Lady Bertram to Fanny

Yesterday, I found myself explaining to an incredulous teenager why I chose to get a P/T job.  I must have something to keep me sane.  I was so BORED.  House to empty and quiet, no one to talk to but the cats.  I picked up crochet again, to a pretty insane level.  And I watched a TON of TV and Netflix.  And I slept too much.  And it was boring and depressing.  I wanted a job in books, still do.  But while I was waiting around for responses from publishers and internships, I was going crazy.

And applying for P/T work felt like giving up.  Getting a retail job is not what I wanted at all.

But I spent 6 months not contributing to my own life.  Not needed.  Not wanted.  And now I am useful and helpful.  I have coworkers who are already addicted to my food.  Everyday, I get to help people.  I get to color-code fabric, put buttons on the correct hooks, and in general feed my OCD-ish need to keep stuff tidy.  It is enough for now.  I still have time for my hobbies.  And the commute is getting me through a ton of audio books.

So, teenagers, be advised.  Your dream might be to have a permanent summer, no school, no job, no responsibilities. But I’ve done it and it gets old.

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Regency Heroes 5

Miss Abigail Simpson was by all accounts a prodigious beauty.  She had a fine figure, bright eyes, and a voice frequently compared to all manner of musical instruments.  In fact, she would have been the most desired lady in the neighborhood but for the fact that she was ever so poor.  Daughter of a gentleman who had squandered the fortune on gifted fighting rings, she was only fortunate that her mother’s sister was not so stupid in her choice of husband and therefore had the funds to take in the poor orphan girl when her father met his rather unfortunate end.  The aunt, Mrs. Rockworth, had been exceedingly fond of her sister, and quite desirous of having a daughter, especially after bearing four sons, so the arrangement was suitable on all sides.  Miss Abigail was still poor, there being very little to bequeath her after the rightful heirs, but she had the benefit of a fine education, good breeding, and the influence of high society to recommend her.  For most of the year, she lived with her aunt, uncle, and cousins in a modest manor less than a mile from the Forster estate.  She was brought to the neighborhood shortly after the unfortunate death of Lady Forster and was of an age with Miss Elinor.  The two naturally became intimate friends and confidants.

“My dearest Elinor, can you forgive me?  I would have come as soon as I heard, but it was not in my power.”  The two girls embraced in the breakfast room the very morning she returned from her annual holiday in Bath (for her health).  Her affection was such that she had not even been home, having insisted that she be left at the Forsters, dirty petticoats be damned.  Her vanity was not so high as to forestall immediate condolences just to change from riding clothes and tidy her hair.  “I was still so ill when the word came and Auntie refused to depart until she was assured of my blooming health.”

“She was correct in detaining you, for you look quite the picture, even if you are dirty and unkempt.”  Abigail feigned insult remarkably, and then confessed to a desperate hunger for something besides inn food and hard biscuits, to which her hostess quickly obliged her with breakfast tea.

“You cannot imagine my torment.  Every day spent at the beaches, with only my toes to dip in the waves and then the evenings spent at balls and parties and dinners until I could not dance a wheel or even tell what card game I was playing.”

“Yes, sounds excruciating,” said Elinor with a small laugh.

“You laugh, but I do not in any way exaggerate.  I was simply exhausted by the frivolity.  How could these people dance and gossip and eat when my dearest friend in the world was suffering?  It was intolerable for my nerves and I daresay it delayed my return a whole fortnight.”  Despite her famished state, Abigail ate the tea biscuits and cakes with remarkable delicacy considering how quickly they disappeared from her plate.  Elinor had to order another tray rather sooner than she had expected.  “But be honest, my love,” she continued between bites, “how do you fair?”

To her credit, Elinor took her time in replying.  The first month after Sir Christopher’s tragedy, she had automatically responded to solicitations that she was fine.  It was sad, to be sure, but one cannot expect strong feelings from the seventeen-year-old near-widow of a man of five and forty.  And strong feelings were so dreadfully embarrassing for everyone.  She was still young, plenty of prospects, and should not fret that no more offers will come her way.  Certainly no reason for emotional outbursts.

“I am better,” she ventured at last, allowing her artificial cheer to dissipate.  It was a profound relief to drop the pretense.  “I won’t deny that it pained me a great deal.  I did not think I would ever recover from the disappointment.”

“Well, losing a fortune and a title is a decidedly large disappointment,” Abigail said archly over her tea.

“Do not deliberately misunderstand me, you wicked girl,” exclaimed Elinor, reviving somewhat from her melancholy, which had become a near constant companion to her in recent weeks.  “I cared little for either except that it meant my future security.  And if he had been a disagreeable man, I shan’t have cared what he was worth, as you well know.”

Leisurely sipping her tea, the guest nodded her acknowledgement of the truth and awaited further enlightenment.  Elinor’s gaze dropped to her folded hands.  “He, he was a very good, very kind man.  He offered me what was most dear to my heart: a place in his family with no, no expectations.  Do you know he was the only man of my acquaintance besides my father with whom I felt totally safe?  He didn’t, I mean, I never felt his eyes on me.  He never wanted,” she trailed off, words failing as she tried to express that which she barely understood.  Abigail shifted to sit next to her and grasped her hands.

“I know precisely what you mean.  There I was, sickly and weak, obliged to attend gathering after gathering.  And you know, I could not say a word to a gentleman without ten ladies insinuating that we were courting.  To be expected to flirt with every dance though I had barely the strength to concentrate on my steps!  I swear, every time my hand brushed with my partner’s, even by accident, it was a proclamation that I was interested in his advances.  And some were, quite frankly, abhorrently forward in their remarks, especially if they learned how destitute I was.  Patronage is not so formidable a protection as genuine privilege.”  They sat in silence a moment, listening to the racket of busy birds outside the sill and the clanging of pots just audible from the kitchen.  “My cousin Edmund proposed just before I left,” Abigail confessed with a sigh.

“Edmund?  But he is not yet twenty!”

“Yes.  I refused, of course.  He has no profession to support himself, nor any idea of getting one, though his inheritance will be a pittance.  Has no mind for practicalities.  And his mother would kill me.  I was not brought into her home as a future wife, whatever her affection for my mother.  Besides, he is abominably short,” she chuckled.  “But were he the richest and finest looking of my cousins, his manners would speak so thoroughly against him in any case.  He imagined that he did me a favor, that I was certainly pretty enough to be a good wife, and that my filial love would grow to a more substantial attachment over time.  Also, he had hopes I might pass my affliction on to a son that we might gain preferment on the coast.”

“Thinking well ahead of himself, I see.”

“All this he dared say while odiously gripping my hand and staring deep into my eyes as though he were most seriously afflicted with love.  It was most unsettling.”  There is a loud noise from the second story and then the galloping steps of a young girl fleeing the schoolroom.  Nanny would not be pleased.

“It isn’t just the loss of situation that hurts, Abigail,” Elinor said suddenly.  “The idea of a safe home, a marriage without…obligations, these were the chief tempters at the beginning, of course.  But I confess to a fondness for him stronger than I have felt for any man, young though I am.  I cannot guess if that might one day have burgeoned into love.”  Her voice breaks gently and she must pause to repair it.  “When I heard the news, when it first became real to me, there was a hollow comprehension that I would never know if I could love him.  It was nearly a week before that hollowness eased enough that I could cry, and all the while my well-wishers consoled me that I was too young to feel the hurt.  How unfeeling they thought me, to stand on the banks of the river as he was sent downstream and assume that my heart couldn’t break for an old man who was so very, very kind to me!”

It was some moments before Elinor regained her composure, yet Abigail felt no urge to reprove her for losing it.  She rocked her friend and patted her curls, humming a soft melody until her breathing came easier and her trembling subsided.  Feelings relieved, Elinor felt more herself than she had since the tragedy and Abigail felt all the gratitude of being needed after months of feelings quite the contrary.The tea things were taken away at this point and Elinor, rather wetly, offered to walk her guest home, as she was clearly fatigued from her trip (requesting the carriage was out of the question unless they were to explain the guest’s travel-worn attire and the hostess’ blotchy complexion).  They strolled along the path amiably, arms entwined to support each other.

After a time Abigail spoke, “So what think you of the new Lord Riverton?”  This was said casually enough that her friend was immediately suspicious.  In truth, she had heard a great many things from acquaintances in Bath and was eager for more reliable gossip.

“I think nothing of him,” was the high reply.  “I saw him only at the service, where he performed his duty succinctly and left with nary a word to anyone and only a bow to the Riverton orphans whom he had supplanted.”

Abigail detected her eagerness to dislike this stranger.  “I cannot believe that.”

“As if I would lie about something so serious?  I tell you, it was the scandal in the village, where not days before he had been quite generously received.  All the young ladies were in a swoon over him before ever he descended his coach.”  Abigail smiled at this reference to ‘young ladies,’ many of whom were probably older than they.  Elinor was such an old soul sometimes, making even her elders seem bratty children in comparison.

“And after?”

“We were staying with Lady Mary’s cousins in the village, so it was difficult not to hear all about it.  At first, it was assumed that arrangements kept him secluded.  I was in regular correspondence with Mrs. Hempstock, Sir Christopher’s sister, at this time.  Along with her regular updates as to the health of the elder girls, who were still very ill, she told me how very disagreeable he was.  Standoffish to everyone, but the girls.  For them it was naught but kindest felicitations.  And then performing his duty to the barest minimum and retreating as though under attack, it was quite a disappointment to many fathers of eligible daughters.”

