Short Story: Ghostie Ghost, Are You Out Tonight?

The moonlight hungrily devoured every inch of the tall grass and weeds behind the picket fences of near-identical suburban homes but failed to reach through the canopy of the clustered trees lining the unkempt field. 

The last standing wooded remains between civilization and farmland, the woods had long been the subject of whispers and warnings; but to the cluster of adolescents in the cusp of night, the danger was only an alluring story.

“Mom’s just being paranoid,” Alanna had said, and that had made sense to Mina and the others. Her mother was well known to be over-protective. “We won’t be long.”

Mina watched the treeline with trepidation, the crickets sounding near-deafening so close.  She warily checked her feet in fear of the small insects crawling along them. “Are you sure this is worth it? This game sounds dumb, and there are mosquitoes everywhere.

“All this grass is making me itchy,” Joseph chimed in, and scratched at his arms as if to prove his point. “I think I’m allergic to something.”

“Are we sure it’s okay we’re out here? It’s kind of scary. I don’t want to get caught by a serial killer or something. I saw something about it on Netflix. Or, my sister did, and she told me about it.” Nick pulled his little brother, Luke, closer to him, though Luke seemed more interested in staring up at the bright night sky that sprawled over them like a blanket of stars.

“Grandma said they played this game when they were kids, so why can’t we? Come on, let’s pick the ghost!”

After a round of ‘eeny meeny miny moe’, Alanna declared Joseph was the ghost, to his annoyance.

“Why do I have to be first?” he asked, but Alanna only shrugged. Mina crinkled her nose, not putting it past Alanna to have found a way to cheat somehow. She never did like Joseph.

“Alright!,” Alanna started, voice echoing in the empty field. She pointed to the ground at her feet. “This is home base. We all close our eyes, and Joseph hides. When we count to thirty, we all open our eyes and yell, ‘Ghostie, ghost, are you out tonight?’ Then we start looking for Joseph. He’s going to try to scare us and tag us. If he tags you, you’re the ghost next! If he comes out and no one gets tag, last one to home base is it. Got it?”

“Wait, where am I supposed to hide? It’s all just grass,” Joseph asked, biting his lip as if he already knew the answer.

Alanna pointed to the treeline, covered in a thick layer of darkness. “In the trees of course! Like you said, there’s nowhere to hide out here.”

“No way!” Joseph crossed his arms, jutting out his lip. “I am not going into those woods. Dad said not to go in there, no way no how. Not even during the day. Who knows what could be in there?”

Alanna’s face split into a challenging smile. “Are you afraid, you big baby?”

“I’m not afraid!” Joseph said, and stomped his foot. 

Mina rolled her eyes and moved between them; she sensed a fight brewing. “Will you two stop it? I’ll be the ghost. We’ll play one round, then we’ll go home. It’s getting late.”

That seemed to do it. Not wanting to be shown up, Joseph muttered under his breath, then said more loudly, “Fine, I’ll be the ghost. Just close your eyes, okay?

The group huddled together at home base, eyes closed and hands covering them, and they all began to count. Mina shut her eyes tight but internally wondered if this was such a good idea. She heard the swishing of grass being moved, then some crackling of wood and the distant moving of tree branches, the crunch of leaves. But there was no cry for help, which set her somewhat at ease.

“… twenty-nine, thirty! Ghostie ghost, are you out tonight?” They all opened their eyes to an empty field, no Joseph in sight. Mina’s heart stuttered in terror at first. She knew the point was for Joseph to hide, but she couldn’t help the fear that something had happened.

“Joseph?” Luke called out, but Alanna leaned down to shush him, finger on her lips.

“Don’t tip him off! We gotta go find him, remember? It’s part of the game.” The child seemed unsure, but he took his brother’s hand and the two walked towards the treeline.

As the others dispersed to start looking, Mina hung back, a prickling feeling on the back of her neck giving her pause. Something felt wrong, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. She looked along the treeline. She hoped to see some sort of movement in the trees that would give Joseph away, but there was nothing.

For a moment she thought she saw a light in the trees, about ten feet from where Nick and Luke tentatively poked through some branches, but when she blinked the light was gone. She dismissed it as a trick of the night.

