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A Slight Bend in the Road

We interrupt your regularly scheduled posts about nothing to have a post about something. A novel concept isn’t it? And no, this isn’t a work in progress update. I’ll likely have my next one of those sometime in November1That’s my hope at least. We’ll see if that happens..

Over the past few months, I’ve intermittently lamented on Twitter how things aren’t exactly taking off for me. It’s a phenomenon I’ve faced before with my first book, as well as one I’m facing now both with my Patreon, as well as the editing services I offer. It’s frustrating to say the least. I feel like I promote the work I do pretty frequently on the limited social media I have. It’s to the point where I feel like I’m doing self-promotion too frequently, which has to be annoying as all hell to those who follow me.

So I took to Twitter looking for advice. How could I better use my blog to show off what I do? I’m wasn’t necessarily looking to make drastic changes before receiving advice, though I wasn’t opposed to the idea if it made sense at the time. My main goal, however, was to find out if people I interact with — be they other bloggers, readers of this blog, writers, or just people who give me good advice — thought making drastic changes to push my freelancing/Patreon work made sense with my blog.

I was fortunate enough to receive some great feedback from this request. Leading this off (as well as spawning quite a bit of additional feedback from others) was a few tweets from David Carlson of Young Adult Money. I’ve watched David grow his side projects significantly in the time I’ve followed him and his blog, so if anyone has advice on this from personal experience, it’d be him.

If all I’m looking to do with my site is freelancing, I think what David is saying makes a lot of sense. I need a portfolio of works that I can clearly show on my site to highlight the work I’ve done. While I’m building a portfolio currently, aside from the resume writing I’ve done, I don’t have a particularly long portfolio at this point. Even beyond that, a couple of the projects I have worked on have been writers who are writing under pen names, meaning that they’ve also hesitant to tie testimonials to their work2While this hasn’t always been my experience with authors writing semi-anonymously, I have found it’s more frequent than not.. So, what other ideas would potentially help spread the word about what I do? Dem and Charles provided some insight that had crossed my mind, but that I didn’t think about too much.

Human interaction. Cool. I can do that. I already do it in a lot of cases. I make an effort to personally reply to every person who leaves a comment on my blog3Except for that one guy who left comments on my Fire Emblem posts in Portuguese. The extent of my knowledge of Portuguese was a few words I learned to flirt with a girl from Sao Paulo in one of my college classes. I don’t think that’ll help.. I do my best to interact with people I know who read my blog, be that on Twitter, by sharing their content, or by being a consumer of their work myself. I feel like I do this a good bit now.

With that said, I also feel like this runs the risk of becoming super annoying, as I mentioned earlier in the post. It can feel disingenuous to constantly be trying to promote your work. I did that very early on with my college radio show on my Facebook, only to get feedback from quite a few people that I was talking about my show way too much. I’m not sure if that stuck with me more than it should of or if I really was that annoying4And since my Facebook is long deleted, I have no way of checking., however I do worry about being that annoying guy on social media who doesn’t shut up about the work I do.

One of my regular reads, Todd, shared this sentiment in his feedback.

I do get a lot of traffic to the regular blog content I write. I reached my entire 2017 blog traffic volume before mid-August of this year. The past four months have been four of the five best months my blog has ever had traffic wise (though comments are lagging recently). And in order to get eyes on my site, I need traffic. So I do think keeping the blog itself is great, both short and long term. Plus there’s always the idea that Victoria presented about trying to keep the current blog format and just better highlight my technical knowledge, either on the blog or in stories I write.

With all that feedback in mind, I’ve decided to make some modest changes to my site in order to better emphasize the work I do, along with keeping my blog active. You might have noticed the new home page5This went up September 15 for those wondering. Thanks to Stephanie, Tabitha, and my wife for their feedback on the layout. when you came here. This page now features a slider with some of my commonly accessed content, as well as a quick link to my freelancing work. Just below that, you’ll find other links, which include my Patreon and more info about the other media I have (including my book). I’ve also added testimonials to the home page (which is still being worked on as we speak).

While much of what I mentioned above is still being built out or is a work in progress in some capacity, I have transitioned the site to a new color scheme. While I’m not 100% sure exactly how I want the color scheme to fully be used on the site yet — especially with the slider — I did decide that it was time to go away from my previous scheme. Keeping the charcoal gray and Volunteer orange theme was something I seriously considered, as I do love that color pairing. That said, you’ll start to see some greens, teals, and beige/golds on the site in the near future. A new logo is coming soon too, as I really haven’t had a good one of those to speak of6This is because I’m garbage at Photoshop/Canva..

