Book Review: Butchers

ButchersButchers by Todd Sullivan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I dived into this book with certain expectations, as I’m a huge fan of vampire fiction, and I was pleasantly surprised at the unique take the author had on them. This was a wild ride full of gore, grossness, and vampires who are truly immortal and equally immoral. (This review will not be completely spoiler-free.)

The story begins with an intense fight between vampire members of an organization called Gwanlyo. The rules are strict for them and meant to keep vampires in place — existing among humans without alerting them to the presence of beings much more frightening than they could imagine. They may tear at each other, slice off limbs, gouge out eyes, and pry an entire torso open, but unless one is beheaded or a heart is crushed, they will continue to exist. This fight opens the book to show just how much of a beating these vampires can take before one keels over for good.

The reason for the fight? Gwanlyo member Cheol Yu has broken one of their strict rules. His engaging with a potential member, who is still human, was out of line, and he is to be tortured. He happens to be extremely powerful, however, and makes it to safety with his head mostly attached.

After, we are introduced to more of the vampires. Hyeri, a wicked and destructive woman who can’t help but laugh over others’ misfortunes and craves destruction, Sey-Mi, an unfortunate high school girl who is pulled into a world she wants nothing to do with, and Dae Lo, a sadistic, evil monster who is all too happy to cause the greatest misery to those who betray the organization. We also get to meet Min Gun, who is not as foreboding as he initially seems.

What unfolds is a plan to take down the Gwanlyo by a vampire who wants nothing more than to destroy humanity, a betrayer on the run, and a young girl who is to decide where her loyalty lies.

The book definitely began with a bang, and I was unapologetically pulled into the gore that would follow throughout the book. Usually, the vampire stories I read are of the more classic variety, but I found that I actually liked this sort of vampire for a change. While they are known to be beautiful and seductive, they’re equally as awful and scary and every bit of what a horror book would entail. It was so different to me, personally, that I didn’t even think about them being vampires while reading. Although the word ‘vampire’ isn’t even used, or if it was, it was easily missed.

One of the few hang-ups I had about the book was during the chapter where Sey-Mi is being introduced to the organization. Her fear was absolutely warranted, although I felt her reaction built into a crescendo and kept going far past it, and she began tearing at her skin in her fear after punching herself. I had a hard time believing a teenager would mutilate herself like that just to see if she was dreaming.

At times the cruel nature of these vampires seemed to be all there was to them. It does change as the story progresses, however, and the characters that seemed flat, like Min Gun, eventually show that there is more depth to them. On the same note, other characters were wonderfully unique and fleshed out. Hyeri was personally my favorite because of how wickedly fun she was, and we get quite a bit of time with her. Min Gun, however, I don’t feel we get to know very well at all, and I can only begin to speculate who he is and how he feels about everything. At the end, it seems he grows attached to Sey-Mi, but we truly don’t get as much time with him like the others.

One specific little detail I found really interesting about the vampires feeding on each other in unison, was the connection created. They shared memories and feelings, and it was a very intimate experience. The same was true for a vampire feeding from a human. They saw memories and took in sensations, which is a really cool ability and added some emotion to the otherwise cold and cruel creatures.

Overall, I had few nitpicks about this novella and I enjoyed reading it, and I am glad I got the chance to review it. Todd Sullivan definitely got me into the atmosphere and the location, which takes place in Korea, which he knows quite a bit about. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who hungers for a different kind of vampire story, although I would warn that it is not for those who are squeamish.

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NaNoWriMo 2019: A difficult win

I participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time last year, and I found it to be a very rewarding, exciting, and emotional event. I still have the images I snapped of my progress on the website, and I remember fondly the writing friends I made that seemed to fade off and do their own thing into this year.

NaNoWriMo 2019, however, was not the same experience.

Back in October, the new website was launched and there were multitudes of bugs — many that are still prevailing near the end of November. At first, I was disheartened to see that all of my progress on my Camp NaNo projects were at 0 despite finishing them, and nothing seemed to be operating properly with my stats. That wasn’t a big deal, though. Numbers on trackers are just that and in no way a determination of my successes with writing books, but it does tend to put a damper on your spirit.

