Of media representation, middle age, and, you guessed it, Dying Light of all things.

I’m not very good at writing about myself. In particular, I’m not very good at sharing me with the public, though I suppose what I’d like to say here isn’t all about me. It’s about growing older, in general. It’s about being a woman, single, and about to reach forty in only two months and about having become crucially (and painfully) aware of it.

Which, I assume, others else out there may relate to.

And I’d be lying if I’d say I have everything under control in my life; the opposite, really. It’s been rough, on and off, even without having to deal with an underlying anxiety condition and PTSD. So when it dawned on me that I was about to be forty, I struggled. Boo, Taff, the brain weasels chittered. You’ve got no family of your own. Boo, Taff, you’ve got nothing to show for so late in your life. Boo, Taff, what even are you? The answer to the latter is simple: a disaster ace who thought she’d made peace with being alone, but who was suddenly overcome with shame for not having grown up.

Whenever I am not working, I spend my time playing video games, being in love with a fictional man, writing, and mingling with other writers and my friends on a Fan Fiction Discord. That’s not very adult of me, now is it. Since where’s the actual husband? Where’s the one-and-a-half kid? Or where’s the soaring career, since if I’m not working on building a family, I should be working on that. It got rough. And then, on top of that, came the nebulous thought of okay, it’s over now for you, you’ve lived the prime of your life, what good are you now? which kinda blindsided me.

Where was that coming from?

I think I got an idea now, though I may be oversimplifying it: I hadn’t seen myself anywhere in so long, that I had no point of reference to what the next ten years would look like or that they’d be worth it. Media tells me you’re either the plucky young heroine, the love interest, the mother, or the old crone. That space in-between was a void. Or, you know, you’d find the spinster (derogatory). And I hadn’t noticed how I struggled with this until I began to write Monsters, We.

In it, Zofia is in her forties. She’s still who she was when she was twenty though; much like I am still who I was back when I began writing Latchkey Hero and Zofia was so much younger, too. I don’t have to change. I don’t have to be suspended until I hit crone just because I don’t have the whole family thing going for me. My family can be my friends. My life can be playing video games, being in love with a fictional man, and writing. That I’m older means nothing. And I owe no one some sort of compliance to their expectations of adult and middle aged woman and the only measure of success I should hold myself against is whether or not I’ve been kind enough to the people around me to make a positive difference here and there.

And writing about Zofia being older, about her still being loved, about her still living and not just surviving day by day, that matters to me and it has gone a long way to tide me over. It did the unthinkable, really: it settled my anxiety over getting older, because if she can do it, so can I.

So, yeah. I’m once again thanking Dying Light and Kyle Crane for giving me a bridge to walk on. The third one, if we are to keep count. That’s a lot of bridges.

Kyle Crane and Zofia Sirota lying on on a bed made from often mended pillows and blankets
Kyle Crane and Zofia Sirota Crane
art by johdahls

APHELION: CHAPTER 19, Mercy

This concludes Episode Three!

Marlijn knew she’d come to her last tomorrow.

She’d waited for it. Day by day. Hour by hour, even, and she’d expected it to come much sooner than this. But now it was clear. There’d be no more tomorrows for Marlijn Boerhof.

She pressed her forehead to the hard wall, her searing hot skin desperate for the cool touch of concrete.

It had taken two days for the fever to hit. Another for the tremors to follow. If she’d not been the one shivering and seizing on the cot, she’d have been fascinated by the delay. Ecstatic. Those who fought Deimos for that long were rare; if only some good could come from her clinging on so tight.

Marlijn’s fingers twitched.

No. No good would come from her fighting. 

Her stomach cramped. 

Her leg muscles spasmed. Her joints, her bones, her spine, her tendons; they sang with agony and there was a constant thudding against her ears. With it, came a faint, high pitched wavering tone that would not let up. And the air— the air, it tasted like barbed wire: metallic, sharp, painful.

Marlijn wished to weep.

But He would not let her.

Marlijn knew she’d come to her last tomorrow not only because her body had begun to change, but how He had come to be a constant in her thoughts. He crowded them. Him and his Endless murmurs and whispers.

