Thursday, July 29, 2010

The World in Miniature: Even Kings

by Ryan Z. Nock

Even Kings

He blinks as his head tumbles across the cracked grass of Elah. One
blink, and he sees his headless body still twitching beneath the man
who has slain him.

In the dark, Caravaggio has to kneel to see where the daub of alizarin
yellow landed after it fell off his palette. A thin shaft of light
from his barred window illuminates the toe of his shoe, where the
paint mingles with Naples’s dirt and with the blood he stepped through
this evening, darkening the oil to a perylene crimson.

A second blink, and he witnesses the world turned upside down when his
head comes to a stop against a rounded river stone. His skin begins to
numb, but he still tastes grit, still smells iron, still sees the
upended throngs of victorious warriors cheering his fall.

Caravaggio dabs his brush into the tainted mix on his shoe. His prison
term does not afford him the luxury of waste. He stands and faces his
canvas. On it a young man, sword in hand, emerges from an ivory black
world, holding a giant’s head. A boy really, he handles his trophy
with disgust, with a hint of melancholy.

A third blink. His killer steps through the crowd and towers over him
like a colossus blotting the summer sun to blackness, like the hand of
a judging God.

During another night’s carousings through Rome’s looming slums,
Caravaggio’s dueling blade pierced Ranuccio’s ale dampened cloak,
clipped his shoulder blade, and ripped through his heart. Caravaggio
hears echoes of his own drunken laughter from this three-year old
murder. He has heard them every night during his flight from
judgement, at every crossroad on his exile from the city where he once
showed men the human grandeur of the divine.

Goliath blinks for the fourth time since David decapitated him with
his own sword. He feels the cold contrition of death’s coils, and he
sees naught but the expected blackness of eternity.

But then, a tug at his hair wakens his slacking eyes. David,
victorious, raises Goliath’s head, proof of Providence. Israel exalts
its future king, but Goliath looks beyond the raw umber armies, past
their iridescent pewter arms and red ochre armor that fade to cold
black, to the walls of the valley, to brilliant rose terebrinth
flowers of the pistacia trees. His eyes close for the final time upon
this black world, and its last glorious color.

In his cell, penance on his lips, Caravaggio ponders the giant’s face,
his own deceased, defeated visage. Carefully, he paints one drop of
blood on David’s blade. Even kings must understand that every death
deserves sorrow.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Writing with Sneakers

So the Rejectionist has a post about perseverence, and she uses a wonderful running metaphor to help make her point. I love running; I love writing. A confuence! I extended the metaphor a little (in comment 3 on that thread), and it got me thinking, not just about perseverence but about an act of sustained will.

Writing a novel is different than many acts of creation -- inspiration is important, and yet the process of writing a novel dwarfs any moment of inspiration. It takes a certain doggedness to complete a novel.

Is it any surprise that I'm a fan of extreme athletics? And by extreme I don't mean trying to ride a unicyle across a tightrope over Niagara Falls. By extreme, I mean extremely difficult. I'm fascinated by triathlons, marathons, the Tour de France. I've been watching the latter on tv. These crazy buggers spend three straight weeks racing this one event, riding hundreds of kilometres every day (thousands over the course of the whole race) through whatever conditions might arise on the roads - a brutal drought this year, as it happens. And they head up into the Alps and Pyrenees. On one day they rode up three mountains. Before they even got to the final climb. The last climb was the Col de Tourmalet. There were seven or eight kilometres of slow uphills... just to get to the bottom of the climb. The climb itself was 19 kilometres (12 miles) straight up a steep mountain. And they had to race it, the finish line at the top: to the winner go the spoils.

The sheer effort of this is mind-boggling, a ferocious act of will. Yet what struck me was not just the focus and determination of the riders on the day, as they struggled to pedal their bikes uphill against the weight of gravity and the request of physics in regards to round wheels (down, they want to go, down...). What struck me was what they all must have done to prepare for this. Only one man would win the race on the day (Andy Schleck), but they all had to get up the mountain. And this would be impossible without thousands of hours in the saddle, so to speak.

