Seasonality

In August 1986 I started school. I was 2 1/2 years old, and I think my mother figured it was time for me to get out of the house and see the world, or at least the preschool at Thoreau Park Elementary School. In a few short months, that will have been 30 years ago. And while those first 3 years of pre-school (my mother really wanted me out of the house…) may have consisted only of half-days, they did run the entire length of the school year. This means that, as of Spring 2016, I’ve completed 30 school years, as either a student or a teacher.

Continue reading “Seasonality”

Epilogue to Cinereous

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It had been about 70 years, they estimated, since the first group arrived in Julie’s mind. They now numbered around 100, and the once barren gray land had transformed into a near utopia. A sky of blue, lush grass, and (thankfully) furniture, books, and more. Julie certainly seemed to have grown a much more active imagination than when they arrived, and also seemed more active in general. While the mountains shown brightly for so many years, recently they’d grown a bit less active once more. The core group found themselves sitting in a circle, reminiscent of the early years.

“Well, she is in her 80’s”, G-ma said, “I don’t suppose she’s running any marathons!”

“And here we are, the same age as we were when we arrived!”, Mrs. Corum replied.

This hadn’t been true for everyone. Over the years, Sara Beth had grown into adulthood, however she stopped changing around age 20. They figured this might have been where Sara Beth and Julie parted ways during their college years. Jamie appeared older now as well, although she seemed to have topped out around 60. Perhaps Julie had never updated her mental picture of her younger sister. Ryan had stayed the same age, as did Mara.

Over the years the core group had learned a lot about Julie’s present-day through those they met in her mind. There was the young man, who they later found out had married Julie. There was the young children, who got to meet their great G-ma inside Julie’s mind. There were the work colleagues, and the friends, and more. So many painting such a rich life of Julie McKay, a life that had saved itself with a little help from Mrs. Corum, Sara Beth, Jamie, Mara, Ryan, and G-ma.


 

Afterthought

When I started writing Cinereous, I felt it would be a fun experience and rewarding. And while I definitely think both of those things were true, it was also somewhat stupid.

The idea of individuals living inside someone else’s mind has intrigued me for many years. As humans, we are capable of simulating many things in our own minds, thinking of the way different events would interact with different people we know. We replay good memories, we imagine what the next major event will be like, and (sometimes) we even imagine what would happen to those we don’t like if we could do anything we wanted to them.

The idea for Cinereous was sound, and I think the idea for writing an entire 50,000+ word novel (Cinereous tops out around 67,000 words) within a month is also a pretty good way to stretch oneself and force oneself to write.

The stupid part? Committing to publish a chapter each day – November 2015 proved to be an incredibly busy month for me, including travel to a conference, as well as the Thanksgiving holidays. While I normally averaged a lead time of 2-3 chapters (e.g., I was writing chapter 13 on November 10), I still found the pace to be grueling to meet my early morning publishing times. It resulted in shorter chapters over time (something I could have remedied by just not calling each section a chapter – a revision of Cinereous would likely see some of the chapters condensed), and it also resulted in poorer writing. Perhaps the most illuminating part of this experience has been the way it held a mirror to my own writing, showing me where I was getting ‘sloppy’ or ‘lazy’. While disheartening, it isn’t a bad thing to see, as it lets one know where to improve.

Overall I hope you’ve enjoyed this strange odyssey into the mind of a 12 year old girl (which I have not ever been inside of myself, so maybe I got some of it right, but I suppose I probably got a lot wrong!). It was a good mental ‘stretching’ exercise for me, and in the end I’ll fondly remember it as that time I wrote a novel in a month and published 1000+ words a day each day. And I suspect I’ll probably do a revision of the book at some point and put it out in e-pub / Kindle format. And heck, maybe I’ll even do up a cover page!

On one final note, the subject of the book, bullying and mental breakdown potentially leading to suicide is one near to my heart. Over my career I’ve lost 2 students to suicide. It’s a problem that we cannot ignore when we see any potential warning signs in others, and one we must address directly. Sadly the myth that “talking about suicide just puts the idea into the person’s head” is still prevalent – rest assured, if you worry about someone you love thinking about suicide, they probably already have had the idea cross their mind. Look out for each other, because unlike Julie, others might not have a majority of ‘good’ characters in their minds to try to help them out. They may need some good people in real life to reach out.