Mina decided to move to the opposite side of Alanna than Nick and Luke, figuring they’d cover more ground that way. She just reached the treeline when she covered a smile with her hand, not wanting to give herself away. Beneath some shrubbery she saw the telltale orange of Joseph’s sneakers that peeked out a few feet into the woods. Gotcha she thought, and consideredhow to warn the others without tipping Joseph off.

When she heard the sound of someone lightly sniffling, she thought of nothing of it. She assumed Luke had become frustrated with the game and the younger child wanted to leave. But when Alanna yelled “Gotcha, you big baby!” and ran away from where Joseph huddled, towards where Mina had seen that mysterious light, alarm bells rang in Mina’s head.

“Alanna, wait,” Mina cried out and ran towards her, but stopped short when Alanna screamed and fell backward onto her bottom.

When Mina reached Alanna, her eyes were wild and dilated, mouth open in a gasp of fear, and she crawled backward the best she could while still on the ground to get away from the treeline. Mina spotted Nick in the distance coming towards them, but she held up her hand in a ‘stop’ motion. Nick pushed Luke behind him and waited.

That left Mina to figure out what was going on. Be brave, she thought to herself. It’s probably nothing but a dead raccoon.

When Mina turned to the woods, she didn’t see anything at first. Alanna must have pulled the shrubbery back to catch who she thought was Joseph, which meant that Mina would have to do the same. Be brave, she repeated to herself.

When she peeled back the branches and leaves, she couldn’t stop the surprised gasp from leaving her lips.

Huddled in a ball, hand curled over his knees, was a little boy, completely transparent from head to toe, glowing with a light aura.

A ghost? Mina thought, though the idea was ridiculous. There’s not really such a thing as ghosts, is there?

She was about to close the branches on the sight again when the child looked up at her, eyes a pale brown, and Mina could see tears streaming down his cheeks. His face was scrunched in complete misery, and he wiped at the tears as he watched her without words.

She moved through the shrubbery before she’d even made the decision to help.

“Why are you crying?” Mina asked as she kneeled onto the ground in front of him. While the treeline hid it, they were in a small cleared area that must have at some point been someone’s hideout. There were rocks that could serve as seats, and a few planks of wood, all weathered and worn down now, but clearly left there on purpose.

The child seemed to wrestle with the answer. He opened his mouth to reply, but the movement behind Mina turned his gaze.

Looking up, Mina saw Joseph and Nick, mouths agape in horror as they took in the scene through the bushes. 

“Mina, get out of there, run!” Joseph grabbed for Mina’s arm, but she pulled it back. Joseph, not expecting the movement, let go and looked at her incredulously.

“He’s not going to hurt us,” she said, though she wasn’t really certain how she knew this. “He’s hurt. I want to help.” She inched forward on her knees, out of the range of Joseph and towards the boy, ignoring Joseph as he hissed out a breath in frustration.

Alanna peeked over Nicks’s shoulder, eyes still wide in terror, and stared straight at the boy, silent for once. Nick frowned at the stoic form of the child as if sizing him up. 

It was Luke that broke the ice, as he snuck into the natural alcove while Nick was distracted and plopped down right next to Mina. He sat cross-legged and leaned against her side, then stuck his thumb right into his mouth to chew on.

Nick sighed and followed suit, tousling Luke’s hair before he sat down next to him on his other side. Joseph hesitated a moment longer before he stood behind Mina. She smiled up at him gratefully, though his face was still pale, freckles stark against the ivory.

“I’m not coming in there,” Alanna said, and paced furiously along the treeline, “You all are crazy if you think I’m going to go in there so some demon can eat our souls or something.”

“Come on, Alanna, we need you,” Mina tried, not wanting her to alert the adults of their situation.

“Pft,” she replied unhelpfully, and Mina started to panic when she heard the receding sound of footsteps through the grass.”

“You called him here, Alanna,” Joseph shouted back. “Don’t you think you owe it to him to hear him out?”

There was a pause. The sound of footsteps. Closer, this time.

“You said I’m a baby. But you’re the one who won’t face what you called. Don’t you owe it to him, to us?”

Mina could just see her head as she paced along the treeline, then her face, then body as she slid through the trees into the clearing.

“Fine,” she said, “but if we get eaten, I’m blaming you, Joseph.”

For his part, the ghost had stopped sniffling and was looking at the group with curiosity. The silence lingered, and Mina wondered if he could talk at all. If he can’t, that’s going to make this difficult, she thought.

“What’s your name?” she asked, figured she’d start small.

