The Journal of Lillian Anderson

A memorial statue, weathered and spotted with lichens, fades into a backround of two roses against a field of black.

Instead of releasing the final part of the story, here’s the whole thing. The journal is background for one of my characters, something that another character will use later. So, I may occasionally write and release pieces of it, just for fun.

Trigger Warning – there are some rather unhealthy behavior patterns and thoughts in here that may be uncomfortable to people from dysfunctional families. Also deals with grief.


The Fool


Friday, January 12th, 2007

I finally have something to write about, that isn’t some stupid poem about how the scent of cut grass is from the chemicals it releases when it screams, or the geometry of pine cones, something like that. Something people don’t usually want to talk about. After class I went to Maverick’s, to my table under the speakers. They weren’t doing a good job of covering the noise today. There was a group of women having a late lunch, and there was a lot of laughter. It made me miss Mom. The guys at the office don’t exactly joke around with me. I don’t know if it’s because of Dad, or if it’s just me.

It made me miss more than Mom. Maybe it was their laughter, maybe it was the music, but I started really missing Jeff. Not the wisest thing to dwell on, but that’s how I was feeling. Lost. Used. Something worth nothing more than a good time, destined to be discarded. Foolish.

Jeff made me feel funny, pretty, smart. I really thought he liked me. I should have known better. I guess it’s not a good idea to be hanging around Dad’s employees anyway, it’s just that I don’t have any time to date, I barely have enough time to study, with all of Dad’s paperwork. If Mom were alive, it would be different. She could have done the books while I focused on school, and had time for a life. But Dad needs someone to help him, he’s worked too hard to watch everything fall apart.

I don’t like the way Dad talks about her, but sometimes I think maybe he’s right, maybe she should have eaten better, been more healthy. But here I am, doing the same thing. Eating greasy restaurant food, never cooking, never going for a jog. It just seems like there’s never any time. Maybe if I was better at what I did. Dad is always talking about how Mom was never very efficient either, I wish I had taken more after him. If something happens and I have to take over the business as well as take care of him, I’d be lost.

Here I am again, feeling sorry for myself like a pathetic lump. But, I shouldn’t feel that way now. Besides, Dad is healthy and strong, he should be able to keep up the business well into old age. I don’t know what I would do without him, he’s right that I probably wouldn’t be able to take care of myself.

Anyway, there I was, trying to get the books done so I could go home and write my paper (okay, I admit it, I was moping and tracing the patterns in the wood grain with my finger), when a man came up to me. A good looking one! He said his name was Stuart. I was so stunned, he just slipped right into the booth and started talking about how he likes women with a strong work ethic. And he didn’t seem to think I was being a nerd, with my paperwork and calculator. I was so shocked, I must have missed part of the conversation. He ordered me a Mimosa, and I don’t even remember telling him what I was drinking.

He said I had a warm smile. That was different. At work there are whispers that I’m a bit of a snob, a cold fish. But it was like he looked in my eyes and saw deep into me. And he was so nice, asking about the books I was working on, as if my father’s business was interesting to anyone but the family. We have so much in common too, he said he does the same thing, likes to go to a bar during off hours just to soak up the atmosphere while he works, he just usually goes to the one on the other side of town. He said he gets too busy to really go out, just like me. A hard worker. And we like the same music and books.

He’s so much more together than I am, so much more capable. He’s charming, I could never do that. His smile could get a girl to do anything. He reminds me of Jeff a little, but Jeff was more into just having fun and teased me for working too hard, like I was supposed to just ditch my father and not show my gratitude for all he’s done for me. Stuart admired my loyalty to Dad, said too many women don’t want to work hard, just want a man to take care of them while they sit around the house.

I didn’t have to talk a lot, which is good. It always feels like whatever comes out of my mouth is weird and stupid, and it’s embarrassing. He seemed happy to carry the conversation. When I did talk, like when I said that doing the books soothed me, just a big predictable puzzle where I could easily check if I was right or not, he seemed to understand instead of saying I needed to get out more. He did say that math wasn’t his strong suit, but he at least seemed interested in how it made me feel.

He might not be good with numbers, but he seems to know the other aspects of business, like Dad. I can see him working hard at networking, he does seem like he would be good at it. He said something about helping with a few fundraisers for a couple of local charities, he has a good heart.

He understands people more than I do. He asked me if I was on that Twitter thing, said he has a lot of followers, but those sites just make me feel more lonely. I wish I could be like him, he makes it all look so easy. It was a lot of fun hanging out with him. I lost track of so much time that Dad even started texting me asking where the books were. I had to make up an excuse. Stuart was even nice enough to start helping me a little, once I explained part of my system, something I thought he could handle with a calculator. I was a little uncomfortable with how close he was sitting, especially when he started lightly touching me. I’m not used to that. I kind of wished I had room to scoot a little further away, but I guess maybe I am a little too stand-offish at times.

Maybe it will be okay if I have to stay up late working on the paper. Even if he doesn’t call, it ended up being a really nice night. I just hope it doesn’t end up one of my crushes that never goes further than my daydreams. I hope this is the start of something new that I can cherish, and I don’t end up just feeling like a fool again.


