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I was eleven or so. One afternoon my parents called me into the living room for some minor task, and inquired almost angrily what my deal was.

My face working, I stammered out that I was trying not to cry.

Well, what did I have to cry about?

I had cut my finger just moments earlier, while peeling an apple in the kitchen.

So why didn’t I cry?

“B-bec-cause y-you told m-me n-not to,” I wailed.

Oh, well then, cry away! I was told, with the largesse of a Victorian philanthropist, and I burst into tears.

I don’t recall being told not to cry, but I’m sure that I was. My mother was sexually abusing me nightly, although my conscious recollection boiled down to an eternal blazing fury: I hated my mother, but didn’t know why. My dad, on the other hand, as ignorant of the abuse as I, merely beat me a lot with his belt, mainly for not cleaning my room. To this day, when I hear somebody sweeping, there is a flashknot in my stomach.

But despite the abuse and neglect, I was not allowed to cry. What to do? I stuffed it, of course, and those tears waited with corrosive patience until an excellent therapist coaxed them out in my 40s. It took a lot of therapy, and to this day I am what’s called a “stress crier.” It’s a pain in the butt, if only because my sinuses swell from all the mucus and I can get a migraine from the pressure unless I hit myself with four sprays of fluticasone, which tastes unpleasantly of an incongruous lilac but works well.

I still stuff emotions, primarily anger, but I’m working hard on that. I write the feeling words large and circle them in my journal. The result is something that looks a lot like cantankerousness: I suffer fools badly, and have started to show up for myself.

I am trying to turn into a cranky old lady; to further this end, I have stopped dying my hair now that I’ve buzzed most of it off. My face still looks ten years younger, due mainly to genetics, not smoking, and sleep and hydration, but the crop of silver on top is like a snake rattle: Step over my log with caution, because I’ve been here for a few many turns around the sun now, and I have learned how to bite.

I nipped somebody this morning over something small, and was amazed at the level of satisfaction it afforded. (There is somebody who has taken it upon themselves to walk the website I manage, and if they find a 404 link, they email all of upper management. It’s been annoying for eight years, and I finally had enough. I told him that this tactic just made me look bad, and I would appreciate being given a private heads-up, being the webmaster and all.)

I’ve been chanting to change my karma, and (coincidentally I’m sure) had the most stressful month since I was homeless. I thought meditation was supposed to mellow you out, but maybe the mellow has to clear away a whole lot of muck before it rests easy in your soul. What do you think?


In Which Our Highly Trained and Educated Heroine Uses Her Mad Skills


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I’ve been noticing over the past several months that the helping profession is disproportionately filled with women. If I thought about it at all, I figured that it was connected with our socialization as nurturers—and that it was probably also spurred by the low pay/hard work equation which keeps women trapped as sub-par wage earners, despite our often heading single-income households.

I recently attended a training on motivational interviewing (where there were 13 women and two men), and my fellow students voiced my own tendency to want to FIX IT. (This in MI is bad.) I joked that MI was going to be a hard sell, because everybody in that room got there because they were fixers. On the job, we’re so often—possibly even usually—faced with a crisis, small or large, that demands immediate action: fixing.

However, this very morning I was given a small—a very small—crisis, and instead of getting all Socratic with my recoveree as I should probably have done, I . . . fixed it. And then after a few moments, I had to stop myself from further inserting myself into my recoveree’s issues. “Stop being a mommy,” I scolded myself. And then it hit me: Women—fixers—helping professionals—mommies.

How many of us still carry things like emergency bandaids?

In fact, I suspect that helping profess—ah, hell, call us what we are: fixers. I suspect that fixers are in a way uber-Moms, regardless of our gender. We’re the people other moms call for a consult, or would if we were better able to listen and less willing to roll up our sleeves with a savage grin and fix the hell out of the thing. This is obviously a social problem, which is counter-productive to our own self-care. Fixers (and for this I mean women) are probably short on friends of the galpal, chillaxing with the homeys variety. And that can only add to our stress, which ironically makes us poorer at what we do.

It’s all very well to tell us to listen more than we speak. That just makes most of us give ourselves a smug little pat on the back, because we do listen—it’s just that at the end we tend to give out a well-reasoned solution to the issue. Fixed! Check! Pleased to be of service, ma’am!

