Sunday, May 24, 2015


This album has been a relatively long-time coming, remaining in the planning stages longer than most, while I'd been giving it time to breathe and to let whatever ideas may come manifest themselves. I was also working on Instrumentality at the same time, which was a bit of juggling act for me, as I was planning two playlists and not sure exactly what I was aiming for with either. In the beginning, I had a playlist called "Era" and a playlist called "Pentacental - The Alternate Spin," and before long those two were joined by "Instrumental 2.0" and "Pentacental Reprised." I sometimes confused playlists, as they were each experiments for a different idea, and I would begin editing one as if it were another. These playlists also had half-finished songs among them and kept being joined by new ones.

The Pentacental playlists were two different approaches: "The Alternate Spin" was an idea for a playlist purely of alternate versions of songs from Pentacental with new songs to fill the gaps of songs I didn't have alternate versions for. "Reprised" was to be a sort of "Deluxe Edition" of Pentacental, containing all the original songs, plus alternate versions and new songs. However, as I was planning them, the track lists were also growing. Before I abandoned "Reprised" out of frustration, it had grown to fourteen tracks, with an idea for a "two disc" (if digital releases can have two parts) release, except what would be the point? Pentacental is already its own EP available for free download, so why include a "disc" of the original tracks? At that point it made the most sense to just focus on the alternate and new songs.

I think at that point there was around eight tracks, but as I played around with the track ordering, the list continued to grow. I'd intend to spend a night polishing or finishing specific tracks and find myself working on altogether new ideas that just sounded like more fun to work on at the time. Which is the main reason why this release took so long. I'd have the tracklist pinned down, only to have a new song join it out of nowhere when I was supposed to be putting the finishing touches on the songs that I already had.

At the point where I decided to leave out the original tracks of Pentacental, this was to be another seven-track EP, and an alternate version. "Introducing..." would be retired, "A Minor Distraction" would be left out, "Winter's Salve" was already an alternate version and would remain the same (as I couldn't imagine trying to remix that song and also couldn't imagine leaving it out), and "Glory and Wrath," "To The Grind," "Giger's Lullaby," and "Dusk Devils" already had alternate versions. This just left coming up with two new songs to fill in the gaps and then the EP would be done, right? The tracklist should have just ended up looking like this, as a seven-track companion EP for Pentacental:

1. "Pentadactyl"
2. "The Ground Down"
3. "Winter's Salve (Alternate Spin)"
4. "Dusk Devils (Nocturnal Dervish Mix)"
5. "I, Supplicant"
6. "Waltz For Giger (Step Softly)"
7. "Vainglorious Wrath"

A quick and easy release that would allow me to devote more attention to the publication, distribution, and promoting process for my first widely-distributed release, Era or Instrumental 2.0 or whatever it was going to be at the time.

But the ideas kept coming, and as I've been practicing approaching my music from a more relaxed standpoint lately, I decided to let them come. For one thing, I wanted this release to include every new post-Pentacental song once I decided that Era was out and Instrumental 2.0 was in. This meant that "They Delving" (and I was seriously considering an attempt at version 2.0") should be included, as well as a version of "Waltz With Lilith" (So Glad You Came was to be included at that point), and "Trip-Hop Thing" was debatable as to whether it would fit with the Pentacental vibe I was going for. "Hell Is For Reels" and "The Snail Plays Piano" were definitely out.

So the tracklist lengthened and evolved, and I kept on writing and recording whatever ideas came to me at the same time. An idea for a purely synthetic-sounding version of "Dusk Devils" gave birth to "The Replicant." I wanted altogether new versions of both "Waltz For Giger" and "Waltz With Lilith." After much hesitation and dread, I finally shut myself in the Ford Fiesta with the iPad and my headphones, having discovered a monitor option on the microphone program I've been using (so I could actually hear myself while recording!), and set to attempting version 2.0 of "They Delving." In the meantime, I had been entertaining myself with seeing if I actually could remix "Winter's Salve" without entirely butchering it. And while it certainly is butchered, I think it actually works, but mostly I decided to include it because I had a lot of fun working on it. "They Delving 2.0" is included because I think I did actually improve the vocals and I like the additions, though there's one part where I recorded I-don't-know-how-many-takes and couldn't get it right and finally got to the point where I decided, "I am going to include this take no matter what." I sort of wish I hadn't as the rest of the vocals sound pretty damn good.

Anyway, that's how this "Deluxe Edition"-turned-companion-EP became an eleven-track album of rehashes and new songs. I'm enjoying it, and I hope y'all find your patience has been rewarded.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Quick Shouts

Hello, me folken! Just a couple of quick requests:

First, if you are a Google user (as most everyone who has an email account is these days), I would greatly appreciate it if you would take a moment to click on over to my new compilation - and first widely distributed album! - on Google Play and give it a quick +1 to help increase its visibility. If you could encourage your friends, family, circles, whatever, to do the same, well, this bearded lady couldn't ask for more, and as thanks I can point you in the direction of some free that "Snail Tunes Store" button in the right-hand sidebar, or if you follow or visit The Lady on Facebook (again, there's a button over there for that) I often point folken in the direction of free music that I stumble across, such as pretty much ALL of Amanda Palmer's music. The music's not mine to offer, but the tip is!

Another request is for donations of 2D artwork that I can use for album art and promotional material, stuff that could end up splattered all over my Facebook, my Google+ page, my page, and this blog! As you may know, I love to promote other artists, so I would not just be using your art, but promoting the shit out of it as well! What I'm looking for is art with a fantastical, faery tail, alien, earthy, or unearthly feel to it, such as the art by John Jude Palencar, John Howe, and H.R. Giger that I've been using without permission. I've been personally scolded by Mr. Palencar - who is of course perfectly within his rights and could have had his lawyers contact me instead - and it pains me because even I associate characters in his art with my music and stories now, but I'm respecting his wishes and ceasing to continue the use of his art, and if I could replace what I've already used with art by willing donors, that would be ideal. So please, I know there are many talented artists among my friends and audience who have had trouble getting their names out there, or are "amateurs" who haven't yet found it within themselves to expose their art to the public...give me some art to use and promote and we could both benefit!

Lastly, I'm looking for music enthusiasts and aspiring writers who would like to give writing an interview or review (or both combined!) of The Lady and the Tunes that I could post here and on social media for promotional purposes. It doesn't matter if no one's ever heard of you; if you're writing as if you have the authority to do so, people tend to believe you do. Shit, hundreds of people read this blog that I started three months ago and my short stories have a decent audience now as well, all because I simply chose to write for the public and found a way to make it available. This is another case of, "Hey, we both benefit from this!" Your name gets out there as a writer and more attention is turned toward my music!

