The Journey

So, I failed. I didn’t get my latest Vacancy post out on Monday, which is a huge personal bummer, but at least I have a good excuse: WE’RE MOVING!

The last week has been a whirlwind. Husband has accepted a job in a new state, we’re resigning from our current jobs, working with a realtor to sell our house, securing an apartment in our future home city, boxing up everything we own, donating what we don’t want, getting some much-needed landscaping done, and trying to do it all in under three weeks so he can start ASAP. (Also there will be cat wrangling. Lord, give me the strength.)

While I did write Vacancy during NaNo, every part needs a handful of edits and some holes filled in before posting (and really it needs much more than that, but to be fair it’s free reading for anyone on the internet so grammatical and continuity errors will exist, and overall it’s not going to be my best and brightest work). I didn’t get to those edits last week, so I didn’t have a post this week. It sucks, it feels like a massive failure, and I’m sad, but it’s a reminder that while I’ve been pretty stoked with how I’ve been planning out and getting writing done in general, I’m far from mastering the planning process. Thankfully I did not see through a post idea for how to make a plan for your blog or novel last week L O FUCKING L.

So I’m planning to get Vacancy out next Monday and fingers crossed I can swing it even with setting up and shutting off utilities and boxing up my life (including the lovely nest I just showed you all) and being overwrought with anxiety about nothing in particular and everything all at once.

But really I’m quite excited for our familial journey. When Husband and I met, I moved in with him right away. We moved from that apartment to a second apartment in Columbus, OH, then we moved above someone’s garage in St Petersburg, FL on a whim with everything we owned including two cats packed into a two door Dodge Stratus, then we moved to an apartment in Tampa, then our first house, then our second house, and we’ve been quite comfy for quite awhile, so it’s probably time for the next great adventure. To be honest, I think we’ve both been getting a little antsy.

So here’s to the adventure, eh? I’m sure loads of fucky things will happen, and congrats because you have a front row seat.

Also, you won’t find out how they get the chandelier back up in Moonlit Shores Manor, but that’s because Lorelei doesn’t see it, and it’s magic anyway, not because I won’t be posting.

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Figure of Speech: Paradiastole

My favorite euphemism was born one fine Sunday afternoon when a Jehovah’s Witness came proselytizing at our door. Husband answered, intending to politely explain we were already zealously devoted to the Dark Lord, when the good Witness spotted one of our cats, Bartholomew. When Husband saw the man’s eyes fall onto and then expand at the glorious sight he beheld, he waited, and, after a pause, the good Witness remarked, “My, he is plentiful.”

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Not named after the apostle, but does deserve a feast day.

Paradiastole utilizes euphemisms (you’re welcome for the two-fer FoS, by the way) to transform a negative into a positive, most frequently to recast a bad characteristic as a good one. While all paradiastole is a form of euphemism, all euphemism isn’t paradiastole. With any old euphemism, you’re replacing the offending word with a less harsh word without necessarily modifying the meaning (excusing the fact that all synonyms do carry at least very slight differences in meaning), but with paradiastole specifically, you’re purposely attempting to alter the listener’s perception of a word or concept by stating something is not what they think.

I feel like I probably use paradiastole in casual speech, typically when grasping desperately at some form of comedy.

“Ashley, are you sick? You don’t look so good.”
“Oh no, the red-nosed and eye-bagged look is so in right now. I’m not sick, I’m fashionable.”

or

“It’s not a bug, it’s a feature!” – So sayeth all the developers at work.

But while researching this figure of speech, I realized this sounds remarkably like the exact kind of rhetoric that scares me. It’s the kind typically used to maliciously convince people to do things that are not in their own or others’ best interests, and it’s used to mask hatred and xenophobia, giving people an out for their horrendous beliefs.

It allows people to say things like “Donald Trump isn’t racist or a misogynist, he just tells it like it is, he’s bold, and he speaks his mind.” Intolerance rebranded as a virtue.

Of course this use isn’t new, it’s existed as long as language has for sure, but we can look back to Quintillian and his work in 95 A.D. (yes, 2000 years ago, hang with me) for more explanation. In Institutio Oratoria in response to being questioned in a court of law regarding a thing you cannot possibly deny, he states one should:

restate the facts, but not at all in the same way; you must assign different causes, a different state of mind and a different motive for what was done…you must try to elevate the action as much as possible by the words you use: for example, prodigality must be more leniently redescribed as liberality, avarice as carefulness, negligence as simplicity of mind.

So yeah, one of the greatest rhetoricians in history is suggesting you “play dumb” in court, but beyond that he is admitting that paradiastole is not necessarily a genuine use of a synonym or even a reunderstanding of the concept in question. It goes beyond the basest use of rhetoric–to convince–and acknowledges paradiastole can be used essentially to lie.

This FoS isn’t always used maliciously. Sometimes you must convince someone of something that isn’t necessarily true. Or you think you must. I’m sure there are at least a few politicians who, even though they know they are lying, think they’re doing it for the greater good, and an argument can be made that intent is more meaningful than outcome.

Per Aristotle, “whenever one calls oneself wise rather than cunning, or courageous rather than overconfident, or careful rather than parsimonious” that’s paradiastole. And you could say that’s…fibbing, to “euphemize” it.

So when do we lose the actual meaning of the words used to usurp the truth? Just as Obama’s “change” became horrific to conservatives, making America “great” again has become synonymous with a joke for liberals (though I would argue one was true and one is not).

I love that language is always evolving–when a language stops changing and moving, like a shark, it dies–but like any good English major, I fear change in language a bit. I love certain words, and I hate the potential loss of them, especially when losing them hinges on some fucko wanting to kinda pretend to not be a dick. And like how pervasive truthiness is now (Stephen Colbert really called it, man), paradiastole is rendering a major change in communication as well.

So how can you use paradiastole in your writing? Well, do you have a character with a blaring personality disorder?

Millennial Motivation

One of the many things that my FitBit does that I love (#notsponsored by the way, as if I needed to clarify) is offers “Sleep Insights.” When you look at your sleeping pattern on the app, there’s a little box that usually says something generic about getting better sleep or offers an average data point like “people your age usually get 6 hours of sleep per night.”

But sometimes, Dear Reader, it praises me. And as a millennial, I NEED THAT. (At least, that’s what the Baby Boomers who hung out with one twenty something and tangentially figured out the internet have been telling me.)

So the other day, my Sleep Insight was basically “you’ve done a great job this week with a consistent wake up time!” and I’m like HELL YEAH. It’s the little things, really.

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Note: That Wednesday night I got an INSANE amount of sleep because I loaded myself up on melatonin and sleepytime tea and went to bed super early to stave off sickness.

And then you can “like” or “dislike” the tip, and if you like it, well, let me just show you:

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IT’S SO CUTE, AND I CAN’T LET THE MOON DOWN.

So I won’t. I’ll keep going to bed consistently (not at 6pm, don’t worry) and being a super good adult and getting the right amount of sleep and be rewarded for it not through anything tangible or actually important, but via a cute little image on an application. And is that really so bad?

Maybe it actually would be bad if it were telling me I was doing a good job when I wasn’t, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. FitBit routinely tells me thing like “looks like your sleep pattern is off, no wonder you’ve been feeling like shit recently” (well, not exactly that, I did say “like”) and in general I can be pretty hard on myself in my mind anyway, so this little bit actually helps. Like for real genuinely helps.

