Broken Words

There are certain phrases I’ve been programmed to say, regardless of their validity or fairness.

I’m fine, just tired.

I’m sorry, it’s all my fault.

I can’t draw.

Honesty is for the internet, because the conversations online are often less taxing than ones offline. Also? I’m often a coward. It’s easier to take the blame or shrug off the problem than it is to risk the people I know telling me they don’t believe me. My current counsellor calls me an ‘unwilling people pleaser’.

He kinda has a point.

I found myself, over and over, saying I couldn’t draw today. Silliness happened online, and I wanted, needed, to draw it. Me feeling inspired to art, knowing it would be seen by someone I respect the hell out of? It’s rare.

When I was in highschool, I had a shitty art teacher who made me feel like crap about everything I tried to do. I started out passionate, engaged. Not a shocker: growing up when I was asked what I wanted to be, my answer was almost always ‘writer, singer, artist’. Sometimes ‘palaeontologist’ so I could work with my big sister. By the time I graduated I was half-assing assignments like nobody’s business because, over and over, that art teacher told me I was shit at art, and eventually I gave up and started believing.

Grade nine, she ‘helped’ me with an assignment, taking over and adding glue and white paint to the surface of my artwork while I was out of the room. She’d suggested the addition, and I’d said no, I didn’t think it’d work with what I was trying to do. She failed me for those additions, because they were too much and ruined the overall look of it. It clearly didn’t go with what I was trying to do.  She even managed to break the triptych I’d made for an art showing at the school, cutting the linking chains and gluing Velcro to the back of the timber, and basically making sure it couldn’t be salvaged after the event. She hung the pictures- of ghosts, because I was a morbid little shit even back then- upside down. I remember looking at everyone else’s work, all beautifully presented, with mine arranged upside down and lopsidedly haphazard, hidden in the back like it was an embarrassment. In class, the old cow would stand behind me as I worked, pointing out flaws and asking why I couldn’t be like her favourite student.

Four years of that, and it was ingrained pretty well that I suck at art. It took years to even pick up a coloured pencil again. But the thing is, I enjoy being creative. And I’m even okay at it when I get out of my own way.

For the first time in forever, I decided to make something and show someone. It’s not perfect, granted- I’m not going to be animating anything for Disney. But I like it. It’s cute. And it makes me happy. It also makes the person I’m giving it to happy, which is kinda the point.

But still, even looking at a piece of paper covered in proof to the contrary, in the back of my mind I hear ‘I can’t draw.’ To the point I got spooked. I actually worried whether one of my friends would be angry about it- even though he’s the kindest, most easy going person who would never give someone shit for imperfect art. I was genuinely worried he’ll be mad about a picture because ‘I can’t draw’ and he might be offended that I took the silly and made an ugly picture of it even though I know it’s not ugly and actually like it.

My brain is a complicated place to be.

We all have a running narrative of bullshit forced into our heads from ourselves, but also from those around us. The unhelpful relative who tells us that we could stand to lose some weight if we want to get/keep a partner. The teacher who told us boys only like girls who smile (jokes on you, asshole: I still get hit on when I’m scowling, so there!) The helpful sort who explained that creativity is a hobby, not a career, and starving artist is all you’ll ever be because you’re not talented enough to be in the minority of successful art makers.

I’ve recently started cognitive behavioural therapy, which is fucking phenomenal for someone who likes picking things apart to study them. It’s hard, sometimes, but I kinda love it, because it’s like dissecting a story to see how the author made it work.

I am the writer of my life story, and gods dammit, but I’ve made it a hell of a complicated narrative.

In a way, in CBT sessions we play a game: find a negative thought currently fucking me up, and figure out where it came from. What started that fear, or running monologue? And how do I change that belief now?

I was scared to show a friend a picture of some My Little Ponies because a woman told me when I was younger that I can’t ‘do’ art properly. Given she was in a position of authority on the subject and was bullying the hell out of me, I started to believe her, to the point where that voice in my head telling me I suck is hers, even after all these years.

What I didn’t expect was how that ‘you’re not creative’ fucks me over as a writer. I’ve been writing fiction for years, but rarely sharing it. Certainly never getting it published away from spheres I control, even though I want to be an author. But I hesitate, over and over.  Because ‘you’re not creative’ wormed its way into the part of my creativity that means the most to me.