  • Jon Westfall, December 2, 2015.

Chapter 27: Uprising

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“They’ll see… they think I’ve gone crazy. But I’m doing this for their own good, and for Julie.”

The group lie motionless, more or less parallel to each other. G-ma stood watch while herself remaining as motionless as possible. In order, Mrs. Corum lie next to G-ma’s position, with Mara next, then Sara Beth, then Jamie, and finally Ryan, still in the exact same state he had been in. No one dared do more than whisper to each other, anytime they saw G-ma look away or seem to ‘zone’ out. They didn’t know if she realized they were talking amongst themselves or not.

The sky had grown a bit darker, they all thought, and the mountains were pretty inactive. It was hard to know if what they were doing was having any affect on Julie or if it was just a coincidence.

Inside each of their minds, they began to consider the situation they found themselves in. Mrs. Corum was certainly not a fan of G-ma’s methods or theories, but found herself truly believing that the woman wanted something good for Julie. She just wasn’t sure this would cause Julie to go in a positive and not negative direction. With the decreased mountain activity and the sky darkening, Mrs. Corum feared that Julie might have left camp early, and was spending her summer days indoors without any social interaction or friends.

Mara, in her own mind, was throughly convinced that the old woman had gone completely crazy. She didn’t give G-ma any benefit of the doubt – she felt the woman had gone suicidal herself and was determined to get out of this place, even if the alternative was unacceptable to the others. Mara was surprised at how easily the group had submitted, and secretly felt that she might need to spur them into action. How she was going to do that, though, was a mystery to her. So she bided her time, waiting for an opportunity to present itself.

Sara Beth was preoccupied with her own problems. Using Sonic as a judge of her “fadedness”, she found that he was becoming less and less likely to recognize her as the hours ticked by. She had to be careful not to make too much noise in playing with Sonic, lest G-ma notice. Thankfully the space between her and Mara was deep enough for the ball and it’s owner to be relatively unnoticed.

Jamie was the most confused of all of them. She loved her G-ma, but she also loved her sister and felt that this might not be the best way of handling the situation. But at her age, she was still used to the adults having the good ideas that worked, even if they sounded somewhat strange or unrealistic. G-ma would see them through, she hoped.

As Jamie lay there, she realized something quite amazing. Ryan, after two days of his comatose state, appeared to be moving slightly.

“Shhh…” Jamie said as quietly as she could to Ryan. Ryan turned his head slightly toward her with a very confused look on his face.

As quietly as possible, Jamie filled Ryan in on what was happening. Thankfully, as they were at the end of the line of bodies, G-ma wasn’t aware of what they were doing. Periodically G-ma would wander, and in those cases, everyone quieted down any semblance of a murmur. Jamie also encouraged Ryan to continue to give the appearance of the coma, even though she had no idea how G-ma would react to it.

The group waited, wondering what would happen next.


 

“She’s gotta get tougher. They all think I’m doing this to hurt her, but I’m not. How can one live their entire life consumed by fear and torment of others? That’s no way to live. Once she realizes we’re not there – no one is there – to help her, she’ll help herself. She’ll stand up for herself. I had to do it, she’ll have to do it too. It’s just the way life goes.

And if she doesn’t, she won’t be in pain anymore. She’ll make the decision, and carry it out rationally, and for her, the pain will end. We’ll also get out of this damn place, and be able to get on with our existence. Maybe we’ll re-integrate, maybe we’ll re-incarnate, maybe we’ll travel with her. Who knows. But it will be better than this, that’s for sure.

Are they talking again? They think I don’t see. Well I see them whispering out of the side of their mouths. But I’m not going to call them out unless they get too loud. We’re already having an affect on this world, and I’m sure that we’ll be fine even with a little bit of talking and moving. Just as long as that boy doesn’t wake up. He could be trouble – I don’t think I have as much sway over him. Mrs. Corum has always been weak willed, and the girls were raised right – they don’t defy authority. But him – he could be a serious problem. How could I handle him? What would stop him from challenging me if it came to it….

I suppose I could do that. But it would have to be in an emergency only. I wouldn’t take it lightly, obviously. But it would take the wind out of his sails. I only hope that maybe he doesn’t choose her. Maybe he’ll choose the oldest girl – she’s strong just like him. They seem to be getting along better. It would be easier on me if he chose her and I had to do it.