That is all for now! Any submissions, inquiries, or offers can be made through commenting on this blog or messaging me on Facebook! Thanks for your attention; I hope everyone's snails are sliming their way through a good day.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Instrumentality Project

As I reported a few days ago in my status update, I have signed up with an online distributor to make my music available in major online stores, including iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Spotify, YouTube, etc. as a somewhat inevitable step in trying to make a living as a working artist. To do this, I am using DistroKid, a service recommended to me by BandCamp that targeted me with a "special" offer that I'll admit was the deciding factor to move forward. With an investor on hand and a deal I feel I would have been an idiot to refuse, I signed up and decided to separate these efforts somewhat from my career as an Internet busker. The EPs, my Snail Tunes page, and this blog have all been their own little world for me where I reach out on a more personal level and offer my music and writings for free while asking for tips and donations. To be perfectly honest, the tips and donations request hasn't generated much of anything with my financial supporters being extremely few compared to the hundreds of people who have become my audience. Don't get me wrong: I love my audience and would have given up this line of work already if I wasn't doing this for the art and the purposes of having my art reach people. In that, I have been a modest success, and I have found it a thrilling and extraordinary journey.

That is why I am, for now, keeping my world of Snail Tunes and Snail Tales as it is while offering up a different release to the rest of the world through the more traditional means of putting a price on my art and selling it at stores. Though, honestly, I wasn't asked to name a price in the publishing process, which I find kind of odd. It seems as though the stores have named their own price and have determined what percentage I will get without me having any say. I don't even know what that percentage is. I don't know if this would have been different if I were being distributed and represented by a record label (I'm guessing so), but I'm not going to whine too much about it. This is, after all, a new experiment and a new experience in my journey. As such, it's one more reason I'm glad that I created a new release, separate from my Internet busking efforts from, for these efforts.

And that is how Instrumentality was begun. Originally, I was working on a project I was calling Era, as in it would encompass an entire era of my music and wound up having around twenty tracks, but it was getting a bit ridiculous with too many versions of the same songs on it while trying to space them apart with songs that have so far been resolutely unchanged. It was a convoluted mess. An early idea had been to just release Instrumental to online stores, but I did want this release to be different from any of my Bandcamp releases, partly to keep the two worlds separate but also so people would not not just discover that they can, or could have, downloaded the exact same item for free. Plus, as my regular audience has probably figured out, I like putting out new releases. Assembling new track lists is one of the funner parts of the job, somewhat like creating a mix tape.

So an alternate version of Instrumental was another consideration and one that I returned to after Era was proving difficult. I also had to ask myself if I really wanted to put all my eggs in one basket, so to speak. As it is now, I could probably put together one or two relatively "fresh" EPs for the in-stores audience market, but let's stay focused on "an alternate version of Instrumental," which began as a playlist titled Instrumental 2.0 in my iTunes that was being shuffled around restlessly for days, even as I've been shuffling around other ideas in the forms of playlists that have become what will be the next Snail Tunes release from One question was, to include or not to include new songs? Well, new songs are a great way to advertise, and not only to people who are already familiar with your work. I believe that when some random person encounters, for example, "The Ground Down" through any means of social media, and sees that it's a "new song to be included" on an upcoming release, it will catch their attention. And so "The Ground Down" has been included on this project, as have songs from post-Instrumental releases that I believe are some of the best representations of my work. After all, if I'm reaching out to a wider audience, I do want to put my best foot, and therefore some of my best material, forward. This includes some of the songs from Progress Report that have remained favorites of myself and my audience since my debut, as well as some of the newer songs that we're all excited about. So the tracklist for Instrumental 2.0 evolved to not only be an alternate version of Instrumental, but to be almost as if I were redoing Instrumental. A new, more present compilation. And as a compilation, this would include less "never-before-heard" songs than I had originally planned...which would also save more new material for my beloved Snail Tunes audience.

When finally putting together the cover for Instrumental 2.0 and not having any new artwork to work with, except for a bunch of new downloads of the work of John Jude Palencar who has personally scolded me for using his work to "sell" my art (I don't think I have used any of it to "sell" my art, technically, and I've only used images that are already posted all over the Internet, so I'm not sure of how much trouble I could actually get into), I set to only putting a new title on the original concept of the cover. I've been hoping people haven't noticed, but the artwork for The Collection playlist didn't transfer very well when I had to switch from using Photoshop to GIMP, so the cover of Instrumental hasn't looked exactly as I had hoped. I've learned since to use GIMP somewhat better, and still have the original file for the cover of The Collection, so I started at an earlier stage of the cover for Instrumental and played around with it before applying the new title. I hope it looks better to everyone. I'm honestly not sure which I prefer, but I do like that they're different in more than just title.

Speaking of the title, the change from 2.0 was about as last-minute as you can get. As in, I had already chosen the file to upload and was inputting the tracklist when I thought, yet again, of the "Human Instrumentality Project" from the Evangelion anime series, as the title of Instrumental often influences me to do. Evangelion has already influenced my title decisions in the form of "They Delving 1.11" (a reference to the series of movies re-adapting the original anime series), so I quickly pulled up the GIMP file, removed "Instrumental 2.0" from the image, changed the font, and typed in "Instrumentality," then saved it to my inputting of the album without looking back.

And so, Instrumentality was sent forth in its current incarnation to be distributed to stores
with the tracklist:
1. Introducing... (Alternate II)
2. The Ground Down
3. The Snail Plays Piano
4. Dusk Devils
5. Winter's Salve (Alternate Spin)
6. The Manic Widow
7. Momentum
8. Glory and Wrath
9. A Determined Snail / A Minor Distraction
10. Waltz With Lilith (So Glad You Came)
11. To The Grind
12. Vainglorious Wrath
13. They Delving 1.0
14. Trip-Hop Thing
15. Waltz For Giger (Delusions of Empathy)
16. Dusk Devils (Nocturnal Dervish Mix)
and should be made available at all major online music stores throughout the week.

So far, Instrumentality can be found at (click the link to go to the item in the store):
Google Play
and can be streamed on SpotifyRdioTIDAL, Apple Music, MS Groove, and YouTube. If you'd like to know about another store specifically, please don't hesitate to ask and I'll check with my distributor.

Please wish me the best of luck in this new step in my adventures, and you can look forward to a new Snail Tunes release later this week, to be posted on this blog within the next few days.

Thank you all for your positive energy and generous support! May all our inner snails remain resilient and determined.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Status Update

Well, me folken, I am officially making the leap from cyber busker to trying to sell my music for a living. As in, I'm going to be putting a price on it and distributing it to online stores, including iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Spotify, etc. There is no cause for alarm! My page will still be the home of the Snail Tunes with no plans in the near future to change my "name your price" policy there, and all of my music will be made available there before anywhere else. SoundCloud will also continue to be my main means of sharing my music across social media platforms. You Have Failed Us will continue to be the homepage of all my art. 