The bullshit we’re told is sneaky. It gets into the nooks and crannies you don’t expect it to be in, until you’re left wondering what the absolute fuck is wrong with you. You chalk yourself up to lazy asshole levels of uselessness, beat yourself up emotionally for the wasted effort, and never realise that there might be something just below the surface.

We’re all a melting pot of our own baggage, and the baggage other people have dumped onto us, knowingly or not.

The thing about epiphanies is that they’re fucking worthless on their own. I am really, really good at having them- at picking things apart and understanding why they’re happening. What I suck at is figuring out how to fix things.

I’m getting slowly better though. Here, I know that Van Gogh had a good point: if you hear a voice saying you can’t paint, paint and it’ll stfu. Push through, and take some of the pressure off, and suddenly that big scary ‘can’t’ is turning into a ‘kinda can’. Take the Dory approach (just keep swimming), and ‘kinda can’ turns into ‘can’ turns into ‘fuck me, I’m awesome’.

When they said you have to suffer for your art, I had no idea that they actually meant that you’ll probably suffer crippling self-doubt and a society given belief that you’re unworthy to call yourself a creative. But there you go.

Vale, Loki

32 years ago today, my father died in an accidental electrocution while cleaning the cement around the house we were moving into. Come this afternoon, it will be 32 years- to the minute- when my mother became a single parent, and had to navigate life with two small children and no clue how the hell to make it all work.

The truth is, I have no idea why I’m writing this. I was 22 months old when my father died; asleep upstairs while the rest of the family dealt with the crisis below me. The memories I have of him aren’t my own; they’re bits and pieces cobbled together from everyone else’s memories to make a roughly humanoid, shadowy shape. Something always so much more and infinitely less than an actual person.

I don’t know who he was. Oh, sure, I know his name. I can describe him, and know which features we share. I know I look like him. I know I have his temper, and his penchant for talking the way out of trouble and being a snarky little shit. I know his family history- at least a little- I know the jobs he held and how he met my mother, and all that kind of information. But what I don’t know, in the slightest, is the man that he was. Was he a good man? I assume so, given that my mother doesn’t suffer fools lightly. Was he kind? I hear the stories about how he was with my sister, and have to assume that he was. Did he love me?

Isn’t that the million dollar question?

What my father is, and always has been, is my first understanding of storytelling. After all, the stories about him grow and change throughout the years, all utterly dependent upon the storyteller, and what’s happening in their life.

He was a slut cheating on my mother and planning to abandon us. He was a devoted husband and father working to pay off a home for his family. He hated babies and maybe, maybe, if he’d lived, he would have loved me eventually. He wouldn’t let my mother switch the pressure cleaner- the machine literally killing him- off incorrectly because they’d been told it would likely start a fire, and he wouldn’t risk the little girl sleeping upstairs, even to save himself. He adored my sister and she adored him above all else- he never really held me much because she was always in his arms. I screamed whenever anyone but Mum held me, and he never really got to hold me because I refused it every time. He never left home without kissing us all goodbye, even if he and Mum were annoyed with each other. They were the perfect couple. They were your typical couple- they fought, sometimes, but in the end they loved each other enough to work through issues and come away stronger for it.

My father isn’t so much a person, but a mirror that reflects every heartsore pain in the world left behind. He’s an interchangeable character dropped into stories as required because that’s what the storyteller needs. Today he’s the hero, next time, perhaps a villain. Everything and nothing.

I do it, too. There’s a picture that’s probably not me, but I’ve claimed it anyway. The only photo of my father and I, otherwise, is of him dressed as Santa. I know she was his favourite; it doesn’t bother me anymore. But I need to have a photo, some sign that maybe that adoring look happened to me, too, not just to my sister. So I lay claim to a photo I’ve no right to, and rewrite my story to include a moment I don’t even remember.

Writers, after all, are big on that whole rewriting thing.

My father is a game of truth I’m never going to win. A collection of lies, half-truths, romanticised memories, and exaggerations that I spend far too much time trying to form into an honest image of the man who helped give me life, and who has been shaping my life well after he was laid to rest.

My father is a trickster god, and every single time I think I have him figured out, everything changes. Somewhere along the way, he stopped being Geoff, started being Loki in my head. Geoff? He’s a guy everyone knows except me. He’s the man who drew breath and lived, a man I’ve never known and will never know. There are no memories for me to cling to, no stories that aren’t contradicted by someone else’s version of events. None can be proved, not really. How do you prove what was in a heart 3 decades in the ground?

