Stepped Out of the Line

Here’s another piece for the 52 week writing challenge I’ve been working on. This prompt was “a romance that ends in tragedy.” I was (unfortunately) inspired by current events and other pieces of fiction that all too well mirror our reality.

Summer break was always my favorite. I’d get to come home from college and spend my days working part-time and nights with my girl. She loved horror movies, so every Friday was our Fright Night. From Paranormal Activity to classics like The Shining.

I’d fill a bucket with buttered popcorn (extra salt for her), and a box of malted milk balls for me. Cuddled down on the couch in our fuzzy blanket, the lights all off and nothing but the glow of the screen, it was heaven.

More often than not I’d end up asleep within half an hour and jolted awake by her jumping or gasping or straight up screaming. She’d grab my hand under the blanket and I’d kiss the top of her head, assuring her she was safe from the creepy children.

We’d fall asleep together on that couch, letting the TV glow behind our eyelids. The warmth of her skin touching mine felt safe and like home. Nothing could be better.

Then, our lives turned into a horror movie, and suddenly, they weren’t so fun anymore. It started small at first. The news story about kids being denied the right to use a bathroom because of their gender (or rather, because of their chosen gender that went against everything teachers and parents knew). Then there was the reversal of equal marriage rights.

After I graduated from college, I came back home to live with my girlfriend. We laid on the couch and watched the evening news. Safe, under our blanket, but no popcorn and malted milk balls. Only tissues and a cell phone at hand. She’d squeeze my hand under the blanket and I’d kiss the top of her head to let her know we were still there, together.

It happened fast and slow at the same time when they came for us. They burst into our living room while we had the TV going, screaming inaudible things behind thick, plastic masks and big shiny guns. My girlfriend trembled in my arms as they shouted at us to separate. I held on tighter.

My seemingly innocent action, performed out of terror, antagonized them, and they grabbed my girlfriend by her hair, dragging her down off the couch and across the floor. She screamed and I screamed, but the butt of a gun came down on my head and then all was black.

I woke up on the cold, hard wet floor of a jail cell, with only a single flickering light over the toilet in the corner. Silence all around me as I licked my parched lips. My girlfriend nowhere in sight. Where had they taken her? Who had taken her? But I knew who they were already.

The media called them extremists. Mostly men, but some women too, who hunted for “abominations” as they called us, dragged us out of our homes onto our front lawns and beat and torture us brutally while neighbors watched behind safe curtains.

One day, those extremists were not only wearing the faces of our bosses, friends and family, but of those sworn to protect and serve. The extremists began wearing the faces of government officials, community leaders and influential citizens. All to keep us in line. To keep us safe. To save us from ourselves.

Day in and day out, for God knows how long, I spent in this jail cell, never seeing sunlight or another face. A face behind a mask reached a gloved hand through an opening in the cell door to put a glass of water and crust of bread daily on my floor. I grew gaunt and weak, but still longed for my girlfriend, so I never stopped asking where they’d taken her. If she was still alive.

Eventually, someone opened the cell door and grabbed my arm. I barely had energy, but I resisted as much as I could. It seemed to annoy them enough to get a growled, “You wanted to see her, didn’t you?”

I stopped. They were taking me to my girlfriend. She still lived.

A few feet down the hall, a left through another door and three doors between that, we stopped and I was thrown into a bright, white room filled with light. I cringed at the rays from the light bulbs. I hadn’t seen light in so long.

It was empty at first, but soon, another door from the other side opened, and in stepped Stephanie. She looked clean, put together and unharmed. Her face was somber though.

I asked her how she was. Where she’d been this whole time. How she managed to escape the torture. What deal did she make. When she didn’t answer right away, I reached my hands toward hers and she jerked away. Then she said the three words that shattered my world. “Just give up.”

Tears threatened to spill over my eyes, but I held back. I didn’t understand. Give up what? Give up why? Give up how?

She finally brought her gaze to mine. “Let me go. Let us go. It’s the only way to be safe.”

But I love you, was all I could think, and I could see her reading my mind.

She shook her head slightly, warning me not to say it out loud. “I don’t love you like that, Mariah. I never did. I was wrong. We were wrong. Now it’s time to make things right.”

Now the tears did spill. They’d scared her so bad she lost all her fight. All her love. They terrified her into forgetting nights spent on the couch screaming at scary movies, munching on popcorn and hands squeezing under a blanket.

