Thursday, March 30, 2017

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The calendar moment.





Hmmmm. Well, I guess grieving takes its own time, doesn't it? It meanders along and some days, maybe even for weeks, it doesn't utter a sound in the soul. Just sits quietly, much like a polite guest, listening to your story, letting you talk and do your thing. Then, it clears it's throat and speaks out loud and like a punch to the heart, it's as if you'd just lost that someone all over again.

My father took to technology surprisingly well for a man coming to it as late as he did. In fact, by the time he passed, he had a big old Mac desktop setup and all kinds of goodies, and he knew how to use them! Every year, he would set up a calendar for my brother Brian and his family. He meticulously inserted photos in all of our special dates, photos of us on our birthday square, photos of us on each header page, larger collages that changed with each month. It got to where I'd depend on that calendar to tell me who was doing what and who's birthday was when. I'd go, look over the month and know if anything special was coming up.

This week is my niece Grace's 14th birthday. I have difficulty remembering the specific dates of most birthdays, and went in to the kitchen where that calendar has hung year after year, grasped it and peered at it and realization hit me. This was NOT the calendar. Oh, it was a calendar, a generic store bought item that, while perfectly useful and commonplace, was not THE calendar. I stood for a few heartbeats, confused. Seriously, I was confused. And then I remembered, dad died right before Thanksgiving, and there had been no calendar this year. I felt like I'd been punched in the chest.
I took several steps back, my face beginning to screw up in horror at the realization that I was going to cry. Hard.

I've spent the week house sitting and staying with my nephew, Ethan, while Brian was off on a training mission with the National Guard, and our evening had been unremarkable up to that point. Ethan stood, uncertain, his eyes widening as I slowly tipped over the edge and informed him, hands to my cheeks, that I was going to cry. He shuffled his foot for a moment, uncertain as to my level of need for comfort, but being who and what he is, I found myself swept up in a huge bearhug. I'm not extremely physical, but it was just the right thing to do. He's grown so tall and smelled of motorbike fuel, sunshine and laundry soap. He let me babble about how I've struggled so desperately with the feeling of loss, how, as long as dad was here, I always, ALWAYS felt so safe. It was always ok as long as dad was there. Nothing was insurmountable, and now that he's gone, I feel so lost and alone. I have never felt so alone in my life. It's like I'm on that same tightwire, but now there's nothing underneath, just this dark yawning nothing. That man hung the moon for me. I could never find words enough to express how much I loved him. And now, he's gone and I don't think I'll ever feel right again. Brian calls it "the calendar moment." He said they'd all had one. Odd how the simplest things make such an impact, and that one yearly ritual could become so important seeming.

Ethan and I spent the next hour and a half talking about everything that popped into our heads. He amused me greatly with stories of his friends, his daily life, his philosophies. I talked about heritage, family and told him stories of his great grandfather, and their brother's. Ethan and Brian are much as I was with my father, head butting and buddy moments, riding together, laughing, connected in ways many fathers and sons are not in this day and age. But, this is West Virginia, and things are different here, family is something more than it is in other places. Everyone has someone who hung the moon for them, and losing that, well, there's no words to cover it.

I'm sitting with sadness again this week, and there doesn't seem to be much I can do about it, so I settle in and let it come. Someday, I'll be able to think about that darned calendar and not feel that awful grief that carries me away on a river of tears. But not today.




Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Winter is the time of ghosts





The wind outside the window buffeted the old building in steady pounding gusts. Tall bare trees, clustered together as though to shelter from the icy blasts were unable to stand up to the push of frigid air making them sway like empty sentinels.  Remnants of dried leaves here and there clacking against each other with every breath from the grey desolate sky, a sound that made her think of castanets, or the half hearted cries of angry birds.
The snow had fallen softly, gently, all day, and the rooftops were covered with a fine, sugary powder. A particularly vicious gust shook the rafters and snow as fine as talc lifted and swirled, moving in a locust like cloud before swirling and disappearing to nothing. Staring out the window, watching it catch and drift over and over, she thought it looked like smoke. Smoke made of snow, the wind a catalyst to a freezing burning of the whole landscape. Clack, clack said the shivering leaves, pale rust colored, where just months ago they’d been ablaze, the sun piercing them to create a corona of crimson. Fall was a sumptuous riot, colors elbowing each other out of the way for prominence, the sun an accomplice to the blinding array of showy beauty. But that was months ago, and now they were merely dead things making dead thing noises. Empty threats and skeletal sounds.  The bleak vista left her aching and empty.


