Mapping Out Your Goals

So here we are, the final installment of my inspirational musings. A few weeks ago (Aug. 19th, 2019), my brother asked me to help him with an English assignment. His teacher gave him four questions that he had to pose to two people and then write a response to each of their answers. What he didn’t tell me was that the paper was supposed to be 2,000 words total… I sent him 4,000. Whoops… 

In week one’s article, “ A Word For the Young and Young of Heart,” we explored the first question he sent me, “What do you think my strengths and weaknesses are?” I shared the answer I gave to him with all of you and then a bit of encouragement I wished someone had told me when I was a teenager. In week two’s article, “ Identifying Your Brightest Talents,” we looked at the question, “How do you think I can use my talents in a meaningful way?” I talked about my answer for my brother. I then took my readers for a walk through an exercise that I hope helped a few of you to become a little better in-tuned with your deepest passions and had you thinking about how to do something exciting with them. Last week, in “Build Your Dreams One Bite At A Time,” we recalled those passions and broke them up into digestible pieces. This week we’re getting into a more goal-oriented mindset and looking at steps you can take to achieve everything you’ve ever wanted to.

Below is the answer I gave to my brother. All these very specific tips and tricks I’ve gathered from my girl, Rachel Hollis over the years. I’ve read both of her books, Girl, Wash Your Face and Girl, Stop Apologizing. I also listen to her multiple podcasts and I religiously follow her on social media. She’s not the only inspirational person I follow, but she’s by far the one that resonates with me the most. Her goal-oriented plans work best for me. If you have something that works better for you, I’d love to hear it! Drop me a comment and we’ll have a conversation about your personal strategies!

*****

4. What advice would you give to help me achieve these goals?

Define them. Define them now, and define them in as much detail as you can. Then, as you age, mature, and find yourself, keep defining them until you no longer recognize them.

First, I suggest you establish your “Five to Thrive.” These are the five core values that most define you. I don’t expect you to know them all right now at this stage in your life, but you should be aware of them as you move out of high school, and, hopefully, into college. These are my five:

  1. Make my health my top priority.
  2. Make time for the people (and animals) I care about most.
  3. Live life with the goal to have fun.
  4. Exude love and understanding (the world has enough close-minded hate).
  5. Keep my hobbies a hobby – and designate at least an hour to them each week.

Once you know these, you can reference them quickly and efficiently before making any decisions in your life. Let’s say that someone was to ask me to join their band, and I know they are really into this thing and are already planning gigs. Pretend, for a moment that I know anything about playing guitar (I don’t), but I only strum casually every once in a while as a hobby with no real dreams of it being a career. This person is someone I really like and I don’t want to disappoint them, so I feel conflicted and want to say yes. In that split second while they are waiting for my answer, I can bounce the proposal off my value list and see that it conflicts with value # 5. For me, that’s exactly the kind of reassurance I need to do the right thing by letting my friend down easy upfront instead of making a commitment I would later resent and drop out of anyway. See how handy this tip is to keep your life and commitments on track? 

You will also use these five when making your next list: Your 10/10. Get a notebook, write down the 10 goals you want to achieve in the next 10 years in AS MUCH detail as possible. Reference these goals against your Five to make sure they don’t conflict. Here’s an example from my list: 

  1. “I want to run a successful blog/podcast. I will start by posting 1,500 words or more on my blog every two weeks until it’s a ritual. Then, I will rally my two voice-actors plus myself to record and act out the content in my fictional stories. We will publish these recordings twice a month.”

These two lists are something I wish with all my heart I’d had at your age. If I had, perhaps I wouldn’t have spent my high school days (and most of my twenties) feeling completely lost and directionless. I also might have graduated from college already instead of, yet again, giving community college a try. Or perhaps I would have realized sooner that I didn’t have a real goal. I was still finding out who I am. Maybe if I’d worked out my five values, and watched them as they kept changing, I would have gone out and found myself instead of wasting two and a half years of my life (and my limited financial aid allowance) on meaningless classes that now don’t even count towards my major. I could have then spent my time more wisely by working in a job and building a savings or investing in a good car or property. Instead, I’m swimming in credit debt and can’t imagine ever seeing an end to it.

High school should be spent getting to know who you are, not who you have been told to be. Use these guides to help you realize that, and when you’re ready to work through those ten goals, then you know that I will always be right there, ready with a self-help plan or book. I know you got this, “life thing,” without my help, but rest assured you will always get it anyway.

*****

So this was easily my longest response to him because achieving goals is what I’m all about. My life has changed so radically over the last five years and I couldn’t have done it without shifting my focus. I used to feel aimless and spent life hoping for good things to simply happen or to figure themselves out on their own. Everyone around me held a firm mantra of, “It’ll happen, give it time,” and “You’ll figure it out, be patient.” Well, patience and time don’t make your life happen for you. Only you can take control of your course and get your life to its desired destination. A ship left to bob along in the ocean will not magically get you to land before your resources run out. You have to turn on its engines, chart a course, and then use your accumulated tools to steer you there. Hopefully, these two lists will add some powerful new tools to your arsenal, and if you want to know more about goal setting, make sure you check out my girl, Rach. 

I hope you enjoyed this little bout of inspiration and I would truly love everyone to share what plans work for them! What goals are you working on? What plans, if any, have you made to achieve them? Is there any part of these musings that you may add to your existing plans, or have you been inspired to make a plan when you never have before? Let me know all this and more in the comments below! 

Build Your Dreams One Bite At a Time

A few weeks ago (Aug. 19th, 2019), my brother asked me to help him with an English assignment. I explained this more in my first article, “A Word For the Young and Young of Heart,” and in the second, “Identifying Your Brightest Talents,” so if you missed out, it can’t hurt to go back. His teacher gave him four questions that he had to pose to two people and then write a response to each of their answers. I was thrilled to help him out because, well, writing about how great people are is kinda my thing. What he didn’t tell me was that the paper was supposed to be 2,000 words long- total… I sent him 4,000. Whoops… 

Week one, we explored the first question he sent me, “What do you think my strengths and weaknesses are?” I shared the answer I gave to him with all of you. I then shared a bit of encouragement that I wish someone had told me when I was a teenager. Week two’s question was, “how do you think I can use my talents in a meaningful way?” For this one, we looked more at you, the reader, and walked through an exercise that I hope helped a few of you to become a little better intuned with your deepest passions and got you thinking about how to do something exciting with them. This week, we’re going to recall those passions and break them up into digestible pieces. Week four is when we’ll get into a more goal-oriented mindset, so make sure to check back next Monday (Sept. 16th, 2019). 

3. How do you see me contributing to the world in the future?
Whether you decide to pursue a path in video games or change course and go develop the next hot app, or completely shock me and get into plumbing, I know that you’ll be amazing. I bet, by the time you hit your career’s peak, tens of thousands of people will know your name, if not hundreds of thousands. Heck, maybe one day I’ll be the one writing the scripts for the games that you develop, and between the two of us, we’ll become more famous than J.K.Rowling. A girl can dream. 

When answering this question for my brother, I took a very straightforward approach. Now, several weeks later and after beating my head against this prompt trying to understand how to make it appeal to a broader audience than just my family, I decided to shift my perspective on this question. Let’s look closely at the “How” at the beginning of the sentence. I’m going to use my own goals as an example because they are the ones I’ve put the most research into and can, therefore, write about with more ease (given as I’m writing this the day before my deadline). 

I want to be a published writer, and I see myself contributing my works to the world and, hopefully, making a positive impact on how people view themselves and others, but how am I going to go about doing that? I’m going to take some advice from my girl, Rachel Hollis and her newest book, Girl, Stop Apologizing. In one of these many influential and inspiring chapters, Rachel talks about starting with the dream and taking one step at a time backward from there. 

This means if I want to be a successful and published author, my first step is, obviously, to get published. What do I need to do to get published? Well, this is a question that can be dumped into the search engine of your choosing, and the answers will be endless. For the sake of ease, let’s say I can either self-publish, which has a lower impact and lower chance of reaching the level of audience that I want, or I can find a publisher willing to pick up my as-of-yet unwritten novel. Choosing a publisher is the best bet for the goals I have in mind. So, on to the next question for the search engine – how do I get a publisher? First, I need to write a query letter. A query letter is basically a written, and formal sales pitch from you to the publisher that you have to make sure stands out above all the thousands of other pitches they receive every day of the week. Basically, it needs to be a diamond in the rough, so no pressure or anything. 

Another action one can take to help be noticed in the query letter is to be already published. I know, I know, it seems counter-intuitive, but there are ways of meeting this prerequisite. One could submit short stories or poems to literary magazines and cross their fingers and say a silent prayer until someone finally bites. Once that story is published, rinse and repeat until you have a decent portfolio. One could also amass an internet following through a successful blog (*hint, hint*). Anything you can do to earn a little fame going into the pitch. Oh yeah, and having a degree in some sort of English field helps too.

Circle this all back around, and you have where I am currently standing in my life: an aspiring writer, trying to hold herself to blog goals and deadlines. Adjusting to deadlines after never having placed any on yourself is way harder than all the self-help guru’s make it sound. On top of this, I’m also having to keep up with college life after eight years of being away from the school scene in the hopes of at least getting an AA degree so that I can say, “I gave it the old college try.” Yeah, I hated me for that joke too. 

