the wyrm [short story]

I’m not particularly proud of this story as I don’t find it particularly enticing. It is merely a prompt fill for a challenge I partook in. It is my first attempt at anything fantasy oriented and not Hannibal related at all. It is just here for posterity at this point.

I realize now what kinds of voices I prefer in stories. As I write novels like Charm City and Scarwood, I’m beginning to appreciate a slightly different kind of world-building.

Original short story challenge from Writers Write:

Prompt: Desperate times | Word Count: 1000

For three thousand years, the little girl’s ancestors had housed a wyrm nestled in a small box, clutching a gold coin. They had called the wyrm a maðkur, but the little girl refused to think of it as a maggot, so her father proposed she name their family talisman herself. At seven, though she had never seen the creature, she named it Sváfnir.

She was a quiet girl, sickly and friendless, but a lover of flora and fauna. She fed the elk that wandered by their farm and set out bones for the serpents at night.

She’d been told that their wyrm had remained locked in its box for years – her family unwilling to be bitten or poisoned by its tail. Over generations, its kind had morphed into beasts the size of wild dogs.

No longer tucked in caves, hoarding treasure, they now dug through piles of refuse and bothered farmers when they swooped from the sky to pluck lambs from the fields.

Long ago, men had dug gold from the earth and pressed it. The wyrms had a taste for the soft yellow ore. They waited patiently until smiths and kings had filled the villages with currency, then slaughtered the men and hoarded that gold, consuming troves which gilded their backs and bellies. With their newfound strength and splendor, they burned fields and poisoned lakes. And when the creatures grew tired from their glut, they wallowed with each other and laid hundreds of eggs before they slept.

With great feasts comes great famine, and after that age, men grew wise. They bartered and coins were no longer pressed. Those old serpents died, refusing to eat anything but gold. Their offspring had grown dull and listless, scattering to the mountainside to hoard what measly coins they could find, until the creatures starved.

The remaining wyrms adapted, turning brown and feeding on scraps, not treasure. The creatures remained gaunt and manageable – their clutches small in number – and the villagers paid them no mind.

Coins became unheard of. If they were uncovered, they were buried or tossed into rivers. The mystical men, however, protected what few remained as there was something magical about the control they had over the wyrms.

It was well-meaning of the girl’s father to show her Sváfnir one night. It was cold, she was lonely, motherless, and he had nothing else to offer.

That night, under the cover of darkness, her father brought the box to her bedside and opened it. The little wyrm hissed, the girl jumped, and her father almost clapped the lid. She stopped him, however, her eyes fixed upon the blue beads staring back.

The creature clutched the chewed coin and its head twisted to view the curious gaze which faced it after hundreds of years of solitude. She smiled and called it by its new name.
It hissed and she giggled. It then rolled, showing off it’s diamond-crusted belly, hissing again. She laughed and felt its jagged scales, her father holding his breath as he watched. Her father told her of a time when gold had once filled their family’s pockets, food had toppled from plates, and their forge had never grown cold. The wyrm was thought to protect their family, so they were charged with protecting him in kind. Her father closed the box and put it away, happy to see a smile on his daughter’s once somber face.

Her curiosity over Sváfnir did not flounder. Her father was shocked to find the wyrm in her apron pocket one morning. He was furious to see her in the fields with him, tossing and catching the mangled coin, but over time, the pair became inseparable. He was kept hidden in her dress or at the nape of her neck for years. They grew a fierce and tangible love, never apart and no longer alone.

The girl had become a woman when a bitter wind swept the valley. Crops failed and the feral wyrms chewed the wool off the sheep and the flesh from the remaining elk. Sváfnir spent his days gripping his coin while the weak woman grew white and lame.

With neither food in storage nor goods to trade, her father feared for her life. He sought help from a mystical man and a tonic of herbs and milk brought color to his ill daughter’s cheeks.
Weeks passed and she asked of Sváfnir. She was told that he was sleeping soundly on his treasure. When she was able to walk again, she was eager to see her dear companion and retrieved the box to peer inside.

She opened the lid and found her friend waiting – his eyes and body weak. He hissed and crawled to rest in the woman’s cool palm. His coin was gone, now lining the pocket of a mystic, and with it went his gilded scales and gem-encrusted belly. His eyes had yellowed and skin browned, but when she spoke his name – her voice sullen and heartbroken – he hissed as he always had.

Wyrms don’t live through the ages as they did when the mines were open and prosperous. Without gold, Sváfnir’s bones grew brittle and his wings sagged. When he became too sickly to move, the girl spent weeks keeping him warm until the spring thaw brought lamb and fish to their table. The wyrm’s taste for gold never wavered, however, and he refused all the food she offered.

By the summer, she’d lost her precious Sváfnir and laid him to rest in the fields where they’d played when she was just a girl. The next winter took her father, and the next her home when she could no longer care for her land.

On her deathbed, still alone and frail, the women remembered those year spent with her sweet Sváfnir. She had loved her family’s treasured protector, been comforted by his enduring companionship, and that friendship had been worth far more to her than all the gold in the land.

waiting for godot [personal]

Sometimes, I’m at a loss for words when my kind readers reach out to me. Whether in public comments, private messages, or through liking and reblogging, it means the world to me.

That said, a human being – a real living, breathing person – messaged me, quite politely on Tumblr, to say of Unhitched (ch 27):

At times I am reminded of Beckt’s Waiting for Godot where seemingly nothing happens but there’s an undercurrent of meaning. Chapt 27 was all poetry I believe. And well done too.

As I am one to consume any and all things and use them in my writing, I present a link to the two-hour play which is as hilarious as it is existential.

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

There is nothing left to say about this except everyone should watch it. It’s as Nietzsche-esque or Vonnegut-ian as it can get.

To find out that I reminded someone of such a famous and glorious piece of work is truly an honor.

birdcage [personal]

With every second that ticks by, I feel like I’m disintegrating into the pages of a story that will never be bound, but rather left to fade with time, lining the bottom of a birdcage.

I will blog every day of 2019, I tell myself, a New Years resolution. Every day I’ll write a little something – nothing crazy, 200-300 words – and I’ll make sure to document it on my brand new blog.

It’s already January 2nd and I failed.

Day one.


Why must I have such grandiose ideas about what the new year will bring? It’s not a magical time of the year when the veil thins and our willpower to succeed is suddenly heightened. It’s like any other day … filled with appointments, late dinners, dirty clothes, and if we’re lucky, a fresh pink gin.

If we wait until the new year to implement lifestyle changes, do we really care about them? Wouldn’t we start reading more as soon as the idea strikes rather than on some arbitrary date? Saying you’ll start that diet bright and early tomorrow is already setting you up to fail. If you were mentally ready for the change, you would start your new diet that second, not tomorrow, not after vacation, not when life “calms down.”

There are dear-sweet-god moments that motivate us: seeing a friend succeed, watching a loved one die, suddenly noticing the passing of time when your three-year-old scoffs and insists that growing up takes forever. They kick us and get us moving. Dates are not dear-sweet-god moments.

So what’s a resolution I will stick to?

There isn’t one.

I don’t want timers and schedules telling me that I’m a failure when I skip a day or life becomes too hectic. I don’t want to feel boxed and caged and unable to change my goal without feeling like I’m cheating.

So my resolution is simply to not regret wasted time in 2019.

My kids are older (off the breast and out of diapers) so I feel oxygen rejuvenating my pores again. I can stretch. I can leave. I can start to remember who I was before my son was born seven years ago.

I wrote last night – 800 or so words for Unhitched. Considering I haven’t written anything for Unhitched in two months, that’s not too bad.

Charm City is still stalled at 110k words, but hey, those 110k words are pretty choice as far as I’m concerned.

Yesterday wasn’t a waste. I wrote. I figured out how to make a cool new gallery on WordPress. I recategorized all my blog posts. I started reading a book. I made a few friends laugh when I ranted about my failed eBay purchase.

Today wasn’t a waste either. I blogged, damn it. I taught my son what The Great Wall of China is. I composted eight pounds of chocolate (okay, that was sort of a waste).

Do you know what a dimberdamber is? It refers to a clever rogue who excels his fellows or, I guess, the chief of a gang. As an adjective it means very pretty.

