Spirit of the Wolf Character Short: Nati’s First Heartbreak

Coming out of eleventh grade pre-calculus, Nati turned to look down the corridor, searching among the sea of bodies for the one face she knew better than her own. Rhonda, her best friend for the past ten years, was Nati’s opposite in every way. Ebony skin contrasted with Nati’s honey complexion. Rhonda wore goddess braids that hung to her full hips, while Nati was athletically built and wore her silky hair in a pixie cut.

When she spotted Rhonda, Nati groaned inwardly. Isaiah was in his soccer uniform and slides, cleats in one hand. He leaned in to say something. Rhonda laughed in that way Nati could hear in her mind even over the hundreds of voices and footsteps of the other students in the hall. She spotted Nati then and waved wildly like one of those crazy windsocks that enticed people into car dealerships. Plastering on a fake smile, Nati waved back.

Outside the building ten minutes later, she couldn’t take the whispers and giggles any longer. She started towards home.   

“Nati, wait!” Rhonda came running up behind her. “What are you doing?”

“I have things to do. Standing around watching you giggle at Isaiah isn’t on the agenda.” It came out harsher than Nati meant it to, and she silently kicked herself.

Rhonda stopped and grabbed Nati’s arm, forcing her to turn. “Okay, what is your problem? Every time he’s around you start acting like a bitch.”

Nati glared and wrenched out of Rhonda’s grip. “No, you’re rude and I’m not your third wheel.”

Rhonda crossed her arms and squinted one eye, which meant she was studying Nati like a math problem. “Nah, fam. That ain’t it. Oh my God, do you like him? That’s why you’re mad?”

“What? No!”

“Why wouldn’t you tell me? I’m you’re best friend! If I knew—”

“I don’t like him.”

“It’s not a big deal, Nat. I’m not that into him. I’ll back off.”

Nati huffed out a breath and covered her face with both hands. She’d known for months now that this moment was coming, and she’d dreaded it every day. When she pulled her hands away, her face chilled where the remnants of her tears remained. “Rhonda, I don’t like Isaiah, but yes, seeing you together makes me jealous. There, I said it.”

Rhonda’s shoulders relaxed. “Come on, girl. It’s not like any dude will come between us. Chicks before—”

“It’s not that,” Nati mumbled.

“Well then what? I don’t und—”

“I have feelings for you.” Nati looked Rhonda in the eye. “More than friendship feelings.”

Rhonda’s mouth hung open, and she stared at Nati, speechless. Nati felt her own face crumple and pressure built in her throat as if someone were squeezing her windpipe. And her heart—cracks were splintering through it. Little by little pieces fell away until it was just a pile of rubble in her chest.

Nati ran.

~*~

The next morning, Nati buried herself under the covers and pillows when her brother Asim knocked on the door.    

“Nat, let’s go! We’re gonna be late!”

If she ignored him, he’d just barge in, and she didn’t want him to see her all red-eyed and swollen-nosed. “Not going. I’m sick.”

He came into the room. “Bullshit. I’d feel it if you were sick—twin privilege. And how come Rhonda’s not here? You two have a fight?”

In her haze of humiliation and misery, Nati forgot to factor in that Rhonda always picked her up in the mornings. “No.”

The blanket was ripped out of her grip, and Asim wrestled the pillow away from her. “What the hell, Nati? What’s wrong with you?”

“Asim, just leave me alone, please. I don’t want to talk about it. I can’t…” Her throat seized up as a new wave of tears began.

Spindly arms wrapped around her, and her head was pulled to the crook of Asim’s neck.

“Sis, what happened? Whatever it is, you can tell me.”

Could she? If losing Rhonda was devastating, the same reaction from Asim would strike her dead on the spot. This was the only secret she’d ever kept from him. Nati cried for long moments, anticipating what Asim might say. If she couldn’t trust him, there wasn’t a single person on the planet she could. “I told Rhonda… that… I… have feelings for her.”

