Stairway to [Hell]

Image result for creepy stairway

Tristan has been itching for a new mystery to solve, and he has poked and prodded me for two months to find one. He said he can’t go alone, since I am the brave one, but I have been busy with finals and job applications. Tristan graduated a year ago and has a job freelance writing and editing for an online magazine. I am a junior, though, so I still have school to worry about. That doesn’t stop him from trying to persuade me to abandon my schoolwork and go on an adventure with him. My parents died in a car accident two years ago, and his parents got divorced and moved to opposite sides of the Eastern Hemisphere when he graduated high school, so we’re all each other has. It’s a good thing I am typically on board with his shenanigans.

“It’s winter break, Lexi. It’s time.”

He is right, I guess. Now is as good a time as any, and besides Halloween, December is the best time to go ghost hunting. I use that term loosely. Tristan and I grew up on scary movies, Stephen King, and all the folklore of things that go bump in the night. Ever since he could drive, Tristan has been dragging me all over upstate New York to supposedly haunted houses he finds in the library archives—since that’s where all the best mysteries are. We explore until one of us hears one-too-many unexplainable creaks in the floorboards, and then we jump ship. So far, nothing has ever come from our travels other than a good story to tell our friends.

Tristan says its our thing. Some couples go on exciting dates as much as possible, others stay in every weekend watching Netflix. But Tristan and I? We search for something worthy to be in the next Goosebumps novel.

“What death trap are we investigating this time?” I ask.

“I don’t know yet. Let’s just drive.”

I snatch the keys off the coffee table before he can. “Then I am the navigator today.”

He doesn’t protest, he just follows me into my dad’s old, black Cadillac. I pop in one of the Zeppelin cassette tapes I keep in the glove box, and the mood is set. Before we get anywhere, Tristan makes me stop at Charlie’s, the diner at the edge of town, for our classic pre-adventure meal: cheeseburgers and chocolate milkshakes.

I ease through the highway’s back roads in search of some sort of turn off that hasn’t been touched in a long time, at least by anyone sane. We encounter a few run-down estates, but they’re not good enough for Tristan.

We grew up in Manhattan together, and there was plenty going on there to keep us busy, but it wasn’t the right kind of adventure. So when Tristan picked the furthest SUNY from Long Island—so far away it might as well be in Canada—I couldn’t help but follow in his footsteps. Outside of the city, we could roam pretty much anywhere, and the easily forgettable, unpopulated part of New York begged for us to explore it. For the last few years, it’s been our favorite hobby. We haven’t found much of interest in our last few expeditions, and I know Tristan is looking for something extra-exciting.

We have been driving around long enough that the sun is nearing the horizon. I don’t want to tell Tristan that I think we should turn back and try again tomorrow, but my stomach is growling. I tell myself that if we don’t find anything in the next ten minutes, I will speak up, but the end of one long and twisting gravel road, there it is. It’s a grand, colonial mansion—or at least, it used to be. The pillars framing the door are overgrown with ivy, and the brick is crumbling. The windows are all boarded up from the inside. I can tell that in its heyday the red bricks were perfectly paved, and the trim and pillars around the entryway glowed in the daylight. That the windows dotting the exterior glittered, flowers bloomed in the window boxes, and the stones that made up the walkway were beautifully and strategically placed. The grass in the clearing was green and the mower lines could have been drawn with a ruler. Now it looks sad and unloved.

“It’s perfect,” Tristan says. “Let’s explore.”

Weeds make the walkway almost invisible, and my feet get tangled in them. On the off chance that the front door is open, Tristan tries the knob. Of course, it doesn’t budge. We walk around the side of the house, looking for a way to see the interior, but all the windows are well covered. It’s a race against the sun to find something we can work with.

I tell Tristan we are going to stay in the clearing the house is settled on. The forest surrounding the property already looks dark and full of secrets. I don’t want to know what’s hiding in there yet. Tristan agrees and focuses on the house.

“Wait, look at this!” I point to a window near the ground that isn’t covered by wood.

Tristan pries it open and points his flashlight into the dark space. It is a basement, flooded with grimy water. Neither of us can tell how deep it goes, so we give up on that option. It is getting dark, and we are not finding any way inside. I tell Tristan we can come back earlier another day so we can have more time.

“Just a few more minutes,” he insists.

“Tristan, please. I think it’s going to rain,” I say, but I let him have the extra time.

Back at the front of the house, he decides to chance the stability of the trellis near the door. The boards aren’t as thick there, so there is a chance he can see inside. I stand at the foot of it, ready to catch him if he falls—or at least, break his fall. He peers onto the balcony, and fear flashes across his face. When he climbs down, he is ready to go.