Generation Y (born between about 1980 and 2000) takes a lot of shit, probably because we’re the first generation to be growing up with the internet so every fucking thing is so public and anyone can hop up on their soapbox to bash anyone else. It’s also got to be hard to be from a previous generation and to have suffered under elders silently, just waiting for their turn to be the authority and then to have that last beacon of hope taken away from them by uppity youngsters who demand bullshit like “equality” and “work-life balance” and “pumpkin spice lattes.” But I think the most pervasive dig at Millennials is that we’re lazy and require recognition for even the littlest things.

First of all, it was you fucks who handed out the participation trophies in the beginning, so I don’t know why you’d talk shit on the very thing you created, but what-ev-er. Also, you gotta realize that there were real-world rewards back then that don’t exactly exist now: tuition is up 150% and homes cost three times what they used to while Millennial salaries are 20% lower (adjusted) than when our Baby Boomer counterparts earned at the same stage of life.

But more importantly, I think we should take a look at why requiring recognition irks some people so much. The concept of shutting up and keeping your nose to the grindstone, doing more than your fair share, never questioning, never proposing new ideas, and above all else, NEVER complaining just seems so unhealthy and very much the mindset of someone who is either already in charge and happy with the status quo at the detriment of someone else, or someone who has never been in charge and feels like if they suffered, then everyone else must as well, neither of which are appealing–not to me at least.

There’s so much we can all learn from one another, and nothing can be learned in a world where questions aren’t allowed, and I’d argue that friendly incentives or inspiration are only helpful, so I’m going to keep loving my little moon friend in lieu of a debt-free college experience and call that fair. I hope that’s okay, but what do I know, I’m only 30 (and a half).

Vacancy – 1.08 – Rare Breed

 Vacancy is an ongoing web serial. Find out more about it and start reading here.

You can also listen to this episode here.

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Behind the receiving desk in Moonlit Shores Manor and beneath the staircases up to guest rooms laid a small office crammed to the ceiling with teetering boxes and aged ledgers. “This will be your first task,” Ziah told Lorelei, gesturing to messy paperwork and unmarked files as they passed, then took her through another door at its end. The hall they came out into was familiar to Lorelei–they’d taken it to the ever-changing white room before–but Ziah led her down a new corridor off of it that ended in a locked door.

Inside was a common space with a fireplace, a set of rocking chairs, a downy couch, bookshelves, and a kitchenette at its back. Grier was lounging with his feet up on the back of the couch and head hanging just above the floor when he saw them enter. He pulled out his earbuds and shot up, “No way!”

“Yes way,” Ziah pointed at him, “And if you say anything, I’ll tell Arista you were complicit in this, so good luck.”

They left the boy with his mouth agape, and traveled down a short hall at the back of the room, three doors off each side. She pointed to the rooms one by one, “That’s me, Grier, Hotaru, Chef Ando, and a spare. Ren has a room above the barn and Conrad stays downstairs.” Ziah brought her to the furthest back on the left side. “And you,” she handed her a long, brass key with a purple ribbon tied to it, “I’m quite excited to see what the manor’s cooked up for you.”

Lorelei thought for a minute to ask what she meant, but decided the room itself would show her better than could be explained.

Blue, like what she’d had upstairs, but this was somehow on a different level. The space was bigger, a four-poster bed in its center piled with more blankets than any one person needed. Well, anyone who wasn’t Lorelei, she thought, smiling when she saw them. Along the back wall was a deep-ledged window topped with a silvery paisley cushion. Lorelei went to the window and pulled back gossamer curtains to reveal rain pelting the window, obscuring a grey sky.

“Window’s not real,” Ziah was looking around excitedly and began fiddling with a box atop the dresser, “We’re in the very heart of the manor, but it’s a nice touch, isn’t it?” She pulled open another door in the room to find the bathroom, a massive glass shower at its back and a wall of vibrant plants lining the inside. “Not a bath person, huh?” Ziah giggled, “Rare breed.”

Lorelei took in the natural rock basin that was the sink and silver frame that ran along the mirror, all things that seemed vaguely familiar to her, but she knew she had never actually seen before. “Are you saying the manor, just like, made this stuff?”

“Of course,” she shrugged and sat on the edge of the bed, running a hand over a grey fur.

Lorelei hung her bag in the wardrobe just outside the bathroom door.

“The only rule is, no guests beyond that door out front. This is our sanctuary.”

Ziah brought her back down to the office behind the check in counter and set her to work organizing things. She gave her free range to do with the paperwork what she wanted, as the room had “always been a mess” and “gods know where anything is now, so if you can remember any of it, we’ll be better off in the end.” She left her alone to the task and a few hours flew by until the door to the room creaked open.

Grier’s white eye fell on her as he came inside and shut the two in, alone.

“Yes?” she spun around in her chair fully and eyed him. If not for the scar and eye, he’d look like any other teenager on the brink of adulthood with unkempt hair and a frown like he might want to start a fight at any moment.

“You don’t belong here.” Apparently, he did.

“Wow,” she said mostly to herself, turning away from him and flipping through the yellowed inventory pages from two years prior, “And what makes you so sure?”

“You’re not one of us.” She could hear the incredulity in his voice. She knew he wasn’t wrong, but maybe he wasn’t right either.

“Are you going to say anything to Arista?” She tried her best to keep her voice from wobbling.

“No,” he answered quickly, “I promised Ziah. But that doesn’t mean I’m okay with it.”

“You don’t like humans,” she said softly, standing up and taking the papers to a pile she’d made on a folding chair in the corner. When she looked up at him, he rolled his eyes and nodded emphatically, and she couldn’t help but stare at his milky eye. Lorelei thought back to Ziah’s explanation of their world as a safe haven. Her own world would not have been kind to Grier, even without the whole turning-into-a-dog thing. “Well, I’m sure you have a good reason.”

Grier’s face fell, then he quickly snarled again, “Yeah, I do.”

“I respect that,” she told him, giving him a little nod, “I’ll do my best not to step on your toes.”

He was still snarling, but raised his chin up as if to see her better. He pushed the hair away from his scar, then let it fall back. “Okay. Good.” He clearly wasn’t sure what to say, and Lorelei did her best to hide an amused smile. The boy shuffled from one foot to another, “What did you say your name was?”

She opened her mouth to answer, but a crash from somewhere beyond the room made them both jump. They piled out into the entryway to see the massive chandelier that hung from the second story firmly implanted in the wooden floor below. Hazy smoke curled upward from the crater it had made, the iron ring of the chandelier tilted upward, candles scattered on the floor though they had gone out in the fall.

Thankfully no body laid beneath it, but  Lorelei scrambled around to be sure. A few guests had come from the dining room to see the commotion and were staring from the doors there. When she’d seen no one was hurt, Lorelei floated over to the French doors. “For everyone’s safety,” she bared her teeth in something reminiscent of a smile and latched them out. Then she sped to the doors that lead to the sitting area. Inside there was only one soul, an older man asleep in a rocker by the fire. She quietly shut the doors so as not to disturb him, not realizing in her panic how odd that actually was.

Grier was peering upward at the iron chains that had once held the chandelier in place. There was no sign the ceiling had given way. “This shouldn’t have happened.”

“Thank god no one was under it,” Lorelei half whispered, covering her mouth.

“This…this should not have happened.”

“Of course not,” she looked around as if she could find something to move it, but it was massive and there was no way, “How do we–what do we even do?”

“This,” Grier scowled up at her, “is your fault.”

Before she could ask how that could possibly be, Ziah came in through the front door with a young couple in tow, speaking over her shoulder, “The manor has been here for over–oh!”

They were all stopped at the sight, and Lorelei could only stare back at them in her own amazement. What could she say? It fell? Well, of course it did.

