What we need here is a plan…

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*cringes at squeal of office chair’s rusty wheels*

*picks cobwebs off monitor*

*blows dust out of keyboard*

Mornin’ all.

My day started with a dead body.

My cat got another mouse. She’s a very good mouser, and for some reason, she’s had a ton of opportunity to hone her skills already this year. I don’t think mice have much of a feel for real estate. It’s all about location, location, location, and the mice in this housing development did not consider the fact that we have a cat, and our co-duplexer has three. There are four friggin’ cats in this one little building.

Mice. Not the brightest animals in the natural world.

Anyway, I came down the stairs and the mouse was placed at the bottom, right where I’d step on it if I wasn’t already cautious from the last time I stepped on a cold, dead mouse with my bare feet. Kitty the Ripper was sitting next to the door. See, she knows I throw the corpses outside. She sat there and gave me a look, daring me to try and toss the body of her victim into the overcrowded graveyard known as the Back Bushes.

It got intense for a minute there, I’m not going to lie. She looked very proud of herself, too…until my man walked over and picked her up, nullifying an entire night’s plan with one swoop.

Never brag until you’re sure a giant isn’t going to come along and put you in your place. Just a life lesson for ya.

It’s Halloween today, and for the first time in almost 20 years, I’m not taking anyone trick-or-treating. Little Pup decided he doesn’t want to do it anymore. He said, “You know what I’d like to do? I’d like to sit on the couch with my own sack of candy and not be competition for the little kids.” I made certain he was sure of this decision. Honestly, I think I wanted him to go last year far more than he wanted to.

No more trick-or-treaters. *sniff*

I’m thinking of getting a bunch of candy and stashing it around the house with riddles as clues that he’ll have to solve to get the bounty. I don’t know. Is that still childish? Will he feel like I’m still babying him? It’s hard for me to tell. I am extremely immature. Surely even the youngest in the group has clued into that fact by now and will expect nothing less. Hm. I’ll consider through the day.

Guess what finally happened to me? I got called to jury duty!

“Bethie, you sound excited.”

I am!

“But…it’s…jury duty.”

Look, I’m 39. I’ve never been called to jury duty before, and, frankly, I *am* excited! I am dying to know what it’s really like.

“It’s boring as shit. That’s what it’s like.”

Maybe. But even that’s a story, right?

The timing is putting a bit of a cramp on my jubilee, though. We have a clusterfuck in the bakery at the moment, and we’re losing a key member of our team the week before I head to the hallowed halls of justice. And it’s right before Thanksgiving, the number one busiest week for a bakery. Any other week of the year, I’d be crossing my fingers that I’d be picked for a full trial. I’d love to participate completely in the justice process, I really would.

Stop rolling your eyes. I’m not kidding. It’s one of the processes in this nation that makes us great, and I’d honestly like to be part of something so important. And I will, too. If I’m selected, I’ll do my best to give my full attention to the trial. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t torn by the pressures of the other parts of my life.

Speaking of the other parts of my life, at work the other day, this coworker was a total…

………

“…you okay, Bethie? Stroking out over there? Did the swill you call coffee finally get to you? Do I need to call someone?”

I just remembered I have a stalker. A work stalker, who reads this blog as a lurker. Hi, Lurker. I guess I can’t really shit talk the folks I work with if one of them is creeping.

See, I suck at self promotion. I mean, I’m utter SHIT at it. What I *should* do is tell all my coworkers about not only this blog, but my books, too. You know. Make some sales. I should hand out flyers. Or…business cards? Do people still use those?

Bah, you get the gist. I should be yappin’ my trap about all of it in an effort to create a movement. Or something.

I just want to keep work separate. Does that make sense? I want to be able to come onto the internet and blab and blah and bitch and moan and be as stupid and immature as I want and not see a knowing look in my coworkers’ eyes after I do so.

“Then maybe you should have written under a pseudonym.”

That would have taken a level of foresight that I just don’t possess. Look at my life. Does it seem like I have ever demonstrated the ability to apply careful consideration to anything?? HMMM?!?!?

Besides, I’m not ashamed of anything I write. I’m not. I just want to go to work and make cakes and be bossy in real life, and keep that separate from being on the internet, where I talk about making cakes and being bossy. Makes perfect sense to me.

Maybe I could talk about my coworkers in a way that won’t betray their identities? Let’s give it a go.

Yesterday at work, I was trying to…uh…get coworker X to learn to make…um…stuff…

Shit. This isn’t going to work, guys. It’s a small department. Anything I say would be enough info for the Lurker to put two and two together.

The thing is, this story is more about me than the coworker, really. Okay, I think I’ll just go with this.

Yesterday at work, I lost my patience. I’ll talk a big game and vent here, but in real life, I’ve gotten to where it’s actually quite difficult to get me truly angry. Raising a passel of kids will do that.

