Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The short story // She still waits for me in the words of her book

What's the haunting season without a few short stories to make that chill run up your spine? I offer you a story I came across, that upon reading this morning, has stayed with me. If you tell me you don't read horror, but still read Ted Dekker or Frank Peretti, then you read horror. It's that thrill you're seeking.  I make no apology for my love of horror movies and books, just like I don't apologize for reading romance or science fiction. Read on, if you dare.

She still waits for me in the words of her book

I sleep soundly, in my cozy, comfortable bed. Most nights I climb in and am asleep within minutes. Other nights I read. I'm not talking of e-readers, those that lull you to the other side with their easy interfaces and slick controls. Real books are what gather me up, the ones you can grab on to and feel the pages as the story leaps to life. I want to feel the spines of books that give you purchase to hold and grip – to become lost in pages made of paper.
Books mean a lot to me and I have read voraciously since I was a child, really at a very early age. By first and second grades I was reading proficiently at an adult level. In my rush to reading my interests expanded to genres that included spine-tingling novels, and by fifth grade, I was reading full-fledged horror novels.
Where were my parents?
They were there, and they were readers as well. Never ones to censor much of what we read, watched, or listened to - I was able to get my hands on deeply disturbing tomes that called out to me when I passed them in the bookstore. My eyes were drawn again and again to that section that held black-spined books with names like The Omen, Ghost Story, and The Amityville Horror.
I devoured them word by word.
My novels, piled intricately on a shelf dad had built me, were aligned according to my eleven year old mind. When I went to bed at night my bed was facing the shelf, that way I could always see them. My books, you see, were as important to me as any collection. People collect things. I collected books.
Books were attached to me, as any avid reader knows, and at any given time you could find me in a corner taking in words and sentences as if they were water. It was just that now, the words I was taking in were tinged with the blackest horror, the thin edges of madness, and scratchy whisperings that floated under my door at night. My mind was awash with ritual slayings and rites of satanic cults that slid down easy, easy into my soul. Mesmerizing, they were so mesmerizing. And I couldn't stop.
The purchase of a book called Audrey Rose brings goose bumps, raised high, to the surface of my skin. As I write this, my hackles slowly raise and I glance outside my dark window. I pull my sweater a little tighter, just a little closer for comfort, or what I don't know. The night presses in and whispered fragments, or words, travel up the back of my neck and fall gently into my ear. I turn and brush them away. I can't let them in. Had I known what the book would do I would have dropped it and run.
I delved in, always reading by night, and I consumed each word, letter by letter. I'm not sure when things started....changing. At school, as I sat numbly in my seat, I could sense the slightest blur at the edge of the classroom door. If I looked twice it was just a door, firm and blue, standing guard as it always had. The fringes, though, were alive with murmurings and activity. If we were playing on the playground at recess I could sometimes glance in the distance and see a small, dark figure standing just on the edges of the grass. I squinted hard and nothing was there. When I used the restroom during class, I would sit on the edge of the toilet seat squeezing my eyes shut tightly. The dark corners of the bathroom threw their shadows towards my stall, and inch by inch crept underneath the door.
The book, you see, had come alive.
It was as if I was running a race to finish it, to feel and render the book into the very depths of my being. I could feel her in every crevice and crack of my room as I read and read and read. When the last words were absorbed and the book was over, I breathed a silent sigh, a nearly imperceptible washing through my body of relief. I crept to my shelf and placed the book carefully in its place - the place it would reign with all my other books filled with horror. I lay down and turned off the light and an instant dread filled me.
She wasn't going to let me go.
My room became black as night and I could feel the tomes on the shelf reaching out to me, their pages yearning for me to slip inside of them and be lost forever. The door to my room....oh the door....swung silently open creating a vortex of mindless swirling in my heart. My body lay rigidly still, and I could smell the sweat from my fear dampening my nightgown - a nightgown that an eleven year old wears to bed believing she will wake up in her room safe and sound.
My eyes were frozen open in soundless horror as I could feel a presence enter the room with authority and float silently towards me, the hole in its center ever-widening. My chest became tight and I knew without knowing that it was on top of me...pressing the air from my lungs - keeping me from the good that I knew my life should be. Images of every scene of horror I had read slowly played in my head, like a silent movie, as the face of evil, disguised as Audrey Rose, tried to steal the very breath of life from me.
I shut my eyes and mouthed, "Please God, I'm so scared. Help me."
I woke up with a start and the morning sun was throwing its light softly through my white, frilly curtains. I sat up and looked around the room in stark horror as the juxtaposition of my safe surroundings screamed in protest to what I knew had happened last night. I never did know how I fell asleep and evil fled. I only hope that a bigger God had rescued me. My eyes fell on my bookshelf, those black-spined books staring at me in restful repose - their edges lined up like soldiers ready for war.
With my nightgown still damp from sleep and terror, I gathered all the books of horror...those novels filled with evil reckoning and restless spirits...and I stumbled outside in the early morning dew to the fire pit in our backyard. With match burning in hand, I lit those books up until all I could see were the twisted faces of the covers burning in the flames. I could feel Audrey Rose screaming for me, the smoke stifling her shrieks. And then she was gone.
My flesh, shivering with the writing of this tale, has finally been warmed with a blanket I've thrown around me. Though I am now married and have raised children, reading is still one of my first loves. Deep in the dark, with book in hand, I climb the night. It takes me to places that nothing else can, and I soar with the thrill the words bring me. Yet still, I sometimes feel the tiniest of breaths on my neck and a thin whisper calling me. I glance outside and on the periphery of my line of sight I can see her, a dark shroud that will always stand just outside of what I can comprehend. She waits for me to pick up her words so that she can live, once again, through me. I resist her, for now, and fervently hope that I can stay away from the words that would lead me to her.