So where is the relevance to you in all this jabbering? My point with this example is that it can help if you unpack your dreams the way I did and reverse engineer them. If you take this vast, explosively overwhelming dream that you have for your life and break it down into bite-sized pieces, it suddenly doesn’t seem so hard. I have also heard it phrased as, “The best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.” If we learn to look at our goals as bites instead of the unreachable impossible, they suddenly start to seem less daunting. It’s not like anyone told you that you had to eat the whole elephant in one day! There is a reason they are called “life goals,” because it’s supposed to take you a lifetime to perfect and achieve them! You have more time to make these dreams a reality than you think you do. Breath, slow it down, and for the love of all that is good and beautiful in this world, enjoy the journey!

Again, good luck with those dreams. I hope this helped you start thinking about the stages of goal setting because next week we’re going to revisit the sage advice of my girl Rachel and set step-by-step goals for getting through each of those tiny bites in next week’s fourth and final question. Hope to see you there!

Next Week’s Question:  What advice would you give to help me achieve these goals?

Identifying Your Brightest Talents

A few weeks ago (Aug. 19th, 2019), my brother asked me to help him with an English assignment. I explained this more in last weeks article, “A Word For the Young and Young of Heart,” so if you missed out, can’t hurt to go back, though it’s not really necessary. His teacher gave him four questions that he had to pose to two people and then write a response to each of their answers. I was overjoyed to help him out because, of course, I was. What he didn’t tell me was that the paper was supposed to be 2,000 words long- total… I sent him 4,000. 

Last week we explored the first question he sent me, “What do you think my strengths and weaknesses are?” I shared the answer I gave to him and then shared a bit of encouragement that I wish someone had shared with me when I was a teenager. This week, we’re going to look at how to identify your talents and embrace them.

Question 2: How do you think I can use my talents in a meaningful way

This one is a very personal question. For my brother, I focused on his love and interest in computer programing, though my response still feels inadequate. Only we can know our real strengths. Only we know what talents and dreams whisper to us and call to us. I’ve been begging my brother to hang out with me so that I could explore this question with him in greater detail, but, naturally, he’s avoiding me at every turn (don’t forget, he’s sixteen. He’s allowed to get away with that and not hurt people’s feelings too bad). Since he’s decided to treat me like a violently contagious disease, I again focused on his love for gaming. It was vague, but I’m sure it’s still more than what 90% of the other kids got, so I feel good about it. Here’s what I said:

I think, if you follow this interest in gaming and programming that you can turn your gamer passion into a very profitable career. Computers are the future, and programming is the new global industry. Programmers aren’t just making video games, but security systems, mods, self-checkout registers, self-driving cars, Siri, Bixby, Alexa. You name it, and your future becomes endless. Follow your dreams, and I know, without a shadow of a doubt, you are going to leave your digital footprint all across the globe.

When I was in high school, my strengths were already readily apparent, I just hadn’t yet come to embrace them as the things that would define me in work as well as in my social circles. I was extraverted and therefore, always ready to engage in meaningful conversation. The stories of people’s lives have always fascinated and inspired me and my fiction. I have been utterly obsessed with storytelling since I learned to write, if not sooner, and wrote bits of fiction every time an excuse arose. I also had this deep-seated desire to paint pictures, even though I was shite with traditional media. 

I wish someone could have swooped in back then and given it to me straight, “Look, girl. You’re great with people. Quit wondering about what mainstream profession you’re going to pick up, and embrace the fact that you were born a saleswoman. The wealthiest men alive are businessmen, not doctors, so stick that to your family when they start in on you for being aimless. Next, you’re a writer. You always have been, you always will be. Now go paint your pictures with words and put down the acrylic, okay? You’re embarrassing yourself, and most importantly, you’re embarrassing me, so just let it go, okay?”

Unfortunately, I didn’t have this magical spirit guide to point this all out to me, and my family was hardly better. I suppose I grew up with a sense that my passions were “sweet,” or “endearing,” or “a phase,” that I would grow out of before I stepped into my true calling of being a doctor or an engineer or an accountant. Something respectable like that. No one ever sat down with me and asked what it is at this very point in my life that I love pouring my energy into, what gets me fired up and what do I genuinely get excited about and engaged in. No one ever made me take a pause nor asked, “What would your life look like if you turned that fire into a profession?” 

So, I’m going to ask you now. Stop what you’re doing (okay, finish this paragraph, then stop), close your eyes, and ask yourself these questions. What are the things in your life that set you on fire? Do you love hanging out with the guys or the girls and having drinks while swapping stories? Have you always longed to travel? Have you always burned at the thought of learning a new language? Do you love making things with your own hands? The list goes on, but you see where I’m going with this. Now, take those things, because I assume there isn’t just one, and visualize doing those things. 

Focus on your emotions right now. Are you happy? Is your heart racing with excitement? Now, imagine someone who does what you were just envisioning for a living. What do they do? Are they a developer? Maybe that person was a therapist or a child’s counselor. Perhaps they were running an Etsy shop from their home, or giving motivational speeches in front of a crowd?

Can you see this person clearly? Are they using one of your passions, or juggling many? Now, I want you to suddenly realize that this person has been you all along. Focus on this feeling. Let it wash over you. Amazing right?

Now, I can go on for another 400 or more pages about how to achieve these goals and make roadmaps, but let’s save that for some other time. For now, bask in the glory of this visualization. You were always meant to be more than the person you are today. Never forget that the only limits to your success are the ones you choose to place or yourself.

For now, good luck, and never stop dreaming.

Next Week’s Question: How do you see me contributing to the world in the future.

A Word For the Young and Young of Heart

Last Monday, my little brother asked me to help him with an assignment in his English class. I was so excited by his project and impressed with the finished work that I had to share it. Whether or not the final product was worth the level of self-importance I felt after completing my responses is neither here nor there. This feeling is what makes writing worth embracing, and it’s so exhilarating that it seemed selfish not to attempt to share it with all of you, so here it goes.

Before we continue, there are two things you need to know about my brother and I. The first being that he and I are twelve years apart in age. This means I spent the larger part of his life hating and resenting his very existence due to zero fault of his own. The second is that I have spent the last four years of my life absolutely adoring everything about that kid. You guys remember that little dog from the cartoons that always bounced around that bulldog who barely seemed to notice his existence? Yeah, that’s me around my brother, and it will continue to be me until the day he finally breaks down and agrees to be my best friend. The most significant event that brought about this change for me was getting away from my childhood home. Don’t get me wrong, I love my mom to pieces, but that lady craves destructive energies the way a zombie craves brains. Pinning my brother and me against each other was just one of the many ways she satisfied her drama quota.

I don’t have a lot of details surrounding the assignment my brother sent me, because it was all through a text, but it involved four “simple” questions. In fact, my brother’s exact words were:

“Hey Ashley i have some questions to ask you it’s just 4 questions and you don’t have to spend hours on it it’s for my english class.”

Oh, my dear, sweet, naive baby brother. You absolutely know that I don’t need hours to make this into a full-length novel. I am presently grinning a devious little smile as I imagine how priceless his teenaged reaction must have been to the two-page self-help novel I sent him via email. *Note: I have since been informed by my mother that the total word count, including his response, was to be 2,000 words. I sent him 4,000.

So, since my answers were long, and because I had so much more to say, I have decided to break the questions up over four weeks for a little #MondayMotivation. I also feel that these questions are a valuable exercise to perform with any minors in your life. It also seems beneficial for anyone you know who is struggling to find purpose or meaning in this hectic world, or even as a couple’s exercise. It’s always a shocking and refreshing thing to realize that other people see us. That they acknowledge and value our strengths, and recognize, as well as accept our weaknesses. Many times, the people around us see our potential a lot more clearly than we see it ourselves, and it can be really beneficial to have it pointed out. I highly encourage you to use these questions with the ones you love and see how it might impact them positively and encouragingly.

Question 1: What do you think my strengths and weaknesses are?

For my brother, I chose video games as his strength and his weakness. Here is what I wrote to him: 

Your strengths and your weaknesses are one and the same: video games. While some people complain and criticize the fact that you stay home all day playing video games, I see this as a lesser of potential evils. It is unfortunate that you are not getting the positive experiences that come with venturing beyond the home ( e.g., a taste for independence/ a chance to discover who you are separate from a parental figure/ the ability to make mistakes that turn into character-building lessons/ develope elevated social skills/ etc.). However, it does also mean that you are not experimenting with the life-ruining experiences that many youths your age choose to partake in. Many sixteen-year-olds in America are experimenting with hard drugs, entering into gangs, engaging in turf wars, having babies before they are old enough to understand what a mortgage is, and so much more. You have avoided this lifestyle by choosing safe, docile friends who would rather ignore the peer pressure of the world and unwind with some hard-core gaming. I’m sure, if you wanted to, you would have been more-than-capable of finding a “bad crowd” to fall in with. Instead, you chose a path that merely delays your social development until a time when you decide it’s of value to you. It will be hard, and not fun to play catch-up later, but it’s most certainly possible. I can attest to that. 

When I was his age – well, firstly, when I was his age, I was a punk-ass goth kid. Aside from that, I was a really good kid. I hung out with my friends. I wore all black. I cussed every third word. I wrote a lot of fantasy stories with vampires and werewolves that I’m ashamed to recall (because the writing was dreadful). I flirted with boys that I was too shy to do anything more than kiss, and even that I was probably too shy to pursue. 

I didn’t have my first alcoholic drink until my 21st birthday. I never in my life have dabbled in any kind of drugs, not even so much as a single puff on a joint (unbelievable, I know). I never had suicidal tendencies nor took up cutting, as a few of my friends had when the depression became too much to bear. I have never knowingly in my life committed a crime- and listen, stealing pattern blocks in Kindergarten doesn’t count. I had no idea what theft was back then, and I needed to show them to my mom so she would understand what I was so excited about every day!

