mabgraves, mermaid

LJIdol Week 9: Trolley Problem

Those hands,
lithe fingers and lined palms,
were clean.

I imagined
them wrapping around the
cool metal.

The trolley
was on the right track until
it wasn't.

The driver
taught philosophy in another
sober lifetime.

We huddled
on the bus, hands clasped, for
the impact.

The switch
was pulled to avoid the five
for the one.

There was no
exhale of relief for us, our
chests heavy.

Late nights
I wake choking on the wide
eyes of the one.

Early mornings
I lay doubled over with
stomach cramps.

I imagine
this is what Frida Kahlo must
have felt.

The steel
rod punching through her back
and vagina.

The gold
dust in her eyes mixed with
her blood.

The bones
crushed and crooked in tender
ripped skin.

I imagine
the one who died to save the five
must have felt it.

survived, but
the one did not.

survived, but
perhaps this is not
mabgraves, mermaid

LJIdol Week 8: No Comment

They called themselves revolutionaries with their split-knuckled hands raised. They pledged loyalty to a fascist who shouted, “Make America Great Again! We’re gonna grab them by the pussy!” Their wide blood-shot eyes were feverish and blind to the hypocrisy which smelled of burning iron.

They lurked outside the public restrooms with ham-fisted fingers and flaring nostrils. They bludgeoned a woman who is trans as they spit insults. They tore at her clothes looking for offending genitalia, as they shouted about the safety of their women.

A blonde college boy offered to walk a co-ed who had too much to drink home. She got sick and passed out behind a dumpster, where two men witnessed that blond-haired boy raping the unconscious girl. They wrote that he was an athlete, and they wrote about how his life would be ruined if he were imprisoned. They sneered and hissed, “She was asking for it by wearing that skirt and imbibing.”

So which is it, are you concerned for the safety of women, or the safety of a sex offender? They made no comment.

They cheered when a ban on travel for people who practiced Islam took effect. They crowded around the local mosque with their white skins glowing in the firelight as the structure burned to the ground. Men chased women who wore hijab through the streets. They wrapped their arms around their throats and pulled the fabric from their heads.

A child attended private Catholic school. The favorite teacher was a habit-clad nun. They picked their child up from a day of indoctrination, smug their offsprings’ souls would be admitted to a heaven they always dreamed about. They warmly greeted the Sisters, and on Sundays they prayed to a woman in blue wearing a white veil.

So, which is it, are you angry women cover their hair or angry the woman is not Christian? They made no comment.

They elected a good ol' boy from Idaho who addressed women’s access to reproductive healthcare. He asked a medical consultant if a pregnant woman could swallow a camera, so a doctor could determine her “situation” from afar. He was fascinated when the medical professional explained, no, the esophagus is not connected to the womb. They took away our clinics because women sought safe abortions.

A young mother applies for government assistance when the father chose not to be a part of the family he helped create. She worked a full-time job and still, there is not enough. They voted to defund the programs which helped the child gain access to healthcare. They voted to defund the programs which allowed this woman to feed herself and her child.

So, which is it, do you want babies to be born, or do you want babies to be raised? They made no comment.

Before they burned the history books, I read the intelligentsia thought a woman's "wandering uterus" caused panic disorders, schizophrenia, and general non-compliance. Cures included hitting her abdomen with high pressured water, institutionalization, or old fashioned pregnancy, one after the other to keep the uterus occupied and stable. This is how they kept them home, and silent, and indentured.

Now, the cut-wife lives secluded across the moors or up the mountains. No one says her name, and she never comes into town. Everyone turns their eye elsewhere when a young girl walks that direction. She doesn’t always come home again.

Now, grandmothers whisper in dim rooms behind closed curtains to dampen a stray word that might lilt past her granddaughter’s ear on how to be a woman in this world.

Now, the women gather in red tents under full moons and ask each other, “How did you persist?”


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mabgraves, mermaid

LJ Idol Week 7: Where I'm From

Dreaming, it was the first of many Secrets we shared. I leaned close to savor every detail of your whispered confession. Your breath smelled of cinnamon. We do not remember while sleeping, the Whitecoats chastised us. Sleeping is the void of the innocent; an expanse of dark nothing to rejuvenate us for the following day.