Nati waited for Asim to tense up, to pull away. He kept hugging her and rubbing slow circles on her back. After a minute, he said, “I guess she didn’t take it well?”

“What? I don’t know. She didn’t say anything and then I kind of ran away.”  

She felt Asim shake his head. After a while, he said, “Okay, stay here.”

“Why?” Her voice rose an octave. “What are you about to do?” Nati clung to Asim’s wrist as he tried to get up.

“Nothing. Just stay here.” He left the room.

Had she been wrong about being able to trust him? But that was impossible. The main reason she hadn’t told him before was because she hadn’t wanted to accept the truth herself. With no hope left, Nati pulled the covers back up and curled into a ball.

A few minutes later, the door opened. When she peeked out, Asim was kicking it shut. He had a tray with two mugs and two foil packets that looked like toaster cakes. His laptop was snuggled under one arm. “I told Jaddi we both ate something bad at school yesterday. You know he doesn’t trust the lunches. And I brought cocoa and strawberry cakes. Scoot over.”

Nati’s eyes began to leak again. “You didn’t have to—”

“Shut up. What are we watching? Netflix or anime?” Asim sat and swung his legs up onto the bed. “And don’t worry about Rhonda. You probably just caught her off guard. She’ll probably be knocking on the door after school.”

She hoped he was right as she lay her head on his shoulder and accepted one of the steaming mugs.

Spirit of the Wolf Character Short: Jesse Down the Rabbit Hole

Spirit of the Wolf

Jesse hung up when Asia’s phone went to voicemail. Maybe she was somewhere loud and didn’t hear the phone. But she’d feel its vibration. She could have been in one of those lectures and couldn’t pick up. She’d probably text back.

The second call went unanswered. Keeping his tone casual, he left a message to call him back. What if something happened to her? What if she got mugged and her phone stolen? Or stabbed? All those horror stories about the crime rate in New York City had to come from somewhere. He tried texting.

Half an hour later, there was still no word from his girlfriend, so he tried her again. He thought back to when she’d said she’d be in the city. He’d reacted like a little bitch—whining and begging to see her afterwards. Of course she didn’t want to talk to him. He was weak, and Asia had seen it. Pathetic. She would probably dump him the minute she got back to campus. What girl in her right mind would want such a loser?

He went for a short run to clear the hateful voice in his mind, and then went to lift weights. He ran into a few teammates in the dining hall. Jesse fought against himself to leave his phone in his pocket and not look for a message but once back in his room, desperation won out. And still Asia hadn’t returned his calls.

“What the fuck, Asia? I could be lying half dead in a hospital, and you can’t be bothered to spare me two minutes to see what’s up? Girlfriend of the fucking year!” Jesse wished he had one of those old-fashioned phones that people used to be able to slam down. That would have been much more satisfying than aggressively hitting the END button.

It was dark out the last time he called. “I’m sorry. I was being a dick, but I just miss you. Please call me when you get back?” Now his own negative mental coach was joined by the voices of his former brothers. Weak. Loser. No one will ever want you, piece of shit.

He was curled on his side on top of his bed when the notification finally chimed. Asia said he could come by if he wanted to. After ordering a pizza, Jesse threw on a cap and grabbed his laptop. He would apologize, be the man she deserved. He’d be such a perfect boyfriend that she’d never want to leave him.

Not ever.

Spirit of the Wolf Character Short: Asia Arrives at School

Spirit of the Wolf – out now!

Thick forests flanked both sides of the road as the car sped over the rolling hills. Envisioning herself barreling through those trails, Asia held her hand over her chest, heart racing. The campus was close.

In the front passenger seat, Mom tapped long, glittery gel nails on the arm of the minivan’s bucket seat. Her braids piled high on her head, she turned to look back at Asia, a slight frown on her face. The driver’s seat was pulled all the way forward, and Asia could only see a glimpse of bright red sunburn across the back of Dad’s neck.