All that said, I did miss out on a lot of learning opportunities. Our teenage years are a time when we are supposed to build a mental separation between our parents and us. Between who we’ve been told to be and who we actually are meant to be. It’s a time to make really stupid mistakes and to learn what doesn’t fit well with who we are becoming. It’s also a perfect time to get out all those really bad ideas so that they don’t sneak up on us later in life when they can cause more lasting hardships. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying go out there, give yourself alcohol poisoning while snorting cocaine and waking up in a jail cell, but I am saying that it’s okay to live a little and go enjoy your last hurrahs as a kid! Go loiter in front of a sign that says “no loitering” or drink a soda while driving past a sign that says “don’t drink and drive,” or zoom by on a skateboard in a shopping center that says “no skateboarding,” you know, annoying things that don’t hurt anyone.

One of the lasting hurts of my teen years, one I still find myself subconsciously seeking validation for, is that I could have been worse, and not a single adult acknowledged that. With the exception of my therapist, whom I love dearly (obvs), the only feedback I received was from everyone that was going to “pray” for me, and how “shameful” it was that I wore black clothes and dabbled in the “devil’s lore” (vampires, werewolves, Harry Potter, anything popular that came out of Japan, etc.). I also was really into video games, though, granted, not as heavily as my brother. In spite of all the criticism, harsh looks at church and strangers hands on my arm as they told me, “The devil- is bad,” (No- seriously. That actually happened) I knew that I was a good kid, and I knew how much worse off I could be. Hell, I knew how much worse all my friends were! I simply chose not to tag along to all their after-school parties nor partook in their questionable pastimes. In retrospect, they must have been good friends, because they all loved me despite that, and never pressured me. They simply respected that I didn’t care for drugs and alcohol. 

My point here is that it’s important for my brother, and anyone who feels unheard, unseen, and unappreciated, to hear the words that I craved all through my high school years. Those words, are this: You are a good kid, whether you’re 10-years-old, or 100-years-old and the choices you’re making now are not going to ruin your life unless you decide they are. They are going to give you different experiences from everyone else’s unrealistic ideas of who you should be, and that’s absolutely, and unquestionably okay. Keep up the good work, and just be as aware as you can of the experiences you’re giving up as you continue to make the choices you are. If you don’t like something, or you’re depressed that you’re missing out on something, then it’s never too late to change it, and help will always be available to you as long as you’re determined to seek it.

Good luck, kiddos.

Next Week’s Question: How do you think I can use my talents in a meaningful way?

Writing Prompt #5: Talk Me Down

*Note: All writing prompts used for this story are located at the end to prevent spoilers. If you want to use the prompts yourself, have at ’em.

Extra Note: Don’t forget, if you like this story and want to know what happens next, leave a comment requesting more (I guess a like works too, though it’s less obvious)! My aim is to revisit the stories with the highest demand and add more to them.

Talk Me Down

Continue reading “Writing Prompt #5: Talk Me Down”

Writing Prompt #4: Roommates

Note: Don’t forget, if you like this story and want to know what happens next, leave a comment requesting more! My aim is to revisit the stories with the highest demand and add more to them.

Roommates

Mrs. Margery Talbot stood inside the open front door of her two-story home as Mr. Dennis Talbot descended the stairs with a large cardboard box in his arms. Both individuals wore strained expressions as he made his descent, each step carefully measured. As he came level with the woman beside the door, Margery spoke, “Is that the last of them?”

Dennis nodded, “Yeah.” 

“Okay then,” Margery said curtly. She sucked in a breath, “I guess this is goodbye.” 

“At least follow me out to the car,” Dennis said, a hint of desperation in his voice. 

“No,” Margery said, “I don’t think that’s a good idea. Goodbye Dennis. Don’t forget to show up to the courthouse on Thursday at 9, and by 9 I mean 8:45. Not 9:01, not 9:10- 8:45.”

Dennis puffed through his nose like he always did when he felt chastised, “Fine. Bye Margery.”   

She shut the door on his retreating back and turned away. Only then did she allow her seams to crack, and even then, it was only crack. She swallowed hard as she leaned her back against the door and listened to the slam of Dennis’ trunk. She slid down the door to sit on the floor as she heard his driver’s side door shut. She sucked in a shuddering gasp as she heard his engine turn over. By the time the sound of his car had gone too far for her to hear, Margery was sobbing into her knees which she hugged tightly to her body.

*****

“Fuck him,” Her sister, Ophelia, said later that night through a mouthful of Ben & Jerry’s, “He made his bed. Now he gets to roll around in it, his head is wrought with the guilt from having fucked up the only good thing he’d ever had going in his life. What seems like shit right now is going to turn into the best thing to ever happen to you, mark my words,” She was waving her spoon around for emphasis from her spot in Dennis’ recliner, which she was sitting sideways in, her legs draped over one armrest and her back against the other. 

Margery was sitting on the loveseat beside her, nursing a melting jug of s’mores flavored ice cream with a ginger tabby named Herman curled up on her lap. She worked at a smile. Her sister had always been hot-headed and defiantly optimistic despite her edgy appearance. Margery had long brunette hair that she feathered off to one side and always bought her clothes from the clearance rack in the big-box department stores. Ophelia had fire engine red hair (that she dyed a new color every other week) which was shaved on the left side from the base of her earlobe to just above the tip of her ear and then halfway back behind her head. She sported a half sleeve of tattoos, and only bought clothes from local boutiques that specialize in the color black, and had an unsettling affinity for zippers in useless places. 

“Part of me wants to know that you’re right,” Margery said feebly, looking down at the sleeping cat in her lap, “but I just don’t know what I’m going to do. It took both of our salaries to cover our bills, and even then things were tight. I’m going to have to sell it, but if I do that before the divorce…”

“He’s not taking half!” Ophelia said, jabbing her spoon at her sister like a sword. She took another bite of ice cream, and through a full mouth said, “Just get a roommate.” 

Margery looked at her sister incredulously, “I beg your pardon? Who the heck am I going to convince to move in here? You?”

Ophelia snorted, “As if. We’d slaughter each other in two weeks flat, and you know I’m being generous. I meant that you should put out an add.”

Margery stabbed her spoon down into her carton, causing Herman to wake up and relocate himself to the cushion beside her, “You want me to invite a complete stranger into my home! Phelia, that’s how people end up murdered in their own beds!”

Her sister scoffed, “Oh, god, you have got to get rid of your cable, Mar. People take in strangers for roommates every single day. The only reason you hear about the ones who get murdered is that it’s so friggin’ rare that it’s worth talking about. If it happened every day, then people would become desensitized and stop being surprised that it had happened. They would also make it illegal,” she took another bite before adding, “Like hitchhiking.”

Margery frowned, “I guess that’s a good point.”

“Of course it is.” She swung her legs around and leaned over the armrest so her face was closer to Margery’s, the tub of ice cream held between them, “You’re going to figure this out. It’s going to be okay.”

*****

Ophelia stayed at Margery’s house for the next four days to help with the basic functions of living that Margery seemed to have suddenly forgotten how to perform. Margery continued to attend work at Forget Me Not’s, a local antique store. Ophelia took on the challenge of posting “Room Mate Wanted” adds around the internet, but since the rent was so high, they were having trouble getting any takers. Ophelia had offered to post her phone number, partly because her work life was much more flexible than Margery’s, and partly (Margery suspected) to help ease some of the extra stress off her grieving sister. Court dates came and went, and bill dates also came and went. Each day Margery’s savings dwindled and her anxiety grew. Then, one afternoon, nearly two months later, Margery received an excited phone call from her sister while at work.

“Marge! I think I found one!” Phelia proclaimed into the receiver.

“One what?” Margery asked as her foggy thoughts tried desperately to shift gears from pricing fifty-year-old spoons to her sister’s obvious excitement. 

“One what!? A roommate, dummy, what else! I think this guy is going to be perfect!”

Margery’s attention snapped onto the phone, “A roommate?!” She turned her back on the silver spoons and faced the china hutches behind her counter, “It’s a guy? I don’t know if I really feel com-”

“What did I say about that cable? It’s an unneeded expense and you need to wake up to the new decade, Sis. Yes, he’s a guy! And he runs his own business! He can more than afford the price AND get this – he runs his business out of his home! That means your home will be eligible for a crap ton of tax write-offs!”

“I- I’m not sure that’s how that works, Phee,”

“Of course it does! We’ll figure out all the specifics later, but you’ll definitely save money on something.”

“Well,” Margery said, trying to find the blessing in disguise here, “What kind of business is this?”

She could hear the grin on Ophelia’s face as she spoke, “Oh you’re going to love this! He’s a perfume maker! He said he’d even be grateful if you were willing to test some of his new fragrances for him and give your feedback! How amazing is that!? Free perfume!”

Margery frowned, “Free perfume would be nice, but I’m not sure it’s worth the mess. The man mixes liquids and strange oils, Phee. I can already smell all the added costs of having to rip up and replace my floors when he inevitably moves out.”

“I thought of that too!” She chimed, “And he said he’s more than willing to purchase a sizeable shed and set it up in your backyard as his workstation to save your floors. He also said he’s comfortable setting up shop in attics and basements if the landlord is alright with either of those options.”  

