Proud

Jorininki Castroflame, Necromancer of the Seventh Order of Wrivaca, pinched the bridge of her nose and turned over the page in the grimoire she was studying. It was bound in human skin. It smelled funky.

She muttered words to herself, trying to fix them in her memory. She left careful pauses, of course— it wouldn’t do to accidentally summon the undead hordes— but she had to know her spells. There would be a battle tomorrow, and Lord Alstaz would expect things to work.

The words slid away from her, slippery as freshwater eels. A ball of black anxiety settled in her stomach.

The magical garnet of Ifera set in the heavy gold bracelet on her left wrist glowed red and emitted a cheerful chiming sound. Jorininki sighed and tapped it.

A voice spoke. ‘Jori, is that you? Can you hear me? Hello?’

‘Hi, Dad.’

‘Can you hear me?’

‘Yes, Dad, I can hear you. Are you okay?’

‘Oh, that’s good. We’re fine. How are you?’

‘I’m fine. Look, Dad, I’m kind of busy here… big thing tomorrow, you know. Is it urgent? Can I call you back tomorrow evening for a proper chat?’ That is, she thought to herself, if Lord Alstaz hasn’t thrown me into his dungeons because the undead hordes turned out to be three tatty skeletons with missing bits and a couple of zombie rabbits.

‘Yes of course, darling. But before you go. Um,’ her father paused.

‘What is it?’

‘I know you’re busy, I expect you’re working. You work so hard. Very important stuff. I know I couldn’t do it.’

‘Dad, you have no idea what I do.’

‘No, no, I know. Protecting a kingdom. It’s a lot of responsibility. I can’t imagine. Me, I’ve been a farmer my whole life. I don’t know anything about politics—’

‘Dad, I really am busy…’

‘Yes, yes, of course. Anyway. Look. We were at your aunt’s funeral on Tuesday.’

‘I know. I’m sorry I couldn’t make it.’

‘No, it’s fine. Everyone understands. They all asked after you. It just made me think, you know, it does, doesn’t it? A funeral. Everyone saying things they couldn’t say, you know, before.’

‘Mmm-hm,’ said Jorininki, turning the page back on the grimoire.

‘Well, I just wanted to tell you that we’re very proud of you, Jori. Very proud. You’ve achieved so much. You work so hard. We love you very much, your Mum and me. That’s all, really.’

Jorininki pushed the heavy book away before the tear could splash onto the yellowing paper. ‘Oh, Dad.’

‘I don’t say it enough, I know that. I wasn’t brought up to talk about these things. It’s different these days. Anyway. I just wanted you to know that even if I don’t say it all the time, I do love you.’

‘I love you too, Dad.’

‘That’s good, that’s good. Well, bye, bye, sweetheart. Don’t work too hard. You need your sleep.’

‘I’ll do my best.’

‘All right then. I’ll talk to you tomorrow?’

‘I promise.’

‘Bye, bye.’

‘Bye, bye.’

Jorininki Castroflame, Necromancer of the Seventh Order of Wrivaca, smiled as the red light of the magical garnet of Ifera blinked out.

Then she wiped her eyes and pulled the grimoire back towards her, the words now seeming that much easier to remember.


Author’s notes
It’s a trope of fantasy fiction that the parents of heroes and bad guys are dead. This piece came about after I wondered: what if the evil necromancer still has a Mum and Dad, who like to chat to their daughter every now and then? (And what about grandparents, that’s what I always want to know — maybe that’s for another day.)


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© Kat Day 2019

Excerpts From the Browser History of Item 662-70519MP, Location 2

1) https://www.healthline.org/health/insect-bites#pictures

“Bites appear as welts, blisters, pimples, or hives […] try to avoid scratching […] It is safe to use over-the-counter anti-itch medications like hydrocortisone cream or to take mild painkillers such as paracetamol […] If symptoms do not improve, see your doctor.”

2) https://www.healthline.org/health/paleness

“Paleness, also known as pallor, is an unusual lightness of skin colour compared with your normal complexion. It may be caused by reduced blood flow, or by a decreased number of red blood cells.”

3) https://www.sleepfoundation.net/insomnia/what-do-when-you-cant-sleep

“If you get into bed and cannot fall asleep after 20 minutes, get up and engage in some other relaxing activity, such as reading or listening to music. Avoid brightly-lit screens.”

4) https://www.medicalnewsnow.co.uk/loss-of-appetite

“A loss of appetite can be physical or psychological […] It can be caused by infections or digestive issues, in which case your appetite is likely to return once you have recovered.”

5) https://www.livelong.com/article/allergic-reactions-to-silver-jewelry/

“The skin around and beneath the piece of jewellery can become inflamed, itchy and dry […] Allergic reactions to silver jewellery can take years to develop, however once sensitivity has developed it is best to avoid further contact with silver, as the reaction may become more severe with time.”

6) https://www.harvard-health.edu/sun-allergy-photosensitivity

“A sun allergy is an immune system reaction to sunlight […] Symptoms are commonly mild, but can be more severe, for example hives, blisters or even small areas of bleeding under the skin […] It is important to avoid sun exposure as much as possible.”

7) https://www.yorkest.org/do-you-have-a-garlic-allergy/

“People with garlic allergy can suffer from rhinitis (runny nose), skin problems such as urticaria and dermatitis, and even asthma […] In very sensitive individuals, garlic may result in anaphylactic shock, but this is very rare.”

8) https://norapax.net/why-cant-you-look-at-yourself-in-the-mirror/

“If you find it difficult to look at yourself in the mirror, you may be struggling with low self-esteem.”

9) http://www.phobiasinfo.org/hierophobia-an-exaggerated-or-irrational-fear-of-sacred-objects-or-priests/

“Hierophobia may manifest with the following symptoms:- irrational worry of sacred objects; feeling of panic; feeling of terror; feeling of dread.”

10) https://www.wikidinfo.com/Know-if-You-Have-Renfields-Syndrome

“Throughout human history, people have consumed blood for nutritional and ritual purposes […] However, if you have a strong psychological desire to drink blood, you may be suffering from another condition.”


Author’s notes
This piece won the Writers’ Forum Magazine flash fiction competition, in issue #213, July. Hurrah! The prompt was simply to write a story in the form of a list. By the way, none of the links are real, but I cannot persuade WordPress to ignore them — if you click on them you will get ‘not found’ errors, which is pleasingly ominous, in a way…


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© Kat Day 2019

Under My Skin

I sat heavily on the wooden bench. The bus shelter was an old one, built from stone, scented with leaf mould.

Jackie, my German Shepherd, sniffed at my left hand and whined.

I heard the woman before I saw her. She was wearing a lot of bangles and they jangled. She sat next to us in a cloud of patchouli.

There was one second of silence.

‘It’s a lovely day, isn’t it?’ she said.

‘It is,’ I agreed.

‘Of course,’ she continued, ‘I have to be careful with the sun. I’ve got this mole on my leg,’ she hitched up her long skirt to show me a small, brown mark.

I nodded.

‘I showed it to my GP and she said it wasn’t anything, you know,’ she lowered her voice, ‘suspicious, but it looks like the photos I saw online. They’re always in such a hurry. I might get a second opinion. Ooh, they say dogs can detect things like that don’t they?’ She looked appraisingly at Jackie. ‘Hey, boy, have a sniff, what do you think?’

Jackie shrank backwards, putting her head on her paws.

‘Well, I suppose they need to know you.’

There was a rumble of traffic and both Jackie and I looked up the road, but it was only a lorry.

‘Ooh it’s nice to sit down. My left hip has been playing up something chronic. My doctor suggested I look up physiotherapy videos on the internet. I mean, really. I’m going to see an acupuncturist. They used to offer that on the NHS you know, but budget cuts and all that. I don’t know what I pay taxes for.’

Jackie snuffled my hand again. I scratched behind her ears.

‘Headaches. I had one the other day, honestly, I thought my skull was going to split. I nearly went to A&E, I mean, what if it was a blood clot? But after last time… anyway it eased off, but still. One of my friends goes to a craniosacral therapist. He charges £60 an hour, so he must be really good.’

There was another rumble. I felt a surge of hope as I saw a bus approaching. ‘Are you waiting for the 54?’ I asked.

‘Goodness, I was miles away, yes!’ she leapt nimbly to her feet and put her arm out to signal the driver.

‘Hip doesn’t seem to be bothering her, eh?’ I whispered to Jackie.

‘Are you getting on?’ the woman called back.

‘No,’ I said, pushing myself to my feet. ‘We just stopped for a rest.’

‘Bye, then!’ she said cheerily.

Jackie pushed her nose against my left hand again. I looked down at the patch of pinkish, too-wrinkled skin that she always seemed to focus on. ‘You know she’s a total hypochondriac, right?’ I said.

Jackie gazed at me with resolute, brown eyes.

I looked down the road. The sign to the surgery glinted in the afternoon sunshine.

‘Oh, all right,’ I said. ‘I suppose I could pop in and make an appointment.’


Author’s notes
This piece came out of a writing prompt to write about a conversation at a bus stop. I hear a lot of stories about people using ‘alternative’ therapies to help their various conditions. It’s very easy to cure a condition that was never really there in the first place.


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© Kat Day 2019

Webchat Subject: The Injections You Gave My Henchpeople Last Thursday

~ CLICK HERE TO START A WEBCHAT WITH ONE OF OUR TEAM ~

DRCSHADE: Hello, this is Dr Calamity Shade, I’d like to talk to you about the injections your medico gave my henchpeople last Thursday.

JENI: Hi! My name is Jeni. Thank you for contacting MediHench. How may I help you today?

DRCSHADE: I’ve just said — I’d like to talk to you about the injections your medico gave to my henchpeople last Thursday.

JENI: Let me check if I understand: you’d like to talk about the service you received from one of our operatives last Thursday?

DRCSHADE: ffs. Yes!

JENI: Thank you! Do you have an account number?

DRCSHADE: DR-EVL-OVLD-663CS

JENI: Great! Am I speaking to Dr Calamity Shade?

DRCSHADE: Can you hear my head hitting the table, Jeni? Can you?

JENI: I’m very sorry, but I can’t — we don’t have audio. Am I speaking to Dr Calamity Shade?

DRCSHADE: YES.

JENI: How may I help you today?

DRCSHADE: #@!*$@!

JENI: I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Could you provide some details?

DRCSHADE: Jeni, if you make me say this again, I’m going to aim my zettawatt laser at your offices. After which there won’t be offices. There will be a crater, some ashes, and some blobs of molten metal. I hope we understand each other.

JENI: I appreciate you may be frustrated, Dr Shade, but I really can’t help you unless you give me some more details.

DRCSHADE: Okay, fine! Last Wednesday I called MediHench and asked you to send someone because I had wounded henchpeople. Ms Flamingo got into my compound earlier in the week and summoned her wretched flamingo horde. You wouldn’t think

JENI: Are you still there, Dr Shade?

DRCSHADE: Yes! Dammed flamingoes!

JENI: My apologies, please continue.

DRCSHADE: YOU WOULDN’T THINK they could do that much damage with those spindly legs, but they’ve got surprisingly large beaks. Several of my people had nasty injuries, and who knows what diseases those birds carry. Jason’s left eye looked very red.

Anyway, I know some of my colleagues treat their henchpeople as disposable, but not me. I value my people. That’s why I have a MediHench account. I called, and you sent someone out on Thursday. She had a MediHench badge saying Melissa Maingolf. She patched up all the scratches, put a steristrip on Millie’s head wound and gave Jason some antibiotic ointment.

Then she said something about bird flu and recommended vaccinations. She injected everyone. I think it’s caused some side-effects.

JENI: What sort of side-effects?

DRCSHADE: Jason’s hair has turned bright pink. Today he turned up in white flared trousers, singing Dancing Queen very loudly. I’m an open-minded arch-criminal, I am, but it’s hardly an unobtrusive dark suit, is it? He’s not the only one. Millie was wearing something today with colours that made my eyes water. Each to her own, but Kenjutsu in twelve-inch silver platform soles is asking for a broken ankle. And when I give orders they answer, “we’re just flamingling, baby!”

JENI: Could you bear with me a moment while I speak to my supervisor?

DRCSHADE: I suppose so.

Are you still there?

This is ridiculous.

I’m going to

JENI: Thank you for waiting, Dr Shade! I’ve checked with my supervisor and we don’t have a Melissa Maingolf on staff.

DRCSHADE: What?!

JENI: We’ve been experiencing a high volume of calls. We weren’t able to send anyone until Friday. The operative we sent reported that he was “turned away by a group of people singing and holding placards saying, ‘Party Like A Flock Star!'”

DRCSHADE: So who was Melissa Maingolf?

JENI: My supervisor suggests you consider the name ‘maingolf’?

DRCSHADE: What?

Oh.

Shit.

JENI: Is there anything else I can help you with today?

DRCSHADE: That’s it? My team are completely incapacitated because someone was impersonating YOUR operative!

JENI: That’s not our fault, Dr Shade.

DRCSHADE: I’m going to the laser room.

JENI: It does say in our terms and condit

DRCSHADE: Can you hear buzzing? It’s warming up RIGHT NOW.

JENI: Let me just speak to my supervisor.

DRCSHADE: Good idea.

JENI: Thank you for waiting. My supervisor says that as a gesture of goodwill, she will extend your MediHench membership for an extra month for free.

DRCSHADE: Do you know how much a zettawatt is, Jeni? It’s a LOT.

JENI: And send another medico out to treat your henchpeople, of course.

DRCSHADE: My finger’s over the button, Jeni. And my button works, believe me.

JENI: Er, we can offer you a $20 Yangtze gift certificate?

DRCSHADE: …

… and the extra month and the free treatment?

JENI: Of course.

DRCSHADE: all right then.

JENI: I’ll arrange it immediately. You have a flamingood day, now!

DRCSHADE: Hey, wait a mi

~ WEBCHAT SESSION ENDED ~


Author’s notes
Have you ever had one of those webchat coversations where you started to lose the will to live two minutes in? Yeah, me too.

Also, flamingoes seem to be very fashionable right now but just look at those eyes. They’re planning something, I’m telling you.


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© Kat Day 2019

Spears and Marbles

Eria wriggled her fingers and let them drift across the wooden countertop. It was warm in the shop. She looked longingly at the door.

Obligingly, it opened, letting in a draft of ice-tinged air.

A man ducked under the lintel and stomped in, snow falling from his boots. His body was huge, almost too big for his tattooed head. He wore armour made of dark leather padded with sheepskin. A battle-axe hung from his belt.

‘Hello,’ said Eria, ‘how may I help you today?’

He looked at her. ‘Where’s the old man?’ he grunted.

‘I’m minding the shop for Master Winga.’

‘You’re a child.’

Eria ran her hands down the front of her dress as though brushing away dust and nodded thoughtfully. ‘I’m older than I look,’ she said.

There was a sound from the back room. The man narrowed his eyes.

‘Master Winga will be several hours, at least,’ said Eria. ‘You can wait, of course, but I am more than able to help you.’

‘Give me that spear up there,’ said the man eventually, tipping his chin upwards. She turned to follow his gaze. The spear had been hung horizontally and ran almost the full length of the back wall. Its head was diamond-shaped, forged from reddish metal, and behind it sat wicked barbs which would make it impossible to remove from a wound without catastrophic damage.

‘Big fight?’ she asked.

‘Dragon.’

‘Have you got any identification?’

‘Huh?’

‘That spear is a dangerous weapon. I can’t sell it to just anyone.’

The man pulled out a leather pouch turned it over so that its contents spilled across the countertop. The gold glinted in the light. ‘Here’s my identification.’

‘I’m sorry,’ said Eria. ‘I need to see some paperwork. Have you got a dragon-hunting licence?’

‘A what?’

‘A dragon-hunting licence.’

‘No! What is this nonsense? I am the Warrior Philip Elfweard and–‘

Eria made a tiny snorting noise. He glared at her.

‘Give me the spear, impudent child, or I shall take it for myself!’ he thundered, drawing his axe.

‘Why waste time asking for things in the first place if you can just take what you want?’ she asked calmly, catching his eyes with hers.

‘It is– It is not–‘ His voice faded. She saw smoke and flames and tasted metal and salt. Underneath it all, though, was the scent of lavender, a song, and a child’s laughter.

Eria had a knack for seeing things in people’s eyes.

She reached into the pocket of her dress. ‘I think your daughter will like these,’ she said, holding up her hand.

Eyes still locked on hers, Philip reached out and took one of the objects she held. It was a perfect, green sphere with a graceful swirl of gold in its centre.

She blinked and his eyes snapped to the marble he was holding. It sparkled as he turned it. ‘How did you know I have a daughter?’ he asked, after a moment.

‘Lucky guess,’ said Eria, lightly. ‘I made these myself,’ she added. ‘I’m good with glass.’

He nodded.

‘I won’t sell you the spear,’ said Eria. ‘The dragon doesn’t deserve to have her eye pierced. And you,’ she continued quickly as she saw him start to speak, ‘don’t want to be so badly burned by her flame that your daughter screams every time she looks at you.’

‘The reward…’ he started, but tailed off as he stared at the marble he was still holding.

‘There are greater rewards than money.’

#

Eria waited for a several minutes after he had left before she turned and walked into the back room. She untied Master Winga from his chair and removed the gag. He spluttered and cursed, but she laid her hand on his arm and caught his eyes, and he calmed soon enough.

She left the old man’s shop and stood outside the door. She shivered and stretched, breathing in the chill air and bathing in the red-gold rays of the sunset.

After a moment, her skin began to shift from human softness to something harder and glossier. Wings burst from her back, the joints in her arms and legs clicked and snapped into new positions, her neck lengthened.

A gout of flame shot from her jaws and hit, with extreme precision, a nearby rock. It melted into a glassy puddle.

The dragon dropped from the mountain edge and caught a thermal, hovering in the clear air. She watched the tiny figure walk down the mountainside for a few moments. Then, finally, she headed home.


Author’s notes
I really want a set of dragon marbles.


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© Kat Day 2019

The Last of the Eggs

broken eggI used the last of the eggs today. I scrambled them. They were delicious.

Afterwards I put more duct tape around the front door. I couldn’t help looking through the little square of frosted glass, it’s like scratching a mosquito bite. The blurry shape was in the same place. So his body is still there. I think.

I found an old copy of War of the Worlds on the shelf in the spare bedroom. Actually, I didn’t so much find it as stop avoiding it. I’ve read everything else. Monsters used to be big things, in the old stories. Big, and easy to hide from.

The house is stuffy. Not surprising, since I’ve sealed every window and door. Air still gets in. I don’t know exactly how, but I can breathe. I don’t think they can get in, though. It’s been days, there’s no sign of silver trails.

I want to breathe cold air.

I know there are some other people left. Trouble is, even if they flew right overhead, they wouldn’t know I’m here.

I had to push him out there. It was too late. He had streaks of silver where veins should be, and eyes like mirrors. They’d only have got to me. I scrubbed everything, afterwards. With the bleach spray we had under the sink for vomiting bugs. God, I hated those. Every October, regular as clockwork, someone would start throwing up and then, bam, the whole house would come down with it.

I’d give anything to be cleaning up puke again.

I wonder if I can get up to the roof? And how long I could stay outside?

I got a bed sheet and painted it with the leftover gloss paint we had from the front door. The smell gave me a headache. Use in a well-ventilated area, the tin says. Hah.

I went out of the window in the attic room backwards, my arse dangling over the sill. I reasoned that if I fell at least it’d be quick. I managed to throw the weighted sheet so it caught. They should be able to see it.

I heard helicopters. They didn’t stop. But maybe they’re planning something.

There’s a bruise on my belly. It looks like a fresh blackberry. I probably did it crawling out of the window.

I woke up in the night with a craving so intense it felt like my brain was on fire. To be high, on a mountain, where the air is thin but clean. Untainted. To shout my name and hear it come back to me.

My belly aches. The bruise is low, under where my skin sags. I can only really see it in the mirror. The beautiful, silvery mirror.

My skin seems brighter today. It almost glints in the light.

I heard the helicopters again. I’m sure they’ve seen my sign. They’re only working out what to do.

Next time I hear them, I’m going out of the window.

At least it will be quick.


Author’s notes
This is quite an old story that I wrote for a Pseudopod flash fiction competition. It did quite well, but it’s one of those pieces where people say ‘I want to know more about….’ and the thing is, I like it like this. Sometimes the most horrific thing is not knowing.


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© Kat Day 2019

Magma on the Inside

Content warning: violence, abuse

***

Don’t cry. If you cry, your lamina won’t form.

Adamite the troll forced the sting from his eyes as he stared at his damaged knee. He had fallen on the scree, and the sharp stones had bitten hard. There were specks of dirt and ragged pieces of torn skin in the centre of the wound, but its edges were already beginning to darken. Streaks of red, like veins of ruby running through rock, glinted in the sunshine. His leg burned like a stone left in the noonday sun.

He was young, and his skin was still soft. For now.

In time, a scab would form, and then it would fall off leaving a new surface of smooth rock, and the warm softness would become hard and cool to the touch. It was called a lamina, and it was how trolls became stone. It was how they became truly trolls.

Don’t cry.

The air in the mountains was crisp, almost crystalline. It chilled his skin and, just for a moment, he felt sadness that he might lose that sensation, soon.

Adamite took a deep breath and stood up.

#

It was not long after that day that his grandfather was broken. Men had come to the mountain with their red tubes which hissed and made smoke that smelled of overripe fruit. The men looked harmless – too fragile to harm a creature such as a troll – but humans could be remarkably, surprisingly destructive.

His grandfather had been too old to move much, preferring to sit and let the thin sunshine warm his rhyolite skin. The men’s sticks called the thunder and focused the lightning, and the old troll’s head had shattered into a hundred thousand pieces.

The men had taken his calcite eyes. Amazingly clear, they said.

Adamite and his father studied what was left of the broken remains.

“We must be the trolls he can no longer be,” said his father, quietly.

Then he scraped the flint-sharp side of his foot down the back of Adamite’s still-soft legs. The pain was excruciating, but he didn’t cry.

“You must be strong,” said his father. “This will make you strong.”

#

Shattering stone. Breaking skin. Adamite cried out as Psilomelane’s fist slammed into his cheek. His mouth was full of wet copper. His father had left his face untouched, but other trolls had no such hesitancy.

The rock beneath his back was too hard, and that was wrong. A real troll marks the ground, not the other way around.

“Stupid baby,” hissed Psilomelane, through amethyst teeth. “You’ll thank me for this.”

Psilomelane was mostly stone. There were, Adamite noticed with a strange sort of detachment, only a few patches that were still unchanged. One was around his neck. The matt skin there contrasted sharply with the dark grey that covered his face.

Adamite wondered how it would feel to lock his fingers around that soft neck.

It wasn’t only the outside of trolls that changed, of course. They had to become stone all the way through.

#

It was a summer day when Adamite first broke his own son’s skin. Harebell flowers were scattered over the landscape, and the air was full of grass and sunshine. Adamite’s lamina was long complete. He glittered in the sunshine, smooth stone which almost seemed polished, dotted with flecks of silver and green crystals. His eyes were perfect ovals of green chrysoprase. His teeth were shards of yellow corundum.

His son was still soft and warm to the touch. When Adamite looked at him, he felt a twinge of disgust.

He had to do it. His son had to be strong, as he himself had become strong.

And so he picked up handfuls of sharp gravel, circled his son’s arm with his own hands, and forced the small stones into the child’s skin. In, and down.

Dark fluid welled in the wounds. The young troll didn’t cry out, and that was good. His eyes, though, were too bright.

“Don’t cry,” said Adamite sharply, “it will stop your lamina from forming. Trolls must never cry.”

The child nodded. “I know,” he said.

His voice was full of the determination of youth. Somewhere inside, Adamite felt the heat of molten rock. The energy could not escape; it was locked in by his cool, rocky surface. The fires inside roared, and swelled.

He looked away from his son, and his chest burned.


Author’s notes
I wrote this story 9 months ago and it has nagged at me ever since. It was difficult to write and it is still, even though of course I know what it says, difficult to read. And I’m agonising over the submit button even now. But it’s here because I feel it’s imporant. I’m a woman and I fully support women’s rights, but I also understand that it can be hard to be a man in modern society, particularly if you are not a man who fits traditional male stereotypes. When you force someone, anyone, into a box that doesn’t fit them, they have two options: to defy and break the box, or to become misshapen. Both of those options involve pain.

Perhaps, as a society, we could decide to stop forcing people into boxes in the first place.

If you need support, please know that there organisations who can help. One is the Campaign Against Living Miserably, or CALM. Follow the link for more details.


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© Kat Day 2018