*Realizes I still have followers* Um... hi there! It's been a while. You may have noticed that I haven't been particularly active for a while; long story short, I started a PhD program. So... don't expect content from me any time soon.
Another note: a while back, I posted a draft of a novel called "The Disasterville Chronicles" here. I had hopes of self-publishing until I realized that I don't have what it takes. Also that the draft needed way more polishing. I've begun querying agents about the new version, but I might need to take the early version down from this site. If you download it, now is a good time; I'll remove it from the site shortly. However, if I can't get it published, I'll upload the revised version.
Thanks for your support, and I hope you're doing well!
We all knew I was different. Friends and family used all sorts of words to describe it -- eccentric, emotional, quiet, weird, blunt, gifted, shy, geeky, quirky. Those words were mostly fine with me; I even added crazy to the list on occasion. I don't know what words other people used.
It's been less than a year since "autistic" got added to the list of descriptors. There were a few reasons no one realized what was going on sooner. For one thing I was female, and even now a lot of providers don't understand female autism. I excelled at school, so no one thought to look for something typically associated with delays. I was homeschooled, and since that CLEARLY meant I spent all my time chained up in the basement with no interactions with kids my age, no one thought to look for why I had issues with social skills. (*Disclaimer: Yes, that was sarcasm. Many autistic people enjoy using it*). I think the biggest reason, though, was that we had all only heard of autism as something bad, wrong, and terrifying that meant the end of everything. I had problems, sure, but little ones, nothing a little love and patience couldn't overcome.
Therefore, it was only as I was preparing to begin graduate school that my family and I pieced together all the little things that added up to something glaringly obvious in hindsight. The need for structure and routine, the problems dealing with groups, the anxiety, the sensory sensitivities, the lack of a filter, the face blindness, the difficulty discussing emotions -- all of them, symptoms that were chalked up to the way I was. I suppose that's true in a way. Of course, there were other traits I had that pointed to autism: loyalty, at times overwhelming empathy, rational decisionmaking, honesty, hyperfocus, curiosity, and intense passion for topics that interested me. I think it's important to emphasize the good points of being autistic, since everyone and their pet goldfish already know about the bad.
In some ways I'm glad I didn't get diagnosed until late in life. I didn't have to put up with the stigma surrounding autism, from well-meaning condescension to fear and malice. I was able to explore my passions without worrying about what I was and wasn't supposed to be able to do; as far as anyone I cared about was concerned, I could do anything I put my mind to. It also meant that I got the diagnosis on my own terms, though even then the psychologist I saw came close to writing off everything as a product of homeschooling before settling on Asperger's Syndrome.
In some ways I wish I'd been diagnosed earlier. It would have meant a lot to know that I wasn't the only one who struggled with faces and not just names, that there were other people who had to think about how to tell the truth without hurting feelings, that other girls like me also skipped makeup because it wasn't worth feeling it on their faces all day. In other words, I wish I knew I wasn't alone. Maybe then I wouldn't have felt quite as much pressure to pretend to be like everyone else.
I may have been resistant to peer pressure, but some expectations got pounded into me through sheer volume. Listen when people talk (and you're not allowed to get mad even if literally everyone else interrupts you). Judge people's intentions by what they say (and then they get mad at you because they meant something other than what they said). Smile for the camera, no not like that, show your teeth! (Thus why there are almost no pictures of me actually smiling). Unspoken corollary: "appear happy at all times at all costs" (hence why I still bottle up my feelings). Sometimes it feels like death by a thousand cuts, where even if I follow the strange rules I still get in trouble one way or another.
Long story short, my autism may have caused me problems, but a lot of them are because society expected me not to be autistic. It's something I wouldn't change if I could, not just because it's a part of me, but because of the positives listed above. Then again, I'm sure there are a lot of people out there who would say my perspective doesn't count because I've lived most of my life undiagnosed and because I couldn't possibly understand what life is like for people on the "low-functioning end of the spectrum." (I personally find that language problematic -- see this link (https://the-art-of-autism.com/understanding-the-spectrum-a-comic-strip-explanation/) for a good starting point if you're interested. This website is also good: https://autisticnotweird.com/).
On a lighter note, here are a few of my special interests over the years: earthquakes, volcanoes, rainforests, caves, the Enigma Machine (in particular Marian Rejewski's role; Polish WWII codebreaking contributions STILL don't get the credit they deserve), UFOs, and planetary science. Probably also TV Tropes and Rejected Princesses if I'm being honest with myself.
Adventure Forest: Autumn Altercation
Lucy Roberts trotted through the ankle-high layer of crunchy yellow leaves, hands tucked into the pouch on the front of her bright yellow jacket. "Are we almost there?" she panted.
Her brother Heath laughed and pointed at the knot of people in the clearing ahead of them. "We'd better hurry, or they might start without us."
"No they won't," replied Lucy primly. "Dad promised to make them wait. And Mom promised to remind Dad to promise to make them wait."
"I'm just teasing." Heath held up his phone and pointed at the corner. "Look, we still have eight minutes."
"There they are! Hi Mom, hi Dad!" Lucy pointed to the far end of the circle of people, where her parents huddled over their phones. They looked up and waved as Lucy and Heath made their way over.
"Just in time. I had to remind everyone to wait for you," said their father Steven.
Lucy groaned. "No you didn't. We're still early." She stood on tip-toes to see his phone. "What build are you running?"
"Longbow, fire arrows, and force bolts," he replied. "And I've equipped my Leather Armor of Ice Resistance."
"Do you think the boss monster will be like those scarecrows, only giant?"
Eleanor Roberts interjected, "First, are you sure you finished all your homework?"
Heath and Lucy rolled their eyes. "Yes, Mom," they replied in unison.
"And did the dishes?"
"Because youre only allowed to play -- "
"--if we do our chores first," finished Heath. "We did."
The wind picked up, and the Roberts family huddled closer together. Eleanor pulled up Lucy's hood. Heath took his fingerless gloves from his pocket and pulled them onto his hands. "Hot chocolate would be nice after this," he commented idly.
Lucy jumped up and down. "Yes! With those little marshmallows! Please please please?"
Her mom grinned. "If you two make it through the last stage of the Autumn Altercation without fighting each other, I'll make hot chocolate for us when we get back."
Heath and Lucy leaned in to whisper to each other. "You get one minute with your cleric at the beginning. Unload all the buff spells you have on the group," instructed Heath. "Then I can switch to my fighter. I'll go until I hit half health."
"Three quarters health," interrupted Lucy. "And none of that running in the circles around the boss to make your turn longer stuff."
"Fine. Three quarters health. Then you go in, heal everyone, and refresh the damage shields. We'll keep switching like that until the boss hits half health."
"And gets to use more damaging abilities," interrupted Lucy. "Then we'll switch at half health."
"Sounds like a plan!" Heath entered the character tab of Adventure Forest and selected Lucy's cleric. He handed her the phone. "Here. Be sure not to start buffing until right before the fight."
Lucy nodded and began tapping the screen.
Someone from across the circle shouted, "It's starting! Everyone get ready."
Heath leaned over Lucy's shoulder to watch the countdown timer. His sister's white-robed character placed protective force fields on the group. Based on the number of adventurers with swords versus those with bows or staffs, it seemed like they had pretty even numbers of fighters, rangers, and casters. As usual, though, his sister was the only healer. He might have to let her take over toward the end of the fight.
The timer hit zero, and roars emanated from everyone's phones. At the other end of the clearing a giant scarecrow with a pumpkin for a head cut through digital trees, a giant scythe darting from side to side.
Lucy quickly switched to Heath's fighter and handed him the phone. He and about five other people ran to the far end of the meadow, where they began slashing at the monstrosity. In the real world, this meant running around and waving their phones back and forth. Lucy was the only one who got to appreciate how absurd their flailing was; everyone else was too busy firing arrows and spells by repeatedly tapping on their screens.
Heath ran back to Lucy and handed her the phone. It was her turn to begin tapping as she healed characters from the wounds inflicted by the giant scarecrow. It still had 90% of its health. "This boss battle could take a while," she commented when she handed back the phone.
Heath barely nodded as he ran back into the fray. For the next few minutes he ran back and forth, switching off with Lucy. Ever so slowly, the scarecrow's health was worn down. It finally hit half health during one of Heath's turns. Lucy was looking over her dad's shoulder when the scarecrow became wreathed in flame and began shooting firebolts at the assembled adventurers.
Heath ran back, panting, and sat down while Lucy took over. She grimly noted that most of the fighters had dropped lower than half health, and none of them had protective shields left. She worked quickly to repair the damage, but it took her several minutes to recover the losses. Finally she handed the phone back to Heath.
He took the phone and ran, but was surprised to see his sister running across the grass with him. "We need to make switch times shorter," she explained.
Heath glanced away from the phone momentarily. "But what if you get hit?"
"I took Protection from Fire last level. I can probably take two hits before I'm in trouble."
Heath shrugged and returned his focus to the boss battle.
Eleanor, meanwhile, weaved her way toward her children. "Could I get a curse removal, Lucy? It looks like the red fireballs have some sort of health pool depletion effect, and my fighter won't hold up much longer."
Heath passed the phone back to Lucy. "Better make it fast. He just summoned mooks."
Lucy rolled her eyes and ran around the meadow, dodging fireballs and the small scarecrows that were swarming the field. Well, digitally at least. She had to heal, shield, and debuff as she ran, allowing the fighters to keep whaling on the boss. She also swerved over to the casters and archers, giving them some shields to prevent them from being overwhelmed by the onslaught of mooks.
"Thanks Lucy," said Steve absently. "Don't suppose you have any extra arrows? I'm almost out."
Lucy shook her head and kept running. They needed to finish the fight soon, or else they were toast.
Heath took back the phone and resumed his flailing. "Hey, Lucy," he panted. "Think I should use that frost bomb we got from the miniquest two weeks ago?"
Lucy bit her lip. It had taken them a lot of time to get through the carnivorous pumpkin patch, and the bomb they were rewarded with was easily the rarest item they had. But they needed to do a lot of damage right now. She gritted her teeth and sighed. "Do it."
Heath tapped his screen, lobbing the bomb at the boss. Its health dropped a surprising amount. "It's weak to frost!" shouted Heath. The other players immediately began firing frost arrows and missiles at the boss. Soon it screamed and exploded into pieces of straw, dramatic music playing in the background.
"All right!" Lucy and Heath high-fived each other. They and the other adventurers slowly strolled toward the middle of the field, watching as screens popped up to let them know how much gold and experience they had earned from the fight. Several people whooped or pumped their fists as their characters gained a level.
"Any item drops?" asked Steve as they returned to the starting point.
"I got some League Boots," replied Eleanor. "They look like sneakers with pumpkins on them."
"Lucky!" Steve crossed his arms and turned away, pretending to be annoyed. "You always get the good items."
"What's that?" asked Lucy. A flashing golden question mark had just appeared on screen.
Heath tapped on it eagerly, and saw everyone else do the same. A murmur of excitement rippled through the group as the question mark gave way to a line of text.
"Congratulations, brave adventurers, for defeating the Scarecrow Lord," read Heath. "But beware, for there is a final, secret phase to the Autumn Altercation. Be on your guard, for it could arrive at any moment." The text dissolved, giving way to an image of an hourglass, black sand slowly running from the top to the bottom. Then it too disappeared, leaving the adventurers standing in an empty field.
Lucy squealed in excitement, and speculated the whole way home from the park. "Do you think it's another boss fight? Maybe we'll all get items! I don't think it'll be more scarecrows, though. I know! What if it's a giant, evil turkey?"
Eleanor laughed and shook her head as they arrived at their apartment. She opened the door and ushered everyone inside. "Come on, the sun is already setting. Besides, I promised to make hot chocolate."
Heath and Lucy ran toward the kitchen, already scrabbling for mugs and marshmallows. Eleanor followed at a more leisurely pace, stopping to straighten out the shoes scattered across the threshold. Only Steve paused to appreciate the setting sun, its rays turning the sky red and orange to match the trees. Then the wind picked up and he closed the door to keep the cold out.
Lucy's voice rang out from the kitchen. "Dad, Heath says I can't be a cleric when I grow up! Tell him I can be whatever I want to be!"
Steve shook his head and sighed. "Would you like to help with this one?"
Eleanor shook her head. "Not unless they ask me." She gently kissed his cheek.
"Nevermind, I'll be a doctor instead!" shouted Lucy.
Eleanor giggled. "Crisis averted."
Captain Gustave Bertrand sighed as he gazed out his window. In his line of work setbacks were to be expected, but the most recent one stung more than usual. The ciphers Lemoine had gotten from their German contact seemed to be a chink in the Germans' undecipherable Enigma machine. But today, after his meeting with the British, he wasn't so sure.
"Rubbish! Absolute rubbish!" The red-faced official tossed the files back onto the table. "This isn't nearly enough to work with!"
The other man tried to interrupt, but was cut off by the first.
"Don't waste my time like this, you hear? This is not enough! Don't come back unless you have something actually useful!" Then he stormed off.
The others had been considerably more polite, but had made it clear that if their expert could see no use for the ciphers, there were none, and perhaps he should ask his contact for more helpful information?
The captain shook his head. He considered passing the information to the Polish cryptologists, but dismissed the idea. No need to waste their time with useless materials.
Hans-Thilo Schmidt quietly went about his duties, but his thoughts were elsewhere. The French paid him handsomely for information, but he wasn't sure what to give them now. His contact had made it clear that the material he provided initially wasn't useful enough for more payments. But as an employee of the Cipher Center, he wasn't sure what else he could provide them with. There were the top secret materials in the safe... but no, it wasn't worth the risk if the French weren't willing to buy them. He would have to find another way to supplement his income.
The graduate students always get the short end of the stick. At least, that's what Marian Rejewski thought as he rested his head on his desk. He had been working on the problem of the Enigma machine for months now, yet there seemed to be no end in sight. Simply put, the millions of millions of millions of possible combinations posed by the device would take far too long to untangle with only the outdated commercial model as a reference. He knew there must be something missing, some unknown he could solve for if only he had a few more knowns. But without that information, he was stuck.
Germany had successfully invaded Poland, and rumors were flying through the huts and halls of Bletchley Park. England would join the war, England would do nothing, England was next, what will the other countries do? Welchman attempted to block out the chatter. He was hoping to design an automated way to decipher Enigma messages, but that required knowledge of its inner workings. He drummed his fingers on the table. Welchman had an idea he wanted to discuss with Turing, but no one knew where he was. There were lots of rumors about that, too; some of his coworkers said he was burying silver. Welchman shook his head. Turing might be brilliant, but Welchman would bet good money that Turing would never find that silver again even if he made himself a map.
Rear Admiral Godfrey heard a succession of light raps on the door. "Enter," he called out.
Lieutenant Commander Fleming walked through the door and saluted. "If you're busy I can leave a note, sir."
Godfrey shook his head. "What was it you wanted to talk about?"
"Well sir," said Fleming, "I had an idea about how to help the chaps over at Bletchley Park."
Godfrey raised his eyebrows, and noted that his subordinate's voice was tinged with just a trace of excitement. This would be one of those ideas, then.
"The mathematicians can't make much headway without coding materials, so I thought maybe we could get the Nazis to bring the materials to us! If we use one of their captured vessels, then wait until after a storm, we could set it up so that it looked like one of theirs had crashed! Then, when they approach to rescue us, we take their ship fast enough that they don't have time to destroy the ciphers! That way Bletchley would have enough stuff to work with and we could finally start reading German messages."
Fleming paused expectantly. Godfrey sat back in his chair. The problem with those ideas was that they were patently absurd, yet something about them seemed like they could work.
"I'll consider it," said Godfrey. "You're dismissed."
Fleming left the room, and Godfrey shook his head. He couldn't believe he was considering it.
Hopefully unbeknownst to most, Churchill was being treated for gunshot wounds. The assassination attempt had taken place quietly, so it had been easy to keep it from leaking to the press. The rumor mill would be harder to shut down, but hopefully it was enough to keep panic at bay.
Churchill grimaced through the pain. That German agent had spoken with a perfect accent, and he had been able to infiltrate the staff easily. Even after capturing a working Enigma machine, Bletchley Park was struggling to keep up with the bulk of German communications. Who knew how many other agents were operating among the Allies?
He hoped against hope that Operation Bodyguard would distract from the preparations for landing in Normandy. But with the Germans winning the intelligence war, the rest of the war would be an uphill battle.
USA, 1945. President Truman approves the use of the atomic bomb to expedite the end of the war.
Transcript from the Enola Gay flight log: "My God, what was that?"
My first memories are fuzzy and piecemeal to the point that it's hard to say what the first is, or if it's real. There is one early one I know is true, though, since my parents remember it as well. What they told me fills in the gaps I can't quite bridge by myself.
I was about four at the time. My parents regularly brought me along to the library for story time, and they read to my sister and I at night. They shouldn't have been too surprised when I started begging my mom to teach me how to read.
My mom refused at first. She had heard that if you try to teach your kids to read too early it will hurt their ability in the long run. But I kept asking and asking, so she finally caved in.
I remember the big phonics book she used to teach me. We would sit on the couch together and she would walk me through the lessons. I think there might have been flash cards too, but I'm not sure. Little by little, we would do more each day.
Then one day I got impatient. "Mom, I can read." She didn't believe me until she had me read a few things: one of the lessons from the phonics book and a childrens book from the library I hadn't seen before. I tried reading the latter with the pages facing out at first, the way they did it at story time so the kids could see the pictures. She had me flip it around and read it normally so it would be easier. By then she was convinced I really could read.
I'm not sure what I did next, but from then on I could usually be found with a book.
Like Mary Shelley (maybe)
I have a long history of very strange dreams, but a recent one was pretty high up the list. It started off relatively normal: zombies, yay. They were getting into the building where we were hiding, and I had a katana, so guess who had to go help clear out the basement? And then, of course, I got bitten. And then I started turning into a vampire. Yes, a vampire. But before my subconscious could explain that particular leap, I woke up.
Now I'm tempted to write a story about someone getting bitten by a zombie and turning into a vampire instead. Basing supernatural fiction on dreams worked out pretty well for Mary Shelly and Stephanie M--- wait, never mind.
An end to illness
My footsteps echo in the halls
Almost emptied for the night.
Yet behind these cold white walls
Are many a gruesome sight.
Fevered faces turn to red,
Others turned an ashen gray,
Pain here reigns and joy has fled
And never can be coaxed to stay.
I slip inside, close the door.
My work here they mustn't see.
If they did then nevermore
Could I set these patients free.
For my cure, in their small minds
Is aberrant and ill-fate;
But I must help, and be kind,
Even if it calls their hate.
Every illness I can end,
Stop the festering despair.
Every patient I attend,
Is the better for my care.
But, alas, they cannot see,
And condemn with every breath.
Me, who acts with only mercy,
They call the Angel of Death.
Concerning Your Application to [REDACTED]
I regret to inform you that despite your impressive application, you will not be admitted into [REDACTED]. We hope that you understand that only the best of the best have the opportunity to apply to join our organization, and that coming this far has been a major achievement.
Normally, we would wish you well in your future endeavors. Unfortunately, it has come to our attention that during the application process you gained unauthorized information concerning the [REDACTED] process, and that you did so intentionally. While we do not know why you did so, we have taken steps to prevent the information from spreading further.
If you try to give this information to any news source, it will not be published. If you try to run, we will find you. If you try to convince us of your trustworthiness, you will fail.
This letter will self-destruct. Please be advised that a containment team will arrive at your house shortly.