This was ghost season. Blank dirty sky, grey ghost trees, the wind making sounds that felt like grief. The windows in the empty apartment across the lot shuddered and shifted in the fading light with the hardest gusts, and she found her eyes drawn to the reflection as it moved with subtle hues in tandem with the trees that shimmied behind the roof line. The snow decided to get more serious as the light began to fade into dusk, the days were growing longer, but it was still firmly winter.  Her head back against the wall, flakes getting larger, tripling in size, they corkscrewed outside her second story window, down, down, twirling and spinning lazily, until a gust threw a wrench in the cadence of their descent. A sudden shift in the light caught her eye and what was that? What did she just see? The window across the way, the empty apartment, something there. A shape, lighter than the room, shift to the left, and then just out of sight. She sat up, tried to see better, then again a flit of something lighter than the darkness. The snow suddenly diminished in size, then slowed its volume, and she could see much more clearly. Yes. Something there, by the window. Looking out. Looking toward her? She crept from her bed and stood just to the right of the window, the curtain concealing her, her face up against the fabric, her breathing moving the curtain ever so slightly, it smelled like dust. Vaguely, she thought about how she ought to launder her drapes.  Slowly, she peered around the curtain, one eye trained toward the window, wishing herself to invisibility. Nothing. Inky blackness from the unlit room, no pale figure, no movement. Unaware that she had been holding her breath, she let it out in a whoosh and felt her tensed body sag. Nothing. And, it was darkening quickly now, no way to see anything with clarity. Heaving a sigh, chagrined at her own hysteria, she released the edge of the blackout curtain and turned away from the window, determined to find some more productive release for her over active mind when she heard from downstairs the front door to her apartment open and close. Standing in the darkened bedroom in the apartment where she lived by herself, she felt her throat and her stomach clench with fear, and then she heard footsteps on the stairs.   

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The painter




He painted with the door open. Evenings, when I returned home from work, I would pass his apartment and hear the sound of the brush on the canvas, that scruffing, whooshing sound. The faint scent of the paints and the oils tickled my nose. At first, I would shuffle past, too tired and preoccupied to care. Then one evening I allowed myself a peek, thinking of what I might say to excuse my trespass should he catch me, and found him in the throes of an artistic spell. He wouldn’t have known I was there even if I’d walked right into the room and sneezed. God knows I was tempted. To walk in, not to sneeze, but something held me back and I contented myself with watching silently.
The canvas he was working was huge, filling nearly half the room. How on earth did he even get it in here? How would he get it out?
The flickering aura of what must have been one hundred candles threw light and shadow across the walls in a flamenco like frenzy and on top of it all was the sound of the stiff bristled brush hitting the gessoed surface of the canvas. There was a softly lilting piece of violin music weaving in and around the sounds of the brush and the shuffle of his bare feet on the floor, the thick old canvas cloth under foot to protect the the old wood flooring bunching and flipping as he danced from one stroke to the next. All of this was enough to mesmerize me, but the aspect that truly kept me spellbound was his face. His age was difficult to guess, 30’s, older?  Tall and lithe, long legged, shirtless and shoeless, his shoulder muscles bunched and moved under his skin as his arms flew, working in the paint, swishing or pushing the brush, stabbing at the canvas, then caressing it gently, masterful in his manipulation of the paint and where he wanted it to go. He was slender, the way someone who spends hours forgetting to eat for days at a time is slender, painting until he was spent, tumbling to sleep then starting again the next night. The candles lent a golden glow to his pale skin so that he looked like a slight, gilt dervish. His face was at once beautiful and brutal; it was the face of someone under the spell of his gift.  A man driven to nightly give birth to himself on canvas, helpless to ignore the desire to do something that set him far apart from the rest of the world,  someone who didn’t belong in my world in any case.
Long dark hair spilling onto his bare shoulders and down the length of his back in rippling waves, shining like onyx in the candlelight, or pushed back from a face rapt with focus. Dark brows rose in a straight line over deep dark eyes, bistre, shining and a little mad, fringed with long sooty lashes that threw shadows onto his cheeks in the shifting liquid-like flicker of the candles. A streak of cream paint that looked like ceremonial war paint across the planes of his face, his mouth, slightly parted, the quirk of a smile here, then the twist of a question, micro-expressions, as he would pause, step back and consider his next stroke. His hands were lovely. If his mind was merely a hostage to his gift, his hands were the master and I watched fascinated as they held the brush lightly, flipping it easily, reaching out to smudge here or there, or even place his palm flat on the surface and dash it back and forth, pulling the paint out from a line and feathering it into smoke or a jarring flurry of color. Smiling then falling back into his trance.