I’ve gotten to the point of keeping silence because once you take my fixing away, I don’t know what to say half the time. I just crack out one of my large supply of listening noises (got ‘em for every occasion) and hope my conversational partner will comply by continuing her flow of words. I’m glad to be learning techniques for what can be thought of as stealth fixing fu: I need them for me.

My Bariatric Journey Continues

Saturday June 16, 2018 – 6:30am–three days post-surgery

I guess this is a sort of a morning pages entry because my brain is still kind of fried. Potatoes. When will I see another potato? Not that I want one. Don’t want anything. Must keep taking sips. So far I’m still carrying IV fluid I think—pee not dark. Or maybe I’m doing it. I don’t know.

I feel: tired and achy. Weak and low energy. Hmm sounds like I just had surgery, heh. No drugs to take the edge off—sucks that they were out of liquid Tylenol yesterday. Mercifully, I’m not in what I think of as post-surgical pain at all. Truthfully, the only really bad piece is the right side of my neck. I have no idea why. It went away for a while when they a) gave me Imitrex and b) sent me home, but I woke up with it again. Possibly from weird pillowing.

Allergies were gone in the hospital, but now I’m back to catland, so I’m draining. At least I’m not puking when I yack up stuff, the way I was that ghastly first night. It feels like I got more anesthesia than I’m used to. Apparently I looked really bad in the recovery room—some nurse told my folks (A, T, Ryan) that they’d probably be keeping me through the weekend! Although they did keep me till the afternoon. Maybe those dozen spoonfuls of tomato soup freed me.

More poop. Everything except water has some solid components, and our bodies can’t use them, so out they go. I just figured this out. Duh. I was thinking maybe my bowel would have a break.

According to my scale, I lost a bit over 25 pounds prepping for the surgery. I kept recounting the pounds—seriously? That much?

11A—Sitting here with a sippee cup half full of protein shake. It’s half full because that’s about all my stomach can hold right now. For the visual: Last week, my stomach could hold about a small mixing bowl worth—Thanksgiving dinner—and now . . . I have a juice glass. A very upset and angry juice glass, which is making weird sensations and tiny noises, as this is really My First Meal. Or at least that’s the goal. I’ve had what you could call nibbles for the past two days, mostly pudding and yogurt to help me choke down *shudder* powdered pills.

The sippee cup is to regulate my sips. (It sounds so dumb when I put it that way.) A minute amount, about a half teaspoon or so at a time.

I have been catching up on sleep as if I were getting paid for it. I have the annoying misfortune to need a lot of sleep anyway—I run best on 10 CPAP-monitored hours—and you don’t even have the opportunity for that in the hospital. And I got maybe three hours that first horrible night. I was so sleepy! But the dry heaves kept coming.

Sunday, 6/17/18 6am

Still not at home in my body. These early mornings are the worst, without so much as tea to get me going.

January 5, 2019, 7 a.m.

That was six and a half months ago. I can tolerate a limited amount of caffeine now—more than one cup of coffee makes me jittery. I’m on a “normal” diet, which means I can eat most regular food as long as I obsess over protein. Protein: I got put back on the shakes when a huge amount of my hair fell out. (Fortuitously, I had a lot of hair to begin with, so it’s not noticeable.) A protein shake—a good one—has something like 30 grams of protein, which is more than is in a whole pound of beef.

What’s changed: I now weigh 214 pounds, meaning I’ve lost almost 70 pounds, 50 of that post-surgery. (The prep was draconian, ending with two shakes a day and a Lean Cuisine. I was starving! But it slimmed down my liver enough to let my surgeon do the procedure laparoscopically.) I’ve gone from a size 26 to a size 18 in pants, and have dropped down two bra sizes as well (four inches from the band and one cup size). Many parts of my body are beginning to do the shar-pei thing—I have pleats under my butt and along my legs. The bones and muscles in my arms show now. (My daughter was fascinated by this. She kept squeezing my forearms because she could. I told her to stop after I bruised from it. [She didn’t grab all that hard, but I’m on a blood thinner for non-surgery heart issues.])

