Beautiful dog Dopey smile Lolling tongue Wagging tail Candy dog Chocolate fur Caramel eyes Taffy tongue Feisty dog Wrecked tennis ball Rooted-up yard Snappy bark Clumsy dog Strewn-out toys Bulky hips Awkward paws Quick dog Pulsing heart Sleek build Lightning legs Lazy dog Sleepy evenings Sluggish movements Snoring nose Hungry dog Expectant beg Dripping drool Shredded bone Same dog In every view You can’t have just one Because all their love is for you
Midnight lily blooms Flowers lustrous, blooming, sweet Shy, afraid of day Beautiful blossom Afraid to show her glory What are you scared of? Frightened of the sun? Scared your beauty will outshine The red daylight rose? Midnight lily, shine! Dare to bloom, under the sun... Show the world your worth Petal, blossom wide Throw your colors to the sky Life is yours to take Dwelling in moonlight Hide away beneath the stars Tantalizing grace Midnight lily blooms Ready to show her beauty Envy of the rose Pride of the garden Beautiful both night and day Midnight lily shines
The nameless people invited them to stay for dinner, a hearty scramble of potatoes and mystery meat. She held Jax’s hand under the table. Everything had changed in the blink of an eye. Colliding with the rock, her neck sticky with blood–she could hardly remember the bogs now, didn’t have the slightest idea of how far she got before she collapsed.
It wasn’t a dramatic fade out like in the movies: slowly falling into the silt, a curtain of darkness drifting lazily over her eyes, the sounds of the earthquake fading away as the black settled in. No–she didn’t remember much, but she remembered it was quick. Staggering slightly behind Jax, then abruptly black, a power outage in a bustling metro.
Now she was here, wherever here was. The women had explained how Jax had hauled her in uninvited,
“Barely able to lift his eyes from you for a second! He didn’t notice us lot til’ a good five seconds after he barged in!” A woman clucked, lowering her gaze,
“Even my husband doesn’t look at me like that…all concerned and wonderfilled, like I’m an angel on Earth with a broken wing. I would be charmed, except that he mouthed off to my mute brother-in-law as he was trying to take him for new clothes.”
“Either way, the poor boy thought you were on death’s door! Rita almost worried him to death, talking about how you wouldn’t make it through the hour.”
After that, the women were quieter. They knew just as well as she did: that much blood loss was bound to take its toll, if not now, then sometime soon.
Jax was out cold for a while, long enough for her to try (and fail) at making conversation with Rita. Ash had never been the talkative type, but she was starved for human interaction with a girl–or really anyone other than her lovable “always-dirty-football-player” of a companion. But, apparently, Rita was not the talkative type either. And not starved for basic human-girl interaction.
She was a beautiful girl, cold as ice, with a haughty air that sent shivers down your spine. Without saying a word, Rita had already skyrocketed to the top of Ash’s list of female powerhouses. Everything about her screamed “strong,” like an untouchable goddess or a model in a magazine.
She would have been popular back at school, Ash had thought, the kind of girl that annihilates everyone in the mile run without breaking a sweat, the kind of girl that every boy trips over themselves with desire to get, the kind of girl that dominates every single sport the school offers. Ash let the thought die away, the embarrassing memories of Rita faded and a new one coalesced. It was a vision, an imprint, a sweetness made of golden hair, burning skin, a lingering scent of pine and morning dew.
The kiss. It lingered on her lips, in her mind, the warmth of his skin swirling on her fingertips. Wow. Electricity, energizing her body and rolling across her heart like a lightning bolt striking water. Alive, charged with passion, the physical weakness dissipated for a moment. She was floating on air.
The moment was tantalizing, dangling in the back of her mind like a cat’s toy as she scooped a spoonful of potato into her mouth. But she refused to be a complacent maiden, a two-dimensional character that swoons over a boy after he saves her.
As much as the role was sweet, it wasn’t her. With resolve, she shoved another clump of ambiguous meat into her mouth. But, a light in the swirl of emotion…
I saved him first. The thought soothed her turmoil, a morsel of triumph, as though now their kiss was “justified.” Not that hauling deadweight through a mud bog was equal to hesitantly lifting him from the ground; it wasn’t, but the sentiment made her feel better about the electricity that pulsed through her body, the mortifying way her cheeks burned as she smothered herself with mashed potatoes. It would have happened anyway. Definitely. But it helped to know this.
Hyperaware of the closeness between them, Ash cleared her throat, licking away bitter mystery meat morsels from her teeth.
“So…uh, not to be…”
All eyes were pinned on her abruptly, the only sound in the room the mushy chewing of rations and crackling flames in the woodstove. Jax’s thumb was drawing circles on her palm–which, she could resentfully admit, didn’t help her train of thought. Finally the word leapt to her tongue.
“Ungrateful? But, despite, you know, not having any weapons,” she paused, certain she saw one of the men’s brows raise in suspicion, “at all. No weapons at all.” Bad amendment, unnecessary–paranoia was getting to her.
“Why did you help us? How did you know we weren’t dangerous?” The question hung on the air for a moment. All three men lifted their forks to their mouths, an eerily synchronized motion, the small children twiddled their utensils between their fingers, eyes downcast as though they had learned that it was easier to let someone else answer. From the looks on the adult’s faces, they felt the same way.
It was Rita that finally spoke…grudgingly, as though she had places to be other than here, like a tired teacher explaining third grade math to a high school student. Like Ms. Weatherby with all of Jax’s friends…after a moment, she let the thought drop. That was no way to think of the dead.
“Easy. Not only are you twigs with tight fitting clothes, impossible to hide weapons in, you don’t bear Their mark on your neck. The way this one sauntered in–” she pointed an accusatory fork at Jax, “it was like his throat was glowing with the lack of it, almost boisterously clear.”
“Wait, who are They?” Jax asked, unconsciously fingering his neck.
If the room had been quiet before, it was dead silent now. A young girl’s spoon clattered to the floor, a little boy practically cringing back in his seat. Rita regarded them coolly.
“Cannibals. A traveling band of the worst parts of society.” Ash wished now that Rita would have stopped there, it might have saved her sleep and helped her in the future. But she didn’t. The kids writhed in their seats…the women shooed them away from the table wordlessly. All 5 sprang from the table, bursting through the door into the muck.
“They take women as slaves, men to pull the carts of the Originals–the first members. Young girls are held in cages or forced to clear the path ahead, young boys…” she glanced at Jax, emerald eyes glinting in the light, unfazed.
“Slaughtered for meat. No use for them. Feral dogs trail along their path begging for scraps. They take anyone in their path, teenagers especially. As far as I can tell, they never stop travelling their nomadic quest. Suck cities dry of stored food or supplies, the Originals taking as many wives as they like, burning a star into their arm so they can be returned to them if they escape.
“And Their symbol? A brand on the neck, an exploding sun. No name for the group, just a silent agreement with the world that any survivor they find is their property. No exceptions.”
Ash exchanged a horrified look with Jax, squeezing his hand tighter; it had started to tremble. A tap on the floor told her her foot had begun to jitter. It only did that when something was wrong–very wrong.
She knew she should leave Rita’s speech at that, kindly thank the family for the meal and book it for civilization, wherever that may be. Maybe they could find guns, knives, anything to protect themselves against this gang. But something gnawed at her mind, the curiosity she had never had an affinity for rearing its ugly head. Before she could stop herself, the words spilled out.
“How do you know so much about Them?”