I found the joy of watching him so alluring that I now stopped every night after work on my way to my own apartment and allowed myself to fall into the trance with him, finding myself swaying in tandem with his movements, his dance becoming familiar with nightly viewing. The rhythm and whoosh, flurry of motion and stillness, washing away every disappointment or dull echo from my own day, lulling me into a meditation of wonder and burgeoning desire. The smells of paint, of smoke and wax underlying all of it, weaving a spell in my senses.  We were Echo and Narcissus, me worshipping him from the behind the wood, he spellbound and unaware of my yearnings. I found I wanted very much to see the painting evolve, what would it be, how did he know what it would be? Did he simply start painting every night and let it flow as it would, or was there a master plan? I found I needed to know what it would become. Night after night I stood, the voyeur to his vision, silent and still, an audience of one.
Slowly, something began to emerge; I could see limbs, motion, the suggestion of bodies entwined.  Curiouser and curiouser said Alice.


I was asked to work out of town for a week, and while I was thrilled at the chance to prove my mettle to the hospital, I found myself dismayed at the interruption of my evening ritual. But medicine is a competitive field and opportunity is opportunity, so I packed my bags and boarded my flight. Returning home I found myself growing breathless with the thrill of seeing the painter, my body rigid in the cab, leaning forward as though to speed the driver faster, faster, the urge to reunite with my secret obsession nearly overwhelming me. Pay the driver, grapple with my bags and up the steps to the landing to find the doorway to another life, strains of Vivaldi and that golden glow wreathing everything in a fairytale splendor, taking me to somewhere magical, somewhere not mundane, not my life, but his. Quietly I crept to his door, my bags abandoned on the landing, breath coming in quick deficient bursts, I pulled my coat tight around me in apprehension, pressed against the doorway and lifted my eyes to the painting. I let out a long gasp as I found myself looking on a painted tableau of my own face, head thrown back, eyes slitted in pleasure under the press of his lips against my neck, his hair on the canvas spilling across our bodies, glowing riotously in the candlelight, our arms and legs entwined, my gown a sumptuous golden froth crusted with pearls and blazing rubies, flowers strewn all around us where we lay, their profusion so great I could almost smell them from the hallway. The tension in the painting was palpable, the electricity of attraction of the couple on the canvas sending waves of sizzle to anyone viewing it. The shock of seeing my secret captured in oil in such a fashion nearly made my knees buckle and I stumbled back several steps until my back hit the wall, my hands to my burning cheeks. Helpless to look away, I stood, heart beating like a hammer in my chest, and then, out of the shadows he stepped. Looking for all the world like a vision from my subconscious, a wry, mischievous intelligence glowing in his eyes, and a beckoning satyr’s smile on his lips.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Am I turning into someone I'm not?

The view from where I stood.