People sit next to me on the T and the bus now. I can cut my toenails with ease. I can even cross my legs. Interestingly, I seem to need an hour or two less sleep. My stamina is improving, and I no longer walk with a cane or need physical therapy.

The downside: I was expecting it, but it’s pretty brutal. I used to be well insulated in my own blubber, but now that so much of it is gone, I am freezing! I’m sitting here in a shawl, after going and goosing the thermostat up to 74. Heavy sock slippers. Sweaters are my friend. I’m glad I’ve slimmed down to where I can wear my down jacket again.

And Thanksgiving was . . . a little sad. No big pigout for me. However, it was the only time I’ve actively missed having a normal-sized tummy. Most of the time, it’s been fine. I remember how dire it sounded before I really looked into the surgery, and I can assure the curious that it’s no big deal. I get (a little) hungry, and I eat little meals. Restaurants are a pain, because I am limited to appetizers, else I end up taking it home and eating it at least twice more. (Portions in this country are as massive as you’ve heard.)

This is approaching tl;dr, so I’ll stop here for now. Thanks for reading, and feel free to ask questions!

My Tummy is Officially Tiny Now


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For those of you just joining: I am a 55-year-old ciswoman of mixed racial heritage who started this journey with a BMI of 49, cardiac artery disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. My knee muscles never bounced back all the way after their replacement surgery a couple of years ago–although the titanium parts work fine, at 285 lbs they had too much to haul around. So my mobility has been limited for the last two years and I need a cane on stairs. I had a minor heart attack two years ago, and when they went to place a stent, my right coronary artery was 95% occluded–as the OR nurse said, I was one cheeseburger away from The Big One.

Being fat runs in my family, and although I whimpered in the back of my throat when I hit size 26, I actually have a healthy ego and have been a fat activist. I still support anybody’s body, although if you’re as unhealthy as I was, I suggest you . . . think things over. I will never proselytize, and there are other modalities of getting your body healthier besides the one I chose.

But then came the day my very nice, non-fat-bashy cardiologist turned to me and asked, “Have you ever considered bariatric surgery?”

Tl, dr: I’m not a skinnyism fascist, and I didn’t do this to become gorgeous, because I started that way. My kids need me, and I can’t afford to die yet.

The Surgery: After looking at the options for bariatric surgery, I chose the sleeve over the bypass for two reasons: The “connect piece A to piece Q” part of the bypass creeped me out and . . . damn it, I wanted to be able to cheat a little without an unpleasant physical reaction to simple carbs called dumping syndrome. (I was gambling, because some people dump with the sleeve anyway.)

I ended up losing 25 pounds to slim down my fatty liver, which was in the way, and every so often I would think, “Well, you’re losing weight . . .” (And then I reminded myself that we’d been to that rodeo before and it had all come back, as it does for 95% of the dieting population. True, there’s only a 56% success rate at five years with the surgery, but I know how to succeed and have been given the tools.)

For the last two weeks I was a ball of nerves, but despite an administrative glitch that postponed me a week, I showed up at Boston Medical Center last Wednesday, and the deed was done. Every single staff member (except maybe one nurse who was a tad brisk) was a complete honey and I am proud they are my co-workers.

It was rough. Probably because my surgeon had just reshaped my normal footballish tum into a small banana holding maybe 5 or 6 ounces max, I had horrible post-op nausea and retching, and the anesthesia took a long time to shake. (I’ve been induced with propofol a lot, and it never did this before.) Thus, Wednesday night flashed me back to hyperemesis with my daughter (18 weeks of non-stop “morning” sickness with 7 hospitalizations) because I haven’t had an experience like that in 30 years.

Pain, on the other hand, has been almost non-existent. I’m just on tylenol. Liquid tylenol, which isn’t as yummy as Robitussin but a lot better than the liquid bactrim I’m on as prophylaxis against my kidney stone, which of course picked this week to give me a UTI. What I am mostly is exhausted. I feel like I’ve walked through fire.

Probably the worst part is that all my meds have to be powdered. Imitrex? Kinda nasty. Metoprolol? REALLY nasty. Ranitidine? Worst of all. I know there are those of you out there who chew all your pills, and I think you’re freaks. Brave, wonderful freaks. How the hell do you do this?