…well, that or break you. You either learn patience, or you go insane. Since I already was insane, I learned patience. I will let it all heap up on me and, for the most part, I take life’s shit in stride.

Once in awhile, though, the wrong personality comes along and just presses the right button. And that happened yesterday at work. I’m not at all happy about it. I generally keep my cool way past the point where everyone else has blown their tops.

It was excuses instead of acknowledgment. That’s what did it. I was attempting to show someone a task, they didn’t listen, then spent an hour asking me for instructions every step of the way…on a task they’d already done four times before. It’s not like I was showing this person something for the first time. They just didn’t pay attention, or didn’t care enough to try. The final straw was when I noticed they missed out on a crucial part and asked them if they had done it. “Yep,” they insisted.

“Nope” was the correct answer.

I prodded. “Are you sure?”

“Yep.”

I was looking at the thing that was not done. I said point blank, “So you put *blah* into the *yadda*?”

“Yes.”

I picked up the *blah* that was not, in fact, added to the *yadda*. Instead of a “Whoopsie, my b,” they actually said, “Oh, you didn’t say to put the *blah* into the *yadda*.”

That was it, folks. That was the point of Bethie getting legitimately pissed at a coworker. They had wasted not only their hour, but mine as well. And instead of just owning the mistake, tried to put it on me.

I. Hate. That.

Look, if you screw up, that’s called being human. EVERYONE DOES IT. Acknowledge the error, take responsibility, examine where you turned left instead of right, then do your best not to repeat the mistake. However, if you screw up and then blame someone else, that’s called being an asshole. If you don’t take the time to recognize where you’re screwing up, you will continue to screw up. You will continue to make the same mistakes over and over. You will not grow as a person. You will always be that coworker that pisses everyone else off.

I have today off. I am forming a plan for tomorrow. I have to adjust MY attitude now, because I am not at all happy that I got angry. That doesn’t do any good, either, especially since when I’m angry, I pretty much just shut down. I’m supposed to be teaching this person, and I can’t do that when I let my emotions get the best of me.

I’ve got to namaste the hell out of this shit.

So today when I clean the house, I need to decide how immature I’m being for Halloween shenanigans with the Little Pup, while simultaneously mulling over how I am going to go about being more mature at work tomorrow.

I had a dream about opening a specialty roast shop last night. Like, a store that just sells fancy meat roasts. Beef, pork, goose… My man was the delivery guy. We had a planning session on how to meet demand for Thanksgiving.

NO JOKE. Straight up, that was what I dreamt about last night. In painstaking detail.

Now, does this seem like the kind of mind that can balance these two conundrums in the same day?

Guess we’ll find out.

Thus concludes a musing for Halloween ’17. Everyone have a safe and happy holiday!

Welcome! Just park your brooms in the corner…

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It was a dark and stormy morning, the kind of morning that brings with the rising sun not a sense of hope, but a hazy disquiet that nags and niggles at the…

“Oh HELL no, Bethie.”

…what?

“No scary stories. Not this year.”

But…but…it’s Halloween!!! Don’t you want to have the hairs on your neck stand on end all day?

“Absolutely not. You remember last year.”

…*sigh* Touche.

Okay, let’s reboot this quick little Musing then.

Mornin’, all, and Happy Halloween!

Instead of the standard rot gut to drink, there’s some witch’s brew (though, honestly, you won’t really be able to tell the difference between the two), and we’ve bypassed the day old pastries for some spooooooky cupcakes. Help yourself to the dish of candy corn that’ll sit out for the next two months before the cat knocks it over and I have to throw it all away.

So my kid says to me the other day, “You know, Ma, I think I’m going to go Trick-or-Treating after all.”

He wasn’t going to this year. I think he felt that he was too old. He was adamant about not going, too, until he came home from school the other day and threw a complete 180 my way. I know exactly what happened. He thought he was too old and cool, and then heard all his friends saying they’re still going out this year and was like “HUZZAH! I’m NOT too old! Free candy for me!”

He told me he wanted to go, and I took a deep breath, pasted on that fake Mum smile that hides the inner panic, and said, “Oh? So what were you thinking of being?” Inside I was BEGGING for him to say a wizard or the grim reaper or something I could whip together from all the older boys’ past costumes.

“I’m not sure. I’ll let you know.”

Now, my littlest pup is a difficult beastie sometimes. You can’t push him. The more you pressure him to make up his mind, the longer the mind-making-up process takes. I said, “Okay, here’s the deal. I have Sunday off. You need to let me know what you want to be soon so we can pull together a costume.”

Saturday night, he says, “I want to be a loader bot.”

You are scratching your head right now wondering “what in the hell?”, aren’t you? It’s a robot from a video game. Google “loader from Borderlands.” I’ll wait.

…*hold music* *tapping fingers* *quietly humming along*…

SEE?!! THAT is what he waited to tell me until Saturday night!!

Oh. Yeah. No problem. Let me just fire up the robot factory I’ve got in the basement…

*rolly eyes* Kids.