The ghost looked down at his hands, clenched in his pant legs. “Victor,” he said near silently so Mina had to strain to hear.

“I’m Mina,” she started, then pointed to her friends each in turn. “This is Nick, Luke, Joseph, and Alanna. I think we called you somehow. Is that what happened?”

He didn’t move his gaze from his hands but shrugged his shoulders. Alanna snorted, and Joseph elbowed her in the ribs.

Let’s try something else then, Mina thought. “Why were you crying, Victor?”

Victor brought his knees closer to his chest, enveloped them in his arms, and rested his head on his knees. He mumbled into them something that Mina couldn’t hear. She leaned closer.

“I’m sorry, Victor, I didn’t hear that. What did you say?”

“I’m afraid,” he said more loudly. “To cross over.” The words had barely left Victor’s lips when he began to sob, shoulders shaking and breath gasped in broken hiccups.

A shiver went down the back of Mina’s neck at the words. The concept of crossing over was something she’d heard of before, and she couldn’t blame him. It sounded terrifying. No wonder he’s so scared.

The sobs were the only thing that broke the melody of crickets as Mina wracked her brain on what to say. An adult would probably know better than a bunch of kids, but then again, adults didn’t always see what was in front of them. They may not be able to see Victor at all.

She was saved from her thoughts when Luke let his thumb fall from his mouth with a pop and spoke. “When I’m scared, Nick holds my hand and I feel better. Maybe he can hold your hand when you cross over.”

Victor emerged from the cocoon of his arms just enough to peek his eyes over them, still sniffling but he locked eyes with Nick. “You would do that?”

Nick for his part seemed to turn green at the thought, but he put his arm around Luke’s shoulder in a sideways hug and nodded at Victor.

“I will too,” Mina chimed in. “You’re always braver when you have friends with you.”

Victor straightened a little at her proclamation and wiped his nose with his arm. “But then I’ll be alone.”

“You won’t be alone,” Joseph said suddenly. “My baby brother is there. You’ll watch over him, won’t you?”

Something in Mina’s heart ached. Joseph hadn’t talked about the loss and was surprised he’d be willing to do so here. But in his eyes, she saw a sort of determination and awe she’d never seen in the easily frightened boy.

“My grandmother too.” Mina was shocked to find it was Alanna who had spoken up, though her voice shook slightly and was hushed even in the quiet of the alcove. “She told me about the game, so you can tell her all about us. And she makes the best pancakes,” and then, with a sniffle, “I miss her. You better be nice to her.”

Victor crossed his legs and bit his lip. He looked at each one of the group in turn. “And I’ll see you all again someday, right?”

Mina’s breath caught, and she clenched her hand into her shorts in fear. Be brave.

“Someday,” she said finally. “Someday we will see you again, yes.”

Victor nodded, and Mina could feel a tension she hadn’t been aware of until that moment fall from her shoulders. Luke jumped up and grabbed Nick by the arm, pulling him to sit next to Victor. Mina followed suit on his other side, and when Nick tentatively held out his hand towards Victor, she did the same.

His hand was cold and seemed as much to glide through her skin as much as hold onto it. This close the aura of light surrounding Victor was blinding when she turned towards him. 

They locked eyes, his the brown of decaying leaves on the forest floor. If she stared into them long enough she thought she might get caught in them, so she looked down to his lips that mouthed words she hadn’t quite caught.

“What?” she asked him, and he replied with a soft smile.

“Thank you.”

She had expected a flash of light, sparks, something like the picture of the northern lights in Alaska her mother had shown her, but instead, Victor simply seemed to dull. As she watched the light surrounding him and his body seemed to fade like a light being dimmed, and then she and Nick we left holding out their hands towards nothing.

There was a sniffling, and at first, Mina thought it had to be Victor, but it was Luke, sniffling next to where he sat next to his brother. Nick let down his hand and hugged his brother tight, pulling Luke’s head to his chest.

Joseph sat down on the forest floor, then flopped back into the leaves, staring up at the canopy. “I can’t believe that just happened.” He shook his head and watched the sky without further comment.

Alanna was silent, digging her toes into the dead leaves and dirt. She seemed despondent.

“Is something wrong, Alanna?’ Mina asked, curious, and not wanting to dissect her own feelings just yet.

She stopped digging her toes in the ground and curled her arms around her waist. “Do you think he’s okay where he is?”