In your dream, my thighs were dusted with iridescent scales and my legs were fused, but the muscles were powerful. The air was thick and warm. There was a rushing sound. I nodded at you eagerly, and whispered, “Yes, yes, yes.”

I come from salt water. My tender skin and my pliant scales cradled in its softness. The dark amber light woke me, and the rush rush, rush rush of the waves sped up, which excited me. Later, the deep black swaddled me, and the rush rush, rush rush of waves slowed down, which soothed me. My chest expanded and contracted effortlessly pulling the water in, and pushing the water out. Often a melodic humming would vibrate through my soft cartilage. The warmth filled me and surrounded me. It tasted of sweetness and salt.

Nothing tastes like that here. Everything is bland. I was bed ridden once, not long after I learned to walk, because I could not eat or drink one more tasteless morsel. The tube the Whitecoats inserted into my abdomen itched and throbbed. They scolded me, “You are lucky to be here. Not every life gets the chance.” The red stitching on their crisp white coats made me uneasy. They tell me it is impossible, the things I remember.

Fetuses are encased in jelly. There are no waves without water. There are no scales. The light is blue and constant. There is never darkness for the growing fetuses. Infants learn the act of breathing after being removed from the glass encasements.

White Coat pressed the dreaded symbols into my fingernails when she caught me singing when I was just beginning Lessons with the other children, before I knew to keep this Secret. The stamps would be doubled on each nail. I didn’t see the sun for weeks. The time we get outside is the only time I feel any warmth reminiscent of the Time Before. The white halls, the white floors, the white light and my white skin are unforgivingly cold. I still hum the melody vibrating in my bones when I am alone.

You are better at keeping Secrets, but I remember more about where I am from: the crushing claustrophobia of being pushed and pulled from the salt water haven, the sharp stabbing pain of separation, the overwhelming burning through my sinuses, and the struggle and panic of my first halting and shallow breaths of air.

Your hand grazed my thigh. Your eyes were wet and sad. You whispered, “You were not meant for this world.”


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(You can check out my Week 1 entry to hear more from this narrator.)
mabgraves, mermaid

LJ Idol Week 6: Heel Turn

The narrow path reached with twisted fingers and sharp nails to grab at the worn leather of Saden’s borrowed boots. Her feet ached from the long journey through the dense greenwood. Something snapped loudly in the gloom behind her. She leaned against a tree, peering around its girth, her eyes wide. Her breath was shallow, her chest felt too heavy and tender to bear. She slid her sweat slick palms down her tattered skirt and swallowed past her nausea. After days of hard rations, small fires, and nights spent on unforgiving ground, she was more anxious than ever to meet her only hope, Babcia Altheda.

The old woman was rumored to be 123 years old. She was well known by the village girls, who whispered behind calloused palms about the aide she could provide; blindness to an abusive parent, impotence to a young rogue, or even the elimination of an unwanted guest of home or womb. The nicest girls would hiss, “Czarownica,” with sneers smeared across their smug faces, but none were brash enough to mutter the crone’s name in the same breath.

Saden stopped to massage her calves as she listened for any indication she was close to the small hovel belonging to Babcia Altheda. Miles down the path she saw her first clue; a bone tied to a branch with red strings. Saden overheard a woman whisper to her cousin once that a girl could know she was close to the crone’s homestead when she heard the rattle of the many bones tied together around the Babcia’s home. Her stomach churned, the shadows clung, and the air was musty and cloying. She heard an owl call in the distance. The hairs on her arms stood on end, and she stood quickly to hurry forward.

She guessed the moon would be high in the night sky by now, but none of its comforting light reached Saden. Her small lantern offered little comfort as she carefully trod the rocky path. Her thigh muscles burned as she climbed the mountain’s incline. The wind picked up and she heard the clap and rattle. There in the gloom ahead she saw a small amber light. She bit down on her fear and picked up her pace. When she reached the small well near the front of the home, the splintered door swung wide. Saden’s skin crawled as the silhouette rasped, “Child, come in.” Saden felt the voice vibrate deep in her bones.

The room was impossibly tidy. The dirt floor was packed tightly, the hearth had no soot, the cooking utensils gleamed in the firelight, and the shelves were laden with dozens of objects arranged in meticulous rows. There was a strange sickly-sweet smell just under the citrusy air. Saden quickly pulled an orange from her threadbare bag. She offered it with a bowed head to Babcia Altheda. She stood with her trembling arm outstretched for a long while. She chanced a glance, and held her breath for fear she might cry out as her eyes met the crone’s eyes.