I was still excited despite all of that. I planned the project that I ended up changing a week later due to my writer brain steering in another direction all of its own accord, and I found myself energized for writing again, my mood was boosted, and everything was falling into place like it had last year.

And then, I screwed up my stats page. Awfully so. I accidentally deleted all of my word counts and progress on my 2019 project due to being half awake and confused at the new stats page layout. There was no way to retroactively date progress either, so I just input my total word count from that day, and I pushed on. Soon, my stats page was looking pretty nice again despite my mess up.

Some friends didn’t take me seriously. A few even became very rude because I chose to dedicate my time to my project. I was yelled at in my own home, and I was spoken to as if I were boosting myself on a pedestal and considered nothing important but my own pursuits, and that I cast everyone and everything aside because I didn’t consider them important. This was furthest from the truth, merely just a judgment placed on me by some who were angry that I finally set boundaries, but it was difficult to deal with mentally. It’s very hard when you’re trying to accomplish something great — writing an entire book that you hope will help in your future writing career. It’s your work. Yet, for some reason, in my case, I was not allowed to do this work without being chastised, being judged, or generally being met with negativity from a select few.  This was in between other interruptions and important appointments I usually have.

It got lonely as much as it got too busy in my life. I tried in vain to post to Twitter to connect with NaNoWriMo writers, and I posted on social media everywhere to try to gather writer and NaNoWriMo friends so we could cheer each other on. I tried to message a friend on the site as a cheerleader for them, but I received no response. To this day, after finishing my feat of ending my first draft of a new novel at just over 52k words, everything is so silent. I don’t have anyone to celebrate with, but I didn’t have anyone to go through the journey with, either.

NaNoWriMo is for ourselves, as writers, to get better at what we do. It doesn’t matter if we have one, several, or no friends cheering us on. In my case, I write because it makes my life complete and it is the best kind of therapy to keep my head out of dark places. It has also, in my experience, been a lonely feat. Even outside of NaNo, my writer friends I’ve made have all slowly drifted off or stopped responding to my messages, or disappeared altogether.

I don’t know how algorithms work to find support. I don’t even know how to properly human to make friends half the time, but even though I may be doing a lot of lamenting, I am happy I finished my book. Even if I am sitting here just watching Youtube all night until my life resumes once more, I accomplished another feat I can wave my little happy flag at.

After all of November, I am left feeling like I just angered people who I care about or came off as a jerk for setting boundaries — for just wanting to work on and finish writing my book. I struggled through all of the challenges this month while trying to keep my friends happy. By talking to them even though I wanted to write, and finally dropping everything to do things for them when they just didn’t want to listen to me. When I wanted to talk about my book, they faded off or just didn’t really respond to it. Although, I have two friends who listened and even helped a few times, and I am grateful for them.

I’m more exhausted this year than I was the last, and yes, I’m happy I finished, but I’m left feeling as if I irritated people this month for simply wanting to do what makes me happy and is important to me.

NaNo 2018: Great.

NaNo 2019: We’ll just sweep this one under the rug.

NaNo 2020: Let’s hope for the best.

STIGMA – book trailer

I don’t have publishing details or anything yet for my book, but I wanted to make something for fun since I love this project so much. It’s extremely close to my heart in many ways, and I wanted to share the excitement in a more creative way than just typing about it.

So, here is a book trailer I spent a few days creating. My editor and I are working on the final touches to the book, and we’re discussing possible publishing avenues. Traditional or Indie is my highest hope! Either way, no matter which type of publishing I pursue, the book will be published as soon as everything is worked out. When that time comes, I’ll be sure to update this video with any relevant information.

Until then, hopefully you enjoy the little trailer I put together and it sparks some interest in you.

Digging up old interests

Click above to go on over to my Facebook page to read the entire post. Within are some recommendations for darkly interesting books, a few teasers as to what I’m writing or have planned to write eventually, as well as a fun fact about me I’ve never really mentioned out loud to many.