Margery chewed on her lip, “I suppose it’s fine if he uses the basement. Dennis has already destroyed the cement down there with all of his engine rebuilds. There are oil stains and god knows what else everywhere. I’d rather that than a shed.” Margery was quite fond of her backyard and had even started a small vegetable garden. She was hesitant to part with any of that treasured real estate, “Means we’ll have to clear out a lot of the crap Dennis has stashed down there.”

“Yard sale!” Ophelia exclaimed, “I’ll start printing fliers.”

“Well, wait a minute! I’ll have to see if Dennis needs any of that stuff!”

“Fuck him,” Came the curt reply.

Ignoring her, Margery asked, “What is this potential housemate’s name?”

“Oh, you’ll love this! Arthur Ashton. Tell me that doesn’t sound like a character right out of a novel!”

“It sounds made up.” Margery agreed sardonically.

“Ooooh my god! Cable! Get rid of it!”

*****

Margery texted Dennis, telling him to come and take whatever he wanted from the boxes she and Ophelia had been packing up. She didn’t tell him she was getting a roommate, just that she was cleaning out the basement for an office. She left the boxes in front of the garage door before work one day and when she came home that evening noticed a few missing. She found a note in his handwriting taped to her front door telling her to sell the rest. The yard sale was a success, largely due to Ophelia’s magical talent in advertising things online. They had cleared away most of the items in a single weekend, and thrown away or donated what had remained. 

As to the roommate, Ophelia had been serving as the go-between for Arthur and Margery since the two’s schedules had never quite seemed to line up. When the day came for Arthur to move in, Margery hadn’t even heard his voice, let alone met him. Her palms were clammy and she kept chewing her lip with nerves as the two sisters waited. 

When the knock finally came, Margery let out a gasp and was on her feet with no recollection of having stood up. “He’s here! What do we do?!” she hissed at her sister.

Ophelia was draped in Dennis’ chair again and was eating potato chips. She frowned at her sister, “First, you need to calm your tits. Then you go answer the door like a semi-normal person and try not to embarrass me. I had to spin a lot of pretty little lies about how cool you are to woo this guy.”

The girls answered the door together. Arthur Ashton was somewhere close to 5’8” with a lean build. He had a full head of sandy-colored hair that looked wind-tossed and which fell irritably close to his left eye making him brush it away from his face every few moments. His face looked as though it had been clean-shaven two days ago, and today could do with another. He wore blue jeans which were a bit stained but seemed sensible for a moving day, and his t-shirt looked to be from some Indie band. He had a box in his arms which he set down at his feet when the door opened, and he was quick with a smile and a handshake. 

“Hello! You must be Margery. I’ve heard so much about you. Arthur Ashton,” He said as he shook Margery’s hand. “And hello again Ophelia. You were right with those directions. This place is easy enough to find and also perfectly tucked away from the dominant streets. The neighborhood is much lovelier than you’d made it sound. Had I known, I’d have tried all the harder to get here sooner.” 

The man had a slight accent that Margery couldn’t place. It was faded with time, like a distant memory that ran in the background, but hadn’t been recalled in some many years. His hands were surprisingly rough for one who worked with luxury goods and they reminded Margery of when Dennis had spent six months obsessed with weight training. Arthur had a slight build to him, but nothing extreme enough to parallel Dennis’ short-lived obsession. 

The girls gave Arthur a tour of the house and showed him the downstairs bedroom that was to be his. Arthur surveyed the room with an impassive expression before asking to see the basement where he’d be setting up, to which the girls obliged. The basement was huge and had just over twice the square footage of Margery’s living room. Arthur stood in the middle of the space with his hands on his hips and looked around the now-empty space. Small windows were set high up on the walls allowing sunlight to illuminate the space just enough to manage without turning on the overhead lights. When Arthur turned back to the girls he was smiling, “I’d like to set up my shop and my living space down here if that’s alright?”

The girls exchanged looks before Margery stammered, “I mean if you’re sure?”

“I’m positive. This space is far more perfect than I could have hoped for!” He was grinning.

Margery looked at her sister who stretched her face out in a confused expression and shrugged. Marge looked back at the man and agreed, “Well, if you’re positive, then it’s yours to do with as you wish!” 

*****

The first few months flew by in a dizzying dance. She and Arthur adjusted to life in each other’s company with few hiccups due largely to their varying schedules. Margery was usually already at her shop long before Arthur woke up and staggered to the kitchen for breakfast. By the time Margery got home, Arthur would be fully absorbed into his work and would scarcely venture up from his basement. Sometimes faint and pleasant odors would waft up through the floorboards above his workspace, and Margery started heavily wishing she had more friends that could be invited over to enjoy their presence with her. 

The day that Margery’s divorce finalized was the first time the two of them had really talked. Ophelia was working a double shift and apologized profusely, promising to show up with ice cream just as soon as she could, but it wouldn’t be until close to eleven. Margery insisted she would be fine, and she was just going to watch some TV for a bit and told Ophelia not to bother. They’d ended their call with Ophelia saying she’d see her sister tonight. 

The TV hadn’t proved to be the distraction that Margery had hoped it would be. Herman was on her lap again, and she sat petting his ginger fur as he purred. She flipped from movie to movie and each time she spotted the romance plot starting to build, she’d change the station again. Eventually, she was left with nothing to watch except for the day’s news, until a story of a man killing his wife to save the hassle of a divorce convinced her to shut off the set altogether. 

Arthur found her in the living room, in the dark, with the cat on her lap, and crying soundlessly. She hadn’t noticed him enter and he’d had to clear his throat before speaking so as not to startle her too harshly, “Is there anything I can do? Perhaps, I could get you the tub of ice cream? Phelia said that was usually the go-to life raft.”

Margery wiped her eyes with the only hand free of cat hair and sucked in a steadying breath, “No. No, I’m fine. Thank you. I – I will be fine.”

Arthur sat on the other couch in the room, “It was today, wasn’t it? The finalization?”

She sniffled and nodded, “Yeah. I’m officially a free woman.” She forced a smile.

Arthur got up, but not without shooting her an empathetic look. She could hear him moving around in the kitchen and smiled when she heard the freezer open. He returned a few moments later with a half-eaten carton of Ben & Jerry’s S’mores flavored ice cream and a spoon. He handed them to her before sitting back down. 

She thanked him, “You didn’t have to do that.”

“No, I did. Ophelia threatened my physical well being if I didn’t.” They both laughed. “It’s hard,” he said as the chuckles died down and the silence had started to encroach, “Losing someone you loved. Someone you’d plan to spend your whole life with… but it’s nearly unbearable when that other person is the one to make it so painfully obvious that they had different plans.”

Margery’s eyes became clouded and her throat worked as she strained to keep the tears down. She frowned, and her voice broke as she asked, “Were you married?” She had wanted to phrase the question carefully so as not to seem too prodding. 

Arthur passed a hand through his hair and leaned back against the couch, “For a time. It didn’t last near as long as I had expected, yet twice as long as everyone else had guessed.”

He told her about his first love, a girl named Chavali. He described her olive skin and her silky black hair and when he described the way she moved, it was poetry. He had met her while traveling abroad through Europe. She was of the Roma people, a gypsy. Her family had been selling their wares in the town Arthur was visiting. He’d met her at the booth she’d been working and promised to watch her perform in a dance that same night.

“Once I laid my eyes on her and the way she danced, I knew I could never take them off of her again.” He’d canceled his other plans and extended his stay in this village to be near her. It took him two long months, but finally, he convinced her to marry him. “Her family was furious. They denied us, of course. So I convinced Chavali to run away with me.”

He took her back to his home where he was learning his trade of perfume making. They were happy for two whole years before the financial strain of being wife to a perfume maker’s apprentice was too much for Chavali. “So, she left me. For another man.” He sighed, “The worst part is that I didn’t even see the signs.” He remarked. “He’d been trying to steal her from me for a whole year and had been giving her gifts. Chavali told me they were from her dance studio where she performed – which, I suppose was half true. The man owned the studio, and his dancers were skilled enough to perform for royalty. It wasn’t that surprising to me when she’d show up in gems and fine silks. I had always believed her when she said they were gifts from their grateful patrons.”

By the time Ophelia showed up that evening, Margery was already in better spirits. Arthur was telling her stories from overseas and the two were laughing as Ophelia entered the house. Margery’s tub of ice cream had been long melted and completely forgotten on the drink coaster beside the couch. 

*****

Things were easier after that day, and Margery started to allow herself to believe they might actually get better. Arthur started making a point of wandering up from the basement to chat whenever Margery came home. He was always telling her stories of the different countries he had visited, and Margery would listen with rapt attention. One day she even asked him, “Have you been to every country in the world?” Arthur had hesitated at this with a furrowed brow before admitting he must be getting close. It amazed her that someone no more than a couple of years her senior could have experienced so much more life than she would ever see in all her years. Margery enjoyed their chats so much, she’d even started cooking again just to stay in the kitchen. She had yet to be asked to sample any of Arthur’s perfumes. However, he always had packages outside the front door, each stamped with a home-printed mailing label, ready for the postman to pick up. So she figured his sales must be doing rather well. 

Every once in a while, during one of Margery’s T.V. shows, there would be an explosion from the basement. The first time this had happened, she had tried to rush downstairs to make sure everything was okay, but Arthur met her halfway up and told her not to come down. The room had been filled with smoke, which was starting to drift up into the main house. Arthur had rushed back down, covering his face in some torn piece of cloth, to open the basement’s small windows before joining Margery in the living room and admitting he’d been careless and allowed one of his brews to boil over. Turns out the substance was highly flammable, but no damage had been done, with the exception of Arthur’s pride. By now, Margery was so used to these occurrences that when they’d happen she’d simply turn up her TV, open the windows, and pray the fire alarms didn’t go off this time.