I did what any panicked Mum does. I got a bunch of cardboard, duct tape, and spray paint and made…well, something. It’s definitely a giant yellow roboteqsue costume. No one will get what he is supposed to be, but in all honesty, no one would have anyway, no matter how it ended up looking. It’s a very obscure character to choose, and even if the costume had come out spot on, the majority of folks would still be stumped.

Eh. He’s happy with it. And a bright yellow cardboard box will certainly meet the criteria for him to get free candy.

At work, the company changed up the music for the weekend. We’ve got that piped in crap that someone in corporate actually gets paid to put together. My inner teenager is so jealous that someone gets paid (probably very well) to make mixed tapes all day.

This weekend, the corporate DJ decided to play a collection of Halloweeny songs. This is fine if you are going grocery shopping. You’ll hear a couple of ditties, try to contain yourself so you don’t actually do the Monster Mash while ironically grabbing a box of instant mashed potatoes, and be on your way. It’s just peachy for the customers. The problem comes when you have to work there all day long and realize there really are only a “couple ditties” about Halloween at all, and you are stuck listening to five songs over and over and over.

Oh, five songs…and spooky sound effects. For some reason, DJ Fruitz ‘n Veg decided to include sound effect tracks from shows like The X-Files and The Twilight Zone, and I think the movie The Exorcist. Forget the Monster Mash/mashed potato mind screw. Icing a cake to sounds of possession will fuck your shit up.

Well played, DJ Froz’n Foodz. Well played.

It’s going to be weird at work, but not in my department. I can’t dress up because of “health code standards”. Gawd, board of health always ruins the fun, don’t they? I probably would have dressed up as Chef Boyardee or something that no one would have understood anyway.

You know. Because I’m a baker, not a chef. Get it? GET IT?!

Bet we’re going to have weirdos in, too. No judging. I like weirdos. Then I’m going to take my sorta-robot Trick-or-Treating for what seems like it might actually be the last year. Maybe I’ll convince the older kids to watch something scary with me so I don’t get a bit of sleep because I’m certain that a ghostie or ghoulie will nibble off my toe if it hangs out from under the blanket even by a millimeter because I’m a grown up and that’s how we do.

And then tomorrow everything changes. Tomorrow DJ Fresh Meatz will have replaced The X-Files sound track with Christmas tunes for the next two months. Every minute of every. Single. Working. Day.

“Bethie! I thought I said no scary stories!”

What can I say? Everyone needs a little horror on Halloween!

Thus concludes a quick Musing for Halloween ’16. Everyone be safe when out hooliganizing tonight!

The folly of youth…

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Her joints ached as she eased her way down the stairs, giving her a second moment of annoyed realization for the day. The first happened just minutes before. The flutter in her belly, a blend of anticipation and angst, made her sleep fitful through the night, turned the glaring red numbers on her nightstand into the enemy. She had determined to rise early, and was quite sure she did so when she opened her eyes to find the demon clock gloating. She had fallen back asleep, the only true sleep she got all night, right when she needed to be awake.

As she placed her foot on the last step, her knee made a pop in protest. It was the result of an old injury, one she foolishly decided to treat herself in her younger days. Physical therapy was just a racket, after all, where pseudo doctors charged exorbitant fees to tell their patients to walk. What kind of moron couldn’t figure out how to walk? It annoyed her every single day that she couldn’t go back and smack her younger self upside the head. Maybe if she had just paid to learn the fancy, healing kind of walk, she wouldn’t have to scramble to catch herself at the bottom of the stairs every morning when the knee decided to simply not work.

She shifted her weight to the other foot and closed her eyes, flexing the leg with the bum knee until a louder, far more painful pop could be heard. The pain was bearable. The idea of having to crawl to the bathroom and pull herself up to reach the cupboard where she kept the knee brace was not. Not today. She could not be down for the count today. With her still shut and her lips murmuring a hopeful mantra, she placed her foot back on the floor and gingerly tested her weight.

It held.

Relief washed over her and she shook her head. Even just a few years ago, this wouldn’t be such a grand production. Getting morning coffee would have been simply that and nothing more. She would have gotten up, walked down the stairs without having to grip the handrail for dear life, and made a cup of joe.

She wasn’t young anymore.

She wasn’t all that old, either; certainly not as old as she hoped to be one day. But age is a funny thing. As Marma had told her, it’s not about years, it’s about perception. Experience. And…

She stopped, her hand reaching into the cupboard to grope for her favorite mug. What was the other thing? Perception, experience…and…

Dammit. She couldn’t get a decent night of sleep, her bum knee was beyond hope, and her memory was going. She’d have to try and remember to tell Marma the new symptom later.

She poured the dregs she’d left in the pot the day before and set a fresh batch of coffee to brew. She briefly considered microwaving the old coffee, but decided that if she was in a desert and came upon a watering fountain, she wouldn’t let it run in the hopes of it getting colder. She chugged the first cup right there in the kitchen, hoping the little caffeines would speed to her brain and wake everything up. She needed to be awake and with it when Marma arrived.

