollo Akestor, where she was sure to be found by the guards of the City Watch. Then he drove back to his House, sick and sad and weary.

But the worst was still to come.

The last time a madness like this had come on him, Khamasur had slept through the night and far into the next day. This time he woke again, not long after Deimo had left the House on his sad errand. Khamasur’s appetites had woken with him, and, finding no guard at his door, he commed his Governor, Panourgo. The Governor sent his runner, Oso, for wine and a tray of meats and cheeses, while he himself went to the women’s dorm. He woke the hall, chose a woman, and brought her to Khamasur, ignoring her protests and her weeping.

When Deimo returned the Watch commander met him at the door, telling him what the door guard had heard when he took over at shift change.

Deimo ran.

He found the door guard waiting in the hall, as far away from the Master’s door as he could get and still stand his post. Deimo took his report, then sent the guard away, telling the man that he himself would look in on the Master and stand guard until the next shift change.

And then he went inside.

It was a scene of carnage. Blood was everywhere: on the floor, on the walls and pillars, on the hangings. Khamasur lay naked in the middle of the room in a welter of gore, and Deimo went to him first. For all the blood on his body, only a small amount of it was his; cuts and abrasions on his hands from the blows he had given, and a long shallow cut on his arm that looked as if it came from a knife.

Deimo heard a soft sound, and looking up he saw the runner boy, Oso, on the balcony, cowering hard against the balustrade. He was shivering in shock, staring with his gaze fixed on Khamasur.

Deimo rose and came forward, then stepped between the boy and his Master to block his view, crouching down a few feet away. The boy was spattered with blood; on his clothes, on his face, and in his pale hair. “Oso,” Deimo said softly. “Oso.” He reached out his hand and the boy cringed, but his eyes lost the fixed stare and tracked to Deimo. “Oso, are you alright? Are you hurt?” Deimo kept his voice soft, soothing. The boy shook his head.

He looked back at the boy, and gestured back to the horrific scene. “Did you see what happened here?” Oso nodded. Very gently Deimo asked him, “Can you tell me?” The boy nodded again, and Deimo shifted, settled down on one knee.

“Master called Panourgo,” the boy said, his voice faint but clear. “Master wanted a girl, wanted wine, and meat, and cheese. Panourgo sent me to fetch wine, and meat, and cheese for Master, told me to bring it here. I brought it here.”

Deimo nodded encouragement, reassuring the boy that he understood. It would take time to get the full story, he knew; the boy had to tell it in his own way, and with the life he had to live and the horror of what he had seen tonight… It would take time.

“Master took the wine, Master didn’t want the meat and cheese. He wanted the girl. Wanted her to drink wine with him. The girl was afraid of Master. She didn’t want wine. She wanted to go, go back to her room, go back to bed. Master hit the girl, hit her. The girl fell down, and Master fucked the girl, hard, hard.” Deimo winced at how casually the boy said it, knowing it was the only word he knew for the act. For what had so often been done to him. Gods, the life he led in this House… “She cried. She cried, and she screamed, and Master hit her.

“Master wanted more wine. He got up and put more wine in his cup and drank it. The girl got up, too. She wanted cheese and meat. She went to the plate with the cheese and meat, and she took the knife to cut the cheese and meat. But then she ran, she ran to Master and cut him with the knife. Master threw away the cup with the wine. He took the knife from the girl and hit her with the knife. Hit her. Hit her. Hit her…” The boy’s voice trailed off, and he looked again at Khamasur on the floor. “There was blood when he hit her. When he hit her with the knife. She screamed when he hit her with the knife, and then she didn’t scream any more. She fell down. Master kept hitting her with the knife.” The boy stopped, and just crouched there, shivering.

Deimo looked around the room, looking for the body that was the source of all the blood, but saw nothing, no-one. He looked back at the boy. “Oso,” he asked, gesturing around them again. “Where is she?”

The boy shifted his gaze back to Deimo, staring at him with stricken eyes. Slowly, very slowly, the boy turned his head to look over his shoulder—through the balusters at his back, out to the sea.

Gods bless…” Deimo breathed. Very slowly he stood, trying not to frighten the boy any further. He moved away and went to the railing a few feet from the boy, looked over and down. There on the rocks, hundreds of feet below, he could see the body. Broken and still, white robes swirling on the incoming tide.

The boy spoke again; still quiet, still matter-of-fact. “Master got up, and he looked at her. He looked at her a long time. Then he hit her with his foot, and he looked at her again. Then he bent down, and he picked up the girl, and he carried her here where we watch the sun. He held her up, made her be standing here. And then he made her fly. She flew. She had white wings, and she flew down, down, down to the sea.” There was something strange in his voice when he said it, almost a yearning.

