Surya

Today we honored the sun, even as it insisted on hiding behind a thick blanket of soggy, grey clouds. Yep, it’s gone again after three blissful days of warmth and light and dryness; this morning was dark and wet and the cold just clings onto you, heavy and sad. Still, the sun must be up there, somewhere, otherwise we couldn’t even see the clouds at all, so that’s something!

I’m excited for spring lately. I used to kind of roll my eyes at the thought of spring springing because in Florida that just means it becomes unbearably hot all at once and everything is sweaty and blinding for the next nine months, but here in Georgia, if I remember correctly, we had a few months of pleasant weather that straddled the warm/cold line and actually qualified as spring. I’m looking forward to a little less rain and a little more sun, leaves on trees instead of piled up in wet, decomposing heaps, and the opportunity to sit outside and just feel the earth.

For now, though, sun salutations will do. And, in fact, they might be necessary–it might be easier to appreciate the sun when it’s gone than when it’s here.

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Blogoween Day 23 – True Terror Tuesday: A Haunting in St. Pete

blogoween ttt

I’ve always been leery of public restrooms. There are plenty of reasons to be: they’re a room full of doors with typically only one way in and out, and when inside you’re at your most vulnerable. But I’ve also always had a tiny bladder, so more often than I wish, I’ve found myself in dimly-lit, dirty, defecatoriums of doom.

A few years ago, I was out with Husband and some in-laws. I’m protecting their identities here, mostly because I’m sure they don’t want to publicly be associated with this brand of crazy, but they could corroborate at least part of this experience, provided they remember.

We had spent the day in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida, and were returning to the car which was parked by the pier. The ride from St. Pete to Tampa was always long, stuck on a bridge, so I knew I had to pee before we got going, and as luck would have it, there were restrooms right there: Comfort Station One, to be exact. Dear Reader, when I tell you this was one of the strangest, most off-putting public bathrooms I’ve ever been in, I’m not exaggerating. They felt absolutely horrible inside.

The men’s and women’s were in separate buildings, octagonal shaped, and to enter the bathroom, you had to walk around the building and up a ramp, so that trapped feeling one might have in a bathroom with one way in and out was amplified by the hall of sorts that you could never see the end of since it spiraled around to the entrance door. Inside, the space was dark with tile walls and a concrete floor, so your movements echoed, but even though there are windows that are open and you can hear a bit of the ocean through them, most outside world sounds were shut off. Mirrors and sinks lined the left side of the room with a stall at their end, and stalls lined the right side completely.

I did a quick visual pat-down of the bathroom, and saw I was alone. This is always both better and worse than what I anticipate: I don’t want to be murdered, so an empty bathroom means no murderers, but if someone new comes in to murder me, there’s no one around to go get help. Ya dig? The farthest end of the bathroom was a bit more shadowed, so I opted for the second stall from the entrance, which is my typical go to anyway. I popped in and sat down quickly. I needed to pee pretty badly, but I was also anxious: what if the moment I started peeing someone tried to break down the stall door? This fear is exceptionally stupid, I have to admit, because if this did happen, I’d probably piss myself (and what better place than on the toilet?), but if I felt like I needed to run, I’d probably just stop peeing very suddenly, or if I was in genuine danger I would probably not care if I ran out half naked trailing urine. In fact, this might be tactically advantageous since my attacker could slip in the pee trail. Ultimately, I’m very unlikely to be murdered in a public toilet (though that’s probably the most likely place, it’s just unlikely overall), but I still had that momentary jolt of realization: I’m at my most vulnerable right now.

So now that we have my irrational fear covered, let’s get back to it: I was pissing. As I’m relieving myself, willing it to get the heck out so I too can get the heck out, I hear someone else come into the bathroom. Now, this bathroom, as I mentioned, already gave me that sense of dread that only very few places do, so when I heard footsteps outside the stall, my whole body seized for a second. Everything stopped up, and I just held my breath as they walked across the concrete just outside my stall. But then I realized, this is a public restroom after all, people come in and go out all the time, it was evening, it had been busy outside, this was completely normal. That and my family was waiting outside for me, so if I didn’t come out, they’d at least recover my corpse later.

So I hear this other person, and I see their shadow on the ground due to the windows in the room. They walk past my stall and enter the stall directly to my right. I was immediately annoyed–I don’t know why people do this, just leave a space between us! But then I remembered the dimness of the rest of the end of the bathroom, and I forgave them. But only a little. I heard them close the door and shuffle in the stall for a minute, then I’m finally finished, and I wrench my shorts on as fast as possible and throw myself out of the stall.

