Wednesday, July 23, 2014

One Amazing Alternative to Quitting

For an entire week, the story had been making me miserable.

False starts, terrible phrasing, weak transitions...they were all present and accounted for. I knew I had a powerful story to tell; I just didn't know how to tell it.

"You need to figure out what you want to say," my friend said.

But how? It was too complicated to fit into the neat 1500 words the writing contest required. I continued to beat my head against the keyboard, growing more and more frustrated.

"I'm thinking of giving up on this one," I told my friend. "It's really upsetting me."

"Then do it," she said. "You've already written a story for the contest. You don't need two."

She was right. I didn't need to write it. But I've been reading a lot lately about how our society has come to confuse effort with pain. If it isn't quick and easy, we won't bother. If we're not instantly good at something, most of us aren't willing to put in the time to get better.

This goes double for anyone who learned as a child that things came easily, whether that meant good marks without much studying, amazing athletic ability without practice, or getting published in Grade Four.

The problem with only doing what comes easy is that we miss out on a lot of amazing experiences, plus all those nebulous goodies like character building and discipline--not to mention the opportunity to add new strengths and skills to our repertoire.

I hate quitting. Someone told me when I was a kid that I "never finished anything," and it stuck. I may whine about quitting, but as soon as someone agrees with me, I dig my heels in. Nope, can't quit.

And the truth is, quitting would make me feel more miserable than trying and failing, anyways.

This week I sat down to give the story another try, and this time the words came easily. I wrote the entire thing in under three hours, and then wondered why it had been so simple. Had I phoned it in? Was it crap?

 I emailed the story to my copy editor. He phoned me within the hour.

"It's phenomenal," he said--a word he'd never before used to describe my work. "It's so powerful. I don't want to touch it."

So why the change? Why did I spend a week agonizing over this project, only to finish it without a single qualm the next?

Simple. When I was beating my head against the keyboard, venting to my writers' group, and complaining to friends, I was processing the story. I was thinking about how I wanted to tell it, and even though I thought I didn't have any of the answers, some part of my brain was puzzling it out.

Finishing that story felt wonderful. I was elated. And if I'd quit, I'd have strengthened the belief that anything difficult is not worth the time.

Have you ever been tempted to quit? Did you stick with it, and what were the results? Please share your story in the comments. Thanks for reading!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Cats on a Plane

If the most frequent question I'm asked about moving is "Where?", the second one is, "What are you going to do with your cats?"

There is only one answer.

Take them with us, of course!

That said, moving with three cats is not going to be fun. Imagine three cranky, terrified toddlers who don't understand you and are heavily armed. That pretty much sums up the experience.

But I'm more concerned about how frightening and uncomfortable it will be for Chloe, Sophie, and Samba. If there's anything cats can't stand, it's change. My cats run in fear at the sight of the vacuum cleaner. I can't imagine them embracing the concept of transatlantic flight.

Keeping the cats in the cargo hold is the easier and cheaper option, but I'm sure most pet owners have heard the horror stories of animals being tossed in like soccer balls, or freezing to death. The idea is too horrible to contemplate.

But will an airline really let me share a seat with three yowling kitties? Would we survive the flight, or would the other passengers express their displeasure with violence? Panicked cats can't sound worse than screaming babies, right?

Then there's the issue of what happens once we land. Many countries that have rabies-free policies will insist on a long quarantine period for any immigrating animals. In addition to quarantines being expensive for the unlucky pet owner, there are also stories of animal abuse and neglect in those situations.

One thing I can promise you--I'm not going to put my beloved pets through hell only to abandon them when they're at their most vulnerable. And they will take a quarantine as abandonment--it's not like I'd be able to explain the situation to them. (Well, I could try, but I'm pretty sure they wouldn't understand.)

I've read there is a few things you can do to avoid quarantines, including making sure each pet gets a rabies shot and a vet's certificate proclaiming he or she is rabies free. Unfortunately, I've also read that the rabies vaccine is unnecessary for house cats (go figure) and can actually cause cancer.

It seems the only good solution is to move to a country that doesn't have a rabies-free policy, or find a decent loophole that I can live with.

If you embark on a romantic vacation and your flight is interrupted by three yowling cats, I apologize in advance.

Have you ever immigrated to another country with pets? Do you have any tips for me?

Friday, July 18, 2014

Fiction Fridays: Lost Chapter Forty

Hello Dear Readers,

I'm curious to see the reaction to this chapter. Does it change how you feel about Ash? Warning: this chapter contains graphic sexual content and coarse language. Reader discretion is advised.

If you miss a chapter of Lost, don't despair. All of the posts can be located by clicking on that lovely turquoise badge to the left of this post. Since the story has been running for a while, you now need to scroll down to the bottom of the file and select Older Posts to start from the beginning. 

