Spanking is Wrong for These Three Reasons

As a psychologist, I often am asked questions related to children, child rearing, and development (Despite not being a developmental psychologist!). As a generalist in teaching psychology, I do my best to give researched and nuanced answers. One comment I often get from students and parents alike is that they disagree with most experts on spanking. They believe it’s an effective form of punishment and (in some cases) have told me that they will not change their mind. I figured today I’d take some time to explain the reasons why spanking is wrong, giving you a chance to think about them and debate.
Continue reading “Spanking is Wrong for These Three Reasons”

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 29: Secrets

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They all cried, even Ryan, after the shock had faded. G-ma hadn’t been seen since she fled the group. Jamie’s body lie like Ryan’s had days earlier, with no hint of activity. Around her neck, marks where the old woman had strangled her, were visible.

“I can’t believe it” was the popular phrase uttered. They all knew G-ma had become somewhat of a fanatic regarding her belief. They never imagined that she was capable of this. Further complicating matters, they didn’t even know what ‘this’ was. It looked like death, but could one really die here? So many unanswered questions. Continue reading “Chapter 29: Secrets”

Chapter 28: Putting Down The Rebellion

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“Ready?”

“Ready”

“Let’s do this”

When Jamie and Julie were little, the each had their own unique set of fears. For Jamie, it had been thunderstorms. Each time a front would move in, she’d run and hide somewhere she could block out the sound. Since it was possible, very, very rarely, that storms could be violent, her parents were a bit concerned that they might not be able to find their youngest daughter in case of emergency. So they looked for a solution. It turned out to be the same solution that had worked on their older daughter. Continue reading “Chapter 28: Putting Down The Rebellion”

Chapter 21: Dark Thoughts

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Ryan was quiet for the next few days, seldom making eye contact with the rest of the group. It was obvious to all that the revelation he’d forced out of Mara had affected him in some way. Ryan could be cruel, but it didn’t seem like he was a full on sociopath who felt nothing at all for others. He was the quintessential adolescent man, trying to live up to expectations of strength while also avoiding alienating everyone who he came in contact with. The group, even Mara, pitied him. It was possible that this place would prevent you from ever growing old, but maybe it would allow people to grow up.

Continue reading “Chapter 21: Dark Thoughts”

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 14: Contact

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If I go out there, there is no coming back.

The girl sat alone in the park. It was near dusk, and the birds were beginning to fly up into the trees for the night. They didn’t like intruders mulling around below them, making a terrible racket whenever they sensed a disturbance. The girl hoped and prayed that perhaps they’d allow her to stay. She needed to be here, now, more than anything. She knew they wouldn’t be likely to understand. Birds don’t have to deal with the issues she had been dealing with.

She felt ashamed, deeply, deeply ashamed. It shouldn’t get to her like this, she thought, and that made her even more ashamed and guilty. She didn’t think it was her fault, but then again, no one had told her she was free from guilt. Others, however, did seem to think she had a hand in it. Whatever the reason or cause, she felt very unhappy that night, and she hoped the birds would show her some sympathy.

I don’t trust them.

This time she wasn’t in a park – she had ventured to a local shopping mall. She’d blend in well here, since there were others about her same age. She wondered what time the mall closed, and what time security would chase her out. If it closed at 9, she’d probably have until 9:30, provided that she kept moving until finally a guard told her it was time to go. Then she wasn’t sure where her next stop would be. The gas station on the corner wasn’t very reputable looking, and she’d tried that in the past with disastrous results. The park was an option, but perhaps somewhere new would be best.

As predicted, around 9:30 she was asked nicely, but firmly, to leave so the mall could be locked up. She left the bright fluorescent world and went out into the cold. It was around 30 degrees that night. She figured she wouldn’t want to be home until around 11:30, so for 2 hours she looked for somewhere to rest. A bus bench seemed like a good idea. She checked the schedule and found two busses that would be by. She could easily fake that she was waiting for the other, and at this hour, the drivers wouldn’t be back around. They’d be off and back home to their families. That thought, of the tired bus driver heading home to his wife and children made her tear up. She pictured herself as the wife, waiting for her loyal husband to return, tending to her children. It was all so enviable, so desirable. She wanted it to be her so badly.

By the time she came back to reality, the busses had stopped coming by her little bench. It was 10:45, and she knew that without busses coming by, the cops were bound to stop and ask her questions. She looked a lot older than she was, which was why the guard at the mall hadn’t asked her about why she was there alone so late. Cops rarely checked her for ID, which was good, because at her age, she didn’t have one quiet yet, except for her school’s library card.

It was a blessing and a curse to look older at her age. She’d developed early, or at least that’s what her teachers had told her. She knew something had happened as soon as the boys stopped avoiding her and instead began looking at her, staring her down while pretending to look another direction. Some days she wished she looked like the other girls again, to keep the boys at bay.

