The Librarian: A Monster Portrait

A Slaughter Chronicles Short Story

(for Suzie, my best librarian friend)

THE big table makes you look smaller than you are. Like a little morsel, a macaroon, a petit four alone on a dinner plate. You twitch, fidget. You curl your spine protectively over your phone screen despite the towers of books that surround you. Ponderous tombs of science, philosophy, and madness.

The World Atlas Extraordinaire sits on a stand older than this building next to you, propped open to the Pacific Islands, resplendently corralled by the cartography of the currents, dancing whorls of sacred scarification.

Each time the door slides open your eyes dart around in your skill like scared rabbits. You’re looking toward the door now; the shining glass, the herald of the morning sun. You are waiting for someone.

I like to pretend you’re waiting for me—but the girl walks in. (Besides, I’m already here.) The girl with the navy blue sweatshirt and hair the color of milky oil sliding off a dead whale. Her face is younger than mine. Of course, she is younger. All of you are. Her uniform skirt bisects her thighs perfectly, exposing her beautifully formed knee caps and the lacy pattern of veins and arteries flowing under her skin. Her sock-less feet are so dainty that her sneakers could easily be mistaken for ballet slippers.

She should be a ballerina with long, tangled hair. But she is a student and so are you. But you are not wearing a uniform. What day is it? Sunday? Monday? Where is the nearest school?

More importantly, what time is it? It must be near Lunchtime. I’m beyond famished. Even when I eat Breakfast and Second Breakfast I’m still a bottomless pit.

She sits as you stand. You do not hug like I expected you to but you do touch her shoulder as you lean over her chair. You ask her if she needs anything. She doesn’t. She pulls out a notebook and her headphones from her pink polka-dotted tote bag. (I have a bag too but it is not made out of polka-dots.) You walk away and she begins to scribble viciously across her blank page, her ears full of music I cannot hear.

Maybe she is a poet. Poets are delicious. They taste like burnt sugar and apricot pipe tobacco. (As opposed to artists, who usually taste like soggy, fermented herbs.)

When you return her head is bowed as if in prayer and your arms are bursting with books. Paris, Venice. Belgium, Madrid.

Travel or History?

What war, if any?

What’s your poison?

And why ignore the atlas? It’s been sitting right next to you the whole time. Just like I have. Surely maps are not obsolete. I know GPS exists now-a-days but you need more than travel diaries to travel. You have to know how to get where you want to go before you even think about going there. (I speak from personal experience, of course, but rarely does anyone listen to me…listen and survive, anyway…moving on.)

She plucks her headphones out of her ears and gives you one of the most dazzling smiles I have ever seen one human give to another. Her pink-frosted lips form the shape of the softest thankyou I have read anywhere, on paper or on flesh.

Maybe you’re planning to run away together. She’s already ready. Her tote has extra clothes and a very sharp knife hidden at the bottom (a gift from an overprotective mother, no doubt. Mothers should be overprotective). And you look like you have the money to buy anything else you two might need for a—what is it called? Funny, after all this time I still don’t know your words for it.

Getaway? Suicide?

When you only live from one meal to the next? No worrying about where to sleep, what to see next? Vacation?

No, you will have nothing to go back to. When you leave it will be for forever. Your family will disown you, will harry you through the halls and hedgerows, mazes and ballrooms and strip the skin from your sorry carcass if you ever return—no wait, that’s me. Not you. Sorry.

I’ve been living from one meal to the next without worrying about where I will sleep or what I will see next, unless it’s food. I eat food, dream food. I always look for food. But my version of you abandoned me long ago.

How long will you wait before you change your mind and leave her?

Good thing you’ll never find out. You’ll never get the chance to betray her. As you sit and study the geography of possibility I creep closer.

The shadows ebb and flow around your feet.

She doesn’t have time to dig out her knife.

(Copyright 2019 by Jessica Halsey)

The Librarian isn’t interested in working today. Don’t bother her.

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Photos by Oladimeji Odunsi on Unsplash

The Promise: a dystopian short story

The tunnels are deep and full of poisonous fog.

There is no exit, at least not for the very first or the very next.

Would you survive the end of the world? For Pyre and her friends that is a terrifying question. She may not want to know the answer.