While you’re there, feel free to like my page and hang around. The page is slowly growing, and I try to keep things writing-related. I’m less formal with my wording on my page as it’s more of a down-to-earth-I’m-human-too-and-not-all-flowery-words type of space. I also share posts there from my author Instagram page when I remember to post on it. I also share posts from here, so it’s kind of an interesting little hub for all of my updates in one place.

Book review: Invasive Species

Invasive SpeciesInvasive Species by Karle Johnson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Let me just start by saying that this book isn’t for the easily offended or squeamish.

The story is, generally, about a man named Ranse who runs a large farm. He’s sober for the first time in his life, and life seems to be going as usual save for his desire to be back with his ex-wife and his son. He wants nothing more than a second chance from where he screwed up before.

His neighbors consist of two close friends, Molly and Mick, and a man who is nothing short of detestable. A racist, hateful, greedy buffoon to put it lightly — Warren Maxxy. His wife isn’t faithful to him and tends to sleep around, and the men are more than happy to oblige her around town, including those working on Ranse’s ranch.

A sickness begins to spread about, and all any sickness requires to dig its claws into a population is one person. In this case, one bite. Everything spirals down without giving too much of the plot away, and Ranse finds himself having to protect his son, hoping the beasts slowly growing in number don’t come back, and wondering what happened to his ex-wife after she left their son in his hands. And more and more people are getting horribly sick…

This book was wonderfully written, although there were many editing errors throughout it that interrupted my reading flow. This didn’t take away from the story itself, though, which was written so well it kept dragging me back in despite some of the elements that did put me off slightly.

Karle’s storytelling is masterful, in my opinion. I personally love horror, and although this book didn’t read like an atypical horror story, I couldn’t put it down. I read it much quicker than I read most books, and that says something about Karle’s talents. His acknowledgments in the beginning tell of his passion for storytelling and where it came from, and this definitely shines through.

While the story was gripping, intense, and beautifully told, there were a few elements that almost caused me to stop reading, but it’s no fault of the author. There are some extremely sensitive subjects breached in this book, and while I don’t feel anything bad, racist, or taboo was being advocated for, a few of the subjects hit too close to home for me and upset me greatly, and I had to pause reading for a day. If you have been domestically abused or abused in any relationship, or have been a victim of sexual assault or incest, please tread carefully. These subjects are not tip-toed around even if they are just a few brief moments, and they are very blunt.

Another bit of criticism I had about the book is the harsh racist language. I understand that it was attached to the character of Warren Maxxy for a reason, and it had its purpose (he seems to closely resemble a certain political figure), but the number of times he mentions racial and homophobic slurs began to grate on my nerves. I felt the racist elements of this book could have been eased back on just a small bit and still drove the message home. That said, this criticism is based on my personal feelings and my usual tendency to avoid material that uses these words too much, but I felt it was worth mentioning because it was a factor in my rating of the book.

The gore, the unapologetic grossness, and the blunt writing were on point. I actually got very nauseated reading about the number of times people hurled their brains out, but rather than mention that as something negative (it’s merely a part of the story itself), it’s just further testament to the blunt and effective writing style.

And oh my goodness, some of the lines in this book were amazing. Karle has a way of weaving words at times that are quite poetic. The endings to the chapters are great examples of this.

The ending was definitely a long one, but it was very intense. After each paragraph within the last few chapters, as Karle realistically portrays the stages of fear and confusion during something so horrific as having to fend off a legion of werewolves, I was caught up in all of it. When I was certain no more could possibly be done and Ranse was surely finished, it continued. A roller coaster of emotions for the reader, at the least. Not to mention the events near the ending that completely ripped out my heart and stomped on it. It goes without saying that having your town turn into werewolves from a highly contagious virus, sparing no one, is more than enough for the worst of tragedies. There is a nice epilogue to it all, though, that will bring your head above water again.

Overall, this book was hard to put down. At times it was hard to digest the subject matter due to the sensitive nature, and a few of the scenes were enough to leave even my strong constitution turning green, but Karle is an excellent writer who has written a hell of a story to leave a great emotional impact. I’m glad I read it and was given the opportunity to review it, and I will definitely recommend this book to others, although with a small content warning.