Today, the rest of my family will mourn, and I will stand a little way apart, trying to be supportive. In this, I’m an outsider looking in, unsure what I’m missing except the idea of what I never got to have. I can’t miss him, not really, so I miss the idea that maybe what I lost was a man who held my family together, and a man that, despite claims to the contrary, loved me.

If there’s an afterlife, maybe the questions will finally be laid to rest. But until then, rest in peace, Loki.

Rest in peace, Geoff.

 

Sheepishly Stepping Up To The Mic

It’s been a while, random void into which I try to shout at regular intervals.

Life is weird. Pretty sure we’re all aware of that. But if you weren’t… sorry. Also, surprise. Life when you’re trying to figure out how to make it all work while precariously balancing mental health? That can be a special kind of fun.

There’s maybe twenty drafted posts for WS in a folder, unfinished and unpublished because anxiety brain is a salty bitch sometimes, and every single word seemed wrong or dangerous. Sorry about that, but let’s just acknowledge that this is a thing that may sometimes happen, and unless I start prepping and scheduling all my posts in advance, radio silence might occasionally be a thing.

Which, if you’ve ever heard the ‘create an author platform. This is your brand. Don’t screw it up’ monologues, is number one ‘don’t ever do the thing’ on the list. Create content. Post constantly. Make sure people remember who you are because we are bombarded with stuff at all hours of all days and goddamn it, if you’re not there in their faces all the time they’ll forget you.

Which… yeah. Might not be working well for me lately. Even the idea of that constant interaction- written rather than actually, y’know, interacting with people- is exhausting. Anxiety and depression have been kicking my ass- but then again, if you look around, there are a lot of writers lately in the same boat. Even some of my absolute favourite people struggle with mental health issues, and are learning how to create a life around it. It got me thinking: clearly, I’m not alone in this shit.

After all, the arts have always been seen as a reasonably safe space for the weird, the socially awkward, and the mentally ill. The brilliant thing is that more and more creatives are talking openly about their issues with anxiety and mental illness, and that lets people like me learn how to cope with that additional creative pressure by showing that it’s possible.

So here’s what WS is gonna do for a while. I’m gonna talk about anxiety, mental illness, and creativity. And I’m inviting some of the most talented swots I know to join in, too. There are some amazing ideas and thoughts being shared by some of my absolute favourite people already- I’m really excited that anyone else has agreed to play along here, but the stuff people are adding to the conversation has me freakin’ giddy over here.

The conversation kicks off next Saturday.

The Sunday Circle: The Smurf Haired Girl Vs The Depressive Episode

[For those not in the know, Peter M. Ball hosts the Sunday Circle on his blog every week, which you should know because you should honestly be stalking his blog by now. This is my response to his questions.]

 

This week didn’t go well. I had PLANS- the sort that needed to happen, the sort that have been struggling to happen with a move and a bunch of drama associated with it. Last week was to be the week I got back on track. I wanted to get to today’s post triumphant and maybe just a teensy bit smug about it all.

The problem, of course, was that I was so busy plotting my triumphant return to getting shit done that I missed the rather obvious issue: I was stacking the deck against myself. If you look at my post from last week, you’ll see it’s the queen of the big-ass to do lists. It’s ridiculous.

And it should have been a glaring neon sign that I was about to be in bad brain territory. Whenever I’m about to struggle, my body lets me know in advance with a random flurry of preparation. Like extreme nesting, I try to do as much as possible so that while I’m feeling like shit, I can at least tell myself that I’m not screwing anything up overly much.

The week started off well. I was focused, I was there. And though the problems I was tackling were breaking my brain and taking forever, I was seeing progress. And then… I wasn’t. There were distractions galore stealing my time, and frustrations that honestly need to be dealt with, and then I fought with someone I adore, and spent two days curled under a doona, freezing my ass off and getting increasingly frustrated that my body’s way of dealing with massive amounts of conflict and stress is with shock symptoms for days afterwards.

So my achievements became ‘I did some writing work’ and ‘I kinda just gave up on getting the fucking blog formatting right this week and decided that’ll do, pig’. That’s… that’s pretty much it. I got a few writing jobs done, and it seems they were well received (I got a charming text from someone I reviewed that absolutely fucking made my day), and I stuck my pride to the sticking place and tried to resolve the big horrible fight of bullshittery when, let’s be honest, I’d have rather just pretended nothing ever happened, because resolution runs the risk of more conflict and more days stuck hiding under doonas unable to do a gorram thing beyond listen to my ‘Depression: The Musical’ playlist and wishing coffee made itself.