~ Chapter Forty ~

Ash blended into the crowd at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. When police questioned people later, no one remembered seeing him. He was just an ordinary teenage boy, like so many thousands of others, who somehow managed to look different in every photograph.
It was easier than he'd thought to get away from Rapture. What he hadn't told Gregg was that, in addition to Plan B, there was also a Plan C. He liked to think of this plan as “Saving Ash’s Ass.” Ash clutched his photo ID tightly. The name on the Minnesota driver's license was Mike Frampton. According to the license, Frampton was twenty-one. Ash had the card made when he was sixteen so he could buy beer. It had always served him well.
It had been a close call. If Gregg hadn't warned him….
But he wouldn't dwell on the negative.
He dumped his mother's old Toyota Tercel in Duluth, feigning car trouble, which wasn't far from the truth. He knew Glover would soon have cops from across the state searching for that car, so he needed to get rid of it. Using all of his considerable charm, he was able to hitch a ride to the Twin Cities.
The airport was bustling. Generic Christmas music blasted from the overhead speakers, interrupted now and then by airline announcements reminding people not to leave their baggage unattended. Brightly-colored decorations drifted from the ceiling, swayed by the energy of the crowd fighting to get home for the holidays. It was an ideal situation for blending in.  Young people flooded the airport, looking tired and bored. They dragged their overstuffed luggage behind them, sluggishly plodding from one line-up to the next. Among them, Mike Frampton was just another college student going home for Christmas.
Security was strict because of the holiday season, but Ash didn't catch so much as a curious look in his direction. He smirked to himself as he moved through the airport unimpeded while security guards detained anyone with dark skin or a turban. They're probably stopping doctors and scientists while I slip right under their noses. Idiots.
Peeling a few dollars off the wad of bills in his pocket, Ash paid for a Whopper, fries, and a Coke. It gave him no small amount of satisfaction to spend his mother's money. I hope the bitch had a fucking heart attack when she found it gone.
He sat down at a corner table and polished off his burger in a few bites. He watched the crowds of people come and go as he sipped his Coke, which, like most fast-food fountain drinks, had too much syrup and not enough carbonation for his taste. Near him, a wall of screens announced upcoming flights.
Where does Mike Frampton want to go for Christmas?
Some of the exotic locations tempted him. Tokyo. Paris. Mexico City.  But Ash rejected them, knowing that relocating to a foreign country where he didn't speak the language would be complicated. Plus, the blending was better in the States. In a place like Tokyo, he would stick out like the Easter Bunny. Not to mention his limited resources, and the fact that he didn’t have a passport yet.
He switched his attention to the American destinations. New York. Boston. Chicago.
*  *  *  *
As a little boy, Ash's nightmares were filled with images of his sister. Five years older, built like a giant and twice as mean, Marilyn Pembrooke was Ash's version of hell. Even his mother didn't instill the same level of fear.
Young Ash was often left alone with Marilyn while their mother worked all night. Marilyn took delight in focusing her talent for cruelty on her little brother. She was generous with her fists, often striking Ash down whenever he walked by. He would fall to the floor with a cry, prompting her to laugh hysterically. Sometimes she would hold him down and pinch him, or lock him in a closet without dinner. But it soon got worse.
A couple of times it happened when he was awake, before Ash learned to keep a safe distance from his sister. Then it started happening when he was asleep. Marilyn would sneak into his room, snake one of her big arms underneath the covers, and give his penis a violent pull and twist. The pain was agonizing. Ash would wake up screaming, tears pouring down his cheeks, while his sister laughed. Some nights he was unable to sleep at all. He lay awake in the dark, waiting for the door to open. For Ash, monsters in the closet held no power. His sister was more frightening than anything his imagination could conjure up.
Their mother was no help. She had some special kinship with Marilyn, for as much as the women fought and screamed at each other, Faith was always on his sister's side. After receiving a fat lip and a bloody nose from his mother for “tattling” on Marilyn, Ash realized that he was the only one in the family who was concerned about his welfare.
He'd never known his father, who took off long before he was born, but he was sure of two things. One, his mother must have hated the guy an awful lot, and two, his father was not Marilyn's father. Ash figured that somewhere out there was a skinny guy with brown hair and eyes who'd had the great misfortune of sleeping with his mother. Whoever this mystery man was, Faith exacted her revenge by punishing the one thing he'd left behind—his son.
 Just when Ash thought things couldn't get worse, they did. Their mother was at work all night, as always. He was eight years old and too scared to sleep. His bedroom door creaked open and he yanked the covers tight against him, trying to protect his body from his sister's evil hands.
“You’re supposed to be sleeping,” she said. “What are you doing awake?”
“Please go away, Marilyn. Please leave me alone.”
She sat down on the end of his bed. Her cruel eyes gleamed in the faint light from the hallway. “Relax, you pussy. I’m not going to hurt you.”
She reached for the blanket as if to pull it down and Ash scooted away from her, taking the covers with him. His eyes were huge with fear. “Leave me alone,” he said again, starting to cry a little.
“Calm down, Ash. For Pete’s sake, I’m not going to hurt you. I want to play a little game with you, that’s all.”
Ash was wary, but his curiosity was aroused. Marilyn never played anything with him. His chief role in her life seemed to be that of a punching bag.
“Whut kind of game?” He sniffled, still holding the covers tight.
“It’s really fun, and if you play it good, I’ll be nice to you.”
Marilyn was never nice to him. Ash’s mind raced with the possibilities of a life without terror, where there were no more black eyes or bruises, where he didn’t have to stay awake….
“Promise?” he asked, not trusting her.
“Cross my heart.” She made a big show of marking an imaginary X on her right breast.
“Your heart’s on the other side.” Ash said, growing even more fearful. What kind of mean trick was she going to play on him now? He winced, waiting for the slap that was sure to come for correcting her.
But to his surprise, Marilyn giggled, sounding like an ordinary girl for once. “Nothing gets by you, does it, little brother?” She made the invisible X again, this time on her left side. “There. I’ve crossed my heart. Does that satisfy you?”
Solemnly, Ash nodded, but he watched her carefully. His fingers clung to the blanket as if it was a lifeline.
“Do you want to play or not?”
“Whut do I have to do?”
She got a strange look in her eyes. When she spoke, her voice was soft, with a whispery quality to it.
“Well, first you have to take off your pajama pants.”
“No.” Ash clutched the blankets tighter. His undeveloped penis throbbed in remembered pain of his sister’s infamous winkie twists.
“Come on, Ash, don’t be a wimp,” she said, but her voice wasn’t mean. It was soothing—encouraging, even. “I’m not going to hurt you, I promise. This will feel good.”
“But I don’t wanna take them off.”
Her eyes hardened into their usual steel. “Fine. Then I won’t be nice to you. Ever. I’ll be mean. Really mean. You’ll wish you’d never been born, kid.”
Ash stared at her, horrified. He already dreaded the hour his mother left for work. Mother could be as free with her fists as Marilyn, but at least his sister went easier on him when their mother was around. He couldn’t imagine what would happen to him if Marilyn was determined to make things worse.
Slowly Ash pushed down the soft cotton pants. His sister smiled then, a closed-lip version of her usual mocking grin.
“That’s a good boy.” She eyed his exposed lower body. “You don’t have much there yet, do ya kid? That’s all right—we’ll fix that.” She reached toward his pelvic area.
Ash twisted his small hips to the side, frantic to avoid her touch. “No.”
“You’re not playing right. Hold still. I told you, I’m not going to hurt you. Do you want to play or not?”
The question made it seem like he had a choice, but Ash knew better. If he refused his sister’s game, he was in for a lot of pain. Pain that would start now, and wouldn’t end until his sister left home for good.
“All right,” he whimpered. “I’ll play.”
Ash squeezed his eyes shut as Marilyn reached for his penis. He cringed when her fingers touched him, which made her laugh. Waiting for the inevitable winkie twist, the boy held his breath. But the agonizing pain never came.
His sister’s fingers began to stroke his genitals, softly at first, then with more pressure as she found her rhythm. Ash was overwhelmed by strange feelings. What Marilyn was doing felt good, but bad at the same time. He knew very little about sex, but enough to know that you didn’t do things like this with your sister.
“What are you doing?” he asked, keeping his eyes closed.
“Shut up,” Marilyn ordered, her voice a harsh whisper. She sounded out of breath, and Ash was frightened. Still, the game felt good, and it made him tingle all over. He tried to relax and wait until his sister was finished with him. At least it didn’t hurt.
After a while, Marilyn released him. Cautiously, Ash opened his eyes. She was flushed, her own eyes closed. She was breathing hard.
“Put your pants back on,” she said, and he scurried to obey, thankful to have escaped the dreaded winkie twist.
“Did I play it right?” he asked, hoping to please her.
She shrugged, and then scowled. “If you tell Mom about this, I’ll kill you, you little shit.”
Ash was chastened. “I won’t tell her, I won’t. Please don’t hurt me.”
“Then keep your fucking mouth shut.”  She left the room, slamming the door behind her.
Ash pulled the covers over his head and cried until he fell asleep.