I look forward to exploring more from this author.

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Progress and writing advice

As I’m getting closer to being done with my first personal edits on my project, I’m noticing a great change in my writing, as well as the quality. It just goes to show how important criticism is as well as another eye, and I’m very thankful for my editor for being that experienced and fantastic eye. There are just certain things you can’t possibly pick out or see in your own work.

I feel very good about this rewrite. It’s got me thinking about the other books I’ve written and how I can greatly improve them. The biggest thing was taking the writing advice to ‘only write what’s important to the story and be careful of getting too wordy’ and running with it. I was afraid to write TOO much, and my stories were lacking from that. Backstories need to be told, and the reader must have a reason to fall in love with, or hate, your characters in your book. Don’t shy away from showing who they are, either. (I’ll not get into the ‘show versus tell’ argument.)

To summarize what I’ve learned that has helped me grow as a writer:

  • Don’t be afraid to delve into your characters’ backstories.
  • Begin your book in a way that leaves the reader needing to read more. Leave them shocked, excited, or on the edge of an action.
  • To follow up on the above especially, don’t info dump! (Giving the reader a ton of information all at once.) Scatter information, backstories, and world-building throughout your book to pull your reader back into the world.
  • Learn to take criticism. Constructive, preferably. Another set of eyes is so important, and it has to be from a stranger or a friend who will be completely and unabashedly honest with you. They’ll see glaring errors and mistakes, as well as problems with pace, where you won’t.
  • Your first draft is just getting the idea down. It is far from being complete or ready for other eyes. You have to review your own work first, and then send it off to a trusted beta reader(s) or editor or both. You might rewrite the thing once, twice, or however many times it takes to get it perfect, but as perfect as you can get it is the ultimate goal and your future readers will be happier for it.
  • The #WritingCommunity on Twitter is amazing.

There are other things I’ve learned as well, but these are the main things that have helped my stories improve. They might seem obvious at first glance, but when you actually sit down to write, along with keeping your story together in your head, a lot of this stuff tends to be missed by mistake. That’s what editing, numerous drafts, and rewrites are for.

I feel good about my writing today. I’ll probably make even more improvements once my editor gets back to me about my rewrite. The most important thing is that this writing thing is a constant learning process, and writers are always evolving. It’s really an exciting process for me and I love all of it, which a lot of writers will probably call me crazy for. I never really did understand the martyrdom and the love/hate relationship some writers have with their writing.

No matter your feelings on it or your process, the key is to never give up. Keeping on and being persistent gets the cake.

My debut novel, a summary

I’m still learning to write eye-catching summaries of my books, which I’m sure is one of the biggest challenges of any writer. I’m continuously learning how to navigate this world that I’d only ever dreamed of dabbling in before. I’m also finding that this whole thing is ten times harder than I’d ever expected it to be, and I still have a long way to go in becoming a seasoned ‘know-it-kinda’ on the subject when it comes to writing well and publishing.

Luckily for me, I managed to get in contact with a great editor. This has brought both feelings of elation and horror, and you probably can guess why. It’s certainly kept me busy and on my toes, and I’m judging myself much harder than I ever have. This has hurt me in some ways since my writing has slowed to a crawl due to that inner critic, but it has also allowed me to take this as a serious business. I’m not just writing stories in my bedroom as a teen anymore to make myself laugh and to cope with life.

I’m writing stories as an independent adult in his living room to make myself laugh, cry, scream, and cope with life.

In that sense, I decided to jump on board again with Camp NaNoWriMo to help me finish my beast of a book. At first, I was working on something mostly for fun. Then my current project fell back into my lap, and I was ready to throw in the towel with Camp NaNo. I had to do some digging and realized what my biggest issues were in my personal life, what really has been eating away at me to make me so angry and itching to scream about something, and I’ve dealt with some of the biggest triggers and worst symptoms I’ve had in a while with my broken brain.