The Devil


Tuesday, January 30th, 2007

Well, it happened. It all happened. I’ve been working hard to settle down. I had to go on a long walk before I could even stomach eating dinner. Having the cat here and knowing I get to keep her with me helps, but it’s hard to relax in someone else’s home. I guess it’s my home too, now.

I suppose the fight was inevitable. Things have been tense with Dad since I first told him I met Stuart. He didn’t like the fact that I met him in a bar, even though it’s really more of a restaurant. Dad goes out on “business socials” all the time. He talks about the dangers of hanging out with men in bars, while his own breath smells of wine.

Tonight he came in and tried to act like he was concerned about changes he’s seen in me, implying I’ve become stressed and frazzled. I have not, I’ve become happy. He said that maybe I’ve been losing sleep because Stuart has been stressing me out. I chose to not tell him I’ve been losing sleep with Stuart, but not because of stress. He tried to imply that the quality of my work has been slipping, that I seem to care less about putting forth my best effort. He thinks it’s Stuart’s “low moral character” rubbing off on me, and I’m too naive to see it.

I pointed out the books have been flawless and timely, and my grades haven’t fallen either. I did say that I was finding myself short on time and a little hassled, and I used the chance to bring up something Stuart and I talked about the other day, that maybe Dad should get me an assistant. Just for a couple of hours, maybe an hour and a half a day, just during the week. It could help me keep my grades up, and allow me an evening off once a week to relax.

Dad started going off about how more time to spend with Stuart wasn’t going to solve anything, that if I wasn’t careful, he would leave me pregnant, penniless, and addicted to drugs. What could possibly make him think Stuart was on drugs? It’s ridiculous! He said Stuart just felt corrupt and criminal, and here Dad is calling me the irrational one. He says Stuart is already trying to poison me against him, filling my mind with toxic filth. That’s just paranoia, and it worries me that Stuart might be right about him.

It’s just so unfair the way Dad talks about him, when he has been so concerned about Dad, so compassionate that he’s even pointed out signs of Dad’s failing health, though Dad is in complete denial. He even gave Dad that herbal tea. Said it had vitamins to strengthen the liver and promote vitality, to help Dad keep on top of those business meetings. Dad says it’s not working, but I’m starting to see what Stuart has been seeing, the confusion, the lethargy. Paranoia might be an aspect off it. He seems to get queasy more than he used to as well.

After all his baseless ranting, he gave me an opening to get to the heart of the matter. He started saying that an assistant’s salary would be draining money from his retirement fund, that I’d be taking food from an old man’s table, and he raised me to be better than that. As if I would let him starve in his old age! Also, as if I didn’t know exactly how large his retirement fund is, I’m his accountant! So, then he switched to saying it won’t be his retirement fund after he dies, it will be my inheritance, so I should want to protect it. He made a mistake saying that, because I was able to argue the money could be used to benefit me NOW, used to allow me to have some time to enjoy my life.

This brought up all the old gratitude bullshit. He even brought the cat into it, saying he was nice enough to let me keep her in the office. It’s his fault I couldn’t keep Jojo at home! He refused to sign a lease that allows pets, saying they would damage property he was financially responsible for. He won’t pay me a living wage so I can pay my own rent, sign my own lease, be responsible for my own life. He expects me to show gratitude for the fact that I’m a grown woman whose daddy won’t let her have a pet? I couldn’t even let Jojo into the front office, I had to keep her in the warehouse. I’m supposed to suck up to him because he would have let her starve in the alley instead? How horrible of him!

Then he said he knew Stuart was changing me because I used to be grateful. That’s so funny, if that’s the case, why has he been complaining about my “lack of gratitude” for years? He said it’s only after Stuart started filling my head with poison that I started being so rude and out of control. Why does he think he needs to control me? I’m an adult! I told him, “You can’t pick who I love just because you let me have an office pet.”

He didn’t seem to know how to respond. That was great, I got to bring up things I’ve been wanting to say for a while. He wants me to give him all this respect, but I’m the one running the business, and I don’t get a fair share of the profit in return. He wants me to appreciate all he’s done for me, but he wouldn’t be capable of doing the things I do, no matter how much he wants to be the reason the business is successful, it’s just not the truth.

He tried to tell me that he does the things that I’m not capable of doing, that I don’t have the social skills, the charisma to keep the money flowing in. I don’t care. That’s his fault. I wasn’t even ten years old yet when I started helping out around the office, instead of playing with friends. Mom tried to encourage me to go play instead, but she was so hassled, so tired, and I loved her so much, and it was the only way she ever managed to have any time to spend with me.

Then, when she died, he just had me take over her job instead of hiring someone. I was only 16! I wasn’t even allowed to hide in my room and grieve, I had to go to work. So, I didn’t learn how to make friends, how to hang out, how to be cool. Meanwhile, he’s living it up, calling it work, telling me I must be eternally grateful for what he’s providing, but who is the one providing it? Because, I don’t think it’s him.

He owes me for giving him my childhood, my teenage years, parts of my life that I deserve to have pleasant memories of, and I don’t. I deserve some acknowledgment. I’ve earned time to focus on my own needs. I finally have someone who appreciates my worth, and shows me I deserve respect. I’ve earned the right to spend time with him, to find love and be happy.

