haunted places for haunted people

I’m pretty sure I’m heading into that weird early-morning trainwreck headspace I don’t need to be in.

but that’s okay, I do what I’ve always done.

I get myself into a corner, I write my way out of it. It’s the only thing that works.

There’s no telling how many words I’ve scribbled at the altar of this thing. There’s a darkness in my head. And in my mind, there are so many rooms–shifting, always shifting, rooms turning themselves upside down. Dumping their contents out, twisting till it pours from one room to the next. And inside, I am constantly searching for a safe place to put my feet. Nothing’s sacred–no point in installing fixtures or arranging things just the way I want them to be. Something comes along and sends this labyrinth spinning, turns the floors to ceilings until I can’t tell the difference between running or falling.

There is an art to what I do, now. I don’t grab onto things or let go, not really. I slip from one place to the next, closing my eyes for a second to see if it’ll hold. And if it does, I catch my breath while I can, brace myself for the next tumble, because what I am really, really good at is falling. Slipping and sliding, tossed about, a leaf on a violent wind.

and here inside this haunted house, on nights like these, where the doors open up and things drift out of closets, come creeping out of the shadows, I just stay where I am.

This darkness in me is almost comfortable, a familiar tug at my fingers, a caress on my cheek. Whispering, isn’t it time you let me out? And me, smiling, because those are the oldest words. The oldest command–

Let me out.

And I do. Not like I used to. Not in the wild ways–running through streets and forests and woods in the middle of the night; slapping paint on canvases in the garage, blasting music because everyone was drunk or asleep or didn’t care; riding my bike at 3 AM to whereever, because in this place there are no limits, no stopping, no one, no one to say no.

Here, with this old and familiar darkness, tendrils of smoke pouring out of my eyes, my nose, my ears, my mouth, I’ve learned that it is easier to obey. I let it flow down my arms, curl round my wrists, weave over my fingers until it makes me its medium and lets itself out–

This space is where I know what it is like to be possessed,

What it’s like to have a terrible desire that eats you from the inside out,

irrational, uncontrolled, a creature less of thought and intellect than urge and instinct, propelled forward by nameless, unspeakable things. This is what it demands, what it wants–transmutation. Nothing out of something; everything out of nothing. It’s both empty and a cauldron, perpetually boiling over, always in need of release.

This is no different than sitting up, four am, propped between the frame and the screen, scribbling as fast as I could, hoping five sticks of incense could cover the smell of cigarette smoke. Obeying this thing as I always have, because really, I don’t have much of a choice.

The house in my head is twisting and turning, shifting, shifting, and someone has to catalog everything inside. All the archetypes walking through–the Mother, the Shadow, the Black-Eyed Woman. A legion of wolves and ravens loping and swooping, dancing with each other through a field of silver and gold. Orphans and lovers, demons and saints. Black waves that go on forever, and the White One, who’s always walking too far ahead.

There is a forest in this house, and a maze, too. A vestibule where time turns in any direction you want. There are stars and stars and stars, a thousand crescent and gibbous moons. Deep woods lit by clouds of blue-white fireflies, where you are never quite alone.

There are beaches and gorges, vast, empty spaces. Somewhere, far off in a nearly-unreachable space, there is a shore where all things end and all things begin, a place of waiting for the final sleep.

These days, the water laps around my toes. It’s never gone past my ankles, and I’ve yet to walk in of my own will.

The only thing this house doesn’t have is an architect, and I am perfectly comfortable leaving that post empty. Some mysteries should be maintained.

And when I remember that this labyrinth inside my head is as beautiful as it is terrifying, it makes that darkness abate. Creep backwards, drawing in. Brushing the rooms as it retreats, but there’s no real movement, no twisting or turning inside my head. It leaves me here, eyes closed, fingers finally still on the keys.

Now, I have enough peace to sleep.

all flowers in time bend toward the sun

It’s almost September, almost two years since I moved up here, almost three since my best friend died, five since my life utterly exploded. A lot has happened. A lot is happening. And the world continues to clip along at light speed, with a thousand reasons for me to go back to being agoraphobic and terrified of how bad things are, but…

I’m not sure when exactly my thinking about it changed, but it’s been on my mind a lot lately.