She placed her empty mug next to the coffee pot to wait for a refill, then shuffled into her den to wake her computer from sleep mode. It was off. There must have been updates. She sighed heavily, because of course there would be another annoyance on such a tense morning, and hit the power button. While it loaded she tapped her fingers on the desk, wondering if she should take her shower now, or if she could push it to a bit later. Marma didn’t say what time she’d be there, after all.

On the other hand, it had been a full seven and a half hours since she had checked her Facebook feed. Someone could have been kidnapped. Or had a middle of the night existential crisis. Or just stirred shit up. Any of those things needed immediate attention. A shower could wait.

The coffee pot beat the computer in the performance race and a beep of completion sounded from the kitchen. She hoisted herself out of the computer chair with a bit more energy now that the front line of caffeine soldiers had been deployed, and the knee hardly protested at all. She poured herself a new coffee and flexed her leg again. No, there was no pain.

As it had since she’d contacted Marma, the little voice of doubt started chiding her again.

“See?” it said, picking up the script right where she had shut it down some time around three a.m. “We don’t need it.”

“I do need it,” she muttered to herself, trying to quiet Doubt once and for all. “If I don’t do this now, it’ll be too late.”

There was a slight swish, an icy little breeze that tingled up her spine and set her teeth to chatter in fear. Her hand stopped dumping too much sugar into the fresh coffee and she froze, her feet rooted in place and her heart pounding painfully.

“I’m glad you’re an early riser.” The alarmingly sweet voice of Marma always terrified her. It had since the beginning. It was kind, like the voice she remembered coming out of her grandmother when she was a child. And yet, there was always a dark note. It was threatening in its ability to so completely soothe, as if Marma was casting one of her spells every time she opened her mouth.

Perhaps she was.

Marma slipped her bony hand over the woman’s shoulder and gave a little squeeze.

She turned then, her trance broken. “Marma! I’m so sorry. I didn’t think you’d be here this early and I didn’t even get to shower yet. Would you like some coffee? I’ll get you a cup. How do you like it? Sugar? No, black. I’m guessing you’re the type to take it…”

“Hush,” Marma commanded.

She stopped speaking instantly, embarrassed that once again she had no control over her mouth when Marma came around.

Marma slipped her hand up the woman’s jowly neck and curled her palm around the soft cheek. “There is no need to be this nervous,” Marma said, watching the woman’s eyes dilate. A thrill shot through Marma. Marma could do anything she wanted in this moment and the woman would not only obey, but would welcome even the most outlandish requests. “We are just turning the clock back, after all,” Marma said in her syrupy tone.

“Yes, Marma,” the woman agreed quickly. “Should we begin?”

Marma chuckled. “You are too impatient. But, I like that. I like my clients to be eager. It is your life. You should be eager to make it better.” Marma released the woman’s cheek, and the trance was broken. Marma watched this process with interest as well. Marma saw the moment the woman’s eyes focused again, the blood rushing back to the cheeks, the brow lowering slightly in confusion. Marma liked that, too.

She blinked quickly, her mind racing back from wherever it had just been. Marma was there, in all her terrifying glory. How had that happened? When had that happened? Did she let Marma in? Was there even a knock? She didn’t remember one. But wasn’t that the whole point? Wasn’t that the reason Marma was going to make her young again? She was losing things, losing herself, growing older and sorer and forgetful and…

“Stir your coffee,” Marma commanded, interrupting the woman’s racing thoughts. Marma watched with an inner glee as the woman obediently complied in spite of her obvious confusion. “Sip your coffee.” Marma smiled as the woman burned her mouth on a swig of the piping hot brew. Marma had to hold herself back from commanding the woman to take another sip. Marma could make the woman do anything. It was tempting to play some more.

Focus, Marma insisted of herself. There must be focus.

“It’s time,” Marma pronounced.

She swallowed the burning coffee, tears in her eyes, and turned to Marma. “I forgot what you said about age. It’s perception, experience, and…” Her voice trailed off, waiting for Marma’s response.

“And self control,” Marma said, guiding the woman into the other room. Marma heard a noise from upstairs, her mood quickly changing. “Who is here?”

She glanced up the stairs as they passed. “My family,” she admitted.

“I told you to be here alone,” Marma hissed, her fingernails digging into the woman’s soft flesh.

The little voice of warning sounded in her brain. It warned her to run, to call out, to do anything to get away from Marma. She did not listen. “My sister couldn’t take the kids after all, and my husband’s schedule got changed at the last minute.”

Marma knew then that there were outside influences trying to intervene. It had happened before. In most cases, Marma easily won. Instead of scaring Marma, it gave her an odd sense of power. For whatever reason, this pathetic woman held court with forces she probably never even realized were around her. It gave the morning a challenging twist, and Marma had to stop herself from laughing or rushing. Marma could not afford to do either. A laugh would do as the forces planned. The husband would wake. Perhaps a child. Either would cause the interference that would ruin it all.