Although this is still a work in progress, I do very much feel like I’ve taken some steps in the right direction. I appreciate the feedback everyone gave to me as part of my desperate search for inspiration. If you have additional feedback about my quandary as to how to market my work better, or you just want to talk about the site redesign, feel free to throw some of your thoughts in the comments.

Mid-Month Short Story Challenge #14

Welcome to September. It’s the perfect time to start kicking back with a cup of hot cocoa and watch as the leaves begin to turn. Or that’s what books want us to think. In reality, it’s the time of year — at least in Ohio — filled with absurdly hot weekdays followed by rainy, muggy weekends. I know you’re likely wondering how the weather knows to rain on the weekend. And I can’t answer that. It’s just science1It’s not actually science. That’s not how science works..

It’s been a couple of months since our MMSSC prompt hasn’t had a theme explicitly tied to it. And since there will be one that’s also very thematic next month2Spoiler alert., this month’s prompt will be a bit more straight forward.

Your prompt is for this month below. Your story should be posted on October 1, 2018. Be sure to link back to this post so I can see your story and share.

  • Suggested number of words: Minimum 500 words, no maximum
  • Seven words to work into your story: Sun, community, quest, happily, cave, diving, ring
  • Genre: No limitations
  • Rating/Content/Perspective Limitation: First person perspective is encouraged, though not required.
  • Topic: Write a story centering around change.

Travel for Travel’s Sake

Over the past decade or so, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to travel a good bit for work at various jobs. I’ve gone on work trips with three of my last four employers, including trips to Manila, San Diego, Boston, Chicago, and other locations. I’ve written about a handful of those trips, including a recent venture to the city with the worst food on the planet.

One of the few places I haven’t had the chance to visit — either directly or via an airplane layover — was the state of New York. I’ve technically been there via a short layover in LaGuardia during undergrad, however I haven’t set foot in the actual state for any reason. So I went to the place that everyone thinks of when they think of the state of New York. Buffalo.

The thing about travelling that I’ve noticed1And I’m certain I’m not the only person to think this way. is that the more I like the food available in the city I’m in, the more likely I am to like the city itself. There are some exceptions to the rule, as there are cities with really good food that I’m not a particular fan of (Pittsburgh, Cleveland), as well as cities I love with food that isn’t so great (Santander, Spain comes to mind). Regardless of my thoughts on each individual city, the act of travelling is pretty great.

Prior to the age of 18, I had never been out of a one state radius of Ohio. Even then, nearly all of my trips out of state were to visit family that lived in the southeastern part of Kentucky. It wasn’t until college when I got to travel by myself for the first time that I truly understood the appeal to travel. Yeah, airports and planning can be hectic. And yes, if you pack your travel schedule too tightly with too many activities, travelling can be a draining experience. But the idea of exploring somewhere new for the first time is exciting.

That’s not to say I go into my travel blind. I’m the type of person that looks at maps2Be that Google Maps now or paper maps in my childhood and early adulthood. Even though I wasn’t travelling as a child, I still loved looking at maps. in excruciating detail prior to going on any planned trip. I love to know the layout of the city I’m travelling to. In many cases, I want to know where the history of the city is. That way, if time and funds allow me to, I can see that historical place for myself. And while some cities have more interesting places to visit than others3Every cathedral in Spain was the same thing. I know they’re all different. But I wanted to pull my hair out after hearing about how yet another church was built by rich people to honor some saint I didn’t care about., there’s still an appeal to it all, regardless of exactly what the location is.

In an ideal situation, there’s lots of places I’d love to visit. I might even write a post about those locations at some point in the nearish future. But until then, I’m going to be happy that I’ve been fortunate enough to travel a good bit for various jobs. This travel has allowed me to see interesting places (and also Tampa), eat tasty food, and get to experience locations I don’t believe I otherwise would have had the chance to see for myself.

Oh…and if you’re in Buffalo, get a pizza pod. They’re really good.

The Great Big List of Business Jargon

Business has a ton of words that are jargon-filled and yet empty at the same time. Weird Al wrote a song about it. We know these words when we hear them, but what do they actually mean? I’ve collected a list of business jargon terms and phrases from numerous people around the internet and attempted to give definitions to them.

Have your own words and rough definitions to them? Leave them in the comments. I may add them to the list (either directly or with modified definitions).

