You go first

Is it enough to be repentant,

Or do you have to decide

That in your heart and soul

No more evil can reside?

Is it enough to change your heart?

Must you also change your head?

Must you find some new directions

And find a new old way instead?

Is it enough to see His Cross,

Or must you bear yours too?

If you must, then how not forget

That His love was first for you?

Is it enough to change your head,

Or must you also change your heart?

With passion and vitality

To beat with love a start.

And how if you cannot at once

Do anything at all?

And does it really matter

If all your acts are small?

His stripes upon His body lay

Much like my sins on mine

And lay like marks of scars

As like a crown thorns entwine

There my eyes rest while I wait

There watch whenever I act

There guards me, guides me safely

To guide me home intact.

When I look down at my feet

I surely lose my way

But whenever our eyes, exhausted, meet

I cannot go astray.

Victorious

Let me tell you why poets never tell you about laughter.

There are no words to identify joy.

There are no words when laughter splits through your skin and erupts out of the sunken mass of total despair enflamed in your veins

Obliterating for a moment the strongest poison life can offer

Tearing and shredding like it is nothing the simple panic of realizing our existence

Is pertinent and does something to others

That we exist and are broken and hateful

And a laugh

That little laugh

Is enough to defeat the demons if only for a second.

It is easy to describe the smile you hold on your face

That rips and claws at you

That digs into your eyes so deeply your bones ache

But it is impossible to describe the smile that you put there

In defiance of everything

That is true because even if this world is poison it is

Irrelevant.

BECAUSE YOU CAN’T MAKE ME KNEEL.

YOU CAN’T MAKE ME SCREAM.

I SMILE AND I LAUGH AND I AM MY OWN AND YOU CAN’T SHATTER ME TO MY KNEES.

I put this smile on and I wear it, not to please you

Not to hide how I feel

But because I have already won

And you can’t defeat me now.

It doesn’t matter if every bone in my body cracks under pressure

Because I’ve already shattered your pressure.

This is why the poets can’t tell you what a laugh feels like:

Because a laugh, at its most triumphant, is beyond despair or misery or even pain

A laugh has seen it all

And a laugh still exists to pierce the silence

Because even silence can be defeated.

I wish that you would come

The one last waltz they have

Has been a long time in coming

And the floor is lit by the dimmest lights

Of dreamers.

The tears are warm and salty as they wrap around the ends

Of their chins and fingers

How do you say goodbye to someone

When you know you aren’t leaving them behind?

They’re too much part of you for you to truly ever really

Let them go

So they’re yours, aren’t they? They’re going to always stay

But you’re never going to see them again

And you know that.

It’s like trying to cry to music in the rain

When you know, somewhere inside

That this is too beautiful to be sad

And you’ll be splashing outside again

When your stomach knits your soul back together.

It’s like trying to feel pain on Easter Sunday

Because as much happiness is there

As sadness.

You have had so much

And now it’s time to go

But how can you go when this is everything you had since forever?

You step outside the door

That one last waltz has gone

And outside, your head aches in the brightness

The dawn has come

And as the taxi takes you to the airport

You press your fingers to the glass

And up at the window she’s looking out at you

And you wish, more than anything

She was coming along.

A Liebster and a Sunshine

So here we go again, playing the song that goes ELYRA ONLY EVER NOMINATES SIX PEOPLE BECAUSE SHE DOESN’T INTERNET ENOUGH TO KNOW MORE. (guess what, spoilers, I called it, exactly six people I nominated).

Anyway, the delightful, wonderful, spectacular, lovely (looks up words for awesome in the dictionary I keep in my brain) Ah! splendiferous, quintessential, extravagantly nice, brilliant, terrific Maple, over at The Maple Quill , has nominated me for the Liebster and the Sunshine… awards, tags, whatever. (Buries face in hands, realizing that though it is twelve noon it is far too late in the day for my brain to be fully functional). So thank you, Maple! Everyone, go check her out because she’s amazing and writes fantastic stuff and she’s the best. She’s like… table flip worthy. Oh yes, makes perfect sense I’m sure.

Leibster Rules:

  • Thank the blogger who nominated you.
    (Thank you Maple! <3)
  • Display your award.
  • Answer the questions you were asked.
  • Nominate 5 bloggers.
  • Ask 6 new questions.
  • Let your nominees know they were nominated.