Rita smiled. A hollow smile. The adults all averted their eyes, a man lightly resting his hand on his holster, a pudgy-faced woman doing a 180 in her chair.
No one looked at the beautiful teenage girl, with a smatter of freckles across her cheeks and delicate blonde hair. And no one said a word as she lifted her sleeve to reveal an ugly black burn, a birthmark gone wrong–imprinted roughly, in the shape of a star.
“Thank you so much for helping Ashley and myself. My apologies for my misunderstanding of your husband’s condition–I truly didn’t know.” The woman that had hummed at his side smiled, face barely moving her bun was so tight. She handed him their clothing, still a bit damp but entirely unspeckled by the foul-smelling mud.
“Tell the men that I am indebted to them for my life, and if our paths do cross again, hopefully I can repay you for the meal and your troubles. The wooziness has improved as we speak.” Ash shook the woman’s outstretched hand; if she was shocked by the antiquated gesture, she didn’t show it, firmly shaking it without missing a beat. It was an outdated practice, one that hadn’t been used since the Quarantine long ago.
With that, they left the squat concrete building, glancing back to see the kids ushered inside, the pine door slamming shut before they had a chance to wave goodbye. At least that was one practice that had survived the Quarantine and the Burn. Waving.
Never hello, however. Only goodbye. Maybe that was symbolic of the world as it had been for the last 2 years: mournful.
Children in bunk beds. Three men wielding silver-plated pistols, pointed directly at him. Three women, draped in raggedy hoop skirts and regarding him warily, hair either up in a tight bun or falling flat and tangled around their shoulders. A beautiful girl: bright green eyes and a smattering of freckles dotting her cheeks, blonde hair tied up in a bouncy ponytail. The girl bared her teeth, the vicious smile of a vixen who spotted a baby chick, defenseless and small and ripe for slaughter.
“Leave. Now. This is our territory–no charity here,” she growled. He felt the urge to sprint away, leave Ash on their doorstep where she would be better off. Eyeing their emaciated frames and jutting ribs, he thought better.
“It’s not for me,” He stepped carefully off the rug, cold enveloping his feet. Slowly, gently, Jax set Ash down on the floor. Her limp body sprawled on the concrete like a starfish, a dribble of red speckling the gray. The men were the first to move, lifting her head to examine the wound, all the while pointing a pistol directly at his forehead.
“Can I come in?” The girl he would call ‘Vixen’ looked him over like a piece of meat in a deli window, without compassion or resentment, but confusion. Looking him over for weapons, perhaps. After a second, he took the silence as an invitation. Skirting the perimeter, he stood uncertainly by Vixen, cringing under the stares of the children and women.
“I, um…I didn’t know there were others still out there,” he said conversationally, tingling at his proximity to another human other than Ash. Vixen was strikingly gorgeous, an air of cool indifference about her that made him feel like he was nothing more than a clump of molecules and a mop of dirty blond hair.
“How did she die?”
“I…what?” She pointed at Ash, whose head was propped off the floor, gauze pressed against the bleeding wound. Sharp rock fragments littered the floor where they’d been pulled from her skin.
“Your girlfriend. How did she die?” His face went red. Some of the small children peered from the bunks curiously, ears twitching like microphones searching for audio. The girls that were mature enough to know the conversation was juicy giggled, little boys just sat confused on the rumpled sheets.
“She’s not my girlfriend. And she won’t… she won’t–”
“Die?” Vixen rolled her eyes, “she most certainly will. I’ve studied organs, blood, arteries, and medicine extensively. That much blood loss will kill her, unless she fights harder than a bucking bronco.”
That penetrating gaze slid over Ash’s clothing: muddy black leggings and tattered USA tank top, little gold embellishments on the neckline, rips revealing her trim waistline scattered with scars. Like a critic that had tasted an unsatisfactory meal, Vixen added,
“I doubt she’s much of a fighter.” Jax’s fist tensed. She twirled her hair around her finger thoughtfully, staring at Ash with a condescending spark in her eyes that he immediately resented.
“A rebellious type…lonely? All flash and no substance, maybe.” She said it casually, icily, like the crumpled girl was nothing more than a defective product.
“Or a goth, but I doubt that. You see, anyone can skip class and look like a hero, but not anyone can shoot a crossbow.” He snarled, but was afraid to raise his voice to respond. Something gave Jax the feeling that Vixen would stab him before the syllables hit the air.
“She’s more than that. As for her wound, we were camped out at the grotto beyond the mud bogs when the earthquake hit. Head slammed against a rock outcropping, I think.”
A man stepped away from Ash, lumbering over to the two teenagers with a suspicious stare that wavered between the two of them, pausing on Vixen’s upturned lip then swaying to Jax’s muddy, tense face. He grunted once, deep in his throat, looking at Vixen in a wordless exchange. She brushed a strand of gold off her face, one more sneering scan of his figure,
“Harmless. No weapons.” Vixen made eye contact once, briefly, green eyes curious and cold as ice. A dismissive flick of the fingers. The man grunted, wordlessly grabbing Jax’s arm and dragging him to the door.
“Hey, what are you–”
Furious, the man tugged him harder: calloused, beefy hands. Jax cried out, the man threw up an empty hand, exasperated.
“I need to be with her! Where are you taking me?” Silence. Dirt underfoot. The crunch of rocks under Jax’s scrambling sneakers.A threat lingered in the man’s jaw, but he didn’t say a word.
“Why aren’t you answering me, you freak! Dragging me off to eat me? Cut me up in a toolshed? Season me with salt, pepper, and a little of your disgusting swamp water?” Silence. They stopped, air thick with tension.
Flames in his eyes, the man unhinged his jaw. In the place where his tongue should be, an ugly, scarred stump of moist taffy tissue flicked uselessly, saliva saturating his gaping maw. The man threw out his hand, the quick strike of a cobra, fist connecting with temple before you could bat an eye.
Distantly, he could hear a woman’s humming. A lovely tune, slow and melodic, something familiar but unplaceable now. Some song on the radio, he thought: something he had loved, something that he would have known the chorus to.
Before the Burn. Before all that was left was ruins and grief, shame at his retreat from his home. Shame that he let it burn.
As much as he could tell himself they were all dead by the time he had left, that he had heard their screams and that there was no way to get to them, there was no way to know. When he had escaped the Burn, did he leave behind a little sister, burned but not dead, crying for help? Screaming his name into the smoke? Wondering why her chest felt tight, why her eyes watered?
Didn’t matter. Not now. He let the thought curl up and morph, smoke twisting into the sky and evaporating in the clouds. The humming was louder, was she getting nearer?
He imagined someone pretty: a girl with rain cloud eyes and a mane of black hair cascading down her back, a girl of mystery and grace. Or maybe a silly little girl, button nose and dimples–Olive. Blonde, light smile lines on the corners of her eyes–Mom.
He’d like to imagine it was the storm cloud girl, soft and warm, hiding under a threatening stare… he didn’t know why, exactly–he certainly didn’t know her name.
But she was the least blurry, a clear vision in his mind. Humming a slow song as ash drifted around her, glancing down at him, a golden boy sleeping on a cloud.
Jax stirred, the melody surrounding him, floating in an ocean-like bliss, a bubble floating to the surface of consciousness. Fingers twitching. A harsh grunt. Grating. Menacing.
He jolted awake, gasping for air. The world flooded back abruptly: cold stone walls to his left, a nestle of blankets enveloping his body. Hands lightly fluffing the pillow beside him. They drew away abruptly, surprised.
