Stories in Isolation

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[Image description: Close-up of sand running through an hourglass]

When you ask disabled people what is the hardest thing about their existence one of the top answers is how isolating it often is.

Recently I’ve been finding myself unable to relate to other writers. I see articles about how to best market yourself, that you can’t wait for inspiration, and how to format query letters.

When you’re fearful your life has been shortened by many years these things aren’t even on your radar.

I am being investigated for Multiple Sclerosis as I have noted before here. If this turns out to be true (I had the second stage of testing done a week ago; a lumbar puncture and blood test) I have already decided I will turn to self-publishing. If my diagnosis is MS then I likely have the primary progressive form which means my disease doesn’t relapse, it only degenerates. In short I won’t have periods of “normality” but only get worse (I’ve never really gotten better over the past year). It means I could wake up without being able to swallow, or perhaps breathe (I already have a lot of numbness and tenderness around my rib cage).

I could die thirty years from now. I could die five years from now. Or I could suffocate in my sleep tonight. As I said I have only gotten worse. I hope this is only because I have never gotten actual treatment for my condition, but while I am still in this limbo the fear remains I won’t get help in time.

Prior to this I was honestly in no great hurry to get my career going. I thought as its likely my generation’s life-span expectancy will probably be around 100, why should I be so worried about making a name for myself in my twenties? I could write a few short stories and maybe a novel or two in my free time to keep my craft up. I could have children and wait for them to be grown before I aggressively pursued my craft.

I used to have a career in animal health. I thought I could work for years in this field and make a difference in the world. I wanted to write books and articles. I wanted to be on the forefront of the field. There was no reason why this couldn’t have happened before I became ill.

I had an entire life ahead of me.

With the thought “I could be dead tomorrow” you stop caring about trunking novels or stories. There may not be any more time to improve yourself. It may not be the best writing you could have ever produced but it’s all you have. There’s no time hoping to get the approval of the industry gatekeepers. There is only this time. There is only what you have because it may be all you can get.

I’ve begun to find most sorts of “writing advice” articles petty and ridiculous. I just can’t find myself accepting the point of view of anyone who can plan on being alive for another sixty, seventy, eighty years. “Just try harder! It’ll take years to get there but it’ll be worth it!” I don’t have years, I may not even have a week.

I exist on an entirely different temporal plain.

I can only use inspiration to write. When you have a pain as deep and sharp as a stab wound, to the point where you almost expect to see blood when you place your hand on the sport; you are not going to get up to write just because. Because it’ll make you a better writer. Because discipline. Because that’s what a “real” writer does. Because that’s what people can do when they’re not in horrendous pain every day.

All I have is inspiration. That I can leave the world a better place than I found it. That is worth getting up even when it feel like your rib bones are cracking with each breath.  That is worth trying to form words when you can’t remember even what they once meant, when all that’s left where a word was is a black hole that reflects nothing back.

I have revised the story I am currently working on six times. I may have already forgotten how to write a novel. I may have only my one novel. My one imperfect novel with all its flaws. A story I believe in, but not the best I could have ever done.

Other writers can write dozens if not hundreds of stories and carpet bomb the literary magazine world. They can double, triple, or quadruple their odds of being published, of getting recognition. I can maybe produce a short story every other month, and I have fallen beneath that rate since the start of 2016. I am competing against those with limitless energy reserves and I am losing, losing badly.

I want to be able to have my spot in the sun while I still can. I have a marketing campaign planned out in my head. I have test run with an erotic niche work I knew never get published otherwise.

I just want to see other people enjoy my work while I can. I don’t plan to be a sensation or a hit. I know however I could build a small fanbase. When I make my work available people do like it.

One of my friend’s called the main character of my novel “charming” once. When I had had made no effort to make her likeable, much less charming. I had only cared she be a full character in her own right. With that comment I knew I had succeeded.

I have only been concerned with two stories now. That of my grandmother and the novel I am currently working on. The former is looking for publication but that too will be published someway, somehow. My grandmother always told me she believed in me as a writer, and I owe her that much before I also leave.

I do hope I am getting ahead of myself, but I also always like to have a plan. So far all of my plans have failed, but perhaps all I am looking for is some delusion that I am somewhat in control of my life.