Sunshine Rules

  • Thank the blogger who nominated you and provide a link back to their blog so others can find them.
    (YOU SAW THE LINK TO MAPLE NOW GO CHECK IT OUT also thanks Maple!)
  • List the rules and display an award logo on your blog post.
  • Answer the 11 questions the blogger asked you.
  • Nominate 11 new blogs to receive the award and notify them by commenting on any of their posts.
  • Ask the nominees 11 new questions

Sunshine Questions

1.3 hobbies of yours? (besides writing and/or blogging)

Running–I like running a lot, which is really weird because I never did it because I “wanted” to, per se, I just kind of started doing it because it was faster than walking. I’d like to say sleeping but I’m pretty sure that doesn’t count. Um, doing art. I like drawing a lot. Journaling has also become a really fun thing for me (that I haven’t done in waaaaaaaaaaay too long but yes).

2. Top pet peeve/first that comes to mind?

People not listening to each other.

3. Favourite Sleeping At Last song? (see this is my ploy to get more people liking one of my favourite artists shhh don’t tell) {if you don’t want to go digging just list a fav song of yours}

You’re making me choose??? Um…. I love The Grand Finale, Hearing, North (it makes me cry so hard), and Uranus very much.

Saturn might be my favorite by a very narrow margin? Just because it’s so incredibly gorgeous.

4. Do you cook and if so what’s your favourite dish to cook? Otherwise what’s your favourite home-cooked meal?

I do cook. I don’t know what my favorite thing to cook is. Probably bread because I love trying all the different varieties you can make. I also like casseroles and inventing soups without a recipe. Also anything with wine in it because the flavor when the alcohol burns off is chef’s kiss gorgeous.

5. Favourite holiday? (ah, I see, Maple, trying to convert us to your spelling ways with the favourite instead of favorite)

Christmas or Easter. It’s nearly impossible for me to decide because there’s just so much joy on both days.

6. Dream job? (no matter how outlandish/impossible)

I mean… I’m hopefully going to get to be a teacher and I want to do that so much. Other jobs I’d like… I’d like to be a police officer and help people, cliche as that may sound. Being a librarian would be fun. Being a professional book reader/editor/beta reader sounds like fun. As weird as it might sound, cleaning big old houses? Working with animal rescue/forestry sounds awesome. So yeah. Lots of varied interests over here.

Liebster Questions

1.Perfect Saturday?

Good question. Probably get the exercise out of the way early, maybe walking or running with a friend like super early in the morning? Then… like go to Mass. Have breakfast, maybe with my little sister and big sister? Go for a drive and do something fun, like window shopping or the big slides in the old market, or going to a fair. Have lunch with my dad. Spend some time with my mom and brother, maybe gardening. Go out with friends for the evening, see a play? That sounds good. Really, just anything where I get to eat good food, have adventures, and spend time with my people.

2. What was the funniest way you’ve been injured? (bonus points for scars ;D) (I realize this makes me sound hyper interested in how hurt you got and that’s not my intention I just love funny scar stories because usually they’re hilarious)

uh I don’t really have any hilarious scar stories except the time that I got burnt by the toaster and it developed into a Harry Potter shaped lightning scar on my wrist that I rub when I’m anxious.

I once fell during dance though straight onto my back with my legs pointed down and my arms at my sides. I’d been doing a pirouette and I felt it go bad and I just went thump. And my dance teacher did one of these. O.O 🙂 XD yeah she knows how often I fall and she reads my expressions well so she just knew I was fine and laughed at me. I laughed at myself too, though, so don’t worry. It’s become kind of a running joke that I should fall like that every time.

3. A song that makes you dance/want to dance every time you hear it?

Probably… oh, “Make ’em laugh” from Singing in the Rain. The other one might be “He lives in you,” from the Lion King. Just gives me chills.

4. A thing (food, song, etc) you like solely/largely because of the memory it brings?

I don’t know that I like anything solely because of the memory it brings. Largely? This from BBC’s Chronicles of Narnia. Not terribly accurate to the books, (more so I think than Disney’s) but the music is absolutely breathtaking.