Some weeks are difficult not just because of the effort and the work they require, but because they throw everything you've been moving toward into question. Not an epiphany, more like an antiphany. A "this is everything that I don't want." Those are actually harder to swallow than plain everyday disappointments, especially if you've moved steadily in one direction with purpose. So you find yourself thinking you've erred, and erred terribly. Have I ignored the real me, mistaken myself for someone else? Have I sought security at the risk of any chance of satisfaction? Of freedom? I don't know what I feel right now, and I'm bothered. I will be 54 soon, and I STILL haven't found a way to make a life for myself in any real capacity, and still retain my passion for rising in the morning. Is it really only a choice of prison or starvation? Today, I feel a little defeated. I don't quit easily, but I'm in crisis. Where do I belong? What the hell can I do to feel that I've made reasonably correct life choices and feel enough passion to grow in that direction? What am I missing, what clue? Or am I so unable to know anything about myself that all I'm capable of doing is stumbling around in the dark? But, my gut is telling me what it's telling me, and I suppose I'll have to give it due attention.

Am I on the wrong path?

I took a walk out in the sun, put my feet on the soil in search of some sort of magic, mystery made of grass and loam and soil and seeds. I listened to what the wind whispered, but feel no more enlightened than I did before I struck out into sunlit solitude. I feel marginally better, so that's not nothing. I took photos of the beautiful West Virginia landscape, a lovely place even in the dusk of winter, a month before spring begins to assert itself. I've always felt the ghosts of something moving openly across the spaces here and seek them out willingly. But I've never been afraid of ghosts, have I? It's the living and breathing that chill my soul.


It's kind of buggy out here...



A melancholy meander


Saturday, February 25, 2017

An excerpt from my book.

The sound of the alarm was a grating pulse that served not just to rouse her from sleep, but to create anger and anxiety as a bonus. The start of the day ought to be more buoyant, she had often believed, and yet day after stultifying day there was that alarm, it’s clarion call one to suffering and unhappiness on a good day, genuine soul crushing misery on the rest of them. 

Her morning routine was inviolate, if she wanted to make it in on time. Coffee materials already laid out, cappuccino maker loaded and ready to go with the push of the button. Take meds while the machine warms up, heat up the milk, in goes the coffee, and a double scoop of chocolate, up the stairs and into the shower. Drink coffee, check email, apply makeup and shimmy into the outfit already laid out on the previous evening. Don’t veer an inch from this or lateness will ensue and the absurdly anal retentive write ups, lectures and being sniffed at and scowled at as though she had taken a crap on the entryway carpet in the lobby would be the reward. For the entire week. As though she were a nine year old serial killer. Persevere, her mind said. Hang in. It’s not forever. But every day felt like prison and she had to wonder if the whole endeavor was worth it in the end. Stick to it-iveness was admirable, and a recently acquired trait, but this might just be pushing it. The reward for living in dismal misery was becoming less alluring by the month.
Mostly, she wanted to run away, and far away. Islands, continents, light years away.  Nothing was turning out the way she’d imagined it would and she spent her lunch breaks just trying not to cry. Or punch someone in the throat. Her grip on restraint was growing weaker with every dismal day that passed.  Stepping out of her apartment she shivered, the weather had turned cold, the sky grey and there were little gossamer flakes of snow dancing on the wind. The ground had begun to grow white as more and more snow fell, turning the brown of winter into a glistening faux fairytale brightness. But boy, was it cold, and getting colder the longer she dawdled on the porch, resolutely she moved toward the car and hitting a patch of ice on the steps nearly found herself sprawled on the concrete. Sighing, she buckled in, and pulled out onto the street, pointing her car toward work and wishing to be driving to anywhere but there.