This book does exist. It came out in 1977.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Sliding out of obscurity

Every year, a few days after my birthday grants me another notch, I sit down and think about the new number I've been assigned. After I turned forty, I didn't care what the number was, just how I was living. How I was breathing.

That air was so fresh after forty.
Forty-seven is even fresher.

When I look at pictures of myself in my twenties and thirties, I see someone who hadn't yet claimed herself. I feel a sharp pang knowing the confidence I have now compared to then, but I don't mourn her. I took her for what she was and have shaped her into the woman I am now. My step feels lighter and my vision clear. My fingers move nimbly over the keyboard as words and phrases fill me. The clarity that comes from added minutes and hours to your life do not come at a price. They come as a gift that must be opened at once and used until spent. 

Don't wait to use your gifts. 
Spread that goodness to the ends of the earth and never question it.
Not once.

Where I hesitated in my younger years to do what I knew I must, now I'm like a freight train barreling down the tracks. Boldness comes with knowing yourself and what you're made of, the cowering fear of stepping out of the box brushed aside. I can still feel those feelings when I'm faced with trying something new, but am now able to walk through it so the fear subsides. 

We can't live our lives in fear of failure.
Just as we can't live our minutes waiting.

So many times we say, "I just don't have the money for that, nor the time." Chances and opportunities slide away into the ether never to be seen again, all because we chose to avert our eyes from it. One day, having never taken chances, we'll wake up and find ourselves old in spirit as well as body. Did we use what we were given? Or did we squander it by being safe and tidy in our boxes? 

This year was a big year for me in stepping out of that neatly tied box. Traveling alone to another country only enhanced my vision for the future. I saw what I wanted and I went after it. My life has been enriched by grabbing opportunity and if I hadn't, I can only say I would be mourning the loss of unused experiences. 

I know it's easier for me now to grab those chances now that the kids are gone, off to find their lives in college and work. It's something I may not have done had I been presented with it when they were still here. I consider part of my life's work raising them with my husband, and knowing they will be productive citizens with minds open and alert. I would say, though, not to close your eyes. Fill your eyes with clarity and be ready for what comes to you. Don't brush it off and say, "No, I can't do this." You'll only regret what you didn't stick your neck out for. It will haunt you as you stay safely tucked into the familiarity of the known. 

I've found nothing more thrilling than the breeze of unfamiliar lands, food untasted that explodes on your tongue, and the knowing that the minutes of a day are yours to shape into only what you want them to be. Another year has come and gone, and it will be three years until I reach one half of a century. I claim each and every minute left in this life to live to the fullest. Don't slide into obscurity not having at least tried. 

Happy 47 to me. 
Three-hundred sixty-five days until 48.
Time to live it up.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Staying cool in a mad, mad world

One week. 

That's how long it took for me to be inundated with life here, in the small corner of Ohio I call home. A retreat is just that - a retreat. It plucks you out of the norm and deposits you somewhere you can turn your brain around in your hands. A place to look at your thoughts, from odd angles, and reflect on what they mean. I found the words in Oaxaca and they poured out of me. I'm searching for a way to keep that unfiltered flow alive in this house.

The world contained in this rectangular piece of electronics that I hold on my lap, that is what stops me. 

I get swept away in the glut of information and attitudes that hold my frozen stare, and throttle any spark that may have ignited upon waking. Being away from this sphere, even for three weeks, allowed me to look in from the outside and see the inanity of who we - and I - can be. We sputter and spew on topics ranging from abortion to guns, and gay marriage to politics. I see every day on my feed what is sin and what isn't, as well as who we should welcome and who needs kicked out. Our opinions spiral into the ether and sound petty and small in the scope that is this world - my voice among them. 

Whether we realize it or not, we are responsible for what we put out there. When you see words or pictures coming across a screen, they can be taken much differently than how you're thinking them in your head. Our posts are voices, and they can sound full of anger and childish speech - even if we don't mean them that way. I shudder at the posts I've seen full of vitriol and name-calling, horrible things that I could never imagine them saying in person. 

What fuels the power we feel to say these hateful words?

I have opinions, and on occasion, have posted them. But I stay away from name-calling and bullying, as well as the "Unbelievable" and "Wake Up" posts. I don't look down my nose at someone because they like certain things, nor would ask them to join me in mine. I've never changed my opinion from someone who makes me feel stupid for my beliefs. I believe in witty repartee and intelligent conversation that doesn't veer into bashing. We MUST learn to communicate with each other. There are ways to do this without belittling the other person, group, or idea. 

I know I can shut off this computer. No one has to tell me that. What I've realized is the effect that it can have on a productive life. I love what social media can bring and the connections it creates. It brings out the best in some, and sinks others into an abyss they can't crawl out of. 

Won't you join me in creating spaces that aren't filled with hate-mongering feeds that depress? Engaging in bright conversation that doesn't demean? It's a long shot, but for the sake of us as an online community, it's imperative.