And all for the sake of this beast of a story I just have to tell. A story I’d been telling wrong from the beginning. I’d been focusing on the wrong traumas — the wrong triggers to my upset. What I really needed to write about to make this book shine (for lack of a better word), was the one thing I often tried to bury. The horrible thing that I thought I knew inside and out and I’d moved on from. And so, my original novella is turning into a much more important work lived vicariously through two of my muses, or rather, two of my alters who have given me permission to slay this beast that they also understand too well. One of them was protecting me from it for so many years, anyway.

It’s finally time to write the darkest and most honest book I’ve ventured to write. There are two intersecting stories in it that constantly weave together in some way, but only one is based on the actual experience I had in a relationship. The other, while my alter’s story entirely, is one I can sympathize with in terms of how I think about myself and how I cope, rather it’s unhealthy or not.

So I changed my project on Camp NaNoWriMo. I’m behind by about 6,000 words, but if I bust my ass I can make up for lost time. To be fair, I’ve had to push through the depression, the PTSD episodes, and the dissociation I’ve been dealing with to come to terms with the subject of the book, and by proxy, part of my story. Maybe it wasn’t good to go digging for memories that were locked away and kept from me for good reason, but if my spirit guide, Daro, allowed me to get as far as we did with it, then I trust that I’m ready to do this. I’m 30 anyway, and I’m not about to spend the rest of my life wondering what’s got me so… bleh (and that’s putting it very lightly).

In an attempt to finally purge the rest of the gunk sitting in my subconscious, and maybe raise some awareness and find catharsis for myself in doing so, here is the summary I jotted down on the Camp NaNo site for this book (title to be determined):

Shame is a ghost in your peripheral in a dark room. It is the tarnish on a soul of silver that we keep hidden in hopes no one else will see it. We hope our neglect of it will never have to come to light and it can remain as it is — imperfect but intact, and intact is the most important thing.

Or so it’s thought.

Lestan has been alive for over three hundred years. Tetsu, merely thirty-three. Yet, they both have something in common that neither delves into.

Lestan is always playful, upbeat, and loves wholly and honestly. To see him sitting in a cafe’ on a hazy night, his eyes dark and his skin translucent from not feeding for days, is something that would be enough to raise concern.

Thankfully, Tetsu is there to bring him out of his misery and the vampire starts to feel more like his old self. That is until a specter, or hallucination, leads them both off into the woods. Neither can see what the other is after, but they both know they can’t ignore the force coaxing them further away from safety.

After disappearing from reality entirely, or so it seems, they are met with the tarnished fragments of their souls wandering through an ever-changing maze, and a mysterious blind figure seems to be guiding them through it all. And it is neither here nor there, but one thing is certain.

We can’t run from things forever. We have to seek out the worst of our pains and confront them head-on and be beaten down by them — become masochists until we finally see the truth we’ve buried for so long. And the truth can sometimes reveal what monsters we truly are.

So there it is. A basic bare-bones summary that can’t possibly do the Hell that this story is justice. And it is very much a Hell that I have to keep revisiting, but in the end, when everything is out, it will be for the better. Maybe someone can relate to it someday and find comfort in knowing they aren’t alone. Or maybe I’ll just be revealing a part of my life and myself that I really don’t like.

Book Review: Impossible James

Impossible JamesImpossible James by Danger Slater

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was a ride from beginning to end. There were many twists and turns, and back and forths, but in the end, they all came together and, somehow, it all worked. And it was something I can’t really properly put words to, but I’ll try. Possible spoilers ahead, maybe.

James is a nobody with nothing and no one. He’s not successful by any stretch and leads the world’s most boring, unfortunate life possible. His wife wasn’t even nice to him, and he’s infertile. Of course, when he walks into his doctor’s office one day, he finds out that everything will just get worse. Everything always did for James. That is, until the end, which I’m not even sure how to describe, other than the fact that James finally becomes something much bigger than what he ever thought he was capable. Quite literally.

And all because of a screwdriver. All because of pure, near impossible luck does he find a purpose and more meaningful outlook. And that’s where Impossible James finds his life’s goal.

