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12/01 Direct Link
You have to dial 9 to get out, she said.

Does it really work, though? he asked.

She shrugged. I’ve been here seven years, and it hasn’t really worked for me.

What do you think it really takes to get out?

Something I don’t have, I guess. Why are you here anyway?

I needed the job.

Did you need it that badly, though? What would you have done if you hadn’t gotten this one? That’s right, you would have just kept looking.

There was no guarantee I’d find another one though.

Oh honey. She touched his face. There never is.
12/02 Direct Link

There are so many things we think we can’t bear, until we actually have to bear them. She thought her back would split under the weight of carrying her seventy-eight pound retriever up and down the back steps three times a day to do his business. It didn't.

"Maybe it's time to think about..." her husband started to say, but his words died when she turned to glare at him and wonder why he never offered to carry the dog. Instead, she turned away, and called a handyman to take out the stairs and put in a ramp.
12/03 Direct Link
Not again, she thought. Two HR representatives led Jerry from accounting toward the elevators. He carried a cardboard box in his arms and a shell-shocked expression on his face. She glanced toward the conference room in time to see Maria escorted in and the door shut.

It had happened before at other places she'd worked, too many to count. Once she'd shown up for work to find the doors locked, the lights off, and the office furniture gone. Calmly, she clicked open her résumé, shrank the window to a small, unnoticeable size, and prepared to climb through it.
12/04 Direct Link

The earthquake the night before had been so faint that it hadn’t woken him up. He wasn’t even aware of it until he heard about it on the radio. It had been deep underground, the magnitude light, detectable only by banks of sensitive equipment miles away, and apparently their dog, who’d made a mess on the kitchen floor in the middle of the night. Nevertheless, sometime while the rest of them slept, the earth had subtly rearranged itself.

The rearrangement of the landscape within himself when he looked at his wife that morning was much less subtle.

12/05 Direct Link

She was around two years old, that age where children thought, if they covered their eyes and couldn’t see you, you couldn’t see them. It was a strange age for a vampire.

Her minder, a tall, slender woman—her mother before, perhaps—seemed barely able to rein in the tike, who tried to bite anyone who passed: a dog, the man holding the leash, women in skirts, their exposed ankles enticing. She caught me watching her and gave me a faint smile, a bit of fang showing.

Kids these days, she seemed to say. What can you do?

12/06 Direct Link
He hated noise of any kind, and so he set out to silence every creak, every beep, every hum throughout his house. He unplugged the TV, the radio, and the stereo. He put his computer in a closet. He unplugged the refrigerator. He gave his cat to his sister. He disconnected the doorbell.

When that wasn't enough, he covered the windows with soundproofing. He would have turned on the lights now that he was in the dark, but lightbulbs buzzed. He lit a candle.

Finally, he was alone with only the sound of his thoughts. They were too loud, too.
12/07 Direct Link
"You have a brother?" Walt asked.

 "Had," Kyle said.

 "Oh, sorry."

Kyle didn't want to discuss it, but he couldn't see a way around that. He gave Walt the film canister.

"So, why not just take it to Walmart or something?" Walt asked.

It had occurred to him, but only long enough for him to realize that he didn't want to entrust the last roll of film his brother shot to some minimum-wage stranger who couldn't care less how they turned out. And he didn't want to share this glimpse of his dead brother with just anyone.
12/08 Direct Link
Walt said he'd have the photos ready by the next morning, then added, "Give my best to Lisa."

"Thanks." Kyle paused with his hand on the door, then added, "Actually, Lisa and I've separated. I moved out a couple days ago."

"Oh, fuck me," Walt said. He looked like he'd just accidentally killed someone's dog. "I'm sorry."

"It's okay," Kyle said, even though it was nothing of the sort.

He made his escape as fast as possible without running back to his car. Once there, he sat for a moment, turned up the heat, and let the vents blast him.
12/09 Direct Link
(From the Book of the Second Exodus, Volume One)

Prologue

This is many stories, but mostly, it is the story of a mother for whose children the time had come to leave the nest.

Humanity's mother was dying. For millennia the Earth had cradled and nurtured the human race, bearing silent witness to its first tentative steps, its urge to run, its endless curiosity, and with great sadness, its propensity to destroy.

When she began to heave her last, humanity looked to the stars, knowing they had to find a new place that they could call home.

This is what happened.
12/10 Direct Link
"It's about my mom," Jamie said.

"Your mom is made of awesome," Sarah interjected. "I hope she stays for a while. She may be all Laura Ashley prints on the outside, but she's a badass underneath."

At the moment, Jamie wished his mom was more Laura and less badass. He was also surprised Sarah even knew who Laura Ashley was.

"You have to promise not to tell this to anyone," Jamie said, looking suddenly intense.

"OK," Sarah replied, leaning away from him slightly. "What is it?"

"She's an Amazon."

"'She's amazing'?"