When I was 13, a lot of things were wrong. My home life. My mental health. School. The world at large. I had my first panic attack, and everything collapsed. I didn’t know what was wrong. I didn’t know why I was so terrified of leaving the house. Why it was so difficult to interact with anyone else. I kept my bureau in front of the door and hid under my bed if anyone tried to come in. I ate at night, when everyone was asleep, and hid in my closet when I couldn’t breathe. And it felt like no one could help me, but I remember with incredible clarity the times people tried.

The near-thousand paper cranes my classmates folded because all they knew was that I was sick. The kind letters passed along from teachers and friends.

My grandfather, who traveled over 700 miles to stand outside the door and say, “Come on, Miss Superfantastic. One step. Take all the time you need. I’m not going anywhere.”

My sister, speaking unusually loud from the kitchen, about how talented I was and how incredible my stories were, and how she was so proud of me.

People gave me things to crawl out toward, even though it felt doomed and every step was surely one closer to death. But the further I got from the safety of my room, the more I came to realize it was a prison.

A couple months back, I watched Bo Burnham’s Inside and it broke me. Sobbed so hard I broke capillaries in my nose. Because it is such a painful thing to be so isolated and alone, but so terrifying to try and reenter the world.

Last year’s lockdown was an uncomfortable return to a place I didn’t want to be. Except this time, the world genuinely wasn’t safe. I returned to work with the knowledge that if I got sick, I could die. People were dying en masse. It should have been paralyzing. I had so many reasons to seal myself in a room. If ever there was a time agoraphobia could be beneficial, this was it.

But I didn’t. I was too concerned with bills and rent and unemployment wasn’t an option. I worked one job. I worked two, sometimes three. Always with the knowledge things could go wrong. Always pushing on anyway. Because the worst could happen, yes, but the other knowns were absolute certainties.

I’m not sure when I started seeing my own dread as a challenge to smash into over and over. It was there. Every day. Conditions were not optimal. Us essential workers were on the brunt of a lot of ugliness. But there was kindness, too, and there were several days I’d walk back to my car marveling at how the world refused to quit. Boarded up windows, brilliant with artwork. Marches and protests that gave me a spark of hope. I’d walk down to the homeless encampment near Skate Park with day-olds and dinners people didn’t pick up, and was so relieved to see other workers already there. Restaurant workers bringing food. Volunteers with medicine and clean water, helping however they could.

Kindness bloomed amidst a suffering world. It gave me a shred of hope to keep going, keep pushing. No matter how hard, no matter how ugly. Refuse to look away. Refuse to accept that everything is broken, that nothing is worth saving. I held position and handed out coffee and promised myself this world was worth staying alive in, fighting for change in, suffering in.

And perhaps that is the thing that has changed. Knowing that I will suffer, but being determined to make it mean something.

That’s what the writing is all about. Always has been. It just took me a couple decades to realize that.

I hope you’re doing okay, reader. I hope things aren’t so heavy it feels like it’s breaking you. Please know you don’t have to carry it alone. You might not know how many people truly care about you, but I promise they are there. Reach out if you can. Doesn’t matter how. Doesn’t matter how little. You are never alone in this world, no matter how alone you feel. We’re alive in it together.

Let’s keep going.

I’m with you.

best of 2020 (so far)

I’ve been in quarantine more than I’d like this year. Being trapped at home has pushed me to escape into other worlds, and many of the ones I’ve found have been utterly engrossing. Given the sheer amount of content out there, I usually find new things via word of mouth. Here’s what I’ve found and loved.

Tales From the Loop. I loved everything about this. Everything. The characters, the music, the directing, the writing. It left me in tears several times. While this is definitely sci-fi, its human touches will leave you bereft. I loved this. LOVED this.

Stray Souls, The Red King, and Love Advice From the Great Duke of Hell. I’ve devoured comics in all forms since I was eleven, and Webtoon is a gold mine of amazing stories. What do these three have in common? Great plots, great characters, killer art. The amount of talent these creators have is…staggering, and I look forward to every episode. It keeps me going.