I’m a sucker for philosophy, and this book was filled with it. I stopped a few times and went into thought about a lot of it, and it made me think deeper about myself as a person, what it means to be alive, and what it means to have goals. What it means to have fears, and what fears are even there for. I’m an irrationally fearful person of about, well, everything, so this was an unexpected and interesting trip during my reading of Impossible James.

Also, the twisted quantum physics-like science? Super interesting. (If I’m even thinking of the right kind of science here. I know scant about quantum physics, but I think that’s what I’m going for. I could be completely in left field and people are scratching their heads at me right now.)

Danger has a very interesting mind, and I found myself unable to stop turning pages. Even though we know the outcome, and we know inevitably how everything happens before it happens — sort of — you still want to read more. You must know the little details in between, and they help to paint such a grotesque picture that it’s almost impossible to conjure in your mind. Thankfully, Danger’s vivid and disturbing descriptions do the work just fine. And they are grotesque. For example, imagine a flesh room. A room with bones growing out of the wood. Rooms that act as organ gardens to keep a house consumed by a man’s deformed, growing body alive.

I will admit, I haven’t read much in this genre yet, but based on what I have read so far, this book made me realize that I really do love bizarro fiction. I read this in one day, taking a break in between. I knew I wanted to process something like this all at once instead of splitting it up, and I’m glad I did. At least, the philosopher in me wouldn’t let me put it down. Can I mention enough how that was one of my favorite things about this book?

It was definitely written in a curious way, with 116 chapters (I believe they were chapters) and three parts. I won’t look too deep into it, unless there’s a deeper reasoning, which my brain always wants to find. I could have missed something there, but that’s not important.

What is important is if you love books that make you think, definitely give this a read. If you have a weak stomach, though, be prepared for some pretty wicked imagery, such as body parts being detached and sewn back on, and amateur surgery to disembowel poor James, although it didn’t really seem to bother him too much. In fact, in this world, people (and animals) seem to survive some pretty crazy and awful body horrors.

Lastly, the ending? This isn’t a bad thing, but it… just is. It is what it is. Maybe that’s a part of the philosophical message of the whole thing, in which case, message delivered.

This is something you have to read for yourself to get the full effect. No review is probably going to be able to properly convey how interesting, and kind of brilliant, this book is. So give it a read.

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A few thoughts

Despite having to wake up insanely early (for a vampire like me) to wait all day for maintenance, today is going not so bad. I had an awful day yesterday with depression and I was afraid I was just going to keep slipping deeper and deeper into it, especially since it’s been constantly raining and storming off and on for a few weeks now — or it’s been cloudy.

A few nice things happened, though, and it cheered me up significantly. I’ve also decided that I don’t really know enough about poetry to read something at an open poetry mic night, so I might just go with my poem in my pocket, just in case, but mostly to take in the environment and see how it goes. It’s my favorite used book store/coffee shop downtown that I’m always in, so hopefully this will be an easy thing to be able to attend. It’s late though (8 PM), and I can’t drive, and buses aren’t running past 9, so I may have to walk and hope all goes well.

Either way, I’m tired of not getting out there in the scene more. When I went for a literary event, in which a few authors came to do readings from their books as well as sell some things, I was really happy. A friend had come with me who enjoyed it too, but I, a person with a panic disorder and severe social anxiety, had fun. And for the first time in any that I can remember, after a few years of battling alcoholism and being sober since — except for that one time last year when I slipped off the wagon — I did not like the way the wine made me feel. I didn’t want to be buzzed or drunk. I wanted to exist in that space and that aura because it was something that felt like home to me. I felt what actual happiness was like in my heart, and I felt it flutter. That almost never happens for me.

Being around other writers and book lovers is where I belong. Even though I still feel out of place among most of them around here, mostly because I write really weird stuff that I don’t see much of anywhere, I’m still around people who have a love for writing at its core. Genres and preferences aside, we all loved books and writing in that room.

Now, my only concern is if it’s an LGBTQ-friendly place. I think it might be. I’ve never been treated poorly, but I write a lot of LGBTQ stuff. Maybe one day I’ll get to do a reading there too if I ever make it.

One can dream though, right?