In other words, for those who have been making the journey with me and know where to look, I'm still here to entertain for tips, and content not available in stores will be available to my precious League of Determined Snails through the usual means. But the rest of the world will find me more widely available by the more traditionally capitalistic means. These wide releases will be fewer and farther between than the every-other-week EPs that y'all have been become accustomed to. I've been considering making Instrumental my first wide release, but for this occasion I'm also thinking about putting together a new album-length record tentatively titled Era. If anyone has anything more pretentious in mind, I'm open to suggestions. 

That's pretty much what y'all can expect for the next release. Either that, or something along the lines of a deluxe release of Pentacental specifically for the League while this Era project (which will pretty much be and alternate version of Instrumental with tracks that have been released since) goes out far and wide for a price. So that's what I've been working on and what is new in the Land of Nym. I'd love to hear if anyone has ideas on what I can do for my first wide release. And if anyone has any art to contribute to the cause (as I'm going to avoid using art by Giger, Howe, and Palencar without their/their estates' permission) I'd be most very appreciative and of course give credit where credit is due. 

May your inner snails remain resilient and determined!
- Nym

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Operation Cloud Rescue A Success!

That's right; thanks to very generous and unwavering support, not only have I been able to upgrade to a pro plan on SoundCloud, but I've been able to sign up for a year-long plan! That means I won't have to do this again next month or the month after that, and so on, and I'll have to make three more hours worth of music to be in danger of repeating this issue! While I'm constantly generating new material, including alternate versions and remixes, I think by the time I have six hours worth of material we'll all be able to agree that some of it could stand to be trimmed away.

I'm very impressed and proud to say that not a single song had to be even temporarily sacrificed! I don't have permission to name any names, so I'm just going to have to say, THANK YOU!!! You know who you are and your support has more value than I can express in song, but I'll keep on trying, and I'll keep on creating as long as there are people like you lending your ears and your support! Every artist should be so fortunate to have such a wonderful audience! And I can't express my appreciation in exclamation marks, so I'll cut that shit out.

A lull has been reached in my planned releases, and for now I don't feel the need to construct an EP out of existing material, so I'll just be focusing on writing new material, generating new ideas, and making minor improvements to the blog. I have a couple possibilities for an upcoming EP roughly outlined, but nothing will be ready for public consumption until next week. Maybe during this time I'll finally get around to writing down the Snail's adventures with the Bagman... We'll see. No guarantees. For me, the muse for writing stories is more elusive to grasp than the muses of music.

To celebrate, here's the SoundCloud playlist for Progress Report which would have been sacrificed very early on if Cloud Rescue had not succeeded. The next to be made incomplete would have been the playlist for Progress Report - The Alternate Spin, which is available in the sidebar for the time being. Enjoy, and know that because of the generosity of another, it is available free and streaming from SoundCloud.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Operation Cloud Rescue Post-Script

I just remembered that all of the streaming players on "The Songs" page of this blog are from SoundCloud! "The Songs" has proven to be one of the most-visited pages on this site; I'll have to revamp the entire page if I have to start removing songs from SoundCloud! PLEASE HELP preserve the Cloud, y'all!

And while I'm here posting on the subject, the first song to be removed will be "The Trip Begins," within the next day or two. I'm starting with this song because I mainly posted it as filler during a time I didn't have much else going on. It's not especially dear to me; I'm fond of the original, but I've lost the original version of this song. Anyway, it definitely feels best to start with a song I'm not all that attached to. However, to each their own, so if you want to grab it before it's gone, it's available for direct download from this player.

As a reminder, you can donate to preserving all of my music for free on SoundCloud by clicking the "Support Cyber Busking" button in the right-hand sidebar on this page, or by leaving a tip when you download my music on NoiseTrade or when you "name your price" for my music on

Addendum: For the time being, there will be no updates made on "The Songs" page, as I may have to redo the whole thing if songs are to be sacrificed. I have an idea on how to avoid that on this page, but it will still be very time consuming and essentially I will have to scrap it all and then piece it back together. This could be a blessing in disguise, as this page has always had formatting issues. We'll see.

Updates will proceed on "The Records" page however, and you can expect The Hypnotic Jamboree to be joining the others shortly. A Waltz For Giger has already been added, I just didn't think the update major enough to write a post about it. You could say it quietly waltzed its way onto the page... Anyone? I only hear crickets...

In other update news, regular visitors may notice that "The Manic Widow" has disappeared from the tabs underneath the header! Not to fear! Look to the top of the right-hand sidebar where a list of fiction pages has been begun under the title "Snail Tales." There, the Widow has been joined by Jade in "A Jaded Beltaine," and I hope the list will grow and grow over time. The Bagman's story, which I mentioned briefly in the release post for Jamboree, still has yet to be told...

Monday, May 11, 2015

Operation Cloud Rescue

Hey everybody, posting as simple, single-faced, little ol' Nym Raven here, 'cause I'm gonna be straight-up with y'all. Of course, I always am, but no identity-dancing or fantasy worlds going into this post. I'm writing to ask for help.

I've received generous payment in trade for my records and my records have been listened to and downloaded a generous amount, and this blog has grown popular quite beyond my initial expectations, but in truth I'm still considerably poor and everything I put into my art has had to be freely obtained. My tools for creating and promoting have had to not cost me a thing, because I simply can't afford to put any money into what I'm working my ass off to make a career of. That's been fine so far. I'm in a situation where I don't need much and what I have received in monetary donations has gone towards other artists and investing in my living situation. My own art has made do quite nicely with the free tools of wonderful resources such as and SoundCloud.

In fact, my call for help has to do with SoundCloud. I am six minutes away from filling the three hours offered freely by SoundCloud. That means I may be able to post only one more song on my stream before I have to start removing music to make room for more. I absolutely cringe at the thought of making some of the playlists and songs I've posted no longer available for free streaming from this site. Particularly this site, as it has been one of my most valuable resources. SoundCloud asks for nothing, does nothing to promote itself at artists' expense, doesn't virtually scream "Give us money!" at's so freaking chill. Other sites that host my music do offer embeds and links that I can post onto websites and social media, but I love that SoundCloud doesn't project any kind of agenda, other than, "Hey, we're here, we're free; you can use us to listen, you can use us to share."