Mercy, she heard.

       Mercy.

The word bared itself like a bleached bone being broken in half. Mercy that she lived. Mercy that He allowed her thought. Mercy for everyone He’d lead to ruin.

She couldn’t shut him out, and ever since she’d heard Him for the first time— ever since she’d begun to change —Marlijn had wanted to end.

He had refused her. And continued to. Over and over again, He gripped her spine with cold-clawed fingers and made her watch— her eyes wide open —as her body failed to do as she told it to. He stopped her from slamming her head against the wall. From tearing open her arms. He held her prisoner in the failing, tattered shell of her body as much as Dr. Kobvik Eli held her prisoner in his pens.

Marlijn pressed herself tighter to the wall. A mewling sound wormed its way up her throat.

Oh, what she would give for tears. But He did not allow her those, either.

Read Aphelion on Ao3
Explore Aphelion on Campfire

Today we wrap up Episode Three. Which. You know. Is a big deal for me. That puts Aphelion’s first draft at 107170 words altogether, which I did not expect to happen. But here we are 😀

Aphelion will now be paused for a while as I draft Episode Four. I don’t know how long this will take, but oh GOSH, I am maybe three parts/episodes from ending book one and this is EXCITING.

My excited bouncings aside though, please leave all the comments you’d like! Ask me questions, theorize. Anything at all, including pointing out inconsistencies. Like when Varrett told Sophya about how only Castle Guard, Monarch, and Runners are allowed to carry weapons, but we see Ellen with a shotgun. WELL, I HAVE AN EXPLANATION FOR THAT which will make it into draft number two. Ellen’s shotty is loaded with rock salt or an equivalent of it :3

Anyway.

Thank you to anyone who has read this far. Varrett and Sophya and SIN (and Col, and Ellen, and Gabriel, and Sebastian, and our tortured Marlijn) will return soon.

ALL THE LOVE,
Taff

APHELION: CHAPTER 18, Turn the Pages

In which Sophya is bothered by the bumbling of one Varrett Vild Vickers.

Day 6

3rd day of the storm

I have a job.

A tiny drum had been sketched underneath the declaration, with two even tinier drumsticks tapping at its top. The sketch was hasty, the proportions terribly off, but it got the job done. So Sophya thought, at any rate. Drumroll, please she’d written in heavily leaning cursive next to the hasty sketch.

It’s composting sorting.

I’ll start tomorrow.

Sophya wished she had more to write. Or maybe she just wished she had something meaningful to write. A triumph of a sort, maybe, about how she’d gotten closer to Krisi; or that she’d unravelled the mystery of her dreams; or, rather, that she’d unravelled herself from one Varrett Vild Vickers, who remained stubbornly tangled with her and SIN and refused to let go.

None of that.

She’d not even gotten any closer to figuring out if whatever she’d seen back when Pete had died; that thing she’d thought to be a figment of her overtaxed mind back then and which’d come to ruin that theory when something near-identical had appeared in the crowd on Castle 5’s bottom floor.

SIN remained unhelpful on any of the above. The most she offered was a variation of I have got not the faintest. Yet.

Yet.

Yet.

SIN’s patience was a horribly endless thing. No doubt brought on by how she’d lost count of how many hundreds of years she’d been around. Why feel the pressure of time when all you had was time?

Sophya didn’t have that luxury. Neither did Krisi. So, yet? That was awfully hollow.

Presently, Sophya pondered the lot of that, and then wondered why she wasn’t writing down any of it. Why the pen hovered a hair’s width from the paper, rather than scribbling out all her frustration. Why she’d committed to only a few lines after a day spent being useless.

Voices rose in the living room behind her. They slipped under the door, mixed into the constant din of the storm, and told her that V had returned from his escapades up and down the Castle.

And because she didn’t feel like being asked how she’d been and didn’t fancy asking him, she hurriedly turned off the lights on the desk, bumbled out of the chair with a clumsy lurch, and scurried off into bed.