11:30 – enough time had passed now. She quietly walked toward home. No lights were on, but the key was easy to find. She’d been prepared this time – last week she’d found her dad’s oil can and oiled the hinges so they wouldn’t creak. She even lubed up the lock and handle mechanism so it turned silently. The preparations had paid off, even though at the time, she had hoped she wouldn’t have to make use of them. Silently she crept in, got up to bed, and feel into a restless sleep.

They’ve already seen me – they’ve already decided what they like about me.

Six months later the door had begun to creak again, however by that point, the rope ladder had been acquired. She’d found it out on the curb the previous month, a discarded portion of a child’s backyard treehouse. Each time she climbed it she would think of it’s original owner, wondering how many days he or she had climbed in excitement to get back up to the treehouse. She knew his or her name was Taylor, as she’d found a discarded piece of wood near the ladder bearing the name. Taylor was all grown up now, and didn’t need the treehouse anymore. The new owner of the rope ladder wished she could slide back in time, pre rope ladder, when she wouldn’t have needed it’s assistance.

It was sad that she found herself in this situation – it wasn’t supposed to be like that. She thought back to the trip to the mall, over a year ago, and the bus driver’s wife fantasy she’d had. It was a foolish fantasy of a girl just beginning to notice the effects of puberty. Now that she’d become accustomed to it’s effects as well as the way the world reacted to her transition from girlhood to womanhood, she took a much more jaded view of her future. What were the odds she’d find a decent bus driver husband? Previous experience didn’t seem to predict future success.

Climbing up the ladder, she was grateful it was dark. She didn’t need to worry about anyone nearby, looking up at her (and thus looking up her skirt), and also could climb slowly, careful not to touch too loudly on the outside of the house. Thankfully her window was on the far side of the house from the other bedrooms. She wondered if that was intentional, or just circumstance.

Into her bedroom, she quickly but quietly pulled the rope ladder up. It was getting increasingly hard to find a place to stash it, but she realized that under the mattress still worked pretty well for now. Had to put it in the middle, so that it wasn’t visible when the corners were lifted to put the sheets on, or else Mom would have found it. She carefully stowed the ladder and changed from her clothes into her pajamas. Picking out her clothing for tomorrow (the one day a week she could wear blue jeans, which was fine, since she only had one pair of blue jeans), she settled into her to-do list. Homework had been finished hours earlier. She thought of the essay she was supposed to be writing, but figured that she wouldn’t actually need it’s grade to pass the class. She could still get a D without it. She’d also finished her chores already, leaving her free to work on her own projects. Tonight that included work on removing a loose floorboard in just such a way that it could be easily put back in place. She’d found a tutorial on the Internet that spoke of this, and had the plans committed to memory. She’d grabbed a butter knife from the restaurant they’d been at last Saturday, and used that to gently loosen the edges of the board. Soon the rope ladder would have a new hiding spot.

As she worked, she thought of her former friends. She reasoned that at one point, she had actually been popular. But those days were long past. Tears dropped to the floor as she went about her task.

Why not, it’s better than going crazy watching them.


 

She decided to head out right after the sky brightened up for the day. The boy was off – she’d watched him long enough to realize that he left for awhile and then came back. The less the better. The two older women were sitting and talking, and the two girls were sitting conspicuously far from each other. She wondered why they didn’t get along, but drawing on her own past, could come up with a number of plausible reasons. She’d been in that situation before, she knew how relationships could look innocent and friendly on the surface, but in reality be deeply dysfunctional and hurtful. Same old story, just new people playing the roles.

She knew she was going to regret this. She always did regret opening up to other people – they never bothered to care about her anyway. Once she had tried talking to the man sitting next to her at the bus stop. He seemed friendly, and interested in what she had to say. He also seemed different than the others – he didn’t make lewd comments or ask her if she was one of ‘those kinds’ of girls. At least he didn’t initially. But after about 20 minutes he showed his true colors. Thankfully the bus came at exactly the right moment, and she hopped on board, begging the driver to simply drive off without fare, who did so, recognizing the look in her eyes and the situation before him.

But this place was too weird to stay away. She’d been hiding just over the hills for awhile now, circling to stay out of sight, moving quickly in and out of their midst as she could. She’d knocked over the girls shoes that last time she rushed by, and hastily put them back differently than they were. She knew that they noticed this, but could do nothing about it. She was surprised they didn’t bother to come look for her after that one. It was a sign, she was sure, that they didn’t care already. Otherwise they’d come find her on their own, right? Or maybe this strange place was inhabited by stranger people.

