Moments: Part I (wherein I write TWD fanfiction)

the-walking-dead-beth-and-daryl

A Momentary Thing

He runs. And runs. And runs. His lungs burn, aching with the chill of the approaching autumn. His heart pounds with the beat of his feet upon the pavement. Leaves crunch, crawl, and scatter around his steady tread. The darkness eventually gives way to light as the sun rises somewhere to the east. He keeps putting foot in front of foot. Getting nowhere. Falling even further behind the farther he gets. The road continually looms ahead before silently disappearing into the morning fog.

His feet fail him. Slowing. Stopping. Giving up because they can go no further on this journey at the moment. But his head, his heart keep chasing. The crossbow he always keeps at his side falls. It clatters in the morning stillness echoing off the emptiness that surrounds the crossroad he’s found himself at. His trusty fucking crossbow can’t help him now. Traitor.

As his knees tremble, he gives into their shake and collapses, gasping for the breath he’s not even sure he wants anymore. The throb in his lungs subsides allowing his thoughts to drift beyond the physical struggle of continuation. Now he starts to see her face – her messy hair and that stupid, silly braid she was constantly fixing over and over again. He sees her smile through her tears. He sees those earnest, hope-filled blue eyes cutting him deeper and sharper than Michonne’s sword. Again, his breath leaves him.

He shoves her back. Tries to force her into the place he keeps all the things he can’t let himself think about. That pit of bleak despair that he hides away yet remains buried beneath every single day of his miserable life. That fucking sunken chest that is brimming with his failures and his guilt and his weaknesses. One more blonde girl won’t matter. After all, she’s tiny compared with the rest. Small and sweet and bright and gone, gone, gone. He’ll be able to sweep her away with hardly a moment’s notice.

Except, he remembers. She’s heavier than she looks.

He wonders if this is why Merle lost himself beneath the haze of substance abuse. Could pills and powders help him now, too? Was Merle right all this goddamn time? Had he let Rick and Carol and the others…had he let their pretty words tease him, coax him into a false sense of safety, of family? Had he let…her…had he let her push him over that final ledge? The one that leads to the ghosts of smiles and laughter and happiness? The one that leads to the ephemeral mask of love? The one that dangles the shiny, fake, plastic things in front of you until you’ve thrown yourself off a fucking cliff? The one that kills you in the end – a death that you choose willingly, even hopefully, drunk on the haunt of emotions?

Clamping that dark place down, his mind goes hollow. He focuses on the brisk wind that bristles across his neck, drying his sweat-soaked hair with her gentle, biting touch. All the warmth that’s invaded his defenses over the past couple of days folds in upon itself, fluttering against all the places deep inside that he doesn’t ever give name to out loud. The mechanical inflating of his lungs takes hold, and his body returns to its former strength. The memory of her soft little hand and searching fingers disappears with the soft click of a distant lock.

When the men surround him, he stands in the middle and stretches himself inside the body he knows so well. The creak of his knees, the throb of his knuckles, the guarded stance of his shoulders hug him close as he finds himself back at the beginning. He stares across at the man who could be so many others he’s known. Father. Brother. Self. He almost hears Merle’s laughter and goading coming from within this mirror of a man. This he knows. This he understands. This place where there is no time for silly games and the burning of pasts not yet dead. Pasts that find us wherever we go. Even at the end of the goddamn world.

“Name’s Joe.”

But in the pause before his muttered response a glitch bleeds through. Before he can get his own name on the tip of his tongue, another beckons from the hollows of yesterday. He bites his tongue and swallows.

He blinks, “Daryl.”

For just the tiniest faint of a second, his breath held an entirely different thing. A spark. A fire that, once lit, refuses extinguishment.

Beth.

A Moment Claimed

He feels her before he sees her. The men – no – the monsters who took her are splattered all around him. Covered in their own blood. She did this to them. She saved herself. He knows how that can change a person. He’s scared for her, of her. What if he turns around and her light has vanished? What if she’s only the ghost of her former self?

The air inside the warehouse stills, settles, suffocates. He can’t even hear his own breath. He’s not even sure he’s actually still breathing. His fingers close around themselves. His knuckles whiten as he fists his anger and fear into the smallest of knots. The setting sun throws haphazard bursts of dusky light across the broken, shattered glass. Shadows stretch backwards. His reaching out behind him, beyond him, beckoning.