The second story is one I keep returning to. I do have some other WIPs, but there is something about the core of the story that keeps me working on it when otherwise I would have set it aside for now. I think it is because I see my loneliness and frustration in Gormlaith, and my world-weariness and stubbornness in Marlin. The excerpt below is my favorite scene so far, and I like to share it just in case the rest of the story is never known.

Marlin was by no means an expert swimmer, so it took him a few days before he was able to swim as far as he could in the sea. He found as soon as the shore was out of sight he find himself back at it, it an inexplicable loop. This time no anger resulted from his fruitless efforts. He had merely been curious how this world treated a boundary. He knew it would be impossible from the start.

He knew all along the moon held the answer in this place.

Gormlaith was waiting for him on the shore. She was dressed in a long white dress with a high collar and a full skirt. The dress of a dead girl. There had been at least fifteen young women who had once resided at the estate from what Marlin could tell from the scattered photographs. Their faces had looked to mostly be Hispanic with some white, black, and perhaps even Native American in the muted crowd around Senora Catalina in the portrait that hung over the fireplace and in their personal, staid reposes. Their effects were disseminated across the home. Their dresses and shoes were in closest with not a dust mote upon them. There were forgotten hair pins and socks in oubliettes. Lost toys clustered in corners. There were bedrooms with unmade beds and vanities with fresh fingerprints and lip marks upon their mirrors. They had died yesterday. Forever.

And Gormlaith had no reservations about stealing from the dead. Her weeded and wild hair was pulled back with a white ribbon. It was almost as if with Marlin here she wished to domesticate herself. She was very childish to be certain. He almost perceived at times she was younger than he though her full figure suggested she was at least eighteen. Her immaturity carried no undertone of innocence however. Her captive could never forget however she was a feral beast. She made savage observations with such bone-chilling indifference he had no doubt of her vicious intent.

Yet, like a child, he was not entirely certain she knew better.

Senora Catalina, eternal mourning mother, watched the grave robbing with pursed lips, but said nothing. The woman never said anything. Marlin had tried and tried to engage her in conversation but her responses were always brief and brusque. Marlin was uncertain if her brevity was in fear of upsetting the kelpie, or herself.

Caught between his terrifying captor and a silent ghost, Marlin had spent much of his time in the library. Though he had been disappointed with the lack of casual reading save for a few random romances and picture books that had likely been additions from the girls, he had found plenty of interesting research. There was a great deal of subject matter on folklore and magic. He could only guess this interest had somehow been part of Senora Catalina’s current condition, but Marlin tried to not let it bother him too much as he poured over the books. He tried to hide his hoard from Gormlaith and only studied when she was gone. Nevertheless in a week’s time he felt informed enough to try to escape.

As he came ashore Gormlaith capered over to him with her hands full. She displayed her treasure to him; a small cache of seashells. There were small clam shells, large abalone, and twisted conch shells. She dropped them into her upheld skirt, not caring at all as she displayed her calves covered in fine hair.

“I’ll make us necklaces!” She told him happily and took his arm with her free hand.

“Mm.” He tried to not shudder at how her skin was always cold. Well at least that likely keep her occupied all afternoon. It was how he would slip from her tonight that he worried about. If he waited much longer the moon would pass into its new phase and he be stuck here even longer.

Frustratingly Gormlaith had not left to hunt in the last few nights. Perhaps, despite his best efforts, she could sense his deceit. Perhaps she had seen how intently he had been watching the moon. It cemented his theory the moon was the escape route from this place while at the same time it damned him.

Senora Catalina was reading in the garden when they returned. She acknowledged them with a nod. Marlin saw the title of her book was one of those he had been reading and his breath caught a second. Was she going to betray him? He tried to catch her eye but Gormlaith pulled him towards the parlor.

She dropped to her knees and pulled out a tool kit from beneath one of the sofas. She retrieved a small drill, hammer, and string.

“I don’t like to clean them first. I like it when they still smell of salt and life.” She told him as she began to gently drill a hole into an abalone shell. She sat on the floor with spread legs and made her skirt her work station.

“You’ve made other necklaces then?” Her sure hand and skill indicated she had much experience. “Where are they?”

“Why I gave them all…” Gormlaith paused but she didn’t raise her head.

“Away?” Marlin finished. He snorted. “To your other boyfriends?”

“No.” She didn’t return to her tooling for another second which indicated she had caught on a memory. Marlin decided to see if this was to his advantage.

“To who then?” He pressed.