“What did you see?”

He doesn’t speak until we are both in the car and driving away. “I think it was blood.”

I want him to elaborate, but he won’t say anything more. Usually, this is just the kind of thing that makes Tristan more curious, but now he is just scared. I almost want to turn around and investigate myself, but I won’t since he is so shaken.

“If there was blood, shouldn’t we do something about it?” I ask. “That’s a much bigger discovery than those scratched out eyes in portraits at the Hansen Estate last summer. We’ve never seen blood before.”

“It was kind of brown, actually. Might have just been dirt or mud or something.”

It’s not like Tristan to lie to me. I know him too well, and there is definitely more than he is saying. I drive through town and park in front of the little police station.

“Are you going to say anything, or am I? Because I can overlook a lot of things in this little hobby of ours, but not this,” I tell him.

“But what if it’s nothing?”

“What if it’s not?”

He sighs. We both know I’m right, and after a staring match, he says he will leave an anonymous tip. It’s a good enough compromise for me, and I wait while he makes the call.

He is silent the whole drive home and refuses to speak about it for days after. I know he saw something else he isn’t telling me about, but I can’t get it out of him. He voices no desire to go back or to explore elsewhere.

Christmas morning, he wakes up more frazzled than usual. “Lexi, I have to tell you something.”

I stop spreading frosting on the cinnamon rolls we always eat for breakfast on this day. “What is it?”

“I’ve been having these dreams about that house,” he tells me. “Every night, the same one. The house is beautiful and pristine, and I am standing at the end of the walkway. Then this girl comes out of the front door, she’s maybe sixteen. Beautiful, skin like the ‘after’ photos in those acne commercials, and white blonde hair. She’s wearing this white dress. She walks towards me, and as she does, she starts deteriorating. The house, too. I’ve been waking up before she can completely disintegrate, but last night, she fell into my arms and asked me to help her before she turned to dust.”

I lean against the counter. “I don’t like the sound of that, Tristan.”

“We have to go back.”

I stop him right there. “How are you so sure it means something?”

He is finally ready to let me in on his little secret. “There was a picture of her. I could kind of see it through the boards on the window. I mean, it wasn’t clear or anything, but I know it was her. Please, can we go back?”

Part of me says it’s a bad idea. If he is getting these weird vibes, then we should stay far away from the peculiar mansion. Only I have never seen him more invested in something.

“Okay, we can go tomorrow morning.”

Relief washes over his face, but I’m still unsure about this. But as skeptical as I am, curiosity plants itself in my brain. There is something more to that house than we originally thought, a reason it has gone untouched for so long.

We open presents and watch Christmas movies. A couple of our friends who couldn’t go home for the holidays come over for dinner, and Tristan and I pretend like we don’t want to be anywhere else. Like we’re not only thinking about the house and the mystery surrounding it.

It’s late by the time everyone goes home, but I stay up and start searching for some answers on the internet. I spend hours clicking through the library’s digitized files, Google, and old newspaper scans. I wish I had time to dig through the actual library. I work there during the school year, and the woman who runs the place loves me. If only I had taken her up on her offer to hold onto the spare key over the break.

Tristan finds me in the kitchen a little after dawn, and I am on my second cup of coffee and my gazillionth Google search. I had expanded my search to the town where we found the police station, and that is where my research took a turn I could I work with. Apparently, the town had been founded by refugees who escaped the witch hunts in the seventeenth century. It was built upon this cult’s ideals and had a long history of strange happenings. Of course, that stuff was history by now.

While I didn’t find anything about the house, I did find a family tree that dated back two centuries. The last of the founding families had died off almost a hundred years ago, but one picture catches my attention. It’s a scan of a portrait of a mother, father, and their daughter. The mother is a Marilyn, blonde and beautiful, and the father has a full mustache and gold-framed glasses. He’s not particularly handsome, but he does look intimidating. Between them sits a young girl, blonde like her mother, with pale skin and eyes like a gloomy sky, sad and gray.

“This is her, isn’t it?” The girl from your dream.”

He nods. “Good to know I wasn’t just imagining her. I was starting to doubt I’d seen anything in the window at all.”

“I wish I knew what it meant,” I say, and I give him a quick summary of what I had discovered about the town.

“That’s crazy. Did you happen to find any news from the tip we gave?”

I tell him I haven’t. Based on the history of the place, maybe whoever took the call just assumed it was a prank. If anything had come from it, I would have found a story.

“We’re still going back today, right?” I ask.