I will be on a liquid diet for the next 2–3 weeks, and then graduate to very soft food. Most of my hunger-making hormones were secreted by the part of the stomach they excised, so I will have no appetite for the next half year. Right now, that’s just ducky.  It’s all I can do to stay hydrated right now–that’s the first goal; the second is high protein intake to reduce muscle wasting.

I’ve already lost 5 pounds from my pre-surgery weight. But the big news is that my diabetes has somehow gone into remission: No more insulin (I was on a high dose, too) and not even oral meds, thank all the gods, because those pills are huge and I’m sure taste awful.

So far, no regrets, other than some purely post-surgical self-pity. We’ll see how this goes. I’ll keep you posted.


That Bariatric Thang


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My cat knows it’s Sunday, and that hence our household runs an hour early. I am trying to let my son (the cat valet) sleep in for fifteen minutes. So Zoe is biting my legs–with great affection, I hasten to add. Unbidden, I get this flash of a post-surgical nibble. Maybe the fat helps insulate the nerves, and now it will hurt more. Maybe it would startle me into acting out on Zoe. And then maybe–

(You’ll have to excuse me. I think the most horrible things. Not just sometimes, but consistently. I suspect that this is part of why we writers are often a dour race.)

After attending group info sessions (three), visiting the dietitian (a couple of times), a shrink-person (who then needed documentation), a nutrition doctor (who put me on vitamins), my cardiologist (something of a character) and consuming hundreds of protein shakes, I was given my surgery date for my gastric sleeve this week. It is now less than three weeks away. Yipe!

I only lost ten of the sixteenish pounds I had to lose pre-surgery, so in a few days I start the no-kidding diet, which I’ll be on for the two weeks before the operation: shakes for both breakfast and lunch, and *gulp* a LeanCuisine dinner. “Couldn’t I just have another shake?” I asked the PA.

Nope, and “you’ll be hungry,” he warned. However, two weeks of this should take about eight pounds off. This is so all the instrumentation can fit around my corpulent little liver–thank mercy it’s laparoscopic “bandaid” surgery. (Yes! You too can have your stomach essentially removed through a two-inch incision!)

I don’t mind admitting that I’m freaking out. There are like all these voices in my head screaming, “What are you DOING???? Aieeee!!!” But then there are things like the looks of relief and satisfaction on the faces of all my medical personnel: When I started this project, I had a BMI of about 50; the ten pounds hasn’t done much to that. I also have “the trifecta” of diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiac artery disease.

Plus high cholesterol, sleep apnea, and needing help to get things off the floor, not to mention not being able to easily take care of my feet–my tummy is in my way. So losing a bunch of this is only a good thing. But it’s still scary. I’m also afraid of the loose skin making me look like a shar-pei. We will have to see.


Please Nominate Tribe of Tiger!


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If you like me, my writing, or even the abstract cause of Good Writing in general, please consider this!

Because I won NaNoWriMo last year, I got the chance to have an actual human being at Kindle look at my book and give me editorial feedback. To get this, I had to enter Tribe of Tiger (the most recent kitty book) in their Kindle Scout reader nomination program, and that’s why I’m pestering you today: PLEASE, go to this link and nominate my book. It’s just a few clicks. All told, it took my sister less than three minutes, and that was with me on the phone as she did it, which slowed things down.

Here’s the link. It includes the first two and a half chapters of the story–enjoy! (Story reading optional; you can download it onto your Kindle.)

There is a chance that this may actually get me professionally e-published, with an advance ($$$!) and everything. I’m crossing my crossable digits.


Looking for a Word


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(Just skim the two paragraphs of techie art neep if you’re not interested in paint. The essay proper begins below them.)

I just participated in a month-long journal challenge with a group of women artists, and Got Religion–I discovered a new medium! It’s Japanese watercolor, often called “gansai tambi” as that’s the ad blurb used by the manufacturer to describe them.  (It literally means something like “vibrant aesthetic.”) I majored in what I suppose I must now call Western watercolor in college, making full sheet (22×30″) color field paintings (think Rothko, only busier) and thinking I was having the time of my life. Then fast forward thirty years and here’s this stuff that made me squee when I unpacked it. (Disclosure: I had a $50 gift card from doing a survey, and went on Amazon. The 36 pan set, three water brushes, and another six-pan set of metallics left a buck and change on the card; YMMV.)