Six months after Arthur moved in, Margery found herself driving home from work with a smile on her face, the radio playing in the background of her awareness, as she thought of how the time had flown past her. She appreciated his company during everything she’d been through. It wasn’t easy to tear your entire life down and consider rebuilding it, and if he hadn’t shown up with his crazy little business to help her pay the mortgage, then she could never have hoped to make it. She made a note to tell Arthur as much tonight. She was also extremely curious about his perfumes. They must be divine if Arthur was sending out new shipments every day of the week. She made another note to talk to Arthur about buying one when she saw him tonight. She was okay with not being asked to sample any, but by now her curiosity was strong enough that she was willing to pay near any amount to see what he’d been up to all those hours in her basement. All these musings were dashed from her thoughts, however, as she pulled up to her house. 

One of her front windows had been shattered. There was no glass outside of the house, just a jagged hole where the glass used to be. Her front door was wide open and the gate to her backyard was swinging in the breeze. 

“What the hell?” She pulled up to the curb instead of the garage and killed her vehicle’s engine. It was still light outside and dark in her house, so she couldn’t see much beyond the broken window. With trembling hands, she grabbed up her cell phone.

“Yellow,” Came Ophelia’s voice.

“Phee, I think I’ve been robbed!” Margery stammered.

“What?!” Ophelia barked.

“I – I just got home and – my window is broken! Someone smashed my window and -”

“Hold on. Someone robbed your house?! Where are you right now?”

“I’m in the car outside.”

“Did you go inside?”

“No,” Margery said, “Should I?”

“No! Are the police on their way?” Ophelia asked.

“N-no, I haven’t called them. I – I just called you.”

“What?! Marge! Call the police! Get them on their way, then call me back. I’m going to talk to my supervisor and ask to leave. I’ll be there as soon as I can, okay? Police! Now!”

***** 

The 911 dispatcher told Margery to get away from her house. She did so and used her BlueTooth to finish her call. The police showed up in record time, leading Margery to believe she hadn’t been the first to call them. She circled back around to her block when she heard the police sirens and talked to an Officer Roberts while the rest of the responders did a sweep of her home and property. Neighbors had come out to gawk, and a few came over to talk to Margery about what had happened. Everyone had their own version of the events that transpired, but the general idea was this: 

Three black vehicles had been parked outside of Margery’s house. There had been some sort of loud noise that had alerted the first of the concerned residents. The general consensus was that it had been some form of an explosion. Some moments later, a second explosion took out Margery’s living room window. There were rapid-fire pops inside her home that many had described as gunshots, and neighbors had started to call the police at this point. Men in black suits were then seen running out of Margery’s front door and out from the gate leading into her backyard. One of the men had been talking away in a hushed voice on a cell phone as he looked up at the house. He had shouted something at his men, who passed the command around the lines, causing the attackers to file into the black vehicles and drive away. This is where the excitement had ended until the police had arrived. 

The police didn’t find anyone inside, but they did report blood stains and several bullet holes in the wall. There were no signs of Arthur anywhere in the house. Ophelia showed up a few moments before Margery was asked to come inside and identify what, if anything, was missing or stolen from the house. The two sisters went in together. 

The place had been trashed. If something was able to be broken, the thieves had broken it. Furniture was upturned, cupboards and drawers had been opened and emptied of their contents. Her picture frames had been taken off the walls, shattered, and scattered about. Her appliances in the kitchen had been smashed or dismantled, but not stolen, her couches were missing their cushions, which had been torn open and had their stuffing scattered about creating the picturesque scene of the downtown mall at Christmas time. 

Upstairs, each of the bedrooms had been gone through and Margery’s clothes had all been removed from their hangers and tossed around the room. However, nothing seemed to be missing. She checked her jewelry first and noted that, while it’s contents had been spilled over the top of her dresser, nothing had been taken, not even the wedding ring she hadn’t worn in nearly a year. As she talked to one of the officers about the jewelry, Herman, the big ginger cat, came out from under the bed looking as emotionally haggard as one who’s just walked through an active war zone. He mewed at her pathetically and when Margery rushed forward to scoop him up, he picked up his tail happily. She squeezed the cat to her chest as she finished her tour.

Once Herman was securely locked away in this cat crate in the bedroom, Margery made her way back downstairs. Ophelia was standing in the middle of the living room looking down at the shattered 55” TV. “You know, when I told you to get rid of the cable, I did not mean for it to happen like this.” 

The last place left to look was the basement. Margery told the police that she wouldn’t even begin to know if anything was missing down there. It was her tenant’s space and she had never gone down there since Arthur had moved in. For record’s sake, however, they insisted. The two sisters descended the stairs one after the other. The basement was as bad as the house above. On one side of the space was Arthur’s perfume lab. Beakers and vials and flasks and olive-colored glass jars were shattered in glittering piles all over the floor. On the other side, separated by a privacy divider covered in Asian artwork, was an upturned twin mattress, piles of disheveled clothes, a few chairs, countless upturned baskets that had once been full of bottles, and jars and Tupperware contains filled with perfume ingredients. None of this was surprising after everything Margery had already seen. What was surprising, what Margery saw that she hadn’t been prepared for, was the pool of blood in the center of the room. The scattered stains of someone moving about after sustaining a major injury. The smears of blood going up the wall to the open basement window suggesting the injured party had escaped or at least attempted to escape, out into the yard above.

Margery gasped and covered her mouth with both her hands. Ophelia gasped too, and placed her hand on her sister’s shoulder, giving it a squeeze. Margery’s vision began to blur and tears spilled down her face as the scene took its toll on her. She turned back to the office behind her, “Has nobody found Arthur?”

The policeman shook his head, “No ma’am. The trail ends at the window, and until we get the lab results back, we have no way of knowing if your tenant was injured, or if he got the better of one of his attackers. As to where the injured party went, we haven’t gathered enough information to properly say. There were boot tracks and more disorder in the backyard, but no blood. There was also no evidence of anyone having leaped a fence nor moved around in any of the neighbors’ yards. Whoever did this left out the front door or a side gate, to the best of our knowledge.” 

Ophelia held Margery’s head against her shoulder and stroked her hair, “How could they do this in broad daylight and not be identified by at least one neighbor? How could no one have seen any of their faces or gotten a license plate?”

“I can’t say that no one did, ma’am. We’ll have more answers once we’re able to look at all the evidence back at the station. In the meantime, Mrs. Talbot, do you have anyone that you can stay with?” 

Margery frowned, “Ms.” She said, “Ms. Ta- erm, Wilde. I’m divorced I just – I haven’t gotten my name changed back yet.”

“Sorry,” The officer said as he took notes, “Ms. Wilde. Is there anyone you can stay with for a few days while the station conducts its investigations?”

“Of course,” Ophelia chimed in, “You can shack up with me for as long as need be, okay, Sis?” Ophelia smoothed the hair away from Margery’s face and put both her hands on her sister’s shoulders, giving her a little shake. Ophelia looked back at the officer, “Is she allowed to take a few things from the house, like clothes and toothbrush and such?”

“Of course,” the officer said.

*****

Two weeks went by, and no new leads came to the surface. The lab results on the blood and other hopeful DNA analysis came back inconclusive. Something about corrupt data or a contaminated sample or some other technical stuff that Margery couldn’t quite understand. There was never any word on Arthur. Margery filed a missing person’s report at the station, and the two sisters went around putting up posters, but no one ever called. Margery had been allowed to return to her home for a whole week, but fear had kept her away. Ophelia’s place had felt safe, but there was no denying how painfully small her studio apartment was. Ophelia told Margery to stay for as long as she and Herman needed to fix up the house before selling it and downsizing to something smaller, but Margery knew she’d well outstayed her welcome long before any such renovations could be made, so, rather than wait for her welcome to expire, she went back.

It was her day off, and Ophelia had already gone to work for the day. She didn’t tell her sister what she’d planned to do with her day, partially because she hadn’t known she would really do it. Somehow, the voice in the back of her mind knew that this was something Margery needed to do on her own. These were her fears, her demons, and she couldn’t hide behind her little sister when she went to face them. 

The police tape was still up, and a large board had been hammered onto the outside of Margery’s shattered window to keep out any unwelcome visitors. The house was exactly the way it had been that day she’d come home, only this time with perhaps a little extra dust. Margery sighed as she looked at all the work that needed to be done, and then went to get the broom. She started with the hallway, the smallest room and therefore the easiest first victory. She found a cardboard box for all the photos as she separated them from their shattered frames, and swept all the broken frames and glass up into the large trash can she’d brought in from outside. She took the rugs up and shook them into the trash to dislodge any glass, mopped the hardwood entryway, and then vacuumed the rugs once she’d set them back down. 

Next came the kitchen. She sorted the broken appliances into boxes for the recycling and put back together what could be salvaged and placed in the sink what merely needed cleaning. She swept, mopped, wiped counters and cleaned out the fridge filled with all of its spoiled foods. 

By the time she had finished with the living room and moved the broken TV to the garage where it could later be taken to the recycling center, the sun was starting to set. Her phone was ringing in the hallway where she’d left it, and by the time she got to it, she realized she had three missed calls from her sister. 

“Oh thank god! You know I was one missed call away from filing a missing person report! Where in the hell are you?” Ophelia shrieked. 

“Home,” Margery said, a little deflated, “I’ve been trying to get this place cleaned up.”

There was a long pause on the other end of the phone, “I’ll be there in a second.”