Sitting at the stop sign, she hated having to turn left onto the busy road that took her into town, she punched the ipod icon on her screen and the plaintive wail of Chris Martin filled the cabin of the car. She’d spent time overseas and had come to like Coldplay very much, she had some amazing memories from a little tavern in China, some Aussies with guitars who did an amazing cover of Talk and an evening she had photographed in her mind. She sat behind the wheel and smiled, remembering friends from far away. Everyone was there that night, it was a warm sticky evening and the memory had a boozy slurred haze to it. She remembers standing next to Amanda while Amanda’s boyfriend Skip was creating a magical musical net with his voice and his guitar, lost in the special spell that seems to come out of nowhere on evenings when everyone is connected, there’s an electricity to some nights, who knows why, but they make the pearls in the strands we reach for like a rosary when sentimentality wins the toss. She remembers stopping and looking around and thinking, remember this moment. Memorize it and call on it so you can remember these friends and this time.” She’s never forgotten it, and she calls on it now and smiles. The moment is shattered by the sound of a horn behind her. She’s slipped into reverie while everyone else around her is trying to get to their miserable jobs.  Sighing, she pulls out onto the road, hits the ice and spins and too late, sees the Dodge Ram barreling down on her. Reflexively, she throws up her arms, averts her head and squinches, but there’s no protection from the 2.5 tons as it punches into the front left side of her car, crumpling the metal like tinfoil, and even though it happens in seconds, everything seems to slow down. The impact spinning her around, the cracks seeming to creep across the windshield at a meandering pace, creating the little honeycomb pattern before exploding in slow motion in all directions, peppering her head and face, then the pop bomb sounds of the impact and the airbags, her head slamming into the taught pillow from her steering wheel, and then nothing.

White. Cloudy. A high whine in her head she can’t shake off, she’s unsure of where she is, or what’s happening, she’s sitting in nothingness. Slowly, the room takes a shape, four walls, a floor, a ceiling. But they weren’t there just a moment ago… She’s completely lost, eyes scanning frantically for any clue of what’s going on. She can’t remember anything. Carefully, she moves her hands down and leverages herself up, onto her knees, puts her foot underneath her body and pushes herself to her feet. “That’s odd,” she thinks. “I couldn’t do that before.” Before? Before what? “Wait, where am I? Before, what was before? Why couldn’t I do that? “ But she clearly remembers not being able to get onto the floor. Certainly not up off the floor. She remembers disability. She remembers pain was a daily companion, pain that rendered a lot of actions out of reach. She remembers her body locked up, immobility all through her moving parts, and surgeries to try to fix some of it. “Where am I, and what was before?”