Part of my honeymoon joy is being forced once again to learn what stuff does–the great thing about the big abstracts I did as a kid is that it showed me pretty much every trick Western watercolor and its French cousin, gouache have up their sleeves. It’s a little like gouache, a little like either sort of tempera in consistency, and behaves on paper like nothing else I’ve found. The pigment is crazy thick and you need a lot of water to make it behave like . . . watercolor. Sigh . . .

Anyway, I whacked out a basic image to use as the Tribe of Tiger cover and came back to the computer because the sun was in my eyes. I noticed, almost as a by-the-way, that I was ecstatic. It was very much a body feeling–a combination of terrific sex, a filling breakfast, and a satisfactory trip to the loo. Oh, and the best coffee. I feel this way every time I make art I’m pleased with, and even when I’m depressed, it makes me feel at least some better, at the very least while I’m making something.

I thought to myself, “Weird. I guess sex is the closest many people get to ecstasy.” Maybe joy too. I don’t know how that makes me feel. Am I right? If so, am I being kind of snobby to feel a bit sorry for them? Or is this more about me being abnormally unimpressed with sex?

Don’t get me wrong–I’ve had some great sex. It just doesn’t hit the same spots as, say, the smell of oil paint, which makes me tremble and moan. I have similar reactions to music I like, which is to say, much of it, but maybe particularly early music (think Byrd and Tallis).

As for writing, the feeling is more subdued, possibly because I’m not getting as much sensory input, and it’s more draining. But I still come away from good sessions feeling like this is why I’ve been put on earth.

So what do y’all think? Especially other creatives–is it better than sex? Is it ecstasy? Or do we need a new word?

Journalish Entry


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inky hand

Who’s procrastinating? I am! I am!

My still foggy brain figured out how to add the photo and still have text next to it; faithful readers with sharp memories will notice this as a new skill. Yay me!

I’ve been depressed for most of the past two months–Christmas cheered me up, which makes me feel shallow and trite, but there it is. (Can a person be trite? Sure they can. We’ve all been trapped at that business dinner.) It’s not that I spend hours gloomily musing on Being and Nothingness, it’s more that I don’t know what to do. (As in, read a book or play a game. As far as Being and Nothingness goes . . . ) Worse, once I figure it out (if I do), I spend seemingly hours getting it done because I am far more easily distracted than usual. This is a common symptom of depression, but I have ADHD, so who can tell?

I am open to suggestions. I can’t take meds, because I either have a weird reaction to them, or they might make me manic. (Trust me–or trust those who’ve been close to me–you don’t want to see me manic. I don’t do anything amusing like start new religious movements, but I do end up in the hospital. Pity. Being manic feels great! Which is why it’s so hard to treat.) I am working my WRAP plan. But here’s the hell of it: If I am trying my best, if I am doing something borderline productive (like blogging), it means I’m having a good day. If I’m having a bad day, I can’t even focus on a video game. Arrghh.

In other news: Although I have been faithful to my protein shake breakfast, to the point where it now feels normal, I’ve only lost about five pounds. I had it pushed a little lower, but the holidays snuck two pounds back on. Sigh. (This matters because I am due for bariatric surgery this spring, and I must lose 16 pounds so they can maneuver around my massive fatty liver, cuddled around my stomach like a protective bloat of tick.) However, I have dropped my application off at the Y, and the guy who Does That will come back from vacation any day now. Sigh. Seeing as I don’t get a surgery date until I see their shrink (March) I have some time. It’s only 11 pounds, right?

Tribe of Tiger (this year’s NaNo and the third in the kitty series–Eureka, published here, is in the same world but is not strictly canon) is SO close to being finished it’s a bit scary. I’m at the point where the next two or three paragraphs will wrap up the main action. There must be a name for this feeling that I should kill somebody off for it to be good art!