Yet Marma couldn’t rush. Things had to be done in a certain order, at a set pace. One small change would make all the difference. Marma smiled an eerily familiar smile. “Then we’ll just have to be quiet,” Marma soothed. Marma placed a hand back on the woman’s face and watched the pupils go impossibly large. Marma never liked to control them for long. It made the process feel hollow if they weren’t completely willing on their own. However, sometimes control was unavoidable. This process had to happen, it had to happen today, and if a little personal elation was lost in the deal, so be it.

When Marma’s hand was on her cheek again, she suddenly wanted to lay on the couch. And so she did. She was vaguely aware of Marma’s hand caressing her cheek right before the urge to lift her shirt was too strong to ignore. She heard Marma begin to mumble words she didn’t understand, but since Marma had already explained the ritual, she knew to expect them. She felt detached as she became aware of a pain in her chest growing heavier and hotter, as if she was watching it happen to someone else. Her mind began to argue with itself.

“I told you we shouldn’t do this!” said the voice of warning.

“But this will make us young again,” she said as she became aware of Marma’s fingernail digging deeper into her breast.

“No it won’t, you fool! It’ll make her young again!”

She watched the scene below, above, around, a fish-eyed lens focusing on Marma from somewhere and everywhere. Indeed, the little voice of warning that had been screaming at her all night seemed to be right. The once soothing Marma had changed, her incantations revealing the inner hag.

And yet, she could do nothing about it.

In fact, even as she had the most important realization of the morning, she found she didn’t even want to do anything about it. She wanted whatever was going to happen to happen. She wanted Marma to receive the gift she sought, no matter the personal consequence to herself. She was a sacrifice. She knew it then, and instead of being frightening, she welcomed it. She was going to watch her own life bleed into Marma, and she felt a nearly euphoric sense of accomplishment and pride.

Marma placed the long fingernail of her other index finger into the hole the first one made in the soft breast. She watched with fascination, knowing full well what was about to happen. Perhaps Marma was letting her know. Perhaps she had known all along. Once the proper words were spoken, Marma would begin to pull. The fingernails would move in opposite directions until the tear in the skin was large enough for more fingers to fit inside. There would be a frenzied heightening of excitement from Marma as she pulled and ripped until she could fit her face in cavity.

She knew this. She knew everything that was coming. And she didn’t care. And the little voice screamed itself hoarse, and she knew damn well it was right. And she could not find it in herself to care or fight or do anything but accept the future with open arms.

Marma could feel the heart so close under her fingertips now. As it always did at this point in the ritual, Marma’s own heart began to pick up the pace. It called to the new sacrifice, beckoned to join with it and become something so much more. When Marma was younger, before the years of experience under her belt, this was the point that would have been her undoing. Like a teenage boy on his first intimate journey, Marma had frequently gone too fast, rushed ahead, ended the experience too soon in her excitement, rendering the whole thing pointless. How many had Marma lost that way?

Ah, but that was when Marma was young. Marma was no longer young. This was no longer a practice, as it had been all those years ago. This was necessary for Marma’s survival, and that knowledge kept Marma in check. Patience. Marma had to remember patience. Words fell from her lips, ancient and powerful, spoken in exact time with the progress of Marma’s fingers into the flesh of the sacrifice.

The body on the couch twitched and Marma paused the incantations to soothe. It always annoyed Marma that a sacrifice had to be calmed from time to time. “You’re doing well,” Marma promised the whimpering woman. “In a few minutes, it will be over, and you will be young again,” came the lie.

She knew it was a lie. Her head nodded anyway. The cold from the tears dampening the hair by her ears let her know she had been crying. Of course she had. Her chest was being ripped open. Her mind processed these things logically. Her mouth opened and a laugh came out. All of her signals were muddled, confused. And when Marma’s lips spread into a smile, the woman on the couch, knowing her fate full well by this time, laughed louder with an honest glee that shut the internal warning voice up for good.

“Quiet,” Marma commanded.

She quieted.

“Move your hands,” Marma snapped.

She became aware that her hands were trying to cover the now gaping wound. She didn’t mean for them to do any such thing. She didn’t mean to fight at all. She tried to move her hands, to do as Marma wished. She was there only for that singular purpose, wasn’t she?

“I said move them,” Marma ordered again, suddenly feeling a prickle of apprehension.

“I’m trying,” she insisted.

Indeed, she was. Marma watched a struggle taking place in front of her. The woman, she wanted to sacrifice herself. She wanted to give her life over to Marma. Of that, Marma was certain. There was a disappointed panic in the woman’s eyes that matched the wave Marma felt rolling through her own body. “Fight for me,” Marma hissed.