He hears her knife as it clatters on the cemented ground. Startled, he flinches at the sharp and unexpected release. Slowly, his feet turn him around, almost on their own accord. His eyes quickly dart to the dropped weapon – dripping with the heat of her kills, with the liquid of former lives. Her boots, her jeans, her once yellow shirt is covered with the angry red of her captors. Her hands shake under the weight of the things she’s had to do, of how far she’s had to go. Of the choices she’s made to keep surviving – to keep living.

Her sob starts deep in her belly before lashing out at the musty corners of this derelict relic of the before – now a tomb filled with the death of so many things that can no longer exist. Not anymore. Her tears drag paths of dirt down her face. She hits her knees before he can get to her. She’s on all fours bellowing beneath the anguish of the cold, harsh places she never intended to travel. Before he can pull her into his arms. Swallow her in the safety of his embrace.

He sees himself doing these things. Being these things. For her. For him. But he doesn’t move. Instead, he whispers her name.

“Beth?”

Of course, she can’t hear him. Not through her cries and gasps for air. But he needs to know she’s still her. Because if she’s not – if she’s too far gone – it’s his fault. His own damn fault. And there won’t be anything he can do for her. Offer her. Give to her. Because if she’s lost, he is too. And there won’t be any turning back if her fire’s gone out. Because her fire is his fire is their fire.

“Beth?”

His voice is louder now – a cry, a shout, a desperate plea. He almost chokes on the possibility of it all. He’s lost in the confusion of how endings can be beginnings and how death can be life and how beauty can hold such ugliness. In between sobs she settles back on her knees and before he can register what has happened her eyes are on his and her hands are reaching towards him and his heart which surely hasn’t been beating all this time thumps again, hard and fast and terrified within his chest.

“Daryl.”

His name is just a murmur in her breath, but it’s the loudest goddamn thing he’s ever heard and his body reacts on impulse. She is in his arms, his fingers tangled in and around that stupid, silly braid. He buries his head in her neck, in her hair, just in her and inhales the things he lost, the things he’s found. Her sobs turn to tortured laughter as her fingers claw at his chest as if the only place she can ever be safe again is wrapped inside of him, down in the pits of him where the anger, the hurt, and the death can’t reach her. Because he won’t let it find her. Not there. No, not ever there.

“Claimed,” he growls gruffly into her neck, gripping her harder against his chest. “You are claimed.” He promises again and again until she softens around him and her breath evens and her fingers go lax. “I claim you,” he whispers one final time as the sun sinks behind the treeline and the world settles into the darkness of night and she sighs quietly in her sleep.

A Moment Revealed

Maggie is beyond elated to have her sister back. Even if sometimes she no longer resembles the annoying little shit who used to run and tell Daddy every time Maggie secretly called her boyfriends after everyone had fallen asleep. She’s still Beth; she still smiles and laughs and sings lullabies to Judi when Rick can’t calm the ornery toddler. But there’s an edge to her now. There are moments when her bright blue eyes cloud over with a darkness that you might blink and miss. But Maggie knows her too well for that.

She hasn’t asked Beth all the details of her kidnapping and subsequent escape. She knows Beth fought her way out of a desperate situation with four bullets and one hunting knife. She knows Beth tried for days to scrub all the blood out from underneath her fingernails. She hopes that her sister will come to her and purge those heavy things that only Maggie can see are weighing her down.

Well, not only Maggie. Daryl Dixon sees them, too. He’s the one who found her, after all. He’s the one who carried her back to their camp all night while she slept her way through the nightmares and demons that Maggie fears will haunt her until her last breath. Maggie worries about this because she wages war on her own demons night after night. And she never wanted that for her sweet little sister.

But Beth doesn’t come to Maggie. No, Beth goes to Daryl. And at first, Maggie thinks the older man must be annoyed by Beth’s clinginess. But as she watches more closely, she notices the tiny way that Daryl’s shoulders relax when Beth’s around. She notices the softness of Daryl’s voice when he speaks to her, the way her smile manages to take years off his face.