5. An accomplishment you’re most proud of?

This is such a hard question! Why did you ask me this??? Not an accomplishment, but being confirmed was awesome. I’m proud of myself for getting a 4.0 and keeping it thus far in college (fingers crossed that I can keep this up despite my epicly difficult geography class). But most proud of?

It wasn’t really an accomplishment either, but I’m very proud that I helped a friend through a super difficult time for her. I’m very honored that I was able to help her.

I made a gorgeous dress in green and one in black. I managed to run almost three miles straight. But am I proudest of these things? Or what??? I don’t really know.

Or maybe I do. Maybe the accomplishment I’m proudest of is realizing that I am human and therefore as fallible as everyone else, and that I have a long way to go before I’m done growing up and out and in. That might be the one.

6. Something you want to be remembered for?

Love and joy. I want people to look in my eyes and see that I love them wholly and unconditionally. I want every person I ever know or meet to know that I love them. Not so that I will be remembered, but so that they will remember someone loves them. I want everyone to look at me and see the joy and find a smile because joy is contagious.

7. Colour of your toothbrush?

Currently green and blue, I think.

8. 3 favourite names? (yes, only three, and no, no copouts)

Helen (shining light or bright one. Perfect for those of us who refuse to be the light under a bushel. Also I just love how triumphant the sound of it is).

Timothy (it means honor of God, how cool!)

Godwin (it means good friend! Everything I want to be!)

Perhaps these are not my very most favorite, but I have many favorites and these are favorites so yes.

9. Favourite hot drink?

Chai latte.

10. A food that you only get on special occasions (excluding holidays)?

Ramen soup. Like, the broth that takes two whole days to cook, shitake mushrooms that are basically candy, that stuff (yumyumyum).

Homemade Chinese food. This takes whole days to make also but it’s so good.

11. Early bird or night owl? (rude how come us early birds only get generic bird while the night owls get to be owls D: can’t we be like early chickadees or something?)

I’m an early bird definitely more than a night owl. However I love exercising early in the morning which makes me tired anyway XD.

New Sunshine Questions:

  1. What can you never live without?
  2. What in your life has made you feel strongest?
  3. What song would you love to have at a wedding/funeral? (the funeral part sounds macabre)
  4. Favorite color and favorite thing in that color?
  5. When did you feel close to someone that you want to remember forever?
  6. Six things you’re happy about in life right now?

New Liebster Questions:

  1. What’s something you were afraid of once but aren’t anymore?
  2. How have you grown this year as a person?
  3. What is your ideal (in terms of personal characteristics) for a friend?
  4. What has influenced your life most? (i.e. music, a person, a story, an event) and tell about it
  5. Favorite type of blog post to write?
  6. Nicest thing someone has done for you?
  7. What are your biggest goals right now?
  8. Who do you want to be when you grow up?
  9. Who has your favorite song voice?
  10. What is the best dance move ever invented?
  11. What is your love language?

I’m tagging all the peoples for both tags

  1. The awepic Writefury @https://writefury.com/ (sorry dear I do this to you every time)
  2. The brilliant SprinkleSquink @ crazysprinklehorse (sorry I also do this to you every time)
  3. Super sweet Leila Sol @ wildflowersandcosmictea
  4. The profound AberdeenLiv @ A glimpse of Starlight
  5. thedreamgirlwrites of absolutely superb poetry
  6. Olivia Lee @ Song and Flame whose stories are so transportive

And that’s all I’ve got. Have a lovely day, God bless you, and I hope all of you are safe and well!

Fear of the Lord

Fear of the Lord

“The last temptation is the greatest treason; to do the right deed for the wrong reason.”—T.S. Eliot

A child makes her heroes and says

“Truly, these women were great!

They seized the day, they made a way

They bent the whole world’s fate.”

A man makes his gods and says

“Truly, these were the gods!

They shaped all men, made worlds begin

They shattered and created the odds.”

A soul looks at her deeds and says

“Truly, I have now done well!

I earned His Love, am now enough

‘Tis like I never fell!”

I look at my bloody hands and fear

Truly, I am also a fool

I look at my love, count myself enough

To release myself from sin’s rule.

God once shaped a man and said,

“Truly, this creation is good.

Yet for their falling, and for their calling,

My Son will bear a burden of wood.”