Mina considered her question. There was no way for her to know for sure, but in the end, Victor seemed at peace. But that hadn’t been the real question, had it?

“I think they all will be,” she said finally.

Alanna nodded, then left without a word.

Joseph let out an exaggerated sigh then pulled himself to his feet, dusting leaves off his clothes. “We better get home. Our parents are going to kill us, no matter what Alanna said.”

“Same,” Nick said and dragged Luke up into his arms. “And I’m going to have a hell of a time explaining what happened with Luke to mom. She’s not going to believe a word, but grown-ups never do.”

Mina stood and followed them towards the bushes where they pushed through to the clearing. Before she let the branches shut behind her, closing the alcove from view to the world outside, she took one last look back at what must have been Victor’s hideout when he was alive. Mina wondered if they came back tomorrow if the clearing would still be there at all.

“Be brave, Victor,” she whispered, and let the brush close.

<Back to Short Stories>

Flash Fiction: Cloud Jumper

To Eziel, it felt like cloud-jumping was the closest he’d ever get to flying.

He let his body fall off the weathered wooden plankway he’d been running on to fall five feet onto the stone archway below as he braced his legs for the force of his weight. He didn’t miss a moment before he took the curve of the arch at a run, the clouds like a mist around him. He felt the breeze along his cheeks, the adrenaline reaching into his fingertips.

He was cutting it close, but he’d make it. He wasn’t the highest-paid cloudjumper in Aeria City for no reason.

Next was a set of stone merlons along a curtain wall which he hopped between, not breaking his pace as he leapt between embrasures until he got to the end of the crumbling battlement. It was a relic of years gone by, compared to the maze of wooden and steel walkways the clouded city had become as steam power had come into play.

When the stone ran out he jumped the foot between the stone and a metal rod hanging between levels that would ease his descent down the ten feet to the walkway below. He wound around the pole and felt the hair twist across his face with a smile breaking his cheeks wide.

He traversed the curve around a disintegrating stone turret on a timber slab no thicker than his fist, balanced precariously but with practiced ease. He jumped from wooden plank to wooden plank, each taking him a level lower, lower, before he swung a rope across the empty, clouded space between two districts.

The cloud jumpers may be the middle class solution to a mail system that had abandoned them, but that didn’t make the job any less precarious.

Ezekiel wouldn’t have it any other way.

When he made it to his goal, a quaint little home with light green shutters and overgrown vines up the trellis, he gasped in air with deep gulps. He knocked on the door and pulled out the single rolled parchment with a glassy black seal. Urgent, it said, which to him meant little more than an enjoyable run and a larger purse for his trouble. 

Which is why he was surprised when his initial knock bore no response— nor his second, or third, more tentative with every iteration.

“Hello?” he finally called out, and peeked through a darkened window. He saw no signs of life. “A message for ya sir?”

He waited, but heard no response. At this rate, I’ll miss getting any other jobs today. I must deliver this message and return before I lose my chance for another round.

Eziel eased through a thick, warped iron gate to the left of the front door, which protested with a high pitched squeak at his intrusion. Beyond the gate were flowers—more varieties and colors than he even knew existed in Aeria City. They seemed to flourish despite the high altitude and moisture, even the ever-present mist from the cloud cover not diminishing the vividness of their petals.

Leaning forward, he touched a bud of a white and pink snapdragon, only to jump when a voice spoke over his shoulder.

“Beautiful aren’t they?” When he startled, the person chuckled, a quiet crackle that spoke of age. He turned to see an old woman, skin wrinkled around mouth and eyes, smile wide and near toothless, cloud-white hair pulled into a braid on her neck. “I imagine you have something for me young man? Or do you just enjoy the flowers? I wouldn’t blame you, I think we could all use some time to smell the flowers once in a while.”

Eziel didn’t waste a moment, and held the envelope in front of him like an offering. He locked eyes with the woman and nodded his head in acknowledgment. “This message is for you, Ma’am. Urgent.”

The woman stared at the envelope without expression, and Eziel felt awkwardness in the silence, arm still outstretched towards the woman, confusion plain on his face.

Instead of taking the envelope, she smiled and brought her shawl closer around her shoulders. “Would you like some tea, young man?” And with that, she turned away and moved deeper into the garden without further comment.