“I’m so, so sorry,” Ziah shook her head, composing herself. The couple looked aghast and were staring around her as she tried to herd them out of the entryway, “I can assure you this kind of thing is not what normally happens here.”

The woman took a breath and nodded, “Obviously,” she placed a hand on her chest, “It’s just a little shocking to see.”

“Yes,” Ziah agreed, standing inside the threshold as the couple stood on its other side, “Just a fluke.”

Then the door slammed shut, locking the couple on the outside and Ziah inside.

“What in seven hells?” Ziah grabbed at the knob, but it wouldn’t budge. She put a foot up on the frame and pulled, but nothing. Grier and Lorelei ran to her aid, all three tugging to no avail. Just when they thought they were trapped, both doors came flying open, sending the three backward onto the ground. The couple was storming away, and though there was desire to pursue in her eyes, Ziah let them go.

“Do you want me to stop them?” Lorelei offered weakly.

Ziah sighed, “No. It was all going terribly anyway. She stepped in every possible kind of manure, and he couldn’t stop staring at my boobs. This was not the right place for their wedding.” She hopped up and admired the dent in the floor, “But this is really something else. I’m impressed.”

“It’s the manor,” Grier said, standing up, “It’s rebelling.”

“Rebelling?”

Grier pointed at Lorelei then turned and stormed off through the open front doors. Lorelei felt her heart drop into her stomach. Maybe it was. Maybe it had made a mistake showing itself to her. Maybe she did not belong there at all.

“Pshh,” Ziah rolled her eyes, “No such thing.” She tapped her fingers together before her face, contemplating what to do, but Lorelei could see somewhere in the back of her mind, that she was second-guessing herself, and they stood in silence a long moment.

“What in the world?” A young woman stood in the doorway, face twisted in disgust. Lorelei got to her feet and moved to stand by Ziah. Immediately, she could feel a change come from the woman.

“A little accident,” Lorelei offered as Ziah was saying nothing, but glaring coldly at the newcomer.

“Whatever,” she fluttered her lashes and waved the explanation away. Tall and thin with a fall of blonde, wavy hair, she pursed her lips, “Your dog, by the way, seems kinda pissed off.”

It took Lorelei a minute to realize she meant Grier, but when she did her insides went cold and she knew she didn’t like the woman.

“Conrad is downstairs,” Ziah said through grit teeth.

“Yeah,” she looked at her knowingly, “I figured,” then threw open the doors to the sitting room and stomped off.

“Conrad’s girlfriend,” Ziah said, turning back to assess the fallen chandelier, “We tolerate her.”

The new piece of information did nothing to help Lorelei’s affection for her, “Is she related to Arista?”

Ziah returned a throaty laugh, “Ew, of course not.” When Lorelei didn’t respond how she’d expected, Ziah nodded to herself, “Oh, that’s right, you don’t know. Arista is Conrad’s aunt.”

Lorelei tried to put the pieces together in her head, but Ziah interrupted her, “I guess there are a whole lot of things about this place you don’t know that you probably should.”

Ren appeared in the doorway then, suspicious of the whole scene, “Grier said Lorelei pulled the chandelier down. I thought he was merely being hyperbolic.” His voice didn’t convey the surprise his words did, but the creature in his pocket chirped as if to add an exclamation point.

“Well, of course she didn’t pull it down,” Ziah was still assessing the damage.

“I suppose not. But he also blamed her for the gate’s latch failing this morning and the goats scattering.”

When Ziah eyed Lorelei, the girl gasped, “I didn’t, I swear!”

“No, I know,” she shook her head, “It’s just a lot of coincidences, right? Don’t worry, we’ll get the bottom of this.”

There was a clatter behind the reception desk, small in comparison to everything that had just occurred, but enough to make all three, even Ren, jump. After exchanging looks with them, Ziah went to investigate, disappearing for a second behind the counter and popping up with a plaque in her hands. It was obvious it had dislodged itself from the wall, leaving a sun-damaged spot suggesting it hadn’t moved in years. It read:

Moonlit Shores Manor
Established 1602

 

Table of Contents  |  Next Installment

 

Hey, are you enjoying Vacancy? If so, and if you want other people to know about it, consider reviewing it over at the Web Fiction Guide or at Muse’s Success, and while you’re there, look around for other serials you might like!

Writing Nest

I’ve heard tell that people who work from home need to cultivate a work-specific space to keep themselves on task. This may not apply to everyone, but in my experience I like to feel “in the zone” in order to do serious writing. When I was in high school, I had a desk in my room and a desktop, no laptop, so my work (including terrible, terrible fiction) was done at that desk. When my butt hit the chair, a switch flipped, and I turned into an author. (I also turned into a monkey because there was a spot on the wall I used to prop my foot up on, equal with my shoulder (I don’t fucking know) and I eventually wore the paint away. Gross.) Over a decade later, I realized this might be exactly what I need now.

So I made myself a writing nest. See, before, I used to go “OK I’m going to do some serious writing today, but first I need to gather all this nonsense and get comfortable!” But now I just have all that nonsense right there in an already comfortable (but not too comfortable) space, so I just need to plant my ass and go.

My writing nest is currently a corner of our living room. Husband and I inhabit an open concept bungalow which, as I’ve mentioned, gives shape to a weird living room, but the desk nook I’ve carved out fits perfectly. I wanted to not face a wall with my back on an open space (always be vigilant!) This allows me to survey the whole house at one time which leads to a simultaneous pro/con: I can see everything. If the house is messy, it’s distracting, but it’s also motivation to keep things clean. But if I can see everything, I’m not concerned with what I’m potentially missing like if I were locked away in a room or even just turned away. That’s only a vague concept, but it works for me. Mostly I just don’t want some ghost sneaking up behind me.

So here’s the set up:

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Cat included.

The desk was a cheap Amazon purchase. I originally wanted white because I got carried away with the aesthetic I see all over YouTube, but the fact is I’m a messy bitch and black matches the color of my soul anyway, so here we are. The side table is one of, if not the first table Husband and I purchased when we moved to Florida. It provides space for animals, stuffed and real. I wanted to forgo a traditional desk chair for a couple reasons. I don’t really care for arms on chairs as I like to sit cross-legged, and since I knew the nook would be in the living room, I thought a living room chair would be more elegant. I was fucking spot on.

I know what you’re thinking: “Is she really so extra that she needs a laptop and a Chromebook at the same time?” The answer is yes, so let’s just move on from that.

The whiteboard came from Costco, and is for to-do lists and plotting. I like to plot with sticky notes so scenes can be moved around, and the whiteboard provides a nice corral for that. Added LED string lights because the internet told me I have to. Thanks, Target! The large calendar is obviously for a desk, but I need it on the wall. It’s staying in this photo, but it keeps falling down, so I’m not utilizing it to its full potential. My life is hard, you guys.

I know I have a lot of stuffed animals. It’s a problem.

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A few details:

And finally my view out over my realm:

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Dining table COVERED in nonsense, thankfully shadowed in the back.

So there you have it. A space where, when my butt hits the chair, I’m in writing mode. Or The Sims mode. Wait…did I…did I do this right?

The Time The Worst Thing Happened

I think I’m getting sick which is kind of shitty since I haven’t been truly sick in a long time. I’ve had food-poisoning-esque episodes and unexplained headaches in the last couple years, but nothing where I’d call myself “go-to-the-doctor ill” (except this is America and we don’t really do that anyway). But if this thing I’m feeling manifests, I’m dreading the result because this feels a lot like the time I got the sickest I’ve ever been, and The Worst Thing happened to me.