“We have to. I can’t stop thinking about it.”

I gulp the last bit of my coffee. “Then let’s get this show on the road.”

It takes us a little while to find the house again, as if it disappeared since we stumbled upon it the first time. I know we hadn’t been looking for it before, but we should have passed the turn-off by now. A road couldn’t have just disappeared. I know I don’t actually believe in magic or the supernatural, but this seemed fishy.

Tristan flips over the Led Zeppelin IV tape to the B side. “We’re in the right place, aren’t we?” he asks.

“We should be. I remember that road sign with the graffiti on it a few miles back.”

“Wait, it’s right up there!”

I weave up the drive, and it is wilder than I remember. I fill my tire tracks from our last visit. I don’t see any others, so I know the police didn’t take our tip seriously. I take my knife out from underneath my seat and give Tristan the one in the glove box. You know, just in case.

“Ready?”

“As I’ll ever be,” Tristan says.

It is eerier than before, but I walk forward. Something tells me to try the front door one more time. The rusted over knob is freezing in my hand, but it turns easily this time. If there is ever a time to about-face and run for my life, it is now, but Tristan and I walk into the dark foyer anyway. The only light that comes in is that through the doorway. As a whole, the first floor is dark and musty. It smells like mold and dirt and death. Dust particles float in the open air down to the rotting wooden floors. To the left is a library and to right the kitchen.

Thump, thump, thump.

I think the sound is Tristan knocking on the walls. He likes secret passageways and is always looking for hollow spots. But he is standing under the archway in the library. Cobwebs droop from shelf to shelf of untouched books. An ornate desk sits in front of a marble-cased fireplace. Above the mantle hangs a family portrait. It’s the same one as I saw online with the girl. She looks even sadder. Tristan shutters and backs out of the room to explore elsewhere.

I glanced over the spines of the books at my eye level. Shakespeare, Voltaire, Tolstoy, and other classics, encyclopedias that probably weighed more than I did, books I had never heard of, and…bingo, books on witchcraft. I picked one of them up and opened it to the middle. It was about the history of a coven in Germany. The next detailed various levels of witchcraft, from cults who believed to actual magical beings.

Thump, thump, thump.

The sound is far away, and I can’t tell which direction it is coming from. My focus is on the books. I follow the voice in my head that tells me to investigate the desk, completely ignoring the alarms in the back of my mind. A few dusty papers are messily spread on top. Some are blank, and some look like letters. They are so old I cannot read them, though, so I decide to pry open the drawers. There isn’t much except dust, but in the bottom drawer, shoved deep in the back, I find a small but thick leather bound book. It’s not as dirty as it should be, I think.

Thump, thump, thump.

The sound stops me for a moment, and I listen for it again. Nothing comes. It sounds like a warning, but I can’t stop yet. The book in my hands is full of incantations, recipes with strange ingredients, and ritual practices. My eyes are glued to the pages.

Tristan’s voice pulls me from my trance. “Find something good?”

“Something great! Come look at this.” I show him the page I am currently opened to.

“Wow, Lex. This is probably the most interesting and simultaneously creepiest place we’ve ever found.”

I agree and ask him if he’s found anything promising. He says that the kitchen is pretty empty, save for some herbs and spices. It smells like something died in there recently, but he couldn’t find what.

“Every other door I’ve tried is locked except for the one right next to the library. It leads to the basement, though,” he tells me.

“Should we check upstairs? That’s where you thought you saw the blood.”

Thump, thump, thump.

Tristan looks towards the ceiling. “It sounds like it’s coming from the second floor.”

We both walk out of the library to where the sweeping staircase leads to the daunting upper level. Neither of us make a move to climb it. It doesn’t look safe at all, and I start have a bad feeling about this. I can’t figure out what drew us here so strongly, but I suddenly don’t like it. Tristan looks nervous, too.

A panel of wood underneath the staircase doesn’t look like it is connected to the rest, and with closer inspection, I realize it’s a hidden cabinet. As soon as I pry it open, I wish I hadn’t. A pile of mutilated cats lay inside. The stench hits me like a bus and I gag. Tristan shuts the cabinet quickly and looks sick.

“Rats and squirrels I can deal with,” Tristan says with a disgusted look on his face. “But cats are a new one.”

“And those ones didn’t just die here. Someone put them there.”

“We should get out of here.”

I am on board with the idea. This really doesn’t feel right anymore. In fact, it feels so horribly wrong that I can’t imagine why we came here in the first place.

Thump, thump, thump.

Tristan and I look up again. It’s definitely coming from upstairs.