I’ve been doing more visual art lately–got involved with an art journal challenge. Seeing as I wimped out on Inktober, I would have been more reluctant, but, golly mo, my daughter makes those blank books! So I begged one that had some invisible flaw, and have been having a great time. Sure, I’m behind, but it’s an improvement over Inktober’s 12-day performance. (To be fair, what slowed me down then was lack of scanner access; I learned from this mistake and have been doing just fine snapping pix from my phone.)

OKCupid (deliberately not linked because drive-bys) used to do this thing where they made you pick three words to describe yourself. So I guess right now they’re fat, depressed, and creative. I could do worse.

St. John’s Eve


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Being a short short story, a couple of weeks late:

The ruen spread his feathered wings as taut as they would go and began his long glide down from the steeple of the fractured church. He landed with a soft thud in the deepest snow and ran a few steps to stabilize himself. He lifted first one claw, then another in distaste, and decided to manifest his talons as booted humanoid feet. He furled his wings into a tidy sleekness and covered himself with a handy piece of shadow, which he gnawed off with his beak.

The resulting hooded, booted figure would not have blended into any crowd save Halloween or a costume con, but the ruen would be avoiding crowds that evening. He strode off, shifting his heavy leather-bound book to one shoulder, where his wing would shelter it from the snow.

Max was also avoiding crowds as such that evening, because he knew the ruen would be too. He had put more thought into his costume, and as a result could have mixed in with any temporary tribe of street person. Max had spent a week getting to know this little grouping, and they made him sad: John and Riva, covered with tattoos and begging from rich tourists before going back to Riva’s parents’ basement and getting high with their take, Mollah the toothless old woman, who could have come from any country but America, and who surrounded herself with bags as if by a shield, Tony “Help a vet” from Idaho, who sat on his lower legs in a very deep and dirty pillow on his wheelchair, and Gunny Ricky, who really was a vet, worn thin and scared and violent by the shadows which pursued him.

Of a variety of ethnicities, ages, and backgrounds, they all had smells which would differ only to a perceptive connoisseur, but would drive most people away from close quarters. (Max had given a fastidious shudder and put together a simple spell that would brand him as another outcast while protecting him from the animal whiff of the others. He had his limits.)

But the grubber who had crept into Max’s heart might have been Max himself thirty years ago. Like Max, Roach wasn’t quite what most people would define as human (although they were all one and the same to the ruen); their people called themselves Th’nashi, which just meant “The People” in their tongue. They had a few differences here and there: most of them had fangs, a few of them had tentacles which they kept well-hidden, and fewer still had sorcery, which was the true secret the Th’nashi sheltered close in pride and fear.

Roach had begun to be a sorcerer, until his masters had burrowed into his brain and left an inhibition there. “Sober as a sorcerer,” was the saying, and Roach was far from sober anymore. The world of nine street-corners was all he knew.

Roach knew Max was Th’nashi too, could just barely sense that with what was left to him to hunt with, but he did not realize the wiry man with the Asianish face was a sorcerer himself, in fact the District Sorcerer of Nova Terra, the most talented sorcerer on the Eastern Seaboard. All Max would admit to was “having had something once upon a time” and then he would pass back the bottle he had pretended to drink from, so that Roach could drink deep and drown himself in that doubtful security.

Max had once been a drunk himself; it was how he had known how to play the part. And back when Max was on the beach, twenty-two and half sunblind, he had once seen a smaller ne’er-do-well get taken away by a ruen. Once sober, he had kept it to himself, but read and studied and talked to taciturn folk who worked with herbs and blood; he had left some of his own in payment for what he had learned.

Tonight was December 26, the Eve of the Feast of St. John the Evangelist. Until the sun rose upon the shattered old church, lit the torturous friezes of the cathedrals, and touched the household shrines of the elderly and devout, the ruen might step down from their pedestals, uncurl themselves from their interweavings, slip loose their plastic moorings, and spread their eagle wings.

If a ruen failed to consume a human soul before the dawn of the Feast of St. John, it would be frozen in the form of a statue forever and would never fly again. They focused on those whose souls were deep buried beneath the snow and ice of life—drugs, alcohol, and the sort of madness which stems from the guilt of unforgiveable sin. Unless, like Max, one actually saw a ruen’s dark-feathered swoop, its claws close around a heart, and its plunge back into the sky trailing a something, one would never believe it or miss the victim.