Eziel dropped his arm, an itch beneath his skin left him to debate on dropping the letter on the nearest table to flee with nary a payment if it meant getting out of this job. It wouldn’t be the first non-compliant job he’d taken, and it wouldn’t be the last. Whatever it was, it was taking far too much time and he was losing money and patience with each passing second.

And yet he found himself moving his feet to follow her into the garden to where she had a porcelain tea set already set up, complete with biscuits and a bowl of sugar.

“I hope you like jasmine tea. It’s a blend a dear friend of mine makes herself, and I daresay it’s the best jasmine tea you will ever taste. Come, sit.” She motioned to an empty wrought iron chair across from her, the back a twisting design that moves along the seat into sturdy straight legs. All this metal is expensive. What could she possibly do for a living?

“I’m sorry ma’am, I really must be going. I must deliver more messages yet today and I cannot be late. Here is your delivery.” Again, he held out the message. Eziel was relieved when this time she took it in shaking, near skeletal hands. She removed a velveteen bag of coin from her robes and placed it in his outstretched hand, and he had to hold back a sigh in his relief.

He turned to leave when her voice stopped him in his tracks. “Are you not going to wait for a reply?”

His heart beat faster. He’d been gearing up for a leisurely run to headquarters, but if he were to do a return trip with another urgent fee, he may not need to go to headquarters at all. But there was something about the woman that put him on edge, it made his teeth clench and he felt dizzy with it.

Still. Double pay was hard to pass up.

“Of course,” he said instead, and returned to her side. He set his hands behind his back to wait patiently.

She watched him for a moment, then motioned again to the seat. “Then sit, young man. You cannot expect an old woman to write with someone standing at attention in front of her. Have some tea, a biscuit, breathe. Surely you can do that.”

He wanted to reply with a snide comment but held it in with a sharp inhale. She wasn’t the first one to get on his nerves and she wouldn’t be the last. Dealing with customers was his least favorite part of the job.

But surely a sip of tea and a biscuit couldn’t hurt? He picked up a soft, crumbly biscuit and brought it to his lips, taking a cautious nibble. It tasted of cinnamon and nutmeg, a subtle spiciness that balanced with the sweetness deliciously.

Feeling the hair on the back of his neck rise he looked up. The woman was staring at him with a gentle smile. “Good?” she asked, and her voice was soft, almost reverent. Eziel felt out of place immediately, and reached for the jasmine tea to calm his nerves.

He took a small sip, the bitter tea in perfect combination to the biscuit, but surely he wouldn’t tell her that. Yet, he would be a good guest at minimum. “It’s good,” he said, not giving further comment.

She nodded, then turned to the missive. She broke the wax seal and then opened the scroll on the table before her.

Eziel couldn’t help the curiosity that ate at him, and peeked at the scroll over his tea cup. Instead of a normal letter in the proper order, the scroll seems to be nonsense, scratches that made no sense to him. A different language maybe? One of the Old Ones? But aren’t those forbidden?

“I know what you’re thinking,” the woman said, though she didn’t look up from where she was studying the scroll. “What does a crazy old woman like me have to do with the Old Ones?”

She looked at him, and Eziel didn’t even try to pretend that he hadn’t been staring. His heart is beating too quickly, it feels like it will explode from his chest. He clenches the handle on his tea cup, and nearly coughs on the remains of the tea in his throat.

“Do you want to know, young man? Will you take my return message?” She doesn’t move her eyes from him as she rolls up the parchment, and he gets the sense that she’s asking him so much more.

“You are a cloudjumper the likes of which has never been seen, I’ve been told. It’s like flying isn’t it? But my dear Eziel, there is nothing like the real thing. The Old Ones knew. Would you like to know what it’s like to really fly?”

How does she know my name?

His hands shook.

His breath quickened.

He set down his tea cup. Straightened in his seat, took a deep gulping breath.

“I’m sorry ma’am,” he began, and though she tried to hide it he can see the disappointment written on her wrinkled face. “I must return to headquarters for today. I cannot deliver your message.”

He stood, turned his face away from those unnatural aquamarine eyes—how had he not noticed before?— walked back through the flourishing garden, the thick iron gate, and onto the brick roadway.

As he walked along the broken tile, at a pace he’d not allowed himself in a long time, he thought that maybe he’d lost something irreplaceable.