Thump, thump, thump, thump.

It doesn’t stop now. The sound is closer and stronger and matches my heartbeat. Fear rises in my chest.

At the top of the staircase, black hooded cloaks file in. They are shadows in the darkness, and my flashlight does nothing to curb the fear that now bubbles inside me. My fight-or-flight instincts kick in, and I run for the back door. It is closer, and the cloaks stand stationary on the landing. The knob is stiff.

I take a deep breath and bolt for the front door. Tristan remains petrified, and slowly the figures start for the first floor. I grab his arm for him to follow me, but he won’t budge. The horror movie I am living in takes a new level when I go to yank the door open and the knob breaks off in my hands. My throat closes up. Tristan finally comes to, and his body slams into mine as he follows me to escape.

Thump, thump, thump, thump.

The two of us back up against the door. The black mob moves in the shadows toward us at their hauntingly slow pace, like it doesn’t matter how quickly they go, they are going to get us.

Tristan grabs my hand. “Quick the basement!”

It is the only open window and our one chance to escape. The stairs down here a rickety and the wood is soft from the water. It’s not safe by any means, but it’s our last hope. We slosh through the chest-high water. I am pretty much doing the breaststroke. Tristan lifts me up so I can crawl out first. By the time I am safely on the dirt outside, the thumping stops, and the quiet rippling of water replaces the noise. I reach for my best friend’s hand, and he slips from my grasp. We are both soaking wet.

I plant my knees in the dirt and take his hands in both of mine. It’s not easy, but soon Tristan is almost halfway out of the window. I really think we are going to make it out of this when I start to lose him again. He screams. This time, though, it’s not him slipping. These mysterious people have him, and they are pulling him back. Tristan tries to leverage himself against the window frame. My knuckles are white and my heart is pounding. Both of us are crying.

If I believe hard enough, I can pull him out. I have an iron grip on his wrist, and he pushes against the side of the house. The adrenaline is enough to save us.

Until it isn’t.

It takes all of half a second, but he is gone. Tristan slips from my grip and disappears into the blackness. Everything is silent. There is no sound coming from the basement, no water rippling, no screams, no words. I want to hear him struggling or fighting—anything to know he is alive—but there is nothing.

I can’t move, and I can’t breathe. My best friend is gone. I throw up in the dirt and wait for some sign of life inside the basement.

Finally, I am tired of sitting there waiting. Waiting isn’t going to save Tristan. I gather up every ounce of strength I have and drive to town. I need help. When I get to the police station and frantically tell them what happened, no one quite believes me. I am wet, filthy, and out of breath. I look crazy.

Hell, I feel crazy.

Somehow I persuade a few officers to come back to the house with me. I don’t think any of them believe me, but they want to calm down a distressed girl. I lead them up the walk to where the door now hangs wide open. Flashlights and guns at the ready, the officers scour the house. I am too afraid to go inside again.

“Miss, nobody is here,” an officer tells me. He is careful with his words as to not upset me.

I blink at him, dumbfounded. “What do you mean nobody is here?”

“Exactly that, miss. There isn’t even evidence of anybody being in this house.”

“No blood?”

“No, miss.”

“Dead cats?”

“Not one.”

I take a deep breath before asking the question I fear the most. “You didn’t find Tristan’s body weighted to the bottom of the basement?”

“I’m sorry, but no.”

“That can’t be possible.” I storm past him through the door. I am still terrified, but I need Tristan more than anything.

The portrait in the library glares at me, and I want to tear it off the wall. The girl in it was supposed to give me answers, but all I have are more questions. The cats are gone, like the officer said. The basement stairs look more menacing than ever, and I don’t dare chance them to investigate myself. I don’t go upstairs. I don’t need to to know that I will find nothing there.

The police had knocked down the back door, so I step outside. The clearing is barren. My heart aches, and I wonder if I dreamed up the whole thing. But Tristan is very real, and he has to be here.

Then I see it. At the edge of the clearing, right past where the dead grass turns to trees, I see something out of place. I break into a sprint toward it. My knees are weak, but somehow they carry me the whole way. A few officers call after me, but I don’t hear what they are saying.

I run into a stone alter hidden among the trees, where Tristan is bound and gagged and barely conscious. He has unreadable symbols and markings carved all over his arms and face. His feet and his hands are tied together so that his back arches in a painful and uncomfortable way. His lips are moving, but the sounds are inaudible.

“Tristan,” I say through tears. “Tristan, what happened to you?”