A woman he didn’t know; pudgy face, kind eyes, a tight bun that pulled her forehead tight. Disappointment fleeted across his face, a dark shadow skipping lightly over his heart. The storm cloud girl wasn’t the one who had been humming. Not Olive, his little sister, not his mother, just a stranger in a hard cement place.
“I was wondering when you would come to. Your girlfriend is awake, but she’s lost a lot of blood. I suggest you go see her–”
“Wait! My girlfriend?” The woman nodded, bushy brows knitting.
“She said her name was… Ashley?” It took him a moment for the memories to come back; his brain felt like an artery after eating syrup-dipped bacon–immensely clogged. Ash. Of course. The connection was slow…no one called her Ashley at school, not even the teachers.
“Oh…uh, right. Thank you. Ms.” The woman cast him a sideways glance for his curtness; he didn’t bother to correct her on the “girlfriend thing.” That was two people now, and he had already determined it was easier not to say anything.
Jax slipped out of the bunk, peeling off the blankets in a half-hearted attempt at keeping them organized. He barely acknowledged the new clothes that he wore–a long-sleeved flannel (impractical in this heat) and stiff cargo shorts with about a million pockets–or the fact that one of the men must have changed him into it while he was unconscious. Hopefully not the mute without a tongue…already he felt drops of guilt coalescing, embarrassment heating his cheeks as he surveyed the room.
He saw her after a second, eyes nearly skipping right past her. Ash. Shriveled against a wall, hair pulled in two neat braids behind her pale face. She looked sickly, incredibly weak, each one of her muscles strained just to hold herself upright. Her face held none of the underlying softness of the storm cloud girl; the one he had stored in his memory under her name. Cheeks sallow and sunken. Gunmetal eyes weary and unfocused.
Heart pounding, knees weak, he stepped closer. They were mere inches apart. No hesitation. Wordlessly, he drew her into a hug. Gently, he felt her back lift from the wall, stable in his arms. She smelled like mud and dry leaves, like salty sea air and a soft red sunset, smelled like familiarity and comfort and relief.
On some level he was aware of the eyes on his back, the judgement and distaste that he didn’t need to turn around to feel. Didn’t matter. Not now. He didn’t draw away, her name floating on his tongue like a prayer,
She drew back slightly, just enough so she could see his face. Each millimeter she moved was a chasm, an endless gorge. Ash looked up at him, a weak smile dancing on her lips. A second passed, nothing said. Then a fire lit in her eyes, a joke in her grin.
“I go by Ashley now.”
And he kissed her like he’d never kissed anyone before.
Recently, the COVID-19 shutdown, combined with the steady stream of “incoming freshmen” sports and activity notices, has brought me some stress. Lying on the couch, anxiously scrolling through Pinterest to block out the repetitive thoughts that slam around inside my head.
I’ve never really been a decisive type—at least, not when it comes to new things. If there’s a new activity available to me, my family and teachers know how easily my mind gets swept away: ”Hey, cheer looks fun! I did that in second grade, and that uniform would look great on me!” Or “What about Pom? I went to a summer camp for it when I was 9, how different could it be?” “I could stick with swimming, but cross country might have potential…”
And when it’s not about sports, these same bouts of indecisiveness strike for clubs and academics: “Intro to welding? That sounds cool…there’s good money in welding!” Or a thought that has passed my mind at times, even though my sense of strategy is practically nonexistent—I bet I could get good at chess if I really tried.
No matter what grade level I advance to, the same “overachiever” mentality manifests itself, getting stronger and increasingly out of control as hundreds of opportunities crop up. Even in the quarantine, Facebook buzzed with notifications from coaches about tryouts, different friend groups text me about a variety of sports, club advisors email about high school opportunities.
Some people would roll their eyes—and for good reason: “Wow, it’s such a shame that you have so many choices and opportunities to pursue.” Sarcastically, if you didn’t pick up on that. Or perhaps an optimist would view this trait of mine as less of a raging bull inside a china shop, crashing into life with an overloaded schedule, and more of a charming “Jack-of-all-trades” phase that I would inevitably grow out of.
But to me, this is a burden. My gut remains inactive, stalling at times or leading me to a choice I probably never wanted in the first place.
I choose track for a season, complain the whole time about missing swim, return to swim after, miss track. Love swimming with all my heart, yet still tangle with myself about giving my all at practice and not comparing myself to others.
No matter what, I can always rely on a war inside me over some choice or another…now, however, I’m finding that there are way more sides to fight on.
Of course, my life is no doom-and-gloom decision-making cloud of dread, but inconsequential choices like the one above do stress me out more than most.
I can attribute this to my lack of “gut-feeling,” or my simple desire to try out new things, test the waters, or be the best at any given thing…but no matter what decision I stress over, I find it easiest to step back.
Breathe for a moment. And do one–or all–of these things.
Write it down as soon as possible
Now, I’d like to say that I’m some kind of “self-care guru” that journals day in and day out, recording all my wonderings and emotions. But truthfully, the only time you’ll ever see me with a journal in hand is at my most stressed. It helps to pour out all the pros and cons and emotions swirling in your mind… you’ll find there is more room to think!
Think about the little moments
In any decision that I make, I always make an effort to step back from the large, dominating thoughts and focus on tiny feelings. This is a hard concept to grasp at first, so I will give an example.
Recently, as high school rolls around the corner, I’ve been debating between swimming and pom pon, two sports that run at the same time. I was relatively convinced in my decision to take a break from swimming to try out for a sport I had very little experience in.
But then, I stepped back and took a look at the little things I loved about both. Swimming hit me like a freight train, immediately dousing me in a thousand tiny things I loved about it: the feeling of flying over the water on a butterfly stroke, the joy of looking up at the clock and seeing you cut time, the powerful push of my arm through the water on a stroke.
For pom pon, it was the happy faces of the crowd, the uniform motions like a whole unit, one body, a team aspect that you couldn’t find in an individually focused sport like swim.
In the end, swim had more of these little things, so I decided that I will stick with swimming for the high school season, and then decide if I will try out for the winter season of pom pon. That is a very general idea of how I used little moments to make a decision that was big for me.
Talk to someone else
Most times, talking to someone else helps clear my mind. This is similar to the journal, but whereas the journal is good because it will accept all your thoughts non-judgmentally and in a private manner, a real person is good because they can give you their advice and support you.
Find someone you know and trust, and explain to them your situation and your thoughts on the matter. Whether you take their advice or not, it’s good to have a second opinion that isn’t your own.
It’s important for my readers to know that these aren’t carefully researched techniques, backed by science or experts in the field (whatever field that would be considered as). These are just some things I do at my most tumultuous moments of thought or when pondering any decisions: big, small, stupid, important. Mostly stupid. (:
This is my first informal post where I spill some personal experience with a topic I struggle with, and I thought maybe my readers would appreciate a little more about me and the choices I’ve faced and been facing lately. Follow your heart the best you can–when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
Questions for the comments
- How do you handle decisions?
- Are there any tactics you use that I didn’t mention?
- Do you feel as though the COVID-19 shutdown has brought to you more decisions to make, or cut back on them?
Carrying her deadweight in his arms, Jax had the strangest sensation that the only hope for humanity was bleeding out in his grasp. Staggering blindly through the bog, every step was a haze of fetid, oozing silt. Tremors threw him down again and again, sprays of silt and wet sediment splattering his face, his hair. Splattering her. Her limp body. Her unmoving chest. Her throat that refused to take in a breath. Her eyes that wouldn’t open.