Thank you to the numerous people who contributed ideas including (in no particular order) Mike, Brandon, Stephanie, Katie, Tim, Eve, Jason, Brian, Patrick, Mike, Steven, Liz, Chris, J.P., and the CEO of Uber.

Actualize Your Potential – The action of developing onto the career path that management desires for you.

Bandwidth – Something that your manager will ask you if you have enough of before they attempt to give you extra responsibilities. This is usually followed by the addition of new work to the employee in question’s workload regardless of their answer.

Big Block/Big Rock – A giant obstacle in the way of progress. Big rocks are identified by leaders with the intent of the rock being moved or solved by many people or processes, though this rarely happens in practice.

Bringing X to the Table – A fancy way of qualifying someone’s skill set when they’re not in the room with you. In reality, you can only say someone brings X trait to the table when they’re not physically at the same table as you. Not to be confused with who is, in fact, going to give it to ya.

Business Casual – Hahahahahahahahahahahhahahahaha. Hahahahaha. Ha. No one actually know what this means.

Calibration – The act of getting everyone on the same page on a topic for just long enough that everyone stops realizing that said topic is the source of a problem.

Collaborative – Any project where two or more individuals or teams are tasked with working together by their managers or directors.

Consulting – Freelancing, only with better pay guarantees and less responsibility.

Cost Marginalization – How pompous people and/or mathematicians refer to opportunity cost changes.

Creating Buy In – The act of getting someone to care enough about your job or project that they won’t act as an impediment to you getting your job done.

Cryptokitty – Keyboard cat for hackers.

Crystallize – Any idea that is clear in the head of the person explaining it, but murky in everyone else’s minds.

Culture – Your company has a good one if you’re happy. Your company has a bad one if you’re angry.

Dedication – An employee’s willingness to do exactly what they’re asked or told to do for long enough that they can be awarded with a certificate or a plaque.

Deep Empathy – Like regular empathy, only with more business jargon. South Park did a picture perfect explanation of deep empathy.

Design Ninja – Someone who can convince shareholders, the public, or a graphics designer that Comic Sans is superior to all other sans serif fonts. Which it is1Save for Tahoma, of course., though good luck cleaning up the brains of a visual designer when their head explodes from telling them that.

Disconnect – A term used when one person thinks another person or department has a major problem, but is trying their hardest to be polite about the severity of that issue. See also: Pain Point.

Dynamic Workforce – What a manager’s workforce believes themselves to be when they can still meet their quotas despite upper management constantly changing goals. See also: Moving the Goalposts.

Experiential Training – Another way of saying hands-on training. A learning model that is rarely effective even with the most engaged learners, and a potentially catastrophic one with a disengaged learner. See also: Shadowing.

Friday Eve – Whatever day is the next to last day of your work week.

Get My/Your Head Around It – A diplomatic way of telling someone you don’t understand what they’re trying to say without offending them.

Hitting The Wall – A polite way of telling someone that you/they/their project is running out of steam.

Incentivize – The action of giving prizes as a method to increase productivity, sales, or other positive behavior you wish for your employees to exhibit. Pavlov’s dog was a nard dog.

Intentionalize – A word used to explain that you meant to take an action and you’re trying to sound smarter than someone in the process.

Integration – When used in the context of software, this is the interactivity between two or more systems. When used in the context of mergers and acquisitions, this is the action of the acquiring company picking and choosing what they want to keep of the acquired company, usually as dictated by the board of directors.

It Doesn’t Pop – Phrase used any time a presentation, design, or marketing material doesn’t have the exact type of pizzazz that a major stakeholder who has zero design experience wants. This is nearly always remedied by RANDOM Capitalization of MEANINGLESS words and Letters, extraneous use of font style changes, or by placing said presentation over and endless loop of Dave Matthews music2AKA the holy trinity of ways to get me to make fun of your presentation..

Millennials – A generation that is killing everything according to people who don’t understand how either economics or generations work.

Move the Dial – Progress on a project as viewed from a high level. Usually utilized by someone that does not have a direct connection with said project.

Networking – The act of making business connections without developing any actual friendships. These connections are most commonly used only when it is of a professional benefit, such as when searching for a job or selling.

Optics – The phenomenon wherein something you’ve done always looks far worse to you than it does to other people. Even when you know that, you still can’t help but feel like you made a mistake. Like that one time where you were cleaning out a desk that you’re moving to and you instant messaged the former office owner asking if he wanted a stash of candy wrappers you found in the desk, thinking that he had managed to get personalized peanut butter cups because you didn’t realize that Justin’s is a candy company. SHUT UP BRAIN! WHY ARE YOU REMINDING ME OF THIS AT TWO IN THE MORNING ON A TUESDAY! I JUST WANT TO SLEEP!