With These Hands

As the acid creeps into my throat, it threatens to call forth the cancer I should have been given a few years ago — when my body was a volcano with a self-destructive warpath. My limbs ache and my chest feels as if it is hollow, its heaviness causing me to hunch my back in a way that causes my spine to scream out.

I can hear them, Byleth and Lestan especially, calling to me. They want me to think about my future and find a way out of all of this. They want me to stop shuffling my feet at Death’s door as if I’m eager for a blind date that rattles my bones with anxiety. They want me to breathe and pick up my hunched form and continue to fight — fight the invisible force that pushes back with every breath I take.

My eyes drift to the hallway and the darkness greets me with beckoning tendrils, but the tall, dark-skinned form that comes from it shakes his head. His glowing pink eyes are determined. They are filled with an emotion I am not familiar with from him.

“Do not, Shane. Do. Not.”

It’s vague, but I know what he means. He stands there in the shadows, his giant stature seeming taller than ever as he crosses his well-toned arms. I’ve never seen him angry, and if I had it was long ago — so long it’s now an afterthought. At least I’d have something to compare this to.

“Stop this poetical shit and breathe. And sleep.” Byleth in his golden, Hellish king glory shakes his head, his shoulder-length blond hair falling into his face. I observe as a clawed hand smooths it back between his golden horns, and I think, for a moment, how much I’d love to feel his soft hair.

Like my large cat who enjoys being used as a pillow, I imagine pulling the fallen king’s head to my chest and caressing his soft hair, closing my eyes to forget about my worries. Nothing else exists. But Lestan, he’s here too. I haven’t forgotten him and I love him, and he’s behind me caressing my hair as I imagined myself doing for Byleth. I can feel his hurt through our connection, and although he doesn’t speak, I know there are no words to express anything of substance at this moment.

Tetsu is here as well, his appearance rare but a welcome one. He glares at me as I observe him from the corner of my eyes, letting him know I see him. The elf huffs and approaches me, pushing past Lestan and tugging at my shirt. “We’re leaving. Come on.”

“You know I can’t,” I say. It’s the middle of the night and storms have been on the horizon, and although I would love more than anything to meld into the darkness on such a night, I’m too tired. I laugh to myself. I’m too tired to seek out my own demise.

“If you will.” Daro, my dark demon prince approaches my other side, all four of them behind me now. He smiles and runs his claws across my head. “Allow us to take you away, if but for a moment. Do continue as you are.”

I sigh and nod.

* * *

Rules and word counts and regulations. This isn’t what a story is to me, yet it’s what the world expects. Hook them and then seduce them with purple flowers shaped like Roman aphrodisia. When did the magic of weaving worlds and emotions become so stale?

* * *

I open my eyes and breathe in strong patchouli, the incense smoke drifting about the room like a magickal haze. Its spell renders me complacent as I look to the stage before me. The rest of the room is dark and bare. Lestan and Daro take their places with me, and my vampire husband creeps behind me to wrap his arms around my waist. His chin rests on my shoulder and he kisses my neck briefly, his short black hair tickling my skin. My body still aches and my chest is heavy as I see Byleth approaching a microphone on the stage, his white platform heels clacking loudly in the silence to stir up ethereal dust of ages past. He is wearing white corduroy bell bottoms with a wide flare and a jacket that is similar with nothing beneath it. His bare chest glistens in the dim, haunting light cast only on the stage, and his red eyes shine with excitement.

Tetsu has pulled his long black hair into a ponytail and adjusts his rectangular glasses before gripping the neck of his guitar. He glances at me and then at Byleth, not entirely happy with the change in scenery, but he is more than willing to fall into its magick. Music begins to drift through the room, Tetsu’s fingers gliding over the vintage guitar to fill the atmosphere with sultry, retro vibes. The other instruments are not visible on the stage or anywhere in the room, but they are playing nonetheless. Byleth begins to sing, his angelic voice still beautiful even after his fall.

