A Yellow Pill


<img src="https://i.ebayimg.com/images/g/xM0AAOSwvgdW2b1g/s-l1600.jpg&quot; alt="mug with the words triaminicin: the sunshine pill“/>

When my mother had a headache, she would lay in her bed with the curtains drawn and call out for me to bring her a wrung-out washcloth and a “yellow pill.”

After some research, I figured out that the yellow pill was a Triaminicin tablet.

A combination of Chlorphenamine, Paracetamol, and Pseudoephedrine, Triaminicin was sold as an antihistimine until it was discontinued in the early 2000s, when drugs containing phenylpropanolamine, or PPA, were shown to be a possible source of strokes and cardiac arrests.

Chloraphenamine is known as a “sedating antihistamine.”

Paracetemol is another name for acetaminophen – which commonly sold in the United States as “Tylenol.”

Pseudoephedrine was formerly sold “over the counter” in U.S. drugstores, and was marketed under the name “Sudafed.” The new Sudafed product available over the counter is called Sudafed PE, and uses phenylephrine instead of pseudoephedrine.

Pseudoephedrine is still sold, but you must ask for it at the pharmacist’s window, and often customers must sign a confirmation of purchase to aid in limiting the amount sold to each person.

This is because it is often used to make methamphetamines.

So, a downer, an upper, and a painkiller. Seems like a reasonable balance.

Guess I can’t blame the Yellow Pills for much, after all.

Don’t Hitchhike

Warning: This post includes mentions of torture and sexual slavery (not mine)

A hard-sided waterbed

In the 1970s we had a waterbed in our extra room. It was my mom’s “study,” but it also had a small black and white television on a dresser in the closet, and I spent time lounging on the bed and watching television. I loved that waterbed.

On May 19, 1977, 20-year-old Colleen Stan was hitchhiking near Eugene, Oregon, when she was picked up by a couple with a baby. For the next seven years, she was tortured, raped, and brainwashed by Cameron Hooker.

She became known as the “Girl in the Box” because her captors often confined her to a box underneath the couple’s waterbed. Hooker also forced her to wear various gags, blindfolds, and a sometimes left her confined in a 20-pound “head box.”

When I did the math, I realized that I couldn’t have been thinking about this when I lay on the waterbed, even though I remembered doing so. Stan wasn’t released until 1984, and the waterbed was long gone by then.

So why did I remember my mother telling me a story about a woman with no arms and legs trapped in a box under a waterbed?

I thought this memory was a fiction, a mash-up of Stan’s story and the 1994 episode of The X-Files about the incestuous family that kept their armless and legless mother on a cart under a bed. The memory pre-dated both of these things, but the past is a malleable place. Weird coincidence (?) time: I now live four miles from the town of Home that is referenced in the episode.

As my mother represented this story as true, I did some more research to see if there was any basis in fact.

I found the story of Mary Vincent.

On September 29, 1978, Lawrence Singleton picked up Vincent in Berkeley, California. About 100 miles later, he raped her, cut off her arms, and threw her in a culvert to die. She survived, made her way to the road, and was rescued by the people in the second car that came along.

Singleton was convicted in 1979, and my mother told me Vincent’s story to warn me that I shouldn’t hitchhike.

I was eleven years old.

Quiet

When we lived in California, my mother spent her time at home in bed with the shades drawn because she had migraines. I was allowed to bring her hot wrung-out washcloths to put over her eyes and “yellow pills.” I could not make any noise, because that would make her pain worse.

I wrote this character study about Severus Snape for an age fest – I was assigned Severus Snape birth-10 years old.

His mother had headaches, too.

A note about my fanfiction. If you wanted to, you could use my fanfic name to look up my stories. However, I have written only two rated G stories in my life. The rest is very, very explicit Harry Potter slash (depicting gay relationships). My nickname in fandom circles is “Dirty, Bad, Wrong.” Caveat Emptor.

Magpie

Title: Magpie
Category: One
Author: annescriblerian
Beta Reader(s): Her husband.
Rating: G
Warning(s): None.
Note: Thanks to my husband for the beta. I finally wrote a story he wasn’t too embarrassed to read!
Summary: Severus makes the most of what he finds.

Severus Snape was very good at being quiet. He knew how to move about his house without making a bump or a creak. This was quite an accomplishment; the house where he lived was quite old and was practically falling apart because his father couldn’t be bothered to fix anything.