Overqualified – What you totally are when you don’t get a job you feel you should have.

Ownership – The act of taking responsibility to solve a problem, even when you weren’t the one to cause that problem. A trait that’s strong in customer service and information technology professionals, but weak in other fields.

Partner (v.) – To work with someone. More specifically, the person saying “I’m happy to partner with you” or some variation of the phrase is assuming that the other party will do the bulk of the work, but that both parties will receive equal credit.

Pop Up – Any computer notification, instant message, new internet window that opens when you click a link, or other computer function that does not perform as expected. Commonly used by non-IT professionals.

Self-Starter – An employee who has the ability to both do work and slack off at will without their direct manager noticing the difference.

Shareholders – A nebulous concept that leadership of public companies use to place blame on when a decision negatively impacts employees.

Sign-off – The natural conclusion of buy-in, wherein you’ve gotten enough people to care about your project that you either get funding, get manpower, or get left alone long enough to actually complete that project.

Streamline – In the context of a project or dataset, this term roughly means to make more efficient. In the context of employees, this loosely means to lay people off in an effort to increase profits to please shareholders.

Subby/Subbie – Shorthand for subcontractor. Can be a term of endearment or one of derision, depending on the quality of the work provided by said subcontractor.

Synergy – Something that your meetings have if the highest ranking person in the meeting thinks that meeting is going well. See also: Momentum, It.

The D – According to the CEO of Uber, this is apparently the power to make decisions in meetings. According to literally everyone else, this is a thing you say you need when the marketing team misspells ‘extraordinary’ in your building’s faux-motivational graphics.

Thinking Outside the Box – To propose an idea that is just different enough to everyone else’s but similar enough to your boss’s that it gets selected as a plan.

Up and to the Right – The direction the profits chart moves for a profitable business. Generally, this is a good thing. In some cases, your company’s senior leadership may profess a desire to have sexual intercourse with such charts. It’s just as creepy as it sounds.

Vita in Morte Sumus

This post is a response to August 2018’s mid-month short story challenge. Click on the link in the previous sentence to read the prompt, share your story, and read those written by others. Oddly enough, the inspiration for this story comes both from my song of choice, as well as a comment made by John Green on a recent episode of “Dear Hank and John“. My choice of the three songs listed in the post was “Creature Comfort” by Arcade Fire1I had originally written a story based on “Atlanta” by Stone Temple Pilots that dealt with the current climate towards legal and illegal immigration in parts of the USA. Upon re-reading the story, as well as a day spent with family members whose views on those topics are diametrically opposed to mine, I decided that my story needed more research prior to publishing. It’s a topic I feel strongly about, as well as one I feel like I presented from the correct point of view. That said, after seeing the venom and hatred that some people feel towards those who are different from them (not to mention how certain people think that splitting up families is a joke), I want to be certain that there are no factual inaccuracies in my story. Not because the people I was around deserve it — but because the people living through the hell that is being an immigrant in the USA today deserve my story to be as accurate of a representation as possible..


“Wake up! It’s finally here! Today is here!”

Maddie rolled over and placed her pillow atop of her head, cuddling her skull into the mattress beneath her. For a few seconds, the silence around her gave her hope that sleep was coming. But that hope was quickly shattered by her roommate, Cruz, shouting at Maddie again in her melodic, soprano voice.

“Maaaadieeeeee,” she sang. “It’s your special day!”

“Then why are you waking me up?” Maddie mumbled back from under her pillow.

“Because it’s your last chance to do anything you want!” replied Cruz. “You don’t want to miss out on that.”

Maddie sat up in bed, then threw her pillow at Cruz with a swift-moving left-handed toss. The pillow missed wide, bouncing off the wall and landing harmlessly at the foot of the bed.

“What if all I want to do all day is sleep?” asked Maddie. “I’m dying today. I should get to do whatever I want. And maybe I just want to curl up in bed and dream about sleeping while I’m sleeping.”

“But…” Cruz stammered. “What about spending time with your best friend?”

“My cat’s dead,” Maddie deadpanned.

Cruz picked up the pillow off the floor and playfully tossed it at Maddie’s head. Her throw flew truer than Maddie’s, striking Maddie’s hands just as she got them up in front of her face.