Sweat dripped down his face in obnoxious beads. Tremor. Trip. Check her pulse. Tremor. Trip. Wipe mud from his eyes. Tremor. Trip. Peer ahead at the pudgy square of blocks on the horizon, hope embodied in the squat cement cube, barely a smudge against the rapidly darkening sky.
Another rumble rocked the earth, and he clutched Ash close as he toppled backwards into the goop. More layers of burnt umber mud sloshed around him, a marshy mix of thin liquid and viscous silt; as he lifted himself from the muck, Jax was struck with deja vu thinking of Caroline’s tough pink-sparkle slime back home, played with so much it was almost unmoldable. But this wasn’t the neon goop. And he would never see Caroline’s freckled nose scrunch up in a smile, or roll his eyes at her incessant ramblings.
Oh, how he hated the glitter slime–all over the couch, his clothes, his computer–but thinking back, he would give up everything to see his little sister light up, hear her ramble about how the chemical compounds affected plasticity and scent. Jax wondered what Caroline would say about the mud. Or how the blood loss was already taking its toll on Ash as it gushed down her neck…
Can’t think about that. Won’t. The building ahead was salvation in the pain, some stability juxtaposed against the sloshing bogs and shifting sands of this wasteland: We should never have left the capital… at least there are no falling boulders. And there would have been some water that wasn’t deep in a grotto or riddled with dirt. Maybe there would be medical supplies… water reserves… gauze bandages… a towel… something, anything to save her life.
He couldn’t be alone. Not before–with his admittedly continuous stream of girlfriends, his family, friends, football buddies–and not now…he couldn’t let her die. She was the only ally he had in the burned world. Perhaps the only person alive at all.
Another step, another disgusting squish.
That would have made his Jenny and Olive screw up their faces and croon “ewwww!” until their faces turned red with air loss, he thought wistfully, imagining his little sisters’ scrunched noses and obnoxious giggles.
Another step, another scathing memory burned into his mind’s eye, scalding his heart in bittersweet thoughts, bathing in a vat of melted lemon candies.
I wonder what they would think of me now. Awful thought. Painful thought. Funny thought, because he knew Caroline would be batting her lashes, asking him if Ash was his new girlfriend and shutting his computer relentlessly until he answered. Jax stored the notion in a box, deep in his mind, filing away the bittersweet wonderings for later. Now was the only thing that mattered.
He had arrived at the crest of the slope, the ambiguous, runny-icing, slippery point where the mud reluctantly softened its grip on the countryside. Within feet of the building, now, so close he could reach out and touch if he strained hard enough. But was he too late?
Her skin was gritty under his fingers; the pulse at the base of her throat fading as he touched his hand to her neck. Dirt speckled her closed lids like crusted-on freckles, the stifling sunlight dripping down her brow in plump drops, a stench of sweat intermingling with rancid swamp water and pore-clogging dust suspended in the stuffy air.
The maple boards of the door bowed under their own weight–old and decrepit like an aging lumberjack, spotted and smelling faintly of sap. Jax threw open the door, timbers rattling in their frame. Readjusting his grip, he saw Ash’s pale lids flutter faintly, pupils moving rapidly in a pseudo-sleep. Her lips twitched, a croak of a voice creaking from her dirt-crusted lips, “I can’t feel my fingers…”
“I know, I know. We’re almost there, you’re okay.” Even as he said it a shiver rattled down his spine: there was no guarantee she would make it through the day. Through the hour. She went limp again, consciousness gone as quickly as it came. Stepping inside, he scanned the room and recoiled.
Twelve sets of eyes pinned him to his place. He was a deer in headlights, staring straight down the barrels of three separate guns.
Contacts are complicated. It can be scary, putting them in and taking them out. Keeping them clean. Setting up a station. Switching them out. Contacts can be stressful at first, but they don’t need to be! There are so many things that optometrists, pamphlets, and other online articles can’t tell you about contacts. So from a person that wears contacts myself, here is the ultimate guide to wearing, cleaning, putting in and taking out, and identifying and fixing problems with contacts that I wish I would have had when I started.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read): This article will answer:
- How do I put in and take out contacts?
- How do I clean contacts?
- How can I tell if my contacts are ripped/torn/inside out?
- Why can’t I sleep or swim with contacts in?
- What should I do if my contact is broken?
First of all… calm down!
Before you try to put in your contacts, take them out, clean your case or do anything contact related, calm down! It took me multiple days to get adjusted to the feel of contacts and life with them, and for some people it will definitely take longer. But there is no need to feel overwhelmed or stressed. Patience is the key!
Contact station-the ideal set-up
Before you begin the process of contacts, you need a space where you can safely put in and take out your contacts without interruption or other hazards. There are some essentials you will need to establish your set-up.
- Makeup mirror- A lighted makeup mirror is a necessity for any contact station…yes, even if you don’t wear makeup! A mirror is incredibly useful for placing contacts in the eyes and seeing whether the contacts have settled properly on the eye. The contact will have a bluish tint that is visible on the eye, but only up close.
- Tissues- Tissues are an essential for a contact set-up. They are a sanitary, replaceable surface, useful for drying your fingers (a necessary step for putting in contacts so they don’t stick to your fingers) and dabbing away tears that may come while you are trying to put in your contacts or after you put them in. Most of all, they are better than a towel for drying hands because they are less likely to get microfibers on your fingers.
- Towel- A towel is important to have near you so that if you need to dump the contact solution out of your case to replace it, you can dump it directly onto the towel where it will quickly absorb. Also, a contact will stand out against a tissue or a towel in the off chance that you drop it, making it easier to find. I do not recommend wiping your fingers on towels because of the hairs/fibers.
- Contact Solution- You’ll need contact solution. And a lot of it. My one piece of advice concerning this is: don’t be stingy with the contact solution! If you see microfibers, hairs, dirt, or any other impurities on your lens or floating in the case, rinse the contact and dump the dirty solution for new stuff. My contact solution brand is called “Opti-free puremoist”, and it has worked perfectly for me!
- Light source- In addition to a mirror, you will need ample light so you can inspect your contacts before putting them in and after taking them out. Holding the lense to the light will highlight any hairs, scratches, or tears in the contact so you know it is safe to put in your eye!
Dos and Don’ts
✔ Do~ Choose a spot that is isolated from pets and small children so you can not only focus on what you are doing, but also keep your contact case from being knocked off the surface or your tissues and towels getting dirt/hair on them.
✖ Don’t~ Choose a spot often used by other people, like a bathroom or shared bedroom.
✔ Do~ Choose a flat surface, like a desk or a table with a lot of room and no hazardous or dust-collecting items around it.
✖ Don’t~ Put your contact station by a sink! If a contact falls into the sink and it is not plugged, there is no chance of getting it back. Bathrooms in general are usually very unsanitary and a shared space with others. Bathroom counters can be cluttered with soaps, towels, lotions, and the like. You definitely don’t want soap on your contacts!
When going to school, going on a trip, or really travelling anywhere while wearing contacts, it’s a smart choice to bring a travel bag with you with a few essentials in it.
In your bag:
- Contact solution- Extra contact solution is important in case you need to take out your contacts to clean them or handle them for any reason.
- Backup case- For storing contacts in if the need arises, also useful to clean them out. Just fill the case with solution, take out contacts, swirl them in the solution until they are clean to your satisfaction, then put them back in.