Marilyn visited him every night for two years. Sometimes she’d fondle him, and other times she made him watch while she touched herself. The visits filled him with revulsion and a sick sort of excitement. He dreaded her touch, but was curious about the feelings she awakened in him. Marilyn never slapped him around anymore. Terrified that he would tell their mother what she had been up to, Marilyn started protecting him from Faith.
By the time he was ten, Marilyn’s visits stopped, but Ash never forgot. By then he had learned to survive in a house with two women who were bigger, stronger, and capable of making his life a living hell. He turned on the charm with them when he needed to, but mostly, Ash got mean. Mean enough that both women learned to leave him alone. He wasn’t always able to fight back physically, but he always got revenge.
He didn’t have to do much to Marilyn. She had voluntarily given him the power to keep her under control. All Ash had to do was allude to her little game and he could get away with anything.
The older he got, the more his hatred for Marilyn grew. He was haunted by the memories of what she had done, ashamed and angered that every girl he fucked ended up having his sister’s face.

Every donation, no matter how small, is worth a million to me.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Surprising Reason You May Be Depressed

As a journalist, I learn plenty of interesting things. Some stick with me, some don't, and some have the potential to change my life.

This year has been a strange one for me. Even though nothing bad has happened, save for a few unexpected problems with the house, I've struggled with multiple bouts of the blues. These inexplicable feelings of sadness come out of nowhere and stay for a day or three, and then vanish as quickly as they appeared.

Being the analytical person that I am, I've tried to figure out where these troubling feelings were coming from. Did I need more exercise? More social contact? Was I worrying too much about things I couldn't control?

I journaled. I went back to kickboxing, which had always helped me stay sane and happy in the past. I made a point of seeing friends on a regular basis. Everything I did seemed to be just a Band-Aid on the problem. While my "blue periods" didn't seem severe or prolonged enough to be clinical depression, they were disturbing.

Complicating the problem were some minor health issues--more migraines and headaches than usual, and a stomach that still hadn't recovered from my trip to Bali at the start of the year. I was about to drag myself to the doctor--reluctantly, since I had an inkling some nasty medical tests were in my future--when I was assigned to interview a naturopath.

As fate would have it, the naturopath specialized in digestive issues and mild depression and anxiety. At the end of our interview, I mentioned I was having some problems and would like to come and see her. As she provides 15-minute free consultations with prospective patients, she offered to tell me what she could right then, over the phone. After making sure she was truly okay with this and not in any way feeling pressured by my position, I told her what was going on.

In turn, she told me something that made my ears prick up.

She said the first thing she would do is check my levels of Vitamin B12.

This really struck me, since my medical doctor had diagnosed me with low levels of this vitamin years ago, and told me to "eat more red meat." I took her advice for a time, but then went back to my normal diet of eating very little meat at all.

What my doctor didn't tell me was how dangerous a B12 deficiency can be. If it's left untreated, it can lead to blindness, cancer, and even death. (Which might have been a good thing to mention--I would have taken it more seriously.)