I look at His bloody hands and know

Truly, what a coward I am

Yet for love of me, that I might be free

My God became a man.

I look at the cross that made Him fall

Truly, my burdens were His,

It is wise yet to fear, yet love drives out fear

For fear stopped not the traitor’s kiss.

I look at the cross that he asks me to bear

Truly, it is wise to have awe,

To sing goodness and truth, to live out my youth,

With a heart to live out my soul’s thaw.

June Stuff!

Books: (in literally no order)

A Treason of Thorns by Laura Weymouth

I liked this one a lot! I sort of wish that Violet and Win had just stayed friends? Cause their friendship was the softest thing and I adored it. I just felt that their friendship was a super strong sweet thing. But yeah. Good if you like girls who are trying to save sentient manner houses from going mad. Boy that’s a specific genre to like.

We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal

This one was really good also! I liked the tropes it played with; the sexism (which can be kind of a turn off for me in books) in it was well addressed and I particularly liked how Ms. Faizal discussed how it affected Zafira in her life personally. I loved how complex and multidimensional all the different characters were… There were so many plot threads and twists. That said, it did start kind of slow. And it’s long, But I loved the setting! It was so interesting since I see so few fantasies set in a desert/Arab influenced setting.

The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye

This one… I mean there were elements I liked? I… don’t know? I did like Nikolai and Vika and Pasha, but… I don’t know. Yeah. Just read this one if you want to I guess.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

COME ON. NO. NO SMUT. THERE’S A RULE. WHY. (Yeah I was not a big fan of this one. That’s all I gotta say. Plot was interesting. Almost all the characters were awful people? Shadow… poor man just wanted to see his wife. That’s literally all he wanted. Meh.) So yes. Don’t read it if you don’t like sudden smut that could have been avoided so easily. I think it was put in mostly as a punch in the gut type thing but bleh. No.

Norse Gods by Neil Gaiman.

This one was good. Yup. Smooth sailing, nothing really graphic, I enjoyed the take on the myths! I enjoy Gaiman’s tone in writing a lot. That’s why I was so upset about the last one. It was just like O.O this is not what I was expecting and I feel so attacked.

Some Holly Black rereads. That’s all. I started a lot of books that I didn’t finish this month. Shame on me.

Watching Stuff:

World of Dance on TV with my dad. AFV with my little sis.

The Dragon Prince while babysitting and that was awesome XD. Lot’s of stuff in early July which you will hear about later.

Listening Stuff:

As usual lots of Magnus Archives. I’m all the way into season three and it’s like horror movies but stronger and psychological terror. It’s so good and I’m enjoying it so much.

Funny Stuff:

Story aesthetics:

(from a newer one):

Avon’s hometown!
Avon (my main girl!)
Avon’s dad and fiance belong to the Watchers, who watch stuff. Terrible explanation. Anyway. I thought it was a pretty cool aesthetic.

Life Stuff:

Did school. Worked. Hung out with friends online. That sort of stuff? Pretty quiet month apart from that. Worked out. Got some proper snuggle time with the family sometimes. This month I’m getting my wisdom teeth pulled, so you should hear lots of funny stories on that front.

How does it begin?

(the ending that they made)

There was a girl who built a place of safety

But that isn’t where this begins

There was a world that was breaking and broken

And something dark and deadly woke up there

But it was as broken as the world and it looked for a comforter and found

No one

There was a girl who became monstrous for love

There was a boy who wanted to fix the world

There was a creature of jealousy and rage

There was a girl, there was a boy, there was a girl

And all of them were broken

There were monsters more truly monsters than any of them

But since they were monsters they could not see

They fell upon each other and named each other monsters instead

And destroyed the world in their fury.

So perhaps it best to say this:

There was compassion in the world still

And it found a precious few who could yet feel it

And this is the story of the deaths they earned

With the shreds of misery they endured

And the tapestry of mercy and love they tried to make.

