Sundaze – 5/28/2017

Here I am…sitting on a train. I’m on my way home for the weekend to surprise my dad for his birthday–disclaimer: he knows now, so I’m not spoiling any secrets.

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Whenever I go home, I get a weird mix of emotions: I’m happy to see my family, dreading seeing my family, excited to get breakfast burritos, rolling my eyes out of my head about city traffic. I’m stoked to see my brother, back from his first year of college, and to see Gracie and Stephanie. But everyone is back home for summer, so the chances of me stumbling upon someone from high school are pretty high. I’ve said before that sometimes going home makes me feel like I’m suffocating–and not from the smog! Since last summer, I’ve only been back in the Burbs a handful of times, though, so maybe I’m starting to feel differently.

That’s good news. I might be beginning to forgive all the crap memories filling my brain. I’ve started to think that maybe the reason I have hung onto all those bad memories is because I haven’t had the mindset or the time to make new ones. But that’s another post for another day.

As May comes to a close, I’ve been thinking a lot. I’ve only got a few more weeks of school (thanks, quarter system) and as long and drawn out as this quarter has been, its end has kind of sprung up on me. So much has happened to me in the last eight or so weeks, and it’s all come down on me at once–right in time for Week 9, shocker!! Not everything is bad, though, some things are quite good…maybe you’ll hear about that soon.

With so much to do for school, I’ve been neglecting writing lately. Yes, I was a little post-happy on the blog a few weeks ago, but things have caught up to me. I covered some heavy topics, and I think we all needed a break from that. I’ve journaled here and there, but no actual writing. Which is great, because I have to start thinking about my senior project–which I’ve got some…thoughts…about.

But I’m antsy to get started on Book 3! I’ve refrained from really letting myself think too much about it–I’ll get far too distracted from schoolwork and tweaking Book 1 and Book 2. But I’ve got a plotline and some character names picked out already. I just have to build the world and work out details. Easy-peasy! Yes, I hope you all read the sarcasm in that. I’m hoping that this weekend I can get some real-life work done so I can escape to the world inside my mind. The good one, don’t worry.

For now, though, I’ve had to find escape in music, which is fine by me. I’ve gotten on this kick of making playlists. I used to just make them and then put them on shuffle and let them take me away. I still do that for some–like my Road Trippin’ playlist for when I drive home or back to SLO. But I made a list of songs for someone recently, just listing them by how they come up in my iTunes: alphabetical by artist. But this list of songs…they’re me in a nutshell. I handpicked them so that if you were to listen to them, you might get me a little bit more. A little bit better. That kind of list needs to be in a special order. I spent most of yesterday arranging and rearranging the songs–and I think I’ve got it! I need to listen a time or two more to be sure, but I’m feeling it.

The Maine’s latest album has got me feeling some kind of way, too. I love it so much, and they never cease to please me with their new music. It’s pretty seamless, and it’s one of the reasons I am now conscious of the order of songs I listen to. But not only did my favorite band release a new record, so did Harry Styles!! Still bitter about the whole “hiatus” thing, but I am loving Harry’s album. It’s so different, and it’s just the kind of thing I needed in my slump. Call me crazy or whatever, but I still love One Direction and all that those boys have accomplished. Hey, music is very important to me, and I’m always overly emotional about it!

And speaking of getting emotional, I saw Jaci last weekend! After hanging out more or less nonstop with her for three months and then not seeing her for six-ish months, I was so excited to have her in town. Post-grad life is treating her well: she has a cool new job that has confusing-to-me circumstances, but it sounds like a blast. It was defnitely strange seeing her in America–SLO, no less–and not London. I’ve been missing my city and all the memories so much the last few weeks, and having the abroad squad back together (ish) for even just a night was the best. Studying abroad was such a wonderful and life-changing experience, and the friends I made were a huge part of that. Therefore Jaci was a huge part of that. I miss getting lost in foreign countries together.

Thinking about London so much made the recent terror attack in Manchester all that more heart-wrenching. Missing the lovely country of England and wishing I was there only made it harder to be so far away when tragedy struck. A concert is supposed to be a safe place–we all know much music has impacted my life–and bombing such a place (where a particularly non-controversial musician was performing) is just awful. All those children…it makes me so angry and sad. I’m wondering how someone could be so evil, but I still believe in the sacredness of music and how positively it can affect someone. And I have to believe we’ll be stronger for this.