"No! Amazon! Jesus Christ, doesn't anyone listen to me?"
12/11 Direct Link
"So what happened?" my mother asked. Before I could answer, Sarah jumped in.

"This douchebag in our class punched Jamie in the nose, then when we were walking away he called Jamie a fucking fag, so I beat the shit out of him."

As soon as she finished saying it, her hands flew to her mouth, as if she'd just realized what she'd said. She had a real pottymouth and I think she expected Dione to come at her with a bar of soap to shove in her mouth.

Instead, my mother smiled and said, "You have the warrior's spirit."
12/12 Direct Link
Sarah took her hand, a little uncertainly, but smiled as my mother grasped Sarah's wrist and joined it with her other hand on Sarah's forearm. The gesture seemed tribal to me, and I could tell Sarah was uncomfortable, but the look in my mother's eyes was gratitude and something else. Pride.

Even though I had only met her five minutes earlier, I wanted my mother to look at me with that same feeling.

Sarah turned to me and said, "You're going to be in big trouble at school tomorrow."

"Me?" I lowered the ice pack. Mom put it back. 
12/13 Direct Link

Sarah took her hand, a little uncertainly, but smiled as my mother grasped Sarah's forearm with her other hand. The gesture seemed tribal to me, and I could tell Sarah was uncomfortable, but the look in my mother's eyes was gratitude and something else. Pride.

I had only met her five minutes earlier, but I wanted my mother to look at me with that same feeling.

Sarah turned to me and said, "You're going to be in big trouble at school tomorrow."

"Me?" I lowered the ice pack. My mother made me put it back. “What did I do?"

12/14 Direct Link
I posted nearly the same thing two days in a row. This should tell you something about the month I'm having.

Some things are good. Some things are bad. Mostly, they're muddled. I can't often tell whether I'm coming or going.

Last night I left the office to find the battery in my car had died. As we tried to figure out how to jump start a hybrid, my feet went numb and I wanted to scream at the indifferent stars.

Now, it's morning, I am afraid to drive my car, and the streets are too slick to go running.
12/15 Direct Link
I spent my formative years in a place called Charles County, Maryland. It was just 25 miles from our nation's capital, but most of the time it couldn't have felt farther away to me if it had been in the middle of Oklahoma. Once a major tobacco-growing area, the county had an annual fair—I had high school friends who were in the FFA and so on. And like all county fairs, every year they crowned a new queen of the fair. Some of my high school classmates vied for this honor. 

The title? Queen Nicotina.

I'm not kidding.
12/16 Direct Link

I feel like everything is unraveling; the whole year has been like that. Even though some marvelous things have happened, like my book being accepted for publication, everything else seems to be fraying. In a case like that, why is it so hard to leave that unraveling thread alone? I constantly have to fight the urge to pull on it and watch the tapestry of whatever sort of life I’ve created unwind until it’s nothing more than a pile of yarn on the floor. Is it because that’s the only way to figure out where everything went wrong?

12/17 Direct Link
Sarah was half Amazon. Her mother died shortly after Sarah was born in the world beyond, as her people called the world we lived in. An accident: she was hit by a car, which she’d never seen before. Sarah’s father, naturally, was awarded custody. He knew where his wife came from. He considered himself lucky when she decided to stay with him outside. Until the accident.

“I always felt like there was something inside me trying to get out,” Sarah said. She dragged a wedge of pancake through the cooling syrup.

“I know the feeling,” Jamie said.
12/18 Direct Link
He knew he should have tried harder to work things out with Lisa, to understand how their relationship had unraveled while he failed to notice. That would require asking questions he wasn't sure he wanted to know the answers to. And after the last time he went back to the house, he was pretty sure her interest level was nil. The energy he might have put into saving his marriage instead went into running, small changes in his pace and his body accumulating until, twenty pounds lighter, he was ready to enter a half marathon at the cusp of summer.
12/19 Direct Link
Saturday, though it was the longest day of my year, might as well not have happened. It started at one-thirty in the morning with stomach pain that, every two hours after that, led to my lying on the bathroom floor hoping I'd barf, but to no avail. Around eight, I dragged myself to the park thinking that going for a run in sub-freezing temperatures might jostle things enough to make me hurl. That this seemed perfectly logical should have been my first clue I had a fever. Most of the rest of the day, I stayed in bed.
12/20 Direct Link
The good thing about falling behind on your New Yorkers is it gives you something to read when you're lying on the bathroom floor hoping you'll get sick. Also, the pressing need to catch up means you won't read them cover to cover, but instead only pick out the things you really want to read. And if an article or the fiction is really boring by the time you're halfway through, you don't feel bad about skipping the rest of it. Not even every page of the New Yorker demands to be read, especially if you live in St. Louis.
12/21 Direct Link
I've been trying to see things differently. Getting sick helped. That, or it just played to my mild hypochondriac tendencies. As the discomfort (I hesitate to call it pain) from my stomach bug lingered, I wondered if some insidious fragment of food poisoning would remain in my system, waiting to do a number on my kidneys and eventually do me in. Let's hear it for paralyzing fear of death. I was overreacting, but it made me realize that I have no time to waste. I may be past the halfway point in my life and I've got things to finish.
12/22 Direct Link
We almost got away with the whole thing, but then as we were walking Sarah to the front door, it opened and my dad walked in.