“Bitch,” said Cruz.

Maddie climbed out of bed and walked toward her dresser. She pulled out a pair of baby blue leggings, pulling them onto her legs and over her hips.

“I’m really sorry, Cruz,” stated Maddie as she dug through another drawer looking for a shirt to replace her sleeping shirt with. “What would you like to do today?”

“It’s not my day, Maddie. It’s yours. Whatever you want.”

“But I don’t know what I want. All I know is that I’m not spending this day wearing a bra. Fuck that noise.”

“Then let’s go get some coffee and figure it out from there.”

Maddie and Cruz left their apartment and walked to the nearby coffee shop they had frequented numerous times over the three years they’d lived together. Upon entering, they were greeted by Cline, a burly middle-aged man with a graying beard and a blue bandana covering his balding head.

“Good morning, ladies,” Cline bellowed out from behind the counter. “The usual?”

“That’s fine for me,” replied Cruz. “But we need to make something special for Maddie. It’s her day.”

“Oh, yay!” Cline exclaimed. “Happy birthday!”

“Not her birthday,” retorted Cruz. “Her day.

“Oh…” said Cline as his voice trailed off. “Um…well, what would you like, Maddie? It’s on me.”

“You don’t need to do that,” replied Maddie.

“Please?”

Maddie sighed. “Fine. A small decaf iced coffee and a toasted sesame seed bagel is butter.”

“Go have a seat. I’ll bring it out to you.”

Maddie and Cruz walked to the far side of the coffee shop, taking a seat near an large window that stared out to the shopping center behind the building. A small emerald green sedan rolled slowly through the lot between the coffee shop and the shopping center. Its back and sides were covered in bumper stickers of all sizes and shapes and colors. One of the largest stickers — a bright yellow sticker with bold, black font — read “EXPIRATION DATES ARE POPULATION CONTROL”.

“I hate seeing people like that out in the wild,” said Maddie.

“Why?” Cruz inquired.

“Everything is a conspiracy theory to them. I get there there are actual conspiracies out there, filled with shady people doing shady things. But most of the time it’s just people upset with something that’s out of their control.”

“Is that a bad thing?”

“Being upset isn’t bad,” replied Maddie. “Shouting as loud as you can about something you know nothing about is. Especially when there’s impressionable morons who will believe anything they hear.”

Cline walked to the table, a drink in each hand and a plate balanced on each arm. Cruz and Maddie reached out to take the plates from him as Cline carefully placed the drinks down on the table.

“Decaf iced coffee and a toasted sesame seed bagel with butter for you,” he began. “And a blueberry coconut Italian soda with a slice of lemon pound cake for you.”

“You’re the best,” Cruz said enthusiastically.

“You’ve been getting that flavor combination for nearly a year now and I still don’t understand it.”

“Have you tried it?” asked Cruz.

“Yep,” replied Cline. “It’s one of the few times in life I’ve regretted something I ate.”

Cruz shrugged. “More for me, I guess.”

The sound of sleigh bells hitting a glass door announced the arrival of new guests at the coffee shop.

“That’s my cue,” said Cline. “Maddie, if there’s anything else you want, just tell me or come help yourself. Okay?”

“I will,” she replied. “Thanks.”

Cline walked back to the front of the store where he began to make drinks for a young couple struggling to corral the three young children that had arrived with them.

“Is there anything you feel like you’re going to be missing out on?” asked Cruz, her mouth half full of pound cake.

“Nothing I’m not over,” Maddie answered. “I mean, I would have liked to have been rich and famous. But it’s hard to get either of those things by the age of twenty-six.”

“It’s not fair though. Not the not getting to be rich and famous. But you’re only twenty-six. Most people get to be around until they’re in their eighties or nineties. You don’t feel anything’s wrong with that?”

“Not really,” said Maddie. “There’s still a lot of people who think a sky spirit pre-ordains when it’s their time to die, even if it’s an untimely death. I don’t see how this is any different.”

Maddie took a drink from her coffee, closing her eyes and savoring the taste of the coffee in her mouth for a moment before swallowing.

“In fact,” Maddie continued, “it’s a better situation. I get to know when I’m dying. I could choose to ignore it, live life on the run, and then die anyway. Or I can have my shit together, say my goodbyes, and live my life the best I can in the finite time that I know I have.”

“But what about the people that’ll miss you?” asked Cruz.