As cynical as I am about people and their intentions, I do have faith that when it all comes down to it, people care about people. I saw a video of the queen visiting the survivors in the hospital, and it warmed my heart a little. Gave me some optimism.

…….And now I’ve been lost in thought for, like, twenty minutes. Must get down to business. And by business I mean enjoying the scenery and listening to my jammin’ playlist.

Go get lost in thought and maybe in real life today. Also, always remember there is a Fran Drescher gif for everything.

Peace and blessings, Ashhhhhh

Treacherous

Wow it’s like I am insanely inspired to blog lately…so here I am, coming at you again with some tough topics. I’ve got a lot on my mind, and I need a break from studying–and I only have about seven pages left in my journal and my new one isn’t coming in the mail for about a week. Have to pace myself…

So we’ve talked about depression, anxiety, and the famous 13 Reasons Why. I’ve shared a pretty dark story with you that kind of let you into what goes on in my head sometimes (hey, it got me an A in the best class I’ve ever taken!). But today I’m going to take you down the other little path of mental illness in my life. That’s right, we’re going to talk about eating disorders.

This one might be the hardest for me to talk about because I have always struggled with whether or not I can really consider what I had an eating disorder. On top of that, I still have those lingering Bad Thoughts about my body…every time I look in a mirror. Okay, okay, maybe not every time, but at least ninety percent. That percentage is too damn high! It doesn’t mean I act on those thoughts–sure I have cried in the shower more than once this year and had a mental breakdown or two in my car. It happens and it sucks, but I’m only human.

I gained weight abroad, and ever since I have been back, I have been telling myself that “I have to lose the abroad weight.” Everything still fits me, sure, but now that I’m not perpetually wearing sweaters and I’m on a campus full of beautiful people, I notice the change. So last quarter, I gave myself a gym routine I said I would stick to. It wasn’t aggressive, but I would go a few times a week and take a class. No big deal. Well, I did not follow through with that after around Week 3. I wasn’t mad at myself or anything, I just didn’t have the time. That was okay. I still didn’t love to look at myself in the mirror, but I wouldn’t say I hated it either.

However, this quarter I have been really good about going on a more regular basis. I go a few times a week to hit the elliptical. I even go at six in the morning sometimes. Honestly, who am I?? Kidding, it’s just the best time for my schedule to go. Yes, I am pretty much asleep in the Rec and I nap once I get home and shower, but that’s not the point. The point is that–get this–I actually feel better. I have never been one of those people that feels good after a work out. In fact, I feel pretty shitty. I still don’t feel on top of the world when I leave the gym (the word “potato” comes to mind…), but I have more energy and motivation to actually do things throughout the day.

One of the reasons I wanted to start going more often and regularly was because I would lose all my energy when I would hike with my friends. My endurance and stamina has never been great, and it really showed on a trip to the top of Bishop’s Peak. I am always one of the slowest. That is partly because my knees and ankles kind of suck, but it’s also because I get tired so fast. I’ve gotten a lot better now that I have spent the last few weeks at the Rec.

Bonus: I don’t pant walking around our hilly campus or to my apartment on the third floor (much) anymore!

All of that is fine and dandy. I am not overdoing it or pushing myself too hard, and I still eat whatever I want, when I want (except SloDoCo–I need a maple bar, stat!). I am eating a lot of fruits and veggies, but I also splurge on a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. Some days you hit the gym, some nights you hit the bars. It’s called balance.

But today when I was working out, I spotted a girl in the weights area. She looked…well, quick frankly, she looked like maybe she was overdoing it (to put it in simple terms). She had slightly sunken eyes and I could see the chords in her neck. And I know people at the gym don’t really look happy, but she didn’t seem to have the life in her that a lot of people do. I know it is not my place to judge or to make assumptions, but I worried about her. And I looked at the miles, the calories, and the minutes on my machine, and I slowed down. I was at a pretty fast pace to get and keep my heart rate up, but seeing her made me cool it for a minute and remind myself that those numbers don’t matter. Yes, running elliptical-ing a mile in less than ten minutes is really exciting for me, but I have to remember that “beating” that personal best might push me past my limits. Maybe I will beat that time, but, like writing in my journal in the next week or so, I have to pace myself.