Other travel essentials:
- Glasses and glasses case- In case of a contact emergency out and about, having a backup pair of glasses is best so you know that if something does happen, you won’t be entirely blurry. Even if the prescription is slightly outdated, I would definitely recommend taking an extra pair of glasses if you have them.
- Hair tie- If you have long hair, sometimes it is helpful to pull your hair back in a ponytail before you put in or take out contacts. This is to prevent distractions and touching your hair, which might have microbes on it.
Putting in and taking out contacts
These are step by step walk-throughs of my personal methods of putting in and taking out contacts.
Putting in contacts for the first time can be scary. There are many different methods for putting them in, and when you receive contacts for the first time, there will likely be a “contacts class” where they teach you the basics of how to put in contacts and take them out. But if you need a refresher or are entirely new to the processes, here they are step by step as it applies for standard soft contact lenses.
Step 1- Wash your hands. Always!
You will be touching an object that will be on your eye, and you will be touching your face… you need to wash your hands every time! Before you handle contacts, thoroughly wash your hands. No one wants an infection or a parasite on your eye.
After you do this, make sure not only your hands are clean, but also your contacts. Any microfibers, hair, or dirt specks will irritate your eyes once you put the contacts in.
Step 2- Put the contact on your index finger
Like shown in the picture above, put your clean contact on your dominant index finger, on the upper middle of the finger pad. It should be in a bowl shape–if it is inside out, you will be able to feel it (and visually, the contact’s “bowl” will look a little flatter).
Step 3- Pin your lids
The hardest part (in my opinion) of putting in contacts for the first few times is getting a proper pin of your eyelids. My eyelids were strong, and when I saw something coming towards my eye, the immediate reaction was to squeeze my eyes shut. That’s why my dad–who had worn contacts for about 8 years–used a certain phrase to help me imagine how to pin my eyes. He said I needed to do “zombie eye.” And that was the sole phrase that helped me pin my lids.
“Zombie eye” is essentially the third step. Take your middle finger of your dominant hand and place it on your bottom lid in the middle, and simply pull down. Next, take two or three fingers of your non-dominant hand and pin the upper lid. It is important to pin the lids super strongly so that your eye is all the way open and exposed, like a zombie!
Step 4- Place the contact on your eye
Place the contact directly on your eye. Once it is on, remove your fingers from your face and slowly close your eye. Pat your lid gently to get any air bubbles out that may have been on the contact. Slowly open your eye and test the vision by placing a hand over the eye without the contact in; if you can see perfectly and there’s no irritation, you did it right!
Do and Don’t
✔Do~ After you put the contact on your finger, it will wet your finger with the contact solution. Lightly pinch it between two fingers on your non-dominant hand. Wipe your finger on the tissue and then place the contact back on your finger. This ensures that the contact will easily come off your finger and onto your eye.
✖ Don’t~ Wipe your fingers on a towel when drying off the contact solution. Little hairs or fibers from the towel can get on your fingers and then onto the contact.
Step 1- Wash your hands. Again.
Even taking out contacts, washing your hands is a necessity! You’ll actually be touching your eyes more taking out contacts than you did putting them in.
Step 2- Pin your eye
Yep. Another repeated step! You’ll pin your eyes exactly the same way you did last time. The image for putting in your contacts is a great reference for what fingers to use and where to place them so you can properly pin your eye.
Step 3- Use your fingers to pinch the contact
Place your dominant index finger and thumb on either side of the contact (far sides of the eye). To get a grip on the contact, apply light pressure to the eye, then pinch the two fingers towards each other. The contact should be pinched into your fingers, where you can lift it away. And…that’s it! You’re done!
The same dos and don’ts apply as all the others. Key points: definitely wash your hands, and don’t forget the “zombie eye!”
Cleaning and Contact Hygiene!
To a beginner, it can be hard to put in and take out contacts. You might think that that will be the hardest challenge you will ever face with contacts… and some would agree. However, in my opinion, keeping your contacts clean is without a doubt the hardest part of wearing them. With that in mind, know that with contacts you will have to be patient and stay calm. Here are two cleaning essentials that people without contact experience might not know!
- Case cleaning- To keep your contacts clean, it starts with the case. Change the solution in your case regularly so that dirt or hairs won’t be stagnant or drifting in the case. But even doing that, you should thoroughly wash out your case with hot water every couple of days. Just put in your contacts, dump the solution out, rinse case under hot water and leave it set out to dry. Do not dry the case with a towel, since that will just get little fibers and impurities right back into the case!
- Inspecting contacts- Before you put your contacts in, hold them to a light. This will expose any scratches, tears, dirt, or hairs on the surface before you put them in your eye!
Things that can go wrong: how to know and how to fix it!
Inside out v.s normal image from Acuvue, dirty contact image from Tracking Zebra
When you first start wearing contacts, it’s common to start panicking the first time you put them in. Any weird feeling whatsoever can send you spiraling into worry: are they inside out? Scratched? Dirty? Ripped? Here’s a few things that can go wrong, how to identify the problem and how to fix it!
- Inside out contact- A contact that is inside out will kind of flare out, whereas a contact that is the correct way will look like a perfect bowl. But if you do put a contact on your eye and you aren’t sure if it was the right way, here’s the worst explanation ever, but also the truth… you’ll just know! However if you still can’t tell, some things you would experience are blurred vision, eyes itching or stinging, and just an all-around awful fit on the eye. To fix it, try to stay calm. Take out the contact, flip it the other way, clean it off if needed and put it back in the eye.
- Ripped or scratched contact- If you didn’t catch it in your inspection, once the contact is on your eye, it will bring about a burning or discomfort on the eye. Take out the contact and change it out for a new one. Make sure that once you get out a new pair of contacts you take note of when you began using them. Contacts have a time limit that you need to be mindful of (more on this later).
- Hair or dirt on contact- Sometimes when you are looking over your contact before you put it in your eye, you might miss something, looking at it at the wrong angle or in the wrong light. If you put a contact on your eye with a hair on it, you will feel an itch, light burn, or discomfort. When this happens, take out the contact, clean and rinse in solution, then go about your day.
Changing out your contacts
Sometimes it’s necessary to change out your contacts when they are lost, ripped, torn, or something happens. But it is important to know that no matter what, you have to change them on a regular schedule.
When you receive your contacts, the box may have a time span listed or your optometrist will tell you a time span (for example: “these are 2-week contacts”). What this means is that from the time that you first take the contact out of its sealed package, it has a “time clock” that starts. After the specified amount of time you need to change out your contacts for new ones.
To make sure that you remember when to change them out, mark the date that you opened your new contacts and set a calendar appointment for when you need to change them out. One thing to know…
Be careful when you open up the individual packages! If you try to peel the seal off too quickly, both the solution and the contact will explode out; no one wants to waste money just to save a few measly seconds!
Things you shouldn’t do with contacts in
If you even look up the word “contacts” and click on images, some of the first things that pop up are disgusting. Eye infections, cloudy gazes, discolored eyes, slimy goop seeping out of the eye, all paired with warning articles: “Why You Shouldn’t Sleep With Contacts In,” “Man Gets Parasite in Eye After Showering With Contacts In,” “I Scratched My Cornea Taking Out Contact Lenses.” How many of these headlines are real warnings to be taken into consideration, and how many are just over exaggerations, meant to cause fear?
Here are some things that you shouldn’t do with contacts in, according to optometrists and scientists around the world.
