Thomm Quackenbush, author

She Would Not Want to Be Burned | 2017 | Eidolon and Daemon

02.20.17

If I could believe in myself, why not give other improbabilities the benefit of the doubt?  

-David Sedaris



Good Riddance (A Series of Masks)

When I come home every day, I remove the mask. It is lightweight now, but it is good to have it off. At home, with Amber, I no longer need to perform. This isn't to say that I do not entertain her, that I do not put my best (honest, unencumbered) face forward, but it is relaxed. No one places expectations on me.

This does not mean that I do not have the sense not to overburden Amber with the emotional labor of abating my neuroses, but that I can be honest about what is happening.

I don't want to wear these masks, even if they let me move more easily in the world. I want to just be, but that is not allowed. To achieve all I need to, I have to be able to function and carouse in the world.

The trouble is when I need to switch between masks with rapidity. Wearing the masks is stressful, even when I swear it isn't. (You cannot confront a neurotic with the idea that you may be inconveniencing them because we will lie to avoid the stress of awkwardness.)

Friday

I love No Such Convention. It is, as I am not shy to say, the weekend when I usually feel the coolest. I receive a kind honorarium and, this year, a hotel room like all the other guests. I did not ask for the hotel room, but I was told one had been acquired for me and for the weekend I was about to have, I would prefer closer and more impersonal accommodations than staying with my saintly mother-in-law, who would be working a schedule opposite Amber and me. I think it best that I always be provided a hotel room in the future.

No Such Convention requires my primary mask for the weekend: an affable and slightly eccentric author. In acknowledgement of that, I wear a long black coat with bright red lining, which I feel makes me resemble a party magician. I am downright jubilant when I arrive to the convention Friday night, ahead of Amber who still had things to pack to bring.

Shortly after I arrive, my main fangirl, Little Julia, comes up to my booth, dressed as some character in a peasant frock. (I do not know the source material of most of the costumes and, to their immense credit, most of the attendees do not call me on this ignorance.) She starts thumbing through my books and planning to buy one. I ask about the name tag around her neck, since it clearly doesn't read any variation of "Little" or "Julia."

"That says Henry," she explains.

"Who is Henry?"

She looks up from the book. "I am. I guess you haven't been paying much attention to Tumblr."

This is true. I lost the energy for Tumblr and haven't regretted mostly ignoring it. Tumblr requires a constant performance and demands attention. I cannot be on my toes, dancing for the anonymous.

"So you are a boy?" I ask.

"Yes," he says, slightly tentative.

"And your name is Henry?" I ask.

"Yes. I got it from some book..." I don't get the rest of the details because I start rewriting the programming in my head that made me refer to him as Julia and with female pronouns. He has been wearing a mask far longer than I have to. It must feel wonderful to let the air onto your unadorned face like that.

When it is time for my panel and Amber still hasn't arrived, I ask the artist seated next to me if she wouldn't mind swatting people away from my books. "Just tell them that the books are godawful - which they might be for all you know - and that I will be back after my panel." She gives an uneasy nod of assent and I dart away to the room.

I am there ten minutes early, as far as I know. There are two men in the room conversing, who ask if I am the one doing a panel next. The convention has just begun, so I do not think they were conducting anything prior to my arrival. I think that they are there for my panel, but they wander away and I do not see them again.

I fidget about the room, discontent that there is not a projector for the slides I have spent hours laboring over and then rearranging at the last minute.

Once we are ten minutes into the panel and no one has arrived, I snark on social media about my evident lack of popularity. Amber shows up with my microphone that I might record the panel, but it doesn't seem there will be a panel to record.

Still, I have nowhere else to be, so I stay in the room I have been assigned. Actually, as Amber texts me, this is not true. I could be at our table, helping her unpack and arrange, but I am in my room instead out of solemn duty. If someone shows up, I am entirely willing to begin my panel for an audience of one. It is why they are paying me. Though, money or no, it is a bit dispiriting to have no one at my first panel.

I am kicking my feet in the empty room when Zeke, the emissary of No Such Convention, stops by and asks if I need any help getting my computer connected to the television screen. I glance over and, yes, there is a wide screen that my atavistic mind disregarded because I was expecting an actual projector. "Not much of a panel," I mope. "No one has come."

It is at this point that we discover that my panel is at six-thirty and not six and that I evidently cannot read a schedule.

I switch around the room in moments that my future audience be able to see each of my occasionally gory slides, as I am dealing with unsolved mysteries of the last hundred years. Soon, most of the seats fill with some familiar faces, but mostly strangers.

Here comes my next mask, though it may be a sub-mask of the first one. Being the eccentric author is relatively easy at my table. I greet people, do not give them the hard sell, answer whatever questions they have, and am generally available for a discussion. Here, during a panel, I slither into a different façade. I am downright bizarre, intentionally manic, as though I have a vast dam of arcane knowledge and they are witnessing the first cracks in it that threaten to drown them in conspiracy theories and demonic sacrifice. This is not too far from the truth. I have switched my panels away from my customary "monsters you don't know" because I didn't want it to become stale and, frankly, I have plumbed the monsters I love and haven't found any great new candidates (I don't want to give them a "here is this unverifiable spook story with no names attached," I want newspaper clippings and court cases). In doing so, I have done exhaustive research into twenty curious cases, then narrowed it down to ten and separated them into panels both light and dark. Given that I had the most passion for the dark, specifically a few tragic and unexplained deaths, I decided to lead with that.

I know very well the content of what I was discussing, but I cannot say for certain that I remember the panel itself. Performance - and my panels are certainly comedic act, though I do not recall anyone much laughing - takes place where memories do not tread. I do recall that, seeing that I had a whole case undiscussed and only a few minutes, threw off my coat with a flourish and tossed my notes to the side to speed through it. I do not recall if this got a laugh.

There may well be a reason that I think I look unforgivably goofy when someone takes my picture during my panels.

I finish only a few minutes over, which it practically on time for me.

It is only when I am back at my table, having gotten sandwiches for Amber and me, slowly regaining my energy, when I recall that I was meant to be wearing yet another mask. In the preamble to Daniel's leaving, I took to contacting strangers online. Some people reacted to this with downright verbal violence and suspicion. Some insisted that I must be seeking out anonymous sex, which was odd given that I was tediously specific that I was only interested in friendship and, oh look, here is a way to safely check out my website and books as proof I am who and what I say I am. Some got snotty (and blocked) when I wouldn't let them convert me into having an open relationship. One tried to butter me up so I would help him get published, though he didn't do this by writing exhaustive and eloquent letters as a writer might and I wouldn't have any real way to help him anyway.

Then there was Chris - whose name I am using because I assume he would be fine with it, though I didn't bother to ask. I am sure I contacted him first and we exchanged probably twenty pages worth of letters, detailing our lives and philosophies. I was almost certain he was not intent to murder me. In my letters to him, I had been conspicuously honest, since I didn't feel I had much to lose and a potential new friend to make. It was good to just have someone to whom I could write long letters and I think he likewise benefitted from having someone with whom he could vent. Still, I wondered if this didn't require me to put on a lighter mask, a small defense, because he was a stranger making his way toward friend.

I mentioned that I would be a guest at No Such Convention, knowing that he works at Vassar and would probably take the initiative to check me out in person. It is what I would have done in his position. After I dropped the hint, he did tell me that he would be doing this and I told him the time and location of my panels, so it was not a surprise that he showed up to this first one.

It may have been something of a surprise, though, that I immediately darted out of that room once the panel concluded and effectively disappeared. I did warn him that I am inclined to do that after panels to rally my energy, but it was perhaps more abrupt in person.

Between shoving French fries in my mouth, I emailed him and messaged him to apologize for effectively ditching him. Easily half an hour had passed and I am not certain I would have stuck around in his position, especially given my performance. I had no real way to figure out a dual mask of Panel Performer and Sane Enough Person to Potentially Befriend, so I don't suppose I would have blamed him much for just going home.

To my relief, he messaged back promptly and said he would find me.

I should say here that the artist alley was done differently than in years prior. The convention itself contracted, being wholly on the second floor of the student union building. To wit, instead of having all the vendors and artists lining the hallways on the top and bottom floors, the vendors were in a ballroom and the artists were in a conference room that last year played host to table top games and spare chairs. We were unfortunately secluded from curious passersby who might buy our wares, but it otherwise pleasant enough and would save us from having to pack up every night.

Chris shows up and, at first, I stand to treat him as I would a customer. I quickly excuse myself, telling him that I am going to sit down and enjoy my dinner. He asks if he should go, if I am preventing customers from finding my table, but I assure him that isn't going to be a problem. I am just hungry. I give a superficial introduction to Amber, but she promptly returns to her studies of skulls and bones. Befriending Chris is my project and she has other matters to attend to.

We talk for an hour, mostly about how I know very strange things - though part of our written conversation dealt with the fact that he did as well or the potential friendship might not be so fertile. I do not feel quite relaxed with him, because I am still juggling masks and considering tomorrow, but it is friendly enough.

Saturday

The hotel was humble, but it is enough that I was given it to better be a guest at this convention. The complimentary breakfast of waffles and orange juice tastes of success that often alludes me.

Saturday morning progresses slowly. I thought originally - because I do not seem to be able to read a schedule - that I was conducting a panel at four o'clock. To be completely fair to myself, it did have my name on it, so there is ample reason that I might have been confused. On the other hand, it was about visual storytelling, which is not exactly my forte. Rob, Melissa's fiancé, had asked if I wanted to speak at the service today and I had to originally decline because I thought I had to get back to conduct this panel.

Once I realize that Dezi is to conduct this panel, I tell Rob that I am available. He messages me back that he appreciates this, but that Melissa's family has hired a deacon to conduct the service.

I mention the panel to Dezi and ask what he has planned. He admits he hasn't planned anything, but that he feels he can wing it. This may be the case, but I cannot but admire his confidence.

Dezi had asked months ago if I wouldn't mind having him at my table at the convention. He thought that this was an imposition, but I immediately recalled how much busier my table became when I had Daniel's tiles and ghastly art to draw the eye.

He sets up in his half to the table. He has two boxes of graphic novels and offers that people can have one with a purchase of one of my books, but I assure him that he deserves any penny he can get this weekend. He says this because he feels he owes me for the space and opportunity, but I know he will be a much bigger draw than my books are on my own; his presence is payment enough.

If the convention were busier, we would have been mobbed, especially once he starts telling people that he is giving free head sketches of any character they can name (that he can google on his phone). However, as some of the con-goers inform me, this convention was scheduled opposite of Katsucon, a convention in Washington, DC, that draws a lot of the dedicated cosplayers.

I am surprised at how people regard Dezi's offer of a free sketch with suspicion. A few accept his offer as though they were doing him a favor. I think it may be gauche to shout at them that they should be honored to have Dezi drawing of them, given his talent and pedigree. I become frustrated when one chews Dezi's ear about the anime heartthrob she desires him to draw, then immediately ask the person beside us to draw the same character as a commission. Perhaps Dezi should have had a tip jar.

I do not think anyone commissions him or buys any of this prints, but I admit to not paying careful attention. He is quick to talk up my books - I'm not sure he has read any of them, but I could be wrong - and Amber's crafts. He does not mention to the people looking uncertain about his giving them a free service that he worked for DC Comics for nine years and has over four hundred issues credited to him, so I am quick to do that in his stead.

I need to break myself out of false humility or self-deprecation in hopes people will find it charming. They don't and my work needs to stand on its own. I wonder if both our actions - his omitting and my snarking - are not masks in their own right.

I regret saying that, at first, being around Dezi seemed to require a compound mask. Though I have known him since high school and plainly regard him well, it has been a decade since we were really close. His moving to Red Hook has given us an opportunity to rekindle the friendship, but I approach people like a half-tamed animal. It is only after a few hours that I feel my guard dropped enough that I can just appreciate his company (and the fact that, as he draws for them, people spend ten minutes looking at Amber and my work rather than thirty seconds).

I ease back into the flow of the convention. Given the segregation of artist alley and the reality that most of the con-goers I know are in DC, I know not to expect as robust of sales as I have gotten in years prior, but I am satisfied with the fee I charge No Such Organization and my belly full of breakfast food. Any sales I get on top of that are a bonus.

An Intermission for a Memorial Service

I think I am doing well, then the hour draws close to when I am supposed to leave for Melissa's memorial service. There is a part of me that doesn't want to go, that wants to stay safe, wrapped in the experience of this convention, but I cannot do that. It isn't that I do not want to go to pay my respects as much as that going further cements that Melissa is dead. Intellectually, I know she will be exactly as dead whether or not I show up to the service, but it requires a level of emotional consent that I do not want to give.

Amber drives me. I am sure I could have driven myself the twenty minutes, but I was glad to be able to be in the experience of this a little more. At a stoplight in Poughkeepsie, I grumble "Stupid Melissa," and I feel tears beginning to come, but they get no further. "There is about a ninety percent chance that I am going to bawl my eyes out once we get there."

Amber nods, but she doesn't say anything much. If I cry, I cry. It is the right place for that.

I have been reading a book on relieving one's anxiety - or I was until Melissa died and I decided that prioritizing processing that experience took precedent over self-indulgently humming over obvious axioms and psych 101 advice. In it, the author talks about how one technique the anxious person can use to conquer anxiety is to consider it an external force and get angry at it. In a way, this was what I was doing with Melissa. I am furious that she killed herself, even if I pretend I expected it, but I am still more sad than angry.

I am sure I have passed this funeral home a dozen times, usually with Melissa at the wheel, but had no reason to acknowledge it. We were in our teens and early twenties, having the adventures of presumed immortals. I had no reason to see a reminder of death. Instead, I locate it by the steakhouse just up the road.

The funeral home is like every funeral home: tissue boxes on every table, empty clichés framed on the walls. All very tasteful, all forgettable scenery because no one forced into this building sees a bit of it.

I walk straight to the nucleus of Rob, Angela, and Krista - they are my north and I have no other direction. They have been here longer, though I do not ask how long. I am sure Rob has been here since the beginning. I might have had Melissa's death not inconveniently fallen when I was booked at a convention. However, I am not too sorry for the excuse to keep my visitation to an hour. I do not trust that I could have survived three hours of starkly having to admit my oldest friend is dead.

I feel as though I have held my breath until I understand the temperature of the room and if I can breathe beyond the artificial lilac in the air. I hug them all individually and maybe they are waiting as much as I am, to know what is appropriate here. I know that Melissa would not want us to linger about mournfully, or I tell myself that to ease my discomfort. In the end, I clearly didn't know what Melissa wanted.

To my immense relief, the jokes start to come and I can remember myself in context to these people, though I cannot remember when last I was together with all of them at the same time. It is possible that never happened, that Melissa was never well enough for such a gathering.

I excuse myself to go to the bathroom. Since an hour before we left the convention, I have been peeing every few minutes. It seems that my body has decided, if I am going to be too repressed to sob inconsolably, it is going to make me purge myself this way.

On the way back to them, I stop by a podium that contains memorial slips - I do not know the proper name, but they are the small cards that list the deceased's name, dates of birth and death, and usually a prayer. Melissa's are not the laminate I am used to. They are barely cardboard.

We move into the room where Melissa's ashes sit in an urn. I do not know the name of the various rooms in a funeral home, either, only that the chapel was down a hallway and we are not there. I look at the boards on tripods throughout the room, all covered in photos of Melissa. I see so many of the Melissa I first met as a teenager, her smile devilish and wide. Instantly, I am awash in memories of those times together, when Melissa seemed most vibrant, like she dared the world to pick a fight with her. I like to think that the last few years with Rob were the best of her life, but it is hard to beat those golden years when one feels burdened but is largely carefree.

The four of us conspire on how to steal Melissa's urn from the front of the room. Krista and Angela contrive a plan to fall distraught in front of it, then knock the ashes into Amber's purse. I remember when Melissa and I joked in front of nurses about how we were going to bust a friend out of the psych ward after a suicide attempt. This doesn't feel so different. She needs to be busted out of her, out of her remains being in a house she sought to escape for all her teen years. Plus, Melissa would have wanted us to cause havoc at her funeral, wouldn't she?

I don't think I hurt enough to have accepted the reality of her death. A part of me still believes I can call Melissa and discuss her grave mistake, as though she were in rehab again instead of dead. Melissa would be the ideal person to sort through the grief that I no longer have Melissa.

I wander by the flowers. Angela, Krista, and I went in on a large bouquet of sunflowers, though the obituary told us to donate to a charity in lieu of flowers. Still, a few other people disregarded this edict. As Angela points out, our arrangement is the biggest and thus the best.

In the same window is a small arrangement. When I look at the tag, I see that is from Stevehen and am grateful that he got the message. I hope these flowers mean that he has forgiven her now, though I don't expect any more than that he sent flowers.

We are all hushed after a little while of sharing off-color stories - there are few good stories about Melissa that are not off-color, though we save some for when Rob is too occupied with Melissa's relations to hear her more manic or unwise behavior.

The deacon wobbles to the front on his cane. Krista mentions that he is from her parish and that we need to be nice, but I don't recall agreeing to anything of that sort. His demeanor was exactly the sort I hate at funeral services, all about walking with Jesus. It is plain that he never met Melissa and has no taste of her flavor. It was all bland quoting of the Bible, nothing about her life. He does, however, throw in the unwelcome twist that he spoke to Melissa's father, who told the deacon how relieved he is now that Melissa is beyond her pain and troubles. The day she was found dead, her mother only posted about the coming snowstorm and her mother's friends only commented about that (as far as I could see).

Melissa was troubled - there was not a moment I had known her that Melissa didn't have the sort of troubles that plague afterschool specials. She was a cautionary tale for some, but she was only ever a deeply compassionate person to me. She kept me away from the worst of her problems out of, I think, a reverence for our friendship and not a fear that I couldn't handle her. (I once called 911 when I believed she was serious about killing herself, after which she did not speak to me for a year; it is possible that I couldn't handle her extremity.) I do not want to hear how anyone could be relieved by her death, even it if is true. At a funeral, there is no place for that color of honesty. While I could be sympathetic to what they went through in having Melissa as a daughter, now is not the time to call her out. She died of a heroin overdose after about a decade of increasing mental illness where she had a lot of bipolar and drug-seeking behavior. The way she made it sound, her family had nearly disowned her, but I couldn't tell how accurate that was at the time.

I find no relief from her death, just the extinction of hope that she will restore to what she once was, if not evolving into a more stable person. Melissa had so much potential that will remain unrealized. In a different environment, she might have lived a much fuller life. On the other hand, maybe it would have always gone this way. Maybe she would have died sooner out of rebellion. We cannot know and speculation can only hurt.

The deacon leaves almost exactly when it would be impossible for anyone else to speak. Rob asks me if I am okay with him speaking and I assure him quickly that I am in no position to stop him. After that rambling and offensive speech, I do not want to speak and do not think it would have been appreciated by most of the crowd.

He stammers and holds back tears, but gets out the important points: Melissa was his world. He never thought this would happen. He will miss her always, as will her friends. Life will be a little less interesting now that it lacks her.

Before I can ponder if I should try to jump up next - my speech cannot really compete with that of Melissa's fiancé - the funeral director tells us that there will be a reception at the home of Melissa's sister and that we are "encouraged" to take the flowers with us because the family doesn't want them. I understand the subtext that these flowers will be destroyed if we leave them behind. Krista, Angela, and I quickly converse on this, ending when Krista says that she will dry the flowers and bring them when we hold our own memorial to Melissa later in the year. We will leave them on Breakneck Mountain, since we cannot leave her ashes.

We barely get out to the lobby before Krista asks when we are going to play Green Day, one of Melissa's favorite bands. In a minute, we are standing in the parking lot, gathered around the vase of flowers. I choke out my eulogy:

None of us should be here today. I should be standing in front of you in eight months, officiating Melissa's wedding to Rob, but that is not the story we get to tell. That joyous moment, along with so many others, has been taken from us.

At the wedding, I would have told you that Melissa was less a person than a force of nature. When I met her, I was all of fifteen. We were instant friends. For a decade after, we tied up the phone lines conspiring against a world we were sure didn't understand us, though it had been here first and seen countless generations of our kind.

Everyone deserves a friend like Melissa once in their lives. My memory is ripe with adventures she took me on, from wandering Woodstock as through it were our incense Mecca, to driving around Pine Bush in search of UFOs, to gorging ourselves on ice cream and greasy food at Friendly's, to sitting on a dock at midnight, the still water reflecting the stars so it felt we were adrift in the universe. These adventures only existed because of Melissa's will. You might as well have tried to pen in a storm as make Melissa do anything she didn't want to.

I met her in her summer, when things were brightest and fullest, when a little bit of us believes that each day is infinite. Like any Hudson Valley summer, storm clouds could rush in and drench the landscape, thunder could shake her foundations, lightning could blind her, but it lasted only an hour before the sun was out again and the world seemed fresher for it.

The clouds came out more and more as she got older and she seemed to disappear beneath them. There were still sunny days that let you forget how gray it had been and they were nearly enough for most of us. Once she got engaged to Rob, she looked to be improving so much that we could believe that maybe summer had returned. Maybe she could stay in the light now.

Nature isn't ever easy, even if it tricks you that it will be. It is constant upheaval, but god is it beautiful when it is changing. Maybe, if she were a little more able to be tamed, to abandon hurricanes for breezes, I would be saying this under autumn leaves on the happiest day of her life.

It feels all we are left with now is ashes and regrets, but I know that isn't what she would have wanted for us. No matter what Melissa went through, she would have put it all aside to try to cheer up someone who seemed sad. (If they were an animal, doubly so.) She wouldn't want us to mourn her now. She would want us to celebrate her life every day, to go on adventures in remembrance of her. She would want us to gather at Breakneck Ridge on her birthday and swap stories about the trouble she damn near got us into. She would want us to go to Ocean City and imagine her collecting seashells on the beach. She would want us to marathon the Harry Potter movies, making ourselves sick with Taco Bell and laughter. She would want us all to go on, because she never thought she would have it in her to finish this race with us, but she will always be shouting encouragement from the grass, under a shady tree.

Krista plays "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" from her cell phone and we all agree that this was much more in line with what Melissa would have wanted.

We part. I do not think any of us intended to go to the reception. Angela had to go to work. Maybe Krista did too. I need to get back to the convention ahead of Dezi's panel, so that someone is manning the table. Life must go on, even so quickly.

After one of our funerals, Melissa would have spent the rest of the day in various mourning activities, dragging along with her anyone who might not object. However, she had the bad taste to die before us, so we cannot be dragged along.

Leaving, I feel strangely calm. Not as I had been, with an underlying fear of what was brewing beneath superficial placidity, but because I have faced what I expect to be the hardest hurdle in processing her death. It will not be easy from here, but it has no point on which I can fixate. I am not relieved that she is dead, but I am relieved that any memorial after this will be something she would have loved.

Resumption

Dezi is already at his panel when we return. I am sorry that we couldn't get back sooner that we would know there was consistent coverage of the table, but it couldn't have been avoided.

Chris returns to chat for a while. Now that I do not have the burden of Melissa's memorial hanging over my head, I feel more able to talk freely and think I put on a better showing.

Kristina calls, lost somewhere on campus. I excuse myself from Chris so that I can try to find her. By the time I return, Kristina in tow, Chris has left and Dezi returned. I regret this, hoping he doesn't think I blew him off.

While I was trying to find Kristina, I happened upon menus for local restaurants and present these to those now behind our table. Amber quickly selects the Japanese restaurant and I put in an order - fortunately through a website, because I am not too keen on making sure I am understood over the phone.

Soon, we are all eating with chopsticks. Amber states that her meal is not great, but everything tastes lovely to me. I feel in the moment here, hanging out at a geeky con, eating Asian food, listening to Dezi and a stranger waiting for a sketch discussing the art and lessons of The Watchmen. This is something my life needs, and it is something that my talent (and willingness to pester people who need talent at their convention) has granted me. It is not every day I get to feel this, so I ought to relish it now.

My only panel of the day takes place in the Mug. I was there only twice in my life, once for a rave that seemed both cramped and awkward and once for an avant-garde play whose details I cannot recall to this day except that I believe it involved puppets and a light show. It is not a convivial spot for much and, especially given by the low turn-out at the convention itself, I am not too surprised to find that it is peopled only by two others when I get in there. The artists I am to interview come soon after, quintupling the number of people in attendance, but I am intent to record this panel even if no one else shows up. I have spent literal minutes coming up with questions for them and I will be damned if this iota of effort was wasted. They are fortunately all fascinating enough people that I need do little more than lob a question in their direction before they have given exhaustive answers only occasionally suggesting a follow-up.

I do not feel too bad about this turnout. We were up against a panel on kink and one involving a reading of My Immortal. That we had anyone there was close to a miracle.

Amber and I do not sleep well this night. She has not been feeling well prior, too overworked by studying, and the Nerd Flu that afflicts most people working conventions hits her hard.

Sunday

Sundays are never the most robust day at any convention. We slog through the rest of the day, sleep deprived and otherwise feeling the drain of the convention. I am almost grateful for how empty it feels.

My panels today are back-to-back, with only a half hour between them. I return to the Mug to interview writers, letting myself answer some of the questions I pose to them as this is my art. It is better attended than the last panel, but my plan was the same as before: if no one shows up, I will interview my contemporaries.

I conduct my last panel on mysteries in the Jade Room, which is covered in antiques and most certainly would not have a projector. I cannot focus on my time and the people gathered there do not much seem to care for my shtick. It does not matter. I will do as I wish, knowing that no one is likely going to stop my rambling prematurely.

Henry is at my final panel. He proudly tells anyone within earshot that he is cosplaying as himself today, dressed like any other boy: short hair and a maroon coat to keep out the cold, a plaid shirt underneath. Upon hearing his declaration, everyone accepts it without further elaboration. This is a liberal group and, if not that, it is a group that is more fixated on the con than someone else's gender identity. I do not know how Henry is in his personal life, if he dresses as a boy at home, but it is encouraging that he feels comfortable enough to be himself with the other people at the convention. It is refreshing honesty.

When the con ends, I feel sluggish and ready to be home, I do not feel myself, but I know I still have to pack up and drive home. The con seemed more sparsely attended this year and that both helped and hurt. I do not know how keen I would have been for a torrent of people who didn't buy my books, but I wouldn't have minded a few new strangers looking at them.

We stop for fast food, too dulled and tired to bother with the Indian buffet we had planned. I am not myself yet, but the mask is falling away. When I am home, I can again be bare faced.

Soon in Xenology: Mental illness and the arts.

last watched: Gentleman Bronco
reading: Mothman and Other Curious Encounters
listening: "Hurt" by Johnny Cash

She Would Not Want to Be Burned | 2017 | Eidolon and Daemon

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.



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Works by Thomm Quackenbush

Anthologies

Find What You Love and Let It Kill You by Thomm Quackenbush
Pagan Standard Times: Essays on the Craft by Thomm Quackenbush
A Creature Was Stirring: A Twisted Christmas Anthology by Thomm Quackenbush
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