Is writing a novel much different? It's not a flash, a moment (even a long moment) of exerted will. It's a matter of sustained will. A slow accumulation, a build toward that final day of racing.

I run. There is something about it I find compelling. The difficulty of it. There are no easy steps, no breaks. A matter of sustained will. Each day, that act of will must put you on that road, and keep you on it. Yet it is the repetition of that act that's important. It's wonderful if I run four miles. But what if I don't go out again for a month? What did that four miles do for me? No, it's the ability to sustain that builds strength. Day after day, an accumulation of endurance and health. An accumulation of words on a single page, and then another, and another -- an accumulation of pages, of scenes and chapters.

You can't simply decide, out of the blue, to run a marathon in four hours. You would collapse. It is about moving from day to day with a goal in mind and in practice. It is about a sustained act of will.

The tramp of feet on cement. Step, step, Step, step, Step, step -- yes, I run with a bit of a limp. But that limp, that sense of the road, disappears when I get deep into a run -- and when I have trained, when my breathing, through long repetition, matches my stride. The road disappears beneath you. The sense of impact: Gone. You glide, you fly, you swim with every step. And yet that only comes with doggedness.

Writing is not so different. You must engage in the story through a sustained act of will, sinking yourself into it each day. Do it every day and sometimes the difficulty of each step, of each word, disappears. You lose yourself in the story. The world around you slips away, to be replaced by something strange and uniquely yours.

Will you win the race? Perhaps not, but the end will be in sight.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The World in Miniature: The Inky Deep

by Bryan Russell

The Inky Deep

the stone whale returns to my waters

its whirring and clanking sounds sharp as a sharks fin and leaving echoes like the wash of polar waters through the dark depths

an eye like the forbidden sun breaking the blackness

i shift through the water hovering and rising and my tentacles push and i move forward baiting the waters with froth and hoping the stone whale will leave and yet hoping the stone whale will stay so that i can wrap myself around it and crush it with my limbs for its invasion and for the light it sheds and the hurt in my eyes and for the grit of its sound against my skin for i have killed many whales who have trespassed too deeply

the stone whale was here before and its presence was like a glowing sickness in the dark depths and i pushed close through the water and yet hesitated as my bulk drew close and thought i might let it flee if it was merely passing through in its ignorance but i did not like its bitter eye or the rockskin which i touched with the tip of one tentacle while its eye sought me and there was an echo of voices like the tiny fractured voices of dolphins

as if the stone whale had swallowed them and they whispered deep in its belly with their sharp voices bouncing between its ribs

i hovered behind it in the darkness waiting and hesitant and yet with a pain that grew within me as the stone whale whirred along as if oblivious to the shape and shift and taste of the ocean and full with an ignorance so great that it was as if it were dead

it followed a school of white sharks for a time but the toothy ghosts fled before it as if scared of the strange stone whale and scared too of me for my tentacles snapped and writhed almost as if they were not mine

it rose through a drift of jellyfish alight in the blackness and the jellyfish whisked around it and slid from the skin of the stone whale as if it were tasteless and translucent to the sense of touch

i wanted it to leave and yet it persisted and pushed snubnosed through the endless vast dark of the sea

the depths were mine and the alien had to leave the deep bottom of the ocean so ripe with warm sulfur vents and with the blind albino crabs that danced ascuttle across the barked surface of the earth

the depths were mine with their heavy waters that cocooned the skin and held all things together

the bitter eye of the stone whale was like the bite of the great shark when i was small and young and yet now i was not small and young and the bite was long ago and i had grown vast to fill the vastness of the abyss and so i pushed against and through the water and drew up close behind the stone whale and it was like bright starlit teeth in my flesh and i brushed the hard skin of the stone whale with many arms and it was slow and dumb to my touch and i vented my ink upon it in a great pool that even a whale could not see through