What I need to double my upload time in a pro plan is $6 a month (there are so many of you that that should be absolutely no issue if everyone who stopped by just gave a dime to say that they give a shit) or $55 for a year, which would save me 23%. Now, I'm making new music right now. There's an exclusive song, not available on any of the records, available on SoundCloud right now, which I'll share with y'all in this post, as I've only made it available to those who follow or visit The Lady anoNYMous' Facebook and Google+ pages so far. It's an alternate, piano-centric, less dance-rock version of "To The Grind" that I'm calling "The Ground Down," inspired by the Nine Inch Nails song "The Wretched." I started with "To The Grind" as my base, then took out one of the lead synths and a good chunk of the electric guitar and replaced them with piano and cello. After the initial beat that starts the song, I removed the rest of the drum track, then rewrote it with another drum track in tandem. The result is radically different, more deserving of being called a new song rather than a rendition, and I'm both addicted and in love with it, and I'm offering a direct download of the song from SoundCloud. It's a bit of a preview of what's to come, as I'm continuing to go in the orchestral trip-hop/industrial direction and away from pop and alternative rock. Of course, I'll still be exploring different styles of music, but the vibe of Pentacental and everything I've written after its release has been a good indicator of what my musical style is settling into...for the moment.

This is uncompressed, lossless sound quality, so the file size is larger than an MP3 and will take a few moments longer to download. I recommend compressing it before you put it on any mobile devices unless you know you have considerable storage space free (around 70Mb). And if you can't download it now, no sweat. This will not be one of the first to go if I have to start getting rid of songs.

As I said earlier, I'm already in the middle of writing new songs, so the time when I have to make space for them could be soon. I don't have a date planned for my next release yet, though I do have an idea floating around in my head to create a "deluxe" version of Pentacental. To be straightforward about what's at stake here, the first songs to go (I'm having to start bracing myself for this, just in case) will be the "non-essential" tracks that didn't make it onto Instrumental, starting with those on Progress Report, such as the original version of "Introducing..." Actually, the first to go will be "The Trip Begins," which is already available for download from my stream if you really want to grab it before it goes, and then the first two versions of "Introducing..." and the original release of "Winter's Salve" will follow, making the Progress Report, Alternate Tracks, and Alternate Spin playlists incomplete and therefore no longer available. I will post advance warning on Facebook and Google+ before any tracks disappear, and I'll also make them available for individual download for a short while before they go.

I hope none of this has to happen, or that I can upgrade my membership and re-post anything that goes if folks help me out a bit. I'm really hoping to get the year-long upgrade at $55. Month-to-month, as everyone who lives month-to-month can tell you, really sucks to stress about.

So...that's my cry for help, y'all. I haven't read Amanda Palmer's The Art of Asking yet, but as I understand it, the actual asking is the biggest part of the art of it. So, this is me asking: Will you please help me preserve my SoundCloud stream so I can continue to offer all my music freely and streaming?

Donations can be made by clicking the "Support Cyber Busking" button to the right on this page, or by leaving a tip when you download my music on NoiseTrade, or when you "name your price" for my music on Thank you all for your attention, your time, your support, and your help.

- anoNYMous Raven

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Hypnotic Jamboree

Just as I had a short story in mind of the Snail's encounter with the Manic Widow while I was putting together Progress Report, there's a story that The Hypnotic Jamboree is telling, or reflecting, in its songs and their ordering. While Pentacental was a departure, mostly to start moving away from recycling Progress Report, Jamboree returns to the Snail to tell a story of another event in the overall journey.

A story that has yet to be told is that of the Snail's travels with the Bagman, a being who is on his own journey, a hobo-ish character traveling only with a sack of bones slung over his shoulder. It is with the Bagman that the Snail encounters the Dusk Devils and first witnesses their curious activities, wondering, "What are they delving for?" I mention this story because it leads directly into The Jamboree which opens with "They Delving 1.11"

This version of "They Delving" is an experiment on my part, one that I share with a lot of reticence. As you may be aware, "They Delving" is written to have vocal tracks, which were originally omitted in "1.0" because I felt I didn't have the proper means to record them. With "1.11" (so subtitled as a nod to the Rebuild of Evangelion movies, of which I am a fan, in case you were wondering), I let impatience get the best of me. I very much wanted this EP to open with "They Delving," but I didn't want to directly re-use any songs on this EP. Each one is at least a never-before-heard version if not original to this record. So I decided to experiment, using an iPad for a mic and the Ford Fiesta that often functions as my sound studio for a sound booth, and recorded myself singing at the car's ceiling with the iPad in my lap, or hissing with all the volume I could muster directly at the tablet. There is no vocal distortion or effects aside from "reverb" and "echo" used, so the scream-whispered chanting you hear is entirely my voice. Doing that actually physically hurt my innards. Belting the other vocals, or going falsetto for other parts, I had to do at top volume as well, to accomplish a sound that wasn't that of an obviously damaged esophagus and larynx.

For those not in the know, I had an extended stay in the hospital due to near-failure of my liver, and a lot of damage was also done to my esophagus. It's been full of tears and occasionally bleeding veins for a very long time, though steadily healing over the past fourteen months. Prior to all of this, I was a very proud vocalist, but my singing voice will probably never be the same again. Still, it is getting better. However, another problem of using these methods was that I had to be wearing noise-canceling headphones while recording, and I couldn't hear myself singing I at. I had to sing what "felt" right rather than what sounded right. Then, the playback of the vocal tracks had be turned way down, for even singing at the ceiling with the iPad down in my lap, my voice was way too loud.

I tried to dress up these recordings with the reverb and echo options, and turned the tracks down to the point where I felt they could barely be heard (in the end, they maybe could have been turned down even more) and I included them on this EP. They work better in "Vainglorious Wrath" (though you don't even want to hear what I almost uploaded before deciding to go re-record those vocals after I had done several takes for "They Delving"), and I think what I had in mind is conveyed, but I'm hyper-aware of how off-key they are and how amateurish the recording quality sounds. I'm either going to need better equipment or figure out a better set-up before I include vocals on any other tracks. And I'm going to need more time to heal.

The vocals were the biggest experiment. The other was to include a track of a completely different style on the record with "Hell Is For Reels." For what the Dusk Devils unleash is revealed to be, of course, an otherworldly and wildly diverse Jamboree that comes straight from a subterranean doorway to what some might call "hell" and it's characters "demons." It's definitely not a Christian concept of Hell, but it is a subterranean otherworld that is unleashed, nonetheless, and springing forth from it are creatures jamming Celtic-style reels. This song was written long before this concept, though it definitely fit. I guess now I know why I gave it the title "Hell Is For Reels" now, as I certainly didn't when I originally wrote it. The song was basically complete already, but had yet to be wrapped up with an ending or included on a record, as it has been my plan for a long time to re-record the fiddle and cello reels as they're obviously somewhat lagging and squealing due to my inability to keep up with my own writing. I'm quicker and more dextrous after months of regularly playing and recording music, but I'm still intimidated by this song. However, it felt right to include it as part of the Jamboree, as the Jamboree's actual opening number, in fact, so I went ahead and wrote an ending and included it on this record as a demo version. Someday I may actually feel adventurous and determined enough to try my hands at those reels again.