A quick Internet search confirmed the naturopath's hunch--every single one of my symptoms, from exhaustion to the blues and mood swings to headaches and digestive issues, can be caused by a lack of Vitamin B12.

I didn't have to wait for an appointment with the naturopath to test the theory. Taking a Vitamin B12 supplement certainly wouldn't hurt me, so I started right away. It's been four days now. Since then, I've had no digestive issues at all. I'm still tired, but I haven't had a headache for the first time in weeks. It's too early to say if the supplements will banish the blues, but I'm hopeful.

This got me to many people are put on medication when a vitamin supplement is all that was needed? How many are going through the same thing I was?

Vegetarians and vegans are at a high risk of Vitamin B12 deficiency, since the vitamin is found in animal protein sources. Women who are on the pill are also at risk.

Have any of you heard of this problem or experienced something similar? I'm going to keep tabs on how I'm feeling and make that doctor's appointment if there's no change, but so far I'm feeling pretty good.

And to think it all could have been resolved with a simple reminder to take my vitamins!

* In hindsight, I should add that this post was in no way meant to suggest that some people do not need or benefit from anti-depressants. If you suspect you have clinical depression, please see your doctor. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Fiction Fridays: Lost Chapter Thirty-Nine

Hello Dear Readers,

I hope you're having a great summer. Thanks to everyone who's still taking the time to read, even with everything else that's out there.

If you miss a chapter of Lost, don't despair. All of the posts can be located by clicking on that lovely turquoise badge to the left of this post. Since the story has been running for a while, you now need to scroll down to the bottom of the file and select Older Posts to start from the beginning. 

~ Chapter Thirty-nine ~

With shaking hands, Gregg prayed for his friend to answer the phone. Come on, Ash. Be there, be there, please God be there.
            “ ’Lo?” Ash answered on the fourth ring. He sounded half asleep.
            “Everyone knows,” Gregg said, his voice cracking.
            “Everyone knows what? That you’re a fucking retard? Tell me something I don’t know.”
            “Clayton—he must have written some kind of confession or something. Everyone knows what we did. They know about Tessie.”
            The line was silent for a moment.
            “Motherfucker…” Ash breathed.
            “I can’t go to jail, Ash. I can’t.”
            “Where are you?”
            “I’m at home. Sara Martin called me, screaming her bloody head off…you know what I’m going to do, don’t you?”
            Ash sounded as calm as he had at the beginning of the conversation. “Yeah.”
            Gregg heard the unmistakable sound of cars pulling into the driveway.
            “I have to go; they’re here.” Tears streamed down his cheeks.
            “Take it easy, friend. Do what you have to do.”
            Gregg dropped the phone. On the other end, his friend was already gone.
The key turned easily in the lock. Gregg hesitated before selecting one of his father's revolvers from the felt-lined shelf of the cabinet. He loaded the .38 quickly, as his dad had taught him when he was four years old.
            He could hear footsteps on the porch. Someone was banging on the door. Gregg listened to the tapping of his mother's heels, the brief silence as she checked the peephole to see who it was.
            “Gregg?” she called down the stairs, sounding frightened. “Gregg, there’s policemen outside…”
            He smiled a little, thinking about how he would miss her. She annoyed him sometimes, but she wasn’t so bad, really….
            “Gregg?” his mother repeated. “Gregg, are you awake?”
            Will she care when I’m gone? Or will she still be more concerned about my fucking brother?
            “Open up, Mrs. Myers,” a male voice demanded. “Police.”
            More pounding on the door.
            Quick steps on the stairs.
            The barrel of the gun was unpleasantly metallic in his mouth, like sucking on old pennies. Cold sweat poured down his face and beaded his forehead. His finger tightened on the trigger.
            “Gregg?”  Her steps were closer now.  “Gregg!” his mother screamed, coming into the room. “No!”
            Gregg pulled the trigger.
*  *  *  *
“You’re too late.”
Jake glowered at the formidable woman who blocked his way. He was glad he had a good excuse to be rude to her now. “Get out of the way, Faith. We’re here for Ash.”
“Shocking.” Faith Pembrooke’s voice dripped with sarcasm. “Search the house if you like, but you won’t find him. Like I said, you’re too late.”
Jake and Skip pushed past her, rushing into the Pembrookes’ shabby kitchen. Except for a television babbling in the living room, the house was quiet.
“What are you talking about?  If you’re hiding him, Faith, you’re going to regret it.”
“I ain’t hiding him. I would serve that boy to ya on a silver platter if he was here, but he ain’t. He’s gone.”
“Gone where?” Jake asked. The devil may have taken Gregg before Jake could have the satisfaction, but he wasn’t going to lose Ash. This was the good part of his job.
“Wish I knew. Little bastard stole my car.”
“Search the house,” Jake told Skip, but he had a hunch he was sending his friend on a fool’s errand. He was beginning to believe Faith was telling the truth. “When did he leave?”
“I don’t know,” she said, lighting a cigarette. “I worked the night shift over at the hotel, and by the time I got home, my car was gone, and so was my cash. I had me some money saved, was gonna buy something nice, but that fuckin’ little creep took it all. He’d better not come back here wanting help.” She exhaled, her nostrils as flared as a hostile bull’s. “I’ll beat him within an inch of his life.”
Skip returned to the kitchen. The house was so small it didn’t take long to ensure Faith was telling the truth.
“Any idea where he might have gone?” Jake asked. He was eager to get himself as far away from Faith Pembrooke and her filthy house as possible.
The woman shrugged. “Don’t know and don’t care, as long as he’s gone from here.”
The two men went to leave.
“Chief?” Faith called before they could shut the door. Jake turned back to her, waiting.
“If you find him, do me a favor and put a bullet in his head. That’s what I should have done a long time ago. That boy’s brought me nothing but trouble. He’s bad news, that one, like his father.”
They left the house empty-handed. Ash Pembrooke had out-smarted them for now, but Jake consoled himself with the thought that it wouldn't be for long.
Even if it took the rest of his life, he would see Ash brought to justice.