I learned that today.

I also learned that damber is the album name for California punk band dimber (pronounced like the switch). Their music is not my cup of tea, but boy howdy check out their website. Seeing a Spotify link in that mess almost ripped open a wormhole back to 1996.

I want to write.

I want to read.

I want to feel like a human, but not just the parts of a human that feel the guilt and pain and depression of not living to its full potential.

I want to check off boxes, send my friends gifts, and find a vintage egg cup to eat breakfast out of (a real egg cup this time).

I want porn back on Tumblr, but that’s not happening, so I will settle for spending less time on social media and more time on drabbles and reading obscure dictionaries.

I’m not going to finish Unhitched this year – I may not even finish Charm City – but I refuse to think of the time I do spend on fanfiction as a waste.

Happy January 2nd.

My Current Fixations

Pexels – a site for high-quality royalty-free stock images. I use these in photo manipulation and for blogs. I’m also going to start a visual inspiration log, similar to the gallery I’ve already set up here. Probably with drabbles attached in the captions.

Phrontistery – A dictionary for rare or unusual words. This is not where I found dimber-damber. That was actually on my new Grandiloquent Word-of-the-day calendar from Kickstarter.

who are you? [boot tread]

Part of Unhitched’s prompt collection, Boot Tread

Prompt from Writers Write’s prompts list for February ’16:

#2: Who are you?

A double-drabble at 200 words

Rated: G

I yank him back onto the sidewalk as a Mustang crests the hill and flies by. “Jesus, Butch, do you ever watch where you’re going?!”

“I do what suits me.”

“No shit.”

He smirks and wags his hand like I’m supposed to follow him. Not after that near-death experience. I nod to the red light, and he shakes his head at my flagrant tight-assery.

Then a finger taps my shoulder and I jump. “Excuse me, young man,” says some old bitty. “These damn eyes just ain’t what they used to be.”

Before I can respond, Butcher whips around and offers his arm, which she accepts with a smile. The light turns green, and he graciously helps her cross the street – a perfect fucking Boy Scout – leaving me to trot along behind them both like a goddamn toddler.

When we get to the other side, she lets go and wanders off without even thanking him.

“I thought you ate lame old ladies,” I say.

“I do what suits me.”

“Blindly stepping into traffic, then helping rude grandmas cross the street suits you?”

He thinks for a moment. “It does today.”

“I don’t even know who you are anymore.”

the comment [boot tread]

Part of Unhitched’s prompt collection, Boot Tread

Prompt from Writers Write’s prompts list for February ’16:

#1: The Comment

I’ve been drawn to a particular piece of artwork from Hannibal’s kitchen. I’ve mentioned it in other fics, but for some reason, it came to mind while I was writing this. I added some info about it in a second drabble just below the first.

100 words for the drabble
100 words for the brief aside

Rated: G
Survival Life

It was off-handed and rolled so effortlessly from his tongue that it felt almost innocuous.

I’d just thanked him for my dinner and immediately lost my appetite. He treated my now rapt attention as though I found his stories of Shakespeare’s youth suddenly fascinating. Between bites, he laughed and spoke of the bard being caught poaching deer before fleeing some city in a panic. While his tales romanticized life in the seventeenth-century, my mind remained fixated on his reply from moments ago.

I was still breathless as he carried on, sharing his fondness for poetry among other very unexpected things. 

A Brief Aside   

In Hannibal’s kitchen, hangs a drawing by William Hulme. It is an illustration depicting a view of the great hall at Charlecote Park, a sixteenth-century mansion on the banks of the River Avon, Warwickshire.

Old Book Illustrations

It was owned by the Lucy family, and it has been said that Shakespeare did, in fact, poach deer and rabbits in the parks of the estate. When his crimes were discovered, he was brought before the magistrate, but he ran to escape his charges. I always found that story fitting, considering the poet slipped away, under cover of night, to avoid prison.  

A Second (less succinct) Aside

Before I deleted this original posting on AO3, I received some comments asking what Butcher’s comment was. A few readers even guessed. I wanted to save one particular comment for posterity:

Is it horribly cliche that my immediate assumption was that he said “I love you”, or something to that effect? Seems like something Butch would be able to say carelessly, with a “Eh, it is what it is” attitude, while Hop would have no idea how to process it. Hop doesn’t seem to have that put-upon, biting narrative voice he gets when Butch is prodding him about murder or the fabric of the cosmos or anything like that, so I don’t think it could be one of those topics. Based on what I know from the text, Butch seems to be in his happy place – Hopper just sat down to eat the (probably human) dinner that Butch prepared for him, and now he’s listening to him prattle on about things that interest him. I mean honestly, what could be better lol? I have to think that Butch is feeling good, sharing a meal and laughing at his own stories, and yeah, of course he feels something for this guy, and saying something about it isn’t a big deal. Obviously he feels something for Hop, otherwise he would have killed the pain in the ass ages ago. It is what it is. Meanwhile, the cogs in Hop’s head have skidded to a halt because he doesn’t know how to process the idea that someone might express genuine positive feelings towards him without using them for what he assumes are manipulative ends. (Although he’ll probably suspect that anyway.)

“…sharing his fondness for poetry among other unexpected things.” Hop seems like he’s spent his time with Butch in a mostly responsive mode – he doesn’t feel things FOR Butch, he feels things ABOUT him. He doesn’t cultivate what happens between them, he responds to him and the things he does. He doesn’t think about how he feels towards him, he just reacts to the fact that he’s there. Of the two of them, Butch seems much more invested in their “relationship”, if you can call it that, so it would seem totally in-character for him to make a passing affectionate comment that would leave Hop like, “I thought this guy was just toying with me for his own amusement.” Sort of like Will.

Anyway, that’s my thesis on “the comment”. I’m likely way off base, but that’s my head canon and I’m sticking to it! …at least until when (if?) you tell us what it really was lol.

Thanks as always for posting!

My long winded reply, in case you wanted to know ...
Wow. O.O You like … you analyzed that to a goddamn T. “Is it horribly cliche that my immediate assumption was that he said ‘I love you’, or something to that effect?” — UM, NO!! NOT CLICHE. *nervous laughter* I was feeling a little mopey last night. When I’m mopey I get sentimental. It’s the closest to fluff I ever come. What of it?! Huh?! XD

“Seems like something Butch would be able to say carelessly, with a ‘Eh, it is what it is’ attitude, while Hop would have no idea how to process it.” — Butcher WOULD say something like that carelessly, because he owns his own feelings. He has no need to explain himself or hide his emotions (if he has any). He says what needs to be said and what suits him at any given time. He’s not that sentimental.

“Hop doesn’t seem to have that put-upon, biting narrative voice he gets when Butch is prodding him about murder or the fabric of the cosmos or anything like that, so I don’t think it could be one of those topics.” — Okay, can we stop for a second?

“Prodding him about murder or the fabric of the cosmos,” I died. I laughed out loud and then died. I don’t know why that hit me so hard, but the “fabric of the cosmos” comment is so very embarrassingly accurate when it comes to how I’ve been writing Hopper’s existential crises. XD

“Butch seems to be in his happy place – Hopper just sat down to eat the (probably human) dinner … now he’s listening to him prattle on about things that interest him. I mean honestly, what could be better lol? … of course he feels something for this guy, and saying something about it isn’t a big deal.” — I’m glad you felt Butcher’s happiness! Do you know how hard it was to try to convey someone being happy through the eyes of a panicking person in only 100 words? Ugh. So much editing. Butcher is getting everything he’s ever wanted! Dinner WITHOUT hiding its ingredients, companionship, conversation, and Hopper-san is cute and frisky to boot! What more could a wandering cannibal ask for?! And he’s talking Shakespeare! The romantic Bard of Avon! All they need is flickering candlelight and some violinist bowing out Chopin. Butcher’s on cloud fucking nine!

“Hop seems like he’s spent his time with Butch in a mostly responsive mode – he doesn’t feel things FOR Butch, he feels things ABOUT him.” — THIS is actually a running theme that I have weaved into Hopper’s character much like canon-Will. He has feelings about what Butcher does and the kind of person Butch is, and he reacts to those feelings, but he only gets an emotional response FOR Butch, when they are intimate enough that Hop can empathize with him – namely when Hopper’s defenses are down and he’s feeding off of Butcher’s vulnerability. Doesn’t happen often, because Hopper’s so tightly coiled, but Butcher’s been more than willing to share himself, even if his haste may seem a bit reckless. He’s confident that he knows Hop well enough to assume that the man will succumb eventually.