Come with me, Dear Reader, way back to March of 2013. Barack Obama was president, doge was so wow, and your blogger, AK, was a newlywed. I worked reception/office management at a doctor’s office, of all places. Our PTO policy was not the best (we had to use it when the doctor took vacation if we wanted to get paid), but I saved up my time off and took all of it when I got married. And of course, OF COURSE, I got sick immediately after my actual wedding.

I had to return to work though: I had no time left, and a wedding to pay off! (Just kidding, my wedding was cheap and my mom paid for most of it.) Plus I thought I’d have a few days of the sniffles and then poof, right back on my feet!

That didn’t happen.

Snot dripped out of my nose in a constant flow, I lost my voice every other day (which is extra rough when you’re on the phone), and my head felt like I was trying to cram a hundred pounds of shit into an eight pound skull. Everything hurt, and I did, indeed, feel like I was dying.

But the worst part may have been the daze I existed in. Every task I attempted was worked through a thick fog, my memory was peripheral at best, and I didn’t have a clear sense of what came next. I let the day lead, and everything just happened around and to me, including The Worst Thing.

This went on for entirely too long, something like three or four weeks, before The Worst Thing happened. You may be wondering why I didn’t see a doctor before this. Well, despite working for a doctor, I didn’t have healthcare, and I worked for a specialist who didn’t deal in general medicine and wouldn’t have probably prescribed for one of her employees anyway. So, yeah, I let it get that bad. Don’t worry, I got what I fucking deserved.

I was puttering around in my fog at work when I had the urge to pee, so I went to the bathroom, and then returned to my desk. But something was off. I couldn’t pinpoint the problem, but I was uncomfortable, and my ability to focus was at an all time low. I returned to the bathroom to try to puzzle out what was wrong.

Dear Reader, I peed myself. At 25 years old, I had sat on the toilet WITHOUT taking off my underwear, and urinated. And then I got up, washed my hands, and returned to my desk thinking all of that had happened in the exact way it was supposed to. What I call The Worst Thing could also be called The Triggering Event, because it was at that moment of realization, when I had to stow my underwear in the car and face working commando for the rest of the day, that I called the family doctor’s office in our plaza and told them yes, I’ll take their next open appointment, no, I don’t have insurance, yes, I’ll gladly pay $200 up front JUST PLEASE SEE ME.

I ended up prescribed a truckload of meds including something that relaxed the muscles in my throat because apparently it was alarmingly inflamed and the doctor didn’t understand how I was eating, let alone speaking on the phone. Maybe I wasn’t eating. I mean, if I couldn’t remember to take my damn underwear off to pee what else was I not doing?

About a week later I started to get better and finally two months after my wedding I felt like the person I was before I got married. So is there a moral here? No, not really. I’d say go to the doctor when you’re sick, but a lot of us just aren’t in that situation. I’d also say take care of yourself, and that can go a long way, but I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been right now and still feel a little like I might die. So what is there to say? Not much, Dear Reader, except maybe this: sometimes you pee yourself. It happens, but you’ll live. Probably.

Vacancy – 1.07 – Not Polite To Ask

Vacancy is an ongoing web serial. Find out more about it and start reading here.

You can also listen to this episode here.

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“Wake up!”

Lorelei’s eyes popped open, compelled by a voice that sounded as if it were right against her ear, and much to her horror, when she turned, she saw the voice’s owner indeed perched on the edge of her bed. But she was small, impossibly small, and she hovered there with fluttering wings and a monstrous frown.

“Listen to me, and listen very carefully.” Lorelei squinted, just making out a tiny, but blurry finger being thrust just at her nose. “For Áine knows what reason, Ziah has decided she wants to keep you around. I’ve voiced my piece on that, but it matters not. What does matter is you don’t let that saint of a woman down, do you understand me?”

Lorelei nodded, her face still plastered against the pillow. It didn’t matter that the woman, or fairie as she recalled Conrad stating existed, was about five inches tall; her word felt like law. She had a mess of copper curls voluminously surrounding her face and skin so white it glowed, even without the faint light that resonated off her wings. When she finally landed on the bedside table, Lorelei could see her wings were long and tapered, like a dragonfly’s might be, and iridescent.

To Lorelei’s growing horror, she spotted two others then, another woman who was grinning ear to ear with white-blonde hair and butterfly-shaped wings seated on the edge of a short stack of books and a man sporting smaller, pointed wings and black, stringy hair crouching beside her. They were watching their cantankerous cohort with delight.

“She’ll be up here in an hour to brief you on this meeting with Arista, and you will not take this lightly.”

Lorelei shook her head and pushed herself up onto an elbow, “No, I will not.”

“But no matter what you do, Arista is not so stupid. Ziah is tired, maybe she’s not thinking right, maybe she’s too confident in her own skills, I don’t know,” the woman grit her teeth, crossing her arms and pacing the length of the books’ spines just below the others, “But she’ll see right through you. So.” She ascended into the space just before Lorelei’s nose again, and Lorelei instinctively pulled back. The woman rolled her eyes then curled a finger to beckon her close again. Lorelei complied, wondering if maybe she’d had too much ale the night before, but knowing the truth.

The fairie rubbed minuscule hands together, pursing her lips. Then, she threw them apart and toward Lorelei’s face. Something landed just across the tops of her cheeks, and her face immediately began to tingle. She had the strong urge to sneeze, but didn’t dare blow the fairie across the room.

“That should help you blend in a little better.”

The tingling sensation disappeared, and as soon as it was gone, she felt no different.

The blonde fairie spoke up from the nightstand, “At least you won’t stink as much.”

The other two nodded in unison.

“Uh, thanks?”

“I didn’t do it for you,” the redhead sniffed, the began to flit off, “Now go get ready.”

The other two alighted and followed her up to the far corner of the room until they appeared to be just glowing orbs and disappeared through a hole in the crown molding.

Lorelei blinked around the room, ensuring she was actually alone this time. “That was weird.”

“No it wasn’t!” she heard in a tiny voice from somewhere in the ceiling, “Now, get ready!”

Lorelei popped up and went into the bathroom. She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror as she went for the shower and had to stop and go back. They were light, almost invisible, but she’d seen her face thousands of times before, and this was the first time she’d noticed freckles.

Ziah collected her shortly thereafter. She was refreshed, with glowing cinnamon skin and a radiant energy. Lorelei didn’t know she could be so attracted to a woman, but tried her best to put it out of her head. It wasn’t how she looked, she told herself, despite that Ziah’s bare midriff and tight jeans were objectively captivating, it was something more. The way she smiled and the things she said, she was disarming, kind, and Lorelei loved being in her presence.

They went out through the kitchen where the chef and Hotaru were baking, the whole room smelling of sugar and mulled spices, and Hotaru pushed turnovers into their hands as they passed, staring at them expectantly. They both took bites and the young girl squinted at them nervously.

Lorelei look down at the pastry with large eyes, “You made this?”

The girl nodded, her black bob bouncing.

“Holy cow,” she took another bite, ravenously, “What’s in here, crack?”

“Sugar, butter, flour, peaches, mangoes, honey,” the girl counted off on her fingers, “Not crack–what is that?” she looked to Ziah and the woman laughed.

“That means she really, really likes it, hun.”

Hotaru skipped away, beaming.

The turnover was gone before they got out the backdoor, and Lorelei felt a very specific sadness that she couldn’t grab another. Then she snapped her head toward Ziah, “Wait, there was crack in that wasn’t there?”