She tried. Oh, how she tried! Her hands wouldn’t obey. She tried to make them move to her side. They moved forward. She tried to fight her fingers from closing around Marma’s hands. They refused to listen. She truly, deeply, honestly did not want to pry Marma’s fingers from her chest. “I’m not doing this,” she whispered through fresh tears. “Finish it!”

Marma could not.

It was ruined.

If Marma kept fighting, the most that would happen would be that the woman before her would die. Though Marma didn’t have compassion, there was hope. This time the sacrifice was unsuccessful. But as Marma looked into the woman’s disappointed stare, it was clear that maybe there would be a next time.

“There will not.”

The voice sent and icy chill up Marma’s spine. Marma whipped around. A small boy stood at the base of the stairs, his eyes boring through Marma and making her shrink inside herself.

“You!” Marma hissed.

The boy’s lips twitched. He wasn’t scared. He knew this enemy and he would win. He took a step forward, doubting that he’d have to prove himself to her yet again but fully prepared in case his old adversary had grown foolish in her advanced age.

Marma’s head began to ring. A piercing light flashed through Marma’s brain and the hag withdrew her bloodied hands from the sacrifice to grab her hair, as if Marma could pull the agony away. The boy advanced. The pain increased, and a deafening squeal began to blot out all thought. Marma felt the hand of the sacrifice grip her elbow. Marma was vaguely aware of the woman’s pleas, knew the willing victim still begged Marma for completion. There was nothing Marma could do.

To their shared grief and anguish, there was simply nothing Marma could do.

Wrenching away, Marma moved as far away from the couch as the boy would allow. Marma would have left if he released her. But he wouldn’t do that, not until he was ready. Marma would be forced to watch her failure and his success. The pain and light and noise subsided to a dull throbbing hum and Marma suddenly felt every single one of her hundreds of years weighing down upon her. Marma turned her bleary eyes to the couch.

The boy approached the sacrifice. He shook his head at her tear-streaked face. He was disappointed in her, but only as a residual symptom of his current form. He ran a hand down her cheek and saw the anguish in her eyes change to hope once again. For her, there was hope. For her, there was still a promise to be useful.

Marma watched as the boy so easily turned the woman. Bitter rage roiled in her belly. “How?” Marma croaked through her anger and pain.

The boy turned his head toward Marma and leveled his unflinching stare at her. “I have always been better than you,” he stated with cold accuracy. “Now leave.”

“She’s mine!” Marma shouted in her desperation. “Do you know how long I groomed her? How difficult it is to get one these days? Look at you! You’re young again. You’ve got ages to find one and…”

“Leave.”

The word held every possible threat, and Marma knew none of them were hollow. Marma allowed herself the torture of one last look at the open breast of the sacrifice, so willing, so ready, so…

“I said leave.” It was his last warning and they both knew it. In fairness, Marma understood that it was probably more than she deserved. Marma had the inkling of an urge to fight, but knew it would be futile. Time was running out. They both knew it, and while he laughed, Marma left, desperate to find another before it was too late.

The boy knew the instant Marma was gone. If there was one thing he could count on, it was Marma’s predictability. She just didn’t have it in her to fight him. She was weak. And that’s why she had never figured out the secret.

The woman on the couch moaned. The boy remembered his task and slowly drew his hand over the wound. It closed. He pulled the shirt down to cover her up, then pulled a blanket over her to tuck her in.

“What are you doing?” she whispered.

“Shh.” He placed his hand on her forehead.

“I was so ready,” she said on a sob, feeling a sense of loss and exhaustion wash over her.

“And you will be again,” he promised. “But for now, go to sleep.”

She bolted awake with a start, her heart pounding in her chest and the vague feeling of a nightmare tingling the hairs on her neck. She looked around quickly, feeling an overwhelming disorientation as she realized she was not in her bedroom. A blooping sound from the television drew her attention, and it took a second to register the video game on the screen. She turned and saw her son sitting at the end of the couch.

The boy turned his head and he made himself smile at his current mother. “Mornin’ Mum,” he said cheerfully. “You fell back asleep in the couch so I covered you up.”

She blinked, then blinked again. Everything was confusing and muddled. There was a nagging feeling of dread and disappointment and an underlying fear that something had gone wrong, or that she slept too late, or that she missed out on something. She sat up slowly, her bleary eyes seeking out the clock on the mantel. “I think I’m late,” she mumbled, her brow set deep in a frown as she tried to hold on to a memory that was just outside her grasp.

“Late for what?” her son asked, twisting his body in response to the action happening on the screen.

“I don’t know,” she said quietly.

Unsettled for no discernible reason, she rose from the couch and winced as her knee popped. A desire to turn back the clock and be younger rolled through her as it always did as she made her way into the kitchen for some coffee. There was an ache in her chest and she rubbed at it absently as she stirred sugar into her cup. She took a sip, then padded back to the living room.

She sat on the couch and watched the television screen without really seeing any of it, the sense of dread and loss holding her captive.