“Of the two of them, Butch seems much more invested in their ‘relationship’, if you can call it that, so it would seem totally in-character for him to make a passing affectionate comment that would leave Hop like, ‘I thought this guy was just toying with me for his own amusement.’ Sort of like Will.” — Butcher is in this “relationship” whole hog. *wink wink* Just like Hannibal (and unlike Hopper), he doesn’t make “mistakes”. He doesn’t make “poor choices”. He wants Hopper; he’s just patiently waiting for Hopper to want him back. “I gave you a rare goddamn gift, son, open it and fucking TAKE IT.” That’s not a quote, but it COULD be. And Will thought Hannibal was fucking with him all the way to the bitter end. *Hannibal dramatically shakes Will by the shoulders* “Do you see now, you idiot?! This is all I ever wanted for you!” (Or something like that. I don’t really remember.) Point is … Great analysis!! Perhaps I’ll write another drabble about what he exactly said … it’s not like, you know, earth-shattering. It’s just Butcher being Butcher, and Hopper being in denial and really self-conscious. So, same old story.

pockets [boot tread]

Part of Unhitched’s prompt collection, Boot Tread

Prompt from a private message:

What’s in Hopper’s pockets?


100 words

Rated: G

I sit up when a pile of shit clatters over the console of the truck.

“What’s all this?” he scoffs.

The contents of my jeans pockets are scattered everywhere, and Butch is sifting through it like it’s treasure. “Certs, Blow Pop, a rock –“

“His name’s Winston.”

He glares at me, continuing, “A comb, sixty-nine cents … half a shortbread. What the hell’s this?” He holds it up, but I know what it is without looking.

“Mood ring. Found it on the ground outside.”

“You a goddamn crow, Hopper?”

“No, but you better watch it. According to that, I’m very unstable.”

the living doll [boot tread]

Part of Unhitched’s prompt collection, Boot Tread

Prompt from AO3:

I can’t help but send you yet another prompt: Hannigram based on The Twilight Zone ep. The Living Doll


Now the prompt says Hannigram, but I can’t do that. The original airdate for this Twilight Zone episode was November 1, 1963. That was a very interesting year in Hopper’s life, so I couldn’t ignore it. Hop would’ve been about a year into his failed marriage, so I decided to challenge myself in a completely new way.

I could’ve done a “Twilight Zone” themed chapter with weird aliens or supernatural events, and called it a demonic dream or a hallucination, but I didn’t because that’s cheating. For my own edification and for the purpose of this exercise, I want to shy away from tropes and try something new. Plus, I’m taking prompts for Unhitched side-fics and super weird dolls that are alive wouldn’t really fit into normal physics.

If you want to, watch the thirty-minute Twilight Zone episode, The Living Doll, before reading.

7373 words

Rated: T

“If your life is so miserable, honey, why did you marry him?”

She paused as she conjured up an answer that wouldn’t disgrace herself or disappoint her mother. “I think I felt trapped. You and Dad were so proud when the Golden Child moved away … I didn’t want to be the biggest failure in our family.”

“Now that’s unfair, young lady; don’t compare yourself to your sister. And you know your brother will always be the biggest failure in our family. Let’s not forget that you were the one who wanted to get married so fast, not us.” Her mother paused. “He’s not actually slow is he?”

“No, Mom, Jesus! He’s not dumb, he’s just … different. He gets a little nervous around other people.”

“Honey, you’ve always been a social butterfly, what in God’s name did you even find attractive about him? All he does is mope around reading, and he ignores the whole family when we get together. There is something not right about him. He doesn’t talk about normal things.”

Her husband wasn’t a monster. He wasn’t crass or cruel. He was always respectful, even when she found herself behaving less than considerate towards him. He didn’t seem to care about her checkered past and when he did, it was to celebrate it. He overlooked her vulgar language and “progressive” thoughts when the world said no decent man would. And that’s exactly what she thought of him: he was decent. And that decency was good enough to marry.

She twisted the phone cord and plopped down on a kitchen chair, staring at the pile of breakfast dishes still teetering by the sink. “Mom, have you ever felt like if people knew who you really were, that they’d never want to have anything to do with you? Like one bad decision could follow you forever and there is no way to get past it … so you just … hide it.” She sighed, waiting for a response, but the phone had gone eerily silent.

“I’ve felt that, honey … Did you feel like you had to marry him? Because if that’s why you did it, you can say it, sweetheart. Lord knows I can’t judge you for a damn thing. We’ve all been a little reckless at times.”

She bit her lip and took a deep breath. “He’s a good guy, Mom. He’s a little weird and sometimes he gets upset for no reason, but he’s always been sweet to me. I mean, he’s a little strange, but just saying that makes me feel like a jerk. So what if he is a little odd?!”

“Strange can be fun, sweetheart, until you’re stuck with it forever. Then all those cute quirks make you want to scream. Your father goes to sleep with his socks on. I thought it was the cutest damn thing I ever saw, until I married him. Then I found eighteen pairs wadded up at the foot of the bed. We hadn’t even been married for eighteen days yet! Now, I just want to kill him for it.”

She snickered and leaned back, righting the upturned salt and pepper shakers and dusting the spilled grit to the floor. “For us it’s not something silly like socks. He’s weird in a different way. Sometimes he won’t even look at me, or when he does, it’s like he’s looking straight through me. And we never talk. I thought after we got married he’d want to share everything with me, but it’s like we said our vows and he just clammed up. He talks about being a freshman sometimes, but everything before and after that never happened. And Jesus, he bites my head off over the weirdest shit. I can’t bring newspapers home anymore; did Dad tell you that? And I told you what happened this morning … He just stormed out after making a mess of the kitchen because I set out his breakfast while he was still in the shower. I never know what’s going to set him off. He’s a damn powder keg that smokes two packs a day.” She stood and paced as she collected her thoughts and organized the stack of dirty plates from smallest to largest.

“He doesn’t talk about anything? Really? What about his students or other teachers?”

“I guess he complains about his job sometimes, but he never talks about his parents or his friends–”

“Does he have any friends?”

“Not that I know of. He only ever talks about the superintendent, and I’ve met the man; he’s an idiot.”

“You know, you never answered my question about why you actually married him.”

She set a skillet in the sink to soak and cleared her throat. A year ago, her reasons for getting married seemed to overflowed her heart. He was perfect and gentle and would do anything to make her happy. Her life had been split between “growing up” – a time for friends and frivolity – and “being an adult,” after he’d made his incredibly generous proposal. She was tired of being thought of as a careless child and was ready to raise her own foolish brood with the help of a man eager to share her life. Her expectations were that he’d share his as well, and when he didn’t, and their pre-made family fell through her fingers and from her body, she’d forgotten what it felt like to be so in love. It now took concentrated thought to remember those butterflies and coy smiles because those memories seemed to slowly trickle through the cracks that had formed around her broken heart.

“When I first talked to him, it was like I was looking in this beautiful mirror, but it wasn’t me looking back, or it wasn’t him … I don’t know. That sounds so stupid. He was charming and innocent. And God, he knew exactly what to say like he’d studied every inch of me, you know?”

“Hadn’t he?”


“I know you slept with him the first night you met him. Your sister told me everything.”

“Are you serious? I’m gonna kill her!”

Her mother’s chuckle echoed through the phone. “Don’t say that about your sister … and, honey, I don’t blame you. The boy’s easy on the eyes, I will give him that, but the first night? Couldn’t you have waited a little? Teased him a bit? Your father and I waited–” She suddenly paused. “That’s a bad example. Your Aunt Chloe – she waited until they were married two whole years! Of course, he was in the navy, so it wasn’t as hard …”

A laugh relaxed her and she leaned back on the table. Within the often coarse or God-flecked commentary of her mother’s daily phone calls, were shining nuggets of good, solid advice, and she appreciated finding a few to help her through the week. That day had been a particularly rough morning, and after sweeping up the broken plate and meticulously folding his shirts and underwear, she’d spent the last two hours on the phone, attempting to see the world through the eyes of a man she couldn’t understand.