Ziah shook her head, “No, of course not.”

“Well, not exactly, but you know, like, it was enchanted or something. Just like this place,” she hesitated, “Like you.”

As they walked out through a high-hedged garden, Ziah went quiet, eyes trained on her feet as they crossed out into a field and up a natural hillock. Normally troubled by silence, Lorelei was a bit relieved at it for once, afraid of what was going to come next.

At the top of the hill they stopped. On its other side lay an orchard, rows of golden-leafed trees lit up by the morning sun stretching out to the horizon. An open field lined with a low, wooden fence beside it, joining to the barn where a handful of goats were spilling out and bounding across the grass. Beyond that, the forest Lorelei had traveled the day before cast a thick, green shadow, and behind them she could feel the manor standing watch over it all.

“All of this is protected–or is supposed to be–from humans.” Ziah cocked her head, “It’s not that we all dislike your kind, it’s just safer this way. We’ve lived among you forever, but never in the numbers we have now, and we know isolation is best.”

She put her hands on her hips and flashed a brilliant smile, “Things are good for us. Most humans never even know we exist, and the ones that do rarely meet more than one of our kind. The truth of it can be a big shock. A human meets Ren, okay, they know elves exist, but not the rest of us.” She said it so casually that Lorelei wondered how frequently it happened.

“So he is an elf?”

“Well, you already figured out we’re not aliens,” she chuckled. “We’re the origin of every fairy tale and nightmare you humans have. Some call us Charmed or the Fair Folk, but there’s no one name because we were never, you know, like this before. For a long time we had nothing to do with one another, but as the world grew for humans, it shrank for us. Now we do our best to get along in the pockets of space that we have. Moonlit Shores Manor is a safe haven for our kind to come to when they want to travel.”

“So the book I signed when I got here, it did ask for species?”

“It did,” she narrowed her eyes at Lorelei, “Though you shouldn’t have been able to access the manor at all as a human. Are you sure you’re all human?”

“I don’t even know what I would be.”

“Well, everyone thinks you’re a lorelei.” She seemed to read the confusion on Lorelei’s face, “a bit like a mermaid or a siren.”

She glanced down at her legs, “Guess I made a good deal with a sea witch.”

Ziah chuckled and began leading her to a little building off the back of the manor, “That’s where the changeling part comes in. We would say that someone in your ancestry was a lorelei, and the magic just stayed dormant in your lineage until you came around. Maybe you showed some kind of power and found yourself in our world…somehow. It’s not polite to ask, so you should have some time to come up with your story.”

“So is Arista going to suspect I’m human?”

“Hopefully not. She’s not very hands on at our level, but she has to approve everything. She owns the manor with Seamus. Lucky you he loves humans, so despite that they’re married, he’s not going to give away the secret, not if it means he gets to keep you around.”

“That’s nice of him.” She suddenly thought she might have just been given a brief glimpse into the life of a cat.

They came up to the garden that surrounded the cottage, butterflies diving in and out of the flowers, blooming unseasonably bright despite the fall chill in the air. Two round windows flanked the door in stained glass roses.

“So fairies, dwarves, mermaids…what are you?”

She stiffened a moment, “It’s not polite to ask, remember?”

“But you’ve got it on your form,” Lorelei frowned at her.

“All in due time. You’ve got more important things to worry about. Like this meeting with Arista.”

With a deep breath, she tried to steel herself as they went for the door, “Can you at least tell me what she is? If she’s got like two heads or something, I don’t want to be thrown off.”

“Oh, Arista will look totally human to you. She’s almost entirely witch.”

“A witch?” Lorelei cocked her head, “Isn’t that just a human?”

“Not in our world. It’s something you’re born into. In fact, it’s one of the prevailing species around. Arista’s not totally a witch though, she’s got a little banshee in her too.”

“Banshee?” Lorelei thought hard, “So what does that make her?”

Ziah put her hand on the doorknob and turned, lowering her voice to a whisper just at Lorelei’s ear, “A bitch.”

The cottage’s interior was the very definition of charming. With slightly bowed walls that Lorelei was unsure were a design choice or just the result of settling, the room felt like a nest, the space small with the rest of the cottage continuing behind a door. The room they’d entered held a desk surrounded by bookshelves and cabinets filled with leather-bound tomes and ceramic figures. A floral-patterned chair sat behind the desk, and two overstuffed ones in pink chevron faced its front. Sepia photos in mismatched frames showed various stages of the manor from times long ago, and portraits of, Lorelei assumed, owners and guests. She recognized no one but knew they were not inconsequential.

Who Lorelei could only assume was Arista emerged from the back room. Small-framed glasses were perched on the edge of a long nose pointed down into a ledger, and her face was creased with a thin-lipped frown. She was long-limbed and moved like something much bigger than she was so that Lorelei wanted to back away. Ziah cleared her throat when the woman passed them without acknowledgement.

“Yes?” she didn’t bother looking at her employee as she went for a bookshelf.

“I’d like you to meet someone.” Ziah was immediately annoyed and didn’t bother to hide that fact in her voice.

The woman set her papers on the desk and turned, her skirts swirling around her, but her hair holding its style perfectly still. When her eyes fell on Lorelei, icy blue and piercing, she felt everything tighten, inside and out. But then her frown broke into a toothy smile, “Oh my, do forgive me,” she extended a hand to Lorelei and bent ever so slightly to her height as they shook, “I’ve only returned from a short business trip. I don’t know where my mind or manners are. How are you?”

“Well,” Lorelei managed to croak out nervously. “And you?”

“Just wonderful.”

Ziah sighed, “She’s not a guest.”

“Oh.” Arista dropped her hand and her smile. She turned away and busied herself in the papers again.

“But she is an applicant.”

“For?”

Ziah sighed again, “My assistant.”

“Your assistant?” Arista peered back over her shoulder, perching a hand on her hip, “What do you need an assistant for?”

Ziah crossed her arms and sucked her teeth, but said nothing, staring her down.

“Anyway, I thought you already had somebody? That mousy little kelpie girl. The one with all the hair.” She held her hands up on either side of her head.

“Robina left over a month ago,” she said exasperatedly, “I’d like Lore to take her place.”

Lorelei felt a happy little jolt in her heart at the nickname.

Arista laid her papers down again and sauntered up to Lorelei, “What are you?”

She glanced nervously at Ziah then back at Arista. The question was impolite, but it seemed Arista had her own rules about communication. “A lorelei.”

“Another aquatic?” she rolled her eyes in Ziah’s direction, “Really? Fine, and what’s your last name?”

Lorelei swallowed, “Fischer.”

“No, I don’t know it. You’re not from Moonlit Shores, are you?”

She shook her head.

With a sigh, she went to her desk and sat. She looked up at Lorelei, blinked, then again rolled her eyes, “Well, sit down already.”

Lorelei hopped into one of the pink chairs as the woman opened the drawer in her desk. She held a set of cards, though much larger than playing cards, and began to shuffle them. “You think you’ll be a good fit here?”

“Yes,” she tried to answer as confidently as possible.

“We’ll see about that. Here,” she handed the deck off to Lorelei, “Shuffle.”

She took the too-big cards and slowly and awkwardly attempted two different methods.

“Alright, that’s enough, enough,” waving her hand for them back, Lorelei placed them in her palm. “Tell me, what will be the outcome of Lore’s employment here,” she seemed to say to the cards. She placed the stack on the desk and pointed to them, “Cut.”

Lorelei pulled a few cards off the top and placed them beside the pile. Arista took the top card from the remnants of the deck and flipped it face up. The card showed a white orb surrounded by a purple and black background and specs of silvery glitter, the roman numeral eighteen at its bottom.