I shook my head at her now. “No, no you don’t mean that.”

The guards shifted in their corners. She glared at me. “Step in line, Mariah.”

I set my face to stone and breathed in deep. “Never.”

At this, the guards walked past her and grabbed me by both arms. She didn’t look up once, so I didn’t bother looking back.

They took her love. They took my love. They’d now take the rest of me, to mold and change me into an upstanding citizen. They’d try to put me back in line. I never could walk straight though.

Hitchin’ A Ride

I’ve been doing this 52 week writing challenge all year long, and I fell behind for a bit, so here’s my short piece of fiction for the category “a story with only one character.” Enjoy!

I don’t know how long I’ve been out here. The sun’s brutal and beating down on my bare back. Had to take my ragged and torn shirt off. It just wasn’t working anymore. My mouth is as dry as my aunt’s meat loaf on Thanksgiving. A little rain right now wouldn’t go unappreciated.

No cars have passed through here yet. It’s hard to believe I’m the only soul out here. I’m not sure where here is exactly because I woke up in the woods and stumbled my way to the highway somehow. I’m not sure how I knew which way I was going, but I did. Now whether I’m going somewhere or away from something is a totally unknown variable.

The air is still, but more than that, the world is still. There’s not even a single bird in sight or chirping cricket. It’s dead of day, but that doesn’t mean it should be dead. I’m bent over now, heaving and throwing up nothing. Around me not even a light breeze stirs to calm my sweat and chills.

My arms shake as I grip my knees, trying to keep steady. I don’t know how long I’d been passed out without food or water, and the heat only added to the misery. The back of my throat burns for a minute, but I manage to get over this bout of dehydration. My head spins a bit and my vision starts to double, but I’m still standing.

As I zombie walk along the side of the road, even though I haven’t seen a single car, I put my hand out with a thumbs up. A delirious laugh bubbles up out of my mouth and I descend into a mad cackle. No one’s around to hear me go insane, and it almost feels freeing. Almost.

The laughing turns to coughing and I’m bent over dry heaving again. The back of my neck stings with its raw sunburn. My knees quake and I feel like I’m about to pass out when I finally hear something. It’s distant at first, but it’s rough and it’s there. Like a chugging machine pushing down the hot asphalt.

I look back but only see a shimmering horizon. I turn, squint and see the same thing ahead of me. I must be imaging the noise. I’m so desperate to hitch a ride out of here I think there’s a car coming for me, somewhere on this eternal stretch of road.

Somehow, I keep walking in whatever direction I was going. My feet feel like lead and my head feels like it’s full of helium, but I keep walking. My chest rises, slow, then goes back down, as I try to keep oxygen pumping through my lungs.

It’s been at least two hours since I started walking, and it doesn’t look like the sun’s moved from its original position in the sky. If time has been passing, it should be at a different angle by now. I stop, look around, and try to call out, but my throat is too dry. I start coughing again.

Faint and distant, I hear the thrum of a machine again. I hold my breath, trying to keep the coughs down so I can listen for the car. If it’s not on the road, it must be coming from the woods. But it should have caught up to me by now. Maybe it’s not a car. Maybe it’s a machine on a farm somewhere.

For some reason though, I turn and turn and turn but can’t find my way back to the woods. I keep seeing the trees from my peripherals, but every time I try to look at them head on, they disappear and all I see is road.

I tilt my head and stand with my hands on my hips. I blink rapidly and take a deep breath, thinking it must be the heat stroke and dehydration not allowing me to orient myself. I swallow hard, trying to find any kind of moisture to relieve my dry, stuck throat. Fighting off the wave of nausea that threatens to knock me out, I turn back to the road.

It’s all like a mirage, just shimmering air and a black path that doesn’t appear to come to an end. And a sun that doesn’t move. And trees that keep evading me. A wrack of coughs overcomes me and I can’t stop it. Blood eventually streams from my mouth and the panic rises. The taste of copper is strong on my tongue and it brings back a memory of white hot searing pain in my stomach. That’s when I remember…

I’d been in the woods running from a man who was trying to kill me and ran straight into his partner, into his knife. Then I woke up again in the woods that I can’t find my way back to, because I didn’t wake up at all. This is death. This is purgatory. This the highway to hell.