Not all depictions of the Evangelist were ruens, although many famous ones had been before they had been stilled at last. Nobody knew exactly what they were: Matthew, Mark, and Luke stayed stoic on their perches.

Max once again said to Roach, “You can give it a shot. Works for some.” Worked for me. But his attention wasn’t on the boy’s whining tonight. He was listening for softness and the rustle of feathers.

The sun was long gone, and the urban sky a mass of holiday lights through the heavy snow. John and Riva, realizing that the sort of naïve generosity on which they depended had gone home, went down into the subway; Mollah and her bags had long since shuffled and rustled onto a small van heading for a women’s night shelter. Now Tony rolled onto a surreptitious side street, and hustled into the warmth of his wife’s BMW while she folded his wheelchair, and Gunny Ricky shouldered his duffle bag and headed off to Kensington Street, where there were benches on which to spread his tarp.

“Tomorrow, men. Sleep warm.” He reached with pleading eyes for the bottle.

Roach gave him a thumbs up and watched him drink. “Semper fi, Ricky.” He offered the bottle to Max, who played his charade, and then zipped it back into the top layer of hoodies he was wearing.

Max didn’t want to leave either man alone that night. He had made the human mistake of getting attached to these two, but he decided that a combat-crazed former Marine might, just might, give the ruen a wrassle for its money, giving him time to sprint over from the spot he shared with Roach, which was a broad doorway facing the churchyard. The two of them headed there now. Max had a battered Army/Navy surplus duffle, but all Roach had was a couple of retail bags from Save-Mart with a blanket spilling out of the hole in the bottom.

Max’s sleeping bag was a minor work of art, in that he had worked hard to get it to look like a piece of trash. Instead, it was rated to -40 degrees and made this patch of sleeping rough more like a camping vacation. Not that he would sleep tonight, but he set down his peripheral spells anyway. Ordinary human monsters looking for a bum to set on fire wouldn’t notice them tonight; nor would the cops.

A ruen had superhuman strength, hampered only by its disorientation at being in a motile body, which slowed it down. Max was an eighth-dan black belt in karate and was himself superhumanly strong, although nowhere near as much so as a being whose mortal form still mostly consisted of stone. Points, ruen, but not many, seeing as they didn’t know how to fight—they swooped upon their prey with the expectation of pigeon, not wildcat. More annoying to Max, they were immune to sorcery, and that was his home base, as it were.

That was why he had gone seeking those who knew the more esoteric magicks of the world. Sorcery followed the rules of physics, by and large—but magick had rules of its own. He hoped they worked. He wished he had shared this task, told somebody where he was, what he was doing. Too late for that now.

Much too late. He heard the whistle of huge feathers and for one frozen second, thought the ruen had come for him, still somehow able to smell a year and a half in the sun and the booze. Within that second, it all flashed before him: This was his nightmare, unrecalled in the daytime, but which had sent him on his quest. Not knowledge, nor a noble desire to do the world good by ridding it of a true monster—just fear of feeling the icy claws in his own chest.

But it was Roach, as Max had calculated, Roach who had already tossed ten years into the bottle and was well willing to waste ten more. The ruen had landed on his chest with its boots, and clacked some ancient and alien words of self-abuse. It manifested its talons, and gained the air again for a second strike.

I hope this works. It’s probably such a young language for it, Max thought. Let’s get the show on the road, and if this doesn’t work, there are always fireballs.

“In principio erat Verbum, et Verbum erat apud Deum, et Deus erat Verbum!” he cried, and reached into his vest for his grandfather’s flask, heavy and ornate Victorian silver. He had the Latin Vulgate at heart in places, and few were as dear to him as this: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . He uncorked it with one hand and began tossing out a grainy red and white powder. “Hoc erat in principio apud Deum. Omnia per ipsum facta sunt; et sine ipso factum est nihil quod factum est!”