“He was so cute, Mom, and nervous … He kept dropping stuff and forgetting what to say. Normally when a guy doesn’t stop calling me pretty, he’s a creep and I tell him to get lost. This was different. Every time he said it, he looked like his heart was breaking, like he couldn’t believe that I was even talking to him. And Mom, he asked if he could kiss me on the cheek! Not even the lips,” she chuckled, “And then–” She suddenly stopped, thinking better of her next comment, “Nevermind.”

“People used to ask for things like that, you know. We didn’t just wander around, sucking on whatever we wanted like catfish. What’s it say about your father and I that an honest-to-God gentleman is blowing my daughter’s mind?! Good lord … And what were you going to say? You know if you don’t tell me, I’ll just pester your sister for the rest.”

She scoffed and hummed, debating if she should continue when she glanced at the Lucky Strike Lanes calendar hanging over the key hooks. “It’s about S-E-X, Mom, you still want me to keep going?”

“You already married him, honey. It’s not news to me.”

“Well, first off, your other daughter is a liar. I didn’t sleep with him the day I met him – I just wanted to clear that up right now. Second thing: he likes going really slow in that department, and I thought that was weird. It kind of made me look at him differently.”

“What kind of fast-moving bastards have you been dating?!”

“What?” she laughed, “It’s not like I’ve never gone slow, but we were sort of …” She grumbled under her breath as she paced. “I don’t think you want to hear this.”

“Don’t make me call your sister. I really don’t want to talk about wallpaper for forty-five minutes just to find out what you and he were up to.”

“Okay, so the first time we were together was down at the bowling alley.”

“The first time you met him was down at that bowling alley.”

“Yeah, this was that day, but we didn’t have sex.”

“Lord. Go on … but don’t make me spend the rest of my weekend in church, trying to save your fiendish soul.”

“You told me to keep going, so I’m just going to tell you the honest-to-God truth.”

“Don’t bring God into this, you heathen,” her mother laughed. “Go on then. Give your poor old mother a heart attack.”

She smiled and brushed her hair behind her ear as she remembered. “He was being really cute, fidgeting with his glasses and biting his lip while he pretended to play pinball. I knew he was looking at me, but when I said hi, he wouldn’t even look me in the eye, he was so nervous. He kept checking the door like he was waiting for someone to tell him he wasn’t allowed to talk to me, and that just made everything so much funnier. He was skinny as a rail and clean-shaven then, you remember?”

“A real baby face, if I recall. Now he has that ugly push broom.”

“I like his mustache. Reminds me of Dad.”

“I’ll tell him you said that.”

She snickered and continued, “And you know how much I love blue eyes … Every time I looked into his eyes, his face got all red. It was the cutest damn thing. But his small talk was ridiculous. He just rattled on about the weather, and books, and different arcade games, just the biggest nerd.”

“Well, nerd or not, he charmed the pants off you.”

“Uh, no, actually …”

A soft chuckle filled her ear.

“So, he got us a couple Cokes and we were watching all my friends bowl, but he wasn’t playing for some reason. Actually, I have no idea what he was doing there. He didn’t even have bowling shoes …” She stopped and wrinkled her forehead. The details of a day nearly a year and a half ago should have been harder to recall. But the more she imagined the first time she saw her young soon-to-be husband watching her from the far end of the bowling alley, the clearer it all became. “Anyway, they were all hooting and hollering about some score, and I thought that he and I could, you know, make out a little.” The silence from the other end of the line, had her shaking her head. “Are you crossing yourself, Mom?”

“Nope. Go on.”

She suddenly blushed and blurted, “I took him to the ladies room–“

“… dear God Almighty…”

“I took him to the ladies room,” she repeated quickly, “And you should’ve seen his face. He was white like a ghost and sweating so bad his glasses kept slipping down his nose.”

“He probably thought you were going to rob him.”

“He did not!”

“I would have.”

“Robbed him?!”

“No! I’d have thought you were some pickpocketing harlot out to steal my wallet! He’s a poor southern boy who can’t hold a conversation to save his life, and you took advantage of him!”

“I did like hell!”

“So, you were making out with the boy in a toilet stall like the good girl I raised you to be … continue.”

“Well, I mean you know what happens after a while …”

“I can assure you, I do not know what you are referring to.”

“He got excited, Mom.”

“I’m zipping my lip.”

“No, you are not. And I’m not even going to be able to tell the next part because you’re going to call me a slut.”

“I wonder why I’d call you that?”

“I used my mouth on him.”

“Why, dear God, why?! That’s why he married you, isn’t it? You have no shame! And boys can smell a floozy. They love bagging themselves a whore, but jokes on them, they cheat!”

“Mom!” she laughed. “I know for a fact that whores are not the only people to use their mouths.”

“I certainly never did. The good Lord gave you a mouth for eating food and nothing else. He gave you other bits for that. Why use your mouth?! It’s filthy!”

“It is not filthy. That’s insane. I sort of feel bad for Dad now, though.”

“Oh hush, don’t feel bad for that bastard. I wait on him hand and foot and that’s as good a sex to him.”

She cringed and flopped back down at the kitchen table to continue, “I felt him through his pants and told him I could use my mouth … but, you know, I offered to do it. I didn’t just go at him like a piece of meat or something.”

“Good thinking. Don’t want to seem too eager.”

“I can hear your eyes rolling.”

“Your father bought a new telephone. Picks up every sound. You should get one.”

She ignored her mother and moved on. “So he agreed and I unzipped his pants. Now, I’m not gonna to be able to explain why this next part is weird because you have no idea what it’s like normally.”

“I’m imagining you not being able to breathe, and then him yelling a bunch of profanities.”

Her hand flew to her mouth, holding back her burst of laughter. “That’s not far off, but no,” she chuckled, “I got down on my knees and was, you know, sucking on him, and normally they just say stupid shit like ‘you like that’ or ‘ you’re really good at this.’”

“Well of course … and then you’d say, ‘you’re so big’ or ‘this is my first time’.”

She laughed and clapped her thigh. “Mom, you’d be a natural!” she chuckled, “But he didn’t say any of that. In fact, he was completely silent like he always is. But – and this is the weird part – he wanted to hold my hand while I did it.” She grimaced again and leaned on the table, waiting for her mother’s reply. “Did you hear me?”

“He wanted to hold your hand? What do they normally do, bend over and grope for your chest?”

She shook her head and snickered under her breath. “Sometimes they touch your hair or just stare at you like a dog. They don’t normally ask to hold hands.”

“What do you think he was trying to do? Check for a ring?”

“I don’t think so. It was weird because he pressed my hand against his mouth and closed his eyes.” Her lip curled as she thought about the awkward exchange. “I was on my knees in that white and green dress you got me for Christmas. But I was freaking out because he yanked up my arm so far that I was sure he was going to tear out the zipper. And I love that dress! I want another one for Christmas.”

Her mother hollered out a laugh. “Woolworth, honey, but would you rather have a calf-length to protect your knees next time? They have a blue one that would match his eyes!”

They both broke into a fit of hysterics until her mother finally caught her breath. “You have no idea how wonderful it is to hear you laughing again. I feel like it’s been months.”

She wiped tears from her eyes and calmed herself with a sigh. “We laugh, Mom. We really do. He can be fun sometimes.”

“You called me in quite a tizzy this morning though. Not laughing then.”

“He just scared me, Mom, it was nothing.”

“You were crying so much I didn’t recognize your voice, and when I figured it out, I damn near drove straight over and got you.”

“Don’t say that. I was being dramatic; that’s all. I just wish I knew what sets him off. He’s so serious about everything.”

“He’s always seemed a little ‘sensitive’ to me.”

“And what’s that supposed to mean?”

“Honey, he spent your entire wedding day in tears. The only person that could calm him down was your Uncle Ronny, and we all know about Uncle Ronny.”

“What’s wrong with Uncle Ronny?!”