So because my headspace is still far too close to shitty territory for my liking, this week, I’m approaching it from a much different- much smarter- direction. I’m scaling back. I’m trying a new rule: one thing daily for my business, and one thing daily for me. That way, on the good days, I can throw more into my day, and on the bad days, I can do the absolute minimum and not feel like a total screw up.

What am I working on this week? Mostly the writing adjacent stuff. I need to get the distractions sorted- the problem with living with a chronic procrastinator when I’m pretty damn good at procrastinating myself is how easily it turns into both of us getting to the end of the day, having done not a fucking thing. That can’t keep happening. Boundaries must be set and enforced.

The collaborative review blog I made, Reviewers of Oz, still needs work. But it’s going to be part of a blog tour for an author’s novel release in mid April, and that needs to be a massive priority. If I can do that well, it’s a damn good way to start moving from ‘new, shitty blog’ towards ‘new, but kinda sorta professional and accepted’ blog, and I want that.

I’m reviewing A Rock & Roll Writers Festival next weekend, which should be a hell of a lot of fun, and a good chance to learn more and chat to some writers and artists I haven’t gotten to meet before. And I’ll need a couple of reviews written for it and delivered by close of business Monday. Doable.

Other than that, I want to get back to writing 2k a day (made easier because Camp Nanowrimo starts next month, which is an ass kicking to get it done, at least), and reading for an hour. For the most part, these are my ‘one a day’ goals.

What’s inspiring me? To be honest, the blind panic that happens when I realise I’ve fucked up; that I’ve missed the glaring warning signs that shit isn’t going well when I know damn well I need to be vigilant. This time, I was really lucky. It didn’t last as long as it could have before I was able to drag myself out of the blue mood. But part of my business plan as a freelancer has to be taking care of myself, and minimising these moments. So figuring out how to pay better attention clearly has to be a priority.

What am I avoiding? The world, maybe? I’m avoiding the part where I have to sit people down and say, ‘as much as I love spending time with you, we can’t keep just hanging out all day. Both of us have stuff to do, and I need to make things happen in a way that isn’t possible when we’re doing this.’ I hate the very idea of that, because it means putting my stuff ahead of someone else’s, and the implication that my work is more important than talking to them about the stuff happening in their world makes me feel like twenty shades of asshole. Which, it shouldn’t. I know that if I was giving a friend advice, I’d be telling them to set that boundary. I’d be telling them that if after weeks of talking it out, nothing’s changing, than continuing those conversations isn’t going to be helpful. That it’s never a bad thing to prioritise your life, and your goals.

Now I just need to get my overly anxious, people pleaser brain on board with that.

Ugh.

The Sunday Circle: A Reckoning

It’s… it’s been a while since I’ve done this, gentle reader.

The utterly kick-ass wonder, Peter M. Ball, has a weekly Q&A opp over at Man Vs Bear, asking 3 simple questions. I’ve been meaning to answer these weekly for a while now. No, really, there are drafts and everything.

So here’s me, sheepishly creeping back into the routine.

What are you working on this week?
Too freakin’ much. Nobody should be shocked at this point. I’m trying to get the review blog live, finally, after a kabillion irritating setbacks. It means figuring out how to set it out, and… yeah. Not my happy place.

I’m also trying to get back into a writing habit, because the move last month absolutely destroyed my focus, and my ability to get anything done. I need to get back on track with the music challenge, and Smart People Talking, too. I’m still trying to catch up on the reviews owing, because, again, moving house sucks heartily.

And I’m trying to wrap my head around how much writing I need to get done this year to keep up with all the longer form projects I’m involved in. You know that moment when you start thinking you’ve maybe bit off more than you can chew, but you decide to try and choke it down anyway because what’s the worst that could happen? 

Yeah. That’s me.

What is inspiring you at the moment?
The new project is a lot of fun, and getting to bounce ideas off someone is awesome. The idea of learning in a more hands-on way about the industry is equal parts brilliant and terrifying.

Being somewhere with minimal internet and zero TV means having to actually write or read, which is great for productivity. Or it will be, when I can get my brain up and running properly.