The powder had broken Max’s heart, in a way; it had been a non-conformist Bible with rubrications, even older than Grandfather Narmer’s flask. He had cut out all the words of Jesus, still red after all those decades, and snipped them as fine as scissors could snip, before running the whole thing through a mortar and pestle. Now, however, it was taking the promised effect.

“In ipso vita erat, et vita erat lux hominum,” Max chanted. As the old conjuh woman had promised, at the first words the ruen had ceased its attack and fumbled for its book in a frenzy, opening it to the beginning, which Max was quoting at it. But then the powder began hitting it in spits, mixed with the driving snow, and it screamed in agony as the pulverized scripture began hitting its body, dissolving it away like acid.

Roach had crawled away wide-eyed. Left alone, he would pass it off in the morning as a DT-fed hallucination. Young Max would have done the same, but he had been a finer sorcerer before his fall, and fascinated with old tales and whispers.

Max had chosen a church Bible to use—some would say desecrate—but he needed as much of the powder as one Bible would hold. Even so, he was running out. “Et lux in tenebris lucet et tenebrae eam non conprehenderunt!” he screamed. He blinked away tears. After his sobering, Max had joined the Lions of Mercy, and those words were engraved on all their chapels: And the light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not.

Max had sworn himself to the light.

The ruen crumbled. Whatever unfathomable magicks had caused it to embody itself as poor St. John, they had decreed that the ruen play by the rules binding its impersonation.

Max drew a long, shaky breath, then flashed his fangs at Roach. “Pretty fly for a vampire,” he joked. The Th’nashi were only the sources of the stories; they needed blood on a regular basis but did no lasting harm to the human “donors,” nothing more than that and the sorcery.

“What was that thing, man?” Roach gasped. “What are you?”

Max sighed. “That was a monster. They’re called ruen, and they come for your life after you’ve made a decision to throw it away. I’m a recovering drunk, and you might say I’ve come for your life to give it one more chance.”

Roach blinked, looking at the flask in Max’s hand, which was still dribbling grayish powder flecked with red. He had no words.

Max seized the advantage. “Come with me. Just for a little bit. We’ll talk about sorcery and what not, and if it doesn’t take, all of your misery will be refunded.” He gestured to the subway, then caught himself. “Unless gating makes you sick?”

Roach shook his head. The two men shimmered and were gone.

Down the street, Gunny Ricky tightened his grip on his St. John medal, and smiled in his sleep.




Colossal Lack of Insight! Film at 11!


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For the past couple of months, I’ve been getting the looming feeling that Something Big was about to happen. I was going to (moan) Grow. I’m not given to premonitions–historically, I’ve made most of the decisions in my life in the split second before they came out of my mouth, surprising myself well over half the time. (Work in progress, folks. Medication helps.) So I started to worry that something weird and horrible was going to happen.  Didn’t think it was the upcoming surgery. Then the thing just did, and I didn’t even realize it until a few minutes ago.

Yesterday I went to my shrink of the past seven years, and she told me she’d gotten a well-deserved promotion and was stepping away from clinical practice. Translation: I’m getting the boot. I have a couple more sessions; she suggested enthusiastically that she be the one to talk to the bariatric people; and then I take a two-month hiatus. I’m going to need all the support I get post-surgery, and I know that, even if I’m not anticipating the psychotic break some previously-blogged-about hospitals did. So I will be starting off with somebody new.

I said something about my premonition, and said in all seriousness that I would want to continue talk therapy when it hit. I said this with absolutely no self-awareness that THIS was it; that it already had hit. I mean, duh? This thought just wandered into my brain 22 hours later.

I owe a lot to this woman. Speaking broadly and with political incorrectness, I was still crazy when I got to her, and now I’m not crazy anymore. When you’re starting off with more than one major psychiatric disorder, that is huge. The process wasn’t as emotional as my previous therapy had been–you know the sort, where I ended up a small child coloring while sitting on the floor, therapist down there with me–but little by bit, she helped me tease out about a million little things, and my life became less chaotic. We did a lot of good work, and I am a happier and much more productive person for it.

In the novel of my life, a chapter (or a story arc) is ending. Something Big, indeed.

(But what was up with the premonition? Are they going to keep happening now? Noooo!)