“When your father and I started dating, your Uncle Ronny was about twelve. I’d been invited over for your Grandmother’s birthday to meet the whole family. Ronny spent the entire time in the kitchen making this ugly three-tiered cake for his mother while all the other brothers were out in the yard, playing football. When the whole thing went tits up, he cried for hours over that cake. He and I sat in his room for the rest of the party until he stopped crying and then we spent an hour just pouring over his bottle cap collection. Any of that sound familiar? He was ‘sensitive’, too.”

“Hey, I don’t mind talking about shells, and Kev’s not sensitive, Mom!”

“You’re still calling him Kevin?! Lord have mercy. Doesn’t that piss him off?”

“I don’t think so. He always laughs … I mean, I called him Kevin for weeks, but that wasn’t my fault. He never corrected me. How was I supposed to know?!”

“You two are a match made in heaven, I swear to God. Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dumbass.”

She laughed and covered her face until her head snapped up when the front door rattled and pushed open. “Mom, I gotta go. I think he’s home. Love you.” She hung up and stood, fixing her blouse and hair and leaned out the kitchen doorway to find her husband pulling his satchel over his shoulder.

“Hello, hotshot,” he said, cocking a half-grin. He glanced around the messy house, dishes still sitting on the counter, and their bed unmade at the end of the long hall. “I’m sorry I’m home early.”

“Why are you sorry?”

He shrugged, hung his bag by the door, and rolled up the sleeves of his shirt. “Did you make dinner?”

“I thought maybe we could go out tonight, just for fun. What do you think? Want to take your old ball-and-chain out dancing?” She smiled and spun on her heels.

He pushed past her on his way into the kitchen. “I’m hungry and you know I don’t dance.”

She rolled her eyes and turned to find him digging through a low cabinet. “Well, what are your plans this evening then?”

He stood and sighed, wrenching open the refrigerator door. “Well, right now, I have to cook us dinner because it’s not going to cook itself. Then, I’ll probably mow the lawn, unless you want to do either of those things yourself.” He grabbed a bag of bologna, closed the fridge door, and waited for her answer.

“The lawn looks fine to me, and I’d really like to go out.”

He ripped open a kitchen cupboard and pulled out a bag of bread and a can of tomato soup, pushing aside a stack of bowls to make room on the counter. “We’re at an impasse then, perfect. Go out. Have fun. In fact, have too much fun.” He scoffed as he turned away, pulling two slices of bread from the bag and dropping them onto the dirty counter. “I’ll be here, eating the food I already paid for and watching TV.”

She nodded and her shoulders fell. His reply was certainly not atypical. Her desires to get out of their suburban prison perpetually fell on deaf and disregarding ears. Unfortunately, a little burst of hope endured at the very edge of her heart. It remained there, blissfully imagining her husband grinning like a fool and brushing his hand across her face as they spoke. It would picture him playfully sneaking up behind her and kissing her neck. It would remain hopeful that he’d want to take her dancing or relive their first date at the bowling alley, but it was always crushed.

“Then can I join you for bologna and TV?” she asked, nodding to the bread in his hands.

He peered at her, and she was troubled by how he studied her as though her words were hiding a cryptic message that he was working furiously to decode. “I said go out and have fun,” he repeated. “Why would you want to stay in?”

“Because this is the longest conversation we’ve had in months and I thought maybe by the grace of God it could last another twenty minutes.”

He quickly glanced around the room, searching for an invisible someone or something in the empty kitchen. “Have you been talking to your mother,” he said, his eyes narrowing. He lowered his voice. “Dear God, is she in the house right now. Don’t say anything, just nod if she is.”

She smiled, suppressing her laughter which she had no intention of letting bubble out, but failed as always. “She’s not here, but I did talk to her.”

He scoffed and continued making his dinner, which now included two bologna sandwiches. “And what pearls of wisdom did she share this time? No, stop. Let me guess. You’re brother’s the stain on the family, your sister’s a stick-in-the-mud, she hates your father … and I’m a temperamental piece of shit who is slowly destroying your life and probably the world. Please, tell me I’m close; I’m just dying to know.”

“You’re not far off. But she also called you ‘sensitive’.”

He laughed, his forehead wrinkling. “What the hell does that mean?”

“Sensitive like my Uncle Ronny.”

She watched him grind his teeth as he wrenched the can opener around the edge of the soup can and then plop the content in a pot on the stove. “Which one’s he?”

“The guy you cried all over at the wedding.”

“Ah. I thought his name was Reginald.”

“It is.”

He huffed, and as he stirred the soup, she slowly approached and wrapped her arms around him, pressing her chest to his back. “Why did you cry so much at the wedding?”

“Seemed like a good idea at the time.”

“Would you have married me if you’d known what was going to happen to the baby?”

“Nope,” he said, but suddenly hemmed and hawed at his callous answer. “I would have waited, probably. Gone back to school first.”

“You didn’t hurt my feelings,” she said. “I wouldn’t have married you either.”

“Well that’s a disappointing relief,” he said, “Dinner’s ready.”

She smiled and the pair plodded through the monotony of the evening, beginning with a hastily eaten dinner at the messy counter. He was still convinced that their half-inch tall lawn was in need of a trim, so while he spent an hour alone, meticulously mowing their small patch of crispy weeds, she cleaned the kitchen and then returned to the phone.

“Mom, he’s sort of making jokes; what do I do?!”

“Crack him on the head so you’ll always have these beautiful memories to cherish.”

She laughed and cradled her eyes. “No really. I’m supposed to watch TV with him tonight. I don’t know what to do with him.”

“I never watch TV with your father. He picks the worst programs and then laughs at every commercial like it’s part of the show. I hate it.”

“You’re not going to help me, are you?”

“I don’t know what you young girls do anymore. Just use your mouth on him; that’s how you won him, right?”

“Mom! Stop it you gross old woman!”

“You’re right, no mouth. Use your other bits – the God-given ones meant for this sort of situation. I want a granddaughter – I’m good with little girls. The boys … they’re harder to work with.”

“He’s not going to want to have sex, now, Mom; I just need some talking points.”

“Why would you want to talk to him? Just take off your shirt, shut him up, and then watch whatever you want to watch; it always works for me. Or just start randomly talking about sex. That freaks them out. And why wouldn’t your husband want to sleep with you? That’s probably both of your damn problems. You kids give it all away before marriage so you have nothing left to give each other after the wedding. Or wait … is it the slow thing? Is he too slow? I swear he looks like a minute-man, but maybe that’s just me.”

“He’s not … I mean, he is sometimes, I guess … I’m not discussing this either.”

“I’m calling your sister.”

“Go ahead, I haven’t told her anything.”

“Where is he now, and what made you call me back?”

She peeked out the open kitchen window to find him crouched by the mower, attempting to restart it. “He’s out mowing the lawn, and I don’t know why I called. I think I’m nervous. He doesn’t normally talk to me when he gets home … and he called me hotshot.”

“Okay. That is a weird pet name. Why, hotshot? Is he calling you spicy or is he just not right in the head?”

“He eats the candy a lot – he has a thing for cinnamon, but normally, he only calls me that when he’s, you know … ready for bed.”

“Oh, Lordy. See? He does want sex. And do you really need to consult me over every little bit of trouble? I already do this with your brother and sister. You know your brother’s new fling, The braless wonder? I told her not to let the door hit her in the hippie ass, and she’s still hanging around; can you believe that? If she didn’t keep pilfering his drugs right out from under his nose, I’d tell him to kick her to the curb, but at this point, I think it’s better that she hangs around.”

“Mom, I want your honest opinion. Did I make a huge mistake marrying him?”

The line grew quiet and contemplative. “Honey, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think there was a better man out there for you – one with a spark, who wants to take you out on the town and show you off. You found someone with a good job, a pretty face, and he’s polite, but, sweetheart – and I’m only saying this because you asked – he’s just … lifeless. Do you know what I mean?”

Her eyes drifted to the floor and she nodded to herself. “He’s really angry, Mom, but he hides it, and he won’t tell me why. Sometimes I piss him off on purpose because if he didn’t get angry about stuff, it would be like I was living with a dead man. And he really scared me this morning … ”

“Oh, honey.” Her mother sighed into the phone. “I’m so sorry. But be careful pulling stunts like that. Things are already sounding rocky, you don’t need to make it worse.”

“Is this just it, though? Is my life just going to be tiptoeing around him until he decides to talk to me? I don’t think I want to live like that, Mom. It feels wrong.”