Slowing, the van’s signal lights ticked, and Dad pulled into the turning lane. Ahead a giant cut stone had the words Chinook University carved into it. They had arrived!

They found the dorm and parked, unloaded some of her duffels and boxes. Two sets of doors stood open with a small vestibule between them. To the left, the glass window to the security office was darkened with a blind pulled down. Next to the window, a box hung on the wall. Its label read Free Condoms-Be Safe! The box had cut-out images of diverse couples stuck to it.

“Disgusting,” Mom said. Of course, she’d be the first to see the box. “They shouldn’t be promoting that wickedness. This is environment we’re leaving you in?” She had been in the US for much longer than Asia had been alive but had never lost her Bahamian accent.

Asia bristled, knowing where this was going. “Isn’t it better for students to take precautions, Mom? Most college students are active.” That wasn’t exactly what Mom was referring to.

Dad stifled a groan and fingered the crucifix he wore around his neck. Asia shook her head.

Mom tutted and went through the second door and started up the stairs. She wasn’t done with the topic. “I meant those pictures of the gays.” She curled her lip. “They shouldn’t be filling young minds with those unnatural ideas.” Her voice echoed through the stairwell.

A couple of girls passing them in the opposite direction gave Mom sidelong glances. They had to be athletes. Could they be Asia’s teammates? Great—she was already starting off on a bad foot.

“There are no children here, Mother. Can you please lower your voice?”

Dad briefly laid a hand on Mom’s arm. She sucked her teeth and grumbled under her breath, but she stopped embarrassing Asia for the moment.

It didn’t take long to unload all of Asia’s things and organize her side of her double within the suite of four rooms. Her suite-mates wouldn’t arrive for another couple of weeks.

When they were done, Asia walked her parents back to the van and hugged them goodbye. She had a team meeting in thirty minutes.

Mom kissed her forehead. “Behave yourself. You focus on your studies and on your running. Stay away from any funny business.”

Asia pulled away, laughed, and rolled her eyes. “I dunno, Mom. I was thinking of planning a bank heist and then maybe starting a campus drug cartel.”

“Don’t put ideas in your mother’s head.” Dad gave Asia a squeeze and then held out his fist for the private handshake they’d made up when she started running back in seventh grade.

She watched the van depart and took several deep breaths.

Finally.

Freedom tasted good.

Launch Day

Today marks my initiation as an indie author with the release of my novella Spirit of the Wolf. The process has been fun, instructive, and a little scary at times, but also exciting. There have been some mistakes, but I’ve also learned a lot about the process. The biggest lesson has been to push past self-doubt and second guessing. So it’s definitely been a growth process.

Please check out the story! And if you’d like to support my effort, sharing the link and leaving nice reviews are always more than appreciated! Thank you, and enjoy!

Connection, Entrainment, and Healing

A few months ago, I came across a free course on sound healing. On a whim, I signed up. It was mostly just to get people to sign up for a more in-depth paid course, but I did learn a couple of useful things from the free course. One lesson had to do with the concept of entrainment, and this has served me very well recently.

The third definition of entrainment in Dictionary.com is “the synchronization of different rhythmic cycles that interact with each other.” Meriam-Webster defines entrain as a transitive verb meaning, “to draw along with or after oneself.” In the course, it was compared to how women’s menstrual cycles will sync up, and in that context, it had to do with how vibrations naturally entrain towards each other.

To be a bit less esoteric about it, another example would be how someone with a radiant or sunny personality can walk into a room and immediately, palpably, lift everyone’s spirits. Conversely, someone with a negative vibe—I think of the character Eyeore—can really bring the vibes in a room way down.

So what does this have to do with healing, and why has it been on my mind lately? The most obvious answer is that surrounding oneself with positivity and higher/brighter vibrations is healing for oneself. But on a larger scale, putting out that higher/brighter vibration is healing to everything and everyone in one’s immediate sphere. Thinking about all the darkness in the world these days, I see how attending to my own vibration—staying positive, hopeful, optimistic—contributes to brightening my own little corner of the universe. And the same goes for every being who brings their own light into their own environments.