To express the diversity of the music and characters of the Jamboree, I next included "Trip-Hop Thing," which had been recorded for this release, but had also been an experiment for my own amusement. There are times when I sit down to write and I don't really have any ideas or goals in mind. I just fiddle around with beats or melodies and build off of what speaks to me. For this, I intended to fiddle around with some synths, tweaking them in new ways or ways that had recently appealed to me, such as in the "trip-hop solo" in "They Delving," and see what I could come up with for a trippy rhythm-and-beats section, or bass & beats. I got some interesting sounds out of the synths, and had a decent rhythm going, but everything that I tried to layer on top didn't sound very appealing. After putting the experiment on hold and returning to it the next day, I listened to what I had and scrapped all of it straight away, except for the violin part that had taken me several takes to record. When I built my bass & beats off of that, everything else started to fall into place. I started to have a lot of fun and the song started to speak to me quite clearly. We ended up building a relationship of very clear communication and the result is a song that is several rather simple layers built in a complex way. This has ended up being likely my favorite song on the EP. It makes me smile every time I hear it, and I just want to groove along with it and long for my favorite dance partner to join me.

I've been playing around a lot lately with remixes, as evidenced by "A Waltz For Giger," started by my first attempt, the Whirlwind Mix of "Dusk Devils." This has carried over into complete makeovers and new renditions of old songs. The first song I actually wrote that was intended specifically for this release was "The Snail Plays Piano."

Actually, if we're going to go back to the conceptualizing of this record, it began with "Waltz With Lilith," imagining the title of the song taken literally and putting it into a context. That context became the Hypnotic Jamboree, and I knew shortly after completing "Lilith" that she would be included, as a song and as a character, on my next EP. When I began to imagine other things that might happen at this jamboree, the amusing idea of the Snail taking center stage and rocking out on the piano came to me. How the Snail accomplishes this with no arms or hands is beyond me, but just take my word for it that it happens, and what it plays is a piano rendition of what could be called its theme song, "A Determined Snail." So the idea for the song was born, and when I went to work on it, I basically just took out the leading synth in the song and replaced it with piano, complementing the melody with a few chords. This soon developed into creating new riffs and melodies and complementing these with cello, and at one point I replaced the piano entirely with cello. The guitars no longer fit the song very well, so I removed those. I had begun with writing new drum tracks, but decided halfway through that the original drum track was essential to the song remaining, "A Determined Snail" at its core, so scrapped the new drum tracks I had written, in fact most of the new material I had written except for the piano and a few lines of bass and cello, and inserted those directly into a copy of the original song. Then I reworked all of the instrumentation around the new material I had written, wrote more new material, rewrote the ending of the song so that it no longer developed into the beginning of "A Minor Distraction," and the whole thing became its own entity: still very much "A Determined Snail," but a whole new rendition of it, as I had planned.

Though I had not intended it, something similar happened when I tried to remix "Glory and Wrath." The song refused to be remixed, and as I tried to expand certain piano parts that I loved in the original, they no longer fit into the rest of the instrumentation of "Glory and Wrath," and I ended up rewriting the entire song, from beginning to end, from the ground up, and cannibalizing elements from the original. The result isn't at all a remix, or even really a new rendition, but a whole new song that swallowed the original along the way. Thus, "Vainglorious Wrath," was born.

I've said in various social media posts that the Nocturnal Dervish Mix of "Dusk Devils" is pretty much the Whirlwind Mix with a few instruments rewritten, but that was before I listened to the Whirlwind Mix again after writing and releasing this. While the Nocturnal Dervish Mix also aims to be a metal/trip-hop blend piano ballad, I hadn't realized just how different the changes were. The drum tracks in the Nocturnal Dervish Mix, for example, are rewritten entirely from scratch, whereas the Whirlwind Mix simple sped up the existing drum tracks and added another. The synth and electric guitar tracks are also entirely rewritten, with different notes, chords, and riffs all the way through. As a result, I think the Nocturnal Dervish Mix is much more successful at what I was trying to accomplish with the Whirlwind Mix. Their aims are the same, but with the Nocturnal Dervish Mix I had started over entirely and even rewritten some of the original song, to more satisfactory results.

A note on the title and the resulting character of the Nocturnal Dervish: I wrote this mix in one night, a dark and stormy night, actually, when I had drunk way too much coffee. It's named after me on that night: I had become a nocturnal dervish, flying around the house over-caffeinated and working on this song with intense, manic glee. What I imagine of the Nocturnal Dervish is that he is an extremely similar creature to what I became that night, and I have also crowned him the king of the Dusk Devils, though I'm not sure he is the same manner of being...

This, of course, leaves "Waltz With Lilith," who gave birth to this EP and whose role in the Jamboree has already been explained. All that's really left to say about this song is why I altered it, and that is because I initially had wanted Lilith as a character in the Jamboree, but I was more attracted to the Step Softly version of "Giger's Lullaby" as a good fit for the rest of the tunes, mainly because there was a beat throughout the song, though the beat of Step Softly didn't turn out quite the way I had wanted it to. It...lumbered. I wanted something less slow and heavy. What I came up with for this version of "Lilith" suits the purposes of this EP much better, I think, and took only a few minutes to write and record, as it's looped until it gives way to the original drum track. I had also given some thought to having "Lilith" at the beginning of the EP, welcoming everyone to the Jamboree, and I had also thought of having an obnoxious demonic MC as a sort of narrator in between tracks. Instead, I settled on something more intimate: a waltz at the close of the Jamboree, with, "I'm so glad you came," whispered in your ear.

Because I am.

Monday, May 4, 2015

A Jaded Beltaine

Author's Note: Jade has been my fictional alter ego ever since The Lady anoNYMous decided to lift herself from the page and become a performer and an artistic aspect. She is a character that was originally conceived by myself and Ryder Richardson for a musical that never quite got off the ground, but the character has stuck with me and already has a history and has had prior adventures that you'll find referenced here. A novel in which she is the central character, Jaded, is half-written and may be finished or rewritten someday, but for now, this is the character's first public appearance. I hope that she and her friends will have more, and that you enjoy reading about this experience of hers. The picture below is of me and Theo; I thought it appropriate as the characters of Jade and Theo are based on us.

A Jaded Beltaine by anoNYMous Raven

It had been a rainy morning that Beltaine. Not a hard rain, but a spotty one, coming from a spotty sky with great gray-bellied zeppelins of fluffy white drifting among a vast dome of blue with a clear curve over the pine-dotted hills. The procession carrying the May Pole had been a marry one despite the rain - hell, maybe because of the rain - as they trudged and slipped along the muddy path to the May Pole Field. She had been grinning ear-to-ear herself. The colorful throng of folks hoisting the great tree trunk on their shoulders and those crowded all around them, trying unhelpfully to help, were every sort of freak and outcast that one usually found on the fringes of society or in bubbles like San Francisco and Portland. And everything that would have triggered a warning of hedonistic, heathen blasphemy for her aunt was on display. Breasts were bared, penises slapped thighs, men wore dresses... Jade's heart had swelled as she spotted a little man in leather jerkin holding the hem of another man's patchwork skirt above the mud as the taller of the two marched along with part of the May Pole on his shoulders. Not that she should have assumed that either identified as "men," but even she wasn't always perfect at erasing gender association from appearances in her inner vocabulary.