“My mother.” She said quietly. This was the last thing he would have expected her to say.

“You have a mother?” he sputtered.

She finally raised her head with a very dark look. “No, not anymore.”

He opened and shut his mouth. His bravery evaporated. That bleak expression scared him deeply. There was rage there but something even rawer laid deeper in the corner of her eyes, the tremble of her lips.

Grief.

And he had no wish to have sympathy for someone he wanted to hate.

She returned her gaze to her work and he ambled about for a book to look at, but not read. He found an overlooked picture book and sat in an armchair. It was impossible for him to recline however when his mind was a stressed swirl. Once he had recovered from his shock Gormlaith was not some abstract being but something much closer to human than he had previously thought, his mind clamored on the idea that Senora Catalina knew what he was going to attempt. He had no idea if she had been mocking him, warning him, or threatening him with that book in hand. He needed to get Gormlaith to leave. Then he would confront Senora Catalina. But what would he say? What would he do?

Gormlaith appeared as absorbed in her thoughts as she didn’t even notice he never turned the page he had opened to. When she finished her pair of necklaces however she was all smiles again. The sun had also set. She triumphantly tied his around his neck as she clattered with hers.

“There. Now we have something that belongs to us both.” She beamed. Marlin tolerated wearing the chain as he at last conceived of a way to hopefully rid himself of her forever.

“Thanks,” he told her. He put a hand over the rough exteriors of the shells. “No one has made anything like this for me before.”

It was true, though he in no way appreciated the gesture.

“But…can I ask you to do me a solid?”

The kelpie tilted her head in curiosity.

“I’m very hungry. I’ve had nothing to eat since I’ve been here. Can you please get me something? From the other side?” He asked.

“What? There is food here. Just eat from the garden!” Gormlaith frowned, but she didn’t appear to detect any deceit. She simply seemed confused as to why he would starve himself needlessly. Marlin shook his head at her.

“Ah but I don’t want that.” Marlin waved his hand. “What I really like is a burger or a taco. In fact, why don’t I make you a grocery list? I still have money in my wallet.”

He rose to walk back to his bedroom but Gormlaith gently pushed him down. “You can write me your list but I have no need for money.”

She smirked, “I can make anyone think I have paid for something.”

Marlin absorbed her boast and decided to not question it. Instead he stood and retrieved the writing pad from the kitchen. With Gormlaith watching he carefully outlined as many items and quantities thereof. He tried to think of as many things as possible so she would hopefully be gone for longer.

Gormlaith took his list when he indicated he was done and carefully tucked it into the sash that grasped her waist. She was going to walk around downtown Palisade Beach barefoot in a dress out of date by an entire century. He almost hoped her claim about the mind-tricking was true. She kissed his cheek and he almost couldn’t believe it was this easy to trick her.

Then they crossed by Senora Catalina, still in the garden, still with duplicitous book in hand. This time she looked up at him. Her face carried no emotion however then her usual thin look of disapproval she usually had when her eyes laid in Gormlaith. It was the first time Marlin had seen it directed at him however. He narrowed his eyes as he was swallowed up into the kitchen behind the faerie. He had no more idea of what was going on in the spook’s mind than usual.

In the darkness Gormlaith led him down to the trove of drowned jewels. Her white dress and ribbon flared as they reflected the wan moonlight. For a while her fleeing form was all there was to see; another phantom in the night. As his eyes became adjusted to the low light however he found the outline of the grasses he heard murmuring in the gentle breeze and the water that babbled alongside their path. There was life, the hum of beetles and the whistles of nesting birds. And there was death as the orbs began to rise from their shallow graves.

In that fractured light Gormlaith left him with one more farewell and kiss. This time to his lips. Not even to bait her did he open to her. He was far too afraid she would devour him. He gave her a gentle wave as her form was lost in the moonlight.

Once the last soul had left for her nightly haunt Marlin knelt and ran his hands over the gems. With a grunt he threw his necklace of Gormlaith’s shells into the pool. He replaced her chain with a necklace he had glimpsed that first terrible night. Moonstone in a bauble upon a silver chain. He quickly clipped it around his neck.

“If I were you, I keep those shells,” Senora Catalina said from overhead, of course present at her eternal vigil. She had followed five steps behind him and Gormlaith. She clasped her hands before her waist. “In case you need to get back.”