There was probably only 20 seconds between hearing my pee-partner close their stall and me exiting my own, 20 seconds that I got dressed, flushed the toilet, and left. Yes, I made a significant amount of noise, but it was incredibly fast, and I know for certain that no one else had entered or exited the bathroom in that time, but when I walked up to the sinks to wash my hands and peered into the mirror, I could see the reflection of all the stalls behind me, and they were all open. I was still alone.

My heart started racing. I was sure I’d heard and even seen someone (their shadow at least) come in and close the stall beside me. The world around me had most certainly been manipulated–light had been distorted by a figure passing by, the stalls had made a sound, they’d even rattled physically a tiny bit with the movement of the door. Everything that had just transpired screamed “there’s someone in here with you!” but I was definitively, in that moment, the only person inside that restroom.

I ran my hands under the water for a second, staring daggers at the reflection of the stall beside my own. There was no figure inside, the door didn’t even sway, but I had a terrible feeling, like I shouldn’t turn around and see it in actuality. Then I booked it out of the bathroom, and I think I actually ran down the ramp and away, and up to my family. I told them immediately, out of breath, “We have to go, that place is haunted.”

Now, I never expect people to believe me when I say this kind of thing, but this time, someone looked at me and asked me if I was joking. I shook my head and told them what happened. They pried a little harder, asking me if I was making it up or joking. Of course not, I told them, why would I do that?

Apparently, while I was in the bathroom, someone had come up to them and started talking. Since they were standing outside the Comfort Station, it looked like they were admiring it, so this person started telling them about the building. He told them that the man who’d built the octagonal bathrooms had first built an octagonal church in the area in the 30s, but had been stiffed on the payment for the church, so when he built the bathrooms, he modeled them after the church as a sort of middle finger to those that had done him wrong. Because of that, the bathrooms were cursed, or maybe haunted, or just had bad juju in general. In any case, it was best to just stay out of them. He walked away, and then I came out all flustered and upset because I’d peed next to a ghost.

I’ve since done research on Comfort Station One (meaning, I Googled it a couple times), and it turns out the legend isn’t 100% true (though it’s a pretty good one), but lots of people do report unease and ghostly sightings in that very bathroom, none of which I knew ahead of time. So that’s the story: a ghost hung out in the stall beside mine in a weird, octagonal bathroom in St. Pete once, and I managed to not pee myself or get murdered.

Blogoween Day 2 – True Terror Tuesday: The Spirits of Bourgeois Swamp

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Let’s start light, shall we? Oh, and if you’d like a little ambiance, I created a fun haunted house-style mix over at Ambient Mixer.

A few years ago, Husband and I were living in New Tampa, Florida which isn’t a real place, it’s just a bourgeois name some wealthy but uncreative people came up with who still wanted to be considered in the city limits but have sprawling golf courses between their McMansion subdivisions. The smartest thing the New Tampa planners did was to plot the “city” down in the middle of a protected wetland-type-area. Yeah, I don’t know exactly how they did it either, but basically most of the developed areas there are surrounded by land that can’t be built on because it’s too soggy or too protected. I’m all for protecting natural areas and leaving wilderness untouched, and maybe this was the best way to do it, I’ll never know, but something about it feels icky.

We lived in one of the few apartment complexes allowed in the area because sometimes you have to keep the servants close what with gas prices being so high and their wages so low. We actually didn’t know anything about the area when we moved to it, we just picked the complex for its convenience to my new workplace. It was much nicer than any place we’d lived before; our apartment was on the back of one of the buildings and all of our windows looked out on what was essentially untouched forest/wetland. This made the apartment nice and cool and quiet, but it was also often a bit creepy. I made Husband sleep on the side of the bed next to the sliding glass door.

Speaking of Husband, you should know this about him: he thinks all of this is bullshit. He’s never had a supernatural experience, and doesn’t believe in ghosts or demons or anything like that. He loves fantasy stories, and he has a great imagination, but none of those things are real to him. Although I can’t wholly wrap my head around this kind of thinking, I’m really appreciative that I’ve married someone who can keep me grounded. (Though if we ever find ourselves in a horror-movie situation, he is the exact kind of person who will get possessed but insist there’s nothing wrong with the house, and WE AREN’T MOVING, DAMMIT!)

So while we were living there, we would go on walks in the evening along the driveways and parking lots of the complex that snaked deeper into the preserve. Even though there weren’t sidewalks, there wasn’t a lot of traffic. The complex had about 55 buildings, most of which were at the front and the main road, but there was a private road that went further into the forest and ended in a big loop with about 10 buildings off of it. The private road was maybe a third of a mile long, with dense woods on either side and a stream running under it in the center: I suspect there weren’t any apartments built right off of it because the land was too bog-like.