Czarownica, she thought reflexively. The old woman’s gaze pierced her to the spot as surely as a pin through an insect on a board. The old woman’s face was hard as stone and formidable in the shifting light. Her eyes were sharper than pins, or knives, or village girls’ tongues. Saden’s swimming eyes tore away from that impenetrable stare. She panted with the effort. Her gaze fell on Babcia Altheda’s hands. She stared at the fingers, transfixed. They were darkened with a stain she could not name. The fingernails were pointed and black around the edges. They seemed impossibly tidy, too, capable and powerful. The crone took the orange and beckoned Saden follow her to sit by the hearth.

Saden’s story tumbled from her mouth as Babcia Altheda deliberately peeled the orange with deftness and precision. She carefully pulled each section from the whole, savoring each bite. Saden watched her in fascination and horror, as secrets she never meant to tell escaped in a rush. She shook with the effort of keeping the darkest of them untold. Just as she thought she couldn’t possibly keep anything from the crone, Babcia Altheda’s eyes became impossibly wide and her mouth worked frantically, but no words came forth. A long hiss escaped from her lips as she pitched forward out of her chair to the ground. Saden jumped back from the old woman, as a terrible gagging noise tore from the crone’s throat. Her large stained hands dug into the dirt floor.

Saden blinked rapidly, realizing her plan had worked. She moved forward with grim determination, the blade of her knife flashing in the firelight. She expertly severed the forefinger of the czarownica’s right hand. The blood was thick and black in the dimming light. Babcia Altheda’s blue lips pulled back from her teeth as she choked out a single word, “Why?”

Saden, feeling triumphant, stepped back slowly as her shoulders relaxed and her breath became even and deep. “Thank you, Babcia, this last ingredient is just what I needed to ensure I can become just as powerful as you. I will not waste it secluded in a hovel as you have done. No, I have grander plans for my future. The villagers will bend to me. I am untouchable now.”

The bones clapped and rattled. An owl called forlornly in the distance. Somewhere, a cat yowled.


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mabgraves, mermaid

LJIdol Week 5: Fear is the Heart of Love

The old woman critically surveyed her handiwork lying supine on the table. Her eyes were clear like quartz, and sharp like obsidian. The eerie sensation of feeling both hot and cold washed over her skin in tiny pin pricks. The old woman kneaded a calf, molded an elbow, defined a clavicle, and her long fingers dark with the color of clay, smoothed the skin. She felt an avalanche of scalding ice pricks slide down her back. Frowning in concentration the old woman used her pointed nail to etch a few details: a furrow in the brow, a laugh line, a dimple. She carefully placed the rich green paste on the tongue. Her mouth twitched. She tasted salt and metal. She licked her lips and swallowed hard past the lump in her throat. She did not take a breath.

The old woman reached into the cavity up to her wrists. She nodded at her realization and moved toward the fire. She took a seat in the threadbare chair. Her wide knuckles clicked as she deftly wove the supple branches together into a fist sized cage. A cat left the dark corner of the room to lay contentedly by the woman’s feet. It purred as the old woman murmured intently at her work. The cat looked on, interested each time she took a sprig of herb, or a string of gut. The old woman finished her methodical weaving, her jaw tight with the effort. She returned to the table to make a reverent offering to the chasm, again murmuring intently. Her wide palms smoothed over the sternum.

She turned her head painstakingly slow. Her eyes wide with the effort. There. She could see the edge of a shadow pulsing. Someone who was not as still as her. Thump. Thump. Thump. She couldn’t tell if the pounding was in her head or coming from the old woman.

“Do not fear, child,” the old woman said comfortingly. “Settle your heart, for it is my heart, as I have given it to you. Now swallow,” she instructed, holding a small saucer filled with an amber liquid to her lips. Everything became lighter, and she eagerly inhaled the sweet citrus scented air. Another inhale, and another. “Breathe slower, child, lest you get dizzy, you have time enough.” Her eyes stung as she moved them wildly over the suddenly clear visage next to her. The old woman moved forward and dabbed at her cheeks, “Now, now. There. Are you still afraid?” She’s beautiful. Her long thick braid is impossibly white. She raised her hand dark with the color of clay to stroke the old woman’s cheek.
“No, Mother. I feel love.”