We’re going to be okay

You and I are going to be okay

You and I are going to be okay

There’s going to be a day, I’m going to make a way

The sun will shine again I promise you and we will be okay

Broken cracks inside my chest so big

They eat my lungs alive

My stomach shatters and my legs fissure

There’s no way I’ll survive

You stand there in the corner

And you don’t see me anymore

I don’t remember what pain felt like

If I ever felt like this before

There are a couple of terrible things

That no one can ignore

I can’t remember feeling anything

If I ever felt pain before

You ask for me only when I don’t

Have anything to give

What does it feel like

When you break and still you live

The birds are all still whistling

The sky splits open dawn

And I look and look and look for you

And you’re already gone

I can’t remember how to cry

If crying’s even real

Is there a name for all the nameless pain

When you don’t really feel

You walk away and say you’re fine

And I just wait for it to bleed

But when they drain the blood from you

There’s none left guaranteed

But there’s going to be a dawn

There’s going to be a day

There has to be one when it doesn’t hurt

And I can be okay

It hurts, it hurts, just make it stop

But it never really could

If anything could hurt less

Then by all good, it would

Clouds don’t die when rains don’t fall

The snow never really goes

The world rolls like a river

And like a river it all flows

And I don’t wake up a morning

And find that it never rained

I just find that the sorrow

Isn’t what it stained

I go to bed a sleepless night

And get up when no lights are on

And I wait for the pain to cut me more

But the pain was always gone

The pain was always gone

And it was always there

And I’m going to be okay again

But only God knows where

I toe on shoes to find you

You’re lonely in the dark

I haven’t got a flashlight

I haven’t got a spark

There’s going to be another dawn

And then another day

And someday hurting won’t be gone

But we’ll still be okay.

An experiment (The Wolf is at the Door)

          Winifred crouched beside the stone boar, vialing blood from its veins. The blood would have supplied her with magic for months, had the blood been for her to begin with. She put out her hand on the skin of the beast and whispered a blessing in the silver tongue, a corrupted fragment of star words. She thanked the boar for its blood, asked forgiveness for its death, and surrendered it back to the earth. She took a handful of blood that she had caught especially for the cleansing.

          She poured it into a wooden bowl, and with her bloody, damp hands, she took a needle from her bag and dipped it in ink. She scrawled protection runes on her skin until her skin broke and her blood welled. She scrawled the rune of death caused for protection. Then she moved over to the stone boar’s hide and wrote the same with the tip of her dagger, dipped in her blood.

          She took a few drops of the boar’s blood in one hand, and drank them, whispering the words of the silver tongue.

          “May you be one again with the earth. May your blood run clear as water. May you stand strong as the mighty oaks, once more. Be at peace. May your body burn with the sun, may the blood you spilled feed many. Be at peace. Sleep, old lord. Sleep.”

          The poison of the magic coated her tongue, like she was drinking the earth itself. Metal, soil, rot, flowers. Stone. The blood coagulated in the back of her throat until it was like she was drinking a vein of lava. It hit her stomach and a wave of power shone through her skin.

          She dripped some of her blood into the bowl and poured out the mixture in a runnel she had carved in the earth. She struck flint to steel in the heather beside the hole until the heather caught, and then, drawing herself and her supplies back, she thrust with her foot so the burning mass into the blood that seeped back into the soil, and into the pyre of wood she had built. It erupted in flames, burning so hot it nearly burned her foot through the weathered leather of her boot.

          The runnel ran all the way around the boar’s body. It hadn’t seemed to Win that enough blood had been poured into the runnel to surround the body, but somehow the pyre always seemed to take anyway. Win stared for a moment at the flames, sick at heart as the hairs on the skin began to singe and waft the smell of burnt feathers through the forest, but then she turned and walked quick and light away back towards the village whose sacred stone boar she had killed.

          “The old one’s apprentice was seen in the north country,” Alder said, his voice soft in his king’s ear.

          “What has she done now?” Mad Moran’s voice was soft as well, but there was ferocity there too, and a note of concern.

          “She killed the stone boar of Kilkai village.” Alder sat down at his king’s feet, sharpening his knife. Dawn had not yet touched the sky and Moran was already awake and in his throne room, receiving messengers from the night before. Today was a council day, and the circle of high-backed pine chairs looked in on Alder in disapproval. It was as though he could feel the gazes of the councilors. Beyond, the seating area for the people was massive.

          No king before Moran had been so involved in Kulkinum’s people. No king had granted his people such easy admittance to his presence. No king before Moran had nearly been assassinated so many times for his trouble. But Moran only ever had one guard behind him, and relied on his people for protection and aid. One day, they might not give it.