It’s starting to get closer to dim. The sky is almost black – this is the darkest I’ve ever seen it. I hope we don’t have to deal with this too much longer. Maybe tonight will be the night.

Is he moving? Naw, just looked like it from this distance. He’s in the coma, the rest of them are too scared to rock the boat, and soon this will all be over.”

Chapter 26: A New Day

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“You look different”, Mara said as Sara Beth walked toward her.

“What do you mean”, Sara Beth said, visibly confused. Nothing here ever changed in appearance. That was the most disturbing part of living in another person’s mind – you were pictured however they thought of you, and it turned out, it wasn’t often you were remembered wearing different clothes. Continue reading “Chapter 26: A New Day”

Chapter 25: The Coma

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After Ryan’s apology, the group eventually returned to their discussion of summer camps. Mara hadn’t ever been to one, in fact, she’d never participated in any non-mandatory activity. Her parents sent her to school, but they never had much interest in sending her elsewhere. She told the group of the trips to the mall, and of night spent watching cars drive down the street while she waited for her father to go to sleep. It was the closest she’d come to socialization outside of school. Continue reading “Chapter 25: The Coma”

Chapter 18: Torment and Resent

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The next day the mountains turned red once more, and the cycle repeated itself. The following day, however, they lit up sporadically, but no flash of red appeared, and no pain or despair came upon the group. Ryan had stood up early that morning and decided to go for a walk, shrugging off the suggestions of others that he stay back. If he was going to be in pain, he reasoned, then it didn’t matter where. No one could help him anyway. Thankfully, though, he likely escaped pain free that day.

Back at the group, about midway through the day, a different event happened that caused excitement.

“Oh my! I can’t believe it!!!”, G-ma said as she looked to her side. She’d been sitting with Mrs. Corum to her right, talking with her about everything and nothing, and didn’t notice a bag that appeared next to her, seemingly out of nowhere.

“What is that?”, Mrs. Corum exclaimed. It was the first new thing to ever appear for either of them, excluding living people.

“It’s my knitting bag!”, G-ma said, amazed and nearly speechless, “I haven’t seen it in so long”. Quickly she opened the bag, and tears of joy streamed down her face. “It has everything in it! Everything I ever needed. Needles, patterns, yarn, markers, absolutely everything. And wait… I never owned this…”

She reached into the bag and pulled out several skeins of yarn.

“Feel this”, she said as she handed the yarn to Mrs. Corum.

“Feels like yarn?”, Mrs. Corum replied. Obviously Mrs. Corum did not appreciate the finer points of fiber arts.

“Oh you wouldn’t understand… Jamie!”, G-ma called out. Jamie, a bit farther out, turned to face them and was shocked to see G-ma holding the yarn.

“Where did you get that?”, Jamie asked, excitedly.

“I don’t know! It just appeared here a few moments ago. Come over here and feel this”.

Jamie obediently came over and sat down next to G-ma. Holding the yarn, she began to speak in amazement.

“This is the softest yarn I’ve ever felt – it’s not coarse or stringy, and the dye job is beautiful”.

“I know, dear”.

As they sat there, a torrent of yarn-speak came forth, with Mrs. Corum tuning out after they began talking about what sort of animal the yarn had come from. Sadly it had no marking on it.

“Ladies…. Can we talk about what happened?”, Mrs. Corum interjected.

“Uh… sure”, G-ma said, “Just let me get started on something here. I haven’t had real needles and yarn in so long!”. G-ma grabbed a size eight needle and the yarn.

“I’m going to knit a scarf!”, G-ma said excitedly.

“That’s great…so where do you think that yarn came from”, Mrs. Corum asked.

“I don’t know… and I really don’t care”, G-ma said.

It was obvious that Mrs. Corum wasn’t going to get much out of G-ma or Jamie. So she got up and began to walk toward where Mara and Sara Beth were sitting.

“What’s going on over there”, Sara Beth asked. She wasn’t close enough to hear the commotion, but could tell something interesting had occurred.

Mrs. Corum explained what she’d seen, and both Sara Beth and Mara were left speechless.

“G-ma is so preoccupied with the arrival of her knitting bag that I don’t think she realizes how weird this truly is, or what it could mean. If it is the case that Julie can ‘control’ us in some ways, or can create a reality for us, she could also give us things. Maybe the knitting bag is the first step. Maybe somehow G-ma signaled to Julie she wanted her knitting bag, and that’s how she got it.”