“I cannot tell if you are serious, dearest.  Your tone is so snide as to be unfeminine!”  Both ladies laughed at this and Abigail was relieved to see a genuine smile on her friend’s face.  “Do you mean to say he was agreeable in all but temperament?”

“Wealthy, titled, and single is all anyone heard before they started adding ribbons to bonnets and discussing courting strategy,” she replied contemptuously.

“What of his looks?”

“I did not notice them except that he was dark-haired and slender.  As to his age, I believe him five and twenty, no more.  Further inquiry will have to wait until the Solstice ball, for that is the next I expect to see him.”

“As you have decided so thoroughly against him, I suppose I shall make a try of him.”  She straightened her bonnet in mock determination, eliciting another torrent of giggles.  “Nay, I will not fix upon him the ignominy of a disagreeable temperament based on his behavior during such a difficult time.  His care toward the daughters certainly speaks well of him, even if his ceremonial actions were perfunctory.  I cannot imagine the stress of suddenly taking on the charge of a river when one hadn’t the slightest idea of inheriting a creek.”

Agreeing to the rightness of this supposition, the girls continued on the path, chatting aimlessly as they were wont to do before illness and grief had struck them.  Presently, they arrived at the gate for the Rockworth garden and parted, both the better in mood and health for having seen the other.  It is not to be underestimated how potent are the healing powers of having a friend with seemingly worse troubles than one’s own.

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Battle Hymn of the Republic

So this week, we are all offended by the Confederate Flag.  Either we are offended because it is still flying or because someone wants to take it down.

I’m going to be honest.  I’m glad to see it come down from government buildings, for reasons I will explain later.  First, the sides.

On the one side are people who claim it is racist and on the other are those who claim it is history.  Both are correct.

The flag we recognize as the Confederate flag was never an official flag of the CSA.  It was a battle flag for the Army of N. Virginia under Gen Lee.  There were many like it, but it isn’t the national flag of the South.

The resurgence of the flag in the 1950s was due in large part to the growing race tensions and the Civil Rights movement.  Some people felt that desegregation was a bad idea and they used the flag as a symbol to rally around.

Racist hate groups use the flag as their symbol.  Pretty sure we all know that.

Lots of not racist people own Confederate flags or paraphernalia.  You see, while the resurrection of the flag may have come from racism, or at least a desire to maintain the status quo, symbols have the ability to change meaning.  It’s what they do.  So 60 years ago, a symbol represented a proud southern culture that still considered blacks as lesser human beings.  Now, after three generations (at least) have been brought up to understand that the war was about more than any one issue, the symbol has evolved for many so be a memorial for thousands of dead soldiers and a devastating conflict between the state and federal governments, as well as a clear expression of the rich and often separate culture of the South.

Symbols have no set meaning.  Both sides are right.

But I still want the flags down from government buildings.

A lot of people are using the Nazi flag as a comparable symbol here, but I find they aren’t a good fit.  The National Socialist Party of Germany was the elected government.  They decided to conquer the ENTIRE WORLD and wipe out all inferior races and people.  If you want to talk about the subjectivity of symbols, look up what the swastika means to Buddhists and Hindus.  The Nazi flag and Nazi paraphernalia is illegal in Germany, because Nazi=genocide and I’m sure that is embarrassing.  Some people see that and say we should do the same, but even 70 years later, I still hesitate to take my civil liberty cues from Germany.


I mean, we are Americans, right?  (U.S.A!  U.S.A)  We are WINNERS.  We are OBSESSED with winning.  Think I’m exaggerating?  How many people do you know who were hard-core women’s soccer fans before last week’s World Cup match against Japan?  How many did you know who followed any women’s sports?  How many even considered soccer a sport?

We are so obsessed with winning that it took decades for us to forgive the Vietnam vets for losing (as I loosely interpret the utter neglect of those veterans), or to even acknowledge that Vietnam was a “war” and that it was “lost.”

We are so obsessed with winning that there are big suits in DC wanting to send my friends back into Iraq to win someone else’s war.  [Yes, ISIS is bad bad juju, but people have to fight for themselves and if they won’t, sending more of my friends there isn’t going to change that.  We have become the freaking Helicopter Parents of the Middle East.]   Apparently if we don’t send more troops in, “we” are going to lose this war.  He may have been using the Royal We, but it sounded a lot like the American We.

Too political for you, yeah me too.  How about more sports analogies?  Do you know someone who is a fan of a crappy sports team?  The Cubs or the Raiders or whatever?  Do you congratulate them on their steadfast loyalty?  Or do you tease them relentlessly for being willing associates with LOSERS?  I’ve seen a lot of memes featuring sports flags that have been deemed “offensive” and should be taken down.  To my reasoning, the Confederate flag has much more to do with the Cowboys flag than it has with the Nazi flag.

I see no reason to censor the Confederate flag, which is exactly what making it illegal does.  We cannot change our history by deleting the unsavory bits and we can’t fix our future be focusing on the symbols rather than the problems.  Let’s never forget the horrible people we came from (North and South alike).  Otherwise, we’re going to start changing stuff to make it more correct to modern thinking.  Ban books with the n-word despite it being in common usage for a huge hunk of our history.  Redefine slavery as “unpaid apprenticeships.”  Reduce the CSA to a bunch of evil racists instead of thousands of people fighting for their rights and their way of life.  Ignore the complete neglect of the former slaves by the sainted US government during Reconstruction.


You try reading the Slave Narratives and not get pissed.

So by all means, show your Southern pride.  Knit it into doggie sweaters and fly it over your gun rack.  Drape it like a cape over your KKK dress for all I care.  It’s only offensive if I let it offend me.  And I realize that it does offend a lot of people because it is draped about the shoulders of KKK members and it is the rally mark for hate and senseless violence.  But outlawing the flag doesn’t fix any of that.  Just makes those people martyrs.

By all means, though stop displaying rival government flags at our government buildings.  The only flags that should be flown there are those which show that government’s loyalties.  Unless we want to start putting up the Union Jack in DC.  Or the French flag in Louisiana.  Or the Mexican flag at the Alamo.

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15AM00000082011 · 08:24

Regency Heroes 4

It is not to be wondered at that over the next twelvemonth, Lord Riverton and Miss Forster became exceedingly fond of each other. Elinor was often reckoned to be one of the prettiest girls in the county, was highly accomplished in music, art, and archery, and possessed a very fine talent for discourse. All this combined with a very sweet disposition and a generous heart made her quite the object for love, despite her lack of gifts . And while Lord Riverton was very senior to her, he had none of the graveness or solemnity of other gentlemen even ten years his junior. He was merry without being silly, witty without being cruel, and passionate without being a frivolous romantic. He was decidedly handsome in a way that no foppish youth could ever aspire to, all dignity and poise, but with laughing sea-green eyes. With only a few meetings the couple found themselves quite inclined to like each other. After six months, Elinor was resolved that if she couldn’t love him as a man (she did try, though her heart told her was impossible), she could certainly esteem his as a dear friend and so could look on their future with unreserved satisfaction.

“Dearest, Lily, why must you always run to your tree when you should be at your lessons? Miss Jane is worried sick she will be dismissed on your account,” Elinor called up into the branches, a laugh in her voice.

“I would not for all the world wish Miss Jane to be dismissed before she finishes my instruction in Greek. It would be like unto a tragedy by Aristophanes,” Lily replied in the affected the high oval tones of her poor governess.

“Aristophanes, as you well know, wrote comedies. You will never be equal to me in your wit if you do not attend to your studies. But I suppose if you are determined to commune with nature to attain your learning, then I shall take my letter and read it alone, for you shan’t comprehend any of it.” Elinor had taken barely three steps before the loud report of bare feet hitting the dirt announced Lily’s return to earth.

“Is it from Christopher, um, Lord Riverton?”

“Do I have your promise to finish your work and apologize to Miss Jane for your negligence?” There is a heavy sigh and sullen assent, but it is enough for the elder sister to excitedly open the letter and read the contents from atop one of the many great tree roots that seemed to grow just for the purpose of saving Elinor’s petticoats from sitting long in the dirt. Sir Christopher was especially eloquent in his letters, though he spent little time divulging any deeply felt romantic pains. He often shared humorous stories “from the village,” of which he had such an endless supply that Elinor strongly suspected his being the author of all tales. It was not what most girls of seventeen would expect from a lover, but it was a delightful diversion for Elinor and an excellent inducement for Lily to behave somewhat as she ought. The young miss was not allowed the enjoyment of Sir Christopher’s letters if she was lacking in shoes, for instance, and she frequently had to sacrifice time in the forest to time in the schoolroom. But the entertainment was sufficient to make such pains worth it.

Elinor was at quite a loss as to how Lily’s education could possibly progress once she left the estate and there ceased to be letters to draw her obedience. She was not aware of Nanny’s own exertions on that same subject or she needn’t have worried. Had Lily remained in her perch a half an hour more, it would have been the witch calling her to heel, a situation the girl was becoming more than ever eager to avoid. Yet as the leaves changed, the girl felt driven to the outdoors by some need for activity. She had no focus for history or language because her hands itched to be working at something more than copying down tables or dates. When pressed, Nanny suggested that the land was preparing for winter, storing up what it could save and devouring what couldn’t last. “You, gel, are naught but a chipmunk anxious to be collecting nuts. Won’t ease your spirits none, not till you’re of age to perform the rituals. Best use that energy as you can in your studies and your training.” Nanny would hear neither excuses nor entreaties, only assured Lily that neglecting her education would have the type of dire consequences that need not be voiced to be understood.