Hunting him down was going to be a pleasure.

Every donation, no matter how small, is worth a million to me.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Why I Turned Down a Publishing Contract...and Why You Should Too

Warning: evil predators ahead. I'd take my chances with
crocs over these guys.

About a month ago, a publisher asked for a full.

I was very excited. I sent the novel to them, brimming with optimism.

I knew it might result in a rejection, or worse--a terrible contract.

But I hoped for the best.

Last Wednesday, I received a response.

To my great joy, they offered me a contract!

Sadly, my initial elation didn't last long. Right after informing me that they wanted to publish my novel, the email devolved into a rant about how difficult and risky the publishing industry is.


But they were happy to offer me a contribution-based contract. Say what?

Does that mean what I think it means?

Yep. This "publisher" wanted the princely sum of 2600 pounds for the honour of publishing my book. They wanted me to pay THEM.

They made it all sound very logical. You believe in your work, don't you? Well, so do we. So, if you have the courage to invest in yourself, we will support you with marketing, editing, cover design....

Oh yeah--did we mention we can make any changes to your story that we want, without your approval? This includes removing anything we find remotely offensive. You're cool with that, right?

Um, in a word--NO.

At first I was crushed. After all, I'd been duped--duped into believing a vanity publisher was the real thing. (Well, it's actually worse than a vanity publisher, because vanities won't mess with your work. They'll print it as-is for a fee.)

But after allowing myself a day to wallow, I started to get angry.

Writers can be a desperate bunch. Most of us have been dreaming of seeing our name in print since we were toddlers.

Some of us want to be published more than anything else in the world, and that makes us a target for sleazy charlatans like this "publisher." If I didn't have to clean it up, I would spit on the floor every time I referred to them as such, even in quotes.

I think most of the writers who read this are an experienced bunch, but just in case:


If a publisher or agent asks you for money, it's a scam. Don't be tempted, no matter how well they try to sell it to you. You do not have to pay to get published, and if you really want to invest in your own work, self-publish.

At least you'll get to keep your royalties.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Everything I Know About Success I Learned From Failing

Microlight flight in Africa...did I mention I'm scared of heights?

I fail more than the average person.

There's a part of my personality that insists on pushing myself out of comfort zones--that keeps reaching for the stars when I'd rather stay in bed.

I'm not sure what to call that aspect of myself, other than a glutton for punishment.

It's responsible for...

Booking a microlight flight over Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, Africa, even though I'm scared of heights.

Convincing my coach to accept me into fight camp, even though he warned me that everyone else in the camp was more aggressive.

Competing in a muay thai fight when I was terrified I wasn't ready.

Submitting my work to agents and publishers even though it means opening myself to rejection.

Buying a ticket to Hong Kong--a trip that will require me to face several fears all at once.

Falling in love after having my heart broken for the millionth time.

Opening myself up to new friendships after being burned again and again.

And on and on it goes.

Because I aim high, I open myself up to rejection, self-doubt, lack of faith, and every other nasty thing you can think of.

When I'm struggling with something--as I am now with submitting my work and my fears surrounding the China trip--it can feel awful. The most terrible thoughts will run through my head. I'll think about giving up, or cancelling the trip. It's so much easier not to try.

But then I remember...

The best moments of my life, and the accomplishments I'm most proud of, have come from pushing past my fears and doubts.

I was terrified most of the time in fight camp. I remember dreading Fridays, which were sparring days, because I never knew what to expect. I wasn't afraid of getting hurt so much as making a fool of myself. I was sad that the other women in the camp didn't seem to accept me.

Looking back, I did many things wrong. I wasn't aggressive enough (as predicted). I didn't focus on the right things in my one-on-one training with the world champion, and I didn't take our work together seriously enough. I shied away from the fighters who scared me instead of seeking them out and using that fear to make me stronger. I waited over a year to watch my fight, only to discover it was a lot better than I'd thought. I stayed away from the dojo I loved for almost two years.

While I wouldn't want to repeat any of those mistakes, do I regret being in fight camp and finally realizing my dream of stepping into the ring?

Not for a single second. Of all the things I've done in my life, that ranks with the top five that I am most proud of.

It's the same with writing. Getting rejected sucks, but going through this same process is what got me an agent the first time around.

And that microlight trip? Best experience ever.

Life doesn't happen while you're in your comfort zone. To do or be something extraordinary, you have to push past it.

And the nasty scary horrible parts? They're just the price for all the fantastic things that will happen when you put yourself out there.

When you reach for the stars, eventually you'll get one. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow.

But you know what they can't win if you don't play. So get in the game.

When was the last time you pushed past your comfort zone? What happened? Are you scared of failing?

Click to Tweet: Life doesn't happen while you're in your comfort zone.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Fiction Fridays: Lost Chapter Thirty-Eight

Hello Dear Readers,

This is the chapter I've warned you about. It contains extreme violence, language, and graphic content of a sexual nature. Of all the things I've written in my life, this was the most difficult. It made me physically ill, so I expect it will be quite upsetting for some of you. I apologize, and hope you will stick with it. This is as rough as it gets.

If you miss a chapter of Lost, don't despair. All of the posts can be located by clicking on that lovely turquoise badge to the left of this post. Since the story has been running for a while, you now need to scroll down to the bottom of the file and select Older Posts to start from the beginning. 