- Swimming- A big part of wearing contacts is not opening your eyes in water or getting a lot of water in your eye. Swimming without extensive eye protection and goggles while wearing contacts is a surefire way to expose yourself to infections, harmful bacteria, and the like. Water contains viruses and microbes that can attach to contacts as you swim, one such virus being the Acanthamoeba organism (which, if fastened to your contact, can cause permanent vision loss) (Swimming). Freshwater causes soft contacts to tighten on the eye and absorb bacteria and microbes; even swimming pools are filled with nasty viruses that chlorine can’t get rid of! To see where I got the information on swimming with contacts in and to learn more, go to Is swimming with contacts safe? Find out the answer here.
- Sleeping- Though some people will choose to take the risk of sleeping with contacts in, first let me give some perspective–according to the CDC and an article by Healthline, sleeping with contacts in makes you 6 to 8 times more likely to get an eye infection! Eye infections can sometimes go on to cause blindness, corneal damage, and need for corrective surgery. This is because your eyes need a lot of oxygen and moisture to keep them healthy. Contacts already limit the amount of these your eyes can access, but when you are sleeping (not blinking or letting your eye have oxygen), the effects are even more severe, creating a breeding ground for bacteria (Sleeping). To learn more and see where I got this information, visit Sleeping with Contacts In: Just How Bad Is It for Your Eyes?.
- Rub your eyes- Rubbing your eyes may be a hard habit to break, but when done while wearing contacts lenses, it can have serious repercussions. According to the article “10 Things You Should Not Do When Wearing Contacts” by PerfectLensWorld, rubbing your eye while wearing contacts can cause serious cornea damage. If you want to know some less general things that you shouldn’t do with contacts in, visit 10 Things You Should Never Do When Wearing Contacts.
- Showering- Just like swimming, showering with contacts in isn’t advisable. Though it isn’t as dire a threat as swimming with contacts in, showering can still allow bacteria to absorb into the contact (Swimming). Sometimes–to be honest–I do shower with contacts in, just for convenience. But it is recommended by optometrists and contact lense distributors to avoid showering with contacts in.
You’re an expert!
If you took the time to read through all this–or even just scan over the key points–I can guarantee you are more prepared and informed than before, because let’s be honest…getting contacts can be scary!
I’m very lucky to have an immediate family member with contact experience, but not everyone is. If you know anyone that is new to contacts, or has any of the problems or questions mentioned, be sure to share this article with them and check out the other articles I have written!
I’m a stalker. Officially. He scrunched up his face, fingering the tape and decisively pasting the picture on his cluttered wall. As soon as the paper left his hands, he sighed, gazing at the mess of notes that scattered his walls. Fragments of the life of a killer. An assassin. A girl. A girl. Was this really all about her?
No. He could deny it all he wanted, but this wasn’t about the assassin girl, the vengeful, breathtakingly beautiful goddess of the night that prowled the boroughs. No. This didn’t have anything to do with her, he decided. It was about who she had killed.
The boy took two steps back, nearly running into his disastrous desk… the one scattered with bright yellow post-it notes that seemed ironically happy. Sunshine, golden honey dribblings, sweet canary songs, autumn leaves in the park on Rachington Avenue, sugary candy yellow. Why were the words written on them all about murder? Regret? C.S.I. evidence?
Looking at the sprawl of information on his wall, fragments of bloody brutality and silver dagger slayings. Fragments of her. The assassin. The justice-bringer.
I’m just like those stereotypical victim characters in the movies, their only use to cry their eyes out and plot half-baked revenge schemes that never work. At least I didn’t link the pictures with red yarn. The only difference between me and the “dead-family-member,” vengeful character is–
Knock knock! The boy yelped, recoiling and slamming his back against the desk.
“Ooow… frickin…fricker…stupid…desk!” He growled, teeth tearing at his lips with each word. Hopping over to the bathroom mirror, he ran a hand hastily through his bedhead hair. It wasn’t going to get better than this. No time to gel it. No time to brush his teeth, which probably should have been done hours ago when he woke up. Praying it wasn’t her, he hopped to the door, pain still shooting through his back…
Yup. It was her. Crap.
“Hey, Ben! There’s this new show on Netflix that looked really good and I-” she paused, seeing his flustered expression and unruly gingerbread-brown hair. Mentally cursing himself for his laziness, his cheeks flushed bright red, praying she wouldn’t say those words before he could collect his thoughts–
“Euh… should I go?”
“No, no, sorry. Please! Come in!” Okay, now too desperate. With an uncertain smile that displayed her shiny row of purple braces, she meandered in, feet moving so lightly on the floor it was as though she was gliding over the wood.
“Switched out the dark blue?” Ben asked her, swinging the door shut as she took in his room. The girl cocked her head, eyes still roving the cluttered room.
“What do you mean?”
“Your braces. I like the purple.” His cheeks flushed again, and he cursed under his breath. She already knows about my sister and my investigation, and now I’m making creepy observations– his thoughts immediately halted when she smiled self consciously, sitting down on his bed. She looked like an angel sitting in the depths of hell, a vision of beauty right in front of him. Sitting on his bed, inky black hair stirred by her breath, sparkling black eyes.
“Thanks. I don’t know, I liked the dark blue but it didn’t really match my cloak–not cloak. Uh… coat. And the purple is more mysterious.” Miranda cleared her throat awkwardly, averting her eyes. Cloak? Mysterious? An inkling popped into his head, one that he shoved aside. Irrational. Stupid. But true all the same: she matched the description perfectly… dark haired girl, tall, pale skin, cloak billowing behind her, braces. But Miranda was no killer, Ben thought, shoving the notion from his mind. It was just a slip in speech. Nothing more.
“You know, your wall is getting kinda… graphic.”
“Huh?” He paused, following her dark gaze to the smattering of pictures dotting the wall of his apartment. “Oh. I’m sorry, I should have taken it down–”
“No, no, it’s okay. But, honestly, Ben, how long will you keep going with this? Hasn’t she been avenged enough? The Midnight Rogue slaughtered him a week ago. Justice has been served, Ben! Isn’t that what you wanted?” Her eyes grew abruptly stormy. She looked away, a glimmer of something other than concern flashing in her gaze.
“Yes. Paisley is in a better place than this awful town, these horrible outer boroughs. But I need to thank her, Midnight Rogue. I need to know her, know why she did it. Why she killed him.” He gestured vaguely to the picture, a stocky man with a gaunt face and a ravaged stomach, torn and gushing dark blood. The man that killed his sister.
Miranda stood up, muscles taut, coal eyes glittering dangerously. Plucking her bag off the bed, she whipped it over her shoulder, fingers twitching as she brushed off her black leather jacket.
“Isn’t it enough to have justice?” Her mouth was downturned, lips curled in a pained sneer. What is she talking about? A cluster of birds twittered nervously outside the window, a cloud passing over the sun as though the whole world was holding its breath.
“Miranda? What are you talking about? It’s just… I need to find her. I don’t know why just… feel like it’s the right thing to do. For Paisley. For me.” The room was silent, the world around them proceeding lightly, apprehensively. Clanks sounded from the other side of the wall–the resident next door cooking spaghetti, from the smell of it.
“Can’t you ever stop? I’ve done what I can, Ben. Paisley was my best friend… you are too. But she’s gone. And she’s never coming back.” Dusting off her skinny jeans, she turned, ice in her eyes, face slack and emotionless. Ben lunged for her hand, mouth curled in a desperate frown, freckled nose crinkled in confusion. She shook off his grip easily, opening the door to leave.