“Give it another couple years. You two will warm up to each other and you might find that distance between you is sort of nice. It’ll give you something to re-explore together. A little concern, a little doubt, it just keeps everyone on their toes. Wouldn’t want to grow complacent, that’s how you lose the passion, and then you might start hating him. I’m sure everything will be fine, sweetheart. It’ll get better. Just stick it out …”

She nodded and quickly said her goodbyes before hanging up and rushing to the bathroom. She brushed her long blonde hair and by the time she returned to the kitchen, he was lining up his grass-stained shoes by the door. Without a word, he ducked around her to make his way to the bathroom to shower.

Twenty minutes turned to thirty, then sixty, and she sat on the couch, resting her eyes. She jolted awake when a hand tapped her shoulder.

“Why don’t you just go to bed?” he said, plopping beside her on the couch.

She sat up and watched the television flicker and glow as it warmed up. The sun had set, and the time read ten o’clock. On a weekday, he would be in bed by that hour, but it was Friday, and his favorite show was about to air – a show that gave her the creeps with its stories of sinister ghosts and unnatural phenomenon. She typically refused to watch it.

“Why do you love this show so much?” she asked.

“It delves into the deepest parts of the imagination,” he said, tapping his temple. “The scary parts no one likes to think about.”

“It’s just a bunch of crazy horror stories. Isn’t real life horrible enough?”

He snickered, and it sounded far too strained to make her comfortable. “You are quite a peach this evening,” he said.

“Why’d you call me hotshot?”

His face fell slack as he stared at her, and she stared back, unblinking.

“No reason,” he said, and the familiar twangy tune of the show’s introduction drew his attention back to the television set. “Do you want to watch something else? I know you hate this show.”

“This is fine, but you might have to explain it since I’ll probably cover my eyes for most of it.”

He nodded. “Does an active imagination scare you that badly?”

“Sometimes. I don’t like stories where people are killed or just disappear.”

“Okay, well, I’m here, and I can turn it off whenever you want.”

She nodded slowly and for some reason his pale skin, sunken eyes, and white tee-shirt made him look like a ghost. She brushed her hand down the soft cotton of his shirt just to be sure he wasn’t.

He watched her fingers trail down his shoulder and nodded to the arm of the couch behind her. “Hand me the afghan and an ashtray.”

She did as requested, tossing the bright blue and green blanket over him and the glass ashtray in his lap. He lit a cigarette and held up his arm, motioned for her to come closer to him. She slid along the cushion until she was pressed snuggly under the crook of his arm and he draped the blanket over them both.

“Better?” he wondered. She nodded as the screen opened on a mother and daughter showing a brand new Talky Tina doll to a very disgruntled father.

“Why can’t the father just be happy that his little girl loves her new doll?” she wondered, nuzzling against her husband.

“Maybe because the wife just spent a ridiculous amount of money to buy a toy the little girl doesn’t need.”

“But his daughter’s happy. Doesn’t that count for anything?”

“He probably had to work sixteen hours to pay for it. Does that seem fair? That’s straight wages, not even taxed. And I’m not counting the cost to feed his whole family for those two days, or the mortgage on that huge damn house, or the maintenance and gasoline in that car they just parked out front. Does the Dad count at all, or are the wife and daughter the only …” He trailed off as he watched the father yell at the doll and throw it across the room. “Okay, he doesn’t need to break the damn doll … who throws shit when they’re angry? This guy needs to grow up.”

A loud unintentional scoff burst from her lungs though she tried to stifle it with the edge of the afghan.

“What?” he snapped. “You have something to say to me?” She shook her head so he cleared his throat and insisted, “I didn’t throw the plate this morning.”

“You must have a very active imagination if you think the plate smashed itself on the floor.”

He nodded and took a long drag. “I’m sorry I scared you. I’m not a violent person.”

“Except when you’re breakfast is cold, right?” She felt her lip quiver so she covered her mouth and buried her face in the blanket. If she knew what caused his eyes to glaze over or his teeth to grit and temper flare she could skirt around those issues, but it was a random occurrence that left her emotions reeling and her life far more stressful than she had envisioned.

His arm eventually wrapped around her as she composed herself and they both resumed their half-hearted viewing of whatever bizarre episode this would turn out to be.

The little girl’s dolly on the show was beginning to spout threats when she felt him leaned over and nuzzle her temple.

“I’m not violent,” he repeated. “I wouldn’t hurt a fly because that’s just not me. I don’t want you to worry about me like that.”

“Apparently a little concern is good for a relationship,” she scoffed, “Keeps the passion alive.”

“Are we thanking your mother for that fantasy? Talk about lying to yourself … the woman’s delusional.” He settled back into the couch, still puffing on his cigarette while she tried to relax and enjoy the show.

When the television father began receiving threatening phone calls from the doll, she let out a groan. “Is the doll going to kill him? I can’t watch this if the doll’s going kill him.”

“Talky Tina is definitely going to kill him, but the question is how?”

She looked up at him, curiously eyeing his gaze which was fixed on the television. “How? What’s it matter how?”

“Well, you have a doll up against a full-grown man. Tina has certain skills or tools at her disposal – a voice box to speak over the phone, she can move apparently and has the trust of the little girl and the mother. Now the father, he’s tried to destroy Tina, but he keeps failing, so the doll obviously has more up her sleeve than just a plastic arm. The trick is to figure out how Tina could kill him before it actually happens … What do you think she’s going to do?” He sat up and leaned away to better view her face.

“I … don’t think,” she said, wearily watching her husband’s peculiar excitement over such a silly show.

He nodded and cleared his throat. “Yeah, but … but think anyway. She could set the house on fire, but I don’t think her fingers move well enough to strike a match.”

“A knife, maybe? Or a gun?”

“Too conventional, and she’d need to be more dexterous than she is.”

“Poison?” she wondered.

“That’s good, but she could accidentally poison the girl, and I don’t see her wanting to do that. Tina’s protecting the girl. She’s designed a plan to take the asshole dad out of the picture and she’ll do it with only the skills she possesses and with minimal interference. She doesn’t care about being heard, but she cares about being seen. How would you murder someone if you were a doll?”

“You have a very criminal mind, you know that?” she snickered.

He visibly bristled and shoved his glasses up his nose. “Think of it like her game. How does she design it so that the asshole dad always loses?”

“Do you think she’s strong enough to suffocate him?”

“That’s a good point,” he said studying the television again. “Probably not with a pillow, though, and don’t forget that the wife’s in the same room. Tina would be more discreet. Separate the herd and pick them off when they’re at their weakest.”

“The dad’s leaving the bedroom!” she suddenly squeaked. “The doll’s going to kill him now!” She curled up under the blanket hiding her face against him.

“Think!” he chuckled, wrapping his arm around her. “You’re doing good! It’s almost over. What about a void or something; maybe she can conjure magic.”

“Magic?!” she laughed from under the blanket. “It’s a doll, not a witch. Oh! Oh!” She ripped the blanket off her face. “He’s at the top of the stairs! What if she tripped him?! Doesn’t someone die like that in Psycho?”

“When did you see Psycho?!” he scoffed. “And the guy in Psycho had already been stabbed in the face …” They both turned to the television, holding their breaths as the father’s foot landed on the doll and he slipped, plummeting down the stairs to his death. He landed hard at the bottom, the doll tumbling to a stop, directly across from his face.

“He tripped!” she hollered, throwing her hands into the air. “I was right!” He laughed against her neck as she wrapped her arms around him. “I did it! I beat that stupid doll!” They both laughed, embracing on the couch until she pulled back, grinning ear to ear to have a look at the man beaming in her arms.

His sunken eyes now looked exhausted and lost, but his ghostly appearance had faded to reveal his warm pinking cheeks. He resembled his old self for a moment, anxious but excited, young and hopelessly naive. His mouth grinned, but his eyes refused to join them in that fleeting moment of merriment, so he remained a sad picture of unrest. 

“What do you want to do now?” he asked, fidgeting with the strands of blonde hair clinging to her wet lips.

She casually shrugged and smiled. “We could talk.”

He sighed, but to her, it wasn’t lonesome or bored or disappointed. It just felt tired and yet relieved. “Tell me about your day.”

