Happy New Year

Happy-New-Year-2020-with-lightsHiya friends, welcome back. I feel like I’m continuously explaining my absence but this was for a legitimate reason. I thought I’d use this post to give an update and talk about my coming year.

First the update, as you may know, I have been in therapy, once a week, since May of last year. I took the last seven months off (aside from one post to update anyone that may have been reading) to just focus on the therapy, all while keeping my head above water with everything else. I wasn’t in a place to keep writing blog posts regularly and trying to present a front that everything was okay. My mental health became my sole priority for the first time in months, probably even years if I’m being honest. Needless to say, it was overdue, I was sick of pretending I was fine for the sake of others around me, I took the time off to clear my brain and refocus myself. Now that I feel a bit more surefooted in the therapy, I think I can get back into writing at least semi-regularly here.

There was another factor that played a key role in my step back, I upped my course load in school. I went from part-time to full-time, which effectively doubled the amount of time I spend at my computer. I took a step back from anything that wasn’t necessary, basically anything to do with writing, to make sure that I could handle my classes along with everything else in my life, before I started adding other things in.

Okay, onto my coming year. I have decided to stay away from resolutions this year, I’m good enough at setting myself up for failure without giving it name. Instead, I’m giving myself goals, something that I want to achieve by the end of the year. For example, I am terrible at sticking with a skincare routine, a goal for me this year is to wash my face daily. Sounds silly, but in the grand scheme of my life, my own personal well-being tends to come last, this is a way for me to carve out five minutes of time everyday without anything coming up. It’s five minutes.

Another goal of mine this year is to do more of what makes me happy, and that includes writing. I have realized that while setting a daily word count works for other writers, it definitely doesn’t work for this writer. This year, I’m going to set myself a weekly goal and expand it a bit. Instead of focusing solely on word count, I’m going to include story planning as well. This also extends to the blog. I’m planning on uploading at least one post a week, anything else is a bonus.

There are a few other goals I’m setting but honestly, I’ve decided to just do them without telling anyone. Then if I fail I don’t have to feel bad that I let anyone down and I don’t have to worry about the judgment at failing something else. I can just start over and everyone is none the wiser.

So basically, I wrote all that to say that I’m back and definitely better than I was. I look forward to getting back into the swing of things. Happy New Year friends! Until next time…

The Lone Wrangler

Hiya friends, welcome back. I am forever apologizing for my absence, but I’m going to explain why. You might want a snack, and maybe a drink, shit’s about to get real. It’s also gonna be a long one, again, I apologize.

Since I started this blog thing, I’ve tried to be as open and honest as I could be about my life and dealing with anxiety and panic disorders. I have to admit, while I would discuss any of it, what I wouldn’t talk about was just how bad it had gotten. I tend to downplay the struggle because I don’t like to come across as whiny or weak.

CopingFor the better part of seven years, I’ve worn this mask of the funny girl, who gets awkward when she’s anxious and makes silly jokes to keep people from seeing the fear and pain that hide in her brain. I’ve lied and said I’m fine more times than I care to count. I’ve smiled and laughed when in actuality I just wanted to hide and cry. I never wanted people to look at me and see the broken, hurt, fear, or lonely. I wanted to be tough, and brave, I needed to be the one who fixed everyone else’s problems so I could be proud and feel useful, but I was really just running from my own baggage and the emotions that came with it.

Around the tail end of last year, my mask started to slip. It became increasingly difficult to play my role when inside I was just in fucking tatters. I knew that something had to give, I’d come to a crossroad and a decision had to be made. Essentially the door in my Memory Warehouse, behind which I store all the shitty things I don’t want to deal with or think about, had broken (shitty craftsmanship on my part) and the Asshole was in there having a fucking field day. I had run out of duct tape and wood. I dealt with it as best I could, and all but crawled my way through the holidays and the new year. I wrote my cookie cutter blogs about happier things and tried to fake my way through.