After making it up the stairs, Severus took a deep breath. Hardest bit done. Wouldn’t do to get too confident, though. He couldn’t afford to relax. He hugged the wall as he crept along the upstairs hallway. The floorboards on the side were less worn down than the ones in the middle, and they were less likely to groan. He had to duck to avoid the few photos that hung on the wall, but the pattern of bobbing was automatic by now.

His father wasn’t even at home, but the imperative of silence was too ingrained in him for Severus to move in any other manner. Besides, he didn’t want to disturb his mother. If she were asleep, he wouldn’t wake her.

Severus opened his mother’s bedroom door millimeter by millimeter. When he finally peeped into the room, the feeble light that shone in from the hallway lit up his mother’s eyes. They were the only things visible in the pitch-black room. Her eyes were also what people called black, but Severus knew that they were the darkest blue, just like his own eyes. They glittered like negative images of stars in the ribbon of light.

Severus was excited to see that she was awake, but at the same time he was chagrined. He had yet to catch her out, no matter how carefully he approached and opened her door. He rarely saw her sleep. He knew that she slept most of the day; she was saving her energy for the times when her husband was at home. It didn’t pay to be anything less than completely awake when Tobias Snape was on a rampage.

At least Severus could wedge his bed against the door of his room whilst he slept. But his mother had to share a bedroom with that brute.

Even though it was obvious that his mother had seen him, Severus still entered the room as silently as possible. He wouldn’t so much as vibrate the floor. It would kill him to cause her a moment of extra pain.

“Would you like me to refresh your flannel, mother?”

“Yes, please. Make it very hot, darling. The pain is bad today. Don’t worry about the gas bill.”

Severus flinched at the mention of the gas bill, and vowed to work harder on his warming charms. If his father somehow sensed the use of magic, the only one to suffer the consequences would be Severus. But every penny spent on gas meant one fewer pence left for buying groceries. Even if she dared to use her wand, his mother couldn’t conjure food out of thin air.
~~~~*

Most witches, his mother included, used the bark of the willow. Severus had discovered that the sap actually contained more of the required substance, though it had to be used with caution because of its greater potency. Also, as he wasn’t allowed proper potions tools, like the ones he saw in his mother’s old schoolbooks, it was easier to dilute sap than it was to extract the required component from bark.

Muggles had a name for the powerful agent found in the willow: salicylic acid. Severus didn’t like the sound of it. He’d read the few books on chemistry available at his school library, and had found them interesting. But in general, he didn’t have much use for Muggle science. It was clumsy, inefficient. He much preferred potions. Severus’s innate magic allowed him to sense how potions would work. His mother had also been aces at potions, back when she’d gone to Hogwarts.

Before she met his father.

Severus deliberately pushed the thoughts of his father back down into the darkness of his mind, where they belonged. Any taint of bitterness would disturb the healing qualities of the pain draught he was making for his mother.
~~~~*

The vervain and peppermint were dried. Stealing decorative plants, which was all that the ignorant Muggles in their fancy houses saw these herbs as, required a lot of walking and some careful planning.

It had been easier when he was smaller; people didn’t complain if a little child picked some of their plants, even a child as ugly and unkempt as Severus Snape. But now that he was a rather tall nine-year-old, he was seen as a vandal. And not just by the rich folk.

It had become more and more apparent that he could expect no quarter from anyone in his own neighborhood. He used to be able to linger about storefronts and the better sort of yards, using their respectability to make himself too much of a bother for bullies. Nowadays he was more likely to be tolerated by the bullies than by the respectable folk, to be honest.

Severus had managed to win the grudging respect of Rowan, the leader of the meanest bunch, when the ginger saw him escaping a much larger boy. Severus had never hesitated to fight dirty. He was tall for his age, but the same growth spurt that made him so tall had left his undernourished frame even bonier than it would have been anyway. Going for his opponents’ weak spots and then making a quick getaway was his only chance.

Rowan found Severus’s refusal to yield funny, and he’d adopted him as a sort of stray. That did nothing to protect Severus when Rowan wasn’t around, however. And who knew how long this older boy’s fancy would favor him? Severus knew well that powerful people couldn’t be trusted. Rowan found him amusing today; tomorrow Rowan might find it amusing to watch his followers beat Severus to a pulp.