“It’s okay, Mum,” her son said. “It’ll work out next time.”

She whipped her head around to look at her son, his words panicking her, yet, soothing something somehow. “What did you say?”

He mashed the buttons on his game, making certain to keep his knowing smile to himself. “Aw look at that!” he said, pointing to the screen.

She wanted to ask him what he had meant, but she couldn’t say the words. She wanted to ask him what he knew, but she couldn’t speak. He meant something, he knew something, he was the key to the vague upset that still hovered at the edges of her consciousness. She was certain of it. He had answers for the questions she was quickly forgetting how to ask.

Her son turned. His eyes bore through her as he held her captive with his gaze. “Watch the screen, Mum,” he said in a voice that sent shivers up her spine.

“Yes,” she said, unable to force herself to do anything else. Her son released her, shifting his concentration back to his game.

She turned her face to the screen. The clock on the mantle ticked. The sound of her husband stirring drifted down the stairs. The ache in her chest faded. Everything seemed like a normal Saturday morning.

And the little voice of warning in her head began to scream.

Thus concludes a spoooooky tale of terror for Halloween 2015. I’m off to create a scythe for my little trick or treater. Let’s hope he doesn’t use it on me… MUA-HA-HAAAAHHHH 

*There’s no catchy title yet? That’s odd…*

Standard

You arrive at the designated meeting place at the designated time, as usual. However, things are not actually “as usual”. The once familiar meeting place has changed, somehow, and you struggle to put your finger on it. You can see no tangible difference in the room. The couch looks like the designated meeting couch. The ugly striped curtains you’ve never really liked but were too polite to mention look like the same ugly striped curtains that have never been discussed. There is a very familiar cat licking the plastic covering the aged window, as it has done in the past during your previously designated meetings. It is the same scene.

And yet, it’s not.

You glance down at your watch to check the time, and notice that, too, feels wrong. The hands hover silently in the expected position. It appears you arrived two minutes early, as you do for every designated meeting. The watch confirms you are where you should be when you should be. And yet, the darkness that looms just beyond the aged barrier of the window doesn’t feel like the darkness of the morning. It doesn’t feel like it’s just about to release its grip and let the sun bathe the world in its cleansing light for another day. It feels…darker. Heavier. Older.

You tell yourself you’re being ridiculous as you take a seat on the edge of the worn sofa cushion. You feel yourself tilt slightly to the side as you perch on a thin section of padding that really should have been replaced ages ago. The cat stops licking the window long enough to shoot you a defiant look, just as she has done many mornings past. The whole scene is so very familiar that you laugh at yourself, positive that you’re in the right place at the right time.

Then, why isn’t she here yet?

Nervously, you stare at the empty seat across from you. Another quick check of your watch tells you that your designated meeting partner should be there with you by now. She should be sitting at the computer, her fingers furiously flying over the keys of her communication medium while you laugh and sigh and shake your head through your morning coffee.

Coffee.

You glance down at the small, marble topped table in front of you. There should already be coffee waiting. Every designated meeting starts with coffee, hot and fresh, if not a bit too strong for your particular liking. There should be coffee, sending its curls of aromatic ambrosia up into the air. There should be coffee, but there’s not.

You swallow, then obsessively glance at your watch again, as if yet another confirmation of the time could possibly change an increasingly worrying situation. The cat resumes her licking, and you have a brief flash of calm. Surely if there were anything truly wrong the cat couldn’t be so blase. You’re being silly. Your designated meeting partner is just a bit late and there’s nothing to worry about.

The cat meows.

You’ve been coming to these meetings for ages now, and you’ve never once heard the cat make a sound. Your heart picks up the pace as you force yourself to raise your eyes to the beast. She sits silent, stoic for a brief moment, unblinking and unflinching and unrelenting in her assessment before she meows again, a mighty roar in the silent, tense room. The sound sends an icy trickle of fear down your spine and you jump when the cat suddenly moves from her usual perch. She pauses briefly to look at you, whether in sympathy or disgust you can’t decide, before she saunters out of the open door you’ve never used.

It is not the door you enter for your designated meetings. It is a door that sits in the wall across from your usual sitting space. No one ever enters through it, no one ever leaves by way of that particular exit. It’s a door that on any other day stands slightly ajar in an inoffensive manner, a part of the fabric of the scenery and nothing more. Have you ever wondered what lay beyond that door? Has it ever occurred to you to have a look?

For some reason, the idea makes your palms start to sweat. You rub them briskly on the taught fabric over your knees and tell yourself to stop being so damn silly. Of course the house would have doors. Of course those doors would lead somewhere else. There is nothing unusual about doors, ajar or otherwise, and it really isn’t your business to worry about that one. It leads somewhere to another room that holds something, and neither detail is really any concern of yours. It’s not your house. They aren’t your things. They belong to your host.

Wherever she is.