To simplify things, it was easier just to think of those two, as well as every other person in the procession, as what they were, even if it was only while they were on the Land: Faeries.

Jade had been absorbed and corrupted by the Radical Faerie community of the Pacific Northwest nearly a decade ago, almost as soon as she had left her fundamentalist aunt and her finally-becoming-himself uncle to their own devices in Yamhill County for the streets of Portland. This was her eighth Beltaine Gathering at the Wolf Creek Sanctuary and, as with every Gathering, she felt cleansed and at peace, yet giddy with anticipation, and perfectly at home in a sea of virtual strangers with handfuls of familiar faces here and there among the yearly-growing event. Every year, lately, it seemed as though that ratio remained the same, no matter how much she socialized and met new people. There were always more coming. There was always the worry that the Land just couldn't host that many people, that the work to be done would be exceeded by layabout guests and tourists, that there just wouldn't be enough space, but it worked out perfectly, wonderfully, every year.

So the May Pole had been erected and the unscripted ritualistic neo-Pagan freestyle ceremony had commenced, with vats of tea hauled in and ladled to each of the particpants, psilocybin for some and virgin for others, and, as always, the ribbons got twisted and tangled in fits of hilarity as the weaving May Pole dance was screwed up somewhere along the line again until the ribbons brought them all into a single silent mass huddled and pressed together, breathing together, at the base of the huge tree that had been hand-picked from the Land and sacrificed for the occasion. And then, in unspoken mutual agreement, the ceremony was ended and a raucous after-party of drumming and dancing in the Field had begun.

She had danced as exuberantly and tirelessly as the rest of them, swinging her dreadlocks carelessly, miraculously managing not to whip any of her neighbors, and had been one of hundreds of colorful whirling dervishes in the soaked and sunny Field, but there were always those who outlasted her. Like so many others, she had begun the feel a call for solitude in the gentle buzzing in her marrow, and had drifted out of the Field to pass as a ghost and voyeur among the more sparsely populated locations of the Land. Past the parking lot and the dense press of tents next to it, where the campers who weren't dedicated enough to march all their supplies and creature comforts across the hilly expanse were located. Past Grandmother Maple and her alter, standing stately and sacredly nearby-yet-apart. Across the field that radiated out from the central fire pit, flanked on one side by the gardens and the other by tents and trees dotting a sparsely wooded hillside. Toward the Barn that functioned mainly as a huge communal kitchen.

Every person she crossed paths with was glowing, on their own journey, being pulled along to some elsewhere, and only greeted her with a silent grin, which she returned. She wasn't conscious of making an effort to smile at people for once. She couldn't even recall changing her expression, or if it had changed. It was as though all the other people were mirrors she was coming across along her the way.

As usual, the Barn smelled of food and radiated the noises of bustling activity, along with the faint din of a stereo she was fairly certain was never turned off. She could picture the people inside, some of them sober and preparing for the massive daily event of dinner, others foraging to piece together a kind of lunch and sharing their finds with others. There would be a few people dancing unabashedly to the music on the stereo, while the couch would be full of people pressed together and cuddling and laughing. Outside, sitting on the steps and smiling while gazing around herself was the woman Jade had been flirting with at last night's fire circle, steel-gray hair catching the sunlight brilliantly, her chiseled jaw and the body armor she appeared to wear underneath her skin relaxed. She was lean, around fifty, and built like a wrangler, whatever that means, but she had the dusty worn cowboy boots to complete the simile.

Not feeling like interjecting herself into someone else's trip or having her own interrupted, Jade made her way toward the rear of the Barn and the skinny path along the creek, where she was certain she would find the most solitude.

Her assumption was correct. The sounds of the Barn quickly faded until all she heard was birdsong an the burble of the creek where it shallowly grazed the rocks of its bed. Mindful that, yes, she was tripping on mushrooms and off on her own, she found a way down to the creekside from the path that she felt was still within shouting distance of the Barn and descended to an inviting looking rock, covered in moss that had dried in the sun after this morning's showers, yet still spongy to sit on. There she settled in to feel the comforting embrace of her natural surroundings while allowing her mind to wander through the distinct inner mono-and-dialogues of the mind on hallucinogens.

It's curious how the mind talks to itself, almost as two individuals talk to each other, while tripping on mushrooms. It's as though there is one who experiences and one who observes, and the one who observes in turn counsels the one who is experiencing. At the moment, Jade was allowing herself, at her counselor's behest, feel a wave of melancholy that had nearly panicked her inner experiencer.  However, as any experienced shroomer will tell you, it is useless to struggle against the trip. You have to let yourself go with the ebb and flow of whatever you experience and let your counselor, the observer, guide you and talk you through whatever you may feel or even what physical activities you may attempt.

A sharp interruption in the creek-song, a splash, lifted her gaze, which she had not been aware of losing in the rocks underneath the swirling surface of the water. A few yards down the creek, a large pitbull, with a wrinkled face and painted a brilliant brindle, had plunged its forelegs into the water while snapping at a passing dragonfly. It - or, definitely he, if one was judging gender by anatomy - missed the metallic blue bug, which zipped its way toward Jade, drawing the dog's attention to where she had been sitting quite still. His mouth was open, panting lightly, tongue lolling to one side, and showing very large, very pointed teeth, and she had the distinct impression that he was grinning idiotically, like he had "pulled one" on the poor dragonfly and scared it out its whits, which was what he meant to do all along, of course.

Jade grinned back. While somewhere deep within her a chord had been struck that alerted her to the potential threat a large dog with sharp teeth showing up unexpectedly could impose, she felt an unmistakeable presence of friendliness and familiarity from the animal. And well, she should, as she knew him straight away to be her dead dog Theoden, named after the King of the Horselords of Rohan in The Lord of the Rings, but always called Theo. He had died tragically the previous summer, yet here he was trotting toward her along a narrow shelf of muddy shore held up by thick tree roots.

She slid off her rock, down to his level on the ground, and she held out her hand, as was her custom with dogs, to let them smell her. But instead of a cautious sniff, Theo plunged the top of his hard head into her palm, nearly knocking her hand away, so that she could scratch behind his floppy ears. When she'd adopted him from the Oregon Humane Society as a four month old puppy, she'd been told that he was a purebred pit, but he'd grown to have the wrinkly characteristics and larger size of some sort of mastiff breed. At 110 lbs, he'd been a very formidable animal. That was hardly how Jade would describe him, though. To her, he was an immense and muscular loving machine who always looked like the most pathetic puppy or the most clueless, happiest doofus there ever was. In life, he'd been nothing short of her best friend. He'd almost been describable as a familiar, the sort of animal that shares its consciousness and soul with a witch.