~ Chapter Thirty-eight ~

Gregg was still sleeping when his phone rang, even though it was well past noon. Heather had kept him up most of the night. He considered letting it ring, but then thought better of it. Maybe it was Heather wanting a repeat session.
“Hello?” he mumbled in what he hoped was his sexiest voice.
The response was so violent that Gregg held the receiver away from his ear, wincing.
“You fucking asshole! You motherfucker! I hope you rot in hell, you fucking creep!”
Gregg was suddenly wide-awake. “Who the fuck is this?”
“Never mind. I want to know how you can live with yourself, Gregg. How can you fucking live with yourself?”
“Bite me, Terri.” Gregg decided the distraught woman had to be his ex-girlfriend. Maybe he had forgotten to break up with her before he started seeing Heather, but that was no reason to get hysterical.
“This isn’t Terri, you asshole. It’s Sara. Sara Martin, remember me? You killed my little sister, you fucking maniac! How could you? How could you kill her, you sick fuck?” She burst into sobs.
As the meaning of her words seeped through Gregg’s addled brain, his body began to tremble. He ran a nervous hand through his hair and tried to sound calm.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Sara. I didn’t kill anybody.”
“Don’t lie to me, you asshole. Did it make you feel like a big man, sticking your dick in a thirteen-year-old girl? You bastard. I hope you fry in hell, you sick prick.”
 “Sara, whatever you’ve heard, it wasn’t me. I swear. I didn’t even know your sister.”
“You fucking coward. You’re not even man enough to admit it. But Clayton was. So don’t fucking lie to me anymore.”
“You’re going to pay for what you did to her, Gregg. Both you and Ash. You’re going to pay for the rest of your fucking lives!”
 She slammed the phone down hard, making him cringe. The open line hummed in his ear. Dazed, Gregg’s mind swam with panic. Everyone knows, everyone knows, oh God, everyone knows.
 The memories he’d tried so hard to repress came flooding back to him. Tessie thrashing underneath him like a wild animal, screaming…