“The moon,” Ziah said over Lorelei’s shoulder, “So she’s a shining beacon in the darkness. That sounds great.”

“Or an illusion that cannot be revealed,” Arista peered over the rim of the glasses and Lorelei fought the urge to touch her newfound freckles. The woman gathered up the cards and slid them back into her desk. “On a temporary basis it is, then.”

Lorelei smiled, “Oh, thank–”

“I have many things to do, that’s quite enough,” she waved them away and stood, gathering up her papers and headed back to the bookshelf.

“Nice chat,” Ziah remarked as she opened the door and Lorelei slipped out before the woman could change her mind.

As the walked back up to the manor, Lorelei felt giddy, “Temporary basis? What does that mean?”

“She wants an easy out if she decides to get rid of you,” Ziah laughed in the back of her throat, “Go grab your stuff from upstairs, we need to move you.”

“To where?”

“Employee quarters, of course.”

 

Table of Contents  |  Next Installment

 

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Figure of Speech: Zeugma

I first heard the term zuegma in a course on Shakespeare. I don’t remember the Shakespearian example given, but the second was from Alanis Morissette’s “Head Over Heels”:

You held your breath / And the door for me

That’s stuck with me because it’s such a perfect illustration of the term. But this post would be too short if I stopped there.

Loosely, zeugma is a figure of speech that defines when a single word is used to convey two separate things. Zeugma come in a variety where the word in question is used once to convey the same meaning twice or to convey a literal and figurative meaning of the same word, usually a verb.

Some of my favorite examples:

“Out teeth and ambitions are bared” – “Be Prepared,” The Lion King

“You are free to execute your laws and your citizens as you see fit.” – Star Trek: TNG

“She came right on time and repeatedly.” – I don’t know if this is from something or I just made it up. I’m sorry and you’re welcome.

I’m not sure why I’m so drawn to zeugma. It’s clever, it’s unexpected, and it’s often used to underscore something more dramatic or sinister than what’s on the surface, so you could call it tricky. It’s almost like a little joke that makes you snicker, but when you fully comprehend the punch line you’re a bit alarmed with yourself for having laughed. In any case, it’s my favorite figure of speech.

I think we often say something is a “figure of speech” when referring to a specific idiom (“kick the bucket,” “six feet under,” “pushing up daisies,” and lots of others that aren’t morose), but FoS are all of the ways to express those idioms and the rhetorical devices we use to turn writing from just words into something worth reading.

I feel pretty strongly that creativity, writing and rhetoric specifically, come from within. You can be taught about certain things and then utilize them once you’re aware of them, but whether you utilize them effectively or cleverly is up to what you’re born with. If you’re a writer-type, you probably naturally utilize zeugma without even knowing what it is, but once you’re aware of the tool and how it functions, you can put it to its best use. And, in the best of cases, you can break all the rules around it.

Good Media

I like to let my brain melt after work, and I’ll watch a lot of YouTube, or I’ll play a TV show I’ve seen a hundred times already in the background as I do some other task like dye my hair, but neither of these things are particularly stimulating. If I’m paying enough attention then yes, The Office can still provide an entertaining and thoughtful 22 minutes, but I watch those shows passively now, and most often the videos I watch on YouTube don’t make me think very much, if at all.

And while that’s perfectly fine, I used to watch television–good television–religiously. I still believe that TV has the best story-telling potential, but my favorite shows came to their necessary conclusions or jumped the shark, and I never picked up anything new. Like what happens to most of us with the music we listened to in our late teens, I got stuck in my own golden era of media and just kind of stalled out.

I don’t think I spend less time consuming now, I just don’t consume much of value, and that’s sad, so I’m resolving to seek out good media as part of my bid to become more creative in 2018. There have been many times when I’ve seen a preview or read a review and thought, “Yes, that’s what I’ll watch/read next!” and then don’t follow through, but the other night I saw a preview for I, Tonya, a Tonya Harding (sort of) mockumentary and decided then and there I had to see it.

I, Tonya was easily one of the best films I’ve ever seen. Maybe part of my love for it is having been starved of new and exciting movies recently, but I doubt that is the sole factor (especially since I just saw The Last Jedi and fell head over heels for that).

Stories that make you rethink what a villain is, like Wicked or even the new Star Wars trilogy, have a special place in my heart. I, Tonya is one of these stories, and it’s beautifully complex. The real villains in I, Tonya are her mother, her ex-husband, and, unexpectedly, but refreshingly, you, the viewer. Highly recommend. A quick warning, though: if you are at all triggered by domestic abuse, you may want to steer clear.

I read a negative review of this movie because I like when other people are wrong, apparently, and the critic said that, “ultimately what gets lost is empathy for whom it matters most: Harding.” If you come out of watching this film without feeling total empathy for Harding, You. Are. Not. Human. Or you don’t know how to critically analyze something, which is rough for a professional analyst.

I’m trying to focus this resolution on all media, not just movies, so I did some digging in modern music as well, and I stumbled on both Selena Gomez and Miley Cyrus.

Hear me the fuck out, okay?

I grew up in the age of the CD. An artist released a track on the radio and within a month their album, no, their compact disc came out. The CD was a story, regardless of if that was intended to be, and usually had some kind of overarching voice to it. In the age of the digital album, however, things are a-changin.

And that’s fine, but it’s also frustrating. I fell hardcore in love with Selena Gomez’s “Bad Liar” and “Wolves” is also pretty good, but as far as I can tell these songs aren’t attached to an album! If you like a song, there is a pretty good chance that the album the song came from will be a hit with you, but here I am with a couple measly singles and a desire to place them into a larger story that doesn’t seem to exist.

Then I found what is basically the exact opposite in Miley Cyrus. So, she had a rough patch, admittedly, but her newest album, Younger Now, and its title track especially are not just divergent of what she was doing, but it’s all stand-out, good pop music. Apparently between the, well, let’s say the “mistake” that was Bangerz and her newest, she released what’s essentially a mixtape, Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz. It’s touted as psychedelic pop and sprinkled with these really lovely songs that make you feel like you’re floating in space. I guess that’s exactly what psychedelic pop would be, hu? “Karen Don’t Be Sad” is my favorite so far, but I’ve not listened to all of it.

It’s essentially a foil to what Gomez has done in that she released a 23 track concept album for free on the internet. I don’t begrudge Gomez in any way for selling her music, they should all do what they want with their intellectual content, it’s just interesting the different directions each has gone.

This post is probably long enough, but I should also mention I’m reading Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer. I know I need to read more in general, and this was a good place to start. The book is short and reads very quickly. I’m really enjoying it so far and it’s very dissimilar to what I would normally read, but I’m going to save a more formal review for when I finish the whole trilogy. A film is being made for release this year, but the trailer feels much different than the book so far. An older me would be like “that sucks!” but a new me is looking at it like “this is great, two pieces of media for one!”

It’s funny I started out talking about TV, and then told you, Dear Reader, about all these non-TV things, but that’s the just the thing: I’m looking for something new and exciting, and movies and music can be consumed and moved on from while TV kind of sucks you into a commitment I might not be ready for again. Too soon, TV, too soon!

2018, the year of good media. I hope.

Vacancy – 1.06 – Particularly Persuasive

Vacancy is an ongoing web serial. Find out more about it and start reading here.

You can also listen to this episode here.

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The man eyed Lorelei, and she returned the look. “I didn’t think I was gone that long,” he cracked a half smile, exposing bright white teeth, then extended a hand, “You must be the manor’s newest staffer. Name’s Conrad.”