We were both working weird hours back then, so we’d often find ourselves walking kind of late, and once you were headed down that road with the woods on either side of you and the trees reaching out overhead, it got dark quickly. There was a single streetlight, maintained by the complex so that is to say, not well, right in the center of the road. It was that yellow, sickly color, dim, sometimes flickering, sometimes out all together.

We had a couple occurrences out there in the dark. Once as we were walking we could see something in the shadows of the road up ahead, black against the tar of the road, so just a weird outline on the street, but it was long and a bit winding, not like a branch had fallen from a nearby tree, but that would have been the most obvious thing. We got closer, and not unreluctantly–we just thought hey, what is that thing?

A snake. That thing was a snake. And not like a little garden snake–we certainly wouldn’t have been able to see a small thing as far as we were to begin with. I’ve happened upon plenty of snakes while walking in Florida and though obviously they give a fright because of how they move and basic human instinct is “GET AWAY FROM THE FAST, POINTY, POSSIBLY VENOMOUS THING!” I know logically snakes want to me around me about as much as Di wants to be around Rutherford (which is not at all). But this wasn’t that, Dear Reader, this was massive and fat and in the shadows of the trees and the evening, it was black.

Florida is a great place for reptiles: it’s hot, wet, swampy, and there are year-round bugs and rodents. People have also released enough invasive species there to really amp up the scary factor when stumbling upon anything scaled in the state. I can’t tell you what this was–it was too dark and even in the light I honestly assume all snakes are good guys who should just be avoided–but it slithered away and into the woods with the kind of leisure that says, “I have no reason to be afraid of you.”

A second memorable moment was once when we had already walked down the road and completed the loop. We hadn’t measured time well, and upon return, we saw that the road had gone almost completely dark, but there wasn’t any other option–there was a single way back home, and it was through the heart of the wood.

My mind immediately goes to playing tricks on me, so I have to reason with myself, but the danger in that is I go too concrete: “Of course there isn’t a wendigo loitering behind the trees and sniffing the air for your blood, and those two glowing dots you see are very certainly not the piercing eyes of a skunk ape ready to attack.” I managed to calm myself down by chatting with Husband about something inane like work or football, and had actually put the spooky thoughts out of my mind when I heard it: the growl.

This noise shook me to my core, Dear Reader. We did not walk along the edge of this road, and it was wide enough for cars to pass one another, but even as we walked down its very center, I heard this growl in the space just behind my ear so that my jaw bone tingled. It wasn’t loud, but it was somehow right beside me. I didn’t have the nerve the turn and look, but I did feel something out in the forest. Not just behind me, not preparing to attack, but something lurking that was looking as us like we ought not be there.

Yes, I may have been too heavily invested in The Werewolf of Fever Swamp when I was a kid, but if nothing else R.L. Stein taught me not to dawdle when lycans are afoot. I grabbed Husband’s arm and started fast walking til we got past the flickering light then broke into a sprint. He was questioning me audibly, but not enough to make me stop. I didn’t explain, I didn’t even bother to ever look back, I just told him we had to go. When we got back home I told him what happened. No, Husband does not believe there was a werewolf in the woods that night. But he’s also not dead, so that is that.

Finally, the legit most frightening thing that happened to us on that road, and possible ever in our relationship, was another night, of course, when we were walking out towards the back loop of apartments. The streetlight had been properly maintained at this time and though still yellow and illuminating the humidity hanging in the air, it lit up the road enough in its center to make walking though the darkest parts tolerable. We were headed toward the light but in the darkest span of the road. It was quite quiet that evening, not even a breeze, and the woods on either side of us were still and heavy. Then there was a sound, somewhere off in the forest, more than the snapping of a twig, but not the fast and loud skitter of a small animal. No, this was slow and deliberate. We stopped to listen, but it was followed by nothing.

So we continued on toward where the streetlight stood illuminating the only bright patch on the road. Then, just at the edge of where the light ran out and the foliage turned from distinct leaves to shadows, a form emerged. Husband and I were petrified in that moment. This was no trick of the eye, there was nothing to question or second guess–something was coming out of the woods, and we, like hapless victims in the first fifteen minutes of your favorite creature creep film, froze.

Bursting onto the street up and out of the woods, it crashed through the brush like cannon fire and plunged itself out onto the road just under the light. The thing looked to be easily seven feet tall, even on four spindly legs, and had a head massive and branch-like. It stood there for just a second, regaining itself, its features obscured by shadows, then darted back off onto the other side of the road and disappeared into the woods leaving just the clamor of snapping tree limbs and crushed leaves in its wake.