          “Did she drain his blood?” Moran asked.

          “So it appears. She gave a vial to each of the families and to the chieftain and left again. We only know her to be in the forest, but as I have said, none of our trackers can ever pin her down long enough to bring her back.” Alder slid his finger along the crevasse between the paving stones of the stairs. The stone was rough and brown-black in the dim light, although in better light it was a deep green gray.

          “The families?” Moran sat forward, his eyes ablaze with concern in the light of the candle beside him.

          “The boar had attacked the village. It savaged nearly twelve villagers and several of the farmers from the area around also had trouble. I don’t know what she did with the rest of it.”

          “When my father made ichor illegal I never thought we’d have such trouble with suppressing it.” Moran sounded regretful.

          “We had the old one, then, though.” Alder said, thoughtfully. “He was certainly a lot of help.”

          “That’s why I want his apprentice found. At this point I might have to order her killed if we catch her.”

          Alder thought of the girl he had seen exactly once, who had carefully drawn runes in his skin and hers, scrawling with ashes from the fire to draw the heat from his burns. He remembered the small intake of breath when the agony had left his skin, and the angry red that had flared across her skin before slowly fading. He remembered her smiling at him once, giving him a cup of water to drink, and leaving. It had been so long ago that he barely remembered her face. He only remembered her deliberate concentration and the slight frown that had pulled her mouth.

          “The old one began it before she did.” Alder pointed out quietly. “And he did it behind your back. At this point she has to be doing only what he taught her.”

          Mad Moran’s face was haggard, and for exactly a moment Alder knew just how old the king was. “It doesn’t change what she’s doing, though. What she’s getting away with. The nobles are getting restless. We either need to kill her, find her and turn her and pardon her, or—”

          “Or?” Alder prompted.

          Moran sat straighter, his face impassive, which was why Alder knew his proposal was going to be something terrible. “We could take her to the star Clan and have them strip her.”

          Alder nearly tumbled off the steps. He stared up at Moran. “You said before, my king,” Alder said, “that you refused to have your foster daughter stripped. You said it would drive her mad and break her.”

          “No less it would now, I doubt not,” Moran said. “But she must be stopped. I have begged her to cease, to return, and she has refused. She is determined to do something Demetrius began and I don’t know what it is. I don’t know if she knows what it is. Maybe it’s a blood sacrifice to strengthen runic magic. Maybe it would give her the power to live forever. I know longer know her. I have not known her for nine years and I cannot tell what she would do now.”

          There had been a time Alder had been jealous of Moran’s foster daughter. He was jealous no longer. She had lost her mother, her father, her mentor, and her little sister in very quick succession. Moran had been making a treaty and, catching wind of a wild rumor that he had offered her hand to a Lord’s son in future as part of it, Winifred had left the palace in the dead of night. She had been just eleven years old.

          Moran had been heart-broken. He had raged and wept and sent every tracker he had to look for Winifred, even Alder and his master. With Moran’s own wife and children dead after the war, Winifred had been the only child Moran had. And now, he was suggesting he ought to kill her, or to remove the natural talent Winifred had and had cultivated ever since she was a child of two.

          Alder was angry with Win suddenly, for holding so much of the King’s heart and caring so little for the affection and kindness he had offered to her.

          “I want you to track her, Alder,” Moran said, breaking Alder out of his thoughts.

          “Track her?” Alder asked.

          “Bring her back here. Help me save her from herself.”

          Or help him save everyone else from her. Alder felt a wrench of foreboding in his chest. This would not end well. “Yes, my Lord,” Alder said, feeling the traitor to a girl he had met only once.

          Alder rose from the throne room. As he walked away down the steps the candles blew out behind him like the last breath of a dying child whispering away after him.

          Behind him, Mad Moran sat in the darkness, and the back of his throne crouched, the wings of a dark archangel sitting in judgement of a good man.

Gory 1

(Because I wanted to write a story about girls being friends and post apocalypses; be aware there is some violence.)


                It was the one way of staying in contact with people easily, because most people you knew were probably dead, and phones were something you ditched pretty often because stuff was less important than your life. If you could even get signal. The message boards were not always trustworthy. You might run into a psycho who wanted to kill you quite dead or do even worse stuff to you. If you could even get on the internet. Val had met a few of those and some who were quite decent would have been nice if they weren’t terrified for their lives. Some were already dead when you got there.