There is no way to know how much time is passing, there is nothing but white walls and empty. A whole lot of empty. She walks around, and is it her imagination, or does the room change shape, or alter in some way as she advances across its center? A silent wind gusts suddenly, her hair is lifted, her skin is startled, and she realizes how still it had been before. She hears the sharp staccato click of shoes advancing and spins around to see a woman who could be the very picture of a human resources manager walking toward her. A slightly stout, business like black woman, about 50, short stylish hair sprinkled with silvery grey strands, a knockoff Chanel style Bouclé number, pantyhose, real Louboutin’s, pearl cluster earrings, and mischievous warm brown eyes. She smelled like Shalimar, the perfume staple of middle class women during the 1950’s. It is nostalgia of the highest order and is at once comforting and nauseating. It is her mother, her grandmother, it is hairspray, cigarettes and car rides. She wishes fervently that the smell would go away. Several heartbeats later, she realizes the smell is gone. She lifts her eyes to the woman, who is now less black, more, what? Eastern? Did she have hazel eyes before? How is that possible?  The woman smiles, extends her hand to the side and says “please Rachel, sit, how do you take your tea?”  Out of the corner of her eye she can see the plush white chairs, the table with the tea set on top of it. All snow white, gleaming artificially. Her legs fold of their own will and she sits with a “whoof.” She is too stunned to even utter the simplest question. The woman seems to be taking a perverse level of pleasure in this and says nothing, pouring the tea, which is the proper color, by the way, and lifting the honey wand, allowing a good solid stream of the viscous amber colored sweetener to slide into the cup before giving it an efficient stir and handing the saucer to Rachel. “Sip, dear. You may find it loosens your tongue and speeds this along.” She sips, her eyes fly wide and a little noise of pleasure leaves her lips. The taste is indescribable. Amazing. The perfect tone of tannin and honey, the perfect temperature, and some other element that she can’t identify that makes it heavenly. She takes another good swallow, thinks again, “heavenly.” The sound of crunching metal explodes in her head, chunks of glass rain onto her and a sickening grinding pain hits her body as her bones are broken in a dozen places, the smell of gasoline and burning rubber turns her stomach and the luscious tea heaves it’s way upward. With dreamlike slowness, she watches the diaphanous cup and saucer tilt away from her grasp and begin to turn in lazy circles as they fall to the floor in front of her, vomit chasing it on the way down. She has time to notice the scalloped edges of the cup, the slight iridescent tint of the nearly see-through porcelain as the light flirts with its planes and edges. She has time to wonder where the light is coming from; there are no visible light fixtures in this room. Time suddenly rushes forward with a sickening whoosh and crash! It all hits the floor and she sucks in a breath before finding herself sitting in a large field of green. Beyond disoriented, she jerks her head around to find herself gazing on her mother. Gone is the HR director, and in her place, in this place, her meditation safe place, is her mother.  The beloved face so familiar, yet not, as it’s been many many years since she’s laid eyes on her. Rachel lets her eyes roam over the face that she has loved for the whole of her life. A face that swam in her memory even long after her mother was gone. In the voice so familiar, her mother told her “go, look around. It’s your place. The one you live so happily in deep inside the recesses of your own psyche. Take a moment to enjoy it, I’ll be here when you get back. I expect you’ll have some questions.” She rises, again with an ease long gone, and looks around. It’s all here. The small waterfall, the stream, the open sun drenched field, and the tree at the center. Her mother sits smiling from beneath the tree, sun dappling her skin as the leaves sway contentedly, slowly, making that susurrating sound that has lulled her to sleep so many times. She moves to the stream and breaks the water with her hand. The perfect coolness, she doesn’t have to lift it to her lips to know it’s sweet and pure, but can’t resist doing so. The water that hits her tongue is much colder that the water her hand touched in the stream. Another memory hits her. The well water at her grandparent’s house, the middle of the night, drinking from aluminum cups, another 1950’s relic, the water was so clean tasting and achingly cold. She would stand at the sink and guzzle just for the sheer sensation pleasure of it. Sweet, cold and delicious.

This is her place. The one she goes to in order to center her mind. Ritual is at the heart of it. Bathe in the waterfall, walk to the tree, gentle hand on the bark and slowly walk around it three times, feeling the knobs and grooves of the tree’s surface undulating against her palm before stepping out into the brilliant sunlight. Lifting her face with eyes closed, the sun creates a hot yellow corona across her closed lids, the heat suffuses her skin and slowly, so slowly she begins to burn. It starts at her feet, catches slightly, then runs across her skin, crackling and dancing. She lifts her arms, and a column of fire rises, the sun lets go of a line of pure magma that races down to meet her own fire, crashing into her and pouring off her feet to connect to the molten center of the earth before rising up from another spot and arcing back up to the sun, a circuit born and raging with all the destructive, healing power of the most primal force known. In this moment alone is she at peace. It’s the only time she feels complete, when she’s burning with the heat of the sun and the soul of the earth.

She turns to find herself face to face with a lovely blue eyed man, eyes crinkled at the corner, smile lines and self deprecating humor in clear display. “Now then, shall we have a chat,” he said in a velvety British accent.

“Where am I?”
“Ah, starting with the mundane, are we? Well, I’d expected something more pithy or sarcastic from you, but very well.”
“You’re in the twain, my dear. That place in between life and that which comes after. This is one of those situations where the individual is given some manner of choice in the matter. You have some decisions to make. I thought you might find solace and comfort here, where you routinely have a ritual bathe and then set yourself on fire!”