So Maggie doesn’t think anything of this newfound bond her sister has forged with such an unlikely man. These two had been through so much together after the fall of the prison, the nights surviving in the wild, and the brutal events that followed their single peaceful night in that godforsaken funeral home. That’s what survival does to people – at least that’s what survival does to her people. It brings them together. She’s even found herself seeking out the company of Bob or Sasha more than the others. Sometimes even more than Glenn.

But then a stranger thing happens. Maggie wakens one night and can’t find Beth who should be sound asleep right beside her. Panicking, Maggie sweeps her eyes across the rest of her family spread all around in their sleeping bags. She sees Glenn and Rick and Carl and everyone else. But no Beth. And no Daryl. That’s when she remembers that Daryl has first watch.

Quietly getting to her feet, Maggie silently crosses the train tracks moving towards the higher ground just ahead where Daryl should be perched. As she gets closer, she sees that he’s right where he should be, back against a large pine tree. She also sees that he’s not alone. The soft, dying embers of his fire illuminate the all too familiar blonde head of her missing sister. Her baby sister. Who is right now curled up between the legs of a man old enough to be called much too old. Much too old even for Maggie.

Instinctually, anger burns through Maggie as she races towards the two. But just as she’s about to yell and scream and rant and rave, she hears Beth whimper. She watches as Beth shakes and sobs and lets all her hurt wash over Daryl. She watches as Daryl tightens his hold on her, tries to draw her inside of him, tries to take all the bad and the wrong and the evil done to her and soak and absorb it into himself so that Beth can breathe again. So that she can wake up tomorrow and laugh and smile and joke and sing and live for another day. Even if it is just one more day.

Maggie watches as this gruff hunter of a creature soothes and heals and loves her sister under the cover of this black night and the shadows of a half full moon. She sees his lips against Beth’s ear whisper all the things she needs most to hear like Glenn has done for her on so many similar nights when the darkness threatens to swallow everything whole.

Maggie closes her eyes and lifts her chin skyward, silently praying to whomever or whatever might still be listening. She prays for her father. She prays for all those long since gone. She prays for the family she’s found all currently pressed close together in the shabby little camp that is more home than so many houses back before the turn.

And finally she prays for her sister. She thanks the gods above that Beth has found Daryl – has found a sense of safety and love in something, in someone – which is not even a thing that should exist anymore. But for her sister it does. And it’s Daryl that’s done that for her. It’s Daryl that’s managed to be something, to give her something real and tangible to believe in again. It’s Daryl that’s become her reason to fight through the night. And Maggie suspects that Beth might mean even more to him. Because this once shattered man is suddenly looking a hell of a lot more unbroken beneath this revelatory moon.

Making her way back to camp, Maggie finds herself grinning so hard her face hurts. The world as it stands doesn’t offer many such moments so Maggie basks in this small thing that has become so huge as she crawls back into the sleeping bag she shares with Glenn. He shifts towards her and she wraps herself around his body and giggles into his neck feeling the gentle wash of her own warm, happy tears.

“Everything okay?” Glenn mumbles, still half asleep, unconsciously pulling her closer.

“Yeah, it’s just Beth.” Maggie feels her eyes growing heavy again with sleep.

“She okay?”

Maggie nods against his shoulder. “Yeah, she’s fine. She’s safe now. There’s no more need to worry.”

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

16250900I’m handing this out for World Book Night 2014 and decided that before doing so I should probably give the thing a read, no? It won a Printz Honor when it was released and the sequel has been earning extra heapings of praise for both books. When choosing my WBN selection, I wanted something that lots of people, particularly young readers, could really sink their teeth into. A book with meat, plot, and purpose. Code Name Verity seemed just the thing.

Here’s where a synopsis should go, but I don’t want to reveal too much. How about…two friends are involved in some espionage during WWII that gets one of them captured in occupied France after their plane crashes. Oh, and the two friends (the pilot and the spy) are teenage/college-aged girls. Did that synopsis work at all? Just go read the thing.

SO GOOD. I could not put this down. I’d lowered my expectations going in because so many had warned me the book bored them and was bogged down under dull aviation details that wouldn’t interest anyone who wasn’t a pilot. Wein, herself, is a pilot. But I didn’t find this to be the case at all. The details that were included just made the story feel more authentic and gave the tone of the novel a gripping sense of realism.