After Jade dug her fingers deep behind his ears, Theo continued moving forward so that his head was over her shoulder, and she hugged him fiercely. Oddly, though, she didn't feel choked up at the moment about his death or like never letting him go. It was the same sort of hug she always gave him and it felt as if no time had passed since the day of his desperate sacrifice. She felt as though her dead dog visited her everyday, and she behaved accordingly. Just as she behaved as though he spoke in a gruff and gravelly deep voice to her every day.

"Do you think they got peanut butter up there?" he asked, his nose drifting in the direction she had come from, indicating the Barn.

"Undoubtedly," she laughed. "Do you know how many stoners come and go through there? This is pretty much a hippie commune, after all." Marijuana smoke was not an uncommon smell on the Land, nor was its smoking an uncommon site even though guidelines about respecting those who chose a substance-free lifestyle were stressed. "They're probably going through jars a day right now," she added, thoughtfully. "I hope they get them donated, or something."

"Hmmm," he growled, noncommittally, shifting his attention back to his present whereabouts. "You seemed kind of sad when I showed up," he commented, changing the subject. "Do you need to play?"

She smiled briefly at the thought of climbing a tree, which would always drive him into a frenzy of whining and barking since he couldn't follow. He probably had knocking her over for a bout of mud wrestling in mind. "No, I'm good for the moment," she told him. "I'm more in the mood for just sitting quietly and enjoying being out here."

And so they sat awhile. He'd always been good like that. If she wanted the sit and write while they were out at the park or in the woods together, he'd either sit or lie quietly nearby, or nose about at the foliage within her site and mind his own business while she attended her own thoughts. Now, he chose to just sit at attention next to her and let his gaze shift jerkily from bug to bug dancing in the air above the water. If one drifted too close, he'd snap his jaws, but he made no attempt to lunge after them for the time being.

After an indeterminate (did it really matter?) amount of time, Jade had some of her immediate thoughts sorted out by her inner counselor into words, structured and ready for conversation. "I just got to thinking about James," she said aloud. "He should be here."

James was her faery big brother, the man who had taken her under his wing as his sidekick and ushered her into Portland's faery community after some shared hijinks at the downtown Park Blocks. During the last winter, James had tried and failed to commit suicide-by-substance, and it had left him with severe nerve damage that impeded his mobility. No longer capable of going for hikes or climbing trees, he now almost avoided nature altogether, including the city's many parks. He focused instead on what life could offer him at home and online, pulling a near one-eighty on how he had previously preferred to spend his time.

Jade felt a shift in her being, like a wave surging from her mind to the tips of her nerves. "He brought me here for my first Gathering," she said, as if Theo didn't already know. Maybe he did, maybe he didn't. She hadn't adopted him yet at the time, but it was impossible to know to what extent he had read her mind in life, and how much deeper he could in death, if he wasn't just a projection altogether from her own unconscious. "I was seventeen, and I thought all of this hippie shit was stupid as hell until I actually experienced some of it. It was like coming home for the first time in my life. It was like he was the first real family I ever had."

Theo had to understand that. He was a rescue, after all. And he was adopted into the family that James and Jade shared. She glanced over at the manifestation of her dead dog. He simply sat, still as a statue on his haunches, no longer distracted by insects but giving her his full attention while staring off over the creek.

"I don't know how to feel about him, right now," she told the ghost of the one being with which she had always shared her thoughts with complete honesty. "He tried to die. He said he'd been ready to. He seems like he's still ready to. I don't know if I should feel sorry for him or if I can feel sorry for him. The way he is right now, I mean." She was referring to the nerve damage that now inhibited James' mobility. "He says he doesn't want to die because he's sad or depressed or anything. He says he's just done with life, and I don't know that I really get that, though I guess I've felt that way sometimes." Drawing up her knees, she rested her forearms upon them and her face in her hands, letting her unbound dreads trail down to the muddy creekside. "I just don't know." With her head still in her hands, she turned her face to Theo again. "It's kind of hard not to take that personally."

The dog continued to stare ahead as he replied, "Death can be as much a choice as life. It's a very personal one, and that much more precious for that it can be taken from us."

Another wave, this one feeling as though it was washing over her, enveloping her and then sinking through her skin. For all his goofy looks and mannerisms, his single-mindedness and playfulness, Theo had always been able to pull a Yoda on her, even when he couldn't talk. Just a look from him, or a sudden insight on her part on what a dog's perspective must be, had taught her a lot about life and about herself. But this was eerie on a whole new level. It was as if something she had known all along had been forced suddenly, and somewhat painfully, to the surface. She winced as she felt it swell against the interior of her skull, as it pricked her most sensitive nerve endings, as it vibrated in her teeth.

Her eyes moistened, her vision blurred. She blinked furiously.

"It's selfish for me to take it personally, then?" she asked, struggling for control of her voice.

Now Theo looked at her. Dark brown eyes, the most expressive eyes she had ever encountered, regarded her steadily from underneath a slightly bunched up brow. There was nothing of the fool about him now. "You believe we should all have control over our own bodies, that our choices regarding them are ours alone to make." It was not a question. He was speaking for her. "You might not agree with a person's decision, but it is theirs to make."

Jade laughed softly and bitterly. "And people are always saying that the person committing suicide is selfish."

"The pursuit of one's own happiness is selfish," Theo responded simply. "Selflessness is often seen as noble and selfishness it's opposite, but every decision one makes for one's self can be considered selfish." He turned his gaze back toward the creek. After a brief silence, he continued. "For your own happiness, you wouldn't want to live in this world without James. But he seems to have felt, and perhaps continues to feel, that living in this world will only continue his unhappiness."

Jade shuddered and sighed. She could relate. But it had always been part of her nature to continue to live, to struggle to live. She was a survivor, one who had survived a lot and had developed a habit of fighting to continue to do so. Part of her was a warrior who was always prepared to take on challenges with a ferocious vigor. But when she considered James' personality... He had always been so passive, so agreeable and accepting. He was a survivor as well, but his methods of survival had been quite different from hers. It was part of his appeal, but sometimes she found it tiresome and frustrating. Maybe it was tiring and frustrating for him as well.

She had to change the subject, had to direct the conversation away from herself and James. "You didn't get to choose your death," she said, calmly and matter-of-factly. Somehow, speaking of Theo's death didn't feel like a sensitive subject with him sitting next to her at the muddy creekside. It was easily accepted. He was dead, but he was here to talk to her. These things just were at the moment. After some of the things Jade had experienced in her life so far, her dead dog showing up to counsel her, whether he was really here or some sort of mental manifestation of her own, wasn't all that surprising.