I have to be conscious of why I am going to the gym. To lose weight? Maybe, but that’s not the overall goal. To build muscle? Possibly. And I have to remind myself that it’s not a requirement of my day. If I’m really not wanting to go work out, then I won’t do it. Yes, I want to keep a routine and stick to it, but it’s not supposed to control me. I think for a little bit this quarter I was letting it take the reigns of my life. Like with depression and anxiety, I had to take a step back and reevaluate. Seeing that girl at the gym made me do that. So this morning, I skipped the gym to sleep in and then study. I might go later today, but I won’t force myself.

Sometimes I think I have all this control over my body and my life, and then I realize that I only think I do. That’s when I stop looking in mirrors and reflective surfaces, I walk right past the scale, I don’t compare myself to every single person that passes me. Instead, I look at the flowers growing literally everywhere in SLO and I jam to the music in my headphones. I can overcome those bad habits.

I was talking to a friend of mine about my new mile time and how exciting that was for a non-runner like me. He said that seeing results like that can be addicting and that was a great feeling. Now, I would in no world put him into any unhealthy habit category–he’s one of those guys who looooves the gym and lifting weights and playing basketball–you know the kind I’m talking about (still love ya, Ben!!). But the word “addicting” didn’t quite sit well with me. Working out and I haven’t had the best relationship because I got addicted to it like I got addicted to the numbness of depression. Again, his words made me take a step back.

I don’t like that I still struggle with this. I feel like I am better than this–I should be, right? Yeah, well, mental illness doesn’t work like that. Sometimes it creeps back into your life and you don’t notice for a while. Recovery doesn’t mean you’re never tempted or you don’t ever slip backwards. Recovery is being conscious of those temptations and overcoming them. It’s been an ongoing battle.

But today is going to be a good day. Great things will happen and I am going to be the best person I can be. My morning pep talk.

Thanks for keeping up with me!

-Ash

PS Literally an eating disorder ad just came up on my Spotify–relevance!! Talk about it, start a conversation, be there.

Sad Beautiful Tragic

So now that it’s been a month since my last post, and I’ve sufficiently put off writing about a particular topic we all know and love on the blog, here I am! I have risen from my accidental hiatus for a very special purpose.

It took me quite a while, but I made it through Netlfix’s newest binge 13 Reasons Why. As I’ve said before, I loved, loved, loved the book. Hannah Baker’s story hits close to home for me, and Clay Jensen is such a great character. I was so excited for the show to start streaming because I couldn’t wait to see this book I loved so much to come to life. I was very anxious to see how they would stretch the story over thirteen episodes. I can honestly say that the show made me feel so many emotions all across the spectrum and that I am incredibly happy that its message has reached soooo many more people since moving from page to screen.

So here we have my offical reactions to the show.

First off, as excited as I was for this series, I knew it would be hard for me to watch. This would not be a binge I could finish in a day. Maybe two or three, but not one. As it turned out, I had to go through the episodes over the course of a week.  Obviously I had to stay on top of my schoolwork (New Quarter, New Me, ya know?), but it was also important for me to dedicate time and focus to this show. Something that changed my life this much deserved that.

Normally, when I watch a show on Netflix, I can just go from episode to episode, reading the one-line synopsis and pressing “Next Episode” without much thought. With 13 Reasons Why I could do no such thing. After every episode, I needed to take a moment to collect my thoughts. To sit in silence and think about what I just watched. It wasn’t intentional, I just found myself stopping and reflecting. It felt wrong not to. The episodes were heavy, and I related to them so much. They took me back to middle and high school where I was depressed and had suicidal thoughts, and I needed to breathe. To remind myself that I’m not that girl anymore and I have so much to live for. So many people don’t believe that, and I feel incredibly lucky that I found that light in my life. But I had to remind myself of it. And I pray for those who haven’t found it yet.

Watching the show and needing these breaks between episodes was not like having my anxiety attacks, where I slipped backwards and had to wallow in that darkness before pulling myself out. Or like any other anxiety or panic attack I’ve had in my life. They were just moments where I needed to breathe. It’s hard to remember those thoughts, but I can’t let myself forget about them either.