“My adoptive family hasn’t spoken to me in years. My parents gave me up as a baby and I haven’t heard from them since. My group of friends has been dwindling the more people I tell about my expiration date. My cat’s dead. It’s pretty much you and the service workers I interact with that’ll notice I’m gone.”

Cruz clenched her lips together, contorting them to the side as she bit down on them from the inside. She took a deep breath in, then let it out with a long, slow exhale.

“I’ll miss you a lot,” stated Cruz.

“I know,” Maddie replied. “I’m sorry. You can keep as much or as little of my stuff as you want. Whatever helps you.”

“I appreciate it. What time is it?”

“A quarter to eight.”

“You have to be there at nine, right?”

“Yeah.”

“We should get going then.”

Maddie and Cruz took the last few bites of their food, then packed up to leave the coffee shop, their drinks in hand. Cline waved at them from behind the counter, though only Cruz returned a wave, albeit a half-hearted one.

The Expiration Bureau was a large sandstone building on the edge of the downtown area. It has previously been a bank, as well as a hotel before that. But with the formation of local Expiration Bureau offices by the National Board of Human Services and Well-Being, many cities found their largest — and often most well-known — buildings converted into Expiration Bureaus.

Maddie and Cruz entered the building and proceeded to a large reception desk with several employees seated behind it. After a short wait, they stepped up to a middle aged man wearing a cobalt blue suit.

“Your full name and birth date, please?” he asked, not bothering to look up from the screen he was about to enter the information into.

“Madeline Niko Raymond. Born November 1, 2084.”

“One moment,” said the man.

Behind her right shoulder, Maddie heard Cruz begin to sniffle. She reached back and grabbed Cruz’s hand, grasping it tightly in hers.

“It’s okay,” Maddie whispered.

“No it’s not,” Cruz whispered back.

“Do you wish to submit a final will and testament, Ms. Raymond?” asked the man.

“I do,” said Maddie. “I wish for all my possessions, physical, digital, and financial, to be turned over to Cruz Selena Reyes Ortega.”

“Is that who’s here with you today?” inquired the man.

“It is,” replied Maddie.

“Ms. Ortega,” continued the man, “please state your name and date of birth so that the system can locate you and complete the final will and testament process.”

“Cruz Selena Reyes Ortega,” stated Cruz. “Born January 11, 2086.”

The man waited for the voice verification system to process Cruz’s information. He scrolled through the prompts that followed, tapping various boxes and radio buttons as he did so.

“Would you like any final pictures taken prior to processing?” the man asked.

“No, thank you,” replied Maddie.

“Any pets, children, or non-emancipated robotic beings where custody would need to be transferred to a family member, domestic partner, or other willing and financially responsible entity?”

“No.”

“Do you wish to opt out of the national organ donation program?”

“I do not.”

“Do you have a preferred method of processing?”

“Can you make me famous?” asked Maddie.

“I cannot, Ms. Raymond.”

“Then just make it painless.”

The man tapped at more options on the screen, his eyes glancing back and forth as he read through the various prompts on the screen.

“Do you need more than legally required hour and a half of visitation to say goodbye to friends, family, or business associates?”

Maddie looked back at Cruz. As Cruz stared at the floor in front of her, she shook her head slightly from side to side.

“No,” Maddie murmured. “I do not.”

The man motioned for Maddie to place her hand in a translucent blue box in front of her. The box felt warm around Maddie’s hand. After a few moments, she felt a gelatinous fluid filling the box around her fingers. The fluid filled the box nearly completely, though just as Maddie started to feel pressure from the fluid building on her hand, the box began to buzz and the fluid began to recede. The fluid completed its escape, the box stopped buzzing, and Maddie’s hand was freed from the box. She pulled it away, her hand covered in a pale white powdery film.

“Go down the door on the far end of the lobby,” said the man as he gestured toward the door with two fingers. “Place your hand under the scanner and wait for the door to open. Follow the purple line to the visitation area if you so desire. After your visitation ends, you’ll follow the white line back to your room. Do you understand, Ms. Raymond?”

“I do,” said Maddie.

“Ms. Ortega,” continued the man. “Once visitation ends, advise one of the attendants that you’re Ms. Raymond’s primary heir. You’ll be taken to handle any and all final arrangements for Ms. Raymond, as well as to process her will. Do you understand, Ms. Ortega?”

Cruz nodded.

“Ms. Ortega, I need verbal confirmation,” the man stated.

“I understand,” replied Cruz between sobs.

“Thank you both. You’re free to go. Welcome home, Ms. Raymond.”