“Conrad,” she searched her mind then took his hand, “Someone may have mentioned you.” She played at coyness, though it was glaringly clear in her mind that Ren had suggested enlisting Conrad to wipe her memory earlier that day. “I’m Lorelei.”

“A lorelei? Well, that makes sense!” he shook her hand a bit longer than he should have. When she glanced down at the shake, he broke it off then squeezed the back of his neck. “Ziah has been needing the help, and it’s always nice to have a new face around.”

“Well, I’m not exactly hired yet,” she cautioned as he turned and started for the cart where the stone creatures were loading the last of the luggage. She hurried behind him, “You work at the manor?”

“Onsite apothecary,” he nodded, tucking his book into his satchel. He easily hopped up into the cart and offered her a hand. She hesitated, “Ziah didn’t say I’d be picking any people up.”

“I’m actually headed back a little early.” He shifted his gaze away and sighed, “Just dumb luck you were here, otherwise I’d be walking back to my bike.” She stared at his offered hand again, and when she didn’t take it, he faltered, “I mean, if it’s okay.”

Lorelei shrugged and hoisted herself into the cart without his help. “Just don’t like, grow horns or something, okay?”

Conrad responded, but his voice sounded far away and hollow the moment the stags took them back through the archway. If she had to explain it, Lorelei would have called it nothingness, the feeling of being in that dark place between the train station and the forest. She shivered when they left the tunnel, but this time the forest’s darkness was familiar and almost inviting.

“So, you must have been at the manor for, what, only a few days?” Conrad was leaning lazily against the seat, turned slightly toward her.

Lorelei pinched her knees together at the far end of the bench, “Less than twenty four hours, actually.” It sounded more impressive when she said it aloud, and she allowed herself to smile just a bit.

Conrad nodded, “It has that effect on people.”

They sat in the quiet, bumping along the pathway. Lorelei tapped her foot and wrung her hands, but her nerves weren’t a product of the shadows beyond the trees this time. She had a very distinct feeling Ziah would not like this one bit.

“So, are you from Moonlit Shores?”

Unsure what he meant, she motioned randomly into the forest, “Uh, no, I’m from a little ways west.”

“So what, you came out her on vacation and ended up with a job?” He asked like it couldn’t be true.

She sucked in her breath and gave him a curt nod, “Almost.”

Conrad smiled, “Ziah is particularly persuasive.” Lorelei thought about the woman’s cat-like eyes and flowing black hair. It was an understatement.

Before he could ask her anything else, she turned fully toward him, “And you’re an apothecary?”

“Yeah,” his cheeks went red, “I’ve completed all the formal training, trust me,” he tapped his bag, “These are all elective. Since we get so many different guests at the manor, I need to keep up on, well, everything.”

“Oh,” she squinted with only a little idea what an apothecary actually was, but was too afraid to ask, “That’s cool.”

He sighed and leaned back into the cart, “It’s always good to be back home though.”

“You live at the manor?”

“We all do,” he was staring up at the sky through the trees, “It’s a nice perk, no commute.”

Lorelei thought hard for a moment. She hadn’t been considering where she would live if she was offered the position at the manor. Home would just become a place she once lived, everything and everyone left behind. Her chest felt tight, even at the thought of losing the things she was running away from, and she felt tears prick at the back of her eyes.

“Are you all right?”

Conrad had leaned too far forward and was studying her with a knit brow, his face inches from her own. She backed into the seat of the cart, any possibility of tears blinked away, “Yes. Definitely fine.”

“Sorry,” he sat back again quickly, scratching his head, “you looked, uh, sad.”

“I’m just worried,” she half-lied, “A lot of things are weird for me right now.”

“Ah,” he nodded, “Same. You’re not originally from a community like ours, are you?”

Lorelei couldn’t answer, and she dared not look at him. Was it that obvious? Could he read her thoughts? She’d encountered weirder things that day, he may as well be in her mind that moment. I’m human! She shouted in her head, Please don’t kill me!

“It’s becoming more common,” he said, no sign that he’d heard anything she’d telepathically yelled at him, “So many are halfsies or changelings, I mean, Arista herself is halfsies.”

He sounded like a child, suddenly, and she almost laughed. “I’m not familiar with that term,” she ventured carefully.

“Halfsies? When you’re part of one thing and part of another, sometimes even human. Arista is zero percent human, though, of course.”

She felt her heartbeat a little harder as she watched him roll his eyes. Man, these people didn’t like humans.

“Wait, did you mean changeling? Like, when you’ve been misplaced. Changelings grow up out there, in the other world. They always eventually find us though.”

“That’s it,” she pointed at him knowingly, “That’s me. A changeling. I don’t know anything about all this. But I’m, like, here now.”

“A changeling,” his eyes were wide, “Fascinating.” Then he smirked, “I should have known. I mean, for a second back there I thought you were a human!” Lorelei forced out a laugh along with him. “But Arista would never allow that. Gods, I can’t even imagine.”

“I haven’t met Arista yet.”

He grimaced, “You might change-ling your mind about staying if you do.”

Lorelei tried to contain herself, but the attempt at a pun was as bad as it was good, and she sputtered out a laugh.

Conrad stared at her a moment then shook his head, “I’m sorry, that was not funny.”

“No, it was,” she wiped at her eyes, catching her breath, “Stupid, but funny.”

“Well, sorry to say your sense of humor might not fit in at the manor,” he was grinning stupidly, “Elves and fairies can be pretty humorless.”

“Fairies?” Lorelei cut the laughter short, remembering the winged woman who had flown out of the laundry bin.

“Yeah, we’ve got at least a hundred, but they travel a lot.”

“That was a fairy,” Lorelei repeated to herself, staring down at her lap, “And Ren’s ears…”

“Took a course on elven biology over the summer,” Conrad snorted, “I can confirm they do not have a funny bone. Hey, there’s my bike.”

At the edge of the path, tucked under a tree, was the outline of a motorbike and the slight shine of metal. Conrad hopped out of the cart as it continued to travel down the path. He jogged ahead and walked the bike out from under the ferns. Lorelei saw all this and didn’t see it at the same time. In her mind she saw Ren and the small winged woman and the horned horse, and things both made sense and didn’t.

“It was nice meeting you,” Conrad’s voice reminded her she was in the presence of another human–or not–and she mumbled back a similar platitude. He started his bike and mounted it, looking back at her, “What did you say your name was?”

She told him with a frown, annoyed to repeat herself. He nodded slowly, almost bewildered, then popped on his helmet and drove ahead, disappearing down the path, the sound of his bike lingering long after his form was gone.  

Some time later, the stags brought her back out of the forest, and she was surprised to see the sun was setting beyond the manor and the grounds were cast in an orange and purple haze. The rest of the trip was a strange swirl of trying to accept the absolutely unbelievable, and wondering where the hidden cameras were. Worse, she began to consider if this were some kind of joke being played on her by those she’d wronged. When she entered into the foyer after dropping off the cart and luggage at the barn, her mind had still not settled. Ziah looked up at her with a smile over the reception desk. She dropped the papers she’d been shuffling and slammed her hands on the desk with wide, excited eyes, “You’re back!”

“You’re not an alien.” Lorelei found herself pointing at the woman.

“I never said I was,” Ziah took a deep breath then put on a grand, bright smile. Even from under deep eye circles, it was infectious.

Lorelei smiled back, laughing a bit at her own words. “I met Conrad,” she said as if that explained everything. “I told him I was…a changeling?”