The writing is wonderful and smart and emotionally riveting. The girls are well written and believable. The plot is nonstop – full of twisty, turny moments that genuinely shocked me more than once. It is so rare for a plot twist to find me unawares these days, but Code Name Verity pulled it off not once, but twice. The ending was gut-wrenching, and I can understand why so many previous readers were moved to tears. The story manages to be centered around a beautiful female friendship and themes of feminism in the best and most brilliant of ways. This is a book that shows you a thing instead of telling you a thing. And I loved it.

After having read and loved and read and hated a vast plethora of WWII fiction and nonfiction, I really didn’t think it possible for a book set during this time period to feel fresh and to teach me something I didn’t know. But Code Name Verity does this – excels at this – and deserves all its praise and accolades. I can’t wait to hand this book over to people of all ages in April and to get my greedy little hands on the sequel!!

The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness

6276045Yet another book I was all prepared to love. In fact, it was a total free choice book at the end of February. There was no obligation – just desire! Meant as a fabulous birthday present to myself. Because I loved – LOVED – The Knife of Never Letting Go which kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time. Heart attack central. But y’all, I found myself bored more often than not.

I’m not going to detail the plot since this is the second book in the Chaos Walking trilogy. The series as a whole follows the human race after abandoning Earth and shacking up on a new planet. Lots of things have gone horribly wrong. Men’s thoughts are heard by all. Where are all the women? Alien races are being oppressed. And the leaders are complete dictatorial douches. You know, the usual. The story follows adolescent protagonist Todd Hewitt as he tries to navigate his enemies and usurp the political status quo.

TKoNLG was all about the chase. And it was epic. Page after page of Todd running, running, running. He met new people along the way and uncovered so many secrets. To be honest, the plot was almost too exciting. It required breaks for my sanity. The heartbreak was also staggering. I knew The Ask and the Answer was going to be an entirely other thing – a book about tyranny and oppression – but I didn’t expect to grow bored.

So what happened? The basic story was fine, even great. The number of pages it took to tell was unfortunate. As we switched back and forth between our narrators, I often found myself yawning and hoping somebody would finally make a decision or a revelation or something. I could simply blame this dullness on the back and forth narration. But that wouldn’t be telling the whole truth because both Todd and Viola annoyed me.

Did I enjoy anything? Of course! I still gave the book three stars, after all. I enjoyed seeing Mayor Prentiss charm and manipulate the town. The elaborate chess game the charismatic dictator plays is fascinating to watch. The gender commentary was also engrossing. I love that Ness’s books are never just one thing. He takes writing for young adults seriously and respects their intelligence. Love, love that. The novel’s conclusion was a force to be reckoned with and does a beautiful job urging one on to the final installment. I just wished all the character bits had lived up to all that.

But don’t take my word for it! Several readers cite this as their favorite in the trilogy. Some readers think the whole thing is trash. I’d suggest, however, that this is one YA series worth giving a go.

The Walking Dead: The Grove

14503359-mmmainLike Talking Dead said: Sometimes there are just no words.

Mika and Lizzie’s deaths were brutal. And Carol. Oh, Carol. Melissa you are by FAR the most talented actress on this show. I’m really worried you aren’t going to make it to season 5. Like so, so worried.

And Tyreese. That was so much for you to deal with. UGH. Thank you for forgiving.

Part of me can’t believe TWD had the guts to go there, but the other part of me is so proud of my little show. Push the limits. Challenge your audience. Teach us something.

**************************

Prediction for next week: Rick saves Daryl!!! PLEASE???? I wish Beth could somehow save him, but that’s highly unlikely. Also, I hope Daryl puts a knife in that janky ass redneck fucker’s gut.

Three Souls by Janie Chang

Three-SoulsWhat made me pick up Three Souls? I think subconsciously I’ve been seeking out historical fiction all year, but more than that even, I wanted something Chinese and feminist with a deftly paced plot. I got that and much, much more in Janie Chang’s novel set against the backdrop of the beginnings of World War II and the Chinese civil war between the Nationalists and the Communists.