I know he won’t answer. It is more a question for myself. I am at a loss for other words, and violent sobs erupt from my chest. Everything is a blur. Someone pulls me away from my boyfriend’s body, and I don’t have the strength to fight back. I can do nothing more than crumble. All I can see are his dark and lifeless eyes.

Down Goes Another One

Back in action today on the blog to tell y’all a bit about what’s been going down in the Rat Trap the last couple of weeks. It’s Dead Week here, and that means stress levels are high, junk food is being consumed, and finals are about to hit us all like a bus.

The rain has stopped for a bit in SLO, and it has been beautiful. And warm. And hot. Temperatures are getting up into the eighties, and it’s both been wonderful and awful. Three months in Europe plus three months of rain in California has made me a wimp in the heat. I’ll adjust, of course, but I’ve been sweating a lot and it’s not the best feeling. But ya know, we are supposed to get some rain next week, right in time for the most stressful week of the quarter. Great! I mean, it could be worse. It could be blizzarding like it is in New England.

My roommates and I have discovered California Fresh Market, which is the closest grocery store, other than the Whole Foods-esque one which I don’t want to spend my money at. They have a salad bar, soups, and chicken wings, along with a bunch of orderable food. I would be lying if I said I haven’t been going there once a week to get a salad. Trying to eat healthy, ya feel? Especially since I’ve gone through two rounds of Girl Scout cookies. They also have baby pies and Halo Top ice cream (which has a lot less calories than Ben & Jerry’s, though I still think Ben & Jerry’s is superior), which was perfect for my solo pie day festivities. The market has been a bit of a savior for us in the last few weeks.

Why, you ask?

Well, because we have carpet beetles!!

Yup, those fun little guys have taken refuge in our apartment (along with a couple of others in our complex) and have us itching and cleaning and worrying–perfect for this time of the year. They don’t bite, which is good, but they shed little hairs that cause irritation and itching. I feel like I’ve got them all over my body. And I spent $15+ dollars at the laundromat to clean everything I own, and it was so rough. It is rough.

So this my step-by-step process of how to get rid of carpet beetles:

  1. Get text while at work that we have carpet beetles.
  2. Panic.
  3. Go home to find everything you and your roommates own is in trashbags in the living room.
  4. Vacuum.
  5. Put flea killer all over the floor (room by room, not all at once).
  6. Wait 30 minutes.
  7. Vacuum and pray it worked.
  8. Go to the laundromat with all your clothes, sheets, and blankets. If it’s machine washable, it goes.
  9. Get $5 worth of quarters out (in addition to the once you already have).
  10. Run out of quarters because you need two machines and they both cost $5.50 a load.
  11. Get more quarters.
  12. Internally scream that this is happening to you right before Dead Week.
  13. Get a slurpee and a snack at 7/11.
  14. Wait.
  15. Put everything into two dryers.
  16. Get more quarters.
  17. Wait and eat aforementioned snacks.
  18. Get stuff from the dryer when it’s done.
  19. It’s not dry yet, so you have to get more quarters.
  20. Wait and eat some more.
  21. FINALLY, things are ready, and you can go home.
  22. Try not to cry because everything is still in your living room.
  23. Make your bed.
  24. Keep everything off the floor.
  25. Treat the carpet in the hallway and living room.
  26. Drink a glass of wine.
  27. Have a nice, deep talk with your roommates.
  28. Go to bed.
  29. Find a beetle in the windowsill in the morning.
  30. Set traps.
  31. More or less repeat steps 4 and 26-30 until exterminators come.
  32. They assess, and then tell you they will come back soon. They’ll let you know when, but there is no set date.
  33. Wait to hear from exterminators and start to not be afraid of the ground (for 3 days)
  34. Get text while in class that one of your roommates found a carpet beetle on her pillow.
  35. Panic. Because you still don’t know when the exterminators are coming.

Aaaaaaand that’s where we are at the moment. Having to deal with this and studying for finals is a less-than-ideal situation. None of us want to deal with it, but it’s not like we can leave it be. I just hope this can all be resolved by the time we leave for spring break.

This quarter has both been the shortest and the longest of my life. I have been home for about as long as I was abroad, and it feels like another lifetime away. At the same time, I feel like I just got back a few weeks ago. Time is a funny thing.

Looks like I’ll just have to focus on how awesome the sky has been looking the last few nights. We’ve got a pretty good view of the sunset from the Rat Trap, so that’s a plus. Does it balance out the carpet beetles, though? I’ll have to get back to you on that one. Stay tuned. Go listen to Ed Sheeran’s new album while I’m gone. It’s amazing.

I’ve got a super long post coming at you in the next couple of days. Don’t worry, it’s just a writing piece I wrote for my fiction class–the only class I’ve ever been sad to leave on the last day.