the broken dolphins sang inside the beast and grew louder and there were new clanks and shivers and little eyes sprang up all around it

a whale whose eyes burned my pale skin

i would drive it and its baleful and searching ignorance away and i vented ink upon it to dull those fierce eyes and i struck it with a single arm and it shook a little but did not stop for it seemed as if movement were its only purpose and the voices bellowed amidst its ribs and i struck it again and again and it rang and shivered and once it vented like a sulfur rift and yet clearer and lighter and whiter in its bubbling froth

still it did not rise or flee but continued on its callous way and i clutched myself to it and wrapped many arms around it and i squeezed and squeezed and felt its stone skin shiver coldly in my arms and i crushed it

there were clanks and vents and the dolphins screamed and i tasted their fear amidst my black ink and finally the whirring stopped and the stone whale shuddered and grew still and its impetuous onwardness was halted

my arms released and it seemed to hover and could not swim and its sides were folded in and rent and there were bleeding wounds on my arms but i had no fear for the sharks would not approach me for my blood was more peril than feast to them

the stone whale started to sink slowly and grimly and without motion of its own for it seemed as if i had torn all movement from it and it was too heavy with stillness to float or swim or even hover and it fell through the blackness and the voices grew quiet in its belly even as its skin began to shriek and groan as it sank down through the endless waters with the weight of the sea growing ever greater upon its battered back

the stone whale caved upon itself and its skin collapsed and crumpled like a punctured blowfish as it drifted downward until it found the dusty floor of the sea and hit with a thump on its snub nose and came to rest on its side as a cloud of silt puffed up around it and shrouded the dull carcass and left it only as a vague shape like an outline of a rock

as if it were no more now than one of the rocks whose skin it had stolen

i pushed against the water and swam upward leaving the stone whale where it lay and i was contented again with all the vast and lonely dark of the sea but even so i thought again of the bright and searching eyes and the voices of the swallowed dolphins and the ignorance and curiosity and cold pride of the stone whale and i wondered why it had come here even as i looked about at the vast emptiness of the surrounding depths and at everything which was mine and mine alone

Monday, July 19, 2010

Review: A Dash of Style

We all love books about writing, right? Right? Okay, yes, I've probably read too many. But my obsession knows no bounds - it's like Christopher Columbus, endlessly circumnavigating the globe: what New Worlds/Writing Books shall be discovered?

This, of course, brings me to my week of Noah Lukeman. No, I didn't invite him over for dinner and a marathon session of Clue (he's in the wrong country), but I did read two of his books. I'd been hearing about The First Five Pages for a long time, and so finally broke down and read it - adding in another of his books, A Dash of Style, for good measure. And the thinking really was like that, with Dash added as an afterthought (I'd only just heard about it).

Yet, in reading, I was much more fascinated by the afterthought, as it were.

Don't get me wrong, The First Five Pages is not a bad book. It's quite solid, really. It's about approaching writing (or revision) while keeping in mind what agents and editors want to see - or, often, what they don't want to see. What are the things that will mark you as not ready yet? It's a nice little book, particularly for young writers, I think (and that's young in terms of craft, not in years, it should be said). It's about understanding the hard technical needs of professional level writing, with lots of insights about how to tackle a manuscript, particularly in revision (though they'd likely work well enough in moving forward, too, and writing new drafts). And though much of the basic writing advice is out there in other books, I'm guessing this book was important when it came out, as its approach was new and professioanlly oriented. In other words, how are you stabbing yourself in the foot and soliciting rejections? I think the difference now is that a lot of this information is out there in other venues - blogging agents and editors have helped fill the void in regard to professional expectations.

So I'd recommend it, with the caveat that experienced writers, particularly ones who are plugged into the writing blogosphere, have probably seen much of this before.