One Book At A Time

I am drowning in a sea of things to read. My double-stacked book shelves taunt me with their tomes. My Goodreads TBR list laughs at my folly. My kindle glares at me as I time and time again pass it over for a physical text.

When did it get so hard to read? As a kid, I breezed through the Harry Potter series, finishing an entire book in two nights (would’ve been one if mom hadn’t insisted I sleep).

It wasn’t just Harry Potter. Anne of Green Gables was my go to for a while, and I stopped counting how many times I’d read it after reaching ten. Goosebumps was devoured book by book within a day.

drowning-in-books
My latest haul from Second Edition Book Shop

So, what happened? Well, I’m an adult now. I have a job that takes up eight hours of my day. I like to exercise and dedicate some time to catching up on television after work. Then there’s dinner. Then I need to set aside time for writing. What’s left for reading? A half hour before bed and weekends (when I’m not doing things).

Even when I have free weekends with 20-hour days to fill with reading, I don’t. I just can’t anymore. I used to sit in my bedroom for hours on end just reading, my eyes roving over the page like a typewriter set on high speed. Now, I read for an hour, maybe two tops, and I’ve gotta get up and do something else. There’s blogs to follow (thanks, Book Riot). More television to catch up on (listen I watch a lot of shows don’t judge me). Then, oh yeah, just getting out of the house and seeing sunlight while I can.

I haven’t even mentioned the distraction of social media. Between Instagram, Twitter and a constantly refreshing Facebook feed, it’s enough to drive someone insane. When did our lives become so cluttered? It’s great to have all this connection, but at the same time, it’s so overwhelming I eventually feel disconnected.

That’s when I return to reading. I try not to let my shelves and TBR list daunt me. I remind myself, “One book at a time.” Just take it one read at a time. Sure, I can’t possibly read every book in the world (challenge accepted!), but I can certainly try. What are we if we don’t have dreams?

How do you deal with an overwhelming TBR pile or overflowing bookshelf? Do you read one book at a time, or multiple? Let me know in the comments!

The Mistreatment of Black Canary on CW’s Arrow

Katie Cassidy as Laurel Lance, Black Canary, CW’s Arrow (Image source)

The return of Arrow last week stirred in me feelings from the previous season and opened old wounds (#foreversalt), so I thought I’d share an old post I wrote for my personal blog here.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD IF YOU HAVEN’T CAUGHT UP ON THE SHOW

Also, profanity up ahead. Proceed with caution.

I stayed up late last night thinking about how I haven’t watched the Arrow season 4 finale yet (yeah I know way behind), but truthfully, I’ve been avoiding it because I’m still salty about the death of Black Canary.  Oh shit sorry, SPOILERS GUYS!

Obviously writing a show is hard.  There’s pressure to write an entirely self-contained 45-minute story from week to week and film it and get it out.  But, on the other hand, it’s not like they start the writing process the week before the season starts and go balls out with production.  I know there’s a storyboarding room and details get hammered out for a cohesive plot line.  So, with that in mind, why did they feel the need to kill Black Canary?

I get that the situations these characters are in are high stakes, and that means, people can die. Fine. It happens. I suppose I can’t think of an alternative high stakes consequence for Team Arrow to suffer other than the loss of a team member. But does losing a team member necessarily mean they have to die? (See Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD as an example of an emotional exit without death).

And that’s exactly the thing, isn’t it? Of course, if everyone always ends up coming out alright in the end, there’s no impactful consequence and things get boring.  However, it is my opinion that lately TV creators and many TV critics are under the impression that the only way to have an impact is to kill a character. I’ve seen it in several reviews when people say things like, “If no one ever dies, what are the stakes? What’s the point?  Why should these characters matter if they always make it out alive?”

So, in response, perhaps the writers of TV shows feel they need to shock the audience, and what bigger shock than killing off a beloved character (like Abby in Sleepy Hollow?! Excuse me?!). They’re not wrong; it is shocking, but is shocking the only way to get a visceral, emotional reaction from the audience? If that’s what you think, then clearly you don’t understand the spectrum of human emotion (might I recommend watching Inside Out to get a pretty damn good representation about the complexity of emotions and how they intermingle?)