She meticulously planned out how she would approach them. What she would say, or more appropriately, what she wouldn’t say. They were going to ask questions. People always asked a lot of questions. At first she thought they asked the questions because they wanted to help her. But over time she realized they just wanted lurid details for their own use. She wasn’t into giving details, even if they weren’t particularly interesting. Best to keep some distance. She was going to need answers that wouldn’t arouse suspicion, so she quickly came up with some.

She also wanted answers – she’d been here for about a week and had no idea where she was. This place was really weird, and she hoped they had a better clue as to what it was than her guesses. Her guesses were that she was dead (unlikely, since nothing seemed to happen to her – no afterlife – no life at all actually), or that she was held captive (also unlikely, nobody would want to kidnap her). With her guesses falling flat, she was prepared to open up just enough to get the answers she wanted, without opening up too much. With answers prepared, she stood up and began to walk toward the group.

Before she was within sight, she stopped and paused – she hadn’t thought about if she should talk first or they should. In the past, whenever she had appeared friendly, people would behave the same way even if they weren’t to be trusted. She figured she’d let them make the first move. See how they reacted.

A few moments later, she got close enough they could see her. What they saw was a five foot seven inch young woman who looked to be around 16 years old, but in actuality was only 13. Slightly overweight, but by no means fat, and dressed in a black v-neck blouse and her only pair of blue jeans, she looked out of place within the rest of the group. Her black rain boots and long matted black hair further made her stand out among the group of women. Over her shoulder hung a black purse. On her face, dark makeup accentuated wrinkle lines not typical of someone so young in age, but typical of one so old in experience. She walked quietly and purposefully toward the group.

G-ma was the first to notice her and immediately they locked eyes. G-ma smiled, trying to put the new person at ease. As the others talked to G-ma they realized she was no longer listening, and turned to see what G-ma saw.

And while all four women knew it was impolite to stare, they had a hard time looking away. She just looked so different than them. For one thing, she really had a thing for the color black. If anything, this group had a love of grey and red, black wasn’t a color they saw often.

“Hello”, Mrs. Corum said, in a tone that wasn’t meant to be too cheerful and yet was also meant to be welcoming. Mrs. Corum had been in these situations before – approaching new children on the first days of class. She knew she’d have to be gentle.

Following her lead, G-ma spoke next “Hi dear, welcome”. G-ma referred to everyone as dear, but noticed the clear wince that the new visitor had to the term. She mentally made a note not to use it again.

They all looked at her, unsure what to say next.

Finally one action seemed to diffuse the tension. Sara Beth got up, holding her most precious possession, Sonic, in her hands. She walked over to the visitor and smiled.

“Hi, My name is Sara Beth, and this is my friend Sonic”.

The visitor looked down at the squirming hedgehog.

“I’ve never seen a pet hedgehog before”, she said in a low voice.

“They’re super fun – you just have to know how to hold them, and don’t get your fingers too close to their teeth.” Sara Beth then gave a quick lesson on how to hold little Sonic, and passed him off.

As she held Sonic, she almost let her guard down. These people seemed nice, and one of them even trusted her with her pet. But she’d been burned before. She briefly thought of jamming the hedgehog back into Sara Beth’s hands before running as fast and as far away as she could. This was too much and way too fast. She was holding another person’s pet! What happened to her plan to stay aloof, to learn what she needed to learn, and then decide purposefully if she wanted to stay with this group or if she wanted to go off on her own. She had plans that apparently she was breaking already.

But, alas, she was already here. Already committed. So instead, as she held Sonic (Who appeared to be fine with it), she simply looked at the group and spoke softly.

“My name is Mara”

Chapter 13: Unidentified Flying Object

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Where am I?

Am I finally done? Is it all over?

Sara Beth remembered a day years ago before she met Julie, back when it was just her and her parents, living far out in the country before they moved closer to the city. It was sunny, and warm, likely the first warm day of spring. The grass was green, and smelled great after the rain and passed. She had been cooped up inside the house for so long that she’d forgotten that there was so much to do outside, but on that day when she walked out without a coat and wasn’t freezing cold, she decided she couldn’t stay indoors any longer. She rode her bike all afternoon, and when she came in, her mother frowned, looking at her shoulders. They’d been out all afternoon, thanks to the tank top that Sara Beth was wearing. Continue reading “Chapter 13: Unidentified Flying Object”

Chapter 11: The Mountains

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Mrs. Corum had a nagging thought about an area of the landscape they’d yet explored. Weeks earlier they’d thought of heading toward the tiny dot of difference on the horizon, perpendicular to hers and G-ma’s spots, heading away from the light valley. They’d started that direction but, upon realizing that it was farther off than they assumed, and finding Sara Beth, they decided to head back to more familiar surroundings. It was funny how the more familiar surroundings made them feel better, when the whole place was so wholly unfamiliar. But, Mrs. Corum supposed, perhaps not everything was totally different here. Some things, like a love of the place you know, may hold true. Continue reading “Chapter 11: The Mountains”