“I hardly set myself on fire,” she said embarrassed at someone having dipped into her proverbial pool. “It’s a cable connecting me to the center of things. “
“I was using a meditation tool that suggested something like that that only as a rope or ladder. It didn’t feel right, so I changed it up some and the next thing I knew, I was creating an arc with the sun and the molten center of the planet. And besides, bite me.” “What happened to my mother? I like her better.”

“Well, you know I’m not really your mother, nor am I a middle aged woman. I’m not really a devastatingly handsome Englishman with milk smooth skin, but I notice you seem to be respirating faster, so Loki lookalike it is!

“Alright, let’s get the mundane over with, why am I here and for how long? What’s the purpose and what’s the agenda from here?”

“Down to business it is then, right. As I said, you’re in the twain. You aren’t quite dead, but might be. You aren’t quite alive, but could be. You have some choices to make my dear. And no, it’s not as simple as live or die. Not for you, I’m sorry. You are what you might call a sleeper cell, of sorts. That quirky little meditation you do? Not so random. You are a sword of the light. You come factory equipped with a fire inside you. Well, technically, you are fire. Banked for now, until you’re needed. Most of you burn with a righteous flame even when banked. Think Martin Luther King, or Biko. But not you. Well, you DO, but you’ve banked too hard. Not your fault my dear, pesky chromosomes have gummed up the works. One of us up here dropped the ball during gestation in the human womb, and for that, well, very sorry. But, there you are. You’re a creature of righteous fire that’s a little flawed. Still viable, so we’re jump-starting your engine, so to speak.”

“Are. You. Serious…?”

“Quite. Come now, haven’t you ever wondered why you’ve been drawn to what you’ve been drawn to your whole life? You are fire. Meant to burn with rage and cleanse with all the violence of an inferno. You are, quite literally hell on wheels!”

“Ok,” she answered. “Then why am I here? If I’m the flying sword of flaming destiny, why am I dead? Why am I in bits down on terra firma, and talking circles with you in my happy place? What am I supposed to do with all of that? Why bother telling me, or even doing anything with me if all I’m going to do is end up in a body bag?”

Chin lowered, eyes shrewd, he looked passively at her, head cocked and said “maybe I’m trying to unbank you. Maybe what we need to set our little sword of destiny to quivering so we can unleash you on said terra firma requires something a little more dramatic. Maybe what you need to truly want to catch fire is to die, because almost dying changes nothing, it’s dying that changes everything. For the record, you drive like a maniac you know? You take far too many liberties with centrifugal force and break speed laws with complete abandon! It’s a wonder you’ve had no accidents thus far. So, now that we’ve cocked our loaded flamethrower, let’s throw her back into the stream, as it were, shall we?”
“Say goodbye to your happy place my dear, you’re going back planet side but now you’re woke, as the kids like to say.” Quick as a flash, he leaned in and placed a whisper soft kiss on her lips, his tongue darting to the corner of her mouth before he stepped away and disappeared. The breath was suddenly pulled from her lungs and she felt herself being pulled backward, jerked off of her feet and falling sideways through the air then down, down.

The sound of the alarm startled her from sleep, she sat up with a jerk, reached out to turn off the alarm and a gout of flame leapt from her fingers to the phone, a tiny sputtering jet of hot orange that skittered across the glass and wisped out into the air, gone before her mind could register it happening.
Not a dream.
Oh God. Not. A. Dream. She threw off the covers and ran to the mirror, looking for any sign of change. She looked exactly the same. But there was something flickering in her eyes. Almost impossible to see, but something… unbanked he had said. A choice to make. The air warmed perceptively, she watched as her hair was ruffled by the current, the heat in the room rose and as she watched her eyes in the mirror, they began to change color. Golden flickers turning to red and then gold again.  She raised her hand in front of her eyes and saw tiny flames rise from her fingertips, wispy at first, then stronger, crawling down the skin of her hand. She shook it and the flames flickered to nothing.  She looked back into her fire bright eyes in the silvered glass and smiled, touched the corner of her mouth where his tongue had left a still burning brand. She wouldn’t be going to the office today.