What part of your project are you trying to avoid?
Designing the review blog. Because Jesus-freakin-Christ, that’s the part I hate. Have you seen how shittily basic this blog is? For whatever reason, whenever I try and trudge my way through the design stuff, I just… my brain just does not compute wtf needs to be done to make it all suck less.

I want it to look good. Professionally casual, I suppose? It’s a bunch of people wanking lyrical about books, nothing academic or overly serious, but I don’t want it to look like some 13 year old’s dear diary, either. But easy af to navigate, and no stupid poppy-uppy mofo asking for people to subscribe or whatever before they’ve even gotten to look at the blog. Because those things are the devil’s work.

And I need to figure out how to (cheaply, because sudden unexpected move means all hail the poverty for a while) make sure that the authors are credited properly. One of the sites I freelance for has the owners name show up on the links, so it essentially credits her for everyone’s work until you click the link and read down. I 100% don’t want to do that. But I don’t know enough to not do that, and this is why this part of the project has been summarily ignored. Like, I need to have one person uploading, because everyone is busy af and it’s easier just to have one person scheduling things than everyone trying to. But I want everyone’s work immediately and clearly credited to them. And I have no idea how to explain that in a way that someone who knows how to fix the problem is understanding.

Honestly, we’re all speaking English, but we’re speaking vastly different languages right now. I hates it, precious.

Also? The writing. Mostly because I’m just a tad overwhelmed by the sheer volume of things I need to get done, and my brain is just kinda looking like Sam Neil when he first sees a dinosaur:

dafuq is that dinosaur doing there

 

Fail. Fail Better.

At the beginning of the year, I set myself an ambitious, but not entirely unreasonable challenge: 2,000 words of writing every day for the year. Which sounds kinda cruisy until you do the math: that’s 730,000 words in a year.

…That’s a big number.

I kicked ass in January, and came close to hitting 1/7th of my goal in the first month of the year. February? Not so much. Life became about the stress of the move, big time. If you’ve ever had minimal money and maximum need for accommodation in Brisbane (or anywhere with unreasonably high rent)… you know what it’s like.  2k a day became ‘get your work done and survive’.

It’s hard getting back into the swing of writing. Even with so small a break, it feels like the muscle memory has died off in the weeks I’ve been freefalling and focused elsewhere.

The voice of anxiety is booming that it’s doomed- how can I catch up? To be back on track means getting another 86k written this month. That’s a big ask with a sprained finger I’m meant to be resting.

Shall I give you a moment to get the dirty jokes out of your system?

crowley is bored
I’m waiting…

We good to continue? Lovely. No, it wasn’t doing anything fun. It was hauling stuff around. And now every time I use it to hit a key (or turn on a light, or use my phone… or…) it reminds me, rather painfully, that I need to cut that shit right out this instant. I want to write, but I also kinda want the pain to stop, too.

So how do you get back on track when it feels like that goal lives on the impossible end of the spectrum? You learn to fail better. I managed about 13k last month. I doubt I’ll make 100k this month to compensate, and that’s okay, even though in this moment anything less than 100k feels like an epic kind of fail. I’m already at 14k- I’ve already beat last month’s word count in two days of work. Instead of saying ‘I must hit 100k’, let’s say 70k- about 10k more than my set monthly target. If I add that little bit extra each month, boom. I’m caught up by the end of the year. It still feels like a bit of a failure, because I’m rocking the anxiety girl chic right now, but it’s failing better than last month, at least.

It’s not always about the massive instant fix. Sometimes, slow and steady is the better option.

Reavers Chase Serenity

Music: Reavers Chase Serenity
From: Firefly
Composer: Greg Edmonson

Warnings: minor language warning, lack of editing warning, allusions to torture.

Universe: apocofic!verse

 

They can block the windows, they can keep the room constantly lit to try and block the world outside, but the angels can’t stop the grace within me aligning with the outside world anyway. I know the turn of the world, almost as well as they do. I can feel the subtle shift in temperature that heralds the night, can hear the silence that falls at midnight even through the soundproofing.

Did their Father know, even back then, that this would happen? Was this a glitch of a rushed job, or an awareness of what His children were capable of doing to each other in the name of winning?

I’m not sure I want to know.