“That’s the opposite of what I want to do,” Marlin snorted. He stood up to look her in the eye. He clasped the moonstone in his hand. They had both read the Faerie Primer, moonstone called down the moon. From there he could walk the moon’s path to worlds beyond. “I’m leaving.”

Senora Catalina narrowed her eyes. “The moon’s road is hard to walk. You may find it impossible. You are human, and still alive. Better to retreat than die.”

She pointed at the discarded faerie gift. “Those shells are from here, with them you can always find your way back. Never underestimate a fail-safe.”

She turned sharply on her heel. She had not betrayed him to Gormlaith. Her warning was genuine. Marlin sighed and retrieved the shell necklace. With a grunt he slipped it back over his head to frame the stone on his chest. As Senora Catalina returned to the estate Marlin turned towards the ocean. They both walked towards their own eternity.

Marlin shivered as the chill of the ocean bit into his legs and waist. With a gasp he crested the breaking waves until the point where his feet no longer touched earth. He dove into a moonbeam. He closed his eyes and grasped the moonstone. He bobbed as a bodiless entity in the tide. He concentrated all his desire and agony onto the stone. He opened his heart to the moon. He called out for the Earth to return to him. He cried for his mortal life back. He reached out for the moon.

It was there, within grasp, a consuming light. It didn’t burn but it vivisected his body with a light that was forceful and unrelenting. He felt like he should be in pain, but there was only sublime release. He relaxed into its hold and didn’t care his feet touched nothing at all, all worlds were far away and forgotten.

Am I dying? The thought stirred no anxiety in him. He felt like his body was slipping away leaving only his heart and the stone that overlaid it. The stone that had called down the moon. He forgot his mortal life until immortal hands reached out for him.

“Marlin!” A female voice was calling his name. Renee? No, he had not seen her in so long. It was…

Cold arms encircled his chest and pulled him back down, towards life. The skin against his was wet. A heart was beating in the chest against his back.

Where was his heart?

“Marlin.” Gormlaith’s cheek touched his and he found it within his chest, thrumming furiously. He looked up as the light was sucked out of him. All peace was gone and there was only the agony of the kelpie’s hold. She grasped the shells of his necklace and pulled them both down, away from the moon, away from death.

They fell back to the Twilight Lands and into their repeating ocean. He choked on the salt water and let Gormlaith pull him to shore. He laid in defeat on the sand and let the waves wash over his prone body. Gormlaith reached down and with one violent jerk broke the silver chain. She swung the moonstone on its chain a few times before launching it back into its resting place in the pool of gems. She fell to her knees with a low moan.

“You idiot. I never thought-! You were going to die!” She told him in a thin tremor. She dug her hands into the dirt. Her wild hair obscured her face. Her ribbon was long since lost.

Marlin pushed himself up onto his elbows.

“Why? Why would it kill me?” Why had the moon tried to kill him? A dark eye peered through the mess of hair.

“Because you are human. It is not your road to walk. Your heart…could not bear it.” She turned on him a desperate look on her face. He was stunned to see tears in her eyes. Could a monster weep? She pounded her fists on the sand, just like a child throwing a tantrum.

“I told you how you could leave! You must give your heart to me! It is the only way you could do it! For as long as you own your heart, as a mortal, that will be your price for walking in the moonlight. Damn you! If not for the shells–! How could you hurt me like this?! I hate you!” She screamed. She threw her face into the sand and sobbed. Marlin fell back. He still had all the feeling of a soul trapped in a grotesque prison.

“You have no heart then.” He realized as he raised his eyes up to the murdering body above. Gormlaith didn’t answer. He turned towards the horizon the orbs disappeared behind every night. “And they are dead.”

“I have a heart.” Gormlaith said softly. She sat up again but with her back turned to the moonlight. “But I am fae. Each time I walk in the moonlight some of it goes to her. But I don’t die, because I cannot die.”

She sniffed. “When I brought you here, I had your heart then, because you gave it to me. You looked at me with hope. For something better.”

She pushed the hair out of her face. “If I hadn’t stopped it, your soul would have been trapped in that stone. That is what happened to Senora Catalina’s charges. One night, they all gave their hearts to the moon.”

Marlin absorbed the story as hatefully as he did the sea water washing over his body, desperate with each wave to drag him under, end him. As the moon above. As his past.

“What a terrible place.” He whispered.