A Dash of Style, however, is a unique little book, and one that quite fascinates me. This book, I think, is one for my fellow sentence junkies. Are you a sentence junky? Are you just looking to tell a good story and have the words do the job, or are you in love with the rhythm and flow of sentences? Fiddling, cutting, adding, stretching, warping, patching, caressing, kissing... oops, sorry there. Getting carried away.

But, yes, this book is for sentence junkies. It's about punctuation. No, wait, it's okay. Really. Sit down. Please. Okay. Okay? Right. It's about punctuation, but this isn't a grammar book. It's not here to tell you what is right or wrong, correct or incorrect. It's not about proper usage. It's about style.

It's about the control of language. Words are the building blocks we use, but punctuation marks are the tools we use to shape them -- separating, connecting, speeding, slowing, pausing, heightening, obscuring, lighting, sharing -- and without these marks we'd be constructing little more than crude huts. How elegant a home are you hoping to build? You better have the tools, and you better know how to use them.

A Dash of Style is about just this, about how punctuation contributes to style, to the rhythm and flow of writing, to its clarity and depth. Its goal is not to help you decide what's correct, but rather what works. It's about the shape of writing, about how sentences begin and end and flow together. This isn't a book for grammarians, but for writers, laced with examples from great writing. How are voices and stories shaped, down there in the trenches, down there in each line?

It's a unique little book. At least, I haven't seen any other books out there on the creative application of punctuation, on punctuation as an element of style. It is a book about writing at its most basic and often ignored level - about the sentence itself. If you like thinking about what it is you do with words, and how you do it... this book is probably for you. Sentence junkies of the world unite: via the colon, of course -- or a dash, if you so prefer (and please don't mind my parenthetical interjections).

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The World in Miniature: Shoes and Souls

by Josin L. McQuein
You can find her at My Bloggish Blog Thing

Shoes and Souls

He used to sit there and watch the city go by.

Every day it was same thing: egg salad sandwich on rye, black coffee, no lid, and a red vine. He'd drink the coffee and eat the candy; the sandwich he'd hand to a homeless man who wandered the sidewalk with a cardboard sign.

"He's taking the time to warn me about the end of the world, the least I can do is buy him a lousy egg salad sandwich."

There wasn't a day that came by where he came in wearing anything but a suit, like he was a professor or maybe some big-shot exec. Sharp on the points, not a speck of lint. And he always wanted that same table.

Anybody else try and sit there, and the owner'd run 'em off.

He'd take the paper out from under his arm, flip it open and let it lie while he sat and watched the city with his eyes closed. The click-clack of hurried high heels and the muffled shuffle of a kid still young enough to lag behind and look at the world. The slide of worn dress shoes, even the padded steps of the world-ender's cloth-wrapped feet. They were an old man's symphony.

"People don't pay attention to their shoes," he said. "Someone should."

Then he stood up, unfolded his white and red cane and headed out the door while it swished right and left over the floor. He left the newspaper right where it was, like always.

He didn't come in the next day, but that was Sunday and on Sunday he didn't always come by. We figured he had a kid that came to visit once or twice a month.

I still hope that's true.

When he didn't come in on Monday, and then Tuesday, we got kind of worried, like maybe he was sick. By Wednesday, we knew it was more than sick - but the owner still ran off the folks that sat at his table.

We saw him again Thursday when he showed up in the paper. That's when we found out his name was Max. Maximilian Theribald Markson, Jr. - an awfully big name for such a wiry guy, and still kind of small for him at the same time.

The paper hasn't moved since we met Max that day. It sits at his table, and sometimes we join it for a cup of coffee and a red vine. Someone usually buys the old man outside a sandwich, but it ain't always egg salad. The only rule is that you have to sit there and listen.

Listen to the voices of the people, listen to the sounds of their joy and anger - listen to their shoes against the linoleum - and figure out who they really are. It's a simple thing, really.

Everyone should be able to see as well as a blind man.