For fans of Garth Nix’s Shade’s Children and Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake.

Disclaimer: This story contains mature themes including sickness and death, and the death of a child. Reader discretion is advised.

Continue reading The Promise: a dystopian short story

Little Girls

They carried the baby bird wrapped in a yellow, flowered handkerchief up the ladder and into the attic. Its eyes bulged behind their closed, membranous lids and its prickly down barely covered the stubs of its wings. The wrinkly, peach flesh was damp with perspiration and plant juice. It choked and twitched feebly, beak broken open. “We’re going to operate now,” said the little girl in the red corduroy dress. Her glossy black shoes were scuffed and muddy and her little white tights were ripped by the holly bush. There were no lights in the attic but Mother gave them three candles with the stipulation that Make Believe was not allowed to knock the candles over and burn the house down. The two girls scooted past boxes and trash bags filled with grown up things and tiny baby things from times neither of them could remember. They were like bright, neon fishes, easily distracted by strange movements, strange colors, strange noises. They crawled as one creature with four knees and four paws, dirt smeared and tipped with chewed claws, two of which were clasped together around the quivering baby bird. “On the operating table!” the little girl in the red corduroy dress whispered urgently, snatching the handkerchief from the other little girl and slamming it down on the top of one of the boxes. “Scalpel!” she cried. The other little girl pulled the handkerchief away from the baby bird and lifted it to her nose. There was something there that reminded her of earthworms and pill-bugs. Like the juice that dripped from the knife to the kitchen floor. Like the scolding she received when she stayed out in the sandbox past lunchtime. She reached into the pocket of her blue overalls and held out a sprig of holly.

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Photo by brabus biturbo on Unsplash

Direction

Take the splintered memory of your father beating you from between your mother’s clenched teeth. If you can still hear his screams, go west. You will come to a ditch cradling a dead cat. If his neck is twisted, proceed north. If his belly burst open like a rotten orange under a motorcycle wheel, go south. You will find the rider’s bloody boot prints scuffing the Black-Eyed Susans. If you mix the pollen with loose-leaf tobacco and roll a cigarette your doppelgänger in another universe will be gifted a front row seat to the next public execution. But that is not the direction you want to go. If you ignore me and walk toward the old Civil War battlefield marked with the city’s slapdash attempts at historical editing. Your old lovers, wherever they are, will turn pale as if a nurse has taken too much life force from the abrasive latticework of a failed experiment. You will taste blood in your mouth. They will fall to the floor and you will not be there to catch them or kiss the languor from their eyes. You won’t want to. If you don’t see a dead cat, continue west as if nothing is wrong. You will eventually come to a fork in the road. Or a river. And you must either cut off all your hair or throw your clothes into the Salvation Army donation bin that washed up on the riverbank after the storm. You have to go bare in some way, your own body acting as a trembling neophyte’s compass, pointing towards the sharpest point away. If fear bites down on you so hard your ribs crack and snap against your heart, you can choose a different direction. You can run, screaming, back home or you can try to walk on water.

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Photo by Oliver Roos on Unsplash

Home

Home scratches at her shingles with tree branch fingers, pulls the air conditioning unit to her moldy, aluminum ribs and keens a whale song of mourning. We found her wandering the tornado snarled wild three months ago, empty and starving. We fed her pieces of dining room table, gas key fireplaces, and cast iron bathtubs, clawed feet first. We gutted her plumbing, ripped out her nerves and re-wired the electricity, reinforced foundation seams that let the water in every time it rained. She did not respond well. We found rot and mold in her corners, force fed her antibiotics and quarantine standard operating procedures while she belched ladder-back chairs, sofa cushions, wind chimes, and broken bookcases. She still has her bad days. After feeding time Home likes to sit back porch facing east and picture window facing west; Home sits and watches the sun set, sits for hours in the dark. She gets regular walks around the wolf pen—let her mingle with the vultures, I said, let her feel useful and clean up the dead, but no one would listen—she shakes every time the tornadoes come through. She has bad memories and, hopefully, maybe a few ecstatic ones. When it rains, Home hitches up her porch and hops from one corner to the other, splashing in the puddles when she can.