The lyrics are sultry, provocative, and enticing. He weaves his tainted angelic magick into them, their flow seeping into me like a warm caress that bathes my insides in pleasant tingles. To my surprise, Daro sways to the music, his eyes closed as his arm wraps around my shoulders. Lestan is doing the same, although he has come around to my front to smooth his hands across the sides of my face. I feel an indescribable emotion well up within me as I listen to the hazy tones of Byleth’s seduction, and my eyes begin to burn.

I don’t know how long it’s been since I’ve been able to cry without it being painful. It’s as if my body knows how the tears burn, so it ceases their flow before they can begin. I still feel the burn anyway, and Lestan wipes at my eyes knowing all too well what’s happening. Sadness is no longer an emotional hurt but a physical one, and I blink hard as the burning causes me to lose sight of the beautiful fallen angel singing on stage.

“With these hands, I will cling to you. I’m yours forever and a day. With these hands, I will bring to you a tender love as warm as May… With this heart, I will sing to you. Ooh, long after stars have lost their glow. And with these hands, I’ll provide for you. Should there be a stormy sea, I’ll turn the tide for you, and I’ll never… Oh no, I’ll never… I’ll never let you go.”

My eyelids flutter as a kiss is laid on each one, and I open them to see Lestan smiling at me. He kisses me and I feel Daro’s hand squeeze my shoulder, and I look back to the stage to see Byleth singing as true as ever. He smiles and reaches out to me as the lyrics flow from his lips, and I am pulled up as if I weigh nothing.

He hugs me tightly to him, and I look down to see Lestan in a much cheerier state. He turns to Daro and bows like a gentleman, and Daro smiles genuinely as he takes the vampire’s outstretched hand. They begin the steps to a slow dance, and I return to the fallen angel who is swaying with me. I feel his voice’s reverberation throughout my body as I cling to his chest, and he continues, holding me tight as he sends more comfort through his song of sweet intentions.

He trails off as the song ends, and Tetsu falls silent as he observes us. He is happier too, I think. Byleth’s lips brush against my ear as he leans over to kiss it, and he whispers in a way that sends a sense of peace into my mind. “Don’t go, sugar. Stay with me, stay with Lestan, and stay with Tetsu and Daro. Live for moments like this, and…” He pulls back and quirks an eyebrow as his usual attitude seeps back into his tone. “Consider yourself lucky. I once told you that a demon nor a fallen angel practice healing magick.”

“But…” My confusion causes me to furrow my brow. The warmth is still flowing through me as he waves away the microphone and caresses my jaw with his fingers.

“Don’t make me say it. Please.” He sighs. “Just make a promise, okay?”

I bite my lip and avert my gaze, unsure if I’m able to make any sort of promise he would want. I know to break a promise with him would be the ultimate betrayal, especially since I’d sworn honesty and loyalty to him. To Lestan. To Daro. To Tetsu. He nudges my jaw with a clawed finger to gain my attention once more. I look into his glowing red eyes and they are full of an intensity that I know to take very seriously. His romance and his caresses were true, but he was also a king of Hell. That was truer than all else.

I nod. “I promise I will survive tonight.”

He sighs, exhaustion consuming him. He closes his eyes to gather himself before returning to me. Lestan has joined us on the stage as has Daro, and I feel as if they are all pressuring me to keep my word for longer than tonight. I feel their anticipation of my words and my actions, and I cannot let them down. I cannot disappoint them.

They tell me I may not see them again if I greet Death before it is my time. They may not go with me, and that thought is more frightening than the struggles Life will undoubtedly continue to bring me. I nod again. “I will survive tonight. And tomorrow, I will tell myself, and you all, that I will survive that night.” I take a deep breath as Lestan brushes my hair from my neck to kiss the skin. Daro takes my hand and Tetsu comes up to rest his chin on my shoulder. Byleth still embraces me with one arm, and I know that life exists in all of them.

The tingling I feel when Byleth sings, and the warmth I feel when Lestan kisses me. The intrigue I know when Daro speaks to me in philosophical ways, and when he touches me in ways he is not familiar with. And the empathy I feel when Tetsu and I talk about things that only we can understand. The words I spin to portray these moments and these realities that I exist in with them.

This is life.

© 2019 Shane Blackheart
Song lyrics: Tom Jones