THE FEVER KING and THE ELECTRIC HEIR, Victoria Lee. After reading the first few chapters of the graphic novel on Webtoon, I had to find out where the story went. Lee’s worldbuilding is staggering, and her characters will gut you. While the first book feels heavier on plot, THE ELECTRIC HEIR puts character dynamics front and center. It’s a story about what it is to be a survivor, and how difficult surviving truly is.

AGNES AT THE END OF THE WORLD, Kelly McWilliams. In this apocalyptic YA, a strange virus that turns living creatures into red crystal quite nearly ends the world. To save her brother, Agnes flees from the cult she was raised in to seek help in the outside world. I was absolutely fascinated by the virus, and a bit horrified. If you liked ANNIHILATION, you’ll dig this one.

THE INVISIBLE LIFE OF ADDIE LARUE, V. E. Schwab. If you haven’t read this one yet, do it now. Addie is an incredible character, stubbornly choosing to live even as the centuries wear on her. The infuriating dynamic she shares with Luc, a primal god of darkness, is equally compelling. She seems utterly doomed until she meets Henry, a sad, sensitive bookseller who, unlike everyone before him, fails to forget her. To say anything further would spoil this one, and its unraveling tale is well worth your time.

FANGS, Sarah Anderson. At first take, I went “waitasec, is that the Odditorium? IT IS!” Seeing a local dive bar taken over by supernatural creatures was the hook for me, but its sweet, funny love story truly drew me in.

OLD GODS OF APPALACHIA has one of the most mesmerizing voices I’ve ever heard. Ghosts, witches, and haints dwell deep in an alternate Appalachia, where terrifying stags with luminescent antlers creep out to make terrible bargains with the locals. Do yourself a favor, give this one a listen. Start at the beginning–you’ll be glad you did.

THE MAGNUS ARCHIVES follows an archivist as he documents the various horrifying accounts of those desperate enough to seek an occultist’s expertise. I’m still working my way through season 1, but there are some stellar stories here. “The Piper,” “The Killing Floor,” and “A Father’s Love” were pure nightmare fuel of the best kind.

woodland creatures

The hall of antlers was a place Henry only saw in his dreams.

The Hall of Antlers

It was staggering to think of how many bodies it had taken to fill that expanse. How much blood, how many lives. In the dream, the question was soft, merely wonder, because awe was the only way to traverse such a place.

And in the dream, the antlers screamed as they broke. No avoiding them–it was impossible to take a step in any other direction. The only way through the dream was forward, but in those splintering howls and shrieks, all Henry could hear were warnings.

Halt
Stop
Go back

But there was no other way.

When he reached the end, the same figure always peeled itself out of the dark. A great horned god, Herne or Woden, so massive in stature that it could only be the night itself.

KNOW ME, it always said. REMEMBER I WILL COME FOR YOU.

The dream always ended with those words. But being a person of solid skepticism, he never put any stock into dreams. He went about his life and his business unharmed by any antlered god, unscathed by even the darkest night.

It was daylight when it finally came to claim him.

He should have known before the deer on the path opened its mouth and screamed.

Nicolas Le Boulanger, "Un Dernier Regard"

the story you hadn’t written yet

I didn’t see you until I saw you,
carved out of the end of summer,
late September sunshine along the curve of your jaw.
Sky blue, clear like the way you
saw through everything,
All the way to its core.
And I started admiring fields of pale grass and the corner of your mouth–
that line that forms when you really smile,
the exact way you started to
when you began to see me, too.

Did you feel the way I did?
All lit up like a Christmas tree,
a forest filled with ten thousand fireflies.
Dappled morning sunlight reflecting off a creek,
the path of golden coins the full moon makes over the ocean,
Each trail of light a ladder to heaven.

And I saw you.
And in the dark—
did you see me there? my natural state
Those scraps of shadow and soft violet evenings.
Did my colors smudge yours? Did they call you
to crawl into the dark even as I climbed up to you,
finding you somewhere in the middle,
startled, but not frightened
surprised, but maybe expected
like we found each other at exactly the right time.