Leiyin is a young mother who awakens to find herself at her own funeral. She remembers nothing of her life. Her three souls surround her as she realizes something is barring her entrance into the Afterlife and eventual reincarnation. As her lost memories play out before her, Leiyin must watch and process all the missteps and egregious mistakes she’s made in her short 24 years in order to understand how to make amends for her discretions.

I think Three Souls is a novel best read cold. No need to know any real plot points about who Leiyin is or was. No need to start guessing her transgressions before even opening the book. Can you imagine being stuck in some sort of limbo having to watch your life literally pass before your eyes? All the embarrassments and bad decisions? The moments where you realize how awful of a person you’ve been at times? To feel buried under the weight of a debt or a horrific fuck up that you might never be able to mend?

That, for me, was the most compelling aspect of Three Souls. Janie Chang has created such a masterfully drawn, full-bodied female character filled with darkness and joy and despair and folly and good intentions. Leiyin won me over almost immediately as a person who transcends the page – who walks and talks and breathes. Watching her watch herself stumble and fall and learn and grow and falter and wobble was heartbreaking and inspiring and infuriating. She stayed with me even when I wasn’t reading the novel and will, no doubt, be with me long after. She’s the perfect example of an often unlikeable character who grabs hold of a reader and won’t let go despite her flaws.

I just kept reading and reading and telling myself, “Good God, this book is so good.” Which, I guess, surprised me in the best of ways. It’s at once page-turning and cerebral. The ending came as a complete surprise, and I wouldn’t have changed a single thing. Janie Chang is now firmly situated on my authors to watch list and I hope you’ll give her a chance, too!

***********************************************

Thanks so much to the publisher and TLC Book Tours for a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review. Check out the other tour stops here!

About the Author:

Janie-ChangBorn in Taiwan, Janie Chang spent part of her childhood in the Philippines, Iran, and Thailand. She holds a degree in computer science and is a graduate of the Writer’s Studio Program at Simon Fraser University. Three Souls is her first novel.

The Walking Dead: “Alone” & The Best Ship EVER

I just erased this really long analytic discussion post because I have only one thing I really want to talk about:

I SHIP BETH AND DARYL SO HARD.

I mean, how could you not after Sunday’s episode? I’ve never thought about or cared about shipping anyone on TWD until this very moment in time. Sure, I like the Richonne dynamic, but I don’t live for it. I enjoyed Daryl and Carol’s platonic, familial bonding. Maggie and Glenn are fine in their own boring way. But Beth and Daryl break my fucking heart.

And I fought this. I fought this something fierce. Beth and Daryl prior to season 4 had little to no screen time together. I didn’t even know they knew each other’s name. But when season 4 started, they shared a hug in the very first episode that had me totally icked out. I literally yelled at the television, “Yuck! Do not do this, Scott Gimple. Do not do this for the love of all things good and holy.”

I take it all back.

What changed my mind? Episode 13, for the win!!

It’s no secret that Daryl Dixon is my favorite character on TWD. And it’s not because I think Norman Reedus might be the sexiest man on this earth. It’s really not. His character arc has just been the most well-played and best plotted I’ve seen on tv in a long while. The little redneck baby brother who belligerently bumbled across our screens for the first time in 2010 resembles our current leading man NOT AT ALL. And in the past two episodes he’s had an almost coming-of-age thing (at least emotionally) right alongside Beth Greene.

twd-ep13-9

So why doesn’t the age difference bother me anymore?  First, see the last sentence of the above paragraph. In episode 12, I really came to understand just how emotionally stunted Daryl has always been despite his age. I think, for him at least, age really is just the random amount of years he’s been stuck on this planet. His emotional maturity really isn’t any further along than Beth’s 18 or so years.  He’s never been a grown ass man on his own making his own decisions. And likewise, Beth has never been a fully grown woman doing the same. Now they are doing this together and with each other and holy shit is it compelling.