By the time the door to the room opened, she’d pulled the blanket over her ear and was pretending to be asleep. Which meant a lot of even breathing while her ear got tickled by the sound of careful footsteps drawing nearer and then turning into squeaky creaks as he climbed the short ladder and hoisted himself into the bunk above her.

Read Aphelion on Ao3
Explore Aphelion on Campfire

APHELION: CHAPTER 17, Dilemmas

In which Sophya thinks there ought to be a limit on how often you were allowed to be existentially redecorated. And we meet Crimp.

Day 5

2nd day of the storm.


Sophya flicked the pen up, tilted her head at the letters, and chewed on her bottom lip. No, this isn’t right, she thought and set the pen back down to turn the small s bigger and bolder and positively fat.

2nd day of the Storm, it read now. Better.

Her eyes fixed on the top of the page. Five days? Really? Only five days?

The pen’s butt end found its way into Sophya’s mouth. She chewed on it, her mind absent.

SIN insisted that it’d been no more than that since the crash; rather than the hundred-something which Sophya had expected, because there was no way someone’s life could get so quickly turned around twice in a single mortal lifetime.

Honest, there ought to be a limit on how often you were allowed to be existentially redecorated.

Her teeth clicked down on the pen once more.

・・・ “Darling,” SIN purred from where she was curled up next to Sophya’s elbow; an echo of how this had all started: in Sophya’s small room in front of a fake viewport, surrounded by all she owned. Back then she’d not known how she’d been one positive message away from ruining her life.

Today, she sat in V’s room. At V’s desk. None of which was right.

・・・ “You have got no idea where this pen has been.”

Mildly horrified, Sophya slipped the pen out of her mouth and put it to work instead, its tip scratching over the cheap paper.

And once she started, it seemed like she might never stop. That she’d keep writing until her hand fell off or— more likely —she’d run out of pages. And the more she wrote, the more of the unthinkable happened: the perpetual tightness in her chest unknotted; like a badly bundled length of wire being slowly pulled apart.

She wrote about the Jack of Hearts. About the Well (The Cataract, SIN complained). About Pete and the crash and then Pete again.

After three paragraphs about him, she wondered if maybe she was spending too much time on a boy she’d hardly known.

No. She spent too little on everyone else, she decided, ashamed how she’d forgotten all their names.

Three pages filled.

Then another.

And another.

Her fingers grew tired. Her neck— still wrapped in the collar —got heavy. But she couldn’t stop yet. She’d only gotten started. And she’d only just now caught up.

I’m ready to admit that sleeping in a bed is better than sleeping on a lumpy sofa, she eventually wrote. even if there’s a second person in the room with me and I’m not sure how to cope with that.

Sophya raised her eyes from the page. They landed on the stacked bunk bed, with its stubby ladder (one rung played host to two headbands looped around it) and crumpled sheets hanging off its edge. Her bed, the one at the bottom, had neatly folded sheets and a fluffed-up pillow. Then she shifted in the seat and looked to the door. Voices snuck under it. And noise. Lots of noise. Cartoon violence, she assumed, which had been on all morning now that Sophya had been given a place to retreat to and there was no longer a need for silence in the living room.

And retreat she had.

She didn’t belong out there, after all.

Where do you belong?

Back to the page.

Read Aphelion on Ao3
Explore Aphelion on Campfire

Kyle Crane vs The Hulk

If he’d had the strength left to stand, he’d have done just that. He’d have stood there, raised his— Ah shit. —now missing pipe, and bellowed at the top of his lungs, loud enough to put Russell Crowe to shame.

As it were, Kyle barely had enough left for a muted mutter of “Are you fucking entertained now you mother-fucking shitmuffins?”

Kyle Crane vs the Hulk

Kyle Crane vs The Hulk, as seen in Latchkey Hero. This amazing illustration is by hummingdead, who has been an absolute treasure bringing scenes out of Latchkey Hero to life for me.

Book Review: The Calling

An action-packed mystery set in an icy future in which humanity’s survival isn’t a guaranteed thing.