The letter left the girls breathless from laughter, featuring as it did the antics of a very ornery and almost entirely deaf grandmother and her equally difficult ass. Dusting off their dresses, they began the short walk from the Lady’s Clearing to the house just as the sky came all over in heavy clouds. Lily’s spirits were unexpectedly oppressed by the change in weather, so much so that she stopped more than once to stare at the purpling sky as though trying to divine its purpose in ruining a good mood so hard-fought for. It was only when fat drops of rain spattered the girl’s freckled face that Elinor managed to drag her into a run for the shelter of the house, where they were met by a post-horse and a messenger soaked through and shivering.

It was a matter of moments between the delivering of a letter to the butler for Lord Forster and his being taken down to the servant’s quarters for dry clothes and a remedy for the cold. Elinor only took notice long enough to ensure he was well-tended, then turned to Lily with prepared orders for dry clothes and hot tea dying quickly on her lips. The girl was almost entirely dry but for her face which was uncommonly pale and wet with tears. When interrogated she only claimed complete ignorance of their cause. “I did not notice them, Elinor. Perhaps it is just the rain, but I feel ever so sad.”

Miss Forster led her sister straight to her room, changed her into a night-dress, drew the curtains, and with all felicity urged her sister to rest herself. Miss Jane was sent for to watch over the girl and then Elinor went in search of her father. Lily did have strange moods at times, but this was no surprise since her mother was of the same disposition. Changes in seasons were the hardest because it seemed to make her much more sensitive to every alteration. Sir John was pacing in his study when Elinor found him. She related Lily’s sudden depression, blamed it handily on the rising storm, and promised to send for Nanny should it turn out to be more than a passing mood. As she turned to leave, her father called for her to sit by the fire.

“I assure you, father, we were not caught much in the rain. My bonnet is already dry and my slippers barely damp.”

“You saw I received a message?”  She answered in the positive and further stated that she assumed some business matter could be the only purpose for such a rushed communication. “Yes, of a sort. I am afraid it concerns you and I would ask that you sit before I tell of it.”  Warily she obeyed. “Lord Riverton sent me letter a few days ago indicating his intentions of a visit here with his son and two elder daughters. He had some idea of doing a ball for the children, a sort of Hallow’s Eve celebration. It was to be a surprise.”

“That sounds quite the diversion Sir Christopher would devise. I shall tease him for keeping secrets. Oh, but I hope this weather has not detained him.”

“It has. He sends word from an inn two days from here to say that the roads were badly washed away causing them to become lost, and his coach overturned at a fording. I’m afraid all parties were badly injured and young Nathan,” his voice caught and he took the seat opposite his daughter, unable any longer to look at her paling face. More brusquely, he said, “Young Nathan suffered a knock to his head and drown before the coachman could fetch him. The girls won’t wake and Christopher, he writes that he is as well as can be, but the apothecary’s note marks him very ill from cold.”

Unwilling to sit still, Miss Forster began an agitated stalk before the blazing fire. “We mustn’t delay,” said she at length.  “A message will have to be sent for Nanny, as no apothecary can answer for this. She will be able to ride ahead if the rain slackens soon. We can take the carriage and retrieve them all here, since it is closest, just as soon as they may be fit for travel. If we leave now, and take all four horses, I’m sure we can be there in time, father.”  All the urgency in her voice and stance did nothing to stir him from his seat. She was only answered by a throaty grumble of thunder.

“Do you ever recall a storm so severe as this?”  She avowed she hadn’t, but that certainly there must have been one. It was far from her first acquaintance with thunder and lightning. “No, listen to it.  The hail dashing to bits, Thor raging with his hammer, all the sky weeping, and that howl like wolves in dead of winter. This storm is not like any you have seen because you were not yet born when the old Lord Riverton died. It is the torrent of the river losing its master. And this is worse yet than that, because the river has no son to follow without Nathan.”

Without any order from her higher faculties, Elinor’s knees gave and sat her on the scorched hearthrug. “You cannot be certain,” she said, surprised at the high pitch of her voice. “Surely there is something,” but she cannot continue, finding her breath trapped in her swelling heart.

“Nanny will be sent, as I still have hope for the girls. But it was important that you understood. I would have you free of any undo delusions.”  He stood to leave, yet made one last attempt to alleviate her disappointment. “You need not fear for his children. He had a sister who should be charged with them.” He did not add that the next Lord Riverton may well be younger and better suited as a match and that at least timing had saved her from being a widow.

Elinor sat for a very long time trying to cry. She certainly felt the weight of grief, an oppression on her chest and an ache behind her eyes. And there was a well of sadness and disappointment. She had at last come to terms with the arrangement, had become resigned to it, and even endeavored to call herself well-pleased by the sham it would have been. Still, stirring inside her was a most treacherous seed of relief. She was free from her obligation without neglecting her duty as a poor, gift-less daughter. Moreover, she was free from the guilt that had been digging away at her in equal proportion with her growing regard for her intended. Understanding struck and she knew the relief was not for her own freedom, but for his. He could not now be shackled to a child for the sake of a friendship, nor have the ignominy of being the sport of his neighbors for entering in what would be seen as a perverted relationship. He would never be assumed a lecher and a cuckold for marrying so young and unloving a partner.

Miss Forster stood and composed herself, then adjourned to her sister’s room, where, in the day made dark by the pounding hail and flashing lightning, she told all of the day’s tragedy. They lay under the covers while Lily wept for Nathan and the girls who might never wake and their siblings orphaned. She cried for Elinor who couldn’t and her father who wouldn’t, and when Henry snuck in, he was welcomed and held until the storm washed the grief away.

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Regency Heroes 3

The position of village witch, while certainly out of fashion in town, was still of some considerable importance in the country, especially in proximity of those estates still ruled by the traditions which gave authority to those with gifts.  When men were first placed above their fellows to act as protectors and custodians of the land, they were chosen based on the strength of their gifts as well as their character and loyalty.  All the great families, therefore, had at their Seat a person of abilities well beyond those of normal men.  As time passed, however, and civil wars gave way to domestic peace, the need for physical prowess became less imperative and most were satisfied that at least the family name still survived in authority.  If the male heir was without gifts, it was a simple matter of finding him an afflicted wife (for in men they are gifts while in women they could be naught but a curse on their delicacy).  And if no suitable wife could be procured, which seemed more and more the case as the powers bled into the working classes, it was no worry at all.  Lords need not fret about defending their lands from Vikings or Romans or Celts as they once were and had no more worry than maintaining the flow of taxes into the estate that might maintain their expected lifestyle.

Many of the great families had abandoned the tradition of the Seat of Power, especially in the cases where a girl was set to take possession as this contradicted the widespread knowledge that women were not suitable vessels for such power.  Male heirs were preferable purely for their strength of mind which made them superior to handling the complexities of managing an estate.  Women, with their delicate nerves and generally inferior make up, were easy targets for disease in mind and body, and could be counted upon to falter under the types of stresses which men dealt with everyday.  It became the fashion for gentle ladies to wear bits of iron jewelry (even when unburdened by any condition affected by iron), to deny and repress their afflictions rather than pretend any equality to men.  This to many displayed their perfect agreement that it does not do for a woman to have pretensions of superiority, as it demonstrates a meanness of spirit and a want of proper femininity.

No one, however, no matter their rank or fortune, would dare make any such arguments to a witch.  Unfashionable though they may be, witches were still regarded with wary respect and held by most to be above the reproach of any person, excepting the Queen herself.  In truth, the only other person held in the same degree of reverence was invariably the blacksmith, who carried no extraordinary ability save the power to work with iron.

It was the witch who was present at every birth of man and beast.  She it was who remembered the rituals and traditions of the land and it was she who presided over those sacred ceremonies which accompany the lives of small persons (clerics and acolytes of the Queen stood over those rites for higher personages as was proper).  Every spring, it was the dual task of the witch and the blacksmith to perform the Iron Trial for all the children come of age.  The iron of the blacksmith would reveal those with gifts, but it was the witch who determined the strength and inclination of those gifts.  She further stood as an expert in remedies and was often counted above apothecaries and doctors in the esteem of the village wife.  And as she was present for every birth, so must she be for every death.

It is not to be supposed that after the unfortunate circumstances of the twins’ birth, that Nanny should find herself unwelcome in the Forster home.  To the contrary, she was a frequent resident from the first day owing to the desperate need Sir John had of her expertise and guidance.  Nursemaids were to be acquired, a governess engaged for Elinor, and all manner of attention for little Henry whom it was feared may not have the strength of life necessary to survive.  Under her tutelage, all was settled amiably and her personal ministrations to Henry were so successful that he was quickly outstripping his sister in his development.  Lord Forster became so accustomed to the convenience of her presence that he insisted on building her a proper cottage on his grounds that she may be ever near should he have need of her.  This being a welcome improvement on her current residence, a small rented room in the village with barely dirt enough for her kitchen herbs, she readily acquiesced to the proposed cottage.  It was only a matter of ensuring that all her requirements were met as would suit her responsibilities, namely room for a sizable garden and goats, a serviceable road to the village for ease of travel, and a sturdy horse for emergencies.