Catch ya on the flip side. It’s been real, Winter Quarter.

Ash

Right Now #9

I have been back at school for about a month. I’ve been back in America for almost two. Yes, I am still sad about leaving London. No, I probably won’t shut up about it.

I have half a post about all the things I miss about study abroad. I have half a post about the rift between students and full-time SLO residents. I wrote two short stories in the past few weeks: one I submitted for a contest, the other I am turning in for an assignment. Two of my abroad finals were due within twenty-four hours of each other. To top it off, I am sick.

Am I being dramatic? Sure, always. But do I feel like actual crap? Yeah.

Honestly, it could be worse. I am knocking on wood as I write that. Because even though I feel like my head is going to explode, I understand next to nothing in my astronomy class, and my back is in a more or less constant state of pain, I have great friends, this gloomy weather is giving me some peace, and Stranger Things Season 2 has a release date! Plus, it is Girl Scout cookie season, and a box of those (or two) is enough to get anybody’s mood up.

So let’s talk life updates:

Just being a serial series reader…

I love a good book series. I mean, I love stand-alone novels, as well, but I get more attached when I am focused on a set of characters for more than one book. I just finished the Embassy Row trilogy, by my favorite author, Ally Carter. Everything she writes has me in suspense and in love. I can’t wait to reread that series as many times as I have sped through her other ones.

But until I am ready to send myself down the path of Grace Blakely again, I am reading the newest Confessions of a Shopaholic book: Shopaholic to the Rescue. I adore Sophie Kinsella and her books. Becky’s wild adventures always have me laughing and rooting for her to come out on top. This particular novel has her on the hunt for her runaway father. There is some mystery and some struggles. But there is always fun.

Meanwhile, I am back (and always) on the Harry Potter train, following Harry, Ron, and Hermione on their search for the Chamber of Secrets. I got all the books on my Kindle–easy access to a series that has touched my heart in so many ways. I no longer need to carry around seven heavy books (though that is not something I am against) to hop on the Hogwarts Express to the best wizarding school.Image result for harry potter gifs

I’m trying my hand at expanding genres.

Reading, of course. I will always try something new. From the Shopaholic series to Harry Potter to The Martian, I love to read everything. It’s how you expand your horizons. So reading, yes.

Writing? Well, writing across genres is not my strong suit.

In an ideal word, I am the next Richard Castle, and I can pop out a crime mystery best-seller, easy. In this world, I can come up with new ideas at the drop of a hat, but actually turning them into a story (novel or not) is a much different task. Lucky for me, I had a writing assignment where the gothic genre was a requirement. Now, I wouldn’t say my attempt was great, but it was definitely not my worst.

Since then I am inspired to try my hand at plots and characters that are not my typical go-tos. Different kinds of relationships and plot-points. Also monsters.

I know, I know. Who is this girl? I’m still trying to figure that part out, but everyone has to start somewhere, right? I mean, I can’t create a world as wonderful and extensive as J. K. Rowling’s wizarding one overnight. Or, you know, ever. But I can try to create something powerful like she did.

So I haven’t been to the gym as often as I originally planned.

It’s not for lack of trying. I made a schedule for myself, and I intended to stick with it–and I still intend to stick to it as closely as possible. Unfortunately, work and school have gotten in the way a bit. My work schedule does not always allow for me to hit the elliptical or go to a barre or zumba class as often as I’d like. Midterms, papers, and projects came at me like baseballs at the batting cages, and they just haven’t stopped.

If I do find some time, it is usually to play racquetball with Tori–which, honestly is so fun. I wish I was actually good at it. Public apologies to Tori that my skills are so poor and I can’t keep a real game going.

That being said, I get there as much as I can. And you know what’s really weird (and maybe a little unnerving)? I actually want to go. I want to go for a round on the elliptical or do a few laps on the track. I know, I know–who am I?? But with this rain, all I want to do is, well, something. Something active that isn’t running up and down the stairs at work doing stock checks or moving boxes. I miss going to Zumba!

I forgot how fast-paced the quarter system was.

And while I did sort of miss school, I did not miss this stress! We start classes, and you turn around and suddenly you’re taking midterms. Then you blink and your final paper is about to be due. I am trying not to let the anxiety take over, but it has not been easy.

Yes, tears have been shed. I have pushed a lot of emotion down and bottled a lot of things up (I don’t know how I do it, but it happens), and it all likes to pour out of me when I least need it to. Like in the middle of class.