“Miranda! Wait, stop!” She paused for a fraction of a second, just long enough for his heart to falter and flail in his chest. He could think of nothing to say to her—thoughts empty except for the way Miranda’s name was bitterly sweet on his tongue, the storm cloud visage of her moon dust face, how the rare smiles lit up her eyes and made her cheeks go red.
His tongue was lead in his mouth.
“The Midnight Rogue is dangerous, Ben. An enigma: a night prowling, devastatingly heartless, brutal avenger of the innocent,” her knuckles flexed on the door, face never softening from that emotionless glaze.
“She’s cruel, Ben. Just. Fair. Vengeful… and more dangerous than you could imagine. If I were you, I would give it up. You’ve had your vengeance.” The door shut silently. It hurt worse than if she would have slammed it: irrational people exit with slammed doors, but people who are right leave silently, dignified. That was the scary part…Miranda was right. He’d had justice for Paisley. What was he still seeking? What was out there that he needed so badly?
Alone again, Ben collapsed on his bed, where Miranda had been moments before: bright eyed, excited, leather jacket shiny as an oil slick in the faint light that trickled through the window.
How quickly she came and left, barely three minutes and enough to leave his heart aching with a sour, longing grief. A grief that wasn’t so much about Paisley as it was Miranda. It was a guilty truth… but a truth all the same.
He told himself it would be different if he knew what set her off, what flipped that switch, that it would take her off his mind. But maybe it wasn’t. Maybe it was something more, something he was too scared—too guilty?— to admit to himself.
The Midnight Rogue had found her next victim. Opening the hatch in the abandoned apartment floor, the assassin glided silently down the stairs, feet just barely padding the stained cedar, a leopardess stalking the jungle. She didn’t bother to close the hatch. The season for drug addicts and squatters seeking refuge had long passed, the winter months over and already deep in the rainy dregs of spring. There would be no one to intrude. It was time to get ready.
In the dim light of the cellar, everything was dull and grimy, grisled with gray soot. Something about the space struck a chord with her heart—perhaps it was the chill that permeated the space like the mournful spirit of a lonely ghost adrift in the air, dancing in sorrowful harmony with the clouds of dust. Or maybe the brutally thin slits of light falling through the bars were symbolic to the bars she had put around her heart; how little of the sweet, sweet sunshine she let herself have.
Either way, to her it was one thing, and one thing only. A place to store her daggers. Rows and rows of razor sharp blades, meticulously cleaned and not a speck of blood in sight.
Most assassins, those for hire or not, were sloppy. Blood spatters on their knives, fingerprints everywhere, wearing their true shoe size to the crime scene. Everyone knows to wear oversized boots and stuff them with newspaper. Anyone with a brain, at least. That wasn’t the only advantage she had over “regular” killers. Reputation or not, everyone underestimates a pale teenage girl with braces.
If only they knew the coldness in her heart: a well of pain overflowing, a pounding surf of fury relentlessly beating in her mind. Some girls solved their anger with technology, speeches and tirades, mall trips (the metropolitan ones, at least—drugs seemed more popular in the outer boroughs). Bloodlust, however, was not a trait they had. The Midnight Rogue was overflowing with it.
She sauntered over to the daggers, running a hand over their handles gently, touch soft as an angel’s wing caressing a cloud. Envisioning her next victim, she fingered through the daggers, letting her gut guide her choice.
Something inside her was broken, she knew, thirsty for vengeance that wasn’t her own. It was easier to ease into it, down the cellar where there wasn’t anything else to trigger the bloodlust. But even with all her fractures, breaks, ruptures and seams, she could pick out the perfect dagger and let the hurt settle.
It was a cool, soft pain, a cold arctic river coursing under the icy facade.
This was how it always happened when the switch was flipped.
Normalcy, pushing the irrational, pounding grief into the far corner of her mind. Allowing herself a brief glimmer of happiness.
A trigger. Blind. Hot. Heart-wrenching grief, a drowning sorrow that pulled you under. Fury. Burning. Anxious. Itching for something unreachable, intangible, impossible. Then the ice washed over and softened the burn.
Her gaze fell on the dagger. She smiled, less out of true emotion than the knowledge that justice would be served soon enough. It was a silver blade, serrated, jagged as a shard of glass. Crude, glittering, bronze etchings spiraling up and down the black handle. Tossing her hair over her shoulder, she crouched to pick it up, turning it over in her long, piano-player’s fingers. Holding it up to the thin streak of sunlight, she marveled at how dazzling the silver was in the light; lethal and imperfectly perfect.
Sheathing her knife and grabbing her dark purple cloak, she fastened the silky fabric neatly around her shoulders. Of course, she would wait for night to fall when visibility was limited and some rogue passerby wouldn’t have much to report. The people already knew too much–and vengeance was far from complete.
Tonight the streets would run red with blood, for the second time that week.
As the long-coated man slunk down the fetid alley, he had the strangest instinct that tonight was destined for misery. The creeping ivy that crawled down the crumbling brick reached out like clawed hands, the air was silent as the Welsh countryside, and the usual cat-droppings-and-perfume aroma was gone without a trace. Most nights, he would have supposed that to be a good thing, that that awful German woman who carried that stench was gone and he wouldn’t be scolded for his soft footsteps on the trash-littered cement.
But tonight, with a bitter chill nipping at his skin and an icy wind breezing down the narrow corridor, the man bit his lip, subconsciously picking up his steps… perfectly in time with the dry rustle of leaves on the night wind. Tonight, the absence of the usual–the cacophony of German screaming, the distinct litter box and perfume odor, the gamblers speeding recklessly down city streets, revving the engines on their off-brand sports cars– felt not like a blessing, but rather like he was all alone in the world.
The muffled, cottony hum of the distant City Central meant nothing to him. Or the ribbon of lights weaving its way across the black horizon. Those people were nothing to him. Nothing real, anyways. Just a far off dream, what the world thought about when they thought of our city. The world knew nothing of the outer boroughs at midnight. The world knows nothing, he thought. Nothing at all.
Unlocking the door to his apartment, the man stepped inside, wincing at the creak of his shoes on the floorboard. Madame Heleen isn’t home… there is not a single need to be quiet. But he did. Pushing the door shut with as little movement as possible, the man tentatively hung his coat on the rack. But the dark trench coat on the rack cast an eerie shadow in the stale light of the moon, that of a slender, dark figure inching up from behind… in a surge of panic, the man snatched the coat from the rack and flung himself into bed. The shadow was just that of a coat rack now, spindly wooden arms stretched out invitingly like an guilty mother beckoning back a scorned child.
Cursing softly, the man stretched, yawning and squeezing his eyes shut. When he opened his eyes he fell back with a scream.
A figure stood silhouetted in the doorway. Tall. Slender. Outlined in pale silver-yellow moonlight. And a thousand times more frightening than a trench coat on a rack. Gasping, he jolted out of bed, pinning himself against the wall.
“Who are you?!” He shouted, heart slamming against his ribs because he knew better than to ask. He knew exactly who she was, if the stories were true. Distinctively female. Deep purple cloak with silk threads that glimmered in the moonlight like the rushing waters of a mountain river. Hood resting barely on the top of her head; he had heard it was a way to show everyone that she didn’t need her face obscured by a mask or hood. He had never believed it. Now–mouth agape, mind pinwheeling, shivering with fear–there was no doubt in his mind that the rumors were true.