Monday, July 12, 2010

I Killed My Classmates (And Made Them Laugh)

Vampires! And Werewolves! And Halloween! Oh my!

Last week I talked about my first foray, as a kid, into the great vampire/werewolf rivalry, and how the completion of that story was a real step for me in regards to understanding the reality of the writer. Today I want to touch on another story I wrote back then, and how it was important to a different element of my formation as a writer.

Grade seven: Halloween. We had to write a Halloween story for English, and I decided to kill off all my classmates.

Yup, I did away with them. The story was called (I believe) O Hallow's Eve, and it was about a Pumpkin-headed specter who invaded the school. The specter went on to murder everyone in the class. Each student got a unique (and somewhat gruesome) death, and I spared no one (including myself).

Luckily I was a friendly, well-liked and well-adjusted sort of kid, so instead of sending me for counselling the teacher decided the story should be read aloud to the class. And, as it turned out, everyone loved hearing about their own dismemberment (especially the boys). Who knew?

Well, I suppose I did, even then. Or at least I suspected, and hoped. In the back of my head I was aware of the idea of audience, of playing to the crowd.

The act of writing is interesting, really. It is, at times, singular in its loneliness. A writer, typing away at a computer, a solitary task that spins itself out day after day. And, in truth, I firstly (and mostly) write for myself. I write not to explain something but to explore something, to discover something for myself. Writing, to me, is as much about the process as the product.

And yet we can't ignore the product. And while the process, I think, is always relevant, for a product to find relevance it needs an audience. Writing is an act of communication: first with oneself, and then with others. We try to speak something, give something, share something.

The sense of someone listening, of a meaning shared, is important. I think that's one of the attractive things about blogs: their interactivity, the sense of an immediate connection, and immediate response. Contact is narrowed between reader and writer.

And O Hallow's Eve was my first sense of that contact, and indeed contract, between reader and writer. The rush of response, of having made a connection. Everyone in my class had been so excited by that story. In hearing my teacher read it I could see a sort of joy in my classmates, a sense of suspense, of anticipation. Who was gonna get it next? And how?

I think that desire remains. I write first for myself; I look and search and hopefully find. But then I have something complete. I want to share it. I'm looking, I guess, for a response. Adulation doesn't hurt, of course, but even more I want a connection, I want someone to feel something. A story is something shared, an experience felt by many that creates a common ground. There's a sense of community --even if the readership is large, faceless and invisible. The words are like radio waves, spreading out, speaking into the darkness of each night as the world spins through day upon day.

Even murder can make friends.

What about you? What was your first experience with an audience? How did it affect your writing?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The World in Miniature: The Problem with Bicycles

by Bryan Russell

The Problem with Bicycles

Abbas had a bicycle and so he had always been very fortunate. Transportation was a rare gift. Riding his bicycle was a bit like flight, gliding above the world.

It was not just a bicycle, of course, but a sort of mobile shop. Abbas had fitted it with baskets and bags and straps and hooks and throughout the day his bicycle grew. People waited for him, waited to fill up his bicycle. They had very little, the people, and they had little to do with what little they had, at least without Abbas. A bit of grain or fruit, some corrugated sheet metal, seeds, a bit of cloth… all could be traded, but the town was too far away, and they could not leave or they might lose what little they had.

But Abbas and his bicycle could reach the town where the people had money. He was not tied to his little bit of nothing, but instead rode it along the bumpy paths and roads. One hundred, two hundred transactions a day. His bicycle grew. The sacks and baskets became full, the straps and hooks held new things. He rode slowly, gathering, gathering, looking like some ponderous yet smooth-striding buffalo, a buffalo with a great camel’s hump in the middle. Sometimes Abbas thought like this, thinking I am a camel hump.

Abbas circled amidst the people, gathering, and then he rode to town and released his goods, taking on a bit of money or other items on barter. And then he would circle back, wheels spinning slowly. He was not a big man, Abbas, but he had strong legs and a leopard’s balance, so people said. His bicycle never fell down. Falling is too much a risk, Abbas would always say. Some of his goods might be damaged.