Gregg’s initial thought was that Tessie hadn’t been completely honest. Maybe she already had a boyfriend, a big goon who had followed them into the woods to mess up his face. Gregg’s hands clenched into fists as adrenalin flooded his body, preparing him for a fight.
“What the fuck do you want?”
The intruder held his flashlight under his face and turned it on. The sudden snap split the calm, making Tessie flinch. The white light illuminated a familiar face. Ash’s grin appeared manic in the spooky glow.
By the time Gregg realized that the voice had belonged to his friend, he had worked himself up to a full head of steam. “Fuck you, Ash. What the hell are you doing, sneaking around like that? You could have given me a fucking heart attack.”
            Ash held the light under his chin again. “Boo.”
            “Come on, man, give us some privacy, huh?” Gregg gestured at Tessie, who was obviously scared to death. This wasn’t the mood he’d hoped to set.
            With a flick of his wrist, Ash trained the beam on Tessie’s huddled form. It shone in her eyes. She covered her face with both hands.
            “Why? Is she so special that you're not willing to share?”
            “Yeah, what are you trying to hide, stud?” Clayton added.
Gregg groaned loudly in response. “Don't you guys have anything fucking better to do?”
Tessie squinted in the direction of his friends’ voices. Ash shone the flashlight into her face. Blinded, she threw up a protective hand as he broke into unkind laughter.
            “No wonder you're hiding out back here.” Ash gasped after his laughing fit subsided. “She's only a kid.”
            “Screw you, Ash. She’s sixteen. That’s legal in my books.”
            Tessie shrank inside her jacket, huddling closer to him.
            “Is that what she told you? She ain't sixteen, my friend. She's not even close. What you have there is jail bait.”
Gregg was rapidly losing patience. “Look, I know her, okay? She's Sara Martin's sister. So screw off, already.”
            “Sara Martin? I didn't know she had a sister,” Clayton said.
            “She goes to the Catholic School, all right? Now can you—”
            “You’re so fucking gullible. Why would Sara's sister go to the Catholic school when Sara attends good ol' Rapture Collegiate?” Ash interrupted. “My guess is that sis here goes to the junior high...or maybe even the elementary school. Isn't that right, sweetheart?”
Ash moved in front of Tessie, seizing her chin and lifting her face up to the glare of the flashlight. She wrenched out of his grasp.
“I am not jail bait.” Stumbling a little, she got to her feet. “I think I better get back to the party. Sara will be looking for me.”
            Ash blocked her way. “Not so fast, honey. Let's see how much of a woman you really are.”
Lightning fast he took hold of her head and forced his tongue into her mouth. Gregg watched, annoyed, as Ash fondled her breasts. Can’t he find his own fucking woman?
“Take it easy, Ash,” Clayton said, and Gregg wasn’t surprised to see how uncomfortable their friend was. This kind of thing wasn’t Clayton’s style—he was too sensitive to appreciate this kind of shit. Gregg had wondered more than once if Clayton played for the other team.
Tessie had more guts than Gregg had given her credit for. She bit Ash’s tongue hard and tumbled back onto the log again, retching, as he released her. Choking, she vomited into the bushes behind her. Gregg watched Ash nervously. The mood in the woods had grown ominous.
Ash stood in front of Tessie, blocking her escape. He grinned at her, showing teeth that were dark with his own blood. He didn't yell, he didn't scream, he didn't seem to feel any pain at all.
Gregg didn’t have time to react before Ash backhanded Tessie across the face. Her head shot to the side, whipping back on her neck, and she cried out. Holding one hand to her face, she slid as far away from Ash as possible, whimpering. Her eyes filled with tears.
“That’s enough, Ash,” Clayton said.
“Now tell Gregg the truth, sweetheart,” Ash said in a soothing tone, as if he were trying to comfort her. The blood in his mouth made a gurgling sound when he spoke. “How old are you really?”
 “Six—” she started, but before she could finish his hand slammed across her face again. Screaming, she toppled backward over the log they’d been sitting on. Streaks of mascara and eyeliner painted her face in grimy stripes.
Gregg wasn’t sure why he let Ash start beating the girl. It wasn’t as if he cared about her or anything, but she was kind of his date for the evening. There was something about her that was making him angry. Something about the way she whined. And there was no reason for her to bite Ash like that. What a little bitch. She deserves a good slap…
Clayton cleared his throat.  “Hey, guys. Take it easy. What’s the big deal? I mean, who really cares how old she is, right?”
“Shut up, Clayton,” Ash said, never taking his eyes from Tessie.
“But what if she’s telling the truth?”
            “She's gonna start telling the truth.” Ash grabbed a fist full of Tessie’s red hair. Using it as leverage, he yanked her back onto the log. “I'm only going to ask you this one more time, doll face. How old are you?”
            Tessie's eyes darted from Ash's face to Gregg's and back again, hesitating. Seeing Ash's hand begin to rise, she scrambled as far away from him as possible, shielding her face with her arms.
            “I'm thirteen. I'm thirteen! Please don't hit me.”
            At that moment, Gregg felt blind rage. She’d made a fucking fool of him in front of his friends. He could hear Ash laughing and it only made him angrier. He wanted to smash Tessie’s stupid face into the log again and again, make her feel sorry for ever lying to him. “You little bitch! You lying little whore. You want me to go to jail?”
            She curled into a fetal position and sobbed into her knees. Her distress did nothing to calm him. Gregg suspected she’d reminded him of every stupid woman he’d ever known: the girl who had accused his brother of rape, his ex-girlfriend Terri, even his own mother.
            “Now, take it easy, Gregg,” Ash said. “You're still going to get what you want. In fact, we all are.”
            He seized Tessie’s ankles. Gregg felt gratified as the bitch screamed, kicking in a pathetic attempt to get away. He stepped forward to take hold of her wrists and together they swung her body over the fallen log onto the ground. Hard. Gregg smiled at the thud her tailbone made as it connected with the frozen earth.
            “What are you doing?” Clayton yelled.
            Ash turned to him as he knelt on the girl’s stomach, making her cry out in pain. “What does it look like we’re doing, asshole? Now shut the fuck up.”
            With one smooth motion, he ripped off the girl’s shirt. Gregg fumbled with her jeans as he sat on her legs, his knees pinning her calves to the ground. Tessie thrashed her torso and neck up and down, side to side, as she screamed. Her teeth snapped as they searched for something to sink into. Remembering her earlier move with Ash, they kept all vulnerable areas out of reach.
            “Hold her down,” Ash told Clayton, tossing him the flashlight. Ash fumbled with his belt buckle while he leered at her, and Tessie seemed to read his mind. A particularly piercing shriek split the air.
             “I can’t Ash, I can’t. This has gone too far. I can’t be a part of this.”
            Ash stopped what he was doing long enough to glare at him. “What’s your problem, Edwards? Are you a fucking fag or something?”
            “Yeah, Edwards, what’s wrong? Are you some kind of ass bandit?” Gregg taunted, his lips curling into a sneer. He’d always found Clayton annoying, but at that moment, he would have throttled him without a second thought. The guy was such a pussy.
            “No,” Clayton said, but Gregg noticed that he wouldn’t look at the girl as she bucked and shrieked underneath them.
            Ash grinned at Clayton and indicated the girl’s feet. “Then hold her ankles. I don’t want her to bag me.”
            Tessie wailed louder. Ash flicked a finger into her already bruised cheek, causing her to cry out with pain. “Shut up.”