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Photo by thomas shellberg on Unsplash

A previous version of this piece was first published in Six Sentences waaaay back in 2009. In fact, this was the very first thing I ever got published.

September 2019 Stats

Word Count:

10,269

Best Day:

2,900 words 9/25/19

Days I didn’t write:

17 😦

New Poems:

1

Submissions:

2 Rejections

Project Notes:

The good news: I wrote a new poem for the first time in what feels like months!

The not really bad news but I choose to feel bad about it anyway: another month of bad writing. I mean literally bad writing. I have zero inspiration, zero motivation, and zero cares. That’s not good. So I’m adjusting my thinking and my priorities.

Read about some of that here.

I’m also going to be participating in Preptober and Nanowrimo this year. (Even though next week I have 3 exams in one day 0_0)

I’m trying really hard to think about what kind of writer I want to be now that I’m a student.

I’m also thinking about re-launching one of my poetry collections. I might make a separate blog post about that or just take everything down and then put it up again.

I can’t believe it’s already the 3rd of October.

#beawesome #gowrite

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Photo by Victoria Strukovskaya on Unsplash

Thoughts on Deadlines and Why I Can’t Meet Them

A personal accounting of one of the more complicated aspects of a self-publishing author’s life: deadlines.

Alright, here’s the deal.

I can’t meet my own deadlines.

“Oh, but because it’s your schedule you get to make the rules and you’re in charge!” (If my cats cared this is what they might say.)

No. I’m not in charge. Because the minute the second I think I can meet a deadline something happens and I can’t.

This time, for example, I wanted to self-publish a short story collection on Halloween this year. It was going to be full of creepy, speculative fiction and I was going to have an absolute fucking blast writing it.

I made the decision to do this back in August when neither Regina nor any of my faeries were being particularly talkative and I thought I needed a “fresh” project so that I would keep writing every day and still feel productive.

Can you guess what happened?

I didn’t write a damn thing. I only have 2 short stories. That is not acceptable. Because now I’m faced with two paths: 1) scramble like hell and write 4 new things now and maybe they won’t be good and maybe they won’t make sense but by G-O-D they’ll be there, some of my other responsibilities may fall to the wayside but I am determined. Or 2) scrap the deadline and let the stories happen when they happen.

I’ve tried to form thoughts about being a self-publishing person and keeping a schedule and so far, but it’s time to take a close look once again.

Back in December 2018 I published a novella called Dead Girl Moon. It was meant to be a front runner to Havoc’s Moon, which was supposed to be published in March or April of 2019. That didn’t happen. I rearranged my schedule and changed my deadlines. I wrote for April Camp Nanowrimo and July Camp Nanowrimo and the book still didn’t happen. Another other novellas happened but then it rebelled and split in two (magical literary mitosis y’all) and I ran out of brain power to edit them down and add plot filler to make them whole and not nonsensical (well…nonsense will still happen but you know what I mean).

And then I started school and my writing hit the brick wall of academia (not for the first time) and since no progress was being made I scrapped my schedule yet again. But I thought: surely I can write a short story a week still. Surely my brain can manage that much. If I have all of September and the first half of October to write one measly little short story a week I can still meet my deadline. 6 weeks=6 stories and I’ve surpassed my quota. I win!

Can you guess what happened?

I haven’t written a complete short story yet. I have 2 drafts of stories I worked on back in March and April that I didn’t finish then and haven’t finished now.

The goals are not being met.

More importantly, the writing isn’t happening.

And now I have to figure out why.

So, here’s what I’ve come up with.

1) I have to write something every day. 10 words. 100 words. A 3 word poem. 1000 words. Whatever. I have to write every day or else I go crazy.

This is different from putting your ass in the chair and turning out pages for your holy WORK IN PROGRESS every day.

This is about expression and practicing. Like meditation, do a little every day and you’ll feel better. Even if it’s just for 5 minutes, 3 minutes.

Because I wasn’t writing what I wanted to write I wasn’t writing at all. That is bad. That is harmful. That leads to insecurities like imposter syndrome and self-loathing.

So I need to write every day but I cannot compartmentalize myself and say, “Today I am going to write a poem.” Or, “Today I am going to catch up with Regina.”