“No! No, Phee, it’s fine. You rest. You had a long day and I’m sure you’re tired. I’m fine. I’ve already finished most of the downstairs.”

Another long pause, “Are you sure?”

“I’m sure. I need to do this.” Alone, she didn’t say. “I’m going to be here late. I don’t work tomorrow either. Don’t wait up for me okay? I’m going to make dinner here. I still have some pasta here and an unopened can of sauce.”

“Okay. If you need anything, call me. I expect to see you home by midnight, young lady, no exceptions. Otherwise, I’m filing a report, capiche?”

Margery chuckled, “Yes, Dad.”

She hung up, turned back towards the living room, and screamed. In one swift movement, a hand was over her mouth. She tried to pull away but backed into the wall and the hand-pressed tighter. Arthur leaned in closer as he shushed her, “What in the hell are you doing here?!” He demanded. He released his hand as Margery shoved him.

“What am I doing here? I live here! What are you doing here?” She demanded.

“I came back to make sure you hadn’t done something stupid like, oh I don’t know, coming back.”

“The police declared this an isolated incident. They said it was highly unlikely that the same robbers would hit the same house twice and told me I was safe to return. So that’s what I did.”

One of Arthur’s brown eyebrows shot up, “Robbers? And what did these people take exactly?” Margery was silent. He had her there. “That’s what I thought. These people weren’t here for your things. They were here for me. They will also do damn near anything to get to me, including kidnapping you if they thought that would work.” 

“You? Why in the hell would these people want…” She fell silent as the realization dawned on her, “Oh. My. God. You aren’t a perfume maker, are you?” 

Arthur raised that eyebrow at her again as he crossed the hall to glance out the window beside the entryway door. “Just now figuring that one out, huh?”

Margery felt a flare of anger at his words, “You – were – all this time I – you – I can’t believe I was so stupid. I knew getting a roommate was a bad idea. I told Ophelia, I told her this is how you get murdered. I cooked your meals, and let you into my home, and all this time you’ve been cooking drugs in my basement?! How could I be so stu-”

“What?!” Arthur rounded on her and took a few steps forward, “I do not deal in narcotics.” He spat that last word like it was a swear. “If you want to know what I do, then follow me. I need to see if they left me anything salvageable downstairs, and then we have to get you somewhere safe. Is Ophelia’s place anywhere close?”

“I’m not going to take you to my sister’s so that you can go and do to her place what you and your friends did to mine!” Margery spat. Arthur was heading towards the basement and, without thinking, Margery followed him. “You’re some kind of criminal! I let a criminal into my home!” She was bordering on hysterics now. 

They were halfway down the stairs when Arthur wheeled on her again and threw up a hand to silence her. Margery wrenched her face away from the violent motion and would have fallen if Arthur hadn’t caught her arm and steadied her, “Did no one shut that window after I fled out it?”

“What? Of course, they did! The police locked the whole place up, why do you a-” But Margery saw it. The window directly opposite of the stairs still had blood smeared on the wall beneath it. The setting sun was filtering faintly through, and from here, Margery could see it was open. “How did that-”

“Shh,” Arthur hissed. The room below them was dark. Arthur had moved right past the light switch without turning it on. Margery moved back up the stairs and hit the switch. Arthur shot her a glare before continuing down into the room. The piles of glass still remained. Arthur’s belongings were still scattered about, but there were no home invaders. “They must have come back after all the police had cleared out. Must have searched the place again.” He grumbled.

“Search?” Margery asked, her heart racing, “And what, exactly, were they searching for?”

“Something I’d never be stupid enough to hide here.” He answered as he started scooping up armfuls of clothes and tossing them into a pile. He was clearing a path to the cupboards lined up against his walls. They were all open and many of their contents littered the ground. He began picking up bottles and vials and jars that had managed to stay undamaged. He gathered a few in his arms and moved over to his shattered workspace.

As he worked, Margery decided she was not finished with her questions, “Where have you been these last two weeks? Who was injured? How did you make it out of here? What did those guys want so badly that they decided to trash my house in broad daylight? What in the hell are you doing?” 

Arthur, who had been ignoring all of Margery’s questions, had set the armful of random storage contains down on the counter and picked up a bunsen burner. He then sifted carefully through the broken glass until he found a sizable beaker that had gone undamaged. He moved back to his scattered belongings and rummaged around until he found a broom. He used it to clear away some of the shattered glass from his work station before reaching under his table and pulling out a stone mortar and pestle. He then began mashing up some of the items he’d collected from his cabinets and Margery eventually fell silent as she watched him in confusion. He moved to the small sink in the room and filled one of the beakers about a third of the way with water before moving to place it into a little metal contraption that held the beaker above the bunsen burner that he now lit. He poured all the ingredients from the mortar into the beaker and gave it a stir with a long metal tool. He then poured a few more ingredients into the mortar and shuffled back to his upturned mattress. He fit the extra-long twin back onto its frame before sitting down and grinding up the ingredients in the mortar.  

Exhausted, Margery finally broke the silence, “What on Earth are you doing?”

Arthur looked up as if remembering that he wasn’t alone and beckoned her down off the stairs towards him, “Come here. I’m going to need your help with something. Over there in my cabinet, I need you to dig through the wicker basket. There is a putty knife in there that I need you to bring to me.” Margery did as she was instructed. Once she held it up for him to see, Arthur nodded and said, “Now, see that cabinet over there? The second one from the wall? There is a first aid kit down there. Can you grab it? I need the bandages, but I’m also bringing that with me when I go, so you might as well grab the whole kit.” She nodded and brought both objects over and set them on the mattress beside him.

Arthur set his mortar and pestle aside and then slowly, gingerly, with a grimace and a grunt, removed his shirt. On his left shoulder was a bloodsoaked bandage. Margery sucked in a breath. Arthur groaned as he began to peel the bandage off. There was a matt of plant material packed against his skin. He huffed rapidly through his nose as he peeled the herbs away from his injured flesh. The wound oozed a dark liquid and had a faint sour odor to it. Margery’s breath stopped short. She’d read enough books to know this was bad- real bad.

Arthur used the putty knife to scoop up the paste he’d made in the mortar and smeared it into the wound. He sucked in a breath as the paste made contact, and hissed through his nostrils as whatever he’d made started to take its effect. He shifted, turning his shoulder to show Margery the bandage that had been stuck roughly to the backside of his shoulder. “I can’t really reach back there. Would you mind?” He handed her the putty knife, handle first. 

“Me?” She asked, bristling, “I – well – I’ll do what I can.” 

“Thank you.” Arthur sighed.

Margery worked at the adhesive edge of one bandage. She noticed that this one had herbs spilling out the underside as if Arthur had struggled to pack them properly into the wound. When she found herself having trouble removing the bandage with ease, the man grunted, “You’re going to have to get a little rough with it. Don’t worry, you can’t hurt me any worse than the bullet that made that wound to start with.”

“At least you have an exit wound.” She said as she yanked harder, freeing the edge as Arthur groaned. “You could have been stuck with a bullet to dig out.” She peeled the bandage away and held her breath as the smell hit her. She used the soiled bandage to grip the matt of plant material and started to pry it away from the wound.

“I’m sorry. I should have offered you gloves. I promise I’m not contagious, though I’m not sure what my word is really worth to you at this moment,” Arthur chuckled. 

“I know, I trust you, I just-” She hesitated as she looked at the weeping wound. “This looks really bad.”

“Eh, it looks worse than it is. Just use the knife and put some of this salve in there. This should patch it up well enough until I can get my hands on some real equipment.”

Margery frowned as she scooped up the last of the salve. She coated the wound and packed the paste down into the ragged flesh as best she could without causing too much extra distress to the man in front of her. After both fresh bandages were securely in place, Arthur thanked his landlord and returned to the beaker over the fire. 

The liquid inside had turned a rusty red-brown color and was boiling. He killed the flame and started rummaging around in the storage containers that were tossed around the room until he found an uninjured mason jar with a lid. He poured the contents of the beaker into the jar and laid it back on the counter, lidless, to cool. He dropped a few pieces of what looked like bark into the jar before returning to the mess which was his belongings. He gathered up a weathered, brown leather messenger back and started throwing more of his unharmed jars of – things into it. He scooped up handfuls of herbs from baskets and broken containers before stuffing them into large matchboxes. Jars of roots, powders and mystery items were also thrown into the bag. Next, he pulled a duffel bag out from under his bed frame and threw it down on the mattress. He scooped some of the clothes off the ground, sifted through them, and packed only what seemed a sensible amount for a weekend away. He also threw a beat-up paperback into his bag as well as an old photograph from a broken frame which he slipped between the pages of the book. 

Margery barely caught the sight of two people’s faces before it was safely hidden away. Lastly, he picked up an old walking stick and threw it on top of the zipped up duffle. 

It was a huge stick made from a thick and gnarled tree branch. Different colored threads had been wrapped around parts of the stick and threaded beads dangled about it and clacked together as the stick was moved. It was covered in intricate carvings that looked as though they belonged to an age before civilization. Margery couldn’t help but stare at the wood in wonder for a time. When she looked back at her tenant, he’d picked up the steaming jar of rusty liquid and had taken a swallow.

He sighed through his nose as he drank, his eyes closing slowly as his body relaxed. He drank half the liquid in one go. “That should hold me over for now,” he muttered, more to himself. 

“What is that, some kind of – tea?” Margery asked.