<Back to Flash Fiction>

Writer’s Musings: Sparks & Hero’s Journeys

The worst loneliness is to not be comfortable with yourself.”
― Mark Twain

Not all sparks come in the form of sweeping hero’s journeys. Sometimes these ideas are more tender and personal, meant for the creator alone. I experienced one such spark this week, when it came to one of my worthiest foes: impostor syndrome.

I’ve battled this villain in the muddled middle of my own hero’s journey for so long I honestly thought there was no climax to be had, that it might be an impossibility for me to ever get the upper hand on it. How do I overcome a belief so instilled in the core of my being that it makes me believe that anything I do is laughable, dishonest, fake? That any success is a matter of luck and that at any moment the people around me are going to realize it and turn on me.

If you think that this logic is flawed and presumptuous at best about the goodness of people to look the other way and lie for my sake—you would be right. Which ties into what brought impostor syndrome to its knees for me this week.

I was talking about my struggle with needing outside affirmation of my own writing, and how frustrated I was that I both wasn’t getting it and that I didn’t want to need it. That’s when my friend asked me with all seriousness what it is that they could say that would make me believe them when they said I was doing well.

I started to answer reflexively, then paused. Because I didn’t have an answer.

The truth is, there is nothing they could say that I would believe they honestly meant, that they weren’t just being nice. This goes for friends, family, complete strangers, and even agents (of all people!) My impostor syndrome is so instilled in the core of my being that there’s not a single person in the world that could compliment me that I wouldn’t believe in some small way that they were just being nice.

It’s at this realization that the chokehold impostor syndrome had on me was released. We’re still in a constant battle of wills; sometimes he wins, sometimes I do. But with a spark of belief that perhaps I’m more than what I give myself credit for, the battlefield has been evened in a way it never has been before.

Maybe one day I’ll win.

Writer’s Musings: Butterflies & Unlit Fires Pt 2

“When she transformed into a butterfly, the caterpillars spoke not of her beauty, but of her weirdness. They wanted her to change back into what she always had been. But she had wings.”
– Dean Jackson

Last week I talked about butterflies, and how the chrysalides of our literature are just decoration. In the same vein, this week I’d like to talk butterflies again, but this time let’s go into the thick of it.

A more well-known fact about butterflies is that caterpillars completely lose all physical shape within their chrysalis, breaking down to imaginal cells and becoming something akin to primordial ooze for their transformation.

Lesser known is that they retain memory in this state, despite having no brain to speak of. So consider this. A caterpillar, butterfly, whatever you would call that amalgamation of a being, will remember its own transformation well into its life. What would we think of if we could, remembering back?

In other terms, what of the stories we tell, the ones we write, as they transform into something polished, perfect, pristine?

As writers, we remember the pains of transformation as a story grows; from an idea to a draft, to a revision, to another revision (and another), the arduous journey through editing, and finally the final beautiful winged butterfly the readers see.

As readers, we see this butterfly and look on in wonder and awe. We’re left with the feeling that we’ve seen something profound, divine even, and left without the memories before. Or maybe we don’t. Maybe we see a butterfly, but it’s only a butterfly—one we’ve seen a thousand times that year, our lifetimes, and we pass by.

They don’t see the moments when the story was broken down to its very cells and reborn over and over, the times when it was half-caterpillar and half-butterfly, when it waited for its wings to dry. Whether readers enjoy or loathe your book, they still won’t understand the hard work and growth it took to complete, and in a way that can be hard to swallow.

We as writers will always have that memory, for better or worse. At some point, there will need to be reconciliation with what the readers see and what we as writers know, and though there is a difference between the two, one does not erase the other. A reader’s perception (good or bad) of a story, does not change the suffering and joys of the transformation of a book from idea to draft, manuscript to novel. That memory, like the butterflies, will remain.

Transformation, memory, the journey, wonder—in all of it, what we have in common is that at the end of the day, we all love to see a butterfly.

Writer’s Musings: Butterflies & Unlit Fires

“A creative life cannot be sustained by approval any more than it can be destroyed by criticism.”
― Will Self

The Little Hungry Caterpillar is one of the most well-known children’s stories of all time, one that has been around long before I was the one young enough to be reading it. Spoiler alert: In the end, the caterpillar goes into a cocoon and becomes a butterfly.

