Categories
Stories Writing

My NaNoWriMo 2020: A Corona Gothic part 1

Author’s note: This work is unfinished. It is very raw and has only been edited for coherence, and to ensure the major plot points are more-or-less where they belong.

The point of National Novel Writing Month is to complete 50,000 words. Writing that many words in a month required rushing, skipping around, making changes as I went without going back to alter. Please keep this all in mind and be gentle with your feedback. I’m posting it in this raw form because it touches on a rapidly changing part of human history.

The story and most the main characters thoughts and feelings took form out of my own struggles and inner demons during this pandemic. The best antidote for loneliness is to reach out and share with others. I hope sharing this now in its rough form might help me and anyone else who happens upon it to escape into this parallel world as I did while writing it and feel a little less alone as we finish out this year.

Sincerely,

Stephen

Part 1: The Listing

It was perfect! Everything I could’ve hoped for and then some! Over 100 rooms! An historic, sprawling estate from the 19th century, built by some railroad robber Barron of the gilded age. Oh, how I longed to visit it. To see it for myself. All I could do was inspect every detail of the few photos included in the listing or the few others the realtor had sent me after much begging. It was all really quite strange, thinking back on the initial conversation with the realtor, the whole thing was positively unbelievable.

“Originally we were going to auction off all the items inside,” the realtor confided to me over the phone, while discussing the particulars regarding the house. “Some of them are very old, but Corona made that damn near impossible. The house is currently pretty hard to get to. Nothing that can’t be solved by clearing a few trees and pouring down some fresh gravel,” she added, anticipating my puzzled expression as if we were face-to-face. “You could probably do it yourself if you’re handy with a chainsaw.”
If only, I’d thought to myself, but surely finding someone in the area who was couldn’t be too difficult.

“The house is a bit out of the way,” the realtor continued. “It doesn’t have a listed address and isn’t currently listed properly on any postal routes which is why nobody…” the line went silent. At first, I worried the call dropped, but then I heard frantic small steps and shrieks of young joy. I smiled sympathetically, unable to help to hear her distant voice,

“Mommy’s working right now, okay? Go play with your sister and I’ll be off the phone soon.” Returning to the line, she cleared her throat and after apologizing for the interruption, began again.

“I’m required to inform you the last resident died in the house. At least we believe so.” She paused again.

“Come again?” I said, not understanding what could be meant by believe so, usually such things were self-evident, or so I thought.
Well, there wasn’t… much left of her. Coroner believes she died in her sleep as much as a year before anyone found her. I felt my face twist involuntarily, trying to block the mental image forming in my brain. Bones inside a moldy nightgown. Dry strands of gray hair snaking down empty eye sockets from under a musty laced night cap. Perhaps a ring still on her bony finger providing a clue as to who she was. Her hands poking out from moth-eaten holes in the bed linens. Or perhaps the house stayed dry and sealed up. Her flesh dark and flaky from mummification. Her eyes shriveled up under sunken eyelids. I believe the realtor must have heard me shutter from this ghastly vision I’d compiled, or perhaps it was just her way fo filling my silence.

“At least she died peacefully in all likelihood,” her voice dressed in professional veneer of cheer, “I’m told the refrigerator was fully stocked and had evidence of normal kitchen activities one wouldn’t be able to do if her health were in decline. Probably an aneurism or heart attack or something fast like that.”

This actually did make me feel better. I felt my features unwind into a more relaxed state as we finished discussing particulars. The image of the corpse fading into that of a kind elderly woman coming in with a bag of groceries or perhaps fresh produce from a garden, since there was so much land around the house. Setting down the basket, washing her hands before loading things into the old fridge and solid oak cupboards. Perhaps realizing too late that her shoes were tracking dirt onto the delicate white mosaic tile with periodic flourishes of black detail to break it up. I’d only seen one dark image of the kitchen and while the floor wasn’t visible that sort of pattern in showed up in many an episode of Rehab Addict, so I hoped I’d be so lucky as to have the original.

Having emptied her basket or parcels I imagined her giving out a satisfied sigh of accomplishment as she gazed around the tidy kitchen and brushed invisible dirt from her hands. She’d sweep up the dirt tomorrow once it had had a chance to dry. There was no one for it to bother in the meantime.

Turning towards the door as the last pale blue of dusk left the sky she walked down the long, likely wood paneled hallway and up a grand set of stairs to her bed chambers. An old style vanity, an antique from generations before her. The edges of the mirror hazy with age, something she no longer noticed as she’d done this every night for countless years. Brushing her long gray shining hair like a star of old Hollywood, surrounded by glass bottles, many of which were empty, their former contents no longer known, but had sat so long they seemed to her like part of the furniture. Finishing her nightly routine she tucked herself into bed. Sighing peacefully as the familiar sounds of night lulled her to sleep one last time.

I went back to work unable to stay long away from that house in my mind. It was foolish. I tried pointing out it myself how it was well above what I was willing to spend. How it was way more house than one person could ever need or should ever have. How there were so many unanswered questions and plenty that could be too good to be true. Who knows what shape the house was in, how much it would cost to make it comfortable, let alone restore it properly.

It was no use bringing logic to a fight of feelings. This sort of thing was a one in a million find! Most houses this old and large had been gutted, raised, or underwent some garish and ill-advised remodeling in the 70s or 80s.

Looking back, I realize it was more than just the house that drew me, it was the countless hours alone in a tiny studio apartment, seeing no one, going nowhere, hunched over a keyboard looking out a window at a brick wall day in and day out. I’d have done anything to escape. There were countless cheaper, less risky ways I could have gone about it, but logic and reason had abandoned me as well by that point. It was something I wanted that no other option offered: adventure! The unanswered questions only added to the appeal.

I checked online to begin a fact finding expedition in hopes of disguising my impulsiveness with some bias confirming facts. The house was significantly under market price, if a market price even existed for houses like this. Essentially, the current owner was charging market rate for the land plus maybe 10% for the house, provided, of course that came with the provision it must be bought it as is. No waiting for inspections and the seller was unwilling to drop a dime into improvements. Prudence dictated I should commission an inspection anyway, but with everything locked down, lord only knows how long that would take. And in that time someone might decide snap it up for the land, not caring about the house, as most buyers would probably plan to bulldoze it anyway. Plus the more places they list it, the more likely looters might try and snag some copper pipes or furniture.

If the house truly had been occupied up until at least a year ago, I reasoned, how much structural damage could there be? Of course, I had no expertise to even guess at the answer, but I couldn’t imagine a house could deteriorate all that much in a year. After all the house had been around for centuries. What’s one year?

No sooner had I completed my last work task of the day then I was on the phone again with the realtor.
“I’m willing to take it sight unseen today if you agree to immediately take down the listing. I can send over my pre-approval letter. It’s a little under what you’re asking, but I’m willing to make up part of the difference with cash.” I said all of this in one breath, before she’d even finished saying hello. I waited for her answer adding up the figures in my head one more time before presenting the final number to the agent.

“That’s a bit less than the lowest he said he was willing to go, she said,” causing my heart to sink, “but I know with this pandemic and all he wants to close quickly, so if you send me all the info I’ll run it by him and get back to you tonight.”

As fast as it’s dropped my heart kept into my throat “Thank you!” I shouted, pulling the phone from my face to begin sending over the information. We exchanged final pleasantries before ending the call. Finally, sending the last form, I tossed down the phone on the table with a sigh. No sooner had I done so then regret oozed up from my gut to the center of my chest and spreading across every inch of my body at an agonizing pace. This was a lot of money. I had just pledged nearly all his savings in an instant.

My job’s safe, I began repeating this over and over like a mantra. I have a good job, and it’s safe. I can afford it. It’s been over 6 months and my manager had even given me direct assurances no cuts were planned for our department even with the pandemic. As soon as the hiring freeze lifts I would be brought in full time with a raise and likely a bonus. I only had three months left on my lease and even with the new mortgage payment his total expenses didn’t even take up half my monthly income.

I double-checked my figures. In less than a year I’d earn back all I’d spent out of pocket on the house even without the raise. I found this somewhat of a comfort, however, that assumed no emergencies, surprises, unforeseen expenses. I desperately hoped the house didn’t need any major repairs.

“My job is safe.”

Categories
Writing

A Corona Gothic

My NaNoWriMo 2020

Categories
Stories Writing

My NaNoWriMo 2020: A Corona Gothic, Part 4

As the light from the headlamps faded, I looked around at what I could still see under the nearly full moon. I took a moment to look around at the trees and brambles and up at the countless stars, brighter than I’d ever seen them. I let out a deep sigh as if I’d been holding my breath for ages. Since lockdown began spent so much time since lockdown began on my own indoors.

With all the frustration in coordinating the move combined with the mind-numbing sameness of each day waking up, repeating the same tasks over and over, from the same studio apartment with the same claustrophobic view of the building next-door, it felt freeing just to be alone in this beautiful clear summer’s night, listening to the crickets (or were those frogs?) chirping.

This was an adventure. For the moment, the internal noise and stress of the pandemic, unemployment, mounting bills all fell silent. I had one task before me: find the house. It was a clear-cut, straightforward goal. Something my nervous system could understand and conquer with its prehistoric stress response.

I began walking slowing down the road away from my car, keeping an eye out for any sign of a connecting drive. It did not take me long to identify it. The signs were obvious on foot, and would have likely been noticeable during the day in the sunlight. Unsure what sort of obstacles I might face, I decided to trace the path on foot. This way I could take note of any obstacles before risking what limited power was left in the car.

It was not immediately clear to me if the drive had once been paved or graveled, or if it’d always been dirt. While hard to see and quite covered with overgrowth, the obstacles were small and would be easy to clear, I thought. It was, however, very long. It felt less like I was walking up a drive to a house and more like I was on a midnight hike in the woods. At first the hoot of an owl or the rustling of undergrowth startled me, stopping me in my tracks, but soon I became at peace with the sounds around me. That, or the increasingly loud sounds of my huffing and puffing kept the wildlife at bay.

After what felt like the longest hike I’d taken in years, I came upon a large iron gate. I stopped to catch my breath, leaning against the bars, resting my arms atop a horizontal bracing bar in the gate. I considered myself in decent shape but clearly smooth sidewalks and treadmills could not compare to rough, woodland terrain.

Looking past the bars, I saw the drive became brick, or perhaps cobblestone, past the gate. Large beech trees lined the drive which gently curved off into the distance. The orderly spacing of the largest birches suggested deliberate, elegant landscaping, creating the effect of a tunnel of silver white branches over the drive. Now, however, grass and weeds grew between the pavers and each tree was irregularly flocked by smaller beech trees and saplings scattered about. One could even see a few ambitious beech shoots poking out from where bricks were missing or had crumbled due to neglect against the forces of lichen and moss.

Perhaps it was the lateness of the hour or the melancholy experienced by living amidst a pandemic, but it occurred to me how much human effort was made futile by forces of nature in a relatively short period. The idea of returning the drive to its former glory seemed a daunting task I was not equal to challenge. Yet again I found myself questioning my life’s choices. At the same time, the scene was so peaceful and somehow picturesque. I decided to step back and snap a photo before continuing onward. Of course the image hardly did justice to what I beheld in real life, but then again perhaps my own perceptions, colored by experience, made what I saw less real than the photograph.

Deciding it was too late to be so philosophical, I pulled on the gate. It did budge. I leaned back with all my weight, throwing my body backwards again and again in an attempt to get the metal monstrosity moving. At once, I felt my body continue to fall back as an earsplitting screech cut through the still night air. Landing on my back on the damp forest floor, I looked up to see the gate had swung fully open. Pulling myself up and brushing off my backside as best I could, I proceeded through the gate, making my way further up the drive.

After crossing into the walled-off grounds, I felt the strong urge to close the gate again behind me. What I wanted to keep out was not clear. It was just this sense that something that had been closed off so long should not be left open. I turned back and grabbed the gate attempting to return it to the closed position. It seemed more stubborn against closing than even it was to opening. With a sigh, I gave up, trying to convince myself I was being silly. With a lingering sense of unease, I reluctantly continued walking up the cobblestone drive.

As I made my way further from the gate I became less concerned by it and more impatient to finally see the house in person. I knew every step brought me closer and closer, although the curve in the driveway shrouded the house from view. Finally, the trees broke, the overgrown drive arched round a large, vine covered fountain surrounded a lawn that was now more weeds than grass. Following the path my eyes gazed up at the massive house. Even from here, I felt dwarfed by the sprawling old manor. How could one family need so much house? What did I need it for that matter? I considered the old tale of the dog who finally caught the mail truck. I stopped now, having reached the portico stepping under the stone arch sheltering the ancient oak double doors. I had no key, I realized. Nor was there a lockbox to retrieve one. I put my hand on the handle and pulled. With a deep groan, the door slowly opened.

I started, nearly dropping the handle as it opened. I hadn’t actually expected it to open. It’s the natural thing to do even when you know for certain the door is locked. Knowing the house had been left unlocked for god-knew-how-long sent my heart into my stomach. My teeth clenched as I walked in, half expecting to find the house in looted shambles, picked clean by ruffians or vandalized by local kids or whatever inevitably happened to houses left alone and unprotected for long periods of time. Instead, all I found was pitch blackness as the door slammed behind me, having newfound haste after opening with such excruciating slowness and struggle.

Groping against the wall, I finally felt what I was looking for. One of the old style push-button switches. The toggle took a surprising amount of effort to fully press, and, as luck would have it, remained pressed in even after I pulled my finger away. Worried this might somehow cause a short circuit, I pushed it again and again moving my finger back and forth to try and pop the switch back up into the depressed position. It finally did so. All this seemed to work out whatever caused the stiffness as it was much more easily pressed; however, nothing appeared to happen.

Pulling out my phone I switched on the flashlight and began searching across the walls with its harsh, icy-silver gaze. I kept the light at chest height along the wall, hoping to find another switch in case the one by the door was somehow faulty. The light glinted upon crystal sconces, the dust infused cobwebs adding a veil of intricate weaving that obscured the metalwork holding them aloft. Tarps hung on the walls, covering paintings, of what, I knew not. Perhaps long gone family members.

There appeared to be large rectangular places upon the wood paneled walls, less tarnished by time, suggesting there were once more paintings until relatively recently. This surprised me as the realtor didn’t mention anything being removed other than the old woman’s bedclothes, mattress and of course, her own person. Perhaps the owner had a change of heart, removing old family portraits which, given the very personal nature of the images, the realtor felt it not worth mentioning. I couldn’t begrudge anyone family heirlooms. Still, I wondered what other last-minute repatriations might have occurred in the meantime. I hoped it truly was for sentimental reasons, for as distasteful the idea was to me at first, I had begun to hope I could find some items of value I could bear parting with, perhaps items not contemporary to the house, that might help offset my rapidly hemorrhaging finances.

A sudden gasp broke from my throat as I became aware of a white figure out of the corner of my eye. I froze, the blood in my veins turned to ice. Even as I felt this, the beam of my phone’s flash turned to illuminate the object fully as if of its own accord. I let out a short nervous laugh. A single syllable that echoed eerily throughout the house. I immediately covered my mouth, regretting making so much noise, as if drawing any attention to myself put me in some sort of danger I could not describe. The figure that had originally startled me was, in fact, just a tarp over a tall, slender piece of furniture. Walking up to it with some relief, I pulled down the tarp revealing the handsome old face of a grandfather clock.

Unable to get the lights working, I left the great hall towards the back of the house, searching for the kitchen. In truth, I had no idea where the kitchen was or even if it were on this floor. Some older houses placed the kitchen on the lower level where servants worked, sending up completed dishes via a dumbwaiter. In my current state of mind, exploring the basement, even were I to find the stairs leading to it, was a non-starter. If the kitchen were on this floor, I felt it was likely towards the back right of the house, this based on nothing but my imagination.

I had requested blueprints of the estate, but was informed none could be found. Given how rushed the sale was, I wondered if I might have better luck inquiring on my own, but hadn’t found the time with all the more immediate pressures in my life leading up to this ill-advised move.

I wandered down the corridors, trying each switch I came upon. Not-a-one turned the power on, and I was forced to conclude the power had either been knocked out, or was switched off by the power company. I unlocked my phone, endeavoring to look up the number for the power company. I typed the company name into the search box. Nothing would load. It was then I noticed with a mix of horror and confusion the small words NO SERVICE in the top-right corner of the screen.

Online when I checked my services coverage, I was pleasantly surprised to see the location bathed in a sea of red indicating not just reception, but full LTE data service as well. I’d even zoomed the map in completely, having been fooled before by a perfectly solid section of map, only to discover dead spots pointed out by an infuriatingly smug sounding support rep when I’d called to complain. I screamed internally. This new discovery forced out what little excitement I still felt for exploring this new place.

I had half a mind to dash my phone against the ancient hardwood floors when, ahead, I noticed the door ahead slightly ajar. Through the partially opened door I could make out small, white and blue ceramic tiles forming a mosaic on the floor. This was a good sign. Picking up my pace, I crossed over the threshold and let out a triumphant sigh as before me stood tall wooden cupboards, a cast-iron stove and other accoutrements indicating I had indeed finally found the kitchen.

Categories
A Corona Gothic Stories Writing

My NaNoWriMo 2020: A Corona Gothic Part 3

It was now less than a month before my lease ran out. My job was gone, despite all promises of safety or the company posting its highest year-over-year earnings for the quarter. This is why large companies fail. I reasoned, more to comfort myself than to offer any profound insight. They become machines with automatic triggers, forgetting the human cost of their decisions. It didn’t matter that my team was understaffed and on the front lines of keeping the online infrastructure together. They didn’t care that six months were spent training me, getting up to speed, and all that time and money was now lost to them. Things are uncertain, therefore contractors must go, regardless what was promised or whether it made sense.

I quickly signed up for unemployment. The extra $600 helped, but even so, I was now making less than half of what I normally made in a week. None of this would have mattered too much if I wasn’t about to move into I giant old house in questionable condition on which I’d blown nearly all my savings. In all the insanity I still hadn’t had a chance to even visit the house.

I called every moving company in the area. None of them were willing to move me in time. Finally, he decided to just pack up all of his belongings and leave the furniture. None of it was particularly nice or expensive. Mostly typical self assembled items one bought for their first apartment. It wouldn’t have gone with the existing decor of the new place anyway I joked to myself, imagining the laminated pressboard next to oak built-ins and sitting on ancient hardwood floors.
It took well past midnight to finish cramming my belongings into the back of the Tesla. Nothing about this was ideal. There was only one charging location on my route and even stopping there to fully charge I’d be a lot closer to the car’s range limits than I’d like. Especially considering it was packed full of his belongings. Cursing the virus and every decision I’d made over the past three months I closed the trunk pulled out of my apartment complex for the last time.
The first leg of the trip was pretty uneventful. It was still early enough that no one was on the road, and much of it was still familiar. I reached the charging station around dinner time and, after plugging in, I walked over to a nearby restaurant for dinner, hoping some food and a few cups of coffee would wake me up, but after polishing off the last of the meal and 3 cups of coffee my mind was still dragging.
I decided it would be a good idea to stock up on caffeinated provisions. Also realizing it would be smart to gather all I might need for a week. Food, cleaning supplies, typical house stuff. Space in the car was tight, but I was able to squeeze in three bags of supplies. I tried to buy the smallest and most versatile sorts of essentials. I had no idea what awaited me at the house. There may be supplies there, but they may all have spoiled or been ruined. It was still unclear what a year or more of neglect might have done to the house. The agent, apparently, had only been in a few rooms of the house. The owner had dragged his feet in cataloging the items within, and having a chance to be rid of it immediately, never bothered to follow up. Clearly the realtor and I were very different people, for, had it been me, I would have explored every nook and cranny of that house at the first opportunity.
For not the first time in this whirlwind, I considered how odd the situation was. How foolish I’d been to buy a house that no one seemed to know much about. These were strange times to be sure, but for no one to even take the time to see what they had within this house. To make no attempt to catalogue it, why it baffled the mind. Perhaps the owner needed cash immediately, or was well enough off and so disinterested in the house and their distant and deceased relation that having it taken care of was more important than getting the most money or collecting any family memorabilia or heirlooms. The old woman had been dead for over a year after all with no one troubling to check up on her. Clearly there was no one around to care about her wellbeing so why would anyone care for the house? After all, one would have to be mad to take responsibility for such an enormous old house in the middle of nowhere. I laughed aloud at this thought, inviting stares from the one or two other people also at the charging station. The display read 90 minutes to go before full charge. Given I didn’t know what to expect arriving, I wanted to give myself as much of a charge as possible. Feeling a fresh wave of exhaustion, I decided the best course of action was to take a nap. I set the alarm on my phone for an hour and a half then pushed the driver seat back as far as I could, given all the stuff piled behind it. It was hardly far enough back to make a difference, but the exhaustion overpowered any discomfort, and soon I was off to sleep.

As I slept I had strange dreams of overgrown drives, old rotting corpses, and an old house no one wanted to step into. I wandered endless hallways, shadows moving just outside my vision. The entire time I felt as if someone were behind me, but looking back revealed no one. Then, while wandering down the same passage as before it occurred to me, I was following someone. An old lamp like one would see in a period film lit the way ahead, held by boney fingers framed in moth-eaten lace and silk. Dry, corse hair peaked out of a matching lace fringed pink nightcap. The fraying, shredded hem barely grazing the old wood floor. I was not afraid, however; despite her ghastly appearance I felt a strong fondness and sympathy for this deceased woman. This was a place she loved, felt at home. Suddenly, the previously endless corridor stopped abruptly. The glow of her lamp revealed a large set of French doors. The glow of the lamp made it impossible to see what lay beyond. Instead, my own face, and the hollowed skull of the woman reflected back upon us. The woman took an old, tarnished brass key out of her pocket. The tip fitting the lock still shiny from use, rubbing against the inner locking mechanism countless times. Slowly, deliberately she stuck the key into the hole and turned it gently clockwise. Suddenly, the sound of cascading chimes split the air through the silence. The woman’s head turned around suddenly staring accusingly at me as I snapped awake.
The suddenness of my phone’s alarm snapped me back into reality immediately. I could feel my heart pounding as I looked at the gauges on the display. The battery was now fully charged. I could leave. As I reached to put the car in drive, I realized all those cups off coffee were now ready to leave my system. Unbuckling, I opened the door and headed to the restroom. As I walked, my mind went back to the dream I had. I had no idea the final resting place for the old woman’s remains. It felt appropriate somehow that I pay my respects to her, but all I’d been told was the woman’s body, the bedclothes, and mattress had all been removed and the coroner performed an autopsy. Given how little care was given to the fate of the house and all inside, and how long it took for anyone to notice her absence for that matter, who would have taken charge of taking her to her final resting place. Then again, if the house had been bequeathed successfully to her relation. The one from whom I purchased the property, someone must have been in charge of executing her last will and testament. This realization combined with my now empty bladder filled me with a sense of relief.
With no job, few possessions, and no relations of my own to worry about, I felt a kinship with this woman and hoped to be a good steward of this place she called home her whole life. My main focus was clear. Let’s just focus on arriving in one piece. I still had many hours of driving ahead. Starting the car, hearing the familiar chime of the GPS resuming my route as my audiobook picked up where I’d left it, I pulled out of the charging station and began the final leg of the journey.

It was dusk when I finally passed over the state line. It was clear to me then that I would not be getting to the house until quite late. Past midnight at the very least. It was upon this realization I became extra grateful for the nap I took and the pack of energy shots I purchased at the grocery store. There was still plenty of my audiobook left to keep my mind occupied during the drive, and, immersed in that world of fanciful fiction, it didn’t seem long at all before the GPS announced we’d arrived at our destination.

To say we’d arrived is not entirely accurate. Without an exact address, I had to rely on longitude and latitude. The GPS, unaware of the drive leading to the house, could only take me to the closest road. I circled back and forth on the narrow country road, unable to make out anything that looked like a drive. I cursed myself silently for not asking the realtor to put a sign next to the entrance or something of the sort. The car chimed at me again. This was the third attempt the car made to alert me of its dire need for more juice. It was a new sound to me, for in the year and a half I owned this vehicle I’d never let the battery get this low I’d had nowhere to go, honestly, and every month, when the lease payment went through, I’d questioned why I’d even purchased a car in the first place, let alone one so expensive. The charge was now so low, it no longer showed how many miles it had left.

Not wanting to be stranded, I finally decided it would be better to shut off the car and explore on foot. If the car ran out of juice before I even found the drive, there was no way I could push it up the long, overgrown drive anyway. Stopping the car at what appeared to be the part of the road closest to the coordinates in my GPS, I pulled off to the side of the road and, silently praying it would start up again when I came back, I turned off the car and stepped out into the warm summer’s night.

Categories
Stories Writing

My NaNoWriMo 2020: A Corona Gothic Part 2

I rarely remember my dreams. Well that’s not true. It used to be the case, but lately more and more my dreams cling to my mind waking me up and etching themselves into my memories. The night after putting in my offer on the house produced the first of these dreams. A fairly standard stress dream at least on the surface. I remember it so clearly though even now, recalling it sends chills down my spine. I have some vague memory of a school dream before it, my subconscious’s stress dream of choice up until that night. Suddenly, I was floating in near total darkness. A sense of panic filled me as it became clear I was under water, unable to breath. In not sure how long I’d been under, but surely My lungs couldn’t last much longer. I kicked frantically trying to move myself towards the surface before my lungs gave out. I could see the surface of the water but it never seemed to get closer. I kicked harder, harder, harder until finally, I jerked awake.

Letting out an exasperated sigh, I climbed out of bed. Untangling the covers from my legs before unfurling them with a jerk and a sharp flourish, the covers floating gently down onto the bed. This routine had become a regular occurrence since stating my new medication. The tossing, turning, tangling until my legs seize so violently I’m ripped out of whatever fitful sleep into which I had fallen. Time for the next step. I walked over to the nearest bare wall, placing my arm, hands and chest against it. The cool surface feels good against my skin. I then place my toes one the baseboard and step back with my other leg, giving my calves as deep a stretch as I can stand in hopes of calming down the muscles enough to return to sleep. I’d never been very flexible and always hated the burning sensation from stretching. I consider myself to have a decent pain tolerance, but for some reason certain feelings, like that of stretching muscles, the burning pricking sensation that never gets better and only seems to grow as I stretch is virtually intolerable. How I envy those who are naturally flexible, or those who either don’t feel it the same way or even like it. My latest milestone was (nearly) reaching my toes at least on days when I can tolerate the excruciating sensation as leg muscles burned with fury at the indignity of it all.

As I stretched my mind wandered over what had to be done for work in the morning. The increased web traffic on the grocery site was breaking even Black Friday records. My teammates and I had devoted all our resources to making sure the site could handle the increased load and prevent the digital house of cards from collapsing as other teams scrambled to add new Covid related features to the outdated infrastructure. The one benefit of being a contractor is at least I got overtime for this sort of thing. Perhaps this meant my savings would recover even faster than I had imagined. All this thought of internet infrastructure brought my mind inevitably to my own future infrastructure. What kind of internet would an old house in the middle of nowhere had? How had I not considered this before? Living in large metropolitan areas and suburbs all my life meant broadband internet was a given. A 300 year old house in the country had no such guarantees. Worried it would again slip my mind, I grabbed my phone and set a reminder to ask the realtor about that first thing tomorrow. Come to think of it, didn’t she say she was going to call back last night? Perhaps the deal would fall through. Successive waves of relief and disappointment spread throughout my body at the thought.

At this point my train of thought was chugging full steam down the tracks to nowhere, meaning sleep was now out of the question. With a silent groan I walked over to my desk and opened up my work machine. Might as well start earning back some of that money.


As morning approached my tired brain fought with itself, the comfort of knowing my new place would have internet competing with the intense dread of having to talk to a cable customer support rep. I am unaware of anyone ever uttering the phrase “that was a short, pleasant conversation, and now my problem is solved.” Until just now as I write it here to illustrate my point. I had a few hours between meetings along with my lunch break, so given this large block of time, I actually had some hope to finish the call within that window. Picking up the phone I tapped the number the realtor sent and waited for someone to pick up the phone. To my great surprise someone actually picked up on the 4th ring, introducing himself cheerfully.
“Hi, I began, with rapidly growing suspicion. “I’m about to move, and I’d like to get Internet service set up before I do.”
“Sure!” The technician said cheerfully. “What’s the address?”
“It doesn’t have one, but you provide phone service to the house already, or at least you did as of a year or so ago. I have the phone number.”
“Ah okay,” the agent said, with an affected tone of regret. “Let me transfer you to a specialist. I’m afraid I can’t do that from here.” Before I could even respond there was a click and then suddenly an ear full of crunchy staticky trumpets filled my ears at a volume that could not be safe for anyone and was ten times louder than the rep had been at least. Yanking the phone away from my head, I set it down as I could still hear the hold music without even turning on speakerphone. I tried my best to focus again on work and ignore the ever-growing exacerbation as the music would stop suddenly as if someone answered only to start playing again where it left off. It wasn’t enough they made you wait forever, that dirty mind game just added insult to injury.
Finally, someone picked up for real. Once again, I went over the situation. “I can pull that up for you” the new agent said helpfully. “Yes! It looks like there was cable ran to the residence. There should be no problem hooking it up. We can mail you a kit to hook up yourself.”
“Could you please send a technician? I’m not there yet, and it’s an older home. I work remotely, so it’s very important the internet is working before I get there.”
“Ah yes! Lots of us are doing that these days. Let me transfer you to my manager and see what can be done.”
“How long will…” that click again followed by those trumpets from hell. Despite my best efforts of self-control a shout escaped my mouth and echoed across the tiny apartment. My cheeks burned red at the thought of my neighbors hearing me lose my cool.
“Yes, we can send someone,” the manager said simply, leaving me to wonder why I had to be transferred at all for such a simple confirmation.
“And you are positive this is the right place?” I asked repeating the phone number again.
“Yup! He replied. Let me send you over to sales, so you can sign up for your plan.”
“Can’t I just do it online, I pleaded desperately, hoping to avoid yet another round of horrendous trumpets.
“Normally yes, but since you don’t have an address, and you want someone to come by special we have to do this over the phone. There’s no way to request those things online.”
Once again the dreaded click. This time I was fast enough to avoid further ringing in my ear from those blasted trumpets.
You’re in luck! The rep said when someone finally picked up the phone. Despair filled my soul as I noticed the sun had already begun to set in the sky. I’d only gotten half the work done I’d planned to that day.
“You qualify for our $39.99 triple play bundle for phone, cable and internet.”
“$40 for all that? I asked incredulously.
“Yup 39.99 for each package.”
“So wait, 120 a month total?”
“Yes!” She replied cheerily.
“How much for just internet?”
“Internet alone would be $49.99,” she responded, sounding slightly disappointed I had asked.
“How fast is it? I work from home.”
“So many of us are doing that these days,” the rep responded. “$49.99 gets you 6 mb per second.”
I couldn’t help but gasp in disbelief upon hearing this. However, rep continued,” and as a new customer, we’ll double your data cap to 200 GB for the first 3 months!” as if describing a revolution in modern communication.
“Wait, so I’d be limited to only 200 GB? My mobile plan is better than that!”
“If you upgrade to our pro plan you can get 50mb per second.”
“That’s it?” I asked,” That would be better, I guess. How much would that cost?”
“$89 for the first 12 months,” she said cheerfully. “And with that plan, you get a whole TB.”
“Is there anyway to get unlimited,” I asked, sure the rep could hear my eyes roll at this modern insult.
“For that you’d need a business plan, let me transfer you.” Once again that dreaded click. It took every gram or self-control I had left not to toss my phone against the far wall hard enough to send it into the next apartment. When I finally got a business rep, they promised 100mb/s for roughly the amount one would pay to lease a well-equipped SUV, but at least it was unlimited, and they reassured me several times that they had the right house and everything was in order. They even threw in landline service, as if that was any use at all. At least I can write it all off on my taxes I reminded myself in an effort to provide some comfort from the sticker shock. By the time I got off the phone I’d missed two meetings and everyone else had long signed off from work. At least with my early start I was only a few hours behind now. By the time I finished work I could barely make it to my bed before losing consciousness and falling into a fitful sleep.

Categories
Coding

How to Fix the Double “Done” Buttons in Apple’s “Working with UI Controls” Tutorial

Screenshot of Simulator showing the "Double Done Button" problem floating atop the page for Apple's "Working With UI Controls" Tutorial
Seeing double?

Apple’s tutorial for SwiftUI: “Working with UI Controls” has a small error that’s very frustrating, but also quite easy to fix. If you are like me, however, you will doubt your instincts, overthink it, and get frustrated before finding that solution. To save you time and self-doubt, I thought I’d share my solution.

As the tutorial stands today, it instructs you to create a custom “Done” button in the top left corner that saves changes to your profile. It then has you implement a standard “Edit” button using SwiftUI’s EditButton() class. I have not used previous iterations of this button, but my guess is in previous versions of this tutorial the default action for the edit button was different. Currently, EditButton() becomes a “Done” button while in edit mode, leaving you with a “Done” button in each corner with no clear sign which button will do what the user wants. Not only is this the result from completing the tutorial, Apple’s completed solution file also features this double “Done” problem. Simply dismissing the modal sheet leaves edit mode active when you return to the profile sheet.

According to Apple’s documentation (found here) struct EditButton is simply a toggle bringing the user in and out of edit mode. Since that is also what we designed our custom “Done” button to do, we can simply move this functionality to our “if statement” dictating what happens when edit mode is deactivated, then change our custom button to cancel any changes instead.

After changing our custom button’s functionality, update the button’s text to “Cancel”. I also changed the button’s color to red to better match apple’s guidelines for destructive actions. It also adds some extra visual clarity.

There you have it! When I get a minute, I might try my hand at fixing other issues to make the app more functional, like connecting the cards on the featured tab to the actual places or allowing users to dismiss edit mode by swiping away. If this interests you, please let me know in the comments below. Also, if you have your own method for fixing this, or adapted the tutorial code to do something cool. Feel free to link to your solution in the comments. I’d love to see what you come up with!

Screenshot of Simulator showing the fix for the "Double Done Button" problem floating atop the page for Apple's "Working With UI Controls" Tutorial.
Categories
Projects

Say hello to Scribbling Stickers: My App Store debut!

It’s after just one day shy of a month, my first app, Scribbling Stickers launched on the App Store. I’m so excited! 😊 It’s my hope that this will be the first of many. Like everything I’ve done lately, it was less about coding and more about design, art, and writing.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/scribbling-stickers/

If you decide to buy it please leave a 5 star review! It really helps 😊

I want to say more, but I’m too tired. I’m also at a loss for words. I’ll update this post with more if I come up with things. Maybe post a pic or 2.

Until then, nap time!

— Stephen

Categories
Hum Drum

Happy Birthday to Me!!! ☺️

I’ve been so busy with other things that it kinda snuck up on me. Today’s my birthday though. So far it’s been a pretty good, low-key day. Got to talk to some friends and family, will hopefully go out for some raids in Pokémon Go soon, and later I’ll have dinner with my parents.

Since it is my special day, I’ve tried to focus only on projects I’ve wanted to work on, but been too busy with actual work to make any progress. Ironically, giving myself this day to only focus on fun things started stressing me out. I keep worrying I’m not using my time to do what would make me happiest. This is silly, of course, but my brain likes to do silly things. I’m trying to remind myself there will be other fun days and not worry too much.

I’d also hoped by my birthday, my business would be further along (read: making any money at all) and I’d be less stressed. Unfortunately, keeping all the stress at bay has been a struggle at times. Still, I spent a lot of time leading up to my birthday planning and reorganizing so I’m in a better place than I might have been.

One of the things I did today that’s relevant to this site is I signed up for Mastodon, an open source social media platform similar to twitter. I look forward to giving it a go and letting you all know what I think. If you’re feeling adventurous in the meantime, I’m including a link so you can sign up and follow me automatically. Say “hi” if you do!

Hopefully, I’ll have time to do some other fun things before the day is up! I’m also pleased the weather is so nice!

Thanks for reading!

Stephen

Categories
Projects Starting a Business

Being a Team of One is Exhausting 😩

One of the things I underestimated when starting my own business is how many little tiny details I’d have to track and complete. I’m a 10 thousand-foot-level sort. The nitty-gritty just doesn’t come naturally. Programming has improved that skill but it’s definitely a learned skill.

It’s killing me with all these projects though. I’m starting to suspect the reason I rarely ever finish my own projects is the last 10% or so of any project is so grueling and tedious I just give up and promise myself I’ll finish it later at some forever-future date.

With all the pressure to produce and produce quickly I’m trying a new strategy: Kick things out the door with immutable deadlines whether they’re ready or not. It’s horrible. It’s painful. My inner perfectionist has filed a restraining order, but it’s the only way I can find to get used to getting things out the door. The deadline forces me to plow through as much of the tedious 10%, all the nastiness I put off, as possible and the project goes out into the world, one way or another. Of course this won’t cut it for clients, but I also can spend more time on client work. All these personal projects are squeezed into whatever free time and energy I can scrape together. I don’t have the luxury of time to make them perfect. Only to make them ship.

This site is a perfect example. I promised myself for years I’d rebuild scribbling ink from the barely formed ashes of a Squarespace account I could no longer afford. It never happened because I never had time to do it right. I still don’t have time to do it right. But at least now it exists. That’s a huge improvement.

Thanks for reading!

Stephen

Categories
Hum Drum

Pi Day Love

A crane drawn in black ink with a ruler and rolled up piece of paper tucked under one wing, and holding up a pie with one foot. He is waving with his other wing. Behind him is a Pi symbol in a circle.

Happy Pi day everyone!

I hope you’ve taken the time to measure a few radii and calculate the area and circumferences of your favorite circular objects. Perhaps you’ve gone the extra mile and memorized a few more digits of pi. Regardless if and how you celebrate, I hope you’re having a great day!

My favorite thing about Pi Day is it takes an esoteric mathematical concept and makes it something approachable, lovable, human. We can question whether or not Pi is the most rational choice for this marketing miracle (hehe rational), but no other irrational numbers are so universally recognized or bring a smile to so many faces.

Also, I’m a sucker for less popular holidays. All the fun of mainstream special days with none of the baggage or expectations. All one needs for celebrating pi day is a pie (though if you take the time to calculate the area and circumference of your pie first, you get extra credit). Also if March 14th is too stressful one year, you can skip it with very little chance of scandal and ridicule by your peers. (Imagine what coworkers or classmates might say if you said you were skipping Thanksgiving, provided your country celebrates it). Even if you are having a bad day, a pie might just be the thing you need to turn things around.

If you’re celebrating Pi Day, please send me a pic of your festivities. If not, I promise not to publicly shame you.

Cheers and have a wonderful 3/14!

Stephen