The Calling by Branwen Oshea

By Branwen OShea. Buy it on Amazon!

I’m slapping four and a half hearts on this one. And it looks great on my bookshelf :3

Humanity’s wake-up call. Answer it or face extinction.

When Bleu’s little sister shows symptoms of the deadly Sickness, a strange vision directs him to leave humanity’s subterranean haven and seek the cure on Earth’s glacial surface. Joining the expedition team, Bleu expects extreme temperatures, not a surface ruled by ingenious predators.

Rana and her fellow star beings have co-existed with Earth’s top carnivores since the humans disappeared. But when her peers transform into Crowned Ones, the final stage of star being development, she fears remaining Uncrowned like her parents. To prove her worth, she undertakes a dangerous mission—contacting the hostile and nearly extinct humans. But Rana’s plan backfires, and Bleu’s team retaliates.

As war with the more advanced star being civilization looms, both Rana and Bleu separately seek a way to save their people.

The Calling is a hefty adventure. It takes place after the Earth has fallen to ice and humanity has had to hide in underground havens to survive, which, by itself, sounds simple enough. But there’s a lot more to it; from humanity’s struggle in their haven (the Sickness, a dwindling gene pool, politics) to the mystery that surrounds the star beings who have lived in harmony with Earth’s remaining wildlife in the human’s absence on the surface.

And gosh, I adored the world-building on both ends: the star beings and their abilities, their culture, and how humanity has managed to survive, as well as what’s driving them to reclaim the surface. It all comes together to shape a great backdrop to the character’s adventures.

Oh! Yeah! The characters.

I think the book has two main characters, of a sort. Bleu and Rana. Most of the story centres around them, but we get to know a cast of different POV characters who provide us with a view of the story from different angles. They all bring a different flavour and show us more of the world from their unique perspective. Plus, their personalities are varied, which makes switching back and forth entertaining since it keeps it fresh. OH! AND! We get villain POV! And okay, okay, hear me out: the arguable, air-quotes open, villain, air quotes closed, of the story? I am not about to spoil a thing, but I got so dang mad at him. Furious. I wanted to grab the guy by the ankles and feed him to the book’s (adorably murderous) cave diggers. And that’s a compliment because that dude worked. He’s not evil as much as he’s committed to humanity and the survival of the species and it shows.

The book also doesn’t pull its punches: characters will die. And they’re characters that get introduced to us in ways that give us plenty of time to care for them. More importantly though, their deaths aren’t only there to have us go “Oh no!” and then move on, nope. They have consequences and they move the story forward, adding tension and conflict and I think that’s really neat.

Anyway, so, our main characters: Bleu is a young and adventurous soul who yearns for being up there. To breathe something else than recycled air. To be rid of the constricting walls. He’s also an exceptionally good brother and loves his sister dearly. The same sister who is struck by the mysterious Sickness, which threatens to kill humanity’s future: their children. Soon after, a mysterious vision strikes him, convincing him that his sister’s survival depends on him going out there and locating the cure. Rana’s, our second central character, has her own yearning to contend with. She fears she’ll never crown, a fear which preoccupied her. A lot. Seriously. She’s on about it so often I sometimes felt the urge to sit her down and tell her to take a deep breath. But it’s an understandable worry, all things considered. It’s also that fear that drives her to want to set out on a dangerous mission and to eventually be directly tied up in the disastrous first meeting between the star beings and the frightened and hostile humans. Though on a lighter note: she gets to be wooed by two young men. And it’s adorable. And the way she handles it towards the end had me enjoy her as a character even more.

And that’s it, really? I recommend The Calling to anyone who enjoys post-apocalypse stories with a cast of younger heroes who get wrapped up in a high-stakes conflict. There’s action. Gunfights. Fascinating magic. An adorable cave digger baby named Digga. Tragic world-building on humanity’s side and what they’ve got to do in order to survive. And, yeah, if you like well-fleshed-out characters and villains who all come with their individual wants and needs and goals.

Now excuse me while I order book two in the series. I’d missed its release!

Buy it on Amazon!