Arthur gave a huff that was almost a laugh, “No, it’s much stronger than a tea. It’s going to help prevent the infection in my arm from spreading any further.” He screwed on the lid and tossed the jar into his leather bag. “Come on. We both need to leave,” he said, moving over to pick up his bags, “And I don’t want to hear that you’ve returned here again, is that clea-” 

Arthur cut his words off suddenly and threw a hand up at Margery indicating she was to stay silent. It took her a moment before she heard it too. There were footsteps on the floor above them. Margery’s heart was pounding in her chest. She looked wildly over at Arthur who held up a finger to remind her to stay silent before gesturing at the open basement window. Margery nodded. Arthur dug through his leather bookbag for a few painfully long seconds before extracting a vial of dark gray liquid. He leaned in close, holding up the bottle, “Drink half, then hand it back to me.” Her expression must have been incredulous, because Arthur looked at her in disbelief, drained half the bottle himself, then handed it back, “Not poison, drink!” He urged so softly she almost didn’t hear him. She drank. The liquid was bitter and she almost coughed in her efforts to take it all down. When she looked back at Arthur she gasped. He had turned the same murky gray color the liquid had been in the bottle, and not just his skin, but all of him. His skin, hair, clothes, the bags slung around his body, the walking stick in his hand, every bit. He looked like someone had dipped him into a bucket of paint. 

As Arthur was shushing her, Margery looked down at her own self and noticed she too had started to turn the same gray color. She brushed her hands over her arms, but her skin felt exactly the same. She looked back at Arthur in panic, but he had moved to the open window and was motioning for her to hurry up, then held his hands together in a way that told her he was going to give her a boost up. She ran over and put her foot into his hands, and almost fell. At that very moment, her home phone started to ring. Both parties held their breath for several long moments before they heard the feet upstairs speed up, then stop suddenly. Arthur sprang into action first. He whispered, “Now or never,” before hoisting her up. She managed to wriggle out into her backyard. She scanned the scene, and although full dark had set in, she couldn’t see anyone beyond. Arthur hefted his duffle bag up first, and Margery helped pull it through the window. He tossed his leather bag up next with the walking stick, and Margery took those too. He motioned for her to get back, and she did. He ran at the wall, grabbed the ledge and heaved himself out in one practiced sweep. Gathering his things, Arthur whispered, “Stick close and stay silent. I think he’s alone.”

Margery nodded. Arthur darted on ahead of her, crouched low. She noticed, as he gained some distance on her, that the gray color of his body and belongings made him very difficult to see slinking through the dark landscape and, although she had no idea how he’d done it, at least she understood why. They moved to the gate at the side of her backyard. Arthur stopped for a moment to listen, and when he seemed satisfied that no one was there, he pushed the gate open with his walking stick. As they peered around the side of the house, they saw a black car parked out front. Margery was about to make a break for her car, parked in the driveway when Arthur’s hand shot out and she smacked into it. He pointed. A man was coming out of her front door. 

He was dressed in a business suit. His black hair cut short to his head, and a cell phone was pressed to his ear. “Yeah… Oh, someone was in here alright. I think it was the housewife. Most of the first floor has been cleaned up… No, no sign of her yet…” There was a chuckle, followed by, “Please, if the alchemist were here, would I have been able to walk right in the house? No. It’s her, and she’s unguarded, I’m sure of it. I’m going to do a sweep of the property. There’s no way she would have left the lights on if she’d left. She’s here, and I’m going to find her.” The man was silent for a long time after that. “Yes, sir. Very well, sir. No, I understand, Sir. Right away.” The man hung up the call. He dialed another number and waited for the new party to pick up. “I want eyes on the housewife’s house NOW! The bitch’s car is down here, so I know she’s here! I have other matters that need attending to, but I want this woman found, do you hear me? Found!” He crossed the yard and got into his own car. Margery felt the panic rising again and for a while, she was afraid the man wasn’t going to leave until his back-up arrived. Then, finally, after what seemed like years, his engine turned over and he pulled away from the curb. 

Arthur held up a hand for a long moment before saying, “You have your keys, right?” Margery held them up.

*****

Arthur drove. He’d taken her keys, and Margery was far too shaken to put up much of a fight. She didn’t even know where they were going since she hadn’t told him where Ophelia lives and he hadn’t bothered to share with her his destination. She had his bookbag on her lap, the duffle was in the back seat. She was hugging the bag against her chest and hadn’t gotten her thoughts together enough to ask a single question for a solid ten minutes. Arthur kept shooting sideways glances at her. Whatever they had drunk must have run its course, because most of his possessions had returned to their original color, and his skin was fading out to a light plum hue. “Are you alright? I’m sure you must have questions.”

Margery’s voice was distant, and her forward-focused stare was unyielding, “What did you say your line of work was again?”

He sighed, “I suppose it’s sort of out of the bag now. I’m – well, I’m an alchemist.”

She frowned at the road ahead of them, “Like – a holistic medicine man, or something?”

Arthur bristled, “In the crudest sense, sort of. I do use herds and such, but the useless dribble these ‘medicine men’ produce should be criminal. My potions actually work.”

That got her attention, and Margery arched a sculpted brow as she turned to face him, “Potions? Like – from video games?”

That seemed to make him bristle even more, “More like from history. Look, it’s going to take a lot of work to explain all this. It’ll be easier just to show you when we arrive.”

“Arrive where, exactly?” She asked, sinking down lower in her chair.

“At a friend of mines- Gerald.”

“Oh, and is he an alchemist too?” She asked with a hint of scorn.

“Actually,” Arthur hesitated, “He’s a wizard.”

“Of course he is,” Margery said, frowning again. “So are these all code names for your drug syndicate or something? Alchemist, is that like the ‘cook’ in the meth business? I watch TV, I know the terms.”

Arthur hissed through his nostrils and Margery was suddenly reminded of Dennis, “I told you! I’m not a drug dealer. I make – medicine, in short. Those people back there, they – they’re bad news. I stumbled upon something some several years ago, and they found out about it. They’ve been chasing me for a long time. I thought – I thought if I went domestic, and stayed away from my usual signature haunts that they’d have a harder time finding me but,” he trailed off, “This time was even faster.”

She studied the severe lines on his face as he processed the thoughts he hadn’t bothered to share. “How long have you been on the run?”

“A long time,” He said again, vaguely.

“What did you find that they want?” She asked.

“Something powerful. You’re asking all the questions I can’t answer. You don’t have to go into work tomorrow, do you? It’s the weekend, so your boss will be covering the store?” He asked.

“Yes. Why?” She asked. 

“Because we have another hour of drive time ahead of us, and I don’t know if you’ll be able to return to that town. Can you call Ophelia and have her meet us in Cravalho? Tell her to get to the town and call you from the first gas station she sees, then we’ll figure out where to meet. Tell her anything you want to get her there. Tell her the truth if you want. Just don’t,” He shot her a sideways glance to make sure she was listening, “Listen, don’t tell her about the twilight potion, okay? There will be time for that later.”

“The twil-?”

“The thing that turned us gray.” He picked up Margery’s cell phone from the mount on the car’s dash, “Call her now. It won’t be long before those guys realize she is the closest link to catching you. They have already figured out that you’re a link to getting to me, and they’ll do anything to get to me. And – tell her to bring Herman. Gerald loves cats, and Herman will fit right in.”

Margery took the cell phone, and when she unlocked her screen there was a missed call from her neighbor, Cindy Moore, coupled with a voicemail. When Margery saw the time stamp, her heart fell. It was from two minutes ago. She touched the voicemail notification and when the robotic voice asked for her password through the car’s speakers, Margery plugged it in. After the robot lady informed Margery of her new message, the car was filled with the small, watery voice of a frightened teenage girl, “Hey Mrs. T, it’s Penny from next door. I – I need to tell you something. I – I should have told you before, but – I didn’t think anyone would listen to me – but I -” The girl’s voice sucked in a breath, “That day when your house was robbed, I – I saw something that I wanted to forget, something that I told myself I hadn’t seen. I didn’t want to tell the cops because – well,” The girl trailed off again, and in a muffled voice suggesting she had covered the receiver whispered, “Come on, Penny, you can do this,” Her voice came back louder and clearer now, “The thing is, Mrs. T that this thing came back again tonight, and this time I know, I know that my mind wasn’t playing tricks- I know you’re probably not going to believe me, but – I saw your car at your house today. I also saw the man in the suit enter your home. He looked like one of the thieves, so I tried to call you and warn you – I think that must have scared him off because I watched him leave right after the phone rang. I never saw you, but I did see your car drive away after the man was gone. I hope that was you, Mrs. T., I hope you’re safe. The creature came after you were gone. Four of those black vehicles showed up at your house. More men in suits got out, more even then that day, but there were also these – things with them,” Margery shot a look at Arthur that he exchanged only for a moment, “They were wrong Mrs. T. It looked like – I was upstairs in my bedroom, but from there, it looked like – these things walked on their hands. Their necks were – too long, too- bendy. They curled up from the shoulders underneath and were able to look up and pivot around at all the men in the yard. Their legs were up in the air, their feet hanging at an uncomfortable angle over their heads. This part may have been my imagination, but, everything outside seemed to grow a bit darker when they got out of the car, and I was having a harder time seeing them. They stayed for a long time Mrs. T. Maybe 15 minutes or so before one of the creatures shrieked and… and… he killed one of the men in the suits. I don’t know how he did it. There was a sound that I – I felt more than heard, and the next thing I saw was one of the men in suits with his head spun backward, dropping to his knees and falling flat. The creature swung its neck and spoke to one of the men in the suits. I couldn’t hear their words, just their voices, and the dead man was dragged away and stuck in the back of an SUV. I don’t know what this means, Mrs. T. I don’t know how to tell anyone what I saw. I just – I hope you’re alright. Please be alright. The creatures are all gone now, but if they came back once, they might do it again. If you get this Mrs. T, then don’t come home again. Please. Don’t come home again.”