I told him that it wasn’t Mom’s fault she died. It wasn’t her unhealthy lifestyle, which she only lived because she had no time or energy to do otherwise. I told him that he had worked her to death, that it was her stress that brought on the cancer. I told him he was never going to have the chance to do that with me. That if he wasn’t willing to get me an assistant and he wasn’t willing to pay me what I was worth, that Stuart has already told me I could move in with him if I needed to, that he would be willing to help me out until I found a job, and I was going to take him up on the offer.

Then I picked up Jojo and walked out. I didn’t even get her dish or other things. I was worried that if I took the time to, he would be able to think of something to say to make me change my mind. He’s pretty good at making me feel guilty every time I stand up for myself, and I could see him working himself up to it. I decided to stop at a store and get her some new things, to just grab her and go.

He did get in a last word though, and it stung. He said that letting a man take care of me isn’t independence, that in the end, I would learn that I was never capable of taking care of myself, just as he had been telling me all along. He’s wrong, though. I’m sure he is.


The Tower


Friday, February 9th, 2007.

I went back over my journal entries. It’s so surreal. Less than a month ago I was thinking about how healthy Dad was. How he seemed like he would live a long life. Was I in denial? Not wanting to face the toll that his lifestyle was taking on his body? All those late nights, always out and on the go, never resting. Was he hiding how lousy he had been feeling this entire time? Was I not a good enough daughter to see it?

Stuart keeps telling me that it’s not my fault Dad’s gone, but if I had been a better daughter and had seen how sick he was behind that businessman’s facade, I wouldn’t have reacted to him the way I did. I would have found a way to make things work, let him get to know Stuart over time. Stuart says that it was a full week later that Dad had the heart attack, that it couldn’t have been me, but I’m sure I wasn’t helping him relax.

Stuart insists Dad wasn’t still mad enough for it to have caused an attack. He was there the morning Dad died, dropping off paperwork so I wouldn’t have to see him. I was still mad after the fight. He said Dad seemed pretty relaxed about the whole thing, that he believed I was going to come running back, so he wasn’t worried. Stuart’s just trying to ease my guilt, though.

Thank God, for Stuart. It’s been a blessing to have him here, to help me through this. He did all the arrangements, hired someone to do the books for a while, and to teach him how to take over, so I can spend time grieving. He even said something about having his friends keep the press away, and it seems to have worked. Stuart’s going to take care of everything.


The Star


Wednesday, February 14th, 2007.

He proposed. I said yes.

I’m facing an odd feeling. I’ve always used this journal to process things, as a safe place. Dad and I may have had our issues, but I know he respected my privacy. The last few days though, I keep writing with the feeling that Stuart might be reading my words at some point. I don’t know what’s making me think that. As I’m writing, I feel like I’m putting on an act, writing for an audience. I can’t pin down why I feel that way. It’s probably from the grief, all the acting. I keep pretending to be happier about things than I am, that I’ve been swept away in a perfect romance.

But it is a perfect romance, it has all the right things. With everything that’s been happening, and so fast, it’s all so confusing. It’s hard to tell if I’m really happy or not. I might be, but maybe I can’t feel it because it hurts to be happy right now. My head is whirling from how fast things keep happening. I don’t want to push Stuart away, I don’t want to hurt his feelings. He’s been so nice, I’m sure I’m only trying to push him away because I’m grieving.

So, I’m going to try and write how I’ve really been feeling this time. It seems important today. If I try to act like I’m happy here, one of these days when I’m old and gray, I might look back through my words and feel guilty that I was happy so soon after Dad’s death. That’s not what’s going on. I should feel happy today. My dream came true. A knight in shining armor decided I was to be his bride, and he told me this on Valentine’s Day. The kind of moment I always dreamed about. But, I just feel hollow. I just want to cry.

I didn’t really feel like company today, falling in love seems wrong right now, with Dad gone. But, Stuart’s been so patient with me, so kind. He deserves for me to put aside my grief for the day, so I tried to enjoy spending time with him.

We stood by the river, talking, watching the sunset move to twilight, watching the stars wave hello as they began their spiraling dance across the sky. I even heard the gentle call of an owl, the rolling warning so often associated with wisdom. The air was misty from the waterfall. I started to shiver a little. He offered me his coat. It was perfect.

Well, occasionally it got a little scary. I thought someone was following us, something seemed to be moving in the shadows wherever we went. Stuart said not to worry, there wasn’t anyone seedy in town who would dare attack him. He was sweet, trying to impress me. It never ended up being anything but shadows. That’s probably a good thing, despite all his bravado.

Then, he proposed. He said he wished I wasn’t still in mourning, but we seem so right together, we fit so well. I said yes, but it was like a reflex. I felt like I was watching myself in a movie. A romantic one, but I wasn’t experiencing what I was seeing. I did feel relief, though. That’s when I realized I had been worried he was going to get tired of my grief and run away, abandoning me to my fate, to watch my life crumble around me.

But, he’s here. I have him, and he’s not going anywhere. That’s good. I won’t have to worry. The relief itself is good, too. I’m sure it means there’s happiness, I’m just too numb to feel it right now. It will come, I’m sure. I’ll have plenty of time to be happy with a good man like Stuart.