And so Abbas gathered. Some feathers, a bit of braided rope. A few melons. A jar of milk (a few people had joined together to purchase a cow and there had been much rejoicing). Some banana beer.

The soldiers stopped him, waving rifles. They wore no shirts and they took the banana beer and the milk and the melons. They were drunk already, though it was morning. They laughed a lot, so perhaps it was not merely drunkenness. They gave a bomb to Abbas and said he must take it down the road to the other militia men.

Abbas shook his head, no, no, and the soldier put the rifle up against his temple. The round barrel was hot. Abbas thought the metal would melt a round hole through his skull and so he nodded, yes, yes.

He strapped the bomb onto his bicycle and started to pedal. He thought about hiding the bomb somewhere but then the militia might kill him and where would he go anyway? His bicycle knew these paths, these people. He couldn’t leave. He made a little profit each day, each journey. It was a good life.

Abbas pedaled down the road, bouncing over the ruts.

The bomb exploded and Abbas disappeared. The tires bounced down the road and burning feathers drifted through the air.

People waited for him in vain. When would Abbas come? They had little piles of gathered things. An old pair of sandals. Some string. Vegetables. A bundle of rice.

Word about Abbas and the bomb passed slowly, for no one else had a bicycle and time was measured in footsteps.

They said, though, that since Abbas never landed he never fell off his bike. He died with a perfect record, and whatever sorcerer had cursed Abbas could not take that from him.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Larval Beginnings

Was there ever a moment when you knew this is what you wanted? When you realized "I want to be a writer"?

I don't mean in a vague sense, the idea that it seems cool, that it would be neat to write books like the ones you read... but rather something specific, something connected with the actual writing, the act of storytelling.

For me it came with a story I wrote when I was a kid. Eleven years old? Something like that. Just a kid. But I was already obsessed by books and stories, already experimenting with the idea of writing. I'd written a few other things, of course. A few for school, a few on my own, mostly beginnings to fantasy novels with lots of action, fantasy novels that usually fizzled out after a few chapters. I enjoyed it, certainly, and probably liked the idea of writing, of being "a writer". But it was an amorphous sort of feeling, half-formed, untethered to real experience. It was more wish and dream than real idea or goal.

Yet this new story was different. It was written for school, but I liked writing stories for school. It was a vampire story, of course. So ahead of my time! Funnily enough, it might even fit in now in this age of Twilight. It was a little bit Lost Boys, really, a group of adolescent friends (and one older, teen brother) who discover that vampires are operating in their town and decide to hunt them down. They find the vampires lair, and one afternoon they sneak in and kill all the vampires in a big showdown even as night descends. The boys leave, tired but jubilant with success. All but the older brother. He lingers behind. As night falls he begins to laugh and laugh, and as the full moon slips from behind a cloud the brother transforms into a werewolf and howls...

So much for the competition, right?

That's the story. And there was something about it. For one thing, it was fairly long (40 pages or so?) and complete. That completeness was important, not just in the sense of having reached an end, but in the sense that the story was complete. It was a real story. A beginning with a hook, characters who had to overcome obstacles, rising action, climax, denouement... and that denouement was important. The twist ending! Perhaps, um, not the most remarkable thing to me now, but to my eleven year old self it seemed big. I'd done something, felt like I'd made the imaginary reader think or feel soemthing, evenif only a sense of surprise. But something. A payoff, a realization, something to take away from the story besides the simple pleasure of the action itself.

I'm not sure much of anyone even read the story, really. My family? My teacher, certainly. But there was a sense of the story as an abstract entity, a platonic ideal, that would create a certain effect for an abstract and hopefully platonic reader. I had a sense of having successfully created an effect, of being in control of words and sentences. A sense of shaping something, rather than being shaped by something. The success was a conscious one, rather than the somewhat accidental nature of earlier achievements.