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mabgraves, mermaid

LJ Idol Week 3: Brushback Pitch

The girl stood at the top of the stairs, the willow switch digging comfortingly into her right palm. She tugged at her long braid absent-mindedly and passed the switch to her other hand. She gave it a few practice swings, swish, swish, swish. It reminded her of the tiny silver fish which darted in unison beneath the clear surface of her cousin’s creek. One swish looks like dinner to predators, but many swishes look like too big a meal to swallow. She was fast and could produce a large school of fish.

The corners of her mouth twitched at the whistling of the switch slicing the air. Sound traveled harshly here, she missed the tones under the water. There was no comfort. The girl’s heart pounded. The adrenaline screamed at her to run and hide. If the hag could separate her from the water, dry out her skin and stitch her gills, then the girl did not want to find out what else she could do.

The girl gave her school of fish their teeth by bringing the switch down hard on her exposed thigh. THWACK. An offering of blood. I know what the hag fears. She doesn’t belong here. There is brackish water running in rivulets down the walls.

The girl’s muscles tensed. Her mouth felt like it was full of cotton. She rolled her head slowly, wincing at the sharp pain between her shoulder blades. She pulled a few willow leaves from her pocket. She chewed them thoughtfully and shook her head slightly. She moved down the hall and greedily drank a glass of water from the bathroom sink. She refilled the glass and drained it. Then refilled it again and took another slow sip. She tipped back the glass and finished it. The girl caught a drop of water on her finger tip from the leaky faucet. She wiped it across her bottom lip, reverently. She sighed. THWACK. An offering of blood. I know what the hag fears. She doesn’t belong here. There is algae blooming in the corners of the rooms.

The girl’s eyelids flicked rapidly, her jaw clenched. She ran her tongue across her teeth, and worried the sore space in her gums where a tooth used to be. Her knees burned from the scrapes she got last night by falling out the willow. Her bones still held the chill of the sharp air as she fell below her bedroom window. The knuckles on her right hand still ached from connecting with the unforgiving ice over the pond where she created a jagged hole. Plop, went her tooth when she dropped it into the black water. Her eyes had stung with the effort of the sacrifice and her stomach had twisted and heaved with the effort of producing the tear to seal the deal. It didn’t even make a sound when it hit the water. THWACK. An offering of blood. I know what the hag fears. She doesn’t belong here. There is a cattail in the decanter.

The water. The water she was so deprived of, her lips cracked with the dehydration forced upon her. The hag kept her within the confining cottage walls , with its filtered water, and standing showers, and dry heat. Last night she dug her fingertips in the frosted shore, leaned down, down, slipping her tongue into the fragrant water surrounded with white ice and she moaned aloud. THWACK. An offering of blood. I know what the hag fears. She doesn’t belong here. There is a trail of muddy foot prints leading to the hag’s quarters.

The girl places her bare foot neatly onto each print. Her tenderness stings and throbs. THWACK. An offering of blood. I know what the hag fears. She doesn’t belong here. There is a frantic shuffling coming from the consecrated room. THWACK. There is a pleading. THWACK. There is a keening. THWACK. An offering of blood. I know what the hag fears. She doesn’t belong here. There is the hag gurgling, unable to create the spark of fire she needs to escape. THWACK. An offering of blood. The hag’s eyes are wide with the realization there is no staying here.THWACK. An offering of blood. I know what the hag fears. The girl is deliberate, and now the hag understands she’s been forced to do what she fears most; there is no refusing once the sacrifices are made. THWACK. An offering of blood.

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mabgraves, mermaid

LJ Idol Week 2: That One Friend

I believe there is a time in every person’s life when they find themselves on their back, waiting. Perhaps they will find this time in a shallow brook with small stones digging into the spine and the shoulder blades. I believe there is a time in every person’s life when they find themselves waiting for the final deep breath to let the water rush in; for the release. For me, this is one of those times. Her bare feet swung gently, grazing the water streaming past me.

“Sink or swim,” she told me.

Sink or swim. I dived to the bottom of the proverbial body of water and clawed a shelter in the muck. Myself, I have sunk. She scowled down at my figure as she dazzled her audience, the world, with her fancy maneuvers. Such a vision she was then.