The way I see it, if death is the only valuable consequence, that kind of invalidates the point of living and fighting. Loss, grief and pain are feelings that can be achieved through other high stakes consequences (again, see Agents of SHIELD regarding season 1 finale with the revelation of Grant Ward’s betrayal to the team).

Okay, fine, so I can’t come up with an alternative solution to killing off Black Canary. We’ll accept it and embrace that she is dead and gone. RIP Laurel Lance.

But here’s where I got really peeved with the way she died. She goes down in a fight against Damien Darhk, fighting as the Black Canary, doing what she believes is right, opposing a force of evil who is threatening her beloved city, and the last words the audience hears her say are, “Oliver, I may not have been the love of your life, but you were the love of mine.”

I’m having Teen Wolf flashbacks of the death of Allison, but let’s not go there right now. So, I know she says something else to Oliver before she dies, but we don’t know what it is. What we do know, is after all the shit she’s gone through and growth and progress she’s made to become a hero in her own right, she dies reminding the audience, “Remember I’m Ollie’s ex-girlfriend!” Even though their romantic relationship felt complete and resolved pretty much by the end of season 2 or 3 (I can’t remember which).  Regardless, this whole season and probably for most of season 3 if I recall correctly, Laurel and Oliver are at a point in their relationship where they have a solid friendship that has moved past their romantic history.

So where in fuck’s name did that line come from?! Also, side note, it was a little hurtful I think to have her say Oliver was the love of her life because, I don’t know, she seemed to have a pretty good thing going with Tommy. Yeah, remember him? The guy that literally died crushed under a building’s debris so he could save Laurel from getting killed? I’m sure that line wasn’t meant to throw away Tommy and Laurel’s relationship, but it sure felt like he’d been momentarily forgotten.

Anyway, back to my salt. Look, I’m not saying Laurel’s love for Oliver (or Tommy!) is invalid. Of course it matters and it’s a huge part of her identity and history, and in certain ways that love has propelled her to where she ended up. But let’s be honest, if Laurel Lance had a true epic love of her life, it wasn’t any man; it was justice. She was dedicated to fighting for those without power and standing up for the city and the people that she loved. That was clear from the beginning when the show started with her as a low-paid lawyer working in a dinky law firm that serves the underprivileged.

Sure, she may have lost her way at one point, giving in to anger and fear that led her down the path of addiction and then to become the Black Canary for the maybe not so right reasons, but at the end of the day, she found her way back to righteousness and continued fighting as the Black Canary so that she could protect and serve. Laurel was married to justice and doing the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing from the beginning, even if she weaved in and out of that lane a bit at times.

So fine, she died because I guess “that’s where the story took them [the writers],” but did she have to die as Ollie’s ex-girlfriend after having gone down in battle as superheroine Black Canary? After the roller coaster story line she’d been given to live and fight and survive through, she deserved more than that in her death.

War, What Is It Good For?

Image from Goodreads

I recently took on a reading challenge this past year, and in that time, I’ve read Anthony Swofford’s Jarhead, and now I’m currently in the middle of reading James Bradley’s Flags of Our Fathers.  The categories I chose these books for are “a book based on a true story” and “a book with a blue cover,” respectively.

The weird thing is, I’ve never been interested in books, movies, or TV shows about war.  So, why these books and why now?  Well, the simple answer is, Jarhead was on my bookshelf because I’d bought it after meeting the author at the Florida Writers’ Conference, and Bradley’s book had been sitting on my shelf after I’d picked it up on a whim at a secondhand bookstore.

What had interested me in Swofford’s book in the first place was that I remembered watching the movie when I was a kid, and I knew it was one of my dad’s favorites.  So, naturally, I had to get a copy and have him sign it and give it to my dad. Bradley’s book had sounded vaguely familiar as one of those books I should probably read.

I’ve never quite cared about war stories. Not for lack of compassion, but as a kid, I didn’t understand why people would fight brutally with one another, and now as an adult, well, I still don’t understand it.

My dad, though, he understands that life. See, my dad was an army guy. Not here in the U.S., but in Ecuador, and from the stories I’ve heard him tell and the way he nods his head and says, “Yep,” every time he watches Jarhead, it seems the culture’s pretty similar. My dad seems to have an endless repertoire of army stories, and some of his stories I’ve heard several times over.