            She moaned as he fingered the gold locket around her neck. Ash pulled on it until the chain gave way with a soft snap. He shoved the necklace into the front pocket of his jeans.
            “I don't know about this, Ash,” Clayton said. “This isn't right. She's a kid.”
            “For the last time, shut the fuck up. Stop being such a fucking baby.” Ash yanked down his jeans and jockey shorts. “Hold her legs and spread them. And hold that light steady.”
            Tears flowed unchecked from Tessie's eyes, mingling with blood from the cut under her left eye. Gregg’s anger turned to sexual frustration as he watched Ash penetrate her. His own penis strained against his jeans, but he told himself to be patient. After all, Ash was doing this for him. Ash was making that stupid bitch pay.
            Tessie screamed as Ash entered her. Gregg felt gratified as he saw blood flowing from between her legs. Serves the bitch right.
            He smiled at Clayton as Ash began to thrust. Clay looked like he was going to puke.
Ash no longer seemed human. He became an animal, breathing in snorts as he pounded away at her, his eyes evil-looking slits. “You like that, don’t you, bitch? That’s what you wanted, isn’t it, slut?
            Tessie’s cries were desperate sobs now.
            Ash pulled out, causing her to scream again. Her ankles jumped in Clayton’s hands but Clay held on, his mouth set in a grim line. Gregg was amazed, and not for the first time, at how much control Ash had over Clayton.
            “Turn her over,” Ash ordered, and Gregg obliged, slamming Tessie’s bare breasts and tender stomach into the dirt. Clayton turned away as Ash entered her ass.
            Gregg cheered. “Yeah, man, give it to her. Nail her good, man. That’s what the bitch deserves.”
When it was finally his turn, Gregg fell on Tessie with the viciousness of a rabid dog, biting her breasts and digging his nails into her soft skin. The brutality of his assault brought the unconscious girl to life with a wailing cry. He slammed his penis into the gaping wound her vagina had become.
            As Gregg's teeth snapped at her nipples, Tessie howled like a woman gone mad. Her tortured cries went unanswered in the sheltered woods.
            “Shut her up,” Ash hissed. “For fuckssake, Gregg. Shut your girlfriend up.”
Panting hoarsely as he pounded away inside her, Gregg clamped a hand over Tessie's mouth so hard that her front teeth cut into her bottom lip. Fresh blood added to the dried streaks from her nose and the cut below her eye.
            With a flicker of a survival instinct still not dead, Tessie bit Gregg's palm. Unlike Ash, Gregg reacted. “You fucking bitch! The fucking bitch bit me!” He punched her in the face, her nose making a sickening crunch under his fist. It felt so good to hit her. He could have hit her all day.
“Gregg, cut it out! You’re killing her,” Clayton screamed, but no one paid any attention.
“You fucking bitch.” Not satisfied with his fists, Gregg searched for something harder to hit Tessie with. Finding a jagged rock, his fingers slammed it against Tessie's face again and again. The girl's features gave way under the stone like a wax mask. “That’s better,” he said, as she lay quiet.
 “All right, Studly, your turn,” Ash smirked at Clayton.
 “Jesus Christ, Ash. She's not breathing.”
            Ash didn’t seem concerned. He tucked in his shirt, whistling under his breath. Gregg walked to a puddle and broke off a sliver of ice, feeling its chill numb his injured hand. He was relieved to see that Tessie hadn’t broken the skin. The wound would end up being a small bruise at most, nothing anyone would notice.
            “So what? She's still the most action you've seen in a while.”
Gregg tried not to look at Tessie. Already he was ashamed that he’d let himself get so carried away in front of his friends. The girl’s face was gone, destroyed, lost underneath a mass of bloody tissue and shattered bone. Her blood looked like black paint in the darkness. It was everywhere, soaking the leaves and the ground beneath her.
Bright bite marks circled her breasts. Gregg saw Clayton stare at the marks, no doubt noticing the bloody hole where one of her nipples should have been. In Gregg’s savagery, he’d bitten it clean off.
“Hey, Gregg,” Ash said. “I think your girlfriend’s dead.”
Gregg laughed as Clayton ran into the bushes to throw up. But after his anger wore off, the enormity of what they had done began to sink in. He could feel himself start to panic. “Holy fuck,” he swore as he gaped at Tessie, whose white legs glowed paler in the faint light of the moon. Thick whorls of blood had turned her skin into a gruesome abstract painting. “Holy fuck.”
            “Get a hold of yourself, Limp Dick,” Ash said. “We have some work to do.”
            “What are we going to do?” Gregg asked, feeling sick. “Jesus Christ, Ash. She's dead.”
            “I can see that, you moron, and Jesus isn't going to help us.”
            “But what are we going to do?”
            “For fuckssake, Gregg—cool it. If you start blubbering on me, I'll fucking kill you too, I swear to God.”
This made Gregg stop his babbling and watch Ash in silence.
            “Grab her legs. We're going to have to dump her somewhere. Clay.” When Ash didn't get an answer, a dangerous tone crept into his voice. “Clayton.”
This time Clayton responded, limping out of the bush holding his stomach. He was careful not to look at the girl's body.
            “I need you to take her arms when I yell for you. Help Gregg out.” He scooped up the torn clothing that littered the ground. “I'm going to look for a place to dump her.”
            Within a few minutes of exploring the bush, Ash called to them and they set out in their grim task of carrying the girl's body. She was a lot heavier than Gregg had expected, and her limbs were already cooling. There was a sickening, clammy feel to her skin that made his stomach grumble warningly.
            He was sweating and breathing hard by the time they reached Ash. Ash stood in front of a natural trench in the earth, where summer rains and winds had worn the ground away.
            Working together with whatever they could find, they made the dimple deeper. They scooped dirt out with their hands, arms, and the occasional kick, laboring frantically and ignoring the pain and fatigue in their arms, chests, and shoulders.
            Gregg battled persistent nausea. Hot, greasy sweat broke out on his forehead and scalp, dampening his dark hair. Though the fever threatened to overcome him, he worked tirelessly on the grave. Fear of being discovered with the girl's body proved to be an excellent motivator.
            At last Ash decided the trench was deep enough to hide the girl. It would have to do. Gregg had reached his limit of physical exertion and he could tell Clayton had too. They both gasped for air, completely sober now.
            Grunting with the effort, they tossed Tessie Martin into the hole. Like a sack of garbage. There was a soft thump, muffled by the walls of dirt, as her body made contact with the ground. Ash tossed in her clothes, hiding the worst from view, before Clayton started kicking and shoving the pile of misplaced earth on top of her. Gregg soon joined in. A feeling of unreality had settled over the evening.
Gregg was exhausted. All he wanted was a shower and his bed, in that order.
            “Clayton,” Ash said when they were finished burying Tessie. The sound of his voice was startling in the quiet night.
Gregg watched as Clayton met Ash’s eyes with reluctance. He reminded Gregg of a whipped puppy.
            “Be careful,” Ash warned. “Accessory to rape and murder is as bad as participating. Maybe even worse. How will people feel if they knew you watched a thirteen-year-old girl die and did nothing? How would your mother feel, knowing that you held her down? How about Julie?”
            Gregg saw the grief in Clayton’s eyes and knew Ash’s words had hit home. They had nothing to worry about.

Clayton would never tell anyone what they had done.

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