A woman’s voice filled the car next, “End of Message. To delete this message press seven, to save it in the archives press nine, to hear more options, press zero.”

The phone gave a low boop as Margery ended the call.

*****

If you enjoyed this story intro, and you’d like to know what happens next, then please say so in the comments below! If commenting on, and following blogs isn’t your thing, then feel free to follow me on Twitter for regular updates @ChoiceWords2 – more social media accounts will be made as I start to figure this internet thing out, so stay tuned!

Writing Prompts Used:

These are again from Bryn Donovan’s 5000 Writing Prompts book on Amazon
**Note: Each prompt was chosen using a random number generator

150 General Fiction Prompts
46. A divorcing woman whose husband is moving out of the house needs a roommate, fast – and finds one who’s very different from her.

100 Prompts Based On Occupation
60. Perfume designer

Weight Loss

I have a confession to make. I started a trendy diet. I know, I know, your first thoughts are probably, “She conformed to societal pressures through body shaming! Tragedy is thy name!” I assume this is your first thought because this is exactly what my first thought used to be whenever someone started a new food fad. However, after a few recent events, some serious soul searching, and a substantial amount of self-help books, my entire view of weight loss has completely changed. Allow me to give a little background information on my life.

My mother was adopted. This means that she and I have no medical history to share between the two of us- nothing, nada, zip. “But, Ashley,” you might say, as my doctors before you have, “Surely you have half your medical history. What about your father’s side?” To you, I will say what I’ve reiterated to my doctors time and again, “Yes, you’re probably right. When I hear from him next, I’ll be sure to ask about that, right after I find out what was so much better than watching his daughter grow up into a semi-functioning adult.” I know, “ouch.” You can say it again if it makes you feel better, but hey, at least I can have a sense of humor about it. In his defense, he does come out of the woodwork to text, call, or facebook message once or twice a year. In these calls, he will usually spend a good two to five hours lamenting me with his present woes. Funny how, in these annual conversations, I never seem to remember to add, “Oh yeah, by the way, all your dead and dying relatives, what ailments did and do they have? Is there anything that I should be concerned about, genetically speaking?” Somehow I think the answer would end up being a bewildered, “I don’t know!”

Failed genetic record-keeping aside, one of these significant life events was a $200 genetic test kit that also assessed our health. Myself, my mother, brother, and yes, even the estranged father (after I gifted him the kit for father’s day) took this test. There was nothing too surprising, and I was told a lot of things I already knew, such as the fact that I’m 100% pure white person (which my sugar-free almond milk latte could have told you already), with the most substantial majority of that being British and Irish (redhead, duh). There is, contrary to my father’s insistence, no percentage of Native American anywhere in me (which I already knew thanks to my ivory complexion). I also had little to no genetic tendencies towards any unsavory degenerative diseases or recessive this-and-that’s which could be passed to all the offspring I’ll never have, which was a bit of a relief (though, since I’ve already decided I will be living forever, I was unsurprised by this as well).

It was my mom who got the breakthrough in the form of a second cousin on her mother’s side of the family. I think I was the one to start up a dialogue with this cousin, and using the information my mother and I provided her, she clicked us into her family tree. This girl, I kid you not – her family tree went all the way back to the 1400’s! The mother stinking 1400’s people! Do you know how excited we were to have this information! Granted, we didn’t know what to do with it, and technically we still don’t know what to do with it, since it was just a bunch of names, birth dates, and death date- a lot of death dates. That was when I figured it out – everyone on my mother’s side of the family, including the only sibling of her’s we could find a record of, all died in their 50’s and their 60’s, with one grandmother who had married into the line dying in her 70’s. Guys, my mother is in her 50’s!

This information was upsetting, but not particularly core-shaking nor life-altering. The real heavy blow came some few days later when my mother went to her general practitioner for some antibiotics when her bronchitis had started back up again. They were getting through the initial check-in and taking her vitals when the nurse frowned. They’d been taking my mom’s blood pressure and the nurse, sounding a little hesitant, declared they were going to try that again. She tried it a third time and then excused herself from the room. She came back in with a second nurse, and they brought between them a large machine and declared they were going to try again. They took my mom’s blood pressure five total times before announcing that they were admitting her to the ER. My mother’s blood pressure was 221 / 122. If you Google a chart of blood pressure ranges they all end at 190 / 120. My mother was in the stroke zone with no knowledge of her situation nor any perceived symptoms. My entire reality had been shaken to its very core. In that one day, I went from seeing my mother as an indestructible female version of He-Man, to someone mortal who won’t be around to scold me one day, and whom I won’t be able to torment endlessly with my superior wit. I realized that one day, and one day soon if she didn’t tear down and restructure her entire way of living, my mother would be gone, and with her, my sense of security, my place of fall-back if adulting becomes too much for me to bear. This was quite a shift in perception for me.

I was frantic, texting my mom every fifteen minutes for updates, calling my grandmother who had been calling the doctor’s directly, and getting whatever updates they’d been willing to give her after my mom had permitted them to speak to her. My mom called me about five hours later from the BlueTooth in her car to say they’d discharged her and she was heading home. We talked a bit about what the doctor had said and what they had done before my mom announced that she was next up in line. “In line where?” I had asked. She was at Starbucks! I shrieked at her to get out of the line! She was genuinely confused as to what she had done wrong. “What in the seven hells do you think caffeine is going to do to your blood pressure, Mom?” I demanded of the receiver (Side Note: I am so glad that my mother hates reading and will therefore never read this post).

Needless to say, nothing has changed. My mom takes her blood pressure pills, but most of her life has stayed the same. She skips a few extra mochas here and there and pretends she’s doing something beneficial for herself. She goes to the gym three days a week (though with the number of times she and her personal trainer cancel on each other, it balances out to once a week) and my mom is considering signing up for an individual meal service, but I know that she’ll finish those meals and then go see what other junk food is lurking around the house. These events, these facts, these hard checks on reality have done nothing to instill a sense of seriousness in her. Life is a never-ending joke and has never been anything for my mother to take seriously.

I have spent my life coming to terms with the fact that my relationship with my mother, though playful and sisterly, has been extremely codependent. It’s been a 12-year road to realizing that I can never hope to convince her to change any of her self-destructive behaviors. However, this acceptance doesn’t have to mean I can’t do anything to regain some sense of control over life’s events. Between the family tree and my mother’s medical situation, I realized that there was something to be gained, and there were actions that could be taken to save a life, to save my life. See, if I am going to achieve my life-long goal of immortality (not amortal, immortal, mind you), then I had better start by getting my own eating habits and weight under control. I am 5’ 4” barely, and at my last heaviest weight I had been 223 pounds. I didn’t actually weigh myself before I started the diet, and therefore, I could have been worse than I realized. I was a size XXL with a 48 DDD bra, and I hated shopping for clothing items of any kind. Today, I still hate shopping for clothes, because I’m broke and clothes are expensive, and shopping is stupid. That said, a mere four months after my mother’s health crisis, I’m 181.4 pounds, a size medium and a 43 D bra (which is actually too big for me now that I think about it, but I do not want to buy another one yet).

What was my secret to losing all that weight? Well, I just gave it to you. The diet that I’m on isn’t the point. The food that I choose or the supplements that I take also don’t matter. What mattered was my “Why.” What mattered was the motivation behind finding a diet that worked for me and then making that choice day, after day, after day, to stick with it. What mattered were the days when I would wake up, consider eating something that I knew would set me back, and then reach for that feeling of determination and chose to start all over again from a stance of resolution. People always say that we can do anything that we put our minds to, but that saying is meaningless if we don’t have a strong enough, “why.” If you want to make a change in your life, whether it’s your diet, your weight, or a goal for your career, then you need to know exactly what it is that you’re working towards and you need to make sure you genuinely want it. Find a way to let go of the excuses that are holding you back, and make your “why” as specific as you possibly can and as achievable as you possibly can so that you don’t sabotage yourself before you even get started.

I know a lot of this is “easier said than done,” but believe it or not, there is a lot of outstanding help out there. For those of us unable to afford a counselor or a personal trainer or a dietitian, there are self-help books, podcasts, motivational YouTuber’s, audiobooks, bloggers, and so much more! There are whole communities of men and women out there ready to support you and become your cheer squad. You need to understand that you are worth more than the life you were given at birth, whether it was a good one or a bad one, and that there are people out there who are excited to help you grow into the dreams you were born to make happen.

I won’t list the things that have helped me here, today, in this post, for fear that it will be perceived as an advertisement and therefore diminish the impact of my words. If you want some suggestions on where to start your personal growth journey, or where to turn to get over life’s next hurdle, feel free to leave me a comment below with a description of the personal goal that you’ve been struggling to overcome. I’m not going to pretend to have any level of expertise, but I do generally have a book, podcast, or another auditory medium I can recommend for just about any topic. I hope we can grow together as a community, and maybe, just maybe, we can build up our own little cheer squad here on this site to boost each other up on those rough days when we just want that dang frosted cookie. If anyone has a success story they’d like to share, I would also like to invite you to share with us in the comments.

I look forward to hearing from you all, and I hope that your comments will inspire my next personal insight. Until then, take care of yourself, and make sure to drink your water today!