The midnight guard change is soon. Soon, two angels will wander the corridor. One will rush down to the other end, to where the other prisoner is kept. I don’t think his name. Not anymore. He was caught trying to save me- he would have escaped, easily, if he hadn’t tried to protect me. Every scream is a reminder that his kindness is getting him killed. Every scream from him is my fault. So many screams, all because he didn’t want me to drown. If I put a name to the screams that echo down the stonework, I think it might kill me. He’s just the prisoner. Nothing more. The first guard will go inside the prisoner’s cell, and his screams will sound soon after. They will last about forty minutes, and then the guard will leave. They do not lock the doors when they enter because there is no reason to do so, but worse because a locked door implies concern that they cannot control the broken, pitiful creatures they’re torturing.

It doesn’t look good to management, so the doors stay unlocked.

The second guard will come into this cell to check on me. He- always a he, somehow- will stride in, angel blade already drawn, sadistic grin already in place, and soon after, I will scream and bleed, too. Usually. Not tonight. There are precious few weapons capable of actually killing an angel, but they can be knocked out, same as any other creature. It’s taken days to dig the stonework from the wall beneath and behind the lumpy, vile smelling mattress in the corner. Days of shaking hands, slick with blood from the torture and slick with blood from the scraping of random objects against stone in hopes of digging away enough to be of use. Days of his screams ringing in the brickwork like the worst kind of motivation.

It’s not much of a plan, when you get right down to it. It relies far too much on hope and prayer. But it’s going to work. It will work because there is no other option. We’re going home, or we’re dying in the attempt. Anything is better than this.

The thick wooden doors slam open, fueled by grace because the sound lets the prisoners know that they’re about to be tortured, and lets them get good and afraid before their cell doors open. Usually.

It’s easy to hide in the blind spot beside the door. Too easy. Something could go wrong. No. Nothing will go wrong. It’s all going to be okay. It’s the only option left. It’s going to be fine. 

The door creaks open, because unlike his tormentor, mine likes to prolong the anticipation between us, likes to build the tension to the crescendo only he can feel or see. It’s fun to see the grin falter and fall to open mouthed shock, to watch his hands clench into fists. His eyes scan the darker parts of the room, assuming I’ve hidden there. It’s the smart call, after all.

He steps into the room, fast, slams the door shut behind him like it’s muscle memory rather than intention, his gaze focused on the darkest corner, the corner furtherest from him. One more step, that’s it. One more step, and I can swing.

He falters, mid-step. He’s shaking his head, slowly-slowly, his fists clenching and unclenching as though trying to calm himself enough to continue searching.  It’s going to be okay. He’ll step. One more step. It’s going to be okay. 

His head swivels, side to side, like he’s hunting something. Like he’s hunting me. A string of words- cursing in Enochian, if I’m not greatly mistaken- hissed out under his breath as he steps forwards, towards the darkness.

The piece of rock is heavy, hard to swing. He’s half-way to turning when it collects the side of his face, collects his ear and jumbles his brain about his skull for a moment. There’s no shout for help, no cry of pain, just the sound of stone and skull colliding, and the thud of a body collapsing onto the floor. I snatch the blade from his grasp, drop the rock only long enough to check him for hidden keys or weapons.

I aim the rock’s fall towards the angel’s nose, find myself grinning at the crunching break that results. Maybe he’s not the only sadist in the room. When he’s good and unconscious, I drive the blade into his heart, hope he isn’t able to feel the death coming to claim him.

No food, no keys, no weapons. No point to him, really. The rock’s texture catches on the skin of my hand, my hand bleeds like it’s been attacked with a grater.

The screaming from the other prisoner is loud, too loud. Loud like it’s right outside my door rather than down a corridor with heavy wooden doors to silence it. Go anyway. Anything is better than this. The door swings open, though it’s an effort. Human bodies, even powered up on grace, require food and water, and it’s been days between meals.

The stonework is painfully cold, rough under my feet, catches and tears at the skin until I’m leaving bloodied footprints wherever I go. Who cares? Go. The screaming is so much louder now, so much worse. It’s a physical presence in my mind, hurts the way the angel’s head must hurt now it’s been cracked in with a rock. I hold the rock more tightly in my hand, ignoring the pain.The pain can stop when the screaming does. Make it stop. Save him.

Angels could be lurking in any shadow, and it’s hard not to run like hell at the first sign of movement. Humans are born and die in the time it takes me to reach the other cell.