As though seeing right into his mind, she inched forward, chin tilted down at precisely the right angle that a shadow concealed her face.
“You know the answer to that question. And don’t bother to ask me the next one. I’ve tired of it, so let me just say it… why are you here?” The man expected her to chuckle condescendingly at him, like a villain in the movies, but she didn’t make a sound. A freezing breeze gusted through the open door. It took everything in his power to clench his teeth to keep them from chattering. Without preamble, she inched a step closer to him, shutting the door with an effortless silence he would kill for and continuing on.
“But… alas, you know that, too. Murder.” He quivered in place, opening his mouth to protest–”Ah ah ah!” She tittered, feet edging ever closer with each syllable she spoke. His mind flashed back to every sin he’d ever committed. Too many to count, he was sure. Drunken brawls, black market business dealings, dabblings in drugs of every kind–trying to find bliss, to no avail. All he managed to get himself was two ODs, empty pockets, and nasty shiners that kept him from getting a respectable job. His sins were many, and he had a lot of company in that, at least. Everyone in the outer boroughs was hell-bound. There was no way around that.
But… murder? Did he ever commit murder? Drunken nights flashed in his eyes, hazy blurs, eternally dark alleys after dusk when all he could see was the glint off a person’s hair in the moonlight. In the perfect world, nobody would have to question whether they had slaughtered an innocent person. But this was not the glistening utopia of the City Central. In the sinful, disgusting outer boroughs, there was no way of knowing.
“I’ve never murdered anyone…” he said, unable to hide the slight rise in his voice at the end of the phrase that made it a question. Coal black eyes glinting as bright as the dagger she withdrew from her cloak, the vigilante girl stared into his soul.
“Shame,” she cocked her head, mimicking deep thought, “that you’ll never truly feel the guilt of that night.” Stepping a hair closer, her face was illuminated by the silvery yellow moonlight. Black, oil slick hair hung around her cheeks in effortless waves, a stark contrast to the colorless pallor of her skin. She was the vision of an assassin, a lethal goddess of the night: mouth drawn up in an almost smirk, crow-like eyes glittering dangerously, a rigid tension humming in her every muscle.
“Please… I’ll call the police! I will!” he shouted. There was no thought dominating his mind, only a raw fear that rendered him utterly helpless. His bluff was just that… a bluff. He couldn’t afford the luxury of a cell phone, almost no one could in this neighborhood.
He should have heeded the warning. Stayed indoors with as much food as he could afford. Boarded up his doors, nailed plywood to his windows till not a single sliver of sun shone through. That’s what all the sinners should do. The man thought, quaking under the intensity of her glare. That’s what I should have done a long, long time ago… back when I first heard the rumors. The rumors of a vigilante prowling the outer boroughs, dealing justice to all the sinners.
Sensing his tumultuous thoughts, the girl grinned, showing off an array of teeth that made him recoil. Metallic purple bands stretched over silver brackets, shimmering in the pale light. The braces on her teeth were not something you expected from a villainous assassin or a novel-protagonist crime fighter. They were an anomaly. An unexpected reminder that the girl–standing before him with the malice of a crouching leopardess–was just a teenager.
“You have no idea…” she purred, fingering the serrated blade of the dagger, “how brutally you killed her. Paisley Renee, seventeen. Murdered when you staggered out of a nightclub, drunk and higher than the night sky, and beat her to death on the concrete for having the courage to push away your inappropriate advances on her friend.”
His heart stalled. Screams bounced in his mind like marbles crashing onto a tile floor, fragments of half-formed drunken memories swirling elusively in the depths of thought. There was no way for him to truly know whether he had done it during a blackout—but why, then, did the name make his skin prickle with goosebumps?
Paisley Renee. Visions of innocent caramel eyes flashed in his mind. Eyes that were protective. Eyes that were sweet. Eyes that reflected a towering man, face flushed red from heavy drinking, frothing at the mouth he was so intoxicated.
I murdered someone. The thought was a slap to the face. Recoiling against the wall, he wished for a quick, painless end to it all. A confused wave of guilt washed over him.
The outer boroughs were still. The air was abruptly cold, the fetid smell dimmed slightly, the jaundiced moon beaming a spotlight on the standoff.
With one more step, she was close enough to him that the man could feel her calm breaths stirring his mussed hair. The girl gripped her dagger with renewed intensity, poised to strike. Resolute, holding his breath in the grim silence, he begged the clock not to chime. It was edging towards dusk. And everyone knew what happened at dusk. Heart pounding, skin tingling, eyes dilated in panic, the man squeezed his eyes tight and waited to die.
“What time is it?” she insisted suddenly, gripping his throat in her bony fingers.
“What time is it?!” He quivered, shuddering with terror, limbs like concrete and insides turned to jelly. His throat was constricting. Air rushed from his windpipe, the slim, feminine fingers crushing into his vocal cords.
“What time is it?” She bellowed, trembling with fury. Soulless black eyes and a dastardly grin barely visible. He shook violently, tears pooling in his eyes, praying to anything holy that that clock would not chime. 5 more minutes, 3, 2, he didn’t care. He wasn’t ready to die.
Face red as the crumbling brick in the alley, eyes bulging. Her victim was ready to go. But not yet. The clock hadn’t chimed yet. She always waited until midnight. Midnight was a time of isolation, death, reckoning. The perfect time.
Pressed into the corner as far as he could go, mind whirling with his sins, he prepared to die. 5 more minutes… the man bargained desperately to the lord up above. He should have known that there was no god in the outer boroughs, only demons lurking around every corner… because at just that moment, his worst nightmare came true.
The clock chimed, and he felt his body go slack with fear as each hour rang out in the dark room.
1. 2. The girl hissed at him with a raw anger like a mother cougar defending her cubs, bearing her metal-clad teeth.
5. 6. “For justice.” The girl whispered, counting the chimes with a cruel grin.
7. 8. “For the people.” His whole body shivered relentlessly, tensing, prepared to feel the serrated blade.
10. 11. He raised my hands instinctively.
12. “Midnight.” She whispered. A surge of heat rushed through his body as the dagger plunged into his gut. He toppled, feeling the yank on his stomach as the blood-slicked knife was pulled from his intestine. The world darkened. Each nerve was on fire. He saw her turn off the weak lamp and quietly close the door, gone as quickly as she came. The Midnight Rogue had taken another victim.
Cursor blinking furiously against the white.
I’ve been at this all night.
The unfilled space is ominously bright.
Not enough ideas to start this out right!
Tick… tock… tick… tock.
Deadline drawing nearer:
Thoughts aren’t any clearer.
Tick… tock… tick… tock.
A bell chimes the hour, I’m weak in the knees.
I stare at nothingness, slamming the keys.
The clock insists, but I’m trapped in writer’s block.
I can’t seem to think.
Every word or phrase I’ve ever heard, entirely down the sink.
Blinking black line.
Begging for some words to write, I have to decline.
Write it down!
The sheet insists, but my brain is out of town.
Time is marching on,
Grades and fans will be up and gone.
Inspiration is sparse.
How can I be a writer if I can’t write for arse?
Push those keys!
The screen insists, but my ideas are on the breeze.
Let’s turn this spark into a flame!
At least I’m in a better state…
The people insist, but I’m tired to my core.
The blank page stares me down.
I feel like such a clown…
Titles evade me.
Should I take a break? Would that just be lazy?
The stress is mounting, I can’t take it anymore.
Backspace it all, too late.