Tag Archives: death

Death and Decay

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One of my goats, Beltaine, died last Wednesday. It was pretty sudden, and the circumstances are a little bizarre. The vet has sent off tissue samples to get more answers and information. But needless to say I’ve been hurting, and struggling a lot. My goats are my babies; I help them come into the world, and it’s my responsibility to care for them and keep them safe. When one dies… it shatters a piece of me.

That’s not to say I don’t heal or get better, but that doesn’t take away from the fact.

Now, usually, in heartbreak, I can’t write. I’ve never really been able to write in the depths of depression or hurt. If I need to escape, I spend that time reading or watching TV.

Something different happened last Wednesday as I dug a grave for Beltaine. I was thrown into a scene, a picture that had been vague for a while suddenly crystal clear. It was vivid in an undeniable way.

Two things, actually, came from digging her grave. One of them is for another blog post and will take some time. But the second, I wanted to share with you. Because the minute I came home from burying Beltaine I started to write.

I never write when I’m hurting.

I started writing about decay and yanking someone back from the brink of death. I wrote about what I couldn’t do in real life: saving a loved one when all hope was lost. The segment below is actually part of a bigger series, the series debuting next year.

I apologize for it’s unpolished nature; it’s a little jolting, the voice isn’t where I want it, and it’s pretty raw. The star of this scene won’t be present until Book One, after the prequel, so maybe this is a little premature.

But he talked as I unearthed the final resting place for one of my beloved kids, and I wanted to share.

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Humans can smell the decay of a body a few hours after death. It’s sweet and repugnant all at once, candy-sticky and gorge-inspiring. This sense of smell works a little differently for my family: we can smell the decay of a dying person before actual death. See, the human body is equipped with everything it needs to live and die when it’s born – including the bacteria that that takes over at death, turning body to fertilizer. In a human lifetime there’s a constant battle between bacteria trying to keep the body alive, and the bacteria trying to decompose the body. It jumps at any chance to try. And when someone is dying, the bacteria begins its process. We can smell it.

So when the smell of death hit me, as my brother and I frantically bound the gaping holes on the neck, thigh, wrist of the girl bleeding out on the cold concrete floor – panic seized my chest.

Panic. What a funny thing. A sensation I hadn’t felt in years, perhaps decades. It froze me where I crouched, my movements stopped in denial. It flooded my head and made me stupid.

Her heartbeat – it changed. Stuttering. The tune of death’s march. The blood loss was critical, dangerous even in normal circumstances, with access to healing or medical care.

It was 20 minutes to the nearest hospital. This abandoned building was far from any civilization. Even with my speed, it was too far. I’d be fooling myself if I thought I could make it with her injuries. Panic opened its jaws wider.

There was nothing here. I had no blood, no medicine, no doctors, in the middle of nowhere. All I knew was how to kill. I’d gotten to her, and it was too late. She was going to die. I’d seen this so many times. They all died so easily… they all just died.

Twin spikes of grief drove up through my chest and my brother’s and rolled over us like a black wave. Our minds, ever connected, amplified it until I felt like I was drowning. It was inevitable: they all died, ripping from the world, bright lights extinguished I barely had the chance to see.

My eyes burned.

Her end was going to break me. She wasn’t just a bright life in the world; she was an incandescent sun that made the world less weary, that made the centuries feel lighter. She made me feel like living, instead of decaying in my own mind as death was a gift I would never experience. I’d barely had the chance to know her, I’d barely scratched the surface of who she was, and she was being taken from me.

She stopped breathing. Silence stretched. Pain ripped my chest open; my brother’s weary acceptance felt like a hit –

NO. NO. NO, DAMN IT.

Rage gave me breath, gave me clarity. I lunged onto my knees and hovered over her, tilting her head back as I covered her mouth with mine and breathed into her lungs. Her chest expanded with what I’d forced into it. Her heart was still beating; I could supply the oxygen.

I didn’t have the ability to speak so I ordered my brother through our link: Get Druindar. If you can’t find him, anyone who knows what to do. And blood. As much as you can.

Brother… he began.

I violently shook off his hand when he placed it on my shoulder. I was one of the most powerful creatures on the planet goddamn it – I was going to save this girl’s life. She was mine to protect, she was mine. It was going to be different this time. I was changing the story. I would not live without her. I refused.

I lifted my head to suck in air, immediately forcing it into her lungs. What could I use in this building? – this stinking lair of the strigoi. There was nothing here I knew, and no one I could ask, because I’d already killed them all in my pursuit of getting to her. She needed a transfusion. And more than that; her body needed more than just blood. My brother had to be fast, and I had to keep her alive.

You’re not moving, I snarled at him.

“Nothing will be here in time.”

My mouth broke from hers for a second. “I’ll keep her alive!”

Druindar was a goddamn magic healer – I should have made him come with me. I should have forced him to come to this place where I knew she was being sucked on. I wasn’t used to interacting this closely with humans, their fragility. I was a fool. I had to prepare better; no more fucking around.

Regan was dialing someone on his phone: he was helping. Grudgingly, afraid he was buying into my desperation and just delaying the inevitable, he was helping me. Good.

She needed blood and medical attention.

Blood and magic, if at all possible.

Blood and magic.

Blood magic.

I froze for a second. No. It would never be that easy. It couldn’t. My teeth clenched. In all probability it wouldn’t even work; at the very least it wouldn’t work how it was supposed to. But the idea was burrowing into my brain like a parasite. There was no way my shitty existence would make it that simple, but intent, intent changed all kinds of magic –

Her heart skipped… stuttered… all thoughts wiped from my head.

BAM. Her heart slammed hard, then raced, frantically trying to keep her flesh alive when it didn’t have the liquid nor the oxygen to provide. The relief her heart hadn’t stopped tasted like bile.

No more options. This was it.

Blood magic.

I had her in my arms in a second, her body limp weight in my arms, tucking her head between my shoulder and my cheek. She smelled like death and decay and her. Haste was necessary; I couldn’t breathe for her while I held her, and I wasn’t risking brain damage. Regan startled, staring at me. I’d shut down our link without realizing it; he didn’t have access to my head as I raced down the dark concrete hall. That was probably good, because my idea was reckless and irresponsible and born of panic, and he’d try to talk me out of it.

I’d seen a blood collection room when we’d stormed this godforsaken hole, it should have what I needed.

My family – we had a lot of magic. An insane amount of magic. The only problem was we couldn’t actually use it. We can only use it as physical fuel. To do things like make us strong, or fast, or indestructible. But we can’t wield magic.

But there was a lot of magic in our blood.

There — the room. The door was hanging off the one hinge, almost obliterated from when I’d come through it the first time. Regan was on my heels as I shouldered open the remains of the door, lying her on the metal table in the center of the room. It was the worst kind of blasphemy that I laid her on a place where countless people had been drained of their life. But I had no time for sentiment. I held her jaw and felt her chest expand as I breathed for her again. 76 seconds she’d been without. Within safe limits.

“You’re not turning her into a strigoi, are you?” my brother asked with cautious humor. He was being deliberately calm. I could hear him assessing my mental state, trying to figure out how far gone I was.

His statement didn’t deserve the dignity of a response.

Find a blood collection unit.

He stiffened as he realized my intent. Or maybe he’d read it off of me. Arguments brewed in his head – all the ones I’d been thinking already; what we were, what it meant, that it could just kill her – and then they fell away as he was ripping open doors of cabinets, throwing things off counters as he searched. He thought I was delusional and was going to suffer even more at the end of all of this; I didn’t give a rat’s magical butt hair about his opinion.

He barked out a laugh.

Her heart stuttered…

We both froze. My hearing amplified as I listened, turning the small sounds in the room nearly deafening.

THWUP… thwup-thwup… THWUP… thwup …

Death was here.

REGAN!

He blurred as he moved, abruptly at my side. Our thoughts were in tandem; I tilted my head back as he jabbed smoothly, the needle sliding into my jugular. He didn’t need to be careful; dragon curses knew it wouldn’t hurt me. He’d found one with a giant syringe, meant to draw out a lot of blood at once.

Fucking bloodsuckers.

I caught glimpses of images from Regan: my blood sliding into the clear tube thickly, gleaming red. It’d seen a lot of blood. I’d seen a lot of my own blood. I’d never cared so much about it before.

Anxiety hit in waves. This could kill her. She could have an allergic reaction and her body could fight to kill itself. For all intents and purposes my brother and I had O- blood, not that our blood could really be put into a human category. From studying ourselves we knew it was bizarrely without markers or distinguishing traits, exceptionally ‘clean.’ And filled with magic. Magic that could turn on her. Or simply decay in her veins.

The wait was agonizing. Her heartbeat was fading, the counting of final remaining numbers, no surety which would be the last. Nausea twisted my gut, another novel sensation I hadn’t felt in decades. It seemed to take eons for him to fill the giant syringe with dark thick liquid from my body.

Then it was full. I was over her head, breathing through her blue lips. It had been 32 seconds for her without air.

Regan took her arm. There was a large vein in the elbow that was most accessible for transfusions and often used in the field; he had to be incredibly careful not to blow the vein.

“Are you sure?” Regan murmured.

Do it, damn it.

His focus sharpened, his fingers moving along her elbow as he found and palpitated the vein. Then he lifted the needle – which suddenly looked huge, despite Regan mentally snapping that it was the right size – and gently slid it into her vein. His thumb moved to the plunger and he squeezed.

With as long as I had lived, with everything I’d experienced, most everything becomes monotonous. There were few events that really changed anything, after you experience change over the span of centuries.

But this had the potential to change everything. None of us had ever done something like this before. We’d never given bits of ourselves to another person, only inanimate things, in tests. It was unprecedented in my family.

Maybe that would be why it worked.

Regan continued to press down glacially slow. I knew it was important, so he didn’t blow out her vein, but I had to strangle panic and impatience all the same. My heart hammed inside my chest, and in bizarre echoes it seemed connected to my blood sliding into her veins. It felt like a part of my soul went with it. I was still breathing for her, hyperaware of her heartbeat, her skin, the sounds her body made as organs fought against shock.

I hadn’t spoken Gaelic in decades, yet mother’s prayer sprang so easily to mind, muttered against her lips, it was like I’d been saying it every day. I almost wanted to laugh at the childish reaction; Regan definitely did.

Despite the cheesiness… a prickle across my skin made it serious. Intention changed magic.

It had to be enough.

The first syringe was empty, into her veins. She wasn’t convulsing, her skin wasn’t reacting… her body had to be accepting it. Please, of all dragon’s mercy, let her be accepting it.

My brother stabbed me in the neck again, and we repeated the process. Heaviness filled the air, stuck to the walls, weighed down the pathetic light in the room. This had to work. My blood was powerful. I was giving it to her to save her life. Magic was all about intent. It had to work…

We did it again. And again. Regan was calculating in the back of his head, making sure we didn’t give her too much, or too fast. We fell into a rhythm, a pattern, fulfilling a set of actions that would be completed over and over without deviation from perfection. Only when something changed would our actions change; we were machines, razor focused to our tasks.

She coughed.

I reared back. She stilled again.

Silence stretched.

She coughed again, and sucked in a breath, her lungs expanding on her own, her body jerking, her face screwing up. For a horrifying second it looked like death spasms.

But her heart was beating. Beating stronger, more surely; incorporating a part of myself into her system, using it to revive her. I could hear the shifts in her body, shock still crashing through her, death battling against her body’s natural rhythms.

I’d been frozen for several seconds now, but I couldn’t seem to make myself move. I just kept measuring her breaths as they filled her chest, over and over, almost unable to believe it. Regan finished the syringe and turned to me for more blood – she still needed more – his expression blank even as I felt his cautious relief through our link. There was so much more to be done; transportation to a hospital, monitoring her for adverse reactions to my blood, getting every damn healer and doctor I knew to look over her, preventing retaliation against her for what I’d done to find her. But I’d done it. I’d yanked her back from the brink of death.

“She needs another half-pint of blood before we try to move her,” Regan said.

I nodded. My hands lifted from her head, where they’d been to hold her in the correct position for resuscitation. I hesitated, then lowered my hands to her hair, stroking it back from gently her face. She suddenly felt fragile as glass, I wasn’t sure if I should be allowed to touch her.

It took me a few moments to register, having been so focused on the mechanics of moving oxygen from my lungs to hers to really breathe or recognize air.

The smell of death no longer hung around her.

 

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Strange Neural Pathways: Moving On From Grief

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It’s very strange how our brains make connections between ideas or concepts that don’t really seem all that relatable.

Example: I used to watch Grey’s Anatomy with my biological father when I visited him on the weekends. It wasn’t the only show we watched, and honestly, not even the best. But we watched Grey’s Anatomy.

(If you don’t know what that is it’s a dramatic doctor show that follows a group of surgeons (but specifically one woman with the last name Grey) from internship to becoming full-fledged Attendings, using medical problems and situations as metaphors for life)

Then my father and I had a falling out, which lasted about a year before we tentatively started repairing our relationship. Then he killed himself.

Needless to say, there’s a lot that can be unpacked in that, but I want to talk about Grey’s Anatomy.

Because I didn’t keep watching the show after he died, despite the fact that I wanted to. I even had opportunities to, and the inclination to. I just found myself… not, without quite realizing why. There’s a lot of things I didn’t really touch after he died. And not intentionally, really; I just would realize, in a particular odd moments, that I hadn’t thought about or attempted to engage with something, something I’d cared about or was at least interested in before.

The weirdest part is that these things I stopped thinking about weren’t even things that made sense. They weren’t the things that were ‘most important’ in our relationship. Like, writing, stories, dragons, deep intellectual thought — all of those things are still deeply ingrained parts of my life. Maybe because those things were more me than him and me? I’m not sure.

But back to Grey’s Anatomy.

Because a few months ago I started watching again, from the very beginning. I can’t even remember why I started, I just know that I saw it on Netflix and saw a few ads and then suddenly I was sneaking an episode here and there when I was alone.

Then suddenly I was binge-watching episodes once a week while consuming a bottle of wine. It’s very funny, rewatching a show I’d enjoyed as a teenager, realizing what memories about the show stood out most vividly — versus how I’m interpreting it now. Why did that issue stand out most, as opposed to others? Why that scene, that emotion, versus another? (But that’s a whole ‘nother concept to be unpacked.)

I found myself absolutely bawling at parts that — while dramatic and emotional, whatever — probably didn’t really deserve that kind of reaction. I was invested in the ridiculousness. It was ridiculous and silly — and despite that, it felt… clean.

The point is, the idea that started this whole blog post, is that I just finished watching all of the episodes that I watched with my father. According to Netflix, we watched up through season 7 together.

Now I am starting season 8… all by myself. So far it’s just weird, watching the overblown emotional drama without a clue as to how it ends or where it’s going. Up until now it’s all been nostalgia, and now it’s…. not.

It’s stepping out into the unknown. It’s moving on, from my father, through a silly TV show that held a flavor of our relationship. It’s experiencing things that he’ll never be able to experience with me anymore. His time stopped, forever not moving beyond where we were.

Me?

… my time keeps moving. I’ll continue to live and laugh and love and it breaks my heart over and over again that he’s forever stuck in my past. But watching this ridiculous show… it’s somehow become a small piece in showing me how everything is okay.

Isn’t it funny how our brains associate different things together: overly dramatic show about pretend doctors and their unrealistic trials = daddy issues and suicide and moving on from death.

A’ight. Whatever you say, brain.

 

Has anyone else discovered this connection in your own life? What seemingly unrelated things have made important associations for you?


Vampires, Werewolves, and Zombies, Oh My!

A few days ago I ended up doing a bunch of research on really old European vampire and werewolf folklore. Did you know that vampires were originally described as “dark, and ruddy,” not pasty white?

It was pretty fascinating. If you go far enough back in time, the vampire/werewolf/zombie myths actually become so similar they’re almost indiscernible. All came from the dead. All wanted blood, or flesh (aka, they wanted a live person’s life force). All carried the stench of death with them. Only as you move forward does the mythology start to take different paths, and generally according to region.

More vampire-like mythology clusters around the Slavic/Eastern Europe regions, such as Romania and the Balkans. Apparently, fangs were optional. And if you poked a vampire, blood would just come gushing out as they were often engorged with it after they ate people. They usually haunted their family members and weren’t out in the daytime – though the “dead-like” sleep doesn’t come up until later in mythology. Though some myths had them up wandering around the neighborhood annoying the crap out of people before someone took it upon themselves to re-kill it (this is where zombies seem a bit similar).

Zombie and vampire myth are almost exact – I feel like it’s only in the past few centuries that they’ve actually developed into different creatures. However, the modern day idea of the walking dead virus being passed through bites actually originates in the Carribean/West Africa. The mythology also talks about voodoo creating zombies as well, which is interesting.

More werewolf-like mythology develops in the France/German/Baltic region, and seem to develop in concert with areas associated with the witchcraft hysteria. Werewolves, interestingly, were closely tied with witches, sometimes could be the same thing. Lycanthropy, loup-garou, rougarou, and draugrs, are all alternate names for werewolves and have slightly different variations depending on which region.

Draugrs are interesting: appearing in Old Norse myth, they apparently had magical powers (such as shapeshifting, seeing the future, etc) and you’d go insane if you went near their den. Animals apparently went near their grave sites and would end up going insane all the time (it makes me wonder about the prevalence of mad cow disease and the like… )

But what ties all of these creatures together, at least in the beginning, is that they all rise from the dead. Now, these myths most likely originally rose from our obsession with death and explaining death. Yet why have they developed into the fantastical, even attractive, creatures of now? Are we attempting to make death less scary by taming it? Why do we find the idea of something draining our life force (vampires drinking blood) attractive, even provocative? The original tales can be explained by the love many have for horror, but I would argue that vampires and werewolves have moved on from that genre. Just look up “paranormal romance.”

Anyway. These are thoughts that have been wandering around in my head, and I wanted to share some tidbits I learned while wandering the internet. I think it’s fun to go back to the old myths and see the difference between then and now, particularly with my Jungian bent on interpreting literature (that we’re working out our societal problems through fiction). What do you think about the evolution of these myths?