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ATW S4.5 Chapter 11: Message

From Lacie, I’ve learned that love makes us all the more beautiful.

From Nawwaf, I’ve learned that love is a gift meant to be cherished.

From Joslyn, I’ve learned that love is meant to be shared.

From Stuart, I’ve learned that anything can be overcome with love.

From Chris, I’ve learned that we define love too loosely until we start calling twisted words “love”.

From Darion, I’ve learned that love cannot be given or taken, but must be earned.

Every one of these rules of love, no matter who they are learned from, are just as important as the others, and I want, so badly, to pass these rules down to those who will need them most. This is why you’ve found my message: you are one of the people who needs them most, and I trust that you will apply them thoughtfully.

How do I know this?

You are perceptive: you found both this note and the key to decode its meaning. You will notice the places where these rules need to be applied.

You are thoughtful: you did not simply throw these scraps of paper away, assuming they were meaningless. You know that every character in a story is important, no matter how small their role, and you will recognize that every character in your life requires love.

You are perseverant: you did not pass over these words as something above you, even though you are young– you worked to find their meaning, no matter how hard that task was. You will work to defend these rules of love, no matter how hard it is.

You are empathetic: you read the opening lines of this note, and you not only understood the feelings conveyed, but you felt a stir within yourself. You will benefit just as much from these rules of love as the ones you help follow them.

And, finally, you had fate on your side: you happen to live in this town and attend this school at the same time as I placed this note and its key there. You will find the people who could use these rules the most, at just the right times in their lives.

Author’s Note: This is the end of season 4.5, and if you’ve made it this far, I’d like to say thank you. Today is March 16th, my third blogaversary, and looking back over this story the past year, I’ve realized just how far I’ve come– in writing, world-building, characterization, screenshotting… everything. I’m not 100% sure where this story is going to go next– I actually haven’t played ahead for once– but I’ve got a few ideas and I know they’ll go far. I think I might take a break from this story for a little bit, maybe post some ts2 stuff… whatever I end up writing, I hope you’ll stick along for the ride.

<< Previous– ATW S4.5 Chapter 10: Lights


ATW S4.5 Chapter 10: Lights

As Nawwaf got ready for his school dance, I realized another one of my shortcomings as a mother: I don’t even know whether or not my two children went to any of their school dances. I watched as Joslyn scrambled around the house: making sure supper was in the fridge for Stuart, straightening out Nawwaf’s suit, scrubbing her glasses clean for the millionth time. I wanted to step in front of her and tell her not to be so worried, that everything would be fine.

I joined the two on their journey to San Myshuno. I’d never been before– the big city was always part of the unattainable dream for me. The City of Lights, it was referred to. And it certainly was. As we rode up to the venue for the dance in a glass elevator, I watched as the sky gave its light to the city streets.

The teenagers began to dance and mingle awkwardly. I quickly picked out Lacie– Nawwaf’s writing certainly did her justice. I was surprised at how little she danced– she seemed like the kind of girl who should’ve been all over the dance floor. A little later, she snuck off to the bathroom, assuming that she wasn’t being followed. She leaned against the vanity as she scrolled through some sort of picture thing on her phone. I was tempted to jump into it, just so I could understand it better, but I wasn’t sure what that looked like from the outside and I didn’t want to scare the poor girl or alert her to my presence. As she scrolled through the images, I quickly picked out Nawwaf, as well as a girl I assumed was his sister– she was the splitting image of Joslyn. A couple of the pictures also featured another boy, who I figured was one of Nawwaf’s friends. The three all seemed happy, but Lacie certainly wasn’t. Some of the pictures had little captions below them. I laughed at one that read “Why are college movies so crummy? And why do teenagers like them so much?” Another confirmed what I already knew about Nawwaf: he was kind, sensitive, and really cared about others.

Lacie hiccupped, drawing my attention away from her phone and back to her. Tears spilled out of her eyes. I wanted to rub her back and wipe her tears away. The only light I saw in her eyes was reflected off her phone. I wanted to snatch that thing away from her and bring the light from her soul up into her eyes. It glowed too brightly to not let any of that light shine through.

She put her phone away, then washed her face to erase the evidence of her tears. They became little teardrop-shaped stains on her soul, compiled with others in opposition to her light. The two–light and dark– were about even. And that worried me. I’d never seen a soul quite like hers, devoid of the usual colors except for light and dark. Where were all of her emotions, the ones that made her cry? The ones that made her hide her tears? I remembered Nawwaf’s last description of her: She would never forgive that quickly, never put that level of trust in anyone else, never give a second chance. As she walked out of the bathroom, smiling a little too broadly, I only wondered what in the world this girl was feeling.

<< Previous– ATW S4.5 Chapter 9: Dream

>> Next– ATW S4.5 Chapter 11: Message

ATW S4.5 Chapter 9: Dream

I decided to stick around home for a little longer, at least until I had a plan for how to reach out to Darion and I was certain that Stuart’s new family was doing okay. Even though they couldn’t see me, I enjoyed being around Joslyn and Nawwaf while Stuart was at work.

On the day the young family received a letter from the adoption agency– which also happened to be Stuart’s birthday– I could feel happiness radiating out of Joslyn’s soul. She had so much she could give, and I was sure she would once again be a great mother. Nawwaf was also happy, though a plethora of other emotions radiated out from him less intensely. While Joslyn went into the kitchen to prepare Stuart’s birthday dinner, I stayed in the dining room with Nawwaf and watched over his shoulder as he wrote an essay for school. He’d written on the top of his paper in a messy scrawl “A Dream That’s Stuck With Me,” which I assumed was the assigned topic. Based on my observations of his soul, as well as Stuart’s writing on his step-son’s thoughtfulness, I was curious about what he would write. He tapped his pencil against his notebook a few times, then pulled out a crumpled piece of paper– a rubric for a narrative essay. After staring at the paper for a while, he picked up his pencil again and began to write, a little bubble of confidence threatening to burst out of his soul.

Lacie fades into view. My girlfriend. Or… I’m not really sure what we are anymore.

It’s was a good hook into the story. I want to know more.

Lacie’s the only person I know who will keep you company no matter how boring the task.

I feel my soul laugh a little at this line. Watching someone write an essay– with all the pauses, pencil scratches, and erasures– certainly wouldn’t be fun for most.

I guess that’s my problem. She’s perfect– and I’m not. She’s got the prettiest smile– oh, heck, her entire body is just plain gorgeous. I could care less about flyaway hairs and odd gaps between teeth. She’s mine– at least, she used to be.

I can picture this girl in my head. I can see what he finds attractive about her, though I wince a little when he says “heck”. I’m not sure how strict teachers are nowadays, but back when Stuart was in school they wouldn’t have allowed that. I wonder if Stuart ever wrote anything like this about Chris.

I’m questioning whether or not it was actually tea, since it tasted more like a rich, chilling, perfect pink lemonade.

I’m sensing a theme of perfection here. Also, my inner mom says not to drink strange teas.

Then there were the repeating lines– the “this isn’t me’s” and the “what if’s”. Maybe they’re a little overdone, but then again, dreams do have a way of over-doing things.

I wish I had never assumed that one simple rumor was actually true. Who did I even hear it from? I wish– I wish, whoever it was, I wish they were never born.

I winced, though something on that paper struck a cord within me: could this story, this doubt, be Asha’s work?

“Oh, Nawwaf,” she says, voice sweet and romantic, like roses, yet– roses have thorns. “I’ll always forgive you.”

This isn’t my Lacie. She would never forgive that quickly, never put that level of trust in anyone else, never give a second chance.

And there’s the theme of perfection again– roses are supposed to be the symbol of a perfect love, yet love has it’s bad sides. Nothing’s perfect. But I can tell by the way he talks about her that he really does love and understand her.

In the After, we don’t sleep. We don’t have dreams or nightmares. But we can easily find the dreams of others– and, perhaps, this is our purpose. Helping the Unnamed fulfill their dreams.

Author’s Note: Nawwaf’s essay comes from a short story I wrote a few months ago, titled “Dreaming Again”.

<< Previous– ATW S4.5 Chapter 8: Tears

>> Next– ATW S4.5 Chapter 10: Lights

ATW S4.5 Chapter 8: Tears

The first time I wished I could return to my Unnamed form was when I read Stuart’s letter to me. In that form, I would’ve been able to cry actual tears, feel my nose run, taste salt in my mouth. I would’ve been able to give Stuart a big hug, have a heart-to-heart with Joslyn as only mothers can, and let Nawwaf know that everything would be all right. But mainly, it was for selfish reasons: when I was Unnamed, I was blissfully unaware of so much. But now? Now, I’m miserable. There’s so much I can do, so many soul-tails, that I get overwhelmed easily. Anything I might need to know I can easily get. Theoretically, I can do anything and everything, and that is my problem: I don’t want that responsibility.

I remember my early days of single-parenting. I had no idea what I was doing half the time, and honestly it was a miracle that the three of us made it through. But we did, by some miracle. Or by the interference of one of the Named. Maybe it’s the actions of those who have passed, trying to protect those who really don’t know what they’re doing, that create true miracles.

When Mindy was about seven, and Stuart two, I worked night shifts at the gym. I’d usually wake up at about the time Mindy got off the school bus, and Stuart would wake up from his afternoon nap at about the same time. One day– I think it was in October– it got particularly nippy. I watched from the living room window as Mindy got off the bus at the end of the street and walked to our house– all without a coat. When I met her at the door, the first thing I did was scold her: “Mindy, what were you thinking, you should’ve worn a coat!” Then I noticed how red her nose was, and that her shirt sleeve was covered in dried-up snot. “See? You got yourself sick!” She walked away from up, up to her room, without answering me, but I never saw her go out without a coat again. But maybe– maybe I was wrong. Five minutes of being outside without a coat doesn’t make a person instantly sick; that’s just plain dumb. But you know what? I was dumb back then. I thought, “Hey, you’ll be perfectly fine as long as you don’t mess things up for yourself. And if something goes wrong? Well, that’s your own fault. By default, everything is perfect.” But I was wrong. Every wrong action? You can’t blame that on yourself. Most of them are by chance, and some by others, but very few are by yourself.

I remember seeing the first flares of Stuart’s temper when he was three or four. He’d come home from preschool, enraged (how is that even possible?), with a teacher’s note saying how he’d lashed out at some classmate who had made an innocent comment. I told him if he couldn’t keep himself under control, he wouldn’t get a trip to the park on my day off. I figured that would be enough to motivate him to keep himself under control. He threw a lot less tantrums, but I also saw a lot less smiles. Then I started asking him why he wasn’t happy. Then he started smiling again, but I could tell they weren’t real. So I asked him for real smiles, and I got a lot of odd facial expressions. One day, I caught him practicing smiling in the bathroom mirror. I told him to stop goofing around. No wonder why his emotions seemed so out-of-whack; he was always trying to change them to please me, thinking that every ounce of my anger, frustration, and sadness was his fault. But they weren’t, they weren’t anyone’s fault!

Stuart wrote that wars are “the absence of love”, but I believe they are the absence of perspective.

<< Previous– ATW S4.5 Chapter 7: Time

>> Next– ATW S4.5 Chapter 9: Dream

ATW S4.5 Chapter 7: Time

Time passage is relatively normal in the After. My journey to Granite Falls that I ended up turning back on? It took time, vital time at that. When I returned to Willow Creek, Stuart and Joslyn were married, and her and Nawwaf had moved in. As I approached the house in the dark of night, I instinctively looked up at the stars and noticed something odd. The stars– there was a particular cluster that hadn’t shifted since I’d last been here. I looked around for other familiar constellations– the big and little dippers, Orion’s Belt. They all appeared to have shifted appropriately, though I wasn’t too sure. I entered the house, intending to use the computer to double-check everything, and ran into Stuart himself.

“Mom!” he exclaimed. “How would you like to be a grandma again?”

Again. I was happy he counted Darion as my grandson, even though we didn’t have that kind of relationship. “Really? That’s great!” Then I thought for a moment. How old was Joslyn? “So… are you adopting?”

“Yes… or, hopefully. I just submitted all of our documents, so now we have to wait around and hope that they choose to place a child with us.”

I was confused at first, but assumed that by “they”, he meant the adoption agency. I noticed his soul’s appearance– specifically, how it was twisted in a funny way that almost inverted its shape. Fear, a little part of me supplied. He’s scared. “Stuart, you’re going to be a wonderful dad. I’ll definitely try to come and visit once the child arrives.” I watched as his soul twisted into a less painful-looking position. He bounded down the stairs in an ecstasy I hadn’t seen from him for so long. He was so caught up in it that he didn’t question what I said about visiting.

I entered the office– by the rumpled bedsheets, it looked like it’d also become Nawwaf’s bedroom– and went into the computer once again. This time, it felt less restrictive and more… accommodating. Of course, the first thing I did was sort through the information Stuart had submitted to the adoption agency– I wanted him and Joslyn to be able to have another grandchild so badly. Plus, you could never be too careful about these sorts of things. One slip-up could cost them any chance of adopting a child. Then I checked where the stars were supposed to be– and, yes, there was definitely something amiss. An astronomical society based out of Granite Falls noted that some of the stars appeared to “not follow their predicted movement paths,” though they’d have to conduct further research into the matter. Related to that search, I also found a .gif of the constellation Orion and the movement of it’s stars over time. Over a course of ten thousand years, the hunter appeared to draw back his bow to about as far as it could go, and his shield formed a semi-dome over his head. Fiercer in terms of both his attack and defense, he would look more like some god of war than a lowly hunter. “War” sparked another document to come up– a letter from Stuart, addressed to me.

Author’s Note: Here’s the .gif Larissa found.

<< Previous– ATW S4.5 Chapter 6: Future

>> Next– ATW S4.5 Chapter 8: Tears

ATW S4.5 Chapter 6: Future

Larissa couldn’t help composing a letter to Darion in her head. She’d tell him everything. She’d make sure he’d know everything– who he was, where he came from, that he was very much loved. That real families didn’t operate the way his currently did.

The code was also still floating around in there– and it gave her an idea. If she could somehow find him… deliver a message to Chris, who was clearly still familiar with it… but that presented another problem: how would she find them? She only knew about Darion, not Chris, and she had a feeling that Chris’ and Stuart’s souls weren’t attached. That meant she’d have to go back to Darion and hope Chris’ was attached to his… but, considering the glimpses of Darion’s home life she’d seen, she couldn’t be sure of that, either.

She did have quite a bit of information on Darion, and combined with her ability to enter into and think like a computer, she’d likely be able to find whatever information she wanted about him– which could help her learn more about Chris. But what could she do about him? He might have two other kids by now, which would complicate things… and Asha had also been involved in his past. If she wrote a letter to him revealing Asha’s true nature and what she had done to her, would he believe it? She’d have to reveal so much of her childhood… he could use any of that information against her or Stuart. Was the risk worth it?

Yes. Every time.

She wasn’t sure if the voice inside was Asha’s or her own– but she desperately wanted to believe it. All she wanted was a connection with Darion, to be able to save him from Asha and Chris. Any cost was worth it to save a child’s life… right?

Yes. Every time.

She hadn’t told Stuart about his father. She’d done it to protect him, so he wouldn’t spend his teenage years in a state of perpetual grief-fueled rebellion. As he grew older, and his hot-headedness became more prominent, she stuck with her decision, fearing the consequences. But that didn’t make her weak… right?

Yes. Every time.

She could do this. She would do this. She had to do this.

For Darion.

For the one gift the universe had given her.

<< Previous– ATW S4.5 Chapter 5: Present

>> Next– ATW S4.5 Chapter 7: Time

ATW S4.5 Chapter 5: Present

If souls had stomachs, Larissa would’ve been sick to hers. This is why you left her behind– she treats children as objects, as things that can be easily disposed of. But Asha had given her one clue to her grandchild’s identity: the gift should be named as such. Of course, there weren’t any computers out here in the forests of Granite Falls, which meant she’d have to return to Willow Creek in order to make use of this information. Besides, they won’t even recognize you anyway. You were never a part of their life. Why should they? 

Asha had disappeared by now, leaving Larissa standing on the path, alone except for what she assumed to be her grandchild’s soul-tail. You don’t even know if it’s theirs! She traced it with her fingers, wondering how in SimNation she could tell who it belonged to. Feelings, sensations, images, and memories spiraled out of it and danced around in her own soul, just as vivid as Asha’s had appeared to her.

“Darion. It means ‘gift’.”

A gift? If anything, I’m one that nobody wants.

That boy seems nice.

Look at these stories! They’re awesome!

Look at how his mom and sister hug. Like they actually love each other. Not like my dad and I.


They’re cute and all, but I really want my room back.

You know, I don’t know anyone else who has aunts this young….

“That’s it! This is a dumb game; I’m not playing anymore!”

I wish I had Aidyn back. I never felt lonely when I was around him.

I didn’t even ask for sisters, and now I have to babysit?!

Why are their antics all my fault?

“I’d love to join your club, but I have to watch my sisters after school… yes, every day….”

I don’t think she believes me, but I’m telling the truth!

I wish someone here understood.

A relationship that changed you? I guess that would be my friendship with Aidyn… is that a good enough topic for an essay, though?

I plumming hate school.

Detention?! Well, if it means I’ll have to stay after school, and there’s no other way….

I never thought after-school detention would be something I’d look forward to. It’s no wonder why everyone else thinks I’m weird.

Oh, plum. He’s really mad now.

If I’m grounded to my room… at least I’m alone.

It’s really lonely in here. 

No more electronics, no more hope of finding Aidyn. Unless I can use the school computers.

Why do I think about him so much? You’d think I didn’t have any other friends… which, I guess, is true.

That’s it, I’m done. I’m done with everything. I’m leaving.

I can’t just leave now… the twins are looking right at me, and they’ll tell!

Hmm… what about that piece of roof under the window?

Oh no… plum! I’m gonna fall!

“No!” Larissa shouted. Wait a second. If he fell off the roof of his house… and he’s in Granite Falls right now… he must still be alive!

“Or it didn’t happen yet.”

Larissa turned around to face Asha. “You’re trying to trick me again. I know it.”

“No, I’m not. I’ll tell you one thing for free: you can change the course of events. Some of those experiences… they haven’t happened yet.”

“Then I’m going to change them. Without your ‘help’.”

“Still stubborn, I see.”

<< Previous– ATW S4.5 Chapter 4: Past

>> Next– ATW S4.5 Chapter 6: Future