I hated her grace. I hated her charm. I hated her beauty, if only others saw what my best friend harbored behind her manicured exterior, her forked tongue. It wasn’t always this way. There was a time before her swollen face and her crooked neck haunted me; there was a time before I lay down exhausted in the rushing brook.

I, too, was drawn to her hypnotic guise. I, too, craved for Sharvari’s olive eyes to look upon my face, for her curved lips with the delicate freckle below the cupid’s bow to pull back to reveal pearl-white teeth, for her earthy sepia hand to close over my own, lovingly.

All the girls wanted to be Sharvari. They surrounded her like so many moons, hoping that her light would reflect off their faces to make them special, too. They were werewolves in her ethereal light. All the boys wanted to be with Sharvari. They posed around her like stars competing to be the brightest twinkle in her eye. They collapsed into black holes like stars, too. We all orbited her like she was the sun. Our sun. She went through people like water. Sharvari never believed in conservation.

“Excess, Excess, Excess! What else is this life for?”

Even now I can hear her voice in my ear, whispering. Sweet nothings; they say perspective is everything. Brain washing, hindsight is always 20/20, isn’t that what they say?

“Have you lost your mind? You dolt!”

Yes. Yes, Sharvari, I have. Back then, only a few months ago, those people would have done anything to be me. I had the honor of being Sharvari’s anything. No one knew what the price for such a privilege could be. Not even me. The constriction which bound me was suffocating. The buoyancy of water sounds so welcoming.

I first saw Sharvari on an autumn day. I shadowed her the whole walk to school. I was entranced. I had never seen anyone so captivating. Her black hair waved down her back and she her step was so elegant. Her feet hardly touched the ground. I concentrated on the tap-tap-tap of her stilettos to make sure she was real. I lost her in the crowd of the school yard. A panic seized me. Had I imagined her? I found myself searching for those shoes all day. Dark waves obsessed me. Was she real? Could I have imagined her? I explained the fear away. I heard the sound of her stride. She was real. She had to be. Not like back then, when I looked into the shifting shadow and could not see what just a moment ago was there.

The next morning I got up before the sun rose. I dressed carefully. I left the house earlier and kept my eyes wide open for a glimpse of her. As I came near the school, I looked around desperately. She was nowhere. Then I heard it. Tap-tap-tap... I turned just as a hand landed on my shoulder.

“Hello, I am Sharvari, and your name is?”

I practiced this in front of the mirror last night. Hi, I’m Yana, I saw you the other day, you’re new right? I looked into those eyes rimmed in black, and all the air in my lungs seemed to have been sucked out of the world in a vacuum of want. I just breathed in her scent, malty molasses and toffee, nostalgia overthrew me. My next exhale contained my name.

“Yana, you and I are going to be good friends.”

A tingling traveled from the crown of my head down my spine, making my neck tense and my fingers quaver. I felt like this once when I was younger, but the memory was too faded, the only color lasting was the olive green of someone’s eyes. I felt it again when I was picnicking in the woods when a large black snake stopped nearby to taste the air in front of my bare feet. I hadn’t felt so alive in years.

I feel it now as I take my first deep breath in months. The water is icier than I imagined, but it’s a welcome relief for the burning in my chest as I gaze at those vacant olive eyes, at those long bruised toes skimming the water, that long black hair tugged by the wind which rattles the bare branches from which my sun swings.

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I am in the second tribe ballot. Thank you for reading!
mabgraves, mermaid

LJ Idol Week 1: I need the struggle to feel alive

One step closer to you, and I would finally breathe easy; vetiver and cinnamon. They told me during one of the tests this is not possible because all soaps are regulated, but I know my own senses. My scalp tingles. Whitecoat’s shoes click click click primly across the white tile; her lips are upturned, the corners are sharp in the white fluorescent light. She steps between us. The red stitching of her uniform makes the roof of my mouth itch. I see your fingers tremble. Your posture is precisely straight.

“Why did you inhale like that?” she demands, grabbing my wrist and looking at her white watch. I look at her white shoes. “Your heart rate is elevated, what other sensations are you experiencing?” she takes a tiny white flashlight from her pocket and shines the sharp beam into my right eye as she holds the eyelid open. She repeats this procedure on my left eye. The corners of her mouth twitch into a frown. “You have strange eyes, blue, with a contrasting blemish, improper.” Strange is a scrupulously chosen word for incompatible, abhorrent, worrisome.