Deimo stared down at the girl’s body, and his heart ached in his chest. There was no way to get down there, no way to reach her. But the tide would take her, and the sea would give her peace.

He turned to the boy. “Oso, will you do something for me? For me, and for the Master?” The boy nodded. “Go into the bathing room and draw a bath. You can wash yourself, too. Here,” he said. He took off the dark gray tunic of his uniform, then took off the soft linen one he wore underneath. “If you give me your tunic when you take it off, I will have it cleaned and give it back to you. You can wear this one to go home.” He shrugged. “It’s big, but it’s clean.” He started to reach out to hand it to Oso, but the boy cringed back, so he folded it instead and set it aside where the boy could get it. Then he backed away.
He left the suite of rooms and went down the hall; he found the cleaning supplies and brought them back with him. The boy was gone and so was the tunic, but he could hear water running in the bathing room. He settled down to cleaning the room, but when the boy came back out Deimo went and picked Khamasur up in his arms. He carried his Master into the bathing room and washed him clean once more, dried him off, and put him to bed again.

When he came back out, the boy was gone.

Deimo pulled out his com and called Altheo, the House Physician, and told him to come up to Khamasur’s rooms—and told him to bring a galánas device. There was a moment of silence, and then the Physician said one word. “Bad?” he asked.

“The worst.” Deimo’s voice was tight and hard, the words almost choking him.

“I’ll be there.”

Deimo put the com away and kept washing.

# # #

He was still cleaning when Altheo arrived. He let the Physician in and stood aside, and Altheo stopped dead in the hall, staring around him. “What happened here?” he asked, appalled.

“Khamasur,” Deimo answered, curt and succinct. “Two women are dead. One down in the atrium, one here.” He didn’t look at Altheo when he said it; couldn’t look him in the eyes. “I took the one down to the Agora. Just like last time.” His words were bitter. “At least she’ll get a decent burial.” He knelt down, went back to scrubbing the floor.

“And the other?” Altheo’s voice was faint. Deimo gestured to the balcony.

Altheo went to the rail, looked over. “Great Kheiron’s bow…” When he turned back, his face was sick. “And Khamasur?”

Deimo gestured to the bedroom. “Sleeping it off.”

“Is he hurt?”

“Abrasions on his hands, and a scratch from a knife.” He looked up at the Physician, his face gone suddenly bitter. “If you could put him out for—” He cut himself off sharply, but both of them knew the word he hadn’t said. Forever… “For the night. Until tomorrow. Until night.”

Altheo nodded. “Give us all some time to breathe.” He headed off to the bedroom.

Deimo looked up again. “Altheo—” The Physician looked back at him. “Oso was here, the whole time. He saw it all.”

“Oh, gods…” Altheo stood there for a moment, then shook his head and continued on. He came out a few minutes later, putting the galánas device back in its case. He watched Deimo for a few moments. “Deimo, are you—?”

“Fine.” The word was more a grunt than anything.

“Deimo.”

I said I’m fine.” It hung there between them for a long moment. “I’m sorry, Altheo. But what do you want me to say? That I’m appalled? I am. That I’m angry? I am. That I’m hurting, that I’m devastated about both those girls, that I wish we could just…” He cut off his words, sat back on his heels and looked up at the other man. “I’m all those things and a hundred more, and what good does it do to say them?” He took a breath that was half a sob and threw down the rag he’d been using. “What good does any of it do? We’re here. We can’t leave, we have too many ties and too many responsibilities, and just like that poor boy Oso we’ll be here until we’re broken or we die, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Nothing, until we die, or he dies, or the world ends.” He looked away, picked up the rag, and started scrubbing again.

“This has to stop.”

“Let me know when you find a way,” Deimo said bitterly. “Until then there’s no use talking.”

“This has to stop. You can’t keep doing this.”

Deimo surged to his feet, and the Physician backed away hurriedly. “Then who, Altheo?” His words were savage, bitten off with an anger that had no recourse. “Should I have told Oso to do it? He would have, you know. He does what he’s told, it’s the only way he can be safe. It’s the only part of his life he can control. And we’re just like him, you know that, don’t you? It’s the only way we can survive here, keeping our heads down and doing what we’re told. The only way we can be safe. Except we can’t. Because there’s that…” He swung his arm, indicating the room around them, the bedroom beyond, and the balcony where a young girl’s life ended and he didn’t even know who she was. He wouldn’t know, until someone in the House reported her missing, and then what did he tell her family? His face shivered; too many emotions to show clearly, and then it went to stone. Cold. Hard. Expressionless. “Go back to your rooms, Altheo. You’ve done what you came to do. I have to finish.”

Altheo nodded, acknowledging what Deimo had said, and what he couldn’t say. He looked around again, then walked away. But he laid a hand on Deimo’s shoulder as he passed, silent commiseration. And then Deimo was alone.

# # #