I’m remembering the scene from the 6th Harry Potter movie where all the students are holding up their wands to banish the Dark Mark from the sky. Each one is just a tiny pinprick alone, but in unison, they eradicated that darkness.

For my part, I’m trying to be more mindful about sharing my process and lessons in a positive and optimistic light in the hope that something will light a spark in whoever comes across my words. There’s even been a shift in my horror stories (not giving those up & not sorry) because I find myself leaning more towards empowered, lighter outcomes as opposed to the bleak endings I used to gravitate towards.

I feel like this is the way we move the world towards healing—one light at a time.

Firsts and A New Journey

Is it just me or do most people think of sex when they’re asked about a first time for something? Even if it’s just my gutter brain, first sexual experiences are a great showcase of all the terror and wonderfulness of any other “first.” Terror because leading up to the event, there are all these thoughts:
What if it hurts? What if I do something wrong? What if I hate it? And recently, what if the condom breaks and I get knocked up and have to travel to another state to get an abortion and hope my spying neighbors don’t call the police on me? Firsts can fraught with vulnerability, literally laying yourself bare and hoping for kindness at least if not love.
But even thoughts of wonderful results can be scary.
What if it’s amazing? What if do everything right? What if I love it? What if the condom breaks and I get knocked up and live in a state where I have options and I decide I’m cool with having a baby right now?
How can those positives induce fear? Because they lead to expectations that may be challenging to live up to. And even if the expectations are met, the bar might keep going up to a point where the expectations might be unreachable. That’s a huge “maybe” however, and usually way to far in the future to be worth worrying about before you even get the initial act out of the way.
I am currently preparing to take a leap to do something for the first time, and it is honestly terrifying. Instead of just jumping in I slowed myself down and did some planning and preparation, but that also has allowed for a lot of time for all those fear-based questions to arise. Funnily while I thought I was moving forward, I realized the other day that I had left a major component of the project undone. A bit of procrastination goes a long way toward self-sabotage.
I am back on track now, and I set things up so that even if I get cold feet, I’m committed. No backing out now. No matter what the outcome is (which I expect to be good anyway), just getting it done will already be a win.

Toast and Toxic Masculinity

Last night I was thinking about some of my hair triggers—the little annoyances that can make me completely lose my shit and go absolutely psycho. For example, when my son startled me the other night, I lost it a little, yelling at him. But I calmed down fairly quickly. But yesterday, while I was making dinner, I almost went nuclear. Over some toast.

I was making a meal delivery service recipe—mushroom and pepper hoagies with potatoes. Everything was going smoothly, dare I say well, until I had to toast the rolls. When I went to take them out of the toaster oven, one side of a roll fell through the rack. I tried to use a knife to get it out and just managed to push it farther under the rack. I tried using two knives and burned my hand multiple times. This was the point where I felt my inner Hulk coming out. However, because I have grown and evolved, I stopped at growling, just shy of throwing the knives or stabbing the bread into breadcrumbs.

I took a breath.

And I saw that I could just take the rack out (with a potholder!) and get the roll out. Dinner was saved.

One of the patterns I see in myself is that when I am trying to figure something out or make something work, I get very determined. And then that determination turns to stubbornness, which then slips into the territory of madwoman. And I really have not been able to identify why that is.

I would like to blame being born under a moon in Scorpio. But that’s probably not the whole of it.

So what else is it? There’s an element of not wanting to let people down—like my son the time I couldn’t help him figure out how to change one of his passwords. Or my family by not being able to deliver someone’s dinner intact. But I could have just toasted another roll, so that can’t be it either.

Perhaps it is a fear of being wrong or lacking because of failing to do some “thing.” The word defeat comes to mind. There is a sense of unworthiness or worthlessness attached to allowing myself to be defeated by whatever task or problem I’m trying to tackle.