Very early on, it was apparent that the Forster children had a steady regard for Nanny.  Elinor found in her a companion akin to an elder sister, who acted as an adviser and instructor as needed.  Though it came as no surprise, it was to Nanny that Elinor turned with the disappointment of her failing the Iron Trial.  The twins were very much enamored of the wild-haired woman who trounced about the estate in men’s work boots, chasing after loose goats or riding astride her buckskin mare.  Henry was only ever talkative to her, exclaiming over his most recent literary discoveries, while Lily could never be willful while under the scrutiny of the witch’s hazel gaze.

When Lord Forster decided that his children would benefit from his having a new wife, it was from Nanny that he sought recommendations for suitable candidates, and Lady Mary was only approved of after a private interview with the witch.  And when Lord Riverton had sought the hand of Elinor, it was Nanny who was consulted before even his daughter.

“He’s a good fellow, I can tell you based on our lengthy acquaintance.  Never an unjust word, nor any habit I can find to fault him.  His elder brother, I believe, was a bit of a war hero, but John has no violence in his soul.  Very like a water-gifted, you know.  Easy temper, and not so changeable as those charged with greater waterways.  Been nary a flood nor drought since he took the Seat, as far as I can recall.”  Sir John continued in his praise for some time.  The tenants all loved him, the crops all healthy, his estate wealthy and well-tended, and his children well-behaved.  And the gentleman was indeed a few years his senior, but with such a young and jovial countenance, it was Sir John who was most oft deemed the elder.

Nanny stood gazing out of the window of the drawing-room during this exposition, transfixed apparently by the sunset.  She was not one for words and found silence a better instrument when dealing with Sir John.  His ramblings told her he was uncertain of the match, despite its overwhelming material advantage, otherwise she would not have been summoned for an opinion.  When he began to run out praise for the suitor, she turned from the window to observe him.  Lady Mary, who was vastly surprised to be included in this discussion, had sat through the whole his oration in utter silence from her seat by the fire, working diligently at the embroidery on her favorite kerchief.  Of her opinion, there could be no doubt as to its being completely unnecessary, though she could perceive no reason for any hesitancy in her husband’s agreement to the suit.

“You see, Nanny, it is a most desirable match,” said Sir John after a lengthy reprieve from Lord Riverton’s accolades.  The words implied that Nanny had been prepared to argue against him, though the depressed tone gave the lie.  Nanny held her tongue, and soon enough it all burst forth.  “But he has no inclination for more children.  His design, he told me quite plain as his long-time and dearest friend, was to do me this favor of relieving me of a daughter I might otherwise be burdened with.  He sees Elinor as a nice girl of a good family who might act as a glorified governess!  Is this to be borne?  That she may never bear children of her own?  That she must live in a marriage bereft of all the physical attentions due a wife from her husband?”

In despair for a daughter’s deferred motherhood, Sir John collapsed into a chair, startling his young wife into pricking her finger.  “Now, that is silly, John, that a man could marry a woman without intending to, I mean, really!  Whatever his intentions concerning their relations, he certainly can’t think of celibacy, even at his age.”  After this pronouncement, Lady Mary was sufficiently embarrassed by the subject and her own audacity in commenting on it, that she immediately set to undoing a dozen stitches which she was certain had been misplaced and determined not to say a word more until she had finished her work.

“But can I deny this match on such a condition?  I have little enough to give her.  The estate must go to Henry or Lily.  With only a thousand pounds from her mother’s bequest, there is nothing but her name and her good character to lure a husband.  And without gifts, I’m afraid she will find no gentleman willing to take her.”

Nanny took the seat nearest Sir John and waited a moment to compose her response.  She fancied herself better acquainted with the feelings and inclinations of his daughter, having been Elinor’s chief confidant throughout her development.  She alone knew how painfully Lady Forster’s death had imprinted on the girl and how much she dreaded her future marital responsibilities.  “This is a good match, ’tis true,” she said after a time.  “And Lord Riverton is a man known to me by the good word of his tenants.  It’s a good man as can tame a river, big or small, and a good friend who seeks to be the benefactor rather than the possessor of a girl so young.  Can’t say I could approve of a man looking for more children at his time of life.  But one looking for the gentle companionship of a steady gel, like Elinor, who can certainly be a balm on the stresses of life, that’s a man with sense.  I suggest you let me present the offer to Miss Forster.  Then, if she’s amenable, he can try courting to see if they suit each other.”

Sir John was immediately cheered by this announcement and seemed on the verge of rushing into the night to report the good news to Riverton, but he was stayed by Nanny’s cautious hand on his arm.

“I won’t permit no hand-fasting till she’s eighteen, mind.  They need to know each others character before contracting any long-term agreements and she’ll need tutoring on what’s expected in running a household.  His estate’s not so grand as this, so she’ll be expected to have more of a hand in its management, I dare say.”

All this was found to be right and proper and awaited only the consultation with Miss Forster to begin.  One might expect a violent effusion of emotions from a young girl told she is to wed a man near twenty years her senior, but Elinor was never one for violence where quiet contemplation would better serve (excepting when she dealt with Lily, who was anathema to quiet and could make even the most patient, sedate person become violent in mere moments).  The fact that she would be under no obligation to produce an heir, or children at all, readily decided her and she was the only one who saw no rationale to any delay.  There could be little purpose in divining the attractiveness of her intended if the marriage would answer all her desires of avoiding the birthing room.

Her only regret was the inevitable removal of her from her long-time home to a place too far distant for easy visitation from her family.  Wretched as the twins could be, and Lily may well have been determined to be a constant trial on her nerves, they were her family and she could not countenance any great time spent apart from them.  She further worried that without her censure, Henry and especially Lily would be far too indulged by her father and Lady Mary to gain any sort of good understanding or manners.

But she need not worry on that front, because Nanny was newly determined to bring an end to the unruly behaviors so long unchecked by firm authority.  It was already becoming apparent that Lily had inherited her mother’s power and each day made it more urgent that the girl learn self-control, else she was bound to be banded, and Nanny had seen how quickly iron had destroyed Lady Forster’s mind.  The long-term effects could not be estimated and were to be avoided most fervently.  To that end, Nanny set out for the Lady’s Clearing to begin the education of Lily Forster.

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Regency Heroes 2

Henry Forster had the unfortunate condition of being a very large boy with a very gentle temperament.  While his cousins enjoyed sports and hunting, he found contentment in his mother’s vast library and was the favorite of his tutors.  His twin sister, Lily, though she shared much in the way of physical similarities, did not share his love for dusty knowledge.  No amount of cajoling or threats could induce her to remain indoors when she so desperately needed to be outside.  Her father bemoaned her ever being properly educated while her step-mother lamented only that the sun turned her so dreadfully brown.  The new Lady Forster was ever ready to coddle her step-children.  She had heard too many tales of wicked step-mothers to feel any sort of security in her present position and was only too aware that were it not for her handsome fortune she would have little to recommend herself in the ways of intelligence or skill.  So while she had no talent for art or music and was eminently stupid, at least she was kind.

Miss Forster had no great liking for her step-mother, conscious that the woman was barely ten years her senior as well as being dull and silly.  But she endeavored to be civil, if only because Lady Mary doted so genuinely upon the twins and was so humorously discomfited by Elinor’s presence.  It was perhaps cruel that she did nothing to alleviate that discomfort, but at least she was aware of that cruelty and mildly ashamed of it.

The twins, for their part, could not understand the coldness exhibited by their elder sister and loved Lady Mary with all the ardor of small children who have all their wishes acquiesced by someone who should be controlling their behavior.  So it was that Henry was allowed to neglect his physical education while Lily was allowed to wander the grounds without escort and often (to Elinor’s horror) without shoes.

“Lily, I shan’t speak with you like this.  Civilized persons do not converse from trees.”  Lily was in her mother’s tree, which had grown to be a great oak over the last ten years.  Since she could walk, she had been drawn to the clearing and her first clear utterance was concerning its origins.  The bark, though strangely smooth, still bore three scars on the trunk which looked very nearly like the hand prints of a small child and two infants.

“I don’t see why you cannot join me.  If I can get Henry to read outside, surely I can tempt you to greater heights,” she called from among the branches, her bare legs dangling carelessly.  Henry looked abashed and hid behind his ornithology text.  He had never been tempted to the heights of those branches, but he did admit to a certain comfort in reading at its base.

“You know very well how inappropriate it would be for a lady of my standing to behave like such a buffoon.  You continue this way and the whole village will think the faeries exchanged my sister for an ape.”  Both twins blushed at this remark, Henry in embarrassment and Lily with anger.  Elinor immediately regretted the insult.  It was said in temper by the spiteful part of her which knew exactly the best way to cause the most harm.

“Well, if I am the changeling chimp of your real sister, then perhaps I should start acting like it.  Henry, fetch me some manure.  I am certain I have a strong desire to fling it at unsuspecting ladies.”  Henry did his utmost to disappear into the trunk of the tree.

“Oh, Lily!”  A dozen threats skittered through Elinor’s mind.  Why was she given such an unruly sister?  What would happen to the twins without her to give them some semblance of order?  With that thought, her anger dissipated and she was left only with the deep melancholy with which she had set out to find her siblings.  “Lily, please.  I have some news and I would like very much to speak of it with dignity, not scream it into foliage.”  Lily responded with ape-like shrieks and some rude noises, so Elinor placed one slim hand on the tree trunk and asked her mother to dislodge her troublesome sister.  Moments later, Lily found herself unceremoniously tossed to the ground next to her brother.  Henry, seeing the resigned set of Elinor’s shoulders, reverently put down his book and draped a massive arm over Lily’s shoulder to keep her from scurrying off again.  Lily resigned herself to sulking.