“Well thank gods for that.” She glanced up at the clock then back at her, “There’s a lot to discuss, but right now I need to work. In about thirty minutes, we’re hosting a meet and greet, so go get fancied up a bit and meet me back down here.”

Lorelei hustled up the stairs and into her room solely at the urgency in Ziah’s voice. She paused for a moment, wondering why she didn’t insist on the answers she’d been hoping to get the whole cart ride, but the thought was fleeting. In the adjacent bathroom, she hopped in and out of the shower, and dressed in a short, loose fitting dress she found at the bottom of her bag. Beneath it her cell phone had been buried, and after a second of contemplation, she snatched it up and shoved it into an opportune pocket before hurrying back down to check in.

Ziah stood at the counter, changed into a body-hugging, scarlet number and matching lipstick. Lorelei felt twelve years old in comparison. And yet the woman smiled at her, blinking long lashes, and told her, “You look lovely,” and Lorelei absolutely believed her.

She could hear the rumble before they even turned into the hall that lead to the white room. She was shocked to see, upon entering, the size had at least tripled. There was a mass of people inside, but she could see over every head but one, Seamus, who was regaling a group of dwarves with some tale that made them all laugh. Ziah pushed a tray into her hands, covered in bready balls of cheese with a crisp meat topping, and told her to make rounds. She attempted to, but the dwarves were on her in an instant and gobbled them up with grins hidden under big, bushy beards and mustaches. She looked to Ziah for help, but the woman shrugged with a smile, headed in the opposite direction, mouthing to her above the crowd, “Just make them feel welcome.”

Lorelei found a counter for the empty tray and glanced about at the short men. They were so joyous she didn’t feel her presence was needed anywhere, but she certainly didn’t feel unwelcomed either. She laid eyes on a dark corner of the room where one dwarf sat atop a stool, stein in hand. She went to stand near him and leaned against the wall, “Hello.” He raised his mug to her with a nod, then turned his gaze back out to the crowd.

She slid her hand into her pocket and gripped her phone. There would be so many messages, her stomach turned at just the thought, and she pulled it out to stare down at the black screen. As she contemplated dumping it in a half-empty pitcher beside her, the device was slipped from her hands by a set of short, stubby fingers.

Lorelei scrambled, but the dwarf who had taken it was grinning ear to ear. “What’s this?”

“Uh,” her mind spun. These were dwarves, Ren was an elf, and there were fairies living in the walls. Did any of them know about this kind of technology? Was she totally outed?

“Oh, a Berry!” he exclaimed happily, “Haven’t seen one of these in a while. Outdated.”

Lorelei pouted, her phone was only about six months old.

“That’s okay though,” he flipped it over and pulled off the back cover in a shockingly swift move for such small, pudgy fingers. From his breast pocket, he fished a roll of cloth that unfurled to show a number of tiny tools, and from a satchel on his waist, he revealed a small, wooden box. Lining up the tools beside the phone on a table, he went to work. With the sharpest of the tools, he poked into the back of the phone and removed something, Lorelei wincing all the while, but afraid to stop him. From the box he carefully selected a metallic chip and slid it into place. A few more seconds of tinkering, and then the back went on again, and he presented it to Lorelei with a flourish.

She took it slowly, staring at him rather than the device, afraid of what had become of it.

He bounced on his heels and nodded at her, “Free upgrade, my dear. Please, do try it.”

Lorelei held in the button to switch it on, and it came to life with a blue light, a firefly flitting across the screen then, to her amazement, popping out and whooshing around her head before returning back into the phone’s screen and disappearing.

“Hope you don’t mind, one of my personal projects.”

When the screen came back on, everything seemed normal enough. She did indeed have a pouring in of missed calls, messages, emails, and she could feel sweat instantly begin to form on her brow. “Just swipe to the left, my dear.”

What would have been local and world news was replaced with a new screen and set of applications she’d never seen before.

“Don’t know how you’ve been getting about without those,” he chuckled, incredibly pleased, “And plugging it in, you don’t have to do that anymore,” he waved, “So archaic. Holding it will be enough.”

“Welcome, welcome!” A booming voice sounded from the far end of the room, and the dwarf threw his hands up and shouted along with the others. Lorelei stammered out a thank you, and he grinned before running off toward the rest of the gathered dwarves. She stared out at the little man who’d been hoisted onto another’s shoulders. He needed no microphone as his voice carried through the room. “So good to see you all. This year is proving to be one of our biggest ever! From the Buckhorns of Birmingham–” there was a loud cheer from the left end of the room, “to the O’Raighleys of East Shire–” and an even louder cheer from the right end, “And all in between, I couldn’t be more pleased! Now I know we all have much to discuss, new technologies, exciting inventions, but that is all for later. Tonight, we party!”

The entire room erupted so that Lorelei thought the manor might come tumbling down. She held her breath as the dwarves scurried about, clanging steins and pouring themselves new drinks. The room smelled of sweet barley and hot spices, and music erupted from somewhere in the mess. A dwarf grabbed her free hand and pulled her out to the middle of the floor and she found herself skipping about in a circle with him. They clapped and she clapped back, finding herself falling into laughter and bumping into Ziah who had been pulled out as well. The pending messages on her newly upgraded phone faded as she slipped it back into her pocket.

When she looked up from the dwarves, she noticed Conrad standing at the back wall, leaning near the door where Hotaru bustled in and out with another towering tray of food. He gave her a brief nod, and she waved back.

After perhaps hours of dancing and trying to help serve the never-ending trays of food, Ziah guided her to the back of the room. “I’m sure you’re exhausted,” she breathed, looking more tired than ever.

She felt it all at once, and blinked, “Yes. Definitely.”

She led her out of the room and down a tight corridor. They slipped through a hidden door that opened onto a narrow set of stairs, traveled up, and found Lorelei’s room. Inside, she shut the door behind her. “I’m not going to come up here tomorrow morning and find an empty room am I?”

“Am I going to run away in the night?” she snickered, “I don’t think I could if I wanted to. I don’t really know where I am.”

“Good,” Ziah snorted, “because I’m very much wanting to offer you this job, provided I can get a yes from Arista.”

Lorelei felt her chest tighten. “That would be wonderful,” she heard herself saying.

“But Arista, she hates humans, and she could never know what you really are, do you understand that?”

“Sure, well I think I convinced that guy, Conrad.”

“Big deal,” Ziah rolled her eyes playfully, “But seriously, Arista is powerful, and it might be…unsafe for you. And maybe for me.”

Lorelei looked her over, the sleep in her eyes heavy. She still knew nothing of this world, she wasn’t sure if she even truly liked it or just disliked the alternative more, but she wanted to stay.

And still.

She sighed heavily and cocked her head, “I know my word means very little to you, but if you made me leave here, I wouldn’t…I wouldn’t tell anyone. No one would believe me anyway,” she chuckled under her breath, “Like I said, I’ve got no one out there to tell. Not really. So if you want me to go, if that’s the safest and best thing, I will. So, why take the risk?”

Ziah was quiet a long moment, and Lorelei feared she may have written her resignation letter before even getting the offer.

“Because you’re asking that.” Ziah looked her over, “And, really, you’re more like us than you know.”

The woman left with a promise to actually let her sleep in the next morning, and Lorelei fell back onto the bed. She held her phone up to her face and it came to life without her needing to press a button. Instinctively, it showed her a screen with all her missed messages, something it never used to do, then when she felt her anxiety rise, the little blue firefly came back and zipped away, turning the screen off again. She dumped the phone onto the nightstand and slid under the covers.

 

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