“Well, she has been knitting here for 8 years without yarn or needles”, Sara Beth observed, “That’s a pretty strong signal”.

“Perhaps. I just hope we don’t have to spend 8 years before we get something nice”, Mrs. Corum replied.

Mara eyed Sara Beth, wondering if this might be the point at which Sara Beth mentioned Mara’s purse. But Sara Beth stayed quiet. Mara felt relieved.

After Mrs. Corum had left, Mara looked at Sara Beth and quietly spoke.

“Jamie knows why Julie would suddenly start handing out presents”

“Should we talk to her about it”

“We can try”


 

“Jamie”, Sara Beth said as they walked toward the girl. She was sitting next to G-ma, watching her knit.

“Yeah… what do you want?”, she replied, obviously not interested in interacting with Sara Beth.

“Mara wanted me to ask you to come see her.”

Jamie was torn. On one hand, she wanted to know what Mara wanted. The girl was an enigma, that so far only Sara Beth seemed to be special enough to crack. Perhaps Mara was getting tired of Sara Beth, and wanted to be friends with Jamie. On the other hand, Jamie was quite happy watching G-ma knit, and learning how to do it herself.

“Go off and see her”, G-ma said, urging her granddaughter to be more social.

“Fine”, Jamie said, getting up and walking in front of Sara Beth on the way to where Mara liked to sit.

As she went over the small hill, she was shocked by what she saw in Mara’s hand.

“Come sit in front of me”, Mara said. In her right hand she held a simple hair brush, the kind that secretly, Jamie had dreamed about since coming here. It was bad enough that all she was wearing was a nightshirt and underwear, but the fact that her hair was a complete disaster had always bothered her.

“I’ll brush your hair out for you”

Jamie eagerly accepted the offer, sitting in front of the older girl as Mara gently began to brush her hair out. Jamie hadn’t ever had a haircut, other than simply work done to trim split ends. She’d insisted that she wanted long, flowing locks, and her parents had allowed it. Her sister kept her hair trimmed to about the middle of her back, whereas Jamie’s reached at least 4 inches lower. She would normally spend 20 minutes or so brushing her hair each morning before school, and it was always easier if someone else would help, like her mom, or in years past, Julie.

“Thanks…”, Jamie said as she felt her hair finally get under control.

“Don’t thank me, thank Sara Beth – she’s the one who noticed my hair brush and suggested you might like to use it. I’d been so preoccupied with this place that I didn’t realize it.”

“Uh… Thanks Sara Beth”, Jamie said, with slight hesitation.

“Sara Beth is always doing those caring things for others”, Mara said, as she continued to brush the younger girl’s hair.

“Uh… yeah”

Mara knew that, if she were to get anywhere with Jamie, she’d need to start slow. Over the next hour, they chatted about a number of topics, with Mara showing extreme restraint every time Jamie said something that was mildly infuriating to the girl who had spent most of her life as an outcast. Jamie had bought into a lot of the cultural aspects that Mara never found important, and the thought crossed her mind that in the real world, Jamie would have despised Mara for not ‘fitting in’, much like she despised Sara Beth for being a better sister to Julie than Jamie was. This was an angle that Mara could use.

“It’s funny”, Mara began, “In the real world, we’d probably never be friends. And here I am, brushing your hair like girlfriends do for each other”

“Yeah… I guess I wouldn’t have thought you’d want to have been my friend – you are kind of…”

“Weird?”

“Uh… yeah…”, Jamie said, self consciously.

“It’s OK, I know what people think of me”, Mara replied, reassuring her.

“Doesn’t it bother you?”, Jamie asked.

“Not anymore, it used to bother me a lot though. It used to really hurt me that others found me so different and would make judgments about me. They didn’t know me, and it felt like all they did was try to hurt me.”

At the last few words of that sentence, Jamie flinched slightly. Mara suspected she may have struck a nerve, figuratively speaking.

“Have you ever been hurt by others?”, Mara asked.

“Just my sister… she doesn’t like me as much as she likes other people”

“Why do you think that is?”

“I don’t know…”

“Well, something must have happened to make her like you less. After all, you are sisters”.