He’s not perfect, but nobody is. Sometimes he can be a little suffocating and irritating. I know he’s being supportive, but some of the ways he’s treating me reminds me of Dad. He doesn’t seem to think I’m capable of doing anything on my own. He says I’m being too sensitive. I guess he might have a point. I know he’s acting out of love and concern. And, since I’m being honest with myself, I know he’s right that I’m not really productive at the moment.

I can’t focus on anything. Numbers don’t soothe me anymore. Dad’s the one who taught me math using his inventory sheets. Eventually Mom may took over, but it was warm memories of him that fueled my love of numbers and patterns in the first place. It was the only fond memory I had of him, the only time I had his full attention, the greatest way for me to earn his praise. Trying to do the books now hurts. I’m fine with letting Stuart handle things and just adding my signature.

I’m sure everything will be fine. Stuart’s already found new business opportunities. He’s flying out to meet someone tonight. He said he gets better rates if he booking for a weekend, and he’s driving, so he’s already left. Hard at work already. He’s meeting a man at a comic-con, he used his love of a comic in childhood to bond with the him. Stuart said it could be a big contract, they do a lot of shipping, and he thinks he can show they would get better rates with us in the long run. Glad he’s doing it. I certainly don’t have the energy for sales right now. Someone has to fill Dad’s shoes, and they seem to fit Stuart well.

I suppose, since I’ve promised myself honesty here, it does sting a little that he’s gone on Valentine’s Day, right after proposing. It doesn’t matter. I don’t have the energy to fight it, and I don’t really feel like celebrating. Just the thought makes me guilty. I suppose I’m being selfish, not wanting to be alone. At least I have Jojo.


The Seduction

A black and white sketched animation of a forest with a deer grazing, raising its head. A woman fades in, the forest scene showing only where her hair blows. She opens her mouth, cherry blossoms fall out, and an iron fence with a rosebush is behind her.
(*whispers* the gif is just a few test frames from an animation in progress)

Friday, August 17th, 2007

My heart is in the forest. You say you can see it in my eyes. You say you know the forest is dark. You say I must be lost, and alone.

My mouth opens. It is filled with birdsong and cherry blossoms. Dewdrops fall from my lashes. I move, and it is the rustle of things hiding in the shaded undergrowth.

In the circle we make as we lean close and entwine our fingers, you smile, you nod in understanding. Your mouth opens, and flowers tumble to the table.

They are made from folded paper. I open one, numbers dance across it, synchronized, flowing along the outline of trees that fall and crumble into more paper. They dance in patterns that comfort me, and still I shiver.

I shiver as you whisper words of agreement and understanding, words that fall shiny from your lips, words that shatter as they tumble, crackling like thin ice, sparkling like diamond dust.

I look for the forest in your eyes. I see myself reflected there, under the shadows of your lashes, like bars of a cage. You murmur of love, of the kindness you will show as you take care of me.


P.S. – Yes, the titles are tarot cards. When reading about the three act story structure, I keep thinking certain phases of the story remind me of certain cards. I’ve wanted to do a story based on this sequence for a long time. It was an interesting experience. On another blog, I used to have pages up on using tarot to inspire stories, so that when I pulled a card, someone unfamiliar with them could understand where I got the inspiration. I think I’m going to update them with this experience and put them up here as well. It will be up soonish, I have a few things to wrap up first.

P.P.S. – I have a habit of playing with my photos while I ponder my stories, and for this project, I released the image pool I would use under Creative Commons (because I’ve been wanting to do that, and will continue to do so), and came up with the resulting pictures. Well, I have access to a couple of pictures that aren’t in there.

  • Bald, blue eyed baby doll bound in fairy lights against a black background, a battered apple spins in the nook of it's arm.
  • Double exposure image of a doll bound in fairy lights superimposed over a rose, with a black background.

So I got a Wacom digital drawing pad for my birthday.

Line drawing of a venus flytrap, the only color is red in the open traps, and a red tinge to the "teeth". A fly perches on it, lightly colored with blue, green, and cream tones.

The Seduction is being animated. It’s going to take a while, I stopped drawing on a regular basis when I was pregnant with my son (fingers swelled up too much to hold a pencil, then no time), and that son is now 18. My eyes are horrible, and fibromyalgia makes holding a pencil an act of endurance. Thankfully, I can be stubborn. Now that I can draw digitally in a more comfortable manner, and I can zoom in to ease the strain on my miscreant eyes, this is going to happen. Eventually, but I’m loving the process.

Cadaver

Amy took her mask off in relief as soon as she sat down in the car. She grabbed hand sanitizer to use while sorting her thoughts before calling Janie. Would Janie have the information she needed? Janie is working out of her home, her duties mostly involve paperwork. Before self-quarantining, she was a great source of info related to high profile cases. Janie’s partner has chronic health issues though, so the medical examiner was happy to let her get her intern hours in at home, to keep her partner safe. She did view autopsies remotely, so she heard Sinha’s thoughts on what he saw as he saw it, she just wouldn’t be able to listen to his discussion with police. If there was information about the body that might support a theory surrounding someone living in the caves, she might be willing to share, as long as Amy kept the information out of papers until it had been released to the public.