                But the address was very near where Val was already, and it had been posted minutes ago with help! written in all caps, and if Val lived her life unwilling to ever take the risk of helping someone else, she might as well be dead already. So Val figured she really had to go.

                “Can you cut my hair before we go?”

                It wasn’t the weirdest thing someone had asked Tess to do during this crud show. Still, she turned to the girl who was sitting on the counter, in the only room in the house without windows, and blinked at her. “What?”

                “My hair,” the girl, who had come in after knocking for a long time and explaining that yes, she had killed the zombies that were in the house, yes, it was unlikely that any were going to follow her here, and who Tess had only let in after putting a gun to her head and waving a torch in her face to check that her pupils dilated, and gone through numerous other checks for the infection.

                Then the girl, covered in blood and guts, had doused herself in peroxide and alcohol to decrease any risk of infection and had produced a vacuum-packed pair of store-fresh jeans, underclothes and a tank top, and changed into them quickly. Where she had gotten a vacuum sealer Tess had no idea. All she carried was probably looted but Tess had no room whatever to judge. The girl cleaned her weapons impeccably and sharpened ax and knives, and asked if Tess had any spare rounds for her rifle. She looked disappointed but unconcerned when Tess had said no.

                She’d took it for granted that Tess would come with her when they left. She’d explained that while she traveled on foot often, she currently had a massive truck, and could drop Tess off at one of the pick-up points where the military would come get people. They were mostly in urban areas, near some of the libraries, which for the most part had survived.

                Tess was understandably skeptical, but when she’d gone outside before and swept the house she had realized that yes, the amount of the diseased here would have been way too many for Tess to kill on her own. This Val, whoever she was, could do a lot of damage for a maybe eighteen-year-old with messy shoulder-length (were they brown or just dirty?) curls and knee-high boots the girl clearly adored. And Tess had more bullets.

                Tess was surprised Val was going to let Tess come at her with scissors.

                “I just want it close to my head. It doesn’t have to be neat. It’s just way easier to take care of. Harder to grab hold of. I don’t get to wash much. Reminds me, I should wash it while we have a sink. That soap is probably horrible for it but I think I have some coconut oil in my bag if you want to wash yours too.” Val began to wash her hair with the antibacterial soap that was drying out in the bottle as she spoke, and Tess felt something akin to vertigo in response to these unexpected events.

                “Um. Sure. I’ll wash my hair. And—if I cut your hair, will you cut mine?”

                “Sure. Yours is pretty. Would you like some coconut oil as well? I know it seems illogical to grab stuff like that. But I’ve been trying to control my acne and hygiene generally. You know how bad it is to have open wounds anywhere on your body if you go hunting for the things? Or even if you’re just likely to bump into them?”

                “Uh, I can guess.”

                “It’s bad. There you go. The sink is all yours. I’m actually really surprised the water’s any good here. The processing plant has to have been deserted. There aren’t any towels here, are there?”

                “Don’t seem to be?”

                “Oh well. Our hair will dry quicker once it’s shorter. If you don’t care how it looks combing it isn’t is as important. Here are the scissors. They’re sewing scissors, and I have a sharpener, so not ideal but they’ll probably work?”

                Tess got to work. She was terrible at cutting hair, apparently, and apologized to her savior multiple times. Val was jolly about this, joking with gallows humor that her hair would finally match the rest of her, and Tess finished pretty quickly since Val didn’t seem to care if it was messy as long as it was good and short. It looked like bedhead. Kind of patchy. Val took out some coconut oil and massaged it into her scalp with an expression of bliss.

                Tess washed her own waist length, impractical hair, sort of glad Val had suggested this. The water was very cold. She got soap in her eyes, but her hair had probably been so greasy and disgusting. She saw the color of the water from her hands and hair and cringed.

                Val didn’t seem to care. She rinsed her head in turn after finishing with the coconut oil and applied a bit of what looked to be cold cream. Then she got to work on Tess’s hair, quick and efficient, lopping off long, curly black strands. She turned Tess to the mirror. “What do you think?”