When the door creaks open, the sound is lost to the screams. The prisoner is curled in on himself, trying to protect his organs while his torturer drives his blade into the prisoner’s wing, over and over. No wonder he’s screaming.

It’s easy to run, easy to slam the blade into the side of the angel’s throat and watch it startle, struggle, and die. The prisoner stares at me, eyes blown wide in pain and fear. I pat his shoulder awkwardly, unable to say his name, unable to say anything more than ‘can you move?’ He runs his hands over his body, checks himself for injuries in a way far too human for my tastes. Slowly, warily, he nods.

‘Good. Let’s go.’ I drop the rock, snatch up the other blade and hand it to him before helping him stagger upwards. His weight settles against me, arm thrown over my shoulder. Every step hurts worse with the added weight, and time slows to a crawl almost as slow as our movements.

There’s no flying out of this, no rescue possible. We’re going to have to sneak our way out. Stupid as angels can be, I’m pretty sure they’ll notice the footprints eventually. And they can certainly outpace us right now.

No, we’re probably going to die.

Death is the better option. 

*

Mal told me once that they designed all of the facilities and safe houses to be the same. Makes it easier to fall into line, to not get lost when you’re transferred. Left should lead to the morgue, and the back entry points. Right should lead towards the front of the building. Left it is. The prisoner nods when I point that way, too scared to speak in case anyone is nearby. The blade shakes in his hand, shakes so hard I’d take it off him if I had the hands to hold it. Shakes so hard I’m scared he’s gonna drop it, scared the echo of metal hitting stone will bring someone running.

I pray to Dad because I can’t quite bring myself to pray to Grandfather for help, wish for salvation, or at least no attacks. We’re shit outta luck if someone finds us. It’s not like the prisoner can stand on his own, let alone fight.

It’s unlikely an angel will give me time to help the prisoner lean against a wall or something before they attack. Better dead than here. It’s not much of a mantra, really not a great motivator. But it’s true, and it’s enough right now.

The prisoner falters, grabs my shoulder hard enough that it’s near impossible not to cry. He’s shaking, shaking more, his head turned so far to the right it has to be painful. He’s listening to something. I’m good, but I’m not an angel. If he’s acting like that, there’s a good chance that he’s hearing something I haven’t noticed yet. Shit. I shake him, gentle as possible, watch his exhausted gaze slide towards me, not quite focused.

He holds up two fingers, but his face is scrunched in confusion, like he’s not quite sure anymore. I’d be surprised if he realised there were two of us. It’s hard to drag him forwards, to try and get him to stop trying to count and move faster. We can still do this, maybe.

The staircase looms to the left, dimly lit. Follow it up, and there’s the front door, bold as brass. But then, it’s likely there’s a mess of guards there. And an open space between door and safety.

No. It’s safer to keep going this way. I force the prisoner to move faster, force him towards the shadows.

I can hear the footsteps now. Soft, unhurried. It feels like someone runs an ice cube along my spine. Angels, no matter which side of the fight they’re on, were trained the same way. That’s the way Dad moves when he’s hunting. The way I move when I’m hunting. If you weren’t trained to it, you’d never notice anything wrong until it was too late. Most don’t.

The prisoner slows, grabs weakly at the wall. There’s no chance to talk, not now. All I can do is turn, hope he can see the frustrated question in my eyes. He gestures for me to go, to leave him behind.

No. Hell no. I did not work this hard to abandon him. I shake my head, heave him forwards until he falls into line behind the plan again. We don’t have time for this.

The footsteps speed up, just a little. Another set joins them, keeping perfect time with our original stalker. Shit.

We’re nearly at the morgue. There are weapons there, at least. And a hearse. That’s the important part. We’re nearly there.

The white morgue door is barely visible before an angel calmly steps in front of it. The prisoner almost stumbles when we stop so suddenly, and my shoulders ache at the strain of stopping him falling. The footsteps behind us are loud in the silence now, like they’re wearing shoes designed to be loud, like it’s for dramatic effect rather than practicality.

Honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me.

‘I really thought you’d go upstairs, try to get away that way.’ Michael’s voice is a quiet drawl, politely confused, but there’s something there in the tone that screams of violence, and rage. There’s something in his voice that screams to the primal part of my lizard brain to run like hell, no matter what. But there’s nowhere to run, and no real ability to manage it anyway.

Better dead may not be an option anymore.