The line moves and you move with it, but Whitecoat is in front of me, so I must stay still. My wrist is cold where her fingers were against my skin. I swallow hard, my mouth is dry. I see your back muscles tense; your shoulders pull back, the irregular red splotch on your skin momentarily visible. You told me my eyes were the color of a cool afternoon’s sky, with a freckle of rust, so I told you about the strawberries I had once, and how your red mark reminded me of them.

I look into the sharp white reflection in Whitecoats very dark eyes. “Thank you for your concern,” my voice soft and even, “I have sectoral heterochromia.” Whitecoats eyes narrow as she states lowly, “Inappropriate response.” She takes my left hand and presses a small symbol into the fingernail of my middle finger. The symbol on my thumb is visibly faded. The symbol on my index finger is not. Whitecoat takes a precise step out of the line and turns on her heel, click click click.

I move my feet along the line, counting my steps slowly, hoping my racing heart doesn’t betray me with the flush I feel, because I cannot afford another stamping; it would be another week in the lab, without outside recess, without you. My breath catches on my ribs as your eyes slide easily toward mine as you turn the corner toward the open door. The fresh breeze caresses my bare arms, surrounding me with the heady scent of you, the silhouette in the early pink light. You are very good. You do not turn around, but I see your fingers tremble. Your posture is precisely straight. Mine is too as I turn from the Whitecoat with the blue stitching, who is carefully checking the client’s fingernails before allowing them entrance through the green door.

I walk through the white corridors through the white doors to a white room. The tests are arduous. My body feels heavier afterwards, every muscle fatigued and aware. My foot steps feel more grounded, my sensations more exaggerated, and the progression of the ache reminds me of the care I feel for you, the connection I am capable of and what I can endure to keep it.

I stand outside the perfectly scheduled day the rest of the clients shuffle through; full of perfectly balanced meals at tables with perfectly spaced seating which never allow an accidental touch. You touched me, our toes hidden in the long grass near the dappled trees.

The next time I see you, I will be truer. You might even steal a quiet moment to press each of my new purple bruises to remind yourself what is at stake, your stamped fingernails faded and eager.

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I am in the second tribe ballot. Thank you for reading!
mabgraves, mermaid

LJ Idol Week 0: Introduction

The first day of high school my English teacher asked the class to write a story. It was the first time in my education an adult told me I could write whatever I wanted. I felt light-headed; the skies opened, the fluorescent light was sun shine and the stale air conditioning was a keen mountain breeze. I got a little carried away frantically scribbling with my broken pencil nub as the papers were collected. I do not remember the story I wrote, but I remember being really disappointed this teacher wrote that my story was a little too far-fetched.

So, I won’t tell you about how I believed I was a changeling child, from the dark forest fae, who left me behind so they could have the true blonde, blue-eyed daughter. I won’t tell you I thought every cat who chose me was a Dola, a protective spirit, keeping me grounded and safe in order to follow a life path. A spirit sent by the fae folk to watch over me.

I figured, even dark forest fae would care, even if they did leave me in order to have the well-mannered daughter I replaced. They must have known adjusting to life without kin or memory is difficult and leads to all sort of behavioral and emotional problems. Nor will I share that in my teenage years my best friends were three crows who followed me back and forth on my route to school. I was sure Morrígan, the Phantom Queen herself, sent them to me because she knew I was lonely.

Instead, I will tell you my parents are pleased as punch with their red-haired, blue-eyed daughter; so is the cat who has become the motivator to get out of bed in the morning. Now, I have a circle of friends and a partner to care about me. One of them even convinced me to join this writing contest, even though I’ve only been sharing my writing for a mere year. Well, longer than a year if you count George. He was the English teacher I mentioned before. I forgave him for the haste criticism and he apologized with interest in my writing for the last fifteen years. He might be the main reason you are reading this now.

If you enjoyed this, I’d appreciate you letting me know, and keeping me in mind in the following weeks of LJ Idol. I am looking forward to meeting you, and reading your work. What worlds there are to discover. Maybe I will even find my way back to the fae and all the other things I stopped believing in.