                Tess unexpectedly adored the short hair. Her long hair had framed her dark-skinned face in a way that just made it appear younger without her once customary make-up, but the short hair made her look blunt and capable, if not graceful and capable the way Val did. The baby fat in her face had almost completely gone, making her look much older as well. Val massaged coconut oil into Tess’s hair, and then shared some of the cold cream. Both girls washed their faces and used a little bit of the coconut oil on their skin and then repacked the army backpack Val had carried and the meager belongings Tess still had.

                They cautiously went through the house. A few of the diseased were at Val’s truck. Val made an irritated noise, and muttered something like, “And I’d just cleaned my stuff up, too.”

                Tess took out her sawed-off and shot the first right between the eyes, and shot the second and third in nearly immediate succession. The third was still running at them.

                With a single blow Val took the head off it. She whistled. “Respect. You’re sharding good with that thing.”

                “Thanks. My dad showed me how. Before all this. He was ex-army. Marines.”

                Val looked like she wanted to ask about him, but she didn’t. One of the things they’d learned was that the young were less vulnerable than the old to the disease.

                She welcomed Tess to the truck and begin cleaning her ax off with Clorox she dropped into a brown paper bag she apparently intended to leave to incinerate. Tess locked the doors, feeling nervous.

                Val saw Tess’s expression. “Don’t worry,” she said, her voice soft. “You can keep your gun aimed at me if it makes you feel better.”

                Oddly enough, just hearing that made her feel better. She lowered the gun into her lap. She kept the safety off.

                They drove through the city, Val glancing now and again at the gas in the truck. Tess unexpectedly found herself utterly exhausted, just staring at Val with fascination born of wariness and weariness. Val’s hair was not brown, as Tess had first thought, but was red, auburn really, still damp now. Tess began to methodically clean her guns. She needed to pick up more ammo, somewhere. She told Val this and Val nodded.

                “There’s a map in the dash. Several maps. One of this city, I think. It’s not like there’ll be landmarks or anything, but we could look for a—holy flying flippers!” One of the diseased was rushing the car. They were maneuvering through a street crowded with stopped abandoned cars. This diseased looked old.

                The scientists said that the gories were most dangerous when they were new. They were cleverer, apparently, less mad. But the older the diseased, the less they cared. Any self-preservation was gone, and their only desire was to eat. She had seen them glut themselves on paper. On stone. On rotten roadkill. Once she had seen them eat an entire family, even as Tess shot them to pieces, crying so hard she could barely see. They turned on and began to eat each other, only a few seeking the place Tess was nested. But if their only desire was food, their only purpose was to spread and multiply. And they were so much better at both than the newly minted sick. Something awoke inside their bodies, an instinct for killing, a wild energy that scientists could not explain.

                Val slammed on the gas. Tess loaded her gun, but didn’t dare open the window.

                The diseased slammed into the windshield. Its claws sunk into the metal on one side and the glass cracked.

                “Get your stuff where it will stay still!” Val yelled. “I need to get this thing off and I’m going to have to hit some things maybe!”

                Tess had no machine gun, but she wished for one. She wanted to unload the clip into it. They could keep going with bullets in their heads.

                Val squirted the thing with windshield wiper fluid and flicked the wipers. Tess had no idea how Val could see where they were going.

                Tess took out her favorite of her guns. It was the heaviest caliber. She had three rounds left.

                Val slammed the car into something. The gory’s leg was a bloody stump now, and it was screaming and laughing, it’s one eye crazed. The other eye was a clawed out scarred hole.

                The diseased smashed a fist into the windshield and the glass made a spiderweb of cracks. With shaking hands, Tess raised the gun. “I’m going to shoot him. Unbuckle your seatbelt and through the seat back. It’s going to come through the windshield.” She had to make this shot. If it was blind, even if it was still alive, they would have a chance.

                Val slammed the parking brake on and they stopped so abruptly Tess’s head jerked. But her hands stayed steady. The bullet went through the gory’s eye, shattering the windshield.

                Instead of obeying Tess, Val went forward as the gory flew forward through the shattering windshield and sliced her ax straight through the creature’s neck. It’s head landed in Tess’s lap.

                Tess flung open the truck door and vomited, her body expelling every bit of food it could. The blood was everywhere, even though the creature that was bleeding had been dead far too long.