It’s a lesser-known fact that caterpillars do not go into a cocoon for their transformation. It’s their close cousins, moths, that cocoon away in silk. Butterflies find their homes in a chrysalis—similar on a visual level, but made of their pupa form.

But the popular narrative of butterflies emerging from a cocoon does no harm for children of this age. In fact, the correction to a favored childhood story takes out some of the joy in the activity. There comes a time where yes, children should learn the difference between a cocoon and a chrysalis because there is power in words. But for a child, the purpose is the same—it’s where the butterfly transforms. That is the lesson: change. Everything else is decoration.

As we become adults, there’s another lesson to be learned from The Little Hungry Caterpillar. There will always be those to remind you: It’s not a cocoon. It’s a chrysalis.

Sometimes when we share stories we’ve written, or stories we’ve read and loved, the reaction we’ll get from those we share it with might be a letdown, like a fire unlit. Much of this time, it comes down to the decorations—the chrysalis. The things that we don’t see or don’t bother us in a story because they’re unimportant in our eyes may become eyesores to others.

A lepidopterologist may see the cocoon in The Little Hungry Caterpillar and die a little inside every time. A stay at home soccer mom who raised four kids on the book may see it and have only fond memories. They simply have different eyes.

Don’t let someone else’s sight get in the way of your enjoyment. At the end of the day, it’s just a chrysalis. Enjoy the journey, and remember, the rest is just decoration.

Writer’s Musings: To Each Their Own Flame

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’m going to tell you a secret.

Anyone who tells you they know what they’re doing in life is lying.

It took me three decades and a lot of self-reflection (read: panic) to come to this conclusion, but it’s true. The greatest secret of adulthood is that we’re all just making it up as we go along. None of us really know what the future holds—we can’t secure anyone or anything from the world, despite our best intentions to do so. Sometimes, bad things happen, and all that’s left is to muddle through.

But I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. It’s what we do when we’re faced with the unknown that makes us individuals. Viktor Frankl, a brilliant psychiatrist and a survivor of several Nazi concentration camps, said that when a man is stripped of all physical autonomy, he is left only with the ability to “choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

So why do so many of us expend so much energy worrying about how our choices will be received by others? As a creative this is double-edged—we want our audience to enjoy our work, so there’s the temptation to only give them what they want in conflict with our own needs.

I challenge you, my dear readers, to stop giving credence to the voice within you that says that the tastes of those around you take precedence over your own creativity. If we’re all making it up as we go along, why not make up a story you enjoy telling?

Writer’s Musings: Misfits & Matches

“You can’t grow without acknowledging that we are all made up from the weirdness that we try to hide from the rest of the world.”
― Jenny Lawson, Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things

In my July 6th newsletter, I included a flash fiction story about misfits, and I can’t get the word out of my mind.

I feel camaraderie with the word whenever I hear it—in my life, I’ve been a part of a great many groups but belonged in few. I don’t say this for the pity, nor do I begrudge anyone any eye rolls, because I look at it as a scientist would study a moth’s wingspan; interesting, noteworthy, but with distance.

Ultimately I’ve come to terms with my tendency towards being a misfit. I have a strange, slightly macabre sense of humor and an ingrained need for equanimity that makes social interaction difficult at times. I don’t like gossip, and petty frustrations can get on my nerves.

These traits have leaked into every aspect of my life, even to my reading and writing habits. I’ve all but given up on bookstore trips, as my tastes lean towards the ‘odd’ and quirky’, which isn’t really a category (it should be!) Writing summaries for my own fiction is near impossible, and categorizing it is always a challenge as I bounce between archetypes.

One of the most difficult things in my life has been seeing this as the strength it is instead of a weakness. Now, for all my self-confidence issues, the way my brain processes ideas differently than others is something I can take pride in. A lot of us are taught that in order to be intelligent we need to breed conformity, but our ability to innovate relies on our ability to deviate from standard ideas and create new ones from those foundations. Creativity relies on the misfits, the weirdos, the strange ones, the people who see the world from a different perspective.

So to my fellow misfits, I want to give you permission to have pride in the way you look at the world. Be joyful for the parts of you that make you different, the parts of you that make you who you are.

You’re in good company.

Writer’s Musings: Change Comes in Wildfires

“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.”
― Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein

We all know the adage, ‘change is good.’ In all honesty, whenever I hear it, I want to roll my eyes far enough back in my head to lose them. It’s not the phrase itself I get embittered over, but the ease at which it’s uttered versus the herculean effort it takes to actually implement.