“I talked to my Mom,” she said, and he hummed in response. “I told her about how much I love that white and green dress she bought me a couple years ago.”

He raised his eyebrow. “And what did she say?”

“She said she got it at Woolworth and that they have a pretty blue one that matches your eyes.”

He gasped. “But then what did you say?”

“I said that my husband is a jackass and that I should make him wear the damn dress.”

He snickered and chewed his lip, patting her knee under the blanket. “Good talk.”

To avoid the conversation being closed completely, she slid her hand over his. “Want to talk about fucking?”

“I’m not certain that’s a good idea.”

“Well, we don’t have to talk about it … hotshot.”

His gaze immediately fell to the floor, and he huffed an anxious snicker that reminded her of their first nervous conversation. “You’re on to me, I see.”

She softly kissed his neck and then stood, letting the blanket fall to the floor. When he remained motionless, she tugged his shirt until he finally rose and followed her back to the unmade bed in their pitch-black bedroom.

She undressed, dropping her clothes in the pile at the foot of the bed and crawled over the sheets, waiting for him. Six weeks – perhaps seven – had elapsed since they had last been intimate, although their new definition of intimate left something to be desired.

The bed dipped when he joined her. He crawled between her legs until their faces were inches apart, yet still hidden from one another in the darkness. It had become a ritual – a solemn series of actions performed in the very specific order he’d laid out mouths before. It never changed, and she wasn’t fully convinced that she wanted it to.

He made love to her in the same way she imagined other husbands attempting to please their wives – panting through clenched teeth, eyes closed and lost in thought. Her world and bed rocked with the sway of his hips and she found herself at peace, knowing at that moment, there was nothing more she could do for him. Her hands only rested on his back, never his naked shoulders, and the lights would remain darkened to hide sullen faces, full breasts, and the healing scars that gashed under navels and over hearts.

When his duty had been completed to the best of his ability, she rolled onto her stomach and waited to be taken from behind. He never kissed her, nor did she attempt to kiss him. She knew the very real physical limits a body might impose upon itself and she respected them. It might reject the confining squeeze of a hug or an invasive and unwarranted tongue. It might jerk if an old injury is exposed or probed. He had given her body space when she needed it most, so she wholeheartedly returned the favor when he so easily became overwhelmed by his own skin.

He always finished at her back. He always breathed against her ear. And when either of them felt the crest and fall of physical relief, it was without spoken warning or any other sweet nothings.

Out shopping or with friends, she was still treated as a newlywed. She was still fawned over and there were family and neighbors who had yet to congratulate her. Whenever stopped on the street to be embraced and have her ring inspected, she smiled through the pain as was expected of such a young beautiful bride. She had a home, a garden to tend, an educated and handsome husband, and a youthful figure, and each was more barren than the last.

When his whimpers turned breathy, fading into her hair and his body finally slowed to a stop, he rolled them both to their sides to fall asleep. Though his heart beat against her back, his hands remained motionless, refusing to explore her soft skin, so she laid with her companion in solitude.

“What would you have done if I’d left you alone this evening?” she asked.

He brushed her hair from his face and sighed. “Exactly what I just did.”

“How would we have made love if I wasn’t here?”

“I would have masturbated in the shower.”

“Why didn’t you tonight?”

“I heard what you said … about not knowing what to do with me … like I’m a bad dog you aren’t allowed to put down.”

She clenched her eyes, a burning heat spreading over her cheeks. “I’m sorry you heard that,” she whispered. The warmth of his body receded and she groped for the cold sheets to cover herself.

His voice, now bitter, hissed from behind her. “How could you say that I’m dead inside?”

She gasped and covered her mouth to hold back the inadequate apology threatening to gush from her lips. There was no response capable of soothing a wound that cruelly or casually inflicted. If she knew of only one facet of her husband, it was that he became heavily perturbed when referred to as cowardly, crazy, or devoid of life. She quickly felt behind her until she found his hand and pulled it to her face, kissing his palm.

He withdrew his hand as rapidly as she had taken it, his chest stuttering with each choking breath. “I’m not dead inside,” he hissed.

She cradled her eyes as she felt him weep only inches from her bare skin. They were not the long bellowing tremors of a man hurt or heartbroken. These sobs were short and quick, and full of new forms of frustration and agony. He claimed to not be dead inside, but they both would remain staunchly unconvinced.

tear-streaked with laughter [notes]

Unhitched chapter notes …

Read chapter on AO3

For my long-time, die-hard readers, this is probably the first time you’ve seen my writer’s notes on my personal website. My old Tumblr is dead like many post-purge, and will likely be deactivated in the new year. If you’d like to follow my NEW Tumblr, which will be relatively inactive save my update notices and a few inspirational prompts and lists, follow @joanielspeak (this is a new blog, so if you already follow, you may need to follow me again).

Anyway, my notes about writing will be placed here from now on. Feel free to comment on my notes if you like (PLEASE comment on the fic though; I love it, and it helps draw attention to Unhitched). If you have nothing to say, perhaps share with me a Fannibal artist you think my writing style would mesh with (or not!). Definitely let me know if you are a visual artist yourself. I love finding new arts (since I don’t have time to search now that Tumblr is unusable). I often use fanart as prompt inspiration for my writing, so you’d be doing me a huge creative favor.

For other stuff, check out the rest of my blog to see any of my other writing-related bits including fics not uploaded to AO3 (the shame is too great), prompt-fills, AU concepts, and AO3 resources. For those in the know, Boot Tread will be removed from AO3 and migrated solely to my blog very shortly. I will not be removing any ficlets from the collection. Also, the previously deleted fics featuring my slutty OC, Blue, are getting overhauled and will also live on this site, but not AO3. Again: the shame. It’s the shame.

That said, I only have a brief discussion about the chapter. Mainly just a few tidbits and a little about Dr. Bloom and feminism.

Here’s a fun thing to know about the internet: it lies. All the time.

Suprised you didn’t know that.

In other words, trust nothing you read online. I was researching quotes from Dante’s Inferno for Hopper’s little book toss and came up with some great ones! So perfect! So insightful! So philisophical!

Turns out, they were all crappy misquotes from even poorer translations, or poorly summarized ideas from entire cantos.

They all felt a little too perfectly worded to be from a translated poem, so I ended up literally abandoning all hope and went back to the basics: one of the original English translations via DigitalDante. I chose the Mandelbaum translation because I, personally, prefer it to Longfellow.

In conclusion, if you are not using DigitalDante for all your Hannibal/Dante needs, you should be.


The abbreviated tale of the witch at the end of this chapter is a retelling of Robin Morgan’s story written in 1974 and later published in her book The Word of a Woman: Feminist Dispatches. Alana Bloom’s line about mutual blackmail was taken directly from Morgan’s story. You can read the original text on Google Books.

The story shines a light on Hannibal and Will’s relationship in the show, and I found it fitting for Butcher and Hopper as well. It feels like every chapter of Unhitched is a turning point for the pair, and this is no different.

Many months ago, on my now-defunct Tumblr, I mentioned this story about the witch in a thread about Alana’s very odd quote, but no one seemed to know what I was referring to. I figured I’d explore it in my fic just for shits since I have yet to see anyone talk about this minute detail in Alana’s dialogue. Plus, it’s a feminist lesbian witch story. That’s right up my alley.

Before she tells the story of the witch, Robin Morgan describes how feminists have been accused of having lost their sense of humor because we stopped accepting “dumb blonde” and “farmer’s daughter” jokes as forms of entertainment. Feminist humor was dry, acute, and with a twist of disheartening truth. Oppression is often where such sharp, acrid, and self-deprecating humor originates. She says, “much great humor is born of pain” and that humor is used to fight one’s way to freedom. In doing so, she suggests, humor aids in our self-defensive ability to cry until we laugh, much like Hopper, the witch, the beggar, and anyone currently residing in the United States.

With that, I implore you, dear reader: take a moment in this trying time to tip your hat and your glass to all the women who fought or are still fighting the good fight for equality through their own tears of pain and poignant laughter.

On that note, I will admit that I currently have a love-hate relationship with Unhitched. I often find myself wishing I had never started posting it due to the extreme amount of research it requires and the amount of editing involved.