Amy pulled out her notebook and dialed Janie, rolling the window down so the car didn’t get stuffy while she made the call. Janie was willing, but needed a promise. She said, “I’ll happily tell you what I think, but only if you do me the favor of trying as hard as you can to squelch rumors that it was anyone, Brand or not, dressed as a woman to conceal their identity. The trans community has enough problems, I don’t want people acting like they did with The Old Lady Killer in Mexico. Cops harassed every woman in the community. And you have to find the information somewhere else before you print it, but it won’t be hard to do. This is an easy conclusion for the public to reach.”

“Deal.” She hadn’t even thought of the possibility of this triggering rising tensions being vented on the trans community. “Shorts and a tank top are gender neutral clothing. Living in the woods, whether Brand or not, could produce someone strong and athletic, whatever gender. Erickson already brought up the lack of a barber shop out there, anyone hiding out in the caves is likely to have long hair. They weren’t dressed as a woman, they were just dressed.”

“All true. Now, the body itself shows exactly what the witness said. Someone cut his ear off with a knife. There are no other spots on the body that show evidence of being removed, or chewed upon. The person who was seen eating his ear apparently was just getting started. The river washed away a lot of trace evidence, they’re still working on it though. So the body itself shows nothing to support the theory of Brand being involved.

“However,” Janie was likely making the little circular hand movement she always does when she says this. Amy smiled, and looked forward to talking to her friend in person again. “Wyatt was heavier than he looked. He carried heavy boxes in and out of his warehouse all day. He may have been short, and he may have looked pudgy, but he wasn’t. Under a thin layer of padding was a lot of muscle. He’s heavy for his size. We don’t know how much the attacker weighed. They were said to be lean, thinner than Wyatt. They were probably lifting someone who weighed more than they did, and then they leapt over a fence and ran, and kept up a good pace. I don’t know if the attacker was using drugs or not, but I know they were strong and healthy, with good endurance.

“I don’t think this could be accomplished by someone living off of a survival diet in the woods. This is not the work of a person living off of trapped rabbits and the occasional deer. If it’s true they are living in the caves, which we have zero evidence of and no reason to suspect other than rumor, they likely raid for supplies on a regular basis to stay that healthy. They may be stealing food from farmer’s fields, perhaps even livestock. They may be burglarizing homes for supplies occasionally. That’s where you’re going to get the best treats. Anyway, I bet that’s what whoever it is does. I bet if you checked cave systems near where there have been spikes in burglaries, caves people know about but don’t go into very often, you’d be more likely to run across the killer.

“They’re already looking in local cave systems, by the way. I heard earlier that some bones were brought in from a cave to the north, they don’t seem to be connected, but I think they should look east of town, closer to the wealthier homes. I already told Sinha what I thought, he agrees and is passing it along to the cops.

“Now, as to how similar this might be to Brand, and I’m only pointing you to stuff on public record here regarding Brand, you’re going to have to wait before you discuss the removal of Wyatt’s ear, but we will release that soon. The body parts arranged on Brand’s altar were removed with what is most likely a hunting knife. The marks on Wyatt’s body are also consistent with a hunting knife.” This seemed to be really thrilling the true crime fan in Janie, she’d been doing her research even before the call. It was fun to watch her pursue her dream.

Janie continued, “There was no evidence that Brand consumed any body parts, there wasn’t even saliva found. However,” Amy smiled, picturing the circle movement. “One of the body parts was an ear, and it was removed with the a similar lift and cut technique, one where the person doing the cutting is probably standing over the body as they cut. This can’t link the body to Brand directly though, it just means that both times the ear was removed it was by someone standing over a body. That isn’t solid, fairly flimsy, but it’s interesting.”

She thanked Janie and put some thinking music on before she started the car and headed to the store. She thought of how strong Wyatt’s attacker had to be, to casually lift someone stronger than them and start leaping over fences and bouncing off of walls. Moving faster than the crowd. Janie was right. They couldn’t have been living off of bunnies and foraging.

There it is again, that rising urge to doubt logical possibilities. It didn’t seem human. Maybe it was. Maybe it was bath salts or some new meth formula from the north hills. Didn’t they crash fast though? How long did it take them to run from downtown to the river? Protesters couldn’t make it the whole way, and there were some rather fit men in the group. Cops had to chase her, or him, down by car. Could drugs let someone go that long, that fast, without a break or not? She wasn’t sure.

She was willing to believe that it could be drugs being used by someone healthy. If the attacker lived in the caves to the east and raided even just their garbage for supplies, they could live off of some high fat diets full of things like quinoa. If they didn’t use habitually, just what they found when raiding for supplies, they might not be held back by things like a weak heart.

It’s just that it sounded too familiar, really. Too much of it reminded her of a story she had heard. Some urban legend she encountered when writing about a campsite found abandoned. She interviewed someone from the university who studied folklore and collected local urban legends. She remembered feeling intrigued by the woman, it was hard to tell if she believed the stories she told or not. Amy wanted to get home to review her notes.