For a moment, which was probably not as long as it seemed to me at the time, we all stood frozen in the foyer. My dad looked at Dione, then at me, said, "What the--?" Then he registered Sarah's presence and his face rearranged in what I swear was record time. 

"When on earth did you get into town?" He hugged her, and I swear he would have strangled her if he could've.
12/23 Direct Link
"When did you get into town?" Dad asked, leaning in for a hug that was so unconvincing. Fortunately, Sarah didn't notice.

"My flight got in a couple hours ago," said Dione. (I still had a hard time thinking of her as my mother, though anyone could see the resemblance.) I wondered if Dad suspected her flight was walking around the backyard, stretching its wings, and chewing on the lawn.

"What a nice surprise," he said, which of course meant get the hell out of my house. 

She smiled and replied, "I'm glad to be here." No chance, buster.

Great.
12/24 Direct Link
"Hey," Dad said to Sarah, as if he'd suddenly realized again that she was there, "you need a ride home?"

"That's okay, Mister H, I'll just walk." Sarah lived about six blocks away. My dad was that eager to get out of the house—and leave me with a possibly nutty woman who had a horse with wings. Thanks, Dad.

Before she left, Sarah said to me, "You'd better have your dad call the school so you don't get in more trouble tomorrow."

Tomorrow. I dreaded the thought of walking through those doors and having to face Billy Stratton. Again.
12/25 Direct Link
The worst part wasn't knowing that my mother had abandoned me. The worst part was that my dad had lied to me about it.

I must have been around five or six when I realized that other people had two parents. Even Sarah, whose parents never stopped bickering. But it was just dad and me. When I asked him why I didn't have one, he said, "Of course you have a mother."

"Well, where is she?"

"She's not with us anymore, son. She went to heaven when you were very young."

The unconscious woman on our floor would indicated otherwise.
12/26 Direct Link
"You said she was dead," I pointed out to Dad as we stared at her. She was sprawled on her belly, her arms cuffed behind her and her face to the side. She looked uncomfortable. I wanted to move her to the sofa, but then I was afraid she'd wake up.

"Actually," my dad said, "if I remember right, I said she was no longer with us, not that she was dead."

Typical of him to remember that. He was an accountant, after all. He kept track of everything.

"You lied to me." It came out harsher than I expected.
12/27 Direct Link

"You look so much like your father," she said. "I thought you'd be taller, though."
My dad was six feet. The woman sitting on the sofa in front of me was at least an inch taller than that. The doctor said I might have another growth spurt in me, but I'd be seventeen in a couple months, next year was senior year, and I figured I'd be five foot five forever.

I think she could tell that I was self-conscious about my height, because she touched my cheek and said, "Some of our bravest warriors are far from tall."
12/28 Direct Link
We're back in Portland after two days in Olympia and two days in Seattle. Most of the time we navigated by Garmin.

I have decided I fucking hate satellite navigation systems.

It's funny driving places when you don't know where you're going. Unless you're on a long straightaway, all you know is the next turn or exit. What's even odder is the sense of amnesia it induces. Because you can't see beyond the next landmark, you don't get a sense of the whole trip. It's like leaving a trail of crumbs while being followed by a bird that eats them.
12/29 Direct Link
Remember that thing with the baseball in the back of my mother's head? Finally, I got an explanation for that.

It's true, I do throw like a girl. I can't fault the Billy Strattons of my high school for pointing this out. I throw left handed and I do that overhead flingy, catapult-looking thing with my wrist snapping over at the end. It looks ridiculous. 

But it's always fast, and right on target.

Coach Brandt wanted me to go out for junior varsity baseball. I couldn't imagine. But, I did try out for archery. I'm our team's best.
12/30 Direct Link
I went to bed at nine-thirty. I woke up at two and have been awake ever since. We're traveling today, heading back home, and this is of course the part of traveling that I never enjoy, the part where it ends. I suppose I look forward to being home, of course, and sleeping in my own bed and seeing our dogs. But at this point I would rather just stay where I am right now.

That tells me something, and not just that I don't want to leave. It tells me soon it'll be time to change everything.
12/31 Direct Link
I tried not to look Ares in the eye.

He was shorter than I expected him to be—Athena was taller even, and I felt sure that must have rubbed him wrong. Who knew the God of War was a shorty? No wonder he had a Napoleon complex.

I knew he could send me through the side of a mountain just by looking at me though. I also knew my best chance was to get him to lose his self-control.

Find their weakness and exploit it mercilessly, my mother had told me. If anyone would know that, she would.