This line of questioning took awhile, with Jamie dodging around the issue, and Mara re-focusing back on Julie and Jamie’s relationship. Finally, Jamie couldn’t dodge any longer. Mara had asked about what Julie and Jamie did together over the past few years.

“I guess Julie doesn’t like playing with me anymore, cause of what I say”, Jamie said, as she moved away from Mara and ran her fingers through her hair. It was long and straight, no more clumps or mats.

“What do you say?”, Mara said, as Jamie turned to face her.

“I guess I kind of figured out how to get to her”, Jamie said, “But it was just for fun – she’d get so upset, and I’d keep kinda, you know, poking at her. Saying stuff that would get her riled up until she finally went a little crazy at me”

“Crazy?”

“Yeah… anytime she’d get really, really angry with me, she’d kinda cry and then start mumbling the craziest stuff. She’d talk about how she was gonna get me back, how she’d… make me feel the same pain she did…”

“How would she do that?”

“Uh… I don’t remember”

“I think you might, if you want to borrow my hair brush in the future, you’ll tell me”. Mara felt it might be time to use the biggest threat she had available.

“She said… that she wished I’d burn up with the same embarrassment and rage she felt… she described it like a fire burning within her”.

As soon as she let it out, things began to make sense to Mara and Sara Beth, but they weren’t prepared for what Jamie said next.

“If I made fun of her further, then she’d really go a little nuts, and talk about how she’d change things. She’d talk about G-ma, and her friends, and other people, and how she imagined they all had these wonderful lives, with cool stuff, and fun adventures.”

As Mara and Sara Beth watched, a thought occurred to Jamie.

“She always talked about giving G-ma 100% baby alpaca yarn, as much as she wanted, to make whatever she wanted from it”

“I think we might know why the knitting bag appeared today”, Mara replied.


 

As the reality of the situation set in, the characters all took stock of how life might change. It seemed that things were really getting pushed to the extreme for Julie, on a regular basis, if she’d actually started imaging the physical items she’d give to people vividly enough in her mind as for them to appear. G-ma was happy she had her yarn, but wasn’t sure if it was worth it, knowing how Julie might be feeling.

The red mountain tops had stopped appearing regularly, which they took to mean that perhaps Ryan and Julie weren’t having their meetings anymore. It could be summer, or perhaps Ryan wasn’t getting to her as badly. No new items had appeared since the knitting bag a few days earlier, and the group wondered if Julie needed to get upset to make new items appear, or if perhaps she just needed to use her imagination, even when happy, to manifest them. So many questions.

But what nobody expected was what happened between Jamie and Sara Beth after the hair brushing (Incidentally, Mara was happy to loan her hairbrush around to the rest of the group, as long as it came back to her. She also told the others that it was the only thing in her purse, and strangely, no one pressed her on that strange fact). Jamie and Sara Beth were, amazingly, on speaking terms with each other. Apparently Jamie had decided that, perhaps, she didn’t want to spend the rest of her life angry at 20% of the population she knew presently. Or perhaps in revealing her secret, she felt little need to stay so angry, realizing that perhaps she was somewhat to blame for the way that Julie felt about her.

Sara Beth welcomed having Jamie behaving in a less hostile way, however she felt she’d probably remain skeptical of Jamie’s motives for at least some time. After all, while it might be nice to instantly make a friend, it didn’t seem to work that way in the real world. Nonetheless, it appeared that after the events of the previous week, life may be calming down a bit inside the mind of Julie McKay.

Chapter 16: Lows and Highs

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Sara Beth knew she couldn’t tell Mara’s secret to the rest of the group, but at the same time, she also thought it was something Mara might want to mention at some point since it would, likely, get the others to stop wondering so much about her. Sara Beth reasoned that it must be quite difficult to have others talking about you all the time, wondering about your intentions, and whispering about every little action you did. It would drive Sara Beth nuts to know it was happening, however it didn’t seem to be bothering Mara very much. Sara Beth wondered if Mara simply didn’t notice. Should she tell her? Would that make it worse or better? And what if (And this really threw Sara Beth for a loop), Mara knew about it and really didn’t care. This caused a great deal of conflict within Sara Beth – it was the first time she had ever realized that perhaps it wasn’t important for others to approve of you – Mara certainly didn’t seem to be caring if the others talked about her.

Continue reading “Chapter 16: Lows and Highs”