She thought she could get Wyatt’s sister to comment about his build, that would give her enough leeway to nudge the article toward the strength required to lift him. That would give leeway to discuss living in the caves close to town, pointing to an attacker the protesters wouldn’t be hiding. She had the long hair, could maybe say the clothes sound something like what a camper might have in their backpack as emergency clothing, regardless of their gender. She had what she needed, if she hunted Wyatt’s sister down. So, store, then home to the journal. Then time to talk to sis.

Occult

Amy was at her desk when Erickson approached. She hadn’t been there long, she just needed to grab some office supplies and pick up her in-box before heading home to work. She glanced at yesterday’s front page. There was a face in the crowd behind Rodriguez, someone who was familiar. Where she was standing, it was hard to tell if she was another witness waiting to talk to police, or just a rubbernecker. She didn’t feel recent, but not too far in the past.

Erickson coughed his polite cough for attention. Hard to believe he still thought the noise was polite in this, a time of plague. At least his mask looked thick and snug. “I wanted to say to you personally, I think you did a good job on the Rodriguez interview. I hear she was pretty freaked out, I mean of course she was, and you handled her gently.”

“Thank you.” Most likely, he was warming up to something that would take guts to ask. She hoped it didn’t come with an educational lecture. If he started that, he could be here a while. Last time, she got so bored, she thought about gargling her coffee to see what he would do. She was still revising the piece on Wyatt’s grieving family, and needed to get back to it.

“I need you to use the same delicacy when dealing with the public at large right now, they’re freaking out. Some people are angry at the protesters, saying that they interfered with the police’s ability to chase the person who attacked Wyatt. There’s a rising rumor that his murderer was one of them, and that they know who it is, but are keeping quiet.”

“Well, that’s not fair, those protesters came to his aid even when he had been a giant ass to them the whole time. Without Rodriguez and the protesters giving chase and showing cops where to go, they never would have been able to keep up with the woman. Besides, Wyatt’s sister is involved in the protests, and she’s still active out there. I drove by her this morning. If they were hiding someone, she wouldn’t still be going along with it.” She started to understand why he was buttering her up. People are angry, and if they turn on each other, Liffey would be just another riot.

“That’s another thing. Some people are saying it might not have been a woman who attacked him. They were athletic, and certainly strong. It could have been a slender man, one of those with a cyclist type body, big calves and such. Someone built for the kind of parkour moves he was doing. Not to be insensitive, but did Rodriguez say she saw actual breasts?” He made the motion with his hands out from his chest, just in case she forgot what breasts were. Bless him.

“We didn’t cover it. She seemed confident it was a woman though.” He had a point. It was dark. She saw someone with long hair but through bushes. She saw them more clearly when they leapt the fence, but they had a body on their shoulder, they would have still been partially covered.

“Some people are saying it’s possible it might be your old buddy Brand.” That got her attention. She would need to be careful. She did not want people knowing she was still interested in Brand, the rumors about her obsession with the lost figurine were a little too close to home.

“Brand? I’m sure he’s dead. I don’t think he would have stayed quiet this long.” Don’t forget the practiced, casual flip of the wrist.

“Well, if he’s been out in one of the caves, there’s no barbers out there, he wouldn’t have been getting very chunky living off of bunnies and deer. He would have long hair and a slender build, like the person who was seen eating Wyatt’s ear. And there were body parts in that hotel room with him, what if that was set out for dinner? You know, maybe we thought it was an altar, but it was just his sick version of a candlelit supper?” He leaned against her door frame, waiting for her feedback on his pet theory.

“I don’t know. I followed his trail for a while, and every sighting of him came up with nothing. He’s just an urban legend now. If he’s alive, he probably hopped a train.” There was all of our missing people though.

“You know as well as I do how many campers go missing in Liffey,” Oh, Erickson had noticed that too. “There’s a lot of uncharted caves out there. Brand seems like he may have been a resourceful type. Witnesses said the attacker was wearing a tank top and super short denim cutoffs, no shoes, right? Cops were saying it’s because the guy was probably on drugs, got all hot and sweaty so he put on his summer gear. Thus the super strength, he’s all hopped up. But what if it’s also because he’s been hiding out in those caves? Needing to learn to chase deer for dinner. He wouldn’t exactly have access to the mini-mall to pick up a jacket, he’d have to wear what he could find in the woods.” Aww, he was as excited as a puppy dog. Listen to him go on. Interesting though.

“What if it’s an athletic woman on drugs, giving her the strength to toss Wyatt over her shoulder? He wasn’t that big of a guy.”

“I suppose it’s possible. Just doesn’t seem very likely, no offense to your gender. What’s wrong with a dude with long hair?”

“Nothing. I just don’t think Brand would be quiet this long, he seemed pretty unstable. It could be a guy, though. Maybe even a guy hiding out in the caves. But if a woman was out in the caves doing the same thing, she could get strong too.”

“Anyway, Finkle thinks we should make the public more aware that there is the possibility Brand is involved. Help to keep the public from turning on each other if they have a common enemy. I agree that we should encourage that.” Ah, Finkle. The warm up was to encourage her to butt kiss the mayor, forgo objectivity for bias, for the sake of the masses, whose needs so frequently lined up with what the mayor needed at the time.