I just felt a wave of emotion wash over me, so I must be on the right track.

This is where my masculine energy veers into toxic territory. I can be very competitive, but to the point of meanness, being an incredibly sore loser, pushing beyond limits to “win.” And I’m using the term “win” loosely. Succeed?

Last year I limped my way to finishing a half marathon, and a week later ran a five-mile race I intended to walk (should have walked). The friend I was supposed to walk with changed her mind at the last minute and wanted to run. I could have stuck to my original plan, but that felt like giving up, and forfeiting is an automatic loss. I ended up out of commission for six weeks with a stress fracture in my foot.

The hyper-competitiveness extends beyond myself. My kids are both Cross Country and Track runners. Remember the scene from The Breakfast Club? “’Andrew! You’ve got to be number one! I won’t tolerate any losers in this family! Your intensity is for shit! Win! Win! Win!’” I’ve never been nearly as bad as the father in the movie towards my kids, but I can’t say I’ve never talked crap about rival runners in a less-than-sportsmanlike way, especially the ones that were nasty to my own. That aggression comes from the same place as not wanting to be defeated by tasks or problems. It’s about victory. Triumph. Conquest. Our patriarchal culture puts a very high value on succeeding at any cost.

While this is toxic masculine energy, it’s not reserved only for those who are male gendered. Plenty of women as well as those of all gender identities can fall into this energy.

I see this in the fandom space I currently participate in, which happens to be primarily occupied by females. But that toxic competitiveness is overwhelming and even dangerous. Picture millions of people who are unhealthily invested in “being right.” Once they’ve been burned a few times and are angry, their knives start flying in the form of death threats, encouraging suicide, and doxing their perceived enemy.

The fandom is a microcosm of society. The January 6th attack on the US Capitol are a prime example of this energy in a larger context. The riot didn’t sprout from a vacuum. It came from a toxic lack of grace when things don’t go someone’s way.

And I recognize that I am a tiny microcosm of it all.

It would have been simpler to blame my moon sign and be done with it. I can’t do anything about my birth chart, but knowing how this energy is playing out through me and how I effect the collective, I have a responsibility to do better.

One thing I noticed is that once I stopped, even for just a second, to take a breath, I very quickly was able to see a solution. Sometimes a pause to think is all it takes to stop oneself from taking a regrettable action. But in the moment, it can be hard to see when to hit the brakes before the situation is spinning out of control. A support system outside of the situation helps. If that’s not available, knowing one’s signs is useful. My hands and jaw clench up, I literally start growling, and I find myself in a loop, repeating the same ineffective behavior time after time.

So maybe I need a rule—after the third time, if a solution doesn’t work, pause. If I see myself all balled up and not breathing, pause. Take a breath. Maybe walk away and get some water. Or walk away and ask for help. It takes a bit of self-awareness, but it’s not impossible. Imagine how it would look and feel if every person started to loosen up a bit in this way. The effect on the energy of our collective society would be astounding and beautiful.

Nightlight Podcast: Niobe Doesn’t Listen

My story Niobe Doesn’t Listen was performed on episode 515 of the Nightlight Horror Fiction Podcast. This was honestly one of the coolest experiences of my writing career to date! The production and voice acting are so well done! Give a listen, and if you can, please support the team’s Patreon so they can keep producing these stories!

Queer Sci Fi Annual Flash Fiction Anthology: Clarity

Clarity (noun)
Four definitions to inspire writers around the world and an unlimited number of possible stories
to tell:
1) Coherent and intelligible
2) Transparent or pure
3) Attaining certainty about something
4) Easy to see or hear

Clarity features 300-word speculative flash fiction stories from across the rainbow spectrum,
from the minds of the writers of Queer Sci Fi.

Every year, Queer Sci Fi runs a one-word theme contest for 300 word flash fiction stories, and
then chooses 120 of the best for the annual anthology.

This year, my story, “Bathtub Gin” was selected. Please check it out!