I think those closest to me had some inclination that something wasn’t right, but I also think they were too afraid to tell me they could see behind the mask. I tend to get a bit snippy when people ask if I’m okay, especially if I’m not. It meant people were seeing me for what I was, an anxious and panicky mess.

Cut to April. The happy blogs had stopped, and so had I. My days were just a roller coaster of anxiety and panic. I was having trouble sleeping, and when I did it was not very restful. I came to the realization that I’ve been fighting this battle solo for a very long time, I was drowning and it was time to ask for some help.

The next day, I made an appointment with my GP and from there she put me in touch with a woman in the practice who could help. After an appointment with the behavioral health specialist, she gave me the number of a therapist that she thought could help. I called him that day and scheduled an appointment.

It’s been about six weeks since I started seeing the Brain Wrangler (hereby Mirrorknown as Doc), and I feel like I can breathe a bit easier now. It’s a slow process, but I’m working through it and this time I’m not alone. Doc thinks it’s time to dismantle the door and clear out the infection. I am about to stand toe-to-toe with every shitty piece of my past, and I’d be lying if I said this didn’t petrify me. Just thinking about reliving some of this shit makes me want to run and hide, but I know it has to happen. I know the only way I can find peace, and the elusive beast that is actual happiness is to do this. I know I’ll never be “cured,” I’ll deal with anxiety and panic forever, but I can find some relief. I deserve it.

Well, there you have it, the truth about where I’ve been. I plan on writing some more about this, so if that sounds like something you’d be interested in…stick around. If not, I totally get it, looking inside someone’s brain isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

Until next time…

Last Line of Defense…

Stand By

Hiya friends, welcome back. I am going to be playing Division 2 today, so no blog post. We will be back to our regularly scheduled programming next week. Until next time…

10 Happy Things

happinessHiya friends, welcome back. Lately, with my life being really hectic (between school, work, and everything else), all of this can really ratchet the anxiety up, let’s just say panic attacks are happening at least three times a week.

With all the craziness going on, I thought it would be nice to take some time out today, and write about 10 things that make me happy. If for nothing else, it might give me something to look back on when everything gets overwhelming. Okay, we’re jumping in…here are my 10 happy things in no particular order, enjoy.

  1. Hobbs

Well, this one is obvious. I mean, I wouldn’t have married him if he didn’t make me happy. I’m not gonna lie, there are times when I could smother him with kisses. Then there are times when smothering him with a pillow sounds pretty hoofin great (he snores…A LOT, and a pillow is a weapon of opportunity). In all honesty, the jackass can make me laugh like no other, and if there is one surefire way to my icy heart, it’s definitely humor.

  1. The Furry Overlord and his Spunky Sidekick

This clearly means Marley and Spencer (take a guess which one is which). I consider these two wack jobs my babies, and boy do they freakin take advantage of that. Spencer only eats food Mom (that’s me) cooks, spoiled little shit. Marley, on the other hand, eats a diabetic friendly food that costs $48 for six damn pounds. If they didn’t make me happy I certainly would complain more than I do about those things.

  1. My Family

A bunch of loud mouth, cussing hooligans, and I wouldn’t have them any other way. We are very Italian, being loud and well fed is just part of the package. The best part about them is that I know all I have to do is call and someone will show up. Those people taught me how to fight and love with reckless abandon. They’re crazy and can definitely be a fucking handful but they’re my kinda crazy.

  1. My Friends

Ever met people that you are sure you were meant to be friends with? Those people that you know are meant to be in your life, but could definitely not be blood related because that’s just a recipe for disaster. Yeah, those would be my friends. I don’t have very many, but the ones I do have are one in a fucking million. Lucky me for finding them.

  1. Reading/Writing

Two things that save my sanity when reality gets to be too much (which happens more often than I’d care to admit). I was about 3 when I learned to read, and I haven’t looked back since. Writing followed quickly after, and I was sold. Now I could create my own worlds to disappear into, sign me the hell up. Without these two things, I don’t think I’d really be me, and that makes me really happy.

  1. Baking

I’m basically Betty Crocker, people. The weirdest thing about this one is…I bake all the things and yet I eat none of them. That’s not completely true, I’ll eat one of everything I bake, but I’m happier when I share it. I think it’s my Italian side that I just love to feed people. Food is easily one of my love languages, and I use it often.

  1. British Television

Oh, how I love British TV. I can honestly be in the shittest mood ever, turn on something where everyone has an accent and I’m instantly happy. Also, it makes me really happy that they can say anything, show anything, and do anything on television. Don’t believe me…watch Embarrassing Bodies on Netflix, you won’t regret it. It is an experience, and it is so worth it.

  1. Harry Potter

If you know me and you knew this would be on the list. I am a Potterhead. Yes, I know that makes me a geek, but seriously I will fight over my fandoms (especially HP) and I’m not even ashamed of that fact. My anxiety can be a raging asshole, and he will come for me hard fuckin core, but the second Hedwig’s Theme plays, or I crack open the book…he sits down and shuts the fuck up. It is the one and the only thing in my life that works consistently, every time.

  1. Russell Howard

See, in number one I said that the quickest way to my Elsa heart (Frozen joke) is by making me laugh. Russell Howard never fails to do that. It’s so bad that lines from his stand-up come out of my mouth whenever they are situationally appropriate, and sometimes when they’re not. If you’ve never seen a Russell Howard stand-up there is one on Netflix, called Recalibrate. Or, if you don’t have Netflix, I suggest searching Russell Howard on YouTube.

  1. The New House

Buy a house, they said. It’ll be fun, they said. What they don’t tell you, is fun is only there like 50% of the time. The other 50 is full of leaking faucets, yard work, and a toilet that loves to run. A silver lining, I’ve learned how to fix a running toilet, and stop a faucet from leaking. It is fun, and it’s nice to finally have that permanent home base, or HQ as we call it. This is our place, our little corner of the world. The place where we will love and fight, raise babies in and send kids off to college from. If I had a hat, I’d hang it on the wall, because this is where we belong.

There ya have it. 10 things that make me happy. It’s a nice list if I do say so myself. A perfect reminder on the days when shit gets too hard. I’m smiling already. Until next time…

Talk to Me in Korean (just kidding)

친구가 안녕하세요, welcome back. Just judging by the context, you should be able to figure out what that says. In case you can’t, it says: “Hello friend.”

KoreanFor the past couple of months, I have been learning some Korean (like I don’t already have enough going on). All blame on this goes to Tiff. She started learning it, and would randomly text me words she’d been learning and I got annoyed that I couldn’t understand her…so bada-bing-bada-boom…here we are.

Do I, as they say, have a head for languages? Nope, I certainly do not! I’m pretty good at swearing in Italian (vaffanculo is my personal favorite). I even speak rudimentary French (ask me my favorite animal and I will tell you un phoque). Are you starting to see a theme? As my dad says, I employ very colorful language.

(If you’re playing the home game, you just learned how to say “go fuck yourself” in Italian, and seal in French. You’re welcome.)

I do enjoy listening to people speak in other languages, which probably explains my penchant for K-pop at the moment. I’m also a sucker for a good accent. In case you’re wondering, British, is my favorite, followed in close second by Scottish (James McAvoy, anyone). Neither of these things plays a role in my need to learn Korean, that boils down to two things:

1. I wanna know what the songs are saying.

2. I’m sick of not being able to understand what Tiff is showing me!

You might be asking yourself, ‘Biblio, what are you using on your quest to speak Korean?’

Well, I’ll tell you, my friends.

Talk To Me In Korean books are incredible (check them out here). Seriously, I bought the first level text TTMIK Book.jpgand workbook, plus the Hangul workbook, and it’s actually made learning the language fun and interesting. Granted the illustrations have caused me to gigglesnort more than once, but maybe that adds to the experience.

Then there are the apps. I downloaded Lingodeer on Tiff’s recommendations and couldn’t be happier with it. It basically breaks down the language by category, so you start out with the alphabet and progress gradually from there. There are periodic tests and it’s always reviewing things you previously learned throughout the lesson. I’d highly recommend it. If a more regimented structure isn’t your cuppa, feel free to check out Duolingo. It’s a bit different in its setup but basically, you’ll learn the same things. The best part about both is they’re free to download (I love a good freebie). Lingodeer does have a membership option as well, but I haven’t tried it yet. You can bet if I do, I’ll let you know how I get on.

So, that is the story of my decision to learn a new language. I’m down to hear if you have any suggestions to help. Until next time…

The Buyer

My husband is selling our house.

I have watched people come and go, couples, families, single men and women, and not one of them has been right, so I sent them on their way. You see, our house was full at one point; I birthed and raised three beautiful daughters within these walls. I swear I can still hear their laughter trickling down the stairs, just as I can see my oldest coming through the door, face stained with tears, after her first heartbreak. Or my youngest learning how to navigate the spiral staircase and then looking to me for praise. There have been many a family meal set around this dining room table. I see small hands pressed against a storm door as I leave for work, and bright smiles when I return.

Our daughters learned their alphabet and multiplication at this island. These walls have heard arguments over bathrooms and squabbles over borrowed clothes without permission. My husband and I loved and laughed, here in our own little corner of the world. I’ve also seen these walls steeped in sadness, grief painting them a shade of grey.

A car door slams in the driveway – our next showing has arrived.

I make my way down the stairs in time to hear a woman say to her husband, “those stairs would be perfect to hang stockings from at Christmas.” I follow the young woman to the kitchen, and watch as she stands where I once stood, the place I last stood, before drifting upstairs to find her husband. Silently I follow, watching them. In my daughter’s bedroom the woman touches her hand to the wall.

“This was a child’s room. I had these same glow-in-the-dark stars when I was little.”

I know immediately that she feels it, this isn’t just a house to her, this is home. Stepping back and pressing a hand to my chest, a slow smile spreads across my face.

I have just found my buyer.

The Day the World Tilted

Hiya friends, welcome back. Have you ever had a week where you just felt like the universe was laughing at you? I swear, this is the perfect way to sum up the week I’ve had.

To be fair, the week started out perfectly normal. Sunday was Hobbs’ birthday, so we had a friend over for dinner and just had a laid-back night. The next couple of days were full of homework and work – again, perfectly normal.

Then Thursday happened.

Dizzy Panda.jpgI woke up and the world TILTED. Seriously, I sat up everything went wonky. My first thought was that I’d just gotten up too fast, no big deal, it’s happened before and it usually just goes away. When it didn’t pass, my next thought was a panic attack (dizziness or lightheadedness tends to be a big indicator for me). Again, no dice.

Now, I really was panicking by this point and texted Hobbs asking him to come home. He did, bless that man, he’s too good. Needless to say, we ended up at the Urgent Care in our town. The wait was excruciating; every time I moved my head – in any fucking direction – I felt like I was going to puke.

Finally got into a room to see the doctor, and after a few minutes she had me diagnosed; Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo. Let me tell you, it SUCKS! Apparently, while listening to me breathe the doc heard some palpitations, andPale.jpg she was also worried about anemia because I was pale. So, they also did an EKG and blood work. I ended up having to take Thursday and Friday off of work. Driving was not an option.

*EDIT – I do not have anemia and they aren’t too worried about the palpitations right now.*

I will say I was proud as hell of myself for keeping my shit together during all this. I had my anxiety and panic locked the fuck down during the doctor’s visit, and that was a massive win for me! Fun fact: I did have a breakdown the other day over all of this, but we’ll talk about that in another post.

I’m feeling better today, so thank the universe for small miracles. Now it’s time to go back to homework, and preparing for my birthday this Friday. (Side Note: we’re not actually doing anything for my birthday). Until next time…

A Biblio and Hobbs Collaboration

news alert.jpg

Hiya friends, welcome back. Well, this is quite the different post for us over here at the Hobbs/Biblio household. Big things have been decided and at first I wasn’t sure if I wanted to share. To be honest, it’s a little scary putting myself out there with stuff like this, especially when it’s unknown stuff, and I have no guarantee what the outcome will be. Let’s just say the anxiety is at DEFCON 1. (Time out for a nerd moment…most people think DEFCON 5 is the baddie, but it’s not, 1 is way worse. Just a heads up, okay back to the regularly scheduled programming.) I guess there is really only one way to do this. Screw it, I’m jumping in with both feet but I’m gonna plug my nose, I’m crazy but I’m not reckless.

Hobbs and I have decided, after many years of just having furbabies, that it’s time to add a tiny human to the mix. (Inside I’m screaming, a little mcaptain hook.jpgix of terror and excitement never killed anyone, right?) I mean, we’ve been married 8 years this coming August, and I think we always knew we wanted a family, we’ve just never been sure it was the right time. I say we, but let’s be honest, I’ve been Captain Hook-ing my way through life for a few years now. TICK TOCK. I definitely just pictured a tiny baby croc crawling after me holding a clock, cute and terrifying.

Needless to say, the conversation happened and it was a little awkward, which is weird and almost very normal for us. Let me give you a little snapshot of it.

Me: Hey, ummmm, let’s talk about something, kay?

Hobbs: Ooooookay, should I be worried?

Me: Nah, I mean, it’s not like I’m gonna tell you I plan to kill you. We’ve talked about this, orange is not a good color on pale girls like me.

Hobbs: Not helping, but sure talk. I’m all ears.

Me: IWANTABABYANDIKNOWYOUSAIDWESHOULDWAITBUTHONESTLYFIRSTCOMESLOVETHENCOMESMARRIAGETHENCOMESABABYINABABYCARRIAGE….I want my baby carriage…dammit.

Hobbs: Ohhhhh, it’s a good thing I speak you freaking out fluently, huh? I actually understood all that. *nervous laughter*

Me: That’s what you wanna say? On second thought, I might be able to pull off orange.

Hobbs: No, calm down, no need to get homicidal. I’m in. When do we start?

(Side Note: I’d NEVER actually kill my husband. It’s a running joke, we also joke about divorcing each other over dishes, laundry, and pretty much any household chore. Oh, and his snoring is another one. The running joke is every morning we are each at 0% divorceable, by the time we get to bed we’re usually at about 85%. It zeroes out every morning so…yeah….I digress)

Got a little off topic there, back to the tiny humans. So, we’re starting and I couldn’t be more excited, or fucking anxious. This is a huge step, but (sap alert) I couldn’t have picked a cooler guy to have my weird little bespectacled babies with. I’m convinced he’s gonna make them little bass playing babies, and I’m alright with that. I could totally go to some gigs and shout “That’s my baby.” Whereas, he’s convinced I’m going to pray they get a Hogwarts letter at 11, just so I can go to parents weekend in Hogsmeade. (He’s not totally wrong here) He wants a Jedi and I want a Wizard, either way, I know we’re having a geek, and I am VERY okay with that.

watermelonLet’s talk about my fears for a sec. I’ve heard some stories, people. Hobbs always tells me he had a big ole head when he was born, and I’m completely fine with not feeling that pain. Is it bad to say I hope our maybe baby takes after me in that aspect? My head was normal sized, or so I’ve been told. I mean, he definitely grew into his, but jeez people, I’ve seen the pictures, it was like a melon on a wrinkly little body. (Before I get skewered for this…he was adorable as all hell, but I mean, I can only imagine the pain) Okay, next fear: the whole unknown of this is huge for me. The idea that this might not work is a serious thing that makes me freak out a little bit, on the inside.