Erickson continued, “Wyatt was a small business owner. And he had a family, two young kids. Now he has a grieving widow. He’s become a hero for local Republicans, he died protecting his property. On the other side, like you said, it’s a little unfair to be putting this on the protesters, I’m with you, I don’t think it was one of them and I don’t think they got in the way. And Finkle’s right, we don’t want them turning on each other, we’re a hair’s breadth from a riot out there.” At least he wasn’t trying to let chaos reign so he could sell papers.

It seemed so unlike Finkle though, to not be using the chance to lift up Wyatt as a martyr to further his political agenda. He was usually a shining example of corruption, greed, and self-interest. Amy supposed he preferred his business to remain quiet. He might think national attention could mean people start looking more closely at rumors.

Tulley burst in, slapping the edge of her door with a thwack that made her jump. His blond hair looked like he had been pulling on it while writing again. “Congratulations, I hear you get to dive into your creepy occult shit again.”

Oh wonderful, Erickson already opened his big mouth. The rumors have already started. Great. “Looks like I’ll be writing about Brand, if that’s what you mean.”

“Well, you are the expert on occult artifacts and all. Our little creepshow lover. Full of spooky woo-woo?”

“I wrote about one statue, connecting a series of events together. It was October, the readers loved it.” Amy hoped he never found out exactly how much time and effort she spent following up on the strange little statue.

“It’s true. Some of our readers love that babbling creepy shit.” He dismissed her with a flick of his chin. “James, they got that layout ready for you.” He vanished as suddenly as he came. She did adore how the man hated pleasant chit chat, she couldn’t imagine trying to have a conversation with him.

“Right, gotta go. You still have a friend at the morgue, right? Go see if there’s anything solid they’ve overheard. See if they can poke around about a possible connection to Brand. I’ll get someone else to revise your story on the family.”

“Will do.” Well, she’d talk to Janie. She certainly wouldn’t try to slant things toward a man who was probably dead, but she might be able to find something real that could point people away from blaming protesters. That will be enough to keep Erickson happy.

P.S – This is the second of my posts for Grim List, a day late but la, life. The first prompt I did was Illusion, and I have posted an excerpt from the story she wrote about the object, which happens to be inspired by a prompt from Grim List last year.

Illusion

Usually, when the moon is this high, the stone paths they build their dwellings alongside are empty. This is the best place to hunt for stragglers, those that wander along the fringes of the colony are often in a dazed and confused state. Tonight though, there are many of them. A large group sit across the stone, all facing the same direction. A few smaller groups wander around, many carry lightweight boards splashed with color. Some raise their voices in a low, relentless chant, and they all wear cloth on the lower half of their faces. She can see now that the crowd is edged by their warriors, and the crowd seems to be bickering at them.

The hunting tonight will be tricky. She already passed nothing but empty campgrounds on her trip into town. Always empty campgrounds. Summer is usually the time of plenty, and now it is drawing to a close with no where near the bounty that previous years have provided. The pantry is still thin, though the air grows pleasant as the days grew longer. It has been that way for far too long, the elders have been overheard whispering their concerns to each other. It is risky to be this close to the heart of their village, but her family is hungry.

The humans all seem tense and angry. The general guidelines recommended targeting the more aggressive ones, to remove them from the colony so they didn’t damage each other, but tonight they all seem likely to turn on their own.

There is one. A man standing in front of a building with wood panels along the front and sides. He is pacing along the walls in an agitated state, but instead of facing the direction that most face, he is directing his anger at the crowd itself. He seems to be protecting the building, dashing at people who get too close, waving a club at them.

He seems to be protecting the building from the crowd. Everyone is tense, but his anger seems to be facing the people around him, and they do not seem angry at each other. Sometimes their anger directs at him, but they do not rise and charge him as he does them. Those in the crowd are mumbling to each other. They seem to be soothing each other. They seem to want to avoid conflict, though they seem to seethe as a whole. Some even ignore him completely. Perhaps he’s done something wrong, they are trying to exile him and he is refusing to leave. Would their warriors not remove him? Why is he guarding that building? Perhaps there is food in there and he doesn’t want to share, and that’s why they are angry.

Whatever it is, he is likely a good target. His removal will be good for the colony, prevent them from turning on each other. But how to lead him away? His eyes are not lingering on female bodies. Her usual methods would not likely work, either with rolling hips or an air of vulnerability. He seems to want to remain between the crowd and that building. Perhaps she could threaten the building, on the side away from the crowd.

The warriors pay attention when she tries to slip down the alley behind the building, but with a little mental push they seem to forget about her well enough. She clings to the corner of a wall and faces the man.

She sends him the scent of smoke, and the flash of fire. It works, his head snapping to the alley almost immediately. She lets herself be seen ducking behind the corner, and makes sure he sees her head into the grassy area, toward a corner shaded by tall shrubs.

He jogs after her, jingling as he runs, and quickly starts panting heavily. She muffles the sound of his cries toward the warriors, and watches him pause in his frustration, as he fails to get their attention. She jiggles her shrub to draw his attention, and he decides to pursue her rather than get help. It’s nice when they mistake you for weak, thinking they can take you easily when you’re alone. Their look of surprise always amuses her.