Elinor paced from one side of the small clearing to the other.  Now that it had come to it, she couldn’t quite bring herself to blurt out what she had come to say.  She really wished the twins had found some place less personal to seclude themselves.  For all that she didn’t want to tell the twins, she was especially reticent for this news to reach her mother.

You are lucky, dear Elinor.  You are the eldest, yes, but you are not the heir.  I married out of duty.  Fond of your father as I have become, our wedding was the bitterest of days because my heart felt nothing for the stranger I was joined to.  You have no duty to this house but to leave it.  They will tell you to marry well and I urge you to do so by marrying him to whom you may give your heart.  You have no other duty.  To do less would break my heart.

“I’m to be married to Lord Riverton twelve months hence.”  The admission gave her no relief, only adding to the oppression she felt with her father’s announcement.

“But…Nathan is only twelve this year,” said Henry slowly.

“Good God, you can’t mean Old Riverton?” exclaimed Lily with undisguised revulsion.  “Why, he’s older than father!”

Elinor colored at this remark.  “Lord Riverton is a very fine gentleman and father says it is a most desirable match for me.  I have little enough to offer a suitor.”

“But you cannot seriously accept that old man as your husband.  He’ll be dead and buried before an heir is born.”  Elinor was shocked so utterly by this inappropriate statement that all manner of composure was forgotten.

“Fortuitously, as Henry pointed out, there is already an heir to the title.  I, at least, am not only a broodmare to carry on the family affliction!”  The words passed her lips with no input from years of genteel upbringing, or she never would have uttered them.  Lily’s face paled, but instead of lashing out, she shook off her brother’s arm and dashed further into the forest in a flash of copper curls.  There would be no finding her now.  The trees would hide the girl until she chose to come home.  Without the least concern for her skirts, Elinor sat on the grass with a heavy sigh.

“Wish you wouldn’t fight,” Henry moaned into his chest.

“I know.”  Silence but for the chirping of some songbirds and the clicking of insects.  “I’m nearly seventeen, Henry.  This is the only offer I may ever get.  I have no fortune and I have no gifts.”  She hesitated to share her full reasoning with her brother.  It might hurt him, yet she could not leave him with only the impression that she sought only security and fortune in this arrangement.  “Young Nathan has taken the iron testing* and shown great promise, so there is no pressure for me to provide an heir, as I said.  Can you understand the fear this alleviates?  I have lived in terror of the birthing room my whole childhood.  Thrice did I watch my mother suffer through it, each time more painful and more prolonged.  Last of all I watched the iron take her to madness.  I heard my gentle mother, who never raised her voice or spoke a harsh word, ranting and shrieking as I lay in bed in the dark.  And after all the screaming and pain, when it was over, she was a stranger to me, the life drawn out of her into those hated bracelets.”  She wiped her face with a kerchief.  “At least Lord Riverton is kind.”

To this, Henry had no reply.  He had always been in awe of his sister, who had seemed like an adult from his earliest memories.  She had acted as their mother in a way that nursemaids and tutors could not.  While she and Lily were constantly at odds, he had every confidence that Elinor always acted for their betterment.  To see her so resigned, so helpless, so defeated by her circumstance suddenly made him feel much older.

“He does have a nice estate.  A very fine library, I understand,” he ventured at length.  To this she smiled, acknowledging that from him it was high praise indeed.  It was only when she smiled that Elinor took on the visage of her mother, the only one of her children to take after her in looks.  Henry and Lily both took after their father in figure, though only Henry has his blonde hair and brown eyes.  Lily’s eyes are a shocking shade of emerald like her mother’s, an early indicator that she inherited her mother’s power.

“Nanny approves.”

“Next time, I suggest you start with that information.  Lily is always more amenable to Nanny’s opinions.”

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Regency Heroes

It was with mild trepidation that Lady Jonathan Forster entered her confinement.  This was only to be expected, as it was her fourth time since turning twenty and only her seven-year-old daughter Miss Elinor Forster yet lived.  Still, the pregnancy itself had been far easier than the first three to reach term and she had the advantage of the services of the village midwife, a witch universally called Nanny Winston, though she was barely older than Lady Forster herself.  Since taking the position of village witch last spring, the whole county had benefited from her talents, bringing an unprecedented amount of successful births, an ease of common maladies, and far fewer cases of mortal illness.

Nanny’s greatest contribution to birthings was to disabuse the public of many practices that she considered detrimental to the health and safety of both mother and infant.  So rather than being enclosed in a dark room made sweltering by a blazing fire and sealed windows, Lady Forster’s room was filled with sunlight and fresh air.  She was made to bathe every day in hot water, as was her lady’s maid (the only person besides Nanny herself permitted into the room).  In only one circumstance was she in conflict with Lady Forster.

Nanny insists that I need not wear the iron bracelets, not even during the ordeal itself.  She claims that she has borne the process with women of all manner of gifts, yet I cannot imagine any of them had a condition as severe as mine.  I cannot risk my child or the estate on the hope that a woman’s protective instinct will prove stronger than my affliction.

So when Lady Forster entered her confinement, it was the blacksmith who welcomed her with two bands of iron an inch wide and one-quarter of an inch thick, the seams of which were carefully welded together once they encircled the lady’s thin wrists.  She tested their strength and made sure that no amount of contortion could slide them passed her delicate hands.  Nanny looked on with disapproval, but said nothing.  There could be no harm in this tradition except its perpetuating the innate destructive nature of a woman’s power.  Lord Forster was assured that his wife and child were in the best hands and then firmly dismissed from the room.

After a week, Nanny began to note an increasing degree of agitation in her patient.  The lady paced as much as she could, being unwilling or unable to sit still for any of the restful activities Nanny suggested.  No book could hold her attention and embroidery was swiftly abandoned as well.  At night, the lady could find no rest, spending the whole of it shifting about as though the mattress was full of itchy hay.  Nanny also noted that the lady’s hands were in constant contact with the bracelets, spinning and twisting the bands until they left her wrists positively raw.  Nanny would have liked to pack the soft skin with a soothing poultice but the iron was to close to leave room for such a remedy and the lady refused any binding that would cover the iron seeming positively alarmed to have the iron thus bound tight to her arms.

Lady Forster was barely aware of her outward behavior and certainly took no note of Nanny’s concern.  All she knew was that the child must come soon.  From the moment the iron had touched her skin she had felt its effect, drawing her affliction into itself.  The sensation was abhorrent, like the onset of a wasting sickness, though she knew the necessity.  Her condition had been under her control since she was a young child, but it could be brought out by severe physical or emotional duress.  At the age of twelve, she had learned this to her horror when bandits had set upon her family’s carriage in town and her father had been shot.  Very little of the bandits had been recovered for burial and it was only through the intervention of her uncle that she was left unbanded* as the law would normally require for girls with such strong gifts.

However, accepting the necessity of the bracelets made them no less easy to bear.

Each day that passes  takes me further from myself.  I feel cut off from the earth, caged in my own flesh.  I begin to imagine the iron no longer draws my power so much as it invades my temple.  What once was a mere irritations now burns.  I see the hellish glow of the bands when my eyes close and feel the poison seep into my skin.

By the second week, it was clear to Nanny that Lady Forster was not, as she had been made to believe, the secondary strength of the estate.  The lady was the Seat of Power and true heir.  Her husband was heir in name only, a distant cousin chosen for convenience to act as figurehead.  Lady Forster’s uncle, who had been chosen as Seat over his elder brother because he had inherited the family gifts, would have named his niece heir if the law had permitted, but was forced instead to name his cousin John on the condition that he marry his niece.  Lady Forster was a vessel of terrible power and as such bore a greater sensitivity to iron than Nanny had ever witnessed.  Her pacing was an expression of her natural desire to flee the iron as a threat.  While her body was weakened daily by continued contact her mind worked ceaselessly to fight the attack against her.

Nanny wanted very much to insist on the removal of the bands, yet for the first time, she was unsure of herself.  Her gift gave her a natural affinity for the health of her patients.  Before her was a gentlewoman of no small ability and the knowledge of her strength made Nanny nervous.  Though she had often argued that a gifted woman would be incapable of destructive outbursts during labor, seeing Lady Forster’s increasingly agitated state made her wonder.  And no amount of subtle arguments against the bands could make the lady waver on her belief that the bands were all that could keep everyone safe from her power.  After a particularly bad night where the lady had left bloody gouges in her wrists from her unconscious scratching, Nanny made sure to trim her nails short and eventually insisted the lady wear gloves to bed.

Nanny looks grimly on my bracelets.  As if she could possibly comprehend how dangerous I would be without them.  Her hearth skills are nothing but a shadow of what I am.  My body hates the poison upon my wrists, yet my mind knows that without them I could kill them all.  Even my sweet Elinor.  This is no gift, as she calls it.  It is my affliction which I live with as is my duty in the hopes that I may pass it on to a son who may be strong enough to wield it.

Three weeks into her confinement, the flowers in the room died all at once.  This decided Nanny against removing the bracelets.  Here was a clear sign that the lady still had unconscious access to her abilities, which had either been keeping the flowers fresh or had killed them out of spite.  Lady Forster no longer spent all her time pacing, though she still had no concentration for any diversions.  She would lounge on the chaise for hours, staring at nothing with her fingers feverishly spun the bands on her raw wrists.