Change isn’t always better. Change can be blood, sweat and tears that wrings me out for all I’m worth, and not only pushes me three steps back, but throws me horizontally down a different path altogether. Change is like rearranging my bones while I’m still breathing. Change takes time and dedication, and sometimes, it feels like an impossibility.

But the benefits of change—of evolution—go beyond better, good, or reward. Change, when approached with insight and fastidiousness, can simply make me happier.

I’ve spoken about my declining health before. When the pain from my arthritis and ankylosis spondylitis started setting in at a more severe level, I had to start making some tough choices. Choices and changes I didn’t want to make; ones that weren’t better, but would in the long run would make me happier.

No, I didn’t want to be restricted in how long or how much I could sit, stand, draw, write, walk. But the sooner I accepted these limitations I could neither control nor change, the sooner I could make decisions to let me live a creative life, even if it didn’t look like the one I had envisioned.

There was the change I was given and then the change I chose. Let us not forget there is a difference, and let the change we choose be the ones that leave us feeling lighter.

Writer’s Musings: Fire Escapes and Emergency Exits

If you want to see the stars, you must be willing to travel through the dark.”
Hannah Blum, The Truth About Broken: The Unfixed Version of Self-love

Sometimes the things you love the most are the things that will kill you. I have always lived by the motto, ‘Everything in moderation, including moderation.’ But I’ve realized some point the things I love and obsess over become the things I DO instead of things I could FEEL.

And maybe that’s okay—in moderation. But at some point, we have to put down the paintbrush, keyboard, running shoes, game controller, TV remote, what have you and face the things we’re running away from.

I gotta be honest with my (wonderful) readers, I got a lot of baggage I haven’t processed. When I first started this journey of writing I tackled my demons with abandon, slinging words and phrases at them like a goddamn cowboy. It was freeing, it was fun, and for a while, it worked.

At some point, it stopped freeing me. Then it stopped being fun. And then, I stopped being able to write altogether.

Writing is no longer my savior because I was asking of it something it wasn’t meant to give. It wasn’t meant to be a catch-all for all my darkness, but a fire escape and emergency exit for when it became too much. By trampling through the passageway over and over like a stampede of elephants I damaged what was meant to be cherished and sacred.

I have to face my demons, the right way this time. Head on. Meanwhile, I’m finding new ways to write that are exciting to me, open myself up to new possibilities that I would have been too afraid to tread in the past because it wasn’t safe to do so with the cargo it carried.

For all of you, I wish you courage. To face the things that are on your mind, but that you push away reflexively. Whether they’re big or small, don’t think they aren’t affecting you, or that you will handle it ‘someday, someday.’ Someday is now. Even an inch is better than never, and if you want to be free, you can’t be chained to the things you can’t even turn to within your own mind.

Writer’s Musings: Chasing Fool’s Gold

“Life is a long preparation for something that never happens.”
– W.B. Yeats

There’s something to be said about being realistic with your dreams. I say this not to be a downer, or to discourage someone from pursuing concrete goals that may as of yet seem unattainable.

The realism I’m talking about is less about the end goal and more about the emotions that plague someone as they’re on the road. The self-doubt we all expect, even though we may not expect the depth or longevity of it. But there are aspects to it that may catch us by surprise.

We see so many examples of overnight success in the media, that we forget the majority of us only succeed after months, years, and even decades of near anonymity. We don’t realize that with the expected self-doubt of ‘can I do this’ there’s also an added helping of ‘should I do this’ or ‘am I doing this the right way.’

As a result, we try to rely on other people’s roadmaps, but the truth of it is all that leads to is fool’s gold. What worked for one person is wonderful for that person, but we all have unique strengths, weaknesses, backgrounds, and goals. As we should. The most obvious path may not be the best one for you.

Listen to what your instincts are telling you, and don’t tread down the emotions that accompany your dreams. Let your goals live alongside the things that you know you will struggle with, and celebrate the things that you excel at. Give yourself space to breathe.

So where do we go from here? I wish I had wise words or a concrete answer. Suffice to say, the only thing I know for sure is that whatever path I choose, it will be the one less traveled, and it will probably stay that way. Not because of any inherent uniqueness on my part. Simply because what works for me probably won’t work for anyone else.

Maybe that’s what makes it a dream.