You tap your finger on your knee, the dull thudding seeming to fill the small room. Your host should be here. It’s getting very late, and…well frankly, it’s starting to be rude. There. You said it. She’s being impolite and you’re starting to become offended. You have other places you could be. You have other times you could be in. You didn’t have to come here and waste a perfectly good morning. You chose to, and she doesn’t even have the decency to honor the designated meeting time when…

A sudden, shrill scream rips through the house. The terrifying sound calls back through time to ancient instincts of survival and you jump up and run to the door before you are even conscious of doing so. Your hand clutches the cold metal of the knob and the sensation jolts you back to your senses. Something is wrong. Something has happened. Was it her? Was it she, your friend, who screamed?

You turn around, trying to will your racing heart to quiet down, the rush of the blood in your ears too loud to let you think. You should call out. You should beckon to your friend. Perhaps she burnt her finger on the hot coffee? Yes. Yes, that is surely it, you tell yourself as your mind desperately tries to believe the placating lie. You open your mouth to call, to ask if she is all right, but fear has rendered you mute.

You’re being ridiculous! Stop this. Stop it right now. You are a full grown adult, and you’ve let yourself be swept along some childish fantasy of boogeymen and hobgoblins. This is stupid. Just open your mouth and call out to your friend.

“Hello?” you manage on a squeak. Your own voice is the only reply you get as it somehow echoes far longer than it should have. “Hello?” you say again, this time determined to gain an answer other than your own.

The cat bursts into the room, her hair on end and a look of terror on her face that you know matches your own. She darts behind you– you, who she normally ignores– and you can feel her shaking, the horror of whatever she’d been unfortunate enough to witness rippling off her in waves. Your trepidation is now a taste, a metallic presence that squeezes your throat and burns a warning through your body as you stare at the looming, semi-open door across the room.

You are torn, and you shouldn’t be. Your friend is clearly in peril, and your path should be clear. You should move your feet towards that door, away from this one. And yet, of its own accord, your hand flattens on the wood behind you and slowly inches up, groping for the knob that will grant you freedom.

The scream races through the house again, louder, clearer, closer. The cat presses herself into the backs of your legs, and all thoughts of your friend are forgotten as your fumbly fingers find the knob. You desperately grip the knob and turn.

You try to turn.

The knob will not budge. The cat hisses. She knows. Somehow, she knows what your mind will not accept. You spin around, turning your back to whatever horror lies behind the slightly ajar door as you grasp and struggle in desperation. Maybe if you squeeze it tighter. Maybe if you turn the other way. Maybe it’s one of those oddball knobs from the 70’s that need to be pushed in before…

The scream soundss again.

Louder.

Closer.

It howls with a blood-curdling determination that wrenches a sob from deep within your being. This wasn’t supposed to happen. You were supposed to sit and drink your strong coffee on the worn couch while you tried to ignore the ugly curtains in the familiar room. You were supposed to have laughs. Or, if not laughs, at least shared thoughts. You were supposed to usher in the day.

A cackle knifes through the room. Its harsh brittleness ices your veins and you try one last time to turn the unrelenting knob.

Mornin’, all, says the familiar voice in an unfamiliar tone.

You squeeze your eyes shut.

Sorry I’m late. I was, uh, preparing. Won’t you sit down and have a chat?

No. No! your mind screams. You know. Somehow you just know. If you turn, if you look, if you sit and listen, there will be no going back. There will be no returning to normal. Something has happened to your friend. You can hear it in her voice. Something has taken over and if you don’t…

The knob suddenly releases, as if you’ve actually had the ability to escape all along. You push and feel the rush of cold, dank air pull you to freedom.

Hey. Where are you going? the voice rings out.

But you are already gone, your feet pounding down the fog-slicked road as you make your escape.

You will reach your house. You will lock your door behind you. You will sit in the room under a blanket with all the lights on, waiting for the sun to finally break through the darkness. You will tell yourself it was all a bad dream. In the light of day, you will laugh at your folly. You’ll even write your friend a quick note, some paltry excuse to cover the embarrassment of your hasty retreat. You will dress for work and go about your day ignoring the memories that still tremble in fear. And as the time lengthens, the edge of the experience will dull. The bitter taste of terror will be forgotten with a lunch of tacos. By the time you punch out for the day, you’ll make plans with some friends, promise Gena you’ll bring potato salad to the party this weekend. You will be comfortable and secure in the knowledge that whatever happened that morning, you escaped.

And as soon as you close your eyes to go to sleep, you will know that you didn’t.

Thus concludes a spoooooooky Musing for Halloween Friday, October 31, 2014. I’m going to be participating in NaNoWriMo, so I really don’t know how often I’ll be blogging in November. I’m fairly sure I’ll need a different kind of writing once in awhile, and maybe even a palate-cleansing Headline Roundup. If it doesn’t play out like that, I’ll most definitely check in for Thanksgiving. Everyone have a safe and enjoyable Halloween, and I’ll talk to you soon!