His neck snaps cleanly, and he falls silently to the ground. She is hungry, the illusions took energy she barely had to spare. She slices off an ear to nibble on, when a scream rings out. She looks up, one of the crowd is pointing at her, and others near her are rousing, looking around in increasing panic. The shrubs didn’t offer as much shelter as she thought, and she doesn’t have enough energy to cover her tracks. She tosses her kill over her shoulder, and runs.

P.S. – This is the first of thirteen prompts I have selected from Grim List. All thirteen stories will be in continuation.

Savor

Horseradish. That would be perfect, just enough to give the other flavors a bit more punch. Usually she prefers pork seasonings, but the occasional hint of something good with red meat helps bring out the earthier tones of the dish.

Grandma would disapprove of such additions to her recipes, designed to be simple and enhance the natural flavor. Unfortunately, the difficulty of the hunt lately made it so that meat was rare, every effort must me made to maximize enjoyment. The prey were learning to protect themselves much better than they did in Grandma’s day.

She hummed as she worked, slicing turnips while a thigh soaked in the marinade. So many people undervalued a good roasted turnip. The flavor was so strong when raw, you would never expect it to turn so savory and mellow.

The repetitive task allowed her mind to wander, and she considered the satisfying catch and kill behind her. This one had been taken in his sleep, always better for the meat. Once, she heard one of the campers tell a story about a creature that hunted humans. Talked about fear enhancing the flavor of meat. It was obvious the human didn’t know what he was talking about. In her experience it made it taste a little off. This one never saw a thing coming, he was nice and cozy in his sleeping bag.

The park rangers are cracking down like wildfire, but they don’t know how to track something like her. They look for their trails on the ground, not in the trees. They would be aware, and so would the campers, but there will always be one or two that consider themselves to be safe enough to stray.

P.S. – Found another older story that contains elements I will hopefully be using for Grim List 2020.

The Entomologist

“Oh, she is beautiful. I bet Dr. Fairweather will notice you for this one. You might even get more than just the grant out of him.” She winked.
“Excuse me?” I could never remember this one’s name. Grad students are so temporary lately.
“Was that too forward?” She smiled. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell. Anyway, she should help you get that grant for sure. I know you’ve certainly been working hard enough to deserve it.”
“It’s not about me. It’s not even about my work, but she does bring me some hope.” I couldn’t help the smile I felt rising to my face as I put her in the specimen jar.

“I don’t understand, what do you mean the funds aren’t available?” No, no, I needed this grant.
“I’m afraid the last of it went to Dr. Aemulus.” Fairweather wouldn’t even look me in the eye, shuffling through papers on his desk instead.
“But it was promised to me, you told me you would make sure of it.”
“Well, to be frank, she has an amazingly persuasive argument for her cause.”
“Does that argument have anything to do with the weekend you spent together?”
A deep flush spread up to his face from the over starched collar of his shirt. “Don’t be petty.”

The whole campus was abuzz with excitement.
I sipped at the champagne and wished it was mead. I like mead, the child in me enjoys sipping nectar like a bee. Dr. Aemulus came in on Fairweather’s arm and everybody clapped. The grad student said, “This should have been your event.” Incubo. That was her name. Something Incubo.
“Don’t be petty,” I sighed.

“Wait, that’s mine. That’s all mine. What are you doing with my things? That’s delicate equipment, what are you doing?”
Fairweather the betrayer came in, holding his hands up as if to physically restrain me if need be. “Calm down, we need this space for Dr. Aemulus to run her experiments. Your equipment will go down to storage where it will be safe until it’s needed again.”
“Calm down? How do men always think saying that will help?”
“Just be reasonable. The money from forensic research will be far more valuable than conservation efforts. Why are you letting some grad student put a bug in your ear anyway?”
“What grad student? How can you think I’m angry because of a grad student? You’re insane!”

I shouldn’t have to do this. I am a good person. I deserve loyalty. But no, here I am covered in fucking blood up to my arms in these stupid beetles. Necessary forensic research, my ass. This “research” has all been done before, it solves nothing. Nothing.
Out of pure spite, I crumpled his stupid starched collar before dumping more of the flesh consuming beetles over the pair of them. I patted Aemulus’s hair. “Feed your children well,” I whispered.

Fire grew in my heart. Fire grew in my eyes.
Incubo was right. Sometimes, fire is good for the forest, even if some pollinators die. I was wrong to stop the controlled burn the farmers wanted last fall. Sometimes, burning it all to the ground gives room for renewal, for the new, the strong, the helpful, to flourish and grow.
The heat tingles my skin, flush from being so near, the smoke billows to the sky and blows through my hair. I feel so alive. What an absolutely beautiful day.

They found her bones in the ashes. Her grad student stood quietly with the other onlookers as the bodies were carried away.
With a sad smile, Incubo said, “it looks like I will need a job soon. What about you? I hear you’ve been busy, but they haven’t given you the help you need,” the muse of jealousy continued, “Personally, I think you’ve been underappreciated.”

P. S. – This is an old story I’m posting because I’m fairly certain this will be referred to in the upcoming stories for Grim List.