But it’s fine. Everything is fine. I will get through this–I always do. And I do really like the quarter system. I like that I get to take so many different classes in a year. It means I get to try new things, and that’s always exciting. Things happen very quickly, so I am never bored–okay, that’s not entirely true. There is always something to do. It keeps me on my toes in the best way. I am working on the over-stressed thing. One day I won’t freak out about little things so much.

My favorite season is starting.

Now that the wildly overproduced Superbowl is over, baseball season can finally kickstart. Season at Cal Poly is just starting, and I am stoked. I’m hoping not too many games get rained out–it was an issue with the series at Cal this past weekend–because there is not much I love more than hanging out at Baggett Stadium admiring butts in baseball pants watching my favorite sport. And eating hot dogs. There has to be hot dogs.

As exciting as gearing up for season at school is, it certainly is not MLB level. I can’t wait for my phone to blow up with ESPN notifications letting me know everything that’s happening: who is scoring, who is striking out, and how good Mike Trout looks in the outfield.

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Okay, okay, so that last part is not something ESPN is going to be reporting on (unfortunately), but if I can’t go to the games, then watching the livestreams and game casts will have to do. That is, unless I can take off enough time to make it out to Arizona for Spring Training again this year. Since Edie lives out there now, it’s like the universe is begging me to go. At least, that is what I am telling myself.

I missed Costco pizza a lot.

Self-explanatory. Thank God a slice is only $2.


Okay now back to studying, procrastinating, drinking coffee, reading my classmates’ stories, and parking struggles. Oh, and listening to a lot of Ed Sheeran.

-Ash

PS The Maine’s new album comes out so soon! Not soon enough, but new music will solve so many of my problems!!

The Reason…13 of them, actually

If you know me, really know me, you know that depression has been a defining factor in my life, in who I am today. Yes, we are starting on a morbid reminder that I have a messed up head. But to quickly follow that up to let you know that I am A-OK right now and not falling backwards, my head is well. Still incredibly sad to not be in London, but I’ll be back there one day.

The reason I bring this up is because today (at a university with a highly underrated libral arts program), Jay Asher, author of the novel Thirteen Reasons Why, gave a little talk. This novel of his follows a high school kid named Clay as he listens to seven cassette tapes made by his classmate Hannah Baker, who had just commit suicide. On these tapes, Hannah explains the thirteen reasons why she killed herself, and each side is dedicated to one person. The book made me rethink a few things.

Asher grew up in San Luis Obispo and went to Cuesta and Cal Poly, which was a pleasant surprise considering how many engineers people at this school discount my major and my career choice. He talked about the book and explained his process, answered our questions, and made a lot of jokes. It was an hour and a half of my life well spent.

I have known I wanted to be a writer since high school, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t second guessed my decision. In fact, I have done exactly that–a lot. I often wonder if I am a good enough writer to create anything worth reading. I mean, this blog’s readership is not impressive, and though I don’t admit it, it kind of bothers me sometimes. Of course, I started the blog for me, so I guess it’s not a huge deal. But my pride is a little bruised, not going to lie.

Anyway, Jay Asher. I read Thirteen Reasons Why in high school, and I knew from the first page this book was going to change things for me. After struggling with depression for so long by myself, this was the first thing that really helped me to deal with it. It seemed that Asher so understood what I was going through, and he was able to say it with such grace. Saying I cried while reading it is an understatement.

To this day, that book is still so important to me. I have read books that have touched me or made me feel a certain way–I mean, that’s why I love to read–but nothing has really got me the way this one did (and still does). So getting to meet and listen to the author tell us about how he got where he was and what he is doing now was awesome. He shared his writing methods, how and where he came up with his ideas, and how he went about getting published. He also talked a little bit about how the book turned into a Netflix series that is coming out next month. I am so excited for it!

I have been in a bit of a block lately creatively (plus it’s midterm season), so I have not been able to undulge in my favorite rainy day activity, other than for my writing class. I want to get back to Book 2, and I have all these ideas for it, but I haven’t had the time. And with worrying that I am not a good enough writer has not helped much. But hearing Asher talk about everything he has been through and everything he has done, I am much more optimistic. I long to get back to writing, to have time to get back to writing. I fell back in love with the writing process today, and I cannot wait to get back to it.

Now I have to thank Jay Asher for two things.

So here I am, finally blogging, finally writing, and finally jittery excited about a TV show since psych. I’ve got a life update post hopefully coming at you soon, along with an ode London and a rant about the relationship between college students and permanent residents here in SLO. Looking for some downtime to polish them off and loving this rain (except when I am stuck in it).

Think positively, folks. All is well.