Pro tip: don’t set a fic in a decade of which you did not live

Pro-tip: don’t base a fic on the piece-mealed philosophies of nihilists or Hannibal Lecter

Pro-tip: don’t try to keep your fic within the confines of the psychological terminology and discoveries known in the decade it is set

Pro-tip: do not make Ham and Banana Hollandaise. You will not be pleasantly surprised despite what that tasteless blogger has to say.

This fic is a work in progress with a lot of foreshadowing and recalling of events but that takes an unprecedented long time to formulate, especially the closer we get to the end.

We are nowhere near the end, by the way, but for my main theme to come to fruition and then resolve itself, I will require a lot of time and patience from you guys.

So far, many of you have given me a ton of support (late night chats, letting me complain, offering ideas and encouragement) and I thank you so much for it.

So what have I been doing for the last three months?

Short answer: not writing Unhitched.

Long answer: I’ve been writing a new Hannigram epic. It’s a little sci-fi, a little tropey, a little gross and bizarre, but I think the fandom will enjoy it. I will post it upon its completion (none of this WIP shit again), but it will probably post weekly. As it stands, it’s well over 110k words and will probably end up around 25-30 chapters.

I needed a break from Unhitched, and this has given me a massive break, and hopefully, I will have created a world that should offer many opportunities for side fics, spin-offs, and timestamps when I need future breaks. I am literally creating a new dystopian future world to drop all of our favorite Hannibal characters into, as well as a lot from the extended universe. I think it’s about 300 years in the future and currently has twenty-two speaking characters. That’s a fairly decent amount for me, considering most of my fics max out at maybe five.

It’s probably more ambitious than Unhitched in a lot of ways, but way more fun and twisted. Everything I have ever wanted to do to Will I am finding a way to do it to him.

To my intimates reading this I say: Tyler Durdan’s lye soap made of rich, white-lady ass is not nearly strong enough to clean up what I’m about to do to Willaby Graham III. *snaps rubber glove* Get the bleach ready, boys.

That’s all for now. Subscribe to my AO3 to get my author updates. Subscribe to Unhitched to get notified of chapter updates.

Thank you all so much for your support and I hope to get the boys back on the open road as soon as possible.

indenting text on AO3 [tutorial]

I get asked this a lot because all my fics on AO3 are indented. Here is the information needed to create a workskin to do this yourself.

To create your Indentation Work Skin:

1) Go to your Skins page from the link in your Dashboard

2) Click the “Work Skins” button

3) Choose “Create Skin”

4) In the “Create New Archive Skin” form, change the popup menu beside “Type” to “Work Skin” (very important)

5) In the “Title” box, enter a title that is meaningful to you (for example, “Indentation”)

Optional: If you like, in the “Description” box you can enter a description of what the skin does

6a) In the large box labeled “CSS”, enter:     

#workskin #chapters div.userstuff p { text-indent: 2em; margin: 0 auto; }

Note: The above CSS will indent your paragraphs and remove the white spacing between paragraphs (as though you are reading the page of a book). It will also not affect your summary or notes.

6b) If you’d like to indent your paragraphs but still leave a single blank line between them (easier to read on devices), instead enter:   

#workskin #chapters div.userstuff p { text-indent: 2em; }

7) Click the “Submit” button at the bottom of the form.

Note: If you find the indent too small or too large, increase or decrease the number accordingly and save, for example: 1em, 3em, or 4em if you’re crazy.

To use your new Work Skin:

1) Select the fic your would like to apply your work skin too.

2) Select “Edit”

3) At the bottom, choose your new Work Skin from the drop-down menu next to “Select Work Skin”

4) Post your fic

i’m sorry, caller, what? [fic]

A Hannibal/Frasier vingette

Sometimes your most popular fic is a piece of wet garbage that you wish you’d never written. In about forty-eight hours, this less than 500-word trash heap where Will calls Dr. Crane’s radio show, garnered more views, comments, and kudos than any of my other fics at the time.

I wanted to shoot myself.

After about a year of randomly receiving comment and kudo notifications, I removed it from AO3. Yes, I get it; I shouldn’t be so ungrateful. After all, praise in all forms is nice to receive, but watching the fics you pour your soul into getting crickets while ten-minute cracky vignettes get all the glory is a painful reality no writers want to deal with.

For posterity’s sake, here it is in all of its unedited, former glory.

Rated: G

“Hello caller, welcome to the show.”

“Uh, hello. I’ve listened to your show for a while, Dr. Crane – trying to get a bead on one of my issues.”

“Please, caller, share with us your woes.”

“Well, uh … I’m having inappropriate feelings for a new person in my life.”

“That’s not uncommon, caller. Familiarity can sometimes gray the areas between friendship and love. What’s your relationship to this person?”

“He’s my psychiatrist.”

“Ah, well, I can see your problem. Does he seem to reciprocate your feelings?”

“Well, no … or maybe, yes. I don’t know.”

“Is he concerned with crossing a line with a patient? Because a good psychiatrist would be.”

“Ah, well that even greater complicates matters. Are you sure your feelings for your doctor aren’t simply a long-held desire to feel heard? Many people develop somewhat personal feelings for their psychiatrist because he or she knows such intimate details about their lives. Psychiatry is a very intimate field. It can get confusing.”

“That’s a concern, but probably not his biggest. I think I’m struggling because I know I feel something for him, but I don’t want to destroy our professional relationship if I’m wrong. We also work together, or worked together.”

“Maybe. I’ve only recently allowed myself to be … psychoanalysed. And it’s been a bumpy ride.”

“Examining oneself always is. Tell me, caller, has your doctor said or done anything to make you believe that he has more romantic feelings for you?”

“Well, he shoved an ear down my throat and framed me for murder, but that’s not really romantic.”

“He, um … I’m sorry caller, what?”

“I think he fed me a human heart once. That’s probably considered more romantic than the ear thing.”

“Excuse me, caller, I’m confused. He–he did what again?”

“It’s a long story. But recently he moved away while I was in the hospital. I woke up and he was just gone. That was hard for me to handle.”

“That sounds tragic. Did he say goodbye?”

“Well, yeah. That’s why I was in the hospital.”


“But I really feel this burning need to find him. What we have isn’t over yet.”

“I can understand your need for closure, caller, but if he left after a … painful goodbye, perhaps he’s telling you that he needs time apart.”

“But we parted on very bad terms … and I still have a lot I need to say to him.”

“I understand, but as unfortunate as that is, we cannot force others to listen nor should rely on someone else to give us closure – we need to find that ourselves. Tell me, caller, do you have any hobbies you could immerse yourself in for the time being?”

“I fly fish, but all my equipment was seized when the police raided my house.”

“Uh … right. Anything else?”

“Not really.”

“What about a pet? Perhaps a dog? Dogs are very therapeutic.”

“You think I should get a dog?”

“Dogs offer us a multitude–”

“I agree. I’m thinking an Aussie mix? I live in a farmhouse; lots of land around me … What about two dogs? Three? Do they become exponentially more therapeutic the more dogs you own?”

“Well, I don’t know, caller. After awhile they might stress your–”

“No. They wouldn’t be a problem. No stress. Just dogs … I think you might be on to something, doc.”

“Uh … I’m glad you think so, caller. While you are recovering from your former relationship, try to surround yourself with the things that bring you joy. It will aid in your recovery.”

“So, do you think I should take the dog with me when I go looking for him? Because I’ve taken dogs on planes and it’s not fun for me or the dog.”

“Well, no, the dog was to replace your trip, not to add to it. I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to chase after someone who doesn’t seem as invested in the relationship as you.”

“Well, no that’s not really the case though. He’s invested in what we have, he’s just wanted by the police.”

“So he’s running from the police?”

“Yeah, hence the quick and painful goodbye.”

“… Dare I ask what he’s being charged with?”

“Well, I told you, he forced me to eat a human ear and framed me for murder. But also, a few other things … Do you really think I shouldn’t go after him? It seems like he really wants me to chase him. And after everything we’ve gone through, he feels like my partner now. I mean, we had a surrogate daughter together.”

“Ah, a family problem! I know who you need to call, Dr. Niles Crane – also in Seattle, he’ll fix you right up. Good luck, caller, and thanks for listening – Roz, next caller please!”