No, other peoples’ whims were nothing to count on. That sure and hard-won knowledge didn’t stop Severus hoping, though. On his last foray up the hill to the posh neighborhood, he’d met another redhead who’d found him amusing. Her hair wasn’t shocking orange like Rowan’s; it was a lovely dark red, like a maple leaf in autumn. She was lovely.

When he’d first seen her laughing, Severus had assumed she was laughing at him. He hadn’t been quite sure what to do. Usually other people’s laughter drove him immediately into a rage, and he struck without thinking. But this girl was so beautiful, and she seemed so happy. He was ashamed to find himself willing to be mocked by her. He’d suffer any ignominy to see her flushed with laughter.

When she’d looked straight at him with a welcoming smile and pointed up in the air, his head had snapped up before he’d thought. He hadn’t thought twice about baring his throat to her, he realized later. Then, he’d been entranced by what he’d seen above him. Two butterflies, one scarlet and one black, had fluttered wildly around one another; their contrasting colors flashing like a beacon.

Severus had slunk away while she was still looking up and laughing, wanting to remember her long, white throat and waterfall of crimson hair rather than the scornful look that would surely result when she took a better look at just who she was laughing with.

He was half-afraid to go back up the hill again. The urge to seek her out, to make her laugh, already burned inside of him. Best to smother such a flame before it became bright enough to burn him.
~~~~*

No matter. The important thing, he reminded himself was to make the potion for his mother. He didn’t have time to think about other children. His mother needed him.

The thought of his mother, lying in her bed with a warm flannel over her eyes, was also pushed down into the darkness of his mind. Just as hate would poison the potion, so would love. Potions required an absolute discipline of the heart as well as the mind.

As he always did, Severus had done what was necessary. His mind was clear. He had an adequate supply of dried herbs. And he was lucky enough to have found this willow tree; the small, secret hideaway formed by its low-hanging branches was just a bonus.

No one ever bothered him when he was crouched in the shelter of the willow. Those who drove boats up and down that dark river had better things to do than to investigate shadows behind its branches, even if they had noticed them. And the muck at the very edge of the river kept everyone who might approach from land away. Even the most determined explorers, or bullies, had no desire to slog through that filth. Severus knew this from experience it took days to dry, even in the warm months. He’d had enough beatings from the biggest bully of them all, his father, for the squelching stink that the mud left on his sole pair of shoes.

He knew that he was not alone in that department. Hardly a night went by without shouting from somewhere in the neighborhood, and sharp smacks or the smash of broken crockery usually followed. It meant that Severus never had to explain the bruises he sported, but it also made his father feel like his despotism was perfectly normal.

Severus was disgusted by the cruelty that the monsters around him showed to their own flesh and blood. He never stopped being grateful that none of them had magic. The mere thought of what someone like his father would do with magic made him shudder.
~~~~*

Severus was having trouble stilling his mind and focusing completely on the process of creating the potion. He put down the herbs and the pewter bowl he had nicked from his elderly neighbor. He felt no guilt about the theft; the old lady had been using it to feed the dozens of stay cats that she drew to their block. Muggles had absolutely no understanding of the usefulness of the things around them.

He sat down on the makeshift bench he had cobbled together and leaned back against the trunk of the willow. He rested his hands on his thighs, leaned his head back, and thought of nothing. Nothing was black, and it was so cold that it would burn you until you accepted it. Severus barely felt the sting anymore when he slipped into the darkness; it had become his ally.

Once he was alone in his mind, he opened his eyes. All that was left in the world was him and the things he needed to make potions.

He could use as much peppermint as he wanted. It was a neutral to the other ingredients, and it served to calm the stomach as well as to improve the taste of the potion. The bitter pill of his mother’s life was hard enough to swallow without the addition of foul-tasting brews to the mix.

The vervain served as a relaxant and gave protection against evil. Even though his father called Severus and his mother evil, Severus knew better. He knew what evil was, and it wasn’t magic.

The willow sap was the most powerful, and the most dangerous ingredient. If he used too much, the potion would eventually burn a hole in his mother’s stomach, peppermint or no. His hand was perfectly stable as he added the right number of drops.

Now came the hard part. Without his magic the mixture of herbs and willow sap would work to relieve his mother’s pain, but it would have a fraction of the power he could force into it. Someday, his mother promised him, he would have a wand. For now, Severus had discipline and will.

It had gotten so much easier than it was when mother had first taught him to make the headache powder four years ago. