Beast – A Look at the First Chapter

Here’s an excerpt from my upcoming freebie Beast, exclusive for people who sign up for my newsletter! Enjoy!

Chapter 1

“She’s a witch.”

If she was, she didn’t look like one. Mrs. Fulton looked… well, like a mom. Middle-aged, a little frayed around the edges, her makeup perhaps caked on a little thick in the vain hopes of pushing time back a decade. She strode down the street, pushing her little red grocery cart in front of her, a pair of earbuds trailing down to a cell phone holster. Mrs. Fulton could have been any other suburbanite woman on her way back from the store.

Well, save for the braid of long auburn hair tied to the handlebar of her cart, anyways.

“That’s human hair,” Chris said from the driver’s seat, sounding not so much scared as amused. “My dad says it’s some kind of Wiccan thing, like a calling card to let the others know she’s a witch.”

“Serulian,” Becca corrected absently, eyes locked on Mrs. Fulton as she glanced over her shoulder and smiled. She couldn’t have overheard them. They were a quarter of a block away at a red light. But still…

After finishing a deep drink of her Dr. Pepper, Trish asked, “What, like the color?” Becca’s best friend was sharper than she usually let on, but didn’t bother hiding her book smarts with the two of them. Becca had been her best friend since grade school, and Trish had lived with Chris since they were three, after their parents had hooked up at a drunkfest of a Christmas party and decided to get hitched a week later in Vegas.

“No, with an S and an I.” Becca spelled it out for Trish, who wrinkled her nose. Behind them, a car honked and Chris shot forward guiltily. “They’re… I don’t know, hardcore witches, I guess you’d call them.” That wasn’t true, not by a long shot. The Sirulians worshipped something they called the Blight, but what that was she had no idea and it was easier just to explain away the details in a vague fashion.

Becca was fascinated by the splinter group, as she was with everything horror and occult related. When the news reports started leaking that last winter about a small town to the east of Rankin Flats just appearing out of nowhere, its citizens all apparently dying within a day or two, something had woken up in Becca. She’d always liked writers like John Saul and Dean Koontz, but that had been at a distance, and purely for entertainment. Something about that little town, Hamber, and the way the government tried to cover it up made her hungry to learn more. She gorged herself on every book, popular or obscure, that dealt in the history of ghost towns and the occult in the area. And with it being Rankin Flats, one of the most dangerous and storied cities in the world, there were plenty, enough to fill whole sections of libraries.

That rabbit hole led her to start reading up on magic practitioners, common or uncommon to the Flats. Serulians weren’t written about much, mostly because they kept to themselves. There weren’t covens or thinly disguised gab clubs devoted to the Serulian ways. The tenets had yet to be discovered by the hordes of liberal arts majors dabbling in witchcraft in head shops and the backs of libraries. All that was really known about them were generalities. Chris wasn’t wrong about the hair being a symbol of the craft, at least according to what she read. But Wiccan? No..

Becca turned in her seat to keep watching Mrs. Fulton. The woman turned to glance back at her, a smile flickering just for a moment across her face. She’d known Becca was there, looking. Creepy.

* * *

Darcy and Derek, known affectionately as the Double Ds, met them at a Brisktro not all that far from their school. The couple were practically twins, both dressed in flannel, jeans, and cowboy hats too big for their heads. Becca had grown used to not rolling her eyes when the pair were around. Derek, not all that long ago, had been a dyed-in the-wool geek who wore nothing but 90s referential t-shirts and cargo pants. Ever since he’d started dating the cowgirl at his side, he’d changed up his entire wardrobe for her, not to mention his lifestyle. Weekends and evenings spent obsessing over Overwatch and track turned into enthusiasm for rodeos, farm work, and country music. Becca wouldn’t mind so much if he didn’t try so damned hard at being this faux cowboy. It was douche and not a little slimy.

To her credit, at least Darcy wasn’t trying to force the changes on him, but she wasn’t exactly discouraging them either. In her tight jeans, it was easy to understand why Derek would lose himself over to a slavish devotion to his girlfriend. Darcy really wasn’t a bad person, though. She was the one friend Becca could call night or day and have a friendly ear to talk to, and she didn’t ever seem to share secrets, something even Trish couldn’t manage.

They ordered their favorites – Trish a chai tea, Derek and Darcy iced coffees (even if Derek used to hate coffee), Becca a hot tea, thinking about the lonely five-dollar bill in her handbag. She hoped this was the year she could finally pass for old enough to get a part-time job, but she looked years younger than she actually was. A blessing, some of her aunts called it, but to Becca, all it meant was that she couldn’t get away from home, couldn’t buy herself any of the day-to-day things her friends enjoyed, couldn’t get anything more serious than yardwork and babysitting jobs.

When Trish sweetly but naively told her she could have whatever she wanted because it was on her, Becca grew red as a beet and tried not to storm off. “Just tea,” she said through gritted teeth and a forced smile. Becca darted away from the group, trying not to let them see her balled fists. Pity. She hated that word more than any other in the English language. Well, except for “I’m sorry.”

At a table near the window, she dug out a tattered copy of Edgar Sawtelle, her latest favorite find from a Friends of the Library sale. Once upon a time she’d owned a Kindle, bought with money carefully saved from babysitting two little brats in her trailer park, but after only a few weeks, she’d come home to find it missing and her father Luke armed with a trio of new bottles fresh from the liquor store. Becca had cried and cried, and he’d even apologized in his fumbling way, but he’d never bought her a new one. Now she never bought anything he could sell.

Not even a sentence into the book, Chris dropped into the chair beside her. Her sense of smell always grew sharper just before her period, and she imagined she could sniff out every drop of delicious sweat coming from his pores, not to mention his sporty deodorant and the hint of aftershave. Just a year older than her, he was still the only boy she knew who wore the stuff and make it seem natural instead of like a boy playing at being a man. His easy-going smile did things to her stomach that no one else’s could. It wasn’t just a girl crush, either, but full on lust. If Chris told Becca to sneak away to the Brisktro’s men’s room, she’d have gladly followed him in there and let him do whatever he wanted for however long he could, preferably over and over again.

“She means well,” he said quietly, covering her free hand with his. She wondered if he could feel her heartbeat rev up like a NASCAR racer’s engine.

Drag me off, she pleaded internally. Make love to me for days. I’m yours. “Yeah,” Becca muttered.

“It’s not a pity thing. It’s just Trish trying to be sweet.”

Becca didn’t say anything to that, just buried her nose further in her book. He squeezed her hand, sending a delicious little jolt of electricity up and down her arm. Trish slid into the chair across from her and pointed a finger at her stepbrother. “You’re so not hitting on Becs, are you?”

“What if I am?” Chris said, and trailed his fingers up and down Becca’s arm. That caused her to drop her book in shock.

Approaching the table as Becca scooted her chair back to swipe up her book, hoping the rest of them didn’t see how red her face was, Derek snickered. “Smooth, Becca.”

“Shut up,” she said, finally coming up with Sawtelle in hand.

Behind her boyfriend, Darcy asked, “You okay, Becky?” She was the only one who called her that. Becca hated the nickname – she didn’t even care much for Becca, but it was what everyone called her and she went with it meekly.

“Yeah fine,” she said, fast enough that it became one word – yeahfine. “Just got startled, that’s all.”

“Must be my sexy lips,” Chris said, and made a kissy face in Becca’s direction. This time she was positive everyone could see her blush.

Perfect.

* * *

When Trish and Chris dropped Becca off back at her trailer, Chris hopped out and told his sister he’d be just a minute. She made some moaning sounds and giggled when Chris thumped the door to get her to shut up. Becca’s whole body quivered as she waited for Chris to talk.

“So. Um,” she finally said, kicking herself for her inability to say anything cooler.

“So,” he said, and scratched his head. She liked his clean-cut hairdo. Most of the boys in her class thought the shaggy dog look was still in, but Chris… Chris was classier than that. As young as he might be, he’d almost look right at home in a boardroom somewhere if he owned a suit and a tie. “I’m sorry about that.”

“It’s okay,” she mumbled. He could only mean one thing – the coffee shop incident wouldn’t leave her friends’ minds easily and they’d use it to fluster her whenever they wanted.

“No, it’s not. Let me make it up to you.”

“H-how?” She thought boys were the only ones who suffered from squeaking voices, but hers went as high as a mouse’s.

“Let me take you to dinner or something sometime. And maybe we’ll see a movie or something. We’ll-”

“Yes,” Becca said, practically shouting it.

Chris grinned. “Cool. It’ll be fun to hang out as friends, just the two of us.”

Her heart, soaring so quickly just a moment before, crashed into her gut and burned. “As friends. Right.”

Chris pulled her to him for a quick hug. “See ya then.”

Becca watched them off down the street until the car was just a speck in the distance, then yanked at one of the hairs on her head. It was an unhealthy coping mechanism for her stress and she hadn’t done it in weeks, but now her fingers plucked away like a first chair violinist. Before she could storm inside, a neighboring trailer’s screen door popped open and fifteen pounds of panting furball bounced down the stairs and across the grass to her. Spotted with mud and burrs, Frisco was badly kept and half-starving, but he was a gleeful little thing and Becca’s heart lightened a little seeing him.

She knelt down to scratch at his ears as the dog’s owner Shea appeared at her screen door. The elderly woman had to come out of her trailer from time to time, Becca was sure of it, but damned if she could remember when. “Frisco!” she called sharply. “Get your ass back here!”

“it’s all right, Shea,” Becca called out. Frisco waggled his butt as if to say, yes, it’s quite all right, I’d like to stay here now, preferably forever so long as I get my butt rubbings.

Shea muttered something under her breath and called Frisco back. The dog reluctantly returned to the house, stopping only to lift its hind leg and spray down an old broken barbeque. Becca raised a hand to wave at the old woman, but she was already retreating inside the house and didn’t return the gesture.

“Fuck you too, then, you old bitch,” Becca muttered and felt a little better.

Becca hadn’t been expecting her father to be home. His old Cutlass hadn’t been parked out front and she’d thought she was safe for the evening to head into her room, shut the door, cry herself out, and then try to figure out just how the hell she was going to start earning some real cash. When she smelled the meat frying, every instinct in her body told her to turn around and run. Her father never cooked. Luke’s meals came from a can, or on very rare occasions, the microwave.

Meat meant something was out of the ordinary, and in the Pratchett family, out of the ordinary meant trouble. He was in the kitchen, his graying hair tied in a ponytail with a rubber band as he whistled something she vaguely remembered hearing on the radio, some old-timey honky-tonk rock song. Cooking and whistling. This wasn’t good. This wasn’t good at all.

When the screen door banged shut, Luke turned and grinned at her, giving her a little wave with his spatula. She hated her dad’s smile. That beguiling, charming twinkle to his eyes. The way his nose crinkled just a little bit. It was the smile of an addict in momentary denial and with it would come a tempest if she wasn’t careful. And Becca was in no mood to be careful.

“Cooking some ham and eggs!” he hollered at her cheerfully. “How do you want ‘em? Scrambled or over-easy?”

“Um. Scrambled.”

“Atta girl. Just like her poppa.”

Becca didn’t sit down. Didn’t move away from the door. She didn’t trust her dad when he was like this. Not one bit. Him standing over her bed. “You look so much like your mom,” he’d whispered. She shuddered involuntarily.

“Where’s the car, dad?”

Luke stiffened but kept right on cooking. “Got a new job today. The bank! Gonna be their janitor.” He stretched the word out – jan-it-tore. “Mop their floors, clean up after their shits, say yes sir, no sir, why lemme get that for you, yassir!”

Any other day, that might have been great news. Luke hated his job at the gas station down the street. Now she just waited for the other shoe to drop. “That’s good,” she said, her voice flat.

“Fuck, Becca, can’t you be a little happier than that?” The words might have been harsh, but his tone was still chipper. He turned, flipped a piece of ham in the air for her amusement, and caught it with the frying pan. It had been a trick she’d loved as a kid. Before her mom had died. Before it had all gone to shit. “You know what this means, baby girl? Money in our pockets.”

“Did you sell the car?”

He slammed a fist down on the counter. “Damn it, Becca-” There he was, she thought to herself. The beast come out to play.

“You pay the water bill? The electric? Anything? Or did you just buy a few groceries and, oh, hey, the liquor cabinet’s restocked again?”

The pan came flying at her a moment later, still searing hot. She ducked it easily but where it landed it sizzled the carpet. Burn, motherfucker, burn, she thought idly as she spun for the door. “Becca, wait, I’m sorry,” Luke shouted after her.

But she was already moving, already running out the door and down the steps.

Legally Blind #4 – Fear and Loathing in Colorado, Part One

I used to be afraid of the dark.

Unless you know me particularly well, “the dark” isn’t probably what you think it means. I’m not afraid of the night, or things that might or might not go bump in it – hell, my paychecks are now based on the boogeyman and his merry band of asshole buddies. What I mean is blindness. Waking up one day with another detached retina, or the slow fade into total blindness through macular degeneration used to terrify me in some subtle ways.

It’s not an easily describable fear. It wasn’t like it kept me up at night – though it certainly did, sometimes, when I’d contemplate how little I could actually do if I went completely blind (which is a falsehood, by the way – the blind can do plenty). It was more like a creeping dread, a sense of inescapable quicksand into a continued loss of functions we take for granted each and every day since we’re born.

Most of all, I was afraid of being helpless. By the end of college, I’d already lost my ability to drive, leaving me hoping for a single room in dingy college dorms probably best torn down. It left me without a great many of the activities I liked to do – suddenly I couldn’t play games online with my mom because I genuinely thought the eye strain would screw up my good eye. It left me straining to read books because my good eye wasn’t my dominant one.

Fear and helplessness leave me an angry, bitter mess. I’d bet you ninety nine times out of a hundred, abusive husbands hit their wives out of impotent rage. They can’t hit the thing they truly want to hit, so they find someone they think they can lord over and go to town, verbally or physically. I wish I could say I was different, but I know that need. It’s been the passenger in the seat next to me my whole life and it’s something I still struggle with every day. I’ve hit my brother so much over our lifetimes that the guilt of it crushes my shoulders on a daily basis. I’ve been in a dozen stupid fights, ostensibly because I was standing up for something or someone, but really because I just really fucking love the feel of my fists hitting something fleshy.

I hate myself for that. And don’t try to tell me not to. That contempt I feel for my anger is what drives me to seek peace with myself every single day. What all the hippy-dippy types don’t tell you about trying to find yourself is that when you do, you have to live with looking in the mirror every day.

None of that seems relevant to blindness, except it all is. Blindness isn’t the only thing that makes me angry all the time, but it’s a large part of my continual disappointment in myself. Imagine wanting to live your life as your own man and then having to ask for help from people who are never going to say no because they love you and pity you. Imagine how much that grinds you down. It’s exhausting.

I say all that about the present because back in 2004, these feelings were all still new to me. Up until 2003 or so, I had my issues with my temper, but going blind added a mountain to my back. If I’d been focused on what I could do instead of what I couldn’t, I have no idea where I’d be right now. I’d have tried for an acting school on the east coast, almost certainly. Who knows where I would have gone? What I would have done?

But fear had me and I don’t really blame myself. Thankfully, though, that temper of mine can sometimes work as a positive every once in a great while. I was tired of being afraid. I didn’t want to live my life on Social Security (which would later become kind of ironic, since that’s what I’ve been doing for eight years). I wanted to figure my shit out.

So I did. I talked to my Blind and Low Vision rep here in Montana, and the individual pointed me towards a place called the Colorado Center for the Blind. A few months later, and I hopped on a plane with a small suitcase and no idea what I was headed into. None. All I knew was that I’d be staying in Littleton, Colorado – yes, that Littleton – and going to school near there.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” is incredibly apt when it comes to Denver. No six months of my life has ever been so eventful, made me feel so damned alive or so miserable. There are people I love from that period of time more than I have the ability to express. Rebecca Myers. Matthew Palumbo. Tommy Needham. Thirteen years later I still tell people stories about them, still laugh, still kinda wish I’d never left, still kinda glad I did.

When I hopped off the plane, I was greeted by an old man in an outlandish Hawaiian shirt, who promptly dropped me off at a surprisingly nice apartment complex in the suburbs. I was told that someone would be by… well, eventually. Eventually turned into a couple of hours of disbelief that this was suddenly my life, spent waiting outside in the blistering June heat. I couldn’t even get into my apartment because there was some SNAFU with the apartment keys. So I waited.

Enter my new roommate. Completely blind and looking kinda like a wet rat, he whacked his cane up and down the sidewalks and… promptly walked right by our apartment building for the one next door. I didn’t realize he was my roommate at the time, and “Steve” as we’ll call him had absolutely no sense of direction whatsoever. So I waited more. And more. And when he came back down the street, I asked him if he knows a guy named “Steve.” His face lights up – and if you’ve never seen a completely blind person’s face light up, it is one of God’s great joys, and I’m not even being the slightest bit sarcastic about that – and we finally get our housing stuff sorted out.

The apartment was sparse – a few bits of furniture leftover from various tenants and bedroom accouterments were about it. No TV, no entertainment, nothing. I slung my suitcase on my bed and sat down to enjoy the air conditioning for a while until “Steve” barreled right through my bedroom door and stood – I kid you not – half a foot away from me to ask me a bevy of questions.

He then asked if I wanted dinner. Since I hadn’t eaten since before the flight that morning, I was all for it. I wasn’t sure what I expected, but “Steve’s” next words kinda took me by surprise. “Sorry,” he said, “I haven’t gone grocery shopping in a while. All that’s in the fridge is hot dogs and spinach leaves.” And come to find out, those spinach leaves were rotten.

My first dinner in Denver, Colorado was a boiled hot dog, followed by my new roommate following me around like a lost puppy.

As far as first days of anything important in my life, it’s by far the weirdest. And that night, when I laid down listening to “Steve” whack his cane up and down the street trying to find a neighbor I didn’t know in a different building, I wondered just what the everloving hell I was doing there and how long I’d make it. Privately, I gave myself three days.

Turns out I lasted six months. Six grueling, happy, miserable months where I learned more about myself than any other time of my life. But more on that in Part Two, coming soon.

Band of Fallen Princes is available now!

Heya folks! My latest Rankin Flats supernatural thriller Band of Fallen Princes is now live on Amazon! This one centers around four childhood friends, once the victims of vicious bullies, as they become four criminal masterminds behind the scenes in the big sprawl that is Rankin Flats. When one of their own is brutally executed in an apparent gangland hit, the remaining three cut a bloody swath through the city to get their revenge. Can Garrett and Murphy stop them? After the events of Bone Carvers, are they even capable of trying? Well, read on and find out!

I’ll be pursuing the paperback version in June, but for now, you can buy your copy on your Kindle for just $2.99. Hope you enjoy, and welcome back to Rankin Flats!

Fallen_Princes Final

Mailing list problems have been resolved (kind of)

Hey folks!

I’ve set up a new mailing list page. If you’ve already signed up, you’ll be automatically added and don’t need to do anything. If you haven’t signed up, you can sign up here! Joining the mailing list will nab you Beast, a free horror novella set in the Rankin Flats universe. A standalone story, it follows Becca, a teenager being stalked by a hound straight from the pits of hell.

One quick note – if you try to sign up for the mailing list directly from the ebooks themselves, I have not yet uploaded the changed links. If you don’t receive a confirmation email when you sign up, please contact me via a private message here or on Facebook or Twitter and I’ll get you hooked up.

As always, thanks for reading!

Regarding my mailing list

There appears to be some technical troubles affecting people trying to sign up for my mailing list. If you don’t receive a confirmation email when you sign up, please drop me a comment below and we’ll get you sorted. You can also PM me via Twitter or Facebook with your email address and I’ll add you manually.

I’ll have more details soon, but newsletter subscribers will receive exclusive access to a free short story/novella titled Beast. Set in the Rankin Flats universe, the story follows Becca, a teenager being stalked by a dog-like creature straight from the pits of hell. This is a standalone story, and features all-new characters. Should be fun! More info to come soon.

Legally Blind #3 – Tools of the Trade

My vision’s affected every part of my life. That pretty much goes without saying when you’re staring down diopters in the -30 range (my vision doesn’t even really work with the 20/20 scale, that’s how bad it is), but the truism of it doesn’t really hit you until you start to see the minutia of what I do on a day to day basis that might be different from your own life.

Let’s start with the most obvious stuff as pertains to just writing. Larger fonts on PCs are an absolute must, but by and large I prefer to use the magnifier built into most Windows operating systems. It’s not the most ideal tool in the world but it’s pretty damn close to being perfect for my needs. This is something not everybody’s aware of, but you can find it by searching for “Magnifier” in your search bar next to your Start button. It’s super handy. I use the full-screen version at a 300% magnification, then minimize the tool to the taskbar so it doesn’t get in the way.

It’s not ideal for everything – games can be kind of hit and miss with it, unless they can be windowed, in which case it usually works great. But for simple web browsing, video watching, or Microsoft Word (the program I use ten times more than any other), it’s ideal and simple, and doesn’t cost a thing.

I tend to set up my computers to run at slightly larger fonts, as mentioned before, and this is another something people might not be aware of. Check your settings in your browser of choice – usually the font sizes are either under accessibility or advanced options. Going too large will tend to screw with the line placement and text wrapping, so be warned it might look funky.

I don’t tend to read much on paper anymore, unless I’m proofing one of my paperback novels. The reason isn’t so much my vision – you’d be surprised at how great the publishing world is about supplying large print versions of their books – as it is lighting. As mentioned in my previous post, I don’t see light the “right” way anymore and shadows interspersed with light can really screw with my eyes. To that end, I either like to read in full daylight or with the aid of a supremely bright reading lamp angled over the top of my head. This isn’t always feasible, so I tend to do a lot of my reading on my iPad or Kindle, both of which have adjustable font sizes and a relatively high contrast between the font and the “paper.” If you have a low-vision family member with a bit of technical savvy, I cannot recommend one of these two options enough. Sure, we all tend to prefer books on paper, but when the alternative is eyestrain, migraines, or worst of all, no reading whatsoever, then make the smarter choice and go for the tech. I did and I don’t regret it.

The iPad also has a nifty high contrast mode, which reverses the text and the background, so that the font shows up as white and the background black. That’s really handy for nighttime reading, though I do wish the iPad allowed for a greater font size. It’s nitpicky but when your vision is this bad, you want to be able to control your fonts to the greatest extent possible.

For walking, I get by without a cane but I do have a fold-up travel cane I take with me to unfamiliar places when traveling, especially if I’m going to be walking at night by myself. Our little community finally (in 2017!) has corners with dots on the sidewalks to let you know where the sidewalk ends. I tend not to need these, but believe me, when every painted curb looks like it could be a ramp, it’s extremely nice not to come off a curb the wrong way and twist my ankle needlessly. Now I now, “Oh, hey, I can cross here and it’s not going to be a drop.” Again, this is maybe a decade late coming, but we’re also talking about a town that’s just now getting a Redbox, so “behind the times” doesn’t quite do us justice sometimes. We’ve also had an update to our town’s lights, or at least as far as Main Street is concerned, which is a blessing. Being able to see the sideewalks at night isn’t just awesome for the blind, but lends the town a less murderous feel when you’re out and about. Now to just get the residential areas up to snuff so I’m not tripping over the billion potholes. Another battle for another time, I suppose.

Around the house, one of the more useful things I have is sticky dots of various colors for buttons on my microwave and stove. Although my microwave’s buttons are big, they’re not high contrast or particularly easy to define since they all feel exactly the same, so adding dots to the “time cook,” “cancel,” and “start” buttons is a pretty good alternative. Same goes for the stove. I like that my stove has its dials right up front as opposed to near the back – I get that it looks old-fashioned, but it also means I can see the dots and line them up where they need to be.

There are some other little tools I keep around. Gel pens, while a bit messy, tend to write thick enough to make handwriting legible (or would, if my handwriting was legible to begin with). Magnifiers don’t work very well with my glasses for whatever reason, but I have a couple I keep around that do help a little. I keep a largeprint notebook (with extra thick lines) next to my computer for writing minutia. That’s handy, but honestly, unlined notebook paper would probably work just as well.

One note to gamers out there – if you have a PS4, check into your accessibility settings. They’ve been doing some amazing things, including adding a magnifier. It’s not ideal – you can’t control the action and be zoomed in at the same time, so it’s largely limited to games with frequent pauses like JRPGs or text-heavy games. But it’s a fantastic little touch to make things just a little easier. Hell, given how small those fonts are for some games, I’d recommend it even for my well-sighted friends.

For information on where you can obtain most of this type of stuff, contact your state’s Blind and Low Vision (or equivalent) service. At the very least they’ll point you in the right direction, and in a best case scenario, maybe they’ll even pick you up as a client.

That does it for this blog. As always, if you have any questions or comments, fire them off below.

Legally Blind #2 – What the Heck is Wrong with Me?

I’m not particularly shy about talking about my eyesight and the problems I have because of it. But I very rarely ever go into the actual specifics of what’s gone on with my eyes unless people specifically ask. It’s one of those things I’ve lived with for so long that I tend to be oblivious when it comes to people’s curiosity. That I’m kind of oblivious about people in general anyways doesn’t help matters much.

My mom and dad tell this story about taking my brother and I to the airport when we were four and five or so, maybe a bit older. We were in the terminal and my parents pointed out the window. “Look, boys,” they said, “do you see the planes?” We nodded, really excited, but here’s the thing – we were looking at the wall.

That was my parents’ first clue something might possibly be wrong with our eyes.

There are a thousand more stories like that I’ll tell you throughout this blog, but that was the first big Magoo moment for both of us. Turned out we had severe astigmatism thanks to bad genetics and progressively worsening macular degeneration. You can look it up for a more specific medical definition, but for simplicity’s sake, let’s say it’s the retina’s slow breakdown.

Bunches of people suffer from macular degeneration. You could probably throw a rock right now and hit someone who suffers from it, knowingly or not. By the way, please don’t. This blog assumes no liabilities from your rock-throwing shenanigans.

We just happened to get hit with a whopping dose of it, and unfortunately for both of us, it grew progressively worse throughout the years. Surgery was never really an option. We saw a surgeon when we were teenagers, who referred us to another doctor in Tijuana (which probably should have been the first warning bell of our search for the cure). We didn’t even get to take in a donkey show before the other doctor told us, “oh hell no.” Well, in more doctory terms than that, but you get the point.

My brother’s vision started to settle a bit as an adult. He’s had a scare here and there, but thankfully, he’s stayed relatively stable and I kid you not, I thank God that it was me He jabbed with the Eye Poker of Doom. Ryan still drives. Ryan’s got a steady job where he can see the screen. Ryan regularly plays games without too much of a fuss. He might not always have those blessings but he does today, and that’s awesome.

My life kinda went a different route. Not a bad one, mind you – without what happened in my early twenties, I very much doubt I’d be wrapping up my fifth novel in just under a year.

When I was in my third year of college, I sat down to play a game of Literati with my mom. You know, the old Yahoo game back when Yahoo was still kind of relevant and doing awesome things instead of churning out other people’s articles in clickbait formats? Good times, right?

That was the last game of Literati I ever played.

I had this funny little niggling floater in my right eye. Now floaters, for those of you who haven’t seen them, are just little irregular splotches or lines of color that creep up in people’s eyes sometimes. It happens for a variety of reasons, but it usually signifies minor – very minor – things going on in the back of your eyes. When one of those floaters doesn’t go away, take my advice and GET YOUR ASS TO THE HOSPITAL NOW.

I didn’t. I waited until the next morning. The spot grew worse, obscuring most of the vision in my right eye. I tried to drive, but I quickly panicked and called upon some dear friends of mine to help haul my ass around the small college town I was living in. The optometrist there advised me, trying to avoid heaping too much panic in his voice, to go to a much bigger hospital an hour’s drive away. So my friend Adrianne drove me even further, and I saw a very nice specialist who became very cross that I hadn’t come in very much earlier, because as it turned out, I had a detached retina, and that’s the sort of thing you want treated yesterday.

Terrific.

Surgery happened like that. Thanks to the support of my hometown and the kindness of several very specific people behind the scenes, my mom was able to fly down immediately. I wanted to pick her up from the airport myself, but when I tried to drive, a small child ran out in front of a parked car a football field away. The kid was never in any sort of danger, but that feeling of the child just suddenly exploding into my sight made me pull over, sweat rolling down my face (and not from my giant ass running several miles, thank you), and cry. Yes. Cry. Like a baby. A goateed baby with magnificent hair and an exquisite taste in video games.

All jokes aside, that was probably one of the worst days of my life that didn’t involve anything horrible happening to people I love. I hate that day more than I hate what came afterwards, and what came afterwards was my private hell. But thankfully some very nice things happened before and during, so it all kind of balances out.

My friend C-Flo (and yes, that’s really his nickname) borrowed a truck from another friend named Tate (God, I miss you, Missouri, and your lovably crazy names), and we hauled ass to Kansas City to pick up my mom. Keep in mind, this wasn’t just a truck, but a freakin’ goliath of a beast, wildly, hilariously over-the-top with exhaust pipes coming up out of the truck bed like two erect steel dongs. It didn’t so much drive down the rode as tore ass. My mom, bless her soul, absolutely loved it. And C-Flo, too, for that matter.

We got back to my car, my mom took me to the same big hospital in Columbia, MO, one of my all-time favorite cities that I’ve visited, and there, I was promptly knocked out completely for most of a day. Not just knocked out, but put in a freakin’ coma, more or less. They had me on a breathing tube thing. When you’re not expecting that when you wake up, it’s not exactly the most pleasant “hey, how ya doin’?” I yakked. Not just a little, apparently, but my guts led a freaking revolution and I put on quite the show.

A while later, I came back to again. Here’s where I talk about the surgeries I had, and this is going to make some of you squeamish, so be warned.

With a detached retina, what the surgeon did essentially was wrap a rubber-band type thing around my eye to sort of shove it into a facsimile of the shape it should be in. But with the delicate structure of my eyes and the years and years of macular degeneration, there was a good chance the same thing would happen to me again, so the doctor decided to strengthen what’s called the lattice structure of my eyes with a few thousand hits of laser. You read that right – thousands.

What he was doing, essentially (I still don’t understand much of the specifics), was sealing up all the little tears, holes, and stretched-thin parts. And with regards to my eyes, there was a veritable shitload. My eyes looked like, medically speaking, Johnny Depp’s Saturday night hookup. He spent a lot of time in there, and his efforts have saved my eyes from a lot of future problems.

But.

The detached retina didn’t go away. It got better, certainly, and now it only distorts a central portion of my right eye (mind you, a big central portion, but not nearly as bad as it was before the surgery). My left eye is now more sensitive to light in some really curious ways. It doesn’t hurt my eyes, but the way my two eyes discern light is night and day, in an almost-literal kind of way. What vision I have in my right eyes, around the edges, sees light the “right” way, in that dark rooms are dark and light is just something that’s there. My left eye… hm. How do I describe this? You know the feeling you get when you walk into somewhere dark when you’ve been out in the bright sunshine a while? What I see with my left eye is like a mild version of that. It doesn’t affect the vision itself in any way, and it’s so slight as to be negigible if I have my right eye closed, but the difference is there.

We’ll talk another time about the recovery from those surgeries, as that three month period afterwards and my college year that followed deserve to be talked about, ugly warts and all. I promised you complete honesty with this blog series, and that includes me at my most despicable and miserable.

What’s happened since then has been less interesting. My degeneration continues, but it’s slowed in my thirties, to the point where I’ve actually had the same vision the last couple of checkups. A small win, but I’ll take it. I’ve had one scary bleeding incident in my left eye, back when I worked as the county’s clerk and recorder, but by and large, I’ve been scare-free since the surgeries. I think peripherally my vision is fading a bit in ways that aren’t easily quantifiable. Even though it was never great to begin with, I think my distant vision is getting a little tiny bit worse, which troubles me, but in a way so vague and indistinct that it’s near the bottom of my to-care-about list. Not like we can really do anything about it anyways.

Right now, I do have a cataract in my left eye. That’s the most troublesome development in recent memory, but it may force my hand eventually into getting a risky surgery that could wind up stabilizing my eye. Right now, the risks are too great – I have vision I can operate with now, but if things went wrong with my eyes, I’d have to adapt to trying to function with near total blindness. Oddly, that thought doesn’t scare me as much as you might think – again, fodder for another blog, but I’m not scared of the future. I’m just preparing for it.

And that’s it! Got any questions about the specifics of any of this, hit me up! I’m happy to answer any questions you might have.

-Cameron Lowe