I met him in the dark.
He still looked the same,
caught in time,
forever thirty-five years old.
He looked up at me,
a half smile on his face.
“You came,” he said.
“You remembered me. You didn’t forget.”
I looked down at him.
“This year, it was hard not to remember you,” I told him.
Indeed, this year had tested me
and I had to remind myself
where I had started,
when this all began,
so that I could find a way forwards.
“Why?” he asked.
“Why was it easy to remember this year?”
I thought of how to respond to myself,
that part of me that was still trapped inside myself,
a spirit within that had no way out.
“That doesn’t matter now,” I told him.
“I just had to see you.”
I held his hand,
remembering how weak I had been,
how I hadn’t been able to do anything
but sleep, the constant sleep
that was anything but restful.
I could see the stories and the words
that had been floating above my head,
unable to find a way out of me.
Looking down at myself
from all those years ago,
I knew that I had to let that part of me go
as I didn’t want to hang on
to that part of me anymore
or the fear that I had felt back then.
There was so much fear in our lives.
I didn’t need to hold on to more.
“I came to let you go,” I told him, myself.
There was fear in his eyes.
“Where will I go?” He asked.
“What will become of me?”
I took his hand, my hand,
and gave it a gentle squeeze.
“You’ve already gone on to do so much,” I said.
“You’ve lived a whole lifetime in eight years.” I told him.
Gently, I said “I can’t hold on to you anymore.”
I didn’t know how to tell him
about the self love that began to grow within us,
blooming inside of us like a seed of light.
Knowing myself as I did,
I knew that he wouldn’t believe me.
Hopefully he understood
that letting him go
was its own act of love.
He looked up at me,
a true smile on his face.
“Thank you,” he said. “Thank you so much.”
There were tears falling from his, from my, eyes.
“I’ve been in the dark for so long. It’ll be good to see the light.”
I merely nodded,
not trusting myself to speak.
I watched as he slowly began to fade away,
a memory preserved in my flesh for eight years too long.
Before he disappeared,
there was a sigh as if he too were letting go.
Looking at the space where he, where I, had lain,
I stood and walked back out of the darkness
and into the light again.
It hasn’t been an easy year. That’s an understatement for sure.
The world has been full of so much fear and hate. The unknown has reared its ugly head and to combat that, I’ve tried to sparkle through it all. It hasn’t always been easy or even possible, but it’s been a year that I’ve truly tried to live, despite limitations or boundaries. I’ve had to look for joy under every rock that has remined still, knowing that the dark holds the stars.
I think the thing that has really defined what 2021 has meant to me is my health. In October of this year, I began a new medical treatment after new lesions were found in my brain after my last MRI. The medication is called Mavenclad. It’s a chemo drug normally used to treat leukemia. The idea is that it will shut down my immune system so that when it regrows itself, it will do so without the lesions that are caused by the multiple sclerosis I live with. I did two rounds of Mavenclad and I had no idea what to expect, thanks to the lack of information from the medical professionals in my life. It was a learning process and one where I had to embrace rest and let myself heal.
I’ve learned a few things this year, but the big one is that I don’t rest very well. I’m always creating something, whether it be writing or painting. I’ve always got a creative project on the go and I’ve really had to learn what rest is and how to embrace and enjoy it rather than turn away and shun the concept. There were a few weeks where I couldn’t write, where the well of words within me had run dry. Normally, my mind is full of stories and characters and words that need to be written and instead there was only a soft breeze with nothing upon it.
That made me stop and take a look at my constant need to be creative. In talking to my therapist, I realized that in some way, I’ve been trying to outrun the multiple sclerosis in some way since my diagnosis eight years ago. When it first hit, it took everything from me and when I learned to write again, I have been on a continual creative streak, always afraid of having my words taken away from me again. I know that I can’t live that way anymore and I have to learn to balance myself. I’ve realized that whether I write or not, the words or the urge will always be there, or it will be waiting for me when I’m ready. In the past two years, I’ve written three large novels and two novellas. It’s okay for me to take time to rest.
I also had to deal with fear a lot. What with everything that has been going on in life, that’s no surprise. I’ve had to deal with my health and my husbands health issues. Currently, I’m in isolation due to the fact that my immune system it’s at it’s lowest right now. However, given the rise of the omicron variant of covid, that’s not such a bad thing, is it? It’s given me a lot of time to think about everything and I realized a few weeks ago that I’ve been living with depression again. The dark forest that I thought I was done with all those years ago has been alive and well this year. I had been so focused on remaining positive that I ignored the obvious.
I’ve always lived with depression. In my youth, I was diagnosed with a double depression, a clinical on top of a critical. The critical depression was dealt with, but the clinical depression is always there. I had been so focused on sparkling on all the time, despite the state of the world around me, that I hadn’t given myself time to properly grieve. I had to grieve what I had known and embrace what was now, much like my journey with multiple sclerosis. Along with trying to balance myself and my health, I had to learn balance with emotions and positivity. It’s not possible to stay positive all the time and I had to learn to be okay with being depressed and finding ways to deal with that as I had in the past. Thankfully, I had my family and friends that rallied around me, supported and loved me so that I knew that I didn’t have to go through any of it alone. I’m so fortunate in that way.
That’s not to say that it’s all been bad this year. I was fortunate to be able to republish my first novel The Ghost Mirror. It had gone out of print years before and I had always wanted to have it out there in the world again. It tells the tale of a misunderstood girl named Mave who is the last witch. I had planned to make it a trilogy and I’ve got the second book started. Here’s hoping I finish it in the coming year.
I self published two other books this year, Hope Falls and The Other Side of Oz. They were both trunk novels that I had always wanted to do something with. The Other Side of Oz was the first book that I had tried writing after I learned to type again after the initial lapse from my multiple sclerosis. It’s always held power for me. Hope Falls had been a fan favourite when it was first published, and I had been meaning to put it out again. The other three books in the series are soon to follow.
I also had my work appear in two anthologies. I had one of my poems appear in Love and Catastrophe Poetre and it’s an anthology of poems that deal with the difficult things in life, the tragedies that shape us, and it was an honour to have my poem Covidly included. One of my short stories was also included in Artificial Divide, an anthology of stories written by blind or visually impaired authors. It was a joy and a privilege to have my short story The Blood Trees included in the anthology.
One novel I’m immensely proud of is Beyond the Stone. It was published this September and was almost instantly a best seller, which is pretty darn cool. I’ve been trying to write what I know and in this book, the main character Bane is disabled but also a supernatural trying to protect the mortals in the world around him. Bane is the character that is most like me; he’s got a foul mouth and a temper but also a kind heart. I tried to incorporate a lot of what I went through with my multiple sclerosis in this book and I’m thrilled to see the response. It’s also really cool that you can find Beyond the Stone in most bookstores. That makes me so incredibly happy!
To end off each year, I like to publish a holiday themed story. This year, that story was Captain Maven and the Shadow Man. It was inspired by a conversation I’d had with my mother when I was beginning my chemo treatment. I was struck with the idea of the medications that I take as superheroes, tackling the multiple sclerosis. I published it on my blog, but I hope to have a paperback and an ebook come out next year. Again, it was writing what I know and trying to tell my story in a different way.
While it’s been a heavy year full of a lot of emotions, it’s also been a good year. I’ve grown closer to my family and friends; I’ve been able to do (a lot!) of what I love and I’ve kept myself safe from the unseen threat of Covid and all that it brings. No, 2021 certainly didn’t go like I thought it would, but isn’t that what life is like? I gave up trying to endlessly control everything that I could just to give myself some structure and just let life be the way it wanted to. I know that I have choice, and this year I chose to live in whatever way possible. It’s been a year filled with emotions, but thankfully those emotions have included joy, hilarity, happiness and contentedness in amongst all the strife, worry and upset.
My only hope for 2022 is that I continue living my life and taking things one day at a time. It’s all we can do amongst all the craziness. Despite what may come, I will hold true to one belief of mine: we can only learn to sparkle when we’re in the dark, for only at night can we see the stars.
Whatever 2022 brings for you, I hope it’s beautiful.
for ten years,
i’ve held onto the emotions
that you fed me
throughout our time together.
you filled me with
so much hate for myself
that repulsion and disgust
became constant bedfellows.
i let go of that today,
before the new year begins.
i don’t need to hold to it anymore
for it was never mine.
though you gave it to me,
i give it back to you now,
casting the hate into the wind
so that it may find you once more.
there is no need to hold onto
all of the loathing you fed me.
opening my mouth,
i let it out like a cloud of moths
so that it can join the wind
that i am sending to you.
the voice that i hear when I look in the mirror,
your voice, so cold and unfeeling,
will fade over time
and all that will remain
is a voice of my own.
Maven looked at everyone who surrounded him and reminded himself that everything would be okay.
The children that Tianado had saved were running about the top floor of their building, filling the floor with the sounds of joy that only children could make. Their parents were with them too, and he watched as Tianado, Carley, Finley and the other superheroes talked with them. When Maven heard the sound of laughter, he turned to see Sandoz creating a structure out of sand in the palm of his hand, then letting it fall apart again. A boy sat in front of him, no older than four, and the child’s face was filled with so much pure joy. He saw Dez making the other kids laugh by making their drinks perform acrobatics in the air in front of them. They must have thought they were witnessing magic.
It had been Tara’s idea to invite the parents and children over to their headquarters so they could all celebrate what they had overcome. She didn’t tell them about what had happened with Max Shadow, but just assured them that everything was all right and that the crisis had been averted.
Everything was okay, sort of.
Maven could feel Max Shadow within him and could see the shadow monster every time he looked in the mirror. If he blinked rapidly a few times, the dark black of Max’s eyes would fade and Maven’s own dark brown would show again, if only for a little while. Every so often, Max Shadow would press against him, and Maven could feel Max trying to see how far he could stretch himself. Tara and Carley were trying to keep Max in check, but Maven was also growing accustomed to having another person inside of him. It took some getting used to, though. He had yet to lose control of his body, but Maven knew that it may be an eventuality. Tara said that there was no way of getting Max Shadow out of him, that Max had to leave on his own. Maven thought that was unlikely to happen because if Max Shadow did try to leave his body, he would cease to exist.
Gregory came up beside Maven and, taking his hand, pulled Maven into an embrace. “You look like you’re full of thoughts.”
Maven let out a snort. “Too many if you ask me. I’m not sure where mine begin and where the shadow’s start.”
“It’ll be okay,” Gregory said. “You’re not alone in this.”
“I know.” Maven said, kissing Gregory lightly on the cheek.
Looking at the people around them, Maven marvelled at the fact that they had become a family, all of them together fighting against evil for the good of Ottawa. “I guess fighting for good forges a bond, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, it does.” Gregory said. “I owe you an apology, Arnold.”
“No, you don’t.”
“But I do. I had no idea what you really did. I’ve never been on one of your escapades before.”
“You make us sound like stars on ice or something,” Maven said jokingly.
“You know what I mean. I didn’t understand. The fact that you put your life on the line every single time-”
Maven quieted Gregory with a kiss. “It’s okay.” He said and meant it. “I love you.”
“I love you, too.” Gregory said.
Maven would have to deal with Max Shadow eventually. He had no idea what the future would bring, but he knew that as long as Gregory was in his life, the future was bright indeed. Captain Maven pulled the man he loved closer against him and watched as Finley started handing out eggnog, and Sandoz began a round of carols with the kids and their parents. Outside, it started to snow, and it looked as if the world was full of sparkling light.
Inside of Maven, the shadow man raged.
I live with Cerebral Palsy and Multiple Sclerosis.
After my last MRI a few months ago, they found new lesions in my brain caused by the Multiple Sclerosis. I was put on a new drug called Mavenclad. Its purpose is to wipe away the immune system so that when it rebuilds itself, it will hopefully do so without the lesions. It’s a chemo drug normally used to treat leukemia.
When the medication arrived, it had a red sticker on it with a big white cross. I’d never received something with a medical symbol of any kind on it, but for some reason it stuck with me, that big white cross. I’m not sure how the subject came up, but when I was talking to my Wonder Mom one day during the treatment, she mentioned the fact that I was like a superhero and maybe the Mavenclad was going to ramp up my powers.
“I would totally need a cape,” I told her.
“Yes, a red cape with a white cross.” She said.
“No, not red and white. I would need a purple cape with a sparkly silver cross. That would be more my style.”
“Yes, you could be Captain Mavenclad!”
“Hmmm, what about Captain Maven?”
“That does have a nice ring to it.”
I couldn’t get the image of Captain Maven out of my head. I asked the very talented Cait Gordon if she could draw me a Captain Maven portrait. She did so, giving him a cup of power (I had to drink a lot of water when I took the Mavenclad) and a sceptre of light (I sometimes walk with a cane, and I like to sparkle). To say that I loved it is putting it mildly. It put the whole chemo med thing into something that I could draw light from, something that brought me joy.
Then it occurred to me, if my Mavenclad medication could be a superhero, what about all the other medications that I take? I ended up settling on Finley (Baclofin), Tara Dawn (Trazodone), Sandoz (Sandoz Solifenacin), Dez (Apo-Desmopressin), Tianado (Apo-Tizandadine) and Carley Bravo (CBD oil). They would be a group of superheroes who would do battle against Cracklepuss (Cerebral Palsy) and Max Shadow (Multiple Sclerosis), protecting the streets of Ottawa and keeping the people safe.
I normally write a story for Christmas every year and give it away for free. I thought it would be neat to write a story with this group of supers and set it during the holidays. It never occurred to me that I would write a full novella and I’m already thinking of other stories that could happen with the characters.
I can’t tell you what joy this story has brought to me and how much fun it was to create a world of superheroes that are really just like ordinary people…with a bit of something extra. I do hope that you enjoyed this tale as much as I enjoyed writing it.
I want to thank a few people while we’re all still here together.
To my Wonder Mom and Cait Gordon to whom this novella is dedicated. Without either of you, I would not have had the inspiration to write this story or to lose myself in this world. Thank you for the light that you both bring to my life. Captain Maven is alive today because of both of you…well mainly me as I did the writing of the story, but you know what I mean.
Thanks also go out to my beautiful husband Michael. Thank you for loving me completely and for coming with me on this journey that Multiple Sclerosis has brought us. Thank you for truly seeing who I am and for walking beside me. I love you more than words can say.
And to all of you who have read this far, I thank you for reading this tale. I wish all of you a beautiful Christmas, a glorious Yule and a marvellous New Year. Here’s to the beginning of something awesome, yes?
Captain Maven and crew will return! Just watch the skies…
Maven had a moment to take in Max and Cracklepuss’ looks of shock before everyone stepped into action.
Sandoz snapped his fingers, and the walls round them elongated until the entrance and exit were blocked. There was no way that Cracklepuss or Max Shadow could get out of the room. Maven felt the air pressure change and knew that Dez had used whatever moisture he could find to freeze them in place. Cracklepuss let out a laugh that was cut short, and Maven knew that by the happy smile that came over his face, Carley was already inside of Cracklepuss’ mind. This was further confirmed when Cracklepuss spoke. “Oh baby, I can feel you inside me, that’s hot.” Carly looked like she wanted to throw up, but held Cracklepuss’ mind firm.
With a flick of her wrist, Finley short-circuited all the electronics in the warehouse so Cracklepuss could not use any against them, should he break free of Carley’s mind hold.
Max Shadow was proving difficult, however.
His form was erratic. The shadows that made up his body were unable to keep their form, the man-like shape that he normally lived within had come apart and he was nothing but the whirling of shadows and darkness. Maven could see his eyes, swirling within the shadows of his body. They were wild and frightened, and they were looking at everything and everyone.
“I feel you trying to find your way in!” the shadow man yelled, the shadows starting to whirl around Tara. The ice that Dez had created was not able to hold him, even though Maven could see Dez trying his hardest to pull the water from the air. “I can’t let you in! I need to maintain control!”
His face looked as if it were being pulled apart by the shadows that made his body. Maven knew that he only had a few moments to act. He took hold of Gregory’s hand and Gregory gave it a squeeze. “I love you, babe. You got this.” Gregory whispered.
Maven nodded and his staff of light began to shine brightly. The light looked so pure, and Maven knew that it was because of Gregory’s love that flowed through them both now. He increased the light and moved forwards, letting go of Gregory’s hand. He didn’t need to hold on to it, Gregory was here with him, and his love was within Maven.
“What are you doing?” Max screamed. The sound of his voice was shrill and terrified. “Please, look at what your light has done to me already!”
“Well, isn’t that something?” Maven said walking closer. “You being afraid when you’re a being made of fear. I wonder what all those children thought when you took them?”
“What do you want me to say?” The shadow man screamed. “Do you want me to say that I’m sorry? Fine, just turn the light off!”
Maven put a hand to his hear. “I’m sorry, what was that? You want us to turn on all the lights?” Behind Maven, all the others turned on the lights they had brought, every searchlight and flashlight. Max Shadow looked panicked and began to shift and move more than he had before.
“Stop!” He screamed. “Stop, please!”
“I’m sorry, what was that?” Maven walked even closer to the shadow man and moved his sceptre of light forward, pointing it at him, and thought of Gregory. The thought of his lover made the light shine even brighter than it had before and it became an endless stream of illumination. Maven stepped even closer, and then a few things happened so quickly that those who had seen it still had trouble believing what they had witnessed.
Max Shadow let out a bloodcurdling scream and then seemed to stretch himself, reaching for Maven. The shadow wrapped itself around Maven with a visible hunger. Maven had meant to fill the room with light, but he hadn’t realized that as soon as he had moved his sceptre of light closer to the shadow man, there was a tiny shadow sitting at Maven’s solar plexus.
With a frightening speed, Max Shadow wrapped himself even tighter around Maven and began to almost slide into the shadow on Maven’s chest. There was a difference, though. This time, Maven could feel Max Shadow moving into him. Maven could feel himself filling full of the darkness until his sight was clouded with the shadows of Max’s being. He turned to look at Gregory, his arms spread out on either side of him, and when he looked at the man he loved, the light shone not from his sceptre, but from Maven’s eyes. He opened his mouth to tell Gregory that he loved him, that Gregory was the reason that he had learned to love again, but nothing came out. The darkness overtook him, and he could no longer see.
Then he knew no more.
When Maven woke, there was darkness.
Gradually, the light around him began to brighten and he could see shapes moving around. He could hear voices, all pitched low. Then he felt a cold cloth wiping his forehead and he was looking up into Gregory’s eyes.
“You’re awake!” Gregory said. “Carley, Arnold’s awake!”
“Thank fuck!” She said.
“How are you, beautiful?” Gregory asked.
“I’m…okay?” Maven thought about it for a moment. “I think so? I’m not sure, really. Why am I lying down? The last thing I remember was Max Shadow and…” Maven’s voice went soft, and he brought his eyes back to Gregory’s. He had always found his centre when he could look upon Gregory’s eyes. The world felt like it was swirling around him even though he was laying still. Maven reached up and touched Gregory’s face as if to ground himself, and though Maven could feel Gregory’s skin, Maven’s whole world still felt like it was moving.
“What’s wrong with me?” Maven asked.
“Where do we start, honey?” Carley said.
“Hey!” Maven sat up and though his body still felt like it was moving, he was able to remain upright. He was surprised to find that they were sitting in his loft and that the lights were softly lit around them. He could even hear Christmas music playing softly from the speakers in the walls. Carley was looking at him with wide-eyed innocence. “I regret that remark,” she said.
“I know you do honey.”
“How are you feeling?” Gregory asked again.
“I’m not sure. What happened?”
Gregory shared a look with Carley and took a deep breath. “Well, everyone is all right. Carley was able to keep Cracklepuss occupied until the police showed up.”
“That man is really one sick fuck. He kept asking me to do dirty things to him in his head. Ugh!” Carley grimaced. “I needed to shower for three days until I felt clean again.”
“Three days?” Maven looked at both of them. “How long have I been out?”
“You’ve been out for five days,” Gregory said. “It was touch and go for a little while there, we weren’t sure you would make it.” Gregory’s eyes looked pained at the thought.
“But I can regenerate with light,” Maven said. “What happened to Max Shadow anyway? Tell me that we got him, that he’s gone!”
“Babe, don’t you remember?” Gregory asked.
Maven nodded. “I remember the shadow flying at me and then…” Maven thought about it for a moment. “Then I don’t remember anything after that. Did we get him? Is he gone?”
A look of pain crossed Gregory’s face. “No, he’s not gone. Not really,” Gregory said, running his hands through his hair. “Babe, I want you to look at something. Don’t be frightened, okay?”
“Why would I be frightened?” Maven asked, feeling a little kernel of fear bloom inside of him despite his wish to remain calm.
“Here, let me show you,” Gregory said, using a calm voice.
That was the voice that Gregory used when he was about to deliver bad news. “Oh no! Something’s happened! Something horrible, is everyone else okay? Are Tara and Dez all right? Is Tianado okay?” The kernel inside of him had blown into a full bloom of fear. It ran white-hot inside of him. They had gone there through his portal, if any of them were dead or hurt it would be his fault. “Thank goodness nothing happened to either of you!” He grabbed onto Gregory and held him tightly.
Maven was too wound up to notice how tightly he held onto Gregory until he gasped “Babe, I need to breathe!” Gregory looked at Carley. “Little help?”
“Already on it, sweet cheeks!” She said.
Maven suddenly felt his mind go calm. It was as if someone had flicked a switch within him. His mind was a sea of tranquility and he wondered from where the storm that had been within him only a moment ago had come. Maven looked at Gregory and felt so much love for this man, and turned to look at Carley and saw her looking back at him, her green eyes shining in the semi-darkness.
“Well, shit. Get out of my head!” Maven yelled at her.
“Sorry honey, but you were going a little nuts.” Carley told him truthfully.
“Here,” Gregory said, handing him a mirror. “It’s easier if I show you.”
“What do you want me to see?” Maven asked.
“I want you to look at yourself and tell me what you see. Don’t worry, because we’re both here with you, okay? We won’t let anything bad happen to you.”
Maven took the mirror and, not sure he wanted to, looked at his reflection. The first thing he saw was that he looked a little haggard and rough around the edges and he could certainly use a shave. Then he looked more closely and stopped breathing for a moment.
His eyes had changed from brown to black; but it was more than black. It was a blackness that moved like the night, given form, like shadows given shape. While he was looking at them, he saw a white flash of lighting and, for a moment, it felt as if something wanted to burst free of him. He looked at Gregory and Carley his eyes wide with understanding.
“He’s inside of me now, isn’t he?” Maven whispered.
“Tara is keeping him in place for now and I’m working on you. He’s stirring up some dark emotions in you because he’s such a fucking asshole, so it’s better that I keep you in check while Tara keeps him contained.” Carley explained.
“I thought that neither of you were able to hold onto him before?”
Carley nodded. “While he had no body, we couldn’t. He went into you to save himself from all of that light. As long as he lives within you, we can contain him.”
Maven didn’t know what to say. He knew that Tara and Carley’s powers were amazing, but they would only be able to stretch themselves so far. Maven wondered what would happen if they were no longer able to contain Max Shadow. Would the darkness become part of him?
As if reading his mind, Carley showed Maven his sceptre of light. “There’s this, too. See, Max Shadow has changed it.”
The scepter’s crystal end piece, which had been a brilliant white quartz crystal that he had cut and shaped himself, was now tinged with threads of black and grey and full of smoke. He reached out to touch it, running his fingers along the surface. Then he took it from Carley, and with Gregory’s help, stood up.
“I’ve dealt with shadows before,” he said. “I will do so again.” Taking the sceptre in hand, he lit it up, using his light from within. It was bright, but not as bright as before. “This will take some getting used to, but I’ve got this. I do.”
The words fell a little flat but neither Gregory nor Carley challenged him. He was glad for that. Looking at Gregory, he was struck again by how much he loved him. “Scratch that. We’ll get through this together,” he said.
Maven knew that he didn’t have to do it all on his own. It had taken him a long time to realize this, but it was better late than never. He looked at himself in the mirror again and smiled brightly. Inside his eyes, he saw a furious storm brewing, lightning flying all over the place. The love that he felt for Gregory was pissing off Max Shadow.
Serves him right, Maven thought. The bastard.