So I watched each episode with care, and what I immediately noticed was that the characters were not what I was expecting–and that was a good thing. Dylan Minnette as Clay was not shocking whatsoever (he fit exactly what I had imagined), but the rest? I pictured something completely different. I obviously went into the show with an open mind, and I was blown away by the performances. They actors exceeded any expectations I had going in, and I was very pleased with casting. I loved Alisha Boe (as Jessica), Katherine Langford (as Hannah), and Miles Heizer (as Alex). Justin Prentice made Bryce a great, loathe-able villain, and Kate Walsh was phenomenal as Hannah’s mom.

In the book, the only character you get to know outside what the tapes say is Clay. You learn who Hannah is because of them, and you form judgments and impressions on the rest of the characters by the things she says–Clay’s thoughts shed some light, but not much. I loved reading the book because it was easy to keep track of who everyone was and what they did. However, the show presented those characters as flesh and blood and defined them as more than just what was on the tapes. You got to see everyone’s reactions to the tapes, rather than just Clay’s. I didn’t know I needed to see their stories until I watched. There is so much more background and insight, and it helped to see just how everyone was dealing with it. How they really thought about Hannah.

At times it was overwhelming to see all the facets, but I’m glad the writers and producers seized the opportunity to do as such. Though the book wasn’t, the show could have been pretty boring to just watch Clay move through the tapes by himself. And a viewer can learn a lot more by seeing all the sides–because there’s more than one side to every story. And while I think it is important to believe Hannah’s side, it’s also vital to look at everyone else’s.

The book so heavily impacted my life, and I was so happy the show could keep that love alive.

That’s not to say I was head over heels for everything about it. For example, showing Hannah’s suicide was risky. It was definitely triggering, and I would recommend–well, advise heavily–to proceed with caution. Or not at all. If that’s something that will hurt you or your recovery, then steer clear. I don’t think the show’s creators would take it personally whatsoever, and it’s better to stay away from something like that. For me, I struggled to watch it. I thought about skipping over the scene altogether. But I am far enough in my recovery and confident enough in myself that I could sit and watch it. That doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt or that I didn’t have to stop watching it and take a moment afterward. I cried throughout the entire episode, and that particular part had me sobbing.

I don’t know if I would have gone about it in the same way. Hannah killed herself by swallowing pills in the book. In the show, she slit her wrists in the bathtub. Much more difficult to watch. More painful. I wonder if it was the right decision to include that scene.

I get why they did it. It makes sense. But I just don’t know if I would have done the same. But it has started a conversation, and I think that’s essential.

To those saying the show glorifies suicide and glorifies killing yourself as an act of revenge, I have to disagree. And say that Hannah, though a fictional character, only killed herself to get back at the people who wronged her is saying that her suicide is invalid. That she had no reason to be as depressed as she was. To the people that say that, screw you. That’s harsh, but I have reasons.

If you’ve read my story, and if you’ve ever heard me talk about my depression, you would know that for a long time I blamed everyone else for my Bad Thoughts. It was a list of other people’s wrongdoings that led me to think about killing myself. I wanted all those people who were horrible to me to know that they were what drove me to such drastic measures. I didn’t think they’d care, but I wanted them to know it was the things that they did and said that made me hate myself so much. I still want them to know.

If wanting that “revenge” invalidated Hannah’s suicide, then it sure as hell invalidates my depression–and I can tell you, those emotions (or lack thereof) were very real. If you told me they weren’t, that I was just being stupid, well I might just hit you. And then cry probably a little, out of anger mostly. Because I fought so hard to get where I am and to stop blaming those people and myself.

Had I killed myself all those times I wanted to over the years, it would have been a “revenge suicide.” I can admit that. Doesn’t mean it would be petty or unreal or unnecessary. I would have still done it. Having people tell me I there was no reason to be upset or depressed would only have driven me more towards that decision. Invalidating someone else’s suicide or depression doesn’t validate yours any more.

That’s more of a reaction to a reaction, but I needed to say it. It bothered me so much that it made me second guess my own depression. That those ten years of my life weren’t even real. That I was just being dramatic.

I wasn’t and neither was Hannah.

So no matter what I disagreed with or didn’t quite love about the show, what I did love far outweighed anything I didn’t. The book changed my life. The show only made me believe that more.

I still thank Jay Asher for his story and for making me feel not so alone. And I thank God for my recovery. 13 Reasons Why reminded me of that.

–Ash

Stairway to [Hell]

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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