Okay, enough of the worry, this is a happy moment. We’re gonna make a baby. *claps and dances* It’s exciting and anxiety inducing all at the same time, and I’m alright with that. It’s also got us into some rather interesting situations already, the poor lady at CVS, her face was priceless when we set down prenatal vitamins (we’ve read they help with conception…see we’re researching, we must mean business) and Vaseline. It sounds like the set up to a dirty joke. Honestly, vaseline.jpgthe Vaseline was for the cat, which doesn’t sound much better…fuckkkk. (I’ll explain about the cat in another post, it’s a big thing and it’ll make sense then) Our life is already like a series of awkward situations, let’s add a kid and really shake things up.

This is just the start of the journey and I’m gonna bring you along with me. As Hobbs says, now comes the fun part…he’s a dude, and he’s gross, don’t mind him. If you ladies out there have ANY tips you wanna share, I’d love to hear them. I’m not really a gambler, but I’m a firm believer in stacking the deck, if you can help I’d love that. I’ll keep you updated. Until next time…

Things in the Works

Hiya friends, welcome back. Last week, I took a major step for myself and posted a short story of mine, and oh lord was I nervous. So, this week I wanted to chat about what I’m currently working on both writing wise and for this space.

Where to writer.jpgbegin? Okay, firstly, I’m working on a novel called The Demon’s Puppet. You know how authors will always say that a character in their writing somehow mirrors themselves. Well, this is easily the most honest I’ve ever been in my writing, mainly because my MC, a girl called Cam DeLuca, spends the entire story battling these demons, and just hoping to find a way to live her life with as little resistance as possible.

In terms where I am with this particular work, I’ve got a pretty solid plan on how the story unfolds and I’ve also got most of the characters involved mapped out and how they play into the overall plot. Another interesting thing to note, I text Tiff the other night and told her the original ending wasn’t gonna happen. In the character green room of my brain, Cam piped up and was adamant that the original ending wasCam wrong. Therefore a massive overhaul had to happen to my original plot in order to accommodate this new direction and ending. Seriously, being a writer can be annoying at times; other times you realize your characters are right and you were just being lazy.

Next project is a collaboration between, you guessed it, my favoritest friend author, Tiffany Crystal. I’m super excited about this project and it should be coming to you guys soon. The entire project is currently untitled, but we’ve given it the code name Alien. The reason I’m so excited about this project is because not only do I get to work with one of my favorite people, I also get to work with one of the most talented writers I know. So, Tiff and I have been creating worlds, characters, and plotting out this massive storyline. I’m not even sure how to sum up the the actual story, but I’m consulting Tiff to see what she thinks. This is the best I can give you right now, an alien planet, sneaky assholes, and a very fabulous prince (description approved by Tiff). Trust me, when we finally release the first part/chapter/whatever the fuck it’s gonna be, I think you’ll like it. I will definitely keep you updated on our progress and when you can expect something.

In terms of other creative endeavors, I am working on writing ait's funt least something every week for you guys. There should be short stories, flash fictions, maybe some random writings, and eventually the collab. Here’s hoping you enjoy all that.

Now, onto the blog stuff I have in the pipeline. Like I said earlier in the month, I’m looking to bring more of myself into this space. I have plans to launch a fun series that incorporates my love of baking and cooking with my love of books and movies, tentatively titled Book Bakes and Movie Munchies. I also look forward to sharing some of our home projects with you all. I mean, hopefully sometime in the future there will be a nursery project happening. Which leads nicely into the next section, writing about our journey to parenthood is going to be a big thing, and I’m sure I’ll be reading tons of parenting books and random shit like that.

I’m sure there are other things I’m forgetting but I’ll keep you updated either way. 2019 is gonna be a big and exciting year for all things Biblio, and I look forward to sharing the entire rollercoaster ride with you guys. Until next time…

The Puppet’s Maze

“Let’s see how you like it, shall we?” The Creator’s voice echoed from above.

The man stood frozen in place as the scene before him changed. The walls materialized first, the cold grey concrete rising toward an unseen ceiling. He’d watched this place spring into existence many times before and as much as he hated to say it, he was fascinated every time. The floor would change next. It was a lovely bed of grass at the moment, but soon it would be littered with broken glass and those small primary colored plastic blocks the human children loved.