I don't think the pleasure from having written that story has ever completely worn off. It was something concrete. It was the reality of a writer rather than a dream. I still have that feeling, I think, when I finish a story. That sense of completeness, of creation and control. From that moment on I knew I wanted to be a writer.

What about you?

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Fortress of Solitude

So the Rejectionist has a play-along game going on at her blog. We all get to link to our own blogs to show our writing spaces. And I love writing spaces. What's not to love? Desks, computers, typewriters, trolls, pens, papers... Everyone has these things, right? But they're all different. Writing dens are like Lasagna. Same basic ingredients, same basic idea... and yet every cook has it turn out a little differently.

And, of course, I have to name the post after one of my favourite books. Thank you, Jonathan Lethem.

So, here's my writing space...

My little fortress. Poorly defensible, yes, as there are lots and lots of windows. Hey, it's in a sunroom. I can always drop boiling pitch.

It's great. Depending on where the sun is, there can be a little glare, but I can live with that. Lots of light, beautiful view of fields and trees all around. A happy little corner on the world.

And here's my gorgeous old 1920 Royal typewriter. Notice the little window on the side... I like windows. :)

Tools of the trade, plus my Sancho Panza (always necessary) and my three-headed troll from Norway (if you've never been down the Trollstigen you've never lived... okay, you might've lived a bit, but you should really go).

And a view from the side! Just because.

So where do you work your magic? Does place matter? Place is important to me, but not vital. The writing, really, is in my head, and I carry that with me wherever I go. But it's certainly nice to have a place to go, a place that's comfortable. It's nice to have a fortress, where your thoughts and dreams are protected, a place that keys you into creativity. Familiarity becomes habit, and habit is the operation of subtle cues that tie you into certain activities. The touch of soft keys under fingertips... the blinking cursor on a white page... the possibility of story...

Note: And please don't forget to check out Justine's story, The Choice, if you didn't see it yesterday. Just a mere few spaces below... you know the urge is irresistable.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The World in Miniature: The Choice

by Justine Dell

The Choice

I never wanted to know what it felt like to kill someone.

I thought it would be more like vindication. No. It is hollowness. A wretched knot sticks in my throat—from the sight, not the action. His tar-like, crimson blood pools on the hardwood around my feet. I almost thought it would be black. He is face down. His limbs sprawl out in strange directions. I tilt my head. He looks… broken.

I almost laugh. I am the broken one. He broke me. Time and time again. Doing all the things he never should’ve done. Serves him right, I guess. I turn and look in the mirror. The girl with sunken eyes, raven hair and purple bruises is no more. She’s been replaced by someone who only knows one thing: protection. The eyes are soft, the hair pulled back in a loose ponytail. I even covered the bruise across my cheek and the scar on my left eye. Shimmery pink lipstick is painted on my thin lips. I wanted him to see how other people used to see me. The young girl with the bright future. The pretty girl with no fears. The strong girl who knew how to say no. Even if I'm not that girl anymore, I pretended. Just to see the panic in his eyes when I smiled at him and drew my gun.

My infant daughter belts a cry in the next room. I fight the urge to run to her. I love her, more than myself. It's my job to protect her. To make sure her life doesn’t end up like mine. I don’t want her to be used by ones she loves. I know there are other people who can do better for her. I'm counting on it.

A single tear slides down my cheek. It is warm. I wipe it away. I can’t allow myself a moment of weakness. I look down once more at him. He is still there, lifeless. I prod him with my worn-out sneaker. He doesn’t move. Good. I needed to be sure he wouldn’t get my daughter.

I pick up the phone, dial a number I know too well.

“911 what is your emergency?”

“I just killed my stepfather.”

I drop the phone. The woman on the other end is still talking. I know they will find me soon enough. I put the gun to my mouth. I hesitate for only a second before pulling the trigger.