The second reason I’m not bothered? Daryl Dixon is not a womanizer. He doesn’t go around lusting after and being grotesque with the women on the show. Mostly, he’s terrified and avoids them unless he has a specific job to do with Maggie, Michonne, or Carol. I’ve never seen him objectify or sexualize anyone in any kind of yucky way. So this development with Beth feels honest, real, and incredibly touching. The way this scene below plays out? All of the feels. Daryl Dixon is falling in love and it wasn’t planned. It wasn’t expected. And it’s the best thing ever.

twd-ep13-3

 

twd-ep13-4

Reason three? This is the goddamn zombie apocalypse and both characters are consenting adults. We’re in a new world. A brutal, harsh world where Beth and Daryl have watched their families be destroyed. Beth is an 18 year old who has attempted suicide. Watched her mother and brother die and become undead creatures. Watched her father beheaded by a madman who makes the zombies look tame. She’s killed. She’s survived. I have to imagine years in TWD are more akin to dog years than human years, ya know? The rules of before are gone. They don’t make sense. What we’re left with now are humans stripped down to the core of what being human means. We’re in a world where preteens shoot their moms in the head. Daryl offers Beth safety, guidance, loyalty, and stability. Beth offers Daryl love, hope, and faith. And that is more than enough for me.

AND WHEN DARYL RUNS ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT TRYING TO CATCH UP WITH BETH WHICH GOES AGAINST ALL REASON BECAUSE HOW CAN HE RUN DOWN A CAR? If that ain’t love, folks, I don’t know what is. Watching him collapse for the first time, I believe, completely defeated, tore my heart out. Beth and Daryl might have sneaked up on me, but now that they’re here, they’re not going anywhere anytime soon. POWERS THAT BE – HEAR THIS: Give Beth back to Daryl you heartless assholes!

 

 

Meeting Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

unnamedThursday night was one of the best literary nights of my life. I’ve never been one to attend a multitude of author events, but when Beth over at Too Fond alerted me to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Decatur appearance, I jumped quickly on the chance to go. I roped one of my fabulous book club ladies, Emily, into going with me and things were all set.

Thursday arrived with wet skies and horrific Atlanta traffic. It took me 3x as long to get anywhere which had me majorly stressed because I was convinced I’d miss the 7 pm start time and then be banned from entering or some such nonsense. Luckily, I got to the First Baptist Church of Decatur right at 7, and we found good seats in the balcony. As with most First Baptist Churches in the South, the place was enormous, but I was so pleased to see the main sanctuary filled in its entirety with eager fans awaiting Ms. Adichie.

And we were not let down! She was amazing. Smart, clever, articulate, funny, and utterly charming. She started the evening off by reading the first few pages of Americanah (which you MUST read if you haven’t already), and I was sad to discover she doesn’t read her own audio because she’s a superb narrator. Next, she opened the event to questions from the audience. I’m terrified of public speaking so there was no way I could ask someone I admire so greatly a question in front of 200+ people, but others definitely didn’t have that problem and quickly lined up.

unnamed (2)

Questions ranged from specifically asking about characters and situations in Americanah to Ms. Adichie’s own personal experiences as a Nigerian living in and getting to know America. Others asked about her writing process, her literary heroes, or just took a moment to thank her profusely for her writing and leadership. Several mentions of her TED Talk and the Beyonce song were discussed, as well. She handled each question with depth, poise, and humor. What I liked most about her answers were how unrehearsed they felt. She wasn’t reciting something she’d said a million times before. She’d go off on tangents or tell little anecdotes that came to mind. Sometimes she’d simply say she didn’t know the answer to a particular question!

The last question came from a young boy (no older than 6 or 7) who boldly told Ms. Adichie that he, too, was a writer and wondered if she thought in great detail about what she was going to write ahead of time or whether she sat down and just kept writing. She smiled at him and said: Just keep writing.

After the talk, we queued up for the book signing. Emily and I were in the back of the line. We ended up waiting around 1.5 hours to meet her, but she graciously stayed and signed until after 10 pm. She personalized every book and spent tons of time speaking to African women’s groups, book clubs, and college classes who massed around her table with additional questions.

unnamed (3)

It’s a night I won’t forget anytime soon. So excited to read Half of a Yellow Sun with my book club and to continue reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as long as she cares to keep writing.

P.S. On a completely shallow note, I just have to briefly mention that she’s one of the most gorgeous people I’ve ever met in real life. My girl crush is definitely showing!!

Unofficial post sponsor: Georgia Center for the Book