-Ash

Bring it Back – Returning to reality and pseudo-adulthood

Day Twenty-Seven. Kreutzberg. Song of the moment: “Only the Strong Survive” by McFly. Level of saddness on a scale from one to ten: seven and a half.

Before I say anything else, I have to say this: I am so grateful for the wonderful and talented Ed Sheeran. After an Ed-less 2016, seeing this tweet fired me up like no other. “Shape of You” is the jammest of the jams. “Castle on the Hill” has me in tears every time I listen to it, and it reminds me so much of England. With these songs (and the track list!! Major heart eye emojis about it) on repeat, I was ready to take on my first day back at Cal Poly.

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The “study” part of “study abroad” is used very loosely. Yes, I went to class, and yes I had a few papers to write, but the schooling itself was nowhere near the kind of stuff I was doing at Cal Poly: late nights in the library, middle of the night SloDoCo runs, coffee for days. Abroad it was more: museums trips as class, let me write this paper in an hour, no schoolwork on the weekends because I was traveling. And I still did well in my classes.

In short, going back to the fast-paced quarter system was going to be a rude awakening. Lucky for me, I have a spooky set of friends to get me through it.

Cue the badass, early 2000s girl power band intro music for the infamous Frat Rats’ first weekend back together. I am incredibly happy to be living with Tori, Kristin, and Mads this year. They got me through the rollercoaster that was sophomore year. Mad Dog was the real MVP whenever I got upset while I was in England. Now we live together in our cute little apartment (though it is rather cluttered at the moment) and are ready to re-establish ourselves in the Cal Poly social scene–fur included.

And in even luckier circumstances, most of the Abroad Squad happens to be here, as well. I missed them every day that I was home, and I cannot wait to be reunited with them–and with Jaci in spirit. Very thankful that I have them.

This first week back in real school was a bit of a whirlwind. This quarter, I thankfully got enrolled into all of the classes I wanted–no waitlist for me! Not having to worry about whether or not I was going to be in any of my classes was a sweet moment. It was made even sweeter when Tori walked into my astronomy class. I have a roomie to get me through it. I have a friend in my history class (about the witch hunts in Europe–so stoked), and I know a few people in my english class (small majors for the win). I don’t really know anyone in my fiction writing class, but at the rate I have been making sassy side comments, I will be okay. Plus, I have a new gym routine. Monday: Zumba, Tuesday: Barre, Wednesday: Spin, Thursday: free day, Friday: Spin. All of these are work-permitting, of course, since I am back at the lovely little lingerie store Victoria’s Secret.

I know, I know, I am setting high standards for myself, but I don’t think I have ever been this motivated. I always start the quarter and tell myself all of the great things I will do over the next ten weeks, but I never follow through. I don’t even really get close enough to make a dent in these resolutions. But this quarter, I have gym buddies that will make sure I go, study buddies for my classes, and good friends to keep me sane.

Setting these bars is right on track with all those “New Year, New Me” mantras. While that wasn’t really my intention, I guess it makes sense to follow that kind of path–and stick to it. Because, coincidentally to the new year, I truly have become a new person over the last few months. Bet you can’t guess why!

I am ready to take this new and improved Ashley and throw her back into SLO. One week down, and I think she is doing pretty well! I am happy and thriving. I miss London every day, and whenever someone asks me if I am happy to be back, I reply with a simple, “No.” It kind of takes people aback. Yes, it is good to be back, but I long for my London days. It snowed there a few days ago, and I cried. But I am determined to get into a good groove here and shed minimal tears about my wonderful abroad experience. So far, so good.

The Frat Rats made their big debut into the new year this weekend. We are back in action! Starting off with a bang, we went to a Disney-themed party as the Cheetah Girls. Fur and animal print is very in for us. Tori and I went on a hike to Serenity Swing the next morning with Alex and one of her friends. It was not easy. I mean, it was okay for the ninety percent of the way up, but the last ten percent really was a challenge. We were basically perpendicular to ground, and I wish I could say I am exaggerating. But the view? WORTH IT! And the descent was much better. I did ruin my shoes a little bit, but like I said, it was worth it.

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And with all that fun comes serious stuff, too, I promise. I am getting down to business with my schoolwork and whatnot. I am writing my papers for my abroad finals (yup, their term isn’t over until next month so I still have homework) and reading for my english and history classes. I am cooking more, rather than snacking or going out, so that’s exciting. And I have been writing a lot lately.

All good things, all good things. Yes, my level of saddness about London is still close to ten, but I am also very happy to be back in the happiness city in America.

Ash