I thought at first my picking up two war books for my reading challenge was coincidence based off what’s on my bookshelf, but I think subconsciously what drew me to them is the kid who heard my dad’s stories about intense training, Draconian drill sergeants, and cruel punishments for what civilians would consider minor infractions. The grownup in me wanted to better understand that.

It’s so weird for me to read these books, knowing they’re based on real life, and seeing pieces of my dad in them. I’ve heard these stories before, in Spanish, but they’re the same stories. I feel my heart strings tugged seeing how harsh the life of a warrior is, and all the time in the back of my mind I’m screaming, Oh my god that’s my dad!

Or rather, that was my dad. He’s a civilian now, an American citizen, working and continuously making a life for my brother and me. But that same guy, the one that taught me how to do math in my head was once doing the math in his head of what his chances of surviving war were. The same hands that playfully squeeze my shoulders as he greets me when he comes home from work are the same that once squeezed a trigger on a rifle as he learned how to take an enemy out.

So, why these books, and why now? Maybe because now that I’m older, even if I still don’t get war, I can understand my father a little bit better.

(Note: This was originally published on my personal Tumblr blog here.)

All Books Matter

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Browsing my city’s Barnes & Noble, I figured it would be a long shot, but thought, What the hell? Why not give it a try?  My dad had been looking a long time for a book of poetry by a Spanish writer named Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer.  Believe me, it’s a hard thing to come by.

Browsing several shelves for nearly half an hour, I finally found the Spanish section, and the sight I saw broke my heart.  First off, I spent so much time looking because there were no labels over the tops of the shelves to indicate a Spanish language section. Second, there were only two cases front and back dedicated to Spanish language books. To add insult to injury, everything was in disarray and out of alphabetical order.

Something about this just didn’t sit right with me. I mean, I know throughout the day people pick things up and put them down, not necessarily where they belong, but there’s employees periodically checking and fixing the situation. Well, maybe I just happened to catch it at a time when someone hadn’t checked in a couple of hours, so I thought, let me just give them a heads up.

I walked over to the customer service desk and politely told the woman working there, “Hey, just to let you guys know, I was looking for a specific author in the Spanish section, but it’s all out of order over there. Could I get some help?”

She didn’t seem all too pleased to have me bother her with such an inane task, but she walked over anyway and asked me the author’s last name.  I offered it and specified the genre, and if she could perhaps tell me where the poetry section is that would help. This is when she turned to me and said, “Honestly, there’s no separation for specific genres in this section.  It’s all just by author, so if you don’t see it in the B’s, it’s not here.”

Naturally, I was annoyed at this attitude, but I tried to remain polite anyway and reiterated my predicament of all the books being in disarray and out of order. At this, she took a glance back at the books, shrugged her shoulders and said, “Yeah, no one really worries about keeping up this section.” With that, she walked away.

My mother was with me, and I couldn’t help but look at her with so much fury in my eyes. I’d been in the store’s restrooms and even those were in better condition than the Spanish language section.

I get it. It’s a niche audience, they’re not big sellers, and probably not that many people browse the area on a daily basis. But it’s still a part of the store, and every customer should matter, no matter what their background or language they speak. That kind of blasé attitude toward such books is a personal affront to those customers. It’s telling us we don’t matter.

Fast forward a few weeks later, and the optimist in me said, Go ahead and check it out again. I still didn’t find any books by Bécquer, but there were now four full cases with Spanish books, labels that read Ficción and Religión, and they were alphabetized properly. I smiled at my mom. It’s not perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction.

(Note: This was originally published on my personal Tumblr blog here.)

A Quick Introduction

Hello, world!

My name is Meagan, and I’m a writer. What do I write? A little bit of everything honestly. I love to write poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and I’ve even dabbled in script writing. However, it’s not just creative writing I’m capable of. As my interests include books, television and music, I enjoy writing reviews of such things.

My current life goal is to work in the publishing industry. I’d like to be an editor at a publishing company, and perhaps some day, even run my own press. I’ll start small though and begin with running my own blog.

Here in this blog I’ll make weekly posts about anything to do with reading, books, and writing. I’ll include a range of posts from news in the publishing industry, reviews, personal essays and my own poetry and fiction.

I’m writing this on a four day weekend courtesy of Hurricane Matthew. So to all my fellow readers and writers out there in the same boat right now, stay safe and happy reading/writing!