Dear Reader, it was only your sweet namesake, a deer, but it was humongous with antlers like something out of a hillbilly’ wet dream. We knew almost immediately what it was once it had gone, but the jump scare we got that night will likely stick with us forever. Its size is most definitely hyperbolically painted into my memory, but not the scare we got.

So those are my spookiest stories from the time Husband and I lived in the boggiest but best apartment we’ve ever had. More to come next Tuesday, possibly spookier, possibly more supernatural. So far Blogoween is going quite swimmingly, but I’ve only had to post for two days straight, so I guess we’ll see! Stay spoopy, my deers!

Searching For Home

In moments of great stress, every life form that exists gives out a tiny subliminal signal. This signal simply communicates an exact and almost pathetic sense of how far that being is from the place of his birth.

– Douglas Adams

Husband and I are on the hunt for a new place to live. Or, more specifically, on the hunt for a town to settle down into on the outskirts of the city we’re now residing in. I end up writing a lot of fiction with location at the heart of the plot (Vacancy is no exception), so I’ve definitely internalized the significance of place, and I have a soft spot for the epic quest which you could call the exact opposite of a location-based plot. As Husband and I visit suburbs and feel places out, I’m finding myself contemplate what “home” is more and more, both where you live and where you’re from. I think I so often like to write my characters as finding purpose in their place by being impacted by it or trying to find it because I don’t know that I’ve ever really felt whatever it is that people experience as Home. In that sense, my stories, like those of so many authors, are wish fulfillment.

I find “where are you from?” a difficult question to answer. “Everywhere,” though easy, is definitely not accurate–there are people who really are “from” lots of places, but for me, listing off the specifics is tedious and really only blog post worthy, and just narrowing it down to one place feels like a disingenuous answer.

I could say I’m from New England. I was born in Massachusetts so technically my origin point, beyond my mother’s womb, is there, but I left before my second birthday. On the few occasions I’ve been back to visit, I’ve gotten this feeling, the “I’m in close range of the place I was born” feeling, but I don’t think that’s the same as Home. I was also raised by people who were born and lived almost their entire lives there, so the culture of the house I grew up in had a very New English vibe.

I could say I’m from Florida. I spent my formidable years there where my standard for everything was shaped. I learned about the world through a sandy lens, truly middle class, never saw–or wanted to see–snow. The suburb I lived in was sleepy but it was certainly not small town, nor was it anything close to urban. It just was. The defining characteristic of that city was that it had none.

I could say I’m from Ohio. I became a teenager there, a college student, an adult. But instead of being molded by the midwest, I always felt like I was just observing it. Even at twelve I found a lot of things fairly odd in Ohio, the accents, the mindset, the jargon, and while I conceptually understood that people from different places were, well, different, I never had to explain to anyone when I lived in Florida that I was not born there. Ohio never extended that courtesy, and I was perpetually an outsider by my own actions and those of others.

Once I was an adult, I moved back to Florida, and there was at the very least a small chance that I was chasing Home. I remembered being happy there and idealized it, but the reality of the state was that is was not the beachy, progressive, sunny place I remembered. Well, it certainly was sunny, but long gone were the sparsely populated beaches and the memories I had of people being happy.

So here Husband and I are in Georgia which is never a state I would have pictured myself in. Maybe we’ll live here forever, maybe it will only be a year. At this point in our lives and in the current economy, we follow job opportunities so that, perhaps, many years down the line, we can follow our hearts. But to where?

There are a couple places I feel like I would probably be happy, might feel like I fit in, couple possibly call Home, but the disappointment that was returning to Florida has really changed my perspective of that. See, I thought when I went back I’d feel like I belonged, that seeing the ocean and escaping what I thought was centralized conservatism would be comforting. That didn’t happen, (to be fair seeing the ocean still makes me cry happy tears, it’s just almost impossible to actually get to), and I realized Florida never really was–or it couldn’t have been–Home.

So maybe I’ll never have that feeling, and maybe that’s okay. My brain has figured out a way to give me phantom nostalgia every time I hear a song by Billy Joel or see a cassette tape, so it’s not like I don’t have any experience with the concept of “happy longing,” and maybe it’s better this way. Home can’t let you down if it never existed, and you can’t really miss something that was never there. Keep your heroes alive by making them fictional, right?

And when the planet gets blown to bits I won’t be nearly as sad as everyone else which puts me in prime position to snatch up the new Supreme Leader title.