The worst part was always the light, though. Usually, the clearing was lit by some form of ambient light; that changed when The Creator took over. It would be pitch black in a matter of moments.

Lastly, his own appearance would change, how this happened the man couldn’t understand. He had always considered himself a separate entity from the Creator, but he knew that soon enough, he would be stripped of his shoes, leaving his feet vulnerable to the glass scattered along his path. His dark suit, Italian made – not that the cost mattered here – replaced with shorts and one of those heinous ribbed white cotton tank tops.

It was always the same, the only thing that changed was the path he was forced to walk if he wanted out – once he regained control of his body, anyway. While he waited for The Creator to release her hold on him, he reminisced over the beginning of this all. Back then, he was able to find his way relatively quickly, but like everything that time touched, this too had evolved. The Maze had started out simple enough. He had even told The Creator as much, calling this an exercise in futility. The Creator had only laughed and changed the path again. The longer this had gone on, the harder the paths became – what used to take minutes was now hours of endless twists and turns.

Pop.

There went the lights.

“As Effie Trinket would say, ‘may the odds be ever in your favor’….Asshole.”

A small clang told him that the flashlight was on the floor at his feet and the path was set, The Creator released her hold on him – now he just had to find his way out.

He stooped and let his fingers dance over the ground, seeking out the metal of the flashlight. Finding it, the man straightened, standing to his full height and steeling himself to take that first step forward.

As his foot settled on top of the glass and plastic blocks, he felt the first shard break skin. His face twisted into a grimace and a growl escaped his mouth. He pressed on, the floor hadn’t always been like this. The first walk through this maze, the floor had been strewn with twigs, sticks, and rocks. He’d still had shoes, then. It was nothing, he had even laughed and danced a jig over them, mocking The Creator. The next time the maze had appeared, there had been random spots of quicksand. He’d found ways around it, there was still light then, and the sticks became his own sort of divining rods. Again, he had laughed at The Creator. The next version of the maze was not only dark, but he’d lost his shoes, and the quicksand had been replaced with childrens’ toys.

The changes didn’t stop there. The walls started out as shrubbery, which he had climbed. Then they were made of concrete and were too tall to scale. He had tried his damnedest anyway, and now they were covered with barbed wire.

The man continued his trek, stopping every few steps, searching for a way to cheat the maze. It took him a moment to realize there was soft earth was under his feet. Scanning the beam from the flashlight over the floor he noticed spots where the glass and toys were replaced with mounds of fresh dirt.

A smile broke out on his face, as he turned his face toward the blanket of darkness that stretched over him. “Oops, looks like someone isn’t paying attention anymore. You should know better by-” His words broke off as sharp stinging pains and a burning feeling broke out over his feet and lower legs.

A chuckle resonated around the maze, “Fire ants, Asshole. I thought they were a nice touch. Didn’t want you to think I’d forgotten about you. Hurts, don’t it?”

The man jumped back from the dirt mound and shined the beam on it. Thousands of skittering insects poured out of the hole. His screams of agony mingled with The Creators howls of laughter, creating a cacophony of sounds. He swatted and swiped at his own flesh.

Undeterred, the ants climbed higher – the pain radiating from his lower extremities becoming almost unbearable. Searching for a way to rid himself of the pests, he moved quickly through the twists and turns ahead of him.

A quick left found him standing in front of a small pond of crisp cool water. Without thinking, he dropped his flashlight and flung himself into the depths. He waited for the pain to abate, but quickly realized the stinging and burning was getting worse.

A muffled noise floated through the water to his ears. Pushing hard off the bottom, his head broke the surface to the sound of laughter everywhere. The man dragged his body onto the rocks surrounding the water as The Creator’s voice broke through the laughter.

“I don’t think I ever told you how much I love the ocean. It’s good for many things – sexy beach hair is all the rage topside. Unfortunately for you, Asshole, saltwater stings like a bitch if you have open wounds.”

The man lay on his back, in pain and breathing heavily. He knew he needed to focus to be able to navigate his way out of this hell.