I have insisted that the windows be closed against the fresh air, which has become a torment to me.  It no longer sings as it once did, sweet melodies at ease with my soul.  The melody is wrong, jarring, grating against me because I am separated from it.  The iron turns sweet music into screams of agony.  When I dream, it is of shrieking children locked in iron cages.  Iron thickens my blood so I cannot move for the lethargy in my veins.  Send for the leechman that he may draw the iron from my heart and serve it to the blacksmith for nails.

In the fourth week, the grounds about the house began to sicken as though fall had come half a year too soon.  Even the sheep, pigs, and horses who resided on the grounds took ill.  Nanny insisted that the house be emptied of all living creatures, even the servants.  This was done with alacrity, the entire household packed off for town while the field hands transported the livestock and domestics to nearby farms for the time being.  Only Lord Forster and his daughter were permitted to remain with Nanny.  When the time came, against all tradition, Lord Forster acted as aid to the midwife while Elinor was instructed to play at the pianoforte which had been moved to the hall directly outside the birthing room.  Lady Forster, whose distress had increased exponentially since the pains had started, begged for the music as the only cure for her nerves.  As soon as Elinor began her exercises, the lady had calmed considerably.

It was only when Nanny began her physical examinations of her patient that she realized how badly she had misjudged the situation.  Lady Forster’s skin was hot and dry, her breathing unsteady, her heart fluttering, and her eyes saw little.  Nanny’s gift to naturally sense and ease the duress of her patients was actively being blocked by the iron.  She was no better than a mundane midwife.  There was a spike of fear at being so robbed of the power she had come to rely upon, but she was a witch.  It is not power the that makes a good witch.  It is strength of will and mind.  It was too late to remove the bands, certainly too late to save Lady Forster, but the child would survive.

It was only a short time from when the pains started that a baby girl was born to only mild disappointment.  Though she was eminently healthy, a boy was always preferred.  Moments later to the astonishment of even the midwife, a rather small spindly boy was born.  It took some minutes of work, but Nanny convinced him to breathe on his own and pronounced him healthy.  As she turned to help Lady Forster finish, it became apparent that the lady would need no further care except to close her eyes.

The blacksmith was the first to be summoned to remove the iron bands.  The rest of the household was quick to return and nursemaids were easily attained from the village.  It was with a somber air that Lady Forster was laid to rest that evening.  The procession followed a well-tended though little used path into the forest, past trees that bore no crude carvings and forest creatures with no fear of man.  Once under the verdant canopy, the air took on the brisk freshness of the first frost.  Faerie lights twinkled on either side of the path, but no one was foolish enough to follow them.  Lord Forster led the procession, marking his steps with a weathered staff of smooth wood, blackened by generations of hands.  Nanny brought up the rear with a basket of protective herbs.

The clearing was only large enough for the grieving family to stand around the edges, so the village stood about under the trees.  The Milky Way was a thick ribbon arching over the little clearing so uncounted stars witnessed Lady Forster’s return to the earth.  In silence, Lord Forster and the blacksmith dug the grave, gently lay the silk-wrapped body in the dark earth, and covered her again.  Lord Forster took Miss Forster’s hand and pressed it to the fresh dirt, then did the same with each of the twins so that each left a definite print mere feet above their mother’s face.  Nanny spread the flowers and herbs from her basket around the grave and without any outward cue the entire procession left.  Before the forest was long empty of the people, a strong sapling had grown up from grave with three knolls on the bark which looked very like the hand prints of three small children.
*When a person was deemed to have abilities too strong to control or has used said abilities to commit a serious crime, the person is banded (given permanent bands of iron which encircle the wrists and ankles).  This procedure was often done on females once their abilities presented because it was believed women were physically incapable of ever gaining control.

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Stop asking me how I’m doing/feeling.  As sincere as you might be in your concern, you don’t really want to know because it’s complicated and depressing and there’s nothing you can do except maybe stop drawing attention to my less-than-ideal situation.  In general, I am fine.  Obviously, I could be better.

Other ways to help:

Answer my texts.

Show up when I invite you over.

If you can’t make it, let me know.

Eat my food.

Also, if you are in need of a movie buddy, I am accepting applications.


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15AM00000062011 · 06:42


There is blood on my carpet. Again.
It’s the cheap, off-white carpet I hated the moment we stepped into this shabby townhouse. Neutral in color to appease house-hunters, but quick to turn dingy and a magnet for stains. The coarse texture is poor relief after fourteen hours of standing behind a desk and dealing with the ceaseless barrage of human indignity.
Night descends when I close the front door, but I don’t wait for my eyes to adjust, trusting memory to get me from the front door up the narrow steps to our tiny bedroom. No reason to turn on the lights and risk waking you at (oh, my) 3:48 am. So I kick off my rubber-soled shoes and tread softly until cold seeps up through my sock. My hand fumbles blindly for the light switch at the bottom of the stairs and there it is. A bloody boot print. There’s another, and another traipsing up the stairs, the distance between prints indicative of you recklessly skipping steps in your hurry to, what? Reach the bathroom first aid kit? Leave as few prints as possible so as not to infuriate me?  You could have at least dropped your boots at the backdoor.
I consider following the trail to its source, perhaps to find an innocent explanation. Like maybe an overturned beet smoothie or a severed finger on the cutting board.  I consider heading to the kitchen for the matches and setting fire to the hated carpet, which you swore would be ripped out the day we moved in. It’s an easy fix, you said. You promised me hardwood and tile, yet all I have to show for it is more bloodstains that never come out no matter how much I scrub or how many times I borrow that carpet-shampooing vacuum from the creepy land lady. I tell our friends that it’s red wine, or I used to when we still had friends. They stopped hanging out when I started drinking red wine to make my lie plausible and you kept ditching early and leaving me to explain, all because of your habit.  It’s job stress, you know.  Or the roller derby league.  I think the last time I swore you were trying out for a water polo team.
I lean against the staircase wall and peel off my crimsoned sock. At least bloodstains on clothing are something I can handle, as well as vomit, feces, and other unmentionable fluids. Ascending the stairs, I strip off my scrubs and try to mellow my anger by focusing on how physically weary I am. Each step sends a sizzle of white heat over my thighs, down my calves, and right into my aching feet. I swear, like I do after every long shift, that I’m going to buy good shoes and get serious insoles for my poor arches. I have a brief fantasy about dancing about the ER on gelled insoles made by a qualified doctor. At the top of the stairs, I limply toss my shirt into the open maw of the washing machine in the laundry closet, feeling only a little remorse for the horrors the My Little Ponies decorating it had to bear witness to. With less finesse, I divest myself of the matching pants and the socks, then turn on the water, add the requisite laundry soap, and drop the lid with a satisfying clang that is echoed by the empty dryer. I no longer care if I wake you. Those who dare to bleed on my floors and don’t even attempt to clean it up are not worthy of that small courtesy.
There is no friendly glow from your phone as it sits on its charger. This is not surprising since you are always forgetting to plug it in. I stalk stiffly to the bathroom to wash off today’s grime. Scrub under my nails, brush my teeth, wash my face, let you stew for a bit since you must know I’m tired and angry, but you can’t be sure which is the stronger motivator. At last, I decide I am calm enough to shame you without yelling or bursting into tears. My shadow from the bathroom light falls on the bed so I can’t really see your face, but your open eyes glint at me.

“This has to stop,” I say, and the sheer exhaustion in my voice is surprising. “We had a deal. I stop my habit, you stop yours. I know it’s important to you, I do. But I’m just tired of having this fight.” Seems like we have it every night. It starts with the carpet. Then it slithers onto unfinished projects, money problems, the failed adoption, and always at the root of it is your dangerous addiction. Broken promises and abandoned dreams.  Everything goes on the back-burner, like your physical training studio you were going to create in the screened-in porch. Four years here and instead we have a half-painted porch with the screens still falling out and crowded with boxes we never unpacked.

I sit down on my side of the bed. “I don’t want to fight. I want to sleep and not dream about everything I saw today.” The school bus accident was the worst. Because of that, I instinctively reach out to hold your hand, illuminated by the bathroom fluorescent light. It is wet and sticky and limp and the smell of blood suddenly clogs my nose. I’m so used to it at the hospital that I completely tuned it out. The little reading lamp on my bedside almost crashes to the floor in my rush to turn it on. Oh no.

The sheets are ruined, cut into strips and wrapped around various injuries on your limbs and torso. I immediately check your vitals, getting a weakened but steady pulse at your carotid artery and shallow, regular breathing. Nurse-mode activated, I examine every inch of you top to bottom, stripping off clothing as gingerly as I can. I leave it where it sticks and use your Kabar to cut away what I can. Your boots prove the most difficult, being heavy construction steel-toes spray-painted black. I know it hurts, but you don’t scream and that scares me more than anything. There’s no pulse at your ankles. Your feet are stone cold.
Somewhere, deep in my stomach is a whine of panic while I rush around turning on lights and getting the serious first aid kit from my car trunk. There is a lot of blood, but most of the bleeding has stopped already. You’re covered in bruises but no bad breaks, not even in your ribs thanks to the body armor I make you wear. Most of the cuts are shallow or at least missed major arteries. I’m unspeakably grateful for all the practice I’ve had stitching you up over the years as it takes mere moments to close the more serious lacerations.  I try not to think about how much more helpful I could be if I hadn’t tapped out my strength on that school bus.

Everything which can be treated by my kit is cleaned and bandaged before I take a full breath again. I kneel by your head and gently touch your shoulder to get your attention. Your dark brown eyes are glazed with agony and your jaw is swollen and crooked, probably dislocated, yet you still try to smile. “Stop that, idiot,” I admonish softly. I cannot, will not cry. “Now, I’ve done all I can.” Dexterous fingers, so practiced at stitches, easily untie your black domino mask and drop it to the carpet. I stroke your hair, ebony black and only a couple of inches long, the tight curls springy against my palm. “I need to call an ambulance. You need x-rays at the very least, probably a CAT scan, maybe even an MRI.” You clearly want to argue. “Can’t argue with a dislocated jaw, hon. Nor can you run off when you can’t move your legs.”  Your eyes widen in panic.  Must not have noticed when you lost feeling down there.  “I don’t know what you got into tonight, but whatever bad guys you fought were clearly above your fighting weight.”

Speed dial quickly gets me connected to the head nurse on duty. “Lola? Yeah, it’s Constance. I need an ambulance. No I’m fine. It’s Sam. I’ve stopped the bleeding, but she’s in bad shape. Dislocated jaw and left shoulder, possible spinal injury, no broken bones that I could find but she could have any number of fractures. Could you send Kali? Tell her to be discrete, no sirens. Thanks. I’ll see you soon.”  Discretion would be key.  I could trust Lola and Kali not to run to the Council liaison about any suspicious injuries.  Plus, it’s a full moon so the rest of the staff should be too busy to notice you.
“Don’t give me that look. You got yourself into this.” Again, I want to say. This is the worst time, yes, but this isn’t the first time you’ve been under my professional care.  “We’ll tell them it was a mugging on your way home. You fought back of course, but there were too many of them and your phone got smashed in the process. You only barely made it home.” There’s a catch in my voice because it’s clear in your face just how close to the truth my story is. You saw someone in trouble and, death-seeking fool that you are, you donned your little mask and ran to help. Never mind that your talent is laughably weak and completely unsuitable for crime fighting, or that, since you aren’t certified by the Council, it is a criminal act for you to do so.
If you were certified, you would have health coverage for this kind of thing, not to mention state-of-the-art facilities and teams of people whose entire purpose is to monitor your health so that you don’t almost die in your own bed all alone.  Since you aren’t certified, you are a Vigilante, which is punishable by death because untrained heroes get innocent people killed.  They don’t even have to give you a trial, just send in the Alpha to snap your neck and make a lesson of you.
Something hot and wet hits the back of my hand, which is clutching the dumb little mask so hard I’m shaking. Hastily, I brush away the tears stinging my eyes, but they won’t go away. The adrenaline that got me through the last hour has turned against me and I feel sick and flushed. I bolt from the room, down the stairs, and out the front door. Crying bursts out in painful gasps, choking me as I pace helplessly under the yellow porch light. Deep breaths, in and out, but then there’s your face, too still with glazed eyes and blood everywhere and I just can’t.
Mask still in hand, I storm through the dark living room to the galley kitchen, flicking on lights as I go. The matches are right where I always keep them. Then it’s out the back door, through the crowded back porch and down the rickety steps to the cheap tin fire pit we got at that yard sale when we still had dreams of barbeques and lawn parties. I douse the mask in a little lighter fluid and watch grimly as the flames consume it. Tires in the driveway have me running back to the front door where a sprightly blonde elf-girl and her burly partner are already hefting the gurney up the steps.

They follow me up the stairs and we carefully load you up. I hold your hand all the way to the hospital and hope feverishly that the Council has better things to look into than one little Vigilante with a dislocated jaw.


Now that you know how it ends, let’s go back to the beginning.

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Filed under Misc Short Stories, Super Heroes


It has recently come to my attention that zombies are the dumbest of the undead creatures and that people who indulge in zombie apocalypse hypotheticals are less than what Darwin might consider prime breeding material.

This was the essence of an angry rant that was posted in the comment feed after I posted the results of a quiz that ensured me that it could tell just from looking at my Facebook page how far I would travel, how long I would last, and what would get me killed in the event of a zombie apocalypse (Yorktown to Golden Gate, CA, 12 days, faulty shoelace).  Now, I take a lot of those dumb quizzes, primarily to ascertain how wrong they can be about me, but I usually don’t post results.  Why?  Because the results are often embarrassingly wrong.  Like, how could my “book husband” be anyone besides Mr. Darcy?  The quizzes are dumb, frequently easily manipulated to get the answers I want or far too simplistic to be trustworthy.  How exactly can they know what my dream life is based on 10 questions?  Especially when 5 of the questions are about my favorite color, my “spirit animal,” or my favorite way to spend a rainy day.  I mean, dumb.  But they take up my time, of which I have a lot, and they keep me entertained to a degree.  They also act as a platform for discussions on interesting subjects.  Which is why I posted the zombie quiz results.  I have pretty set ideas of my apocalypse strategy and it in no way involves a crosscountry trek or faulty shoelaces.  It was fun seeing people’s responses, especially from those who also took the quiz for equally bizarre results.  It was an intellectual exercise, which was ruined a bit when someone decided we were being serious.  There was some trolling and I had to dress down the troll, which took some time and effort, but which was certainly better than name-calling.  But it got me thinking, mostly because the troll’s argument was pretty weak, but his overall point was relatively valid if poorly defended.  And since I’ve done posts on vampires and werewolves, it seemed only right for me to complete the horror trinity.

First things first, we need to define our zombies.  Like all monsters, they have evolved over time.  I haven’t done much deep research into  the origins, so please correct me if I’m wrong, but from what I know of general knowledge, zombies started out in voodoo (probably far earlier, though) and they were primarily individuals risen by a powerful magic practitioner to be slaves.  I have read some versions where they are used as assassins, essentially given the name of a person whom they will tirelessly hunt down.  Once they have your name, there is no escape.  You could call it an allegory for the inevitability of death.

This is a far cry from modern zombie interpretations, except for the undead bit.  Modern zombies are more frequently the results of a disease and, of the undead trinity, have the least to do with supernatural forces.  This might explain their general appeal for hypotheticals.  Vampires and werewolves are steeped in mystical lore, but zombies are more and more scientifically explainable.  There is even some scientific basis for the original zombies (something to do with a neurotoxin n a plant or animal that can induce a zombie-like trance in living people).  Furthermore, while vampires and werewolves are popular, they aren’t good vehicles for apocalypse theorizing because they rarely come in the form of a pandemic, which is a genuine concern.  Just look at the panics we had about Ebola, bird flu, and AIDS.  The Zombie Apocalypse is the Black Plague of the modern age.  Here you have a disease which has no known cure, is extremely virulent, and the corpses are just as dangerous as the live carriers.  Plagues have a long history of being how population levels are reduced when they get too high, so as the planet gets more and more crowded, the basic anxiety about such acts of God become more  and more realistic.  Furthermore, in cases where the virus is man-made, zombies represent the dangers of scientific hubris.  Someone is trying to play God to a disastrous result.  So zombies are a very thorough representation of the conflict between science and religion, while vampires and werewolves are more indicative of the conflict between emotion/instinct and civilization.  Zombies are our modern Prometheus tale.  Which says a lot  about our society.  In every zombie story, there is a moment where the protagonist sees someone they care about turn from a rational, thinking person into a mindless monster.  This is something we can all relate to, right?  Any time a friend or family member succumbs to addiction or mental illness, we stand by and watch, feeling helpless.  When the victim is someone you know, you can instantly empathize.  If it isn’t a stranger, then it could be you.  Just think back again to the Ebola outbreak, which no one gave two figs about until some of the victims came here for treatment.  Suddenly, it wasn’t a disease in some faraway place.  It was on our soil and that much closer to being in our homes.  Panic.

Psychologically, zombies are an interesting subject.  The people who tend to get pulled into zombie stories are not your typical heroes.  There isn’t a Van Helsing leading the charge against an evil foe.  It’s usually just people running for their lives, trying to survive.  So the story isn’t about the monsters at all; it’s about how ordinary people handle crises.  The whole reason I watch The Walking Dead is because it isn’t really about zombies.  Yeah, they’re there, and it gets gory and violent.  Still, the journey and struggle of the humans is why I keep watching.  And World War Z (the book, DEFINITELY NOT the movie) is fascinating because it goes so far beyond the initial crisis which is usually the whole scope of the movies.  This is the plot of a standard zombie story: Group of people at the beginning of the outbreak running for their lives and either getting overrun or getting rescued by the military or something.  It stays on a very individual level to make the peril seem more immediate.  But TWD and WWZ both look at the further implications of an outbreak on the civilized world.

So, yeah, zombies are popular for good reasons.  But like all monsters, there are serious flaws in their mythos.  The first and most immediate issue is that they are actively decaying monsters.  It adds to the gruesomeness, sure, but also to the improbability of them as a serious threat for long.  I mean, how could they be that dangerous against whole, healthy people with full use of their limbs and fully functioning brains?  Well, numbers help.  That’s a major factor in every zombie story.  The living have limited resources and have to do things like eat and sleep, while zombies tend to keep going without either for long periods of time.  It’s the classic race between the tortoise and the hare.  The hare loses, though he is the faster animal, merely because the tortoise just keeps going.  Zombies have no higher brain function so they are driven by base instinct.  Nothing else matters, not pain nor exhaustion nor severed limbs.  And they will continue to be driven until the brain is destroyed, regardless of origins.  Even though scientific zombies still need some form of body to function, as long as the brain is functioning, they are driven until the body is burned out completely.  Zombies are obsession, the meth addicts of the undead.  Which is why it doesn’t actually matter if they are “fast” or “slow” zombies.  It isn’t really the speed or numbers that make them effective.  It’s the inevitability.

Still, as decaying monsters, that draws the question of the outbreak itself.  In many older stories, the zombies all rise from their graves (this is most often a mystical rather than scientific outbreak).  Now, this is very gross and creepy, but seems to imply that zombies have super strength since they are able to not only escape from their coffins but up through six feet (at least) of packed dirt.  Now, there is some validity to this argument, which is probably why modern stories are skipping graveyards entirely, but it does speak to a degree of ignorance about coffins.  Yes, we build them out of steel as well as wood but trends are leaning more toward environmentally friendly coffins which decompose with the body, so they’re not impregnable.  Moreover, as stated above, zombies are driven by base instinct, not higher brain function.  This doesn’t give them super strength, per se.  It’s more like the strength a normal person can get under a surge of adrenaline.  And since they don’t feel pain, any injury incurred while escaping the coffin that would cripple a normal person is simply shrugged off.  And, since this kind of outbreak is more likely of mystical origins, the bodies are not being operated by muscles and sinew but by willpower.  Regardless of how far the body is decomposed, if some of it is left it will strive to reach the surface.  That’s not to say there wouldn’t be a bunch of bodies stuck below, just that the assumption that none of them would make it is based on the strength of coffins is a weak argument.  The freshly dead, at least, would surely make it because they are the most intact and the dirt least packed.  Also, there is the question of people not buried properly.  I imagine the desert around Vegas would be swarming with victims of the mafia.  And finally, escaping from the grave is, if not an easy feat, then at least a probable means of survival for people in movies (think Kill Bill Vol. 2).  Right, that’s in movies, but if we were talking about reality, the topic wouldn’t be zombies, would it?  To be fair, though, the super strength does not seem to be limited to escaping the grave.  Zombies are capable of ripping a living body apart with their bare hands.  Usually this is seen when an individual is mobbed by a horde of undead (so strength in numbers), but individual zombies are apparently just as capable of detaching limbs by just pulling and biting though just about anything wrapped in flesh.  Part of this can be attributed to that “adrenaline” strength, however mostly this is movie magic bringing the expected gore.  Humans are no longer equipped to be carnivores and it takes more than brute strength to accomplish a dismemberment.  Without sharper teeth and claws, it is unlikely that they could be so very effective at this particular feat.

When the source is viral or scientific instead of mystical, coffins aren’t really a problem at all.  Most people aren’t buried immediately after death.  It takes a couple of days, which is more than enough time for someone to “turn” by most sources.  According to WWZ the movie, it takes 10 seconds from being bit to turn, but only if you don’t cut off the bitten limb in less than that.  TWD clocks it at no more than 2 hours from death of the host.  This is about the standard for the zombie films I’ve seen.  It takes an indeterminate amount of time for the infection to kill the host, but turning is within hours and even minutes of death.  This helps to explain the swiftness of the outbreak to some degree, but isn’t fully satisfying to me.  See, even in cases of normal diseases, the outbreak needs just the right conditions to spread as fast as zombie outbreaks do (usually from a single case to global pandemic in a matter of days).  The virulence of zombie-ism is mostly an expression of fears, like globalization and the dangers there of, but isn’t all that realistic, especially if you consider how obvious the symptoms would be.  Yes, some people would be able to hide bites for a time, but it’s not a disease that spreads before symptoms are apparent.  The worst diseases are spread through the air before anyone even knows they’re sick, so the fact that the zombie host has to die to become an active vector is a bit of a drawback.  AIDS is a far more effective disease and, while it is still a big problem, it didn’t take over the world despite years of free reign on society.  I mean, it passes the same way as zombies (usually interpreted as an infection via bodily fluids like saliva and blood, with the bite being just the most likely means of transmittance), but the initial spread happened because people didn’t have symptoms until later stages (HIV-positive to full-blown AIDS).  This simply can’t happen with zombies.  Even in cases when the infection has symptoms like fever, hallucination, etc, the person is not contagious until they die.  Plus, the point of plague is more than just population control.  The Black Plague in the 1340’s wiped out an estimated 3rd of the population and is the major reason civilization moved from the Dark Ages into the Enlightenment/Renaissance.  Besides having a major effect on how man viewed the world and how society was shaped, it did what all plagues do in nature: it made a stronger herd made up of survivors.  It wasn’t deadly to everyone, after all.  Despite how quickly it spread and the lack of medical understanding of the cause, some people were naturally immune.  Those capable of surviving or remaining immune to infection passed on their genes to the next generation.  Standard survival of the fittest.  Logically, the zombie disease would have the same natural drive and some people would be immune.  This is never the case in the movies, though this could be because the disease is most often a man-made one rather than something brought on by nature.  Again, this is evidence that a zombie outbreak is based solely on fear rather than real science.  The only source that seems to find a loophole is TWD.  If you haven’t seen the show at all, I’m sorry to give away spoilers.  In the show it is soon revealed that everyone living or dead is infected.  So even if you die of natural causes, you turn.  This is a brilliant way to explain the global decimation of the population.  There is no way to stop the infection, no way to avoid or contain it because everyone is a carrier.  There wouldn’t be a Typhoid Mary.  Just one day, there would be 56 million zombies worldwide who died of natural causes.  This is a level of horror unheard of in any other story.  It does return a bit of the mystical back into the zombie mythos (how else could the entire planet by infected all of a sudden?), which to me is a bit refreshing after all the strained attempts at “scientific” explanations.  But without that aspect of the myth, there is little chance of a genuine global pandemic, whatever the fear monger media says.

One myth that can be completely dispelled is the success of amputation to stop the spread of infection.  The zombie disease is blood-born and your heart pumps blood too quickly.  The time it would take you after a bite to remove the limb is far too slow to stop anything.  Even if you manage it in under 10 seconds.

Conclusion:  Zombies are not real.  They, like other monsters, are allegory for common, widespread fears.  They are rife with improbabilities and scientific inaccuracies.  They are obviously fantasies.  And when normal people engage in discussions about fantasy topics, they aren’t being stupid.  It is really only worrisome when people start building zombie shelters in their yards and stocking up on MREs.  And being a fan of something is an indicator of taste, not intelligence.  Which is why I try not to hate on other fandoms, even of those I find abhorrent.  I may have good reasons to despise them, but the minute I start throwing shade, I leave my own fandoms open to attack.  Amazingly, there are people out there who do not love everything I do.  That doesn’t make them dumb or inferior.  Just makes them different.  So even if they start hating on something I love, even when it would be so easy to make insinuations about the childishness/stupidity/inferiority of their own fandoms, I resist the urge.  Even when I can attack them on a personal level, I don’t.  Part of the problem with our culture is that we don’t argue.  If someone disagrees with us, we get defensive and immediately take the stance that the other person is stupid.  Instead of having a discussion which can enrich both sides even if they never come to an agreement, we attack the person in a downward spiral to hurt feelings.  Nothing is learned, nothing is gained, we are all reduced to assholes.  I admit that I don’t always act the adult, but I am trying to become more open to other viewpoints.  I may not like your stance, but I will endeavor to see the validity of it.


And in case of a zombie apocalypse, I would steal an LMTV or MTV from the Transportation Museum on post and head for the Appalachians, since I’m on the east coast.  I know most people argue for heading to the nearest coast, but since the traffic to VA Beach is impossible on a normal day, I’d rather not get stuck in tunnel traffic with a horde on my ass.  The Appalachians are ideal because they have a lot of low-population areas, they are fertile, and they aren’t as treacherous as the Rockies.  They still can have harsh winter conditions, but looting a Dick’s Sporting Goods on the way out of town would be a means of attaining winter survival gear, all of which would fit easily in my LMTV.  My vehicle choice is built on a few factors.  First is familiarity.  I need a vehicle I know how to drive.  Second, both vehicles are high off the ground, ideal for off-roading, fording, and relatively safe from attack from the ground, making them good for temporary shelter until a more permanent defense can be managed.  They’re large enough to plow through a great deal of debris/road blocks/traffic jams and can hold a great deal of cargo and personnel.  Finally, they’re older vehicles and I’m assuming that the local military would be using the more modern troop carriers to fight the zombies.  Drawbacks include how slow they are compared to commercial vehicles and they are not fuel-efficient.  However, given enough of a head start, I should be able to stock up on enough diesel fuel to get us to safety.  And you better believe the cab is gonna be packed with MREs and empty bottles for stocking up on water.  What about guns?  Nope.  While guns are highly effective for sharpshooters, I am not a sharpshooter.  They also make a great deal of noise, which can draw more zombies, and they run out of ammo.  I prefer swords and axes, though I might rig up a lawn mower shield ala Dead Alive.  If I have my husband and cats, we might make it a year or more.  Without my husband, I wouldn’t leave my house.  Then again, depending on the situation, we might be smart to just stay on post.

Honestly, though, I’d probably die in the initial outbreak for no other reason than disbelief.


Sources/Favorite Zombie Stories:

The Walking Dead (AMC)

World War Z by Max Brooks (book only, eff the movie => it sucked)

The Stupidest Angel by Christopher Moore (A Tale of Christmas Terror)

Shawn of the Dead (Simon Pegg/Nick Frost)

Dead Alive (Peter Jackson) => you will never look at pudding the same way

Zombie Strippers => don’t ask.

Planet Terror (Robert Rodriguez)

MythBusters (Season 11, Ep. 11: Zombie Special)

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Mercy Thompson Series by Patricia Briggs

Romero Zombie Movies (haven’t seen them all, but I have general knowledge)


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