"No," he agreed. "When that choice is made by someone else, it is unforgivable."

She hesitated. "Whether it's forcing your death upon you, or forcing life upon you?" This wasn't entirely unfamiliar territory. She was mostly caught up on The Walking Dead, after all. In the television show, a character named Andrea had been royally pissed when the decision to quit living in the world as it was - being overrun with flesh-eating, rotting, animated corpses in that fictitious situation - was taken out of her hands by a friend. Her resentment surprisingly easy to empathize with.

James had been rushed to the hospital, had been kept alive and been bed-ridden while the extent of the damage that had been done was analyzed and catalogued while a parade of doctors and social workers impressed upon him that he had very nearly succeeded in killing himself, which, of course, was wrong. None of them offered any reasons as to why it was wrong, but it was now his own damn fault that he had to use a walker to get around and that his fingers and his legs constantly hurt him. The damage done to his nervous system was similar to diabetic neuropathy, the doctors said. It was quite possibly permanent. He might never be able to do something as simple and enjoyable as climbing a tree or even walking across a field again. James had always been a child of nature, someone who enjoyed getting wet, muddy, and dirty, even if it was from something as simple as sitting on the ground next to a creek...

In his current state, James wouldn't even be able to make his way down the slope from the path to where she was now. Even the path would be a struggle for him, one that would be frustrating and that he would be likely to avoid these days.

Her heart felt like it had swelled incredibly, to the point where it was pressing against her stomach, her throat, and her chest all at once, threatening to burst. The subject hadn't been changed. It seemed inescapable, unavoidable. If there was a rule to tripping, it was that you had to go with the flow and ride things out, even if they were unpleasant, to be able to find your way back to yourself. She had to counsel herself through this or let it ruin the experience for her. Or she had to talk her way through it.

"I've had a hard time feeling sorry for him," Jade told Theo, "because he the damage done to him was self-inflicted. But it wasn't really, was it? He hadn't intended to live through it. He'd been forced to live through it, and now he's living in a dysfunctional body. Life must be worse for him now than it was before."

"Perhaps," Theo replied. He didn't elaborate, didn't need to. At that moment, Jade understood that neither of them understood, and certainly couldn't assume, what James was feeling or going through right now. Maybe James himself didn't understand and was working his own way through it. Whatever he was experiencing now, he hadn't shared with Jade, and Jade hadn't asked. She realized that, without meaning to, she had distanced herself from her friend since his attempted suicide. She hadn't been able to talk to him about it; she was still processing how she felt about it.

"He'll end up trying again," she stated, her throat thick and dry at once.

Theo got to his feet, making a production of stretching and walking in a half circle, but he simply ended up at her back with his chin resting on her shoulder in a familiar position of comforting that he had often assumed in life when she was upset. He sat back down, chest pressed against her back as his head continued to sit on her shoulder, parallel to hers. Now their view of the creek was virtually identical. "There's no way of knowing. He's living now, isn't he?"

It was true. Although he was avoiding nature like he had suddenly developed an allergy to it, he wasn't avoiding life generally. James seemed to be altering his life into a new mold, one that he could live in with his new physical condition. He was adapting, and he certainly didn't seem to carrying around a cloud of resentment. But what it came back down to was she had no way of knowing until she asked him. And at the moment, it felt like it was finally time to talk to him about his attempt to end his life; about the choice he had made to die and what that meant to him now. "I wish he was here," she said. "He should be."

"He is."

For a moment, Jade imagined that she had heard James' sweet, gentle voice and not Theo's gravelly growl. She more than half-expected James to come strolling out, smiling, from behind a tree, sans walker with both legs working perfectly fine, as if the whole experience of a member of her chosen family trying to die had been a nightmare of contemplation, a horrible what-if that she was being woken from.

The moment vanished as reality, such as it was at the moment, was firmly reasserted in the fact that the voice was Theo's coming from almost directly in her ear. Somehow, this experience of sharing a conversation and a creekside view with her dog, whose life had been extinguished before her eyes, was much more firmly anchored and seemed far less incredulous than a reality where James could join them as if his suicide attempt had never happened. A faint part of her found this curious, but even that part of her was accepting of the here and now as it seemed. "What the hell does that mean?" she asked the pitbull. She shifted her body so that his head was forced off her shoulder and turned so that she was looking into his beautiful, wrinkly face.

Her old friend turned and put his nose to the rock she had been occupying earlier. On its mossy surface was a very plain brown snail with an unexceptional pale shell. It was sitting still with its head lifted into the air, its stalks seeming to be very alert of the two larger creatures before it.

Jade tried and failed to stifle an almost hysterical giggle. "What are you saying?" she asked the dog. "That James is projecting himself in the body of a snail?"

"This snail," Theo said calmly and slowly, "is a manifestation of whoever needs to be it at the moment. So, yes, that is almost exactly what I am saying."

Now Jade barked her laughter at the surrounding trees. She looked at Theo, then at the snail, able to suppress herself only for a moment before letting out another bray at their surroundings. At the moment, everything was just way too funny. Having this conversation while tripping on mushrooms with her dead dog who was now telling her that James was present in the form of a snail finally struck her as completely insane, and she allowed herself to revel in that insanity. Hysterical laughter bubbled out from her belly, sending a feeling of relief flooding through her. So she was insane, had to be, and that was extremely reassuring and okay with her at the moment. As she accepted how incredulous this situation was, her laughter died down to near-hiccupping sobs, then heavy breathing that took her at least a full minute to get under control.

"Okay," she said, "Theo" - nodding to the dog - "James" - then to the snail - "Happy Beltaine. I'm glad you two are here with me. Such as it is." Neither animal said anything. Jade rested her back against the mossy rock with the snail inches away from her head. Theo sank to his belly to rest his heavy skull on one of her legs. She rode out the rest of her high in silence like that, watching the shifting shadows and light as the time passed until she was certain she was no longer tripping, then heard the horn blast that signified to everyone on the Land that dinner was being served at the Barn.

The faint queasiness that mushrooms left in her stomach was begging for food to be put on top of it. "I better go eat something," she said, scratching Theo behind the ears. He stood and faced her with one of his classic grins with his tongue hanging out slightly, then he gave a short, sharp bark, turned, and disappeared into the darkening woods. She rose to her own feet and turned to look at the rock. The snail was gone. She couldn't even see any residue from its passing.

But she knew now that it had been there. And that part of James had been there with her, and that her dead four-legged friend had somehow been entirely here on this magical day, that she had just passed the time when the veil between this world and others was supposedly at its thinnest, this day of transformation and rebirth, with two of the people closest to her in the entire world. It hadn't been a mushroom-induced hallucination and she wasn't insane.

It just was.