The voice spoke from the darkness again, “I’m gonna help you out this once, mainly because I have big things planned for you. Purely selfish motivations here. Remember what the doctor said? You know, the one you called a hack? 4-7-8. In through the nose for four, hold it for seven, then exhale through your mouth for eight. Come on, up and at ‘em, Big Guy!” The Creator continued with false enthusiasm. “The fun isn’t over yet, and trust me you’re going to want to start moving soon.”

He could hear the amusement in The Creator’s voice, and thought about ignoring her, but his body seemed to follow the instructions without his consent. His heart was slowing down, and the pain seemed to be lessening. Flipping himself over, he pushed up onto his knees. Struggling to his feet, he gave the pain a moment to further subside, then, bending at the waist, the man scooped up the flashlight. Sweeping the beam around the perimeter of the pond, he stopped on the far wall. Even with the light, he could barely make out what it was, but there was definitely something moving.

With a start, he understood the game had changed again. There was something other than him in this maze. Something alive.

The Creator laughed from above him. “Uh-oh, Asshole. Looks like you have company.”

He was moving before he even processed what was happening. Pausing for a second to gain his bearings, he used the flashlight to light the darkness surrounding him. The path ahead was clear, at least as far as the light touched. The path to his right, where he’d come from didn’t look much different. He moved the beam of light along the floor, nothing unusual that he could see. It wasn’t until he lifted the beam from the floor that he saw them.

Fire ants the size of Pomeranians, with mandibles as big as his hands. With no time to think logically, he took the path straight ahead. He knew he needed to get out of there, to stay ahead of the things that were chasing him.

“Run, Forrest, run,” The Creator taunted him. “Don’t look now, Asshole, but your friends are gaining on you. I’m not trying to tell you how you should escape here, but I think you should consider moving a little quicker. Have you ever been bit by a fire ant that size? Imagine the swarm they’d create. The tiny ones hurt like a bitch; it just stands to reason the pain would get bigger with them.”

The man clutched his hand to his chest but kept moving. She’d never pushed him this far before.

“Your chest hurts, huh? Feels like your heart’s gonna beat right out of your chest. That happens when your fight or flight response kicks in, basically it changes the force of your heartbeat. Don’t worry you won’t die, fear can’t kill you, right?”

His racing heart was affecting his breathing, he was panting and knew he was slowing down.

“Your breathing seems to be changing, buddy. I bet it feels like there’s an elephant on your chest. Not being able to take a deep breath is really going to affect your escape,” her voice turned mocking. “4-7-8, Asshole, 4-7-8.”

The running man threw a quick glance over his shoulder, he could still see movement in the darkness. The walls were moving.

“You do realize there’s no escape this time, right? What did you call it before? ‘An exercise in futility’? Don’t you see what’s happening? Always boasting about how smart you are, but when it comes right down to it, you’re thick as pigshit. Oh, right. How could I know what you’re feeling?”

The realization slapped the man in the face. Anxiety. The feelings he was so good at creating in others, he had somehow missed in himself. His pace slowed until he was no longer sprinting.

“Welcome to the party. Took you long enough. Bet you didn’t even realize that the skittering creepy crawlies stopped about ten minutes ago. Fun fact: there was only two of them, it really is amazing how well the power of suggestion works on an already frazzled mind.”

He stopped and looked around. He was back at the beginning.

“It’s easy to change the rules when you’re the one making them,” the voice didn’t sound as far away now.

Spinning, the man saw her for the first time.

Seven years ago, when he decided to make her mind his new home, he had thought her weak. That had been his mistake. Back then, she was timid and easy to manipulate, but now there was a fierce and vibrant glow surrounding her.

Looking into her green eyes, he smiled at the defiance he found there. Even now she was daring him to try her.

Neither one spoke, but an understanding was formed in the silence. They were each here for a reason. He had assumed he held all the power, and in his arrogance, had underestimated his opponent. Lesson learned, he’d never make that mistake again.