When I get the urge to write or a little idea fragment pops into my head I need to stop what I’m doing and write it down even when I’m in class or talking to a friend or whatever. I need to pay attention to my inner writing voice and let the ideas flow.

If I go the rest of the year without writing Havoc’s Moon, I’ll be okay as long as I’m still writing.

2) Life shit gets in the way of writing. Family drama, Biology tests, Chemistry labs, whatever. All the things that are *gasp* more important than writing right now.

(Digression: It’s not that I want to make writing my “full-time” job or be a “professional” writer. I want writing to be THE MOST IMPORTANT in my life. I’ve had to come (by trial and error) to the realization that writing is not and never will be the most important thing in my life. It’s in the top 5 (…okay it’s #6 on the list…the cats are #5) but it’s not THE MOST important. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be dedicated or passionate about writing. There was a time when writing was the only thing that made me happy and I ate, breathed, and shat poetry. But then I changed my life, made my situation better and found things other than poetry that I could love. That’s when I thought proper time management would let me do the things I wanted to do. And when I couldn’t keep to a schedule I felt like I wasn’t dedicated enough. Especially when I was such a “strong” writer before. But those are incorrect thoughts because there’s no ONE right way to write. And people are allowed to change and evolve.)

So I need to not add writing to the list of things going “wrong.”

Writing has always been the healing factor, the savior. Not the stressor.

That means I need to get rid of deadlines completely. And schedules. And plans.

When I have a project finished, I will publish it. Beyond that I can’t plan anymore. I can’t predict when I will have time today to write let alone plan out Nanowrimo next month (which I still want to try even though I have Thanksgiving with my in-laws this year and studying for final exams).

So no schedule. No deadlines. No nothing beyond write something every day. Maybe after school or during the summer I can try to build a frame for my viscera but not right now. Right now I just need to ooze around on the table and try not to get dehydrated.

3) Grow as I writer.

But not get caught up in the world of the “side hustle” or the “authorpreneur.” That’s what got me in trouble in the first place. I would watch YouTube/AuthorTube videos of people who have fans and followers and newsletters and for some silly reason I thought, “Well, they’re successful. I need to be like them.”

No. I don’t need to be like them. Even though they’re really cool and shiny.

Writing is not my day job.

My day job was sticking people with needles. My future job will be sticking people with needles and then looking at what I pull out under a microscope. Right now my job is raking pine needles.

I will still eat if I don’t publish a book. They might not. They have to do the marketing and the newsletter writing and the promotions and all that stuff that makes my brain hurt.

I want to learn the marketing stuff because I find it interesting. I don’t want to spend hours on social media begging for people to read my books.

But when I say grow as a writer, I want to do things that make my writing better. Like with anything in academia, there’s this stigma/stereotype that once you “get” an MFA you’ve made it (and I’m going to talk a lot about all that later) or that you’ve learned all the things you possibly could about writing and you are now the best ever.

That’s not true. Some of my classmates’ writing sucked. Sometimes my writing sucks. I do my best not to show you the stuff that sucks but reading is SUBJECTIVE and you, the reader, can like or hate whatever you want. Some of my classmates who I think their writing sucks went on to get book deals. The chick who wrote 50 Shades of Grey is super rich now. Whatever.

Some of it is skill and artistry, some of it is personal preference, but the things that define what make writing “good” are not universal or quantifiable. I mean, spelling and grammar are kind of a necessity but beyond that it’s all up to the reader.

I’m going to stop getting off topic now.

What I want to make clear is: I’ve let myself get distracted by all the shiny things in the self-publishing world that are related to writing but are not writing. In my distracted state, coupled with all my other not-writing responsibilities, I’ve let my writing slip, and not just the word count. I’ve been writing shitty, unusable stuff. And that’s good because all that stuff needs to come out but I also want to get serious about writing again.

Just writing.

So I’m saying “fuck off” to everything else (except you, dear reader, you’re awesome) and only focusing on writing words. Showing up to the page and getting 10, 50, 500 words a day until I feel like I’m back on solid ground.

To anyone waiting for more of The Slaughter Chronicles: I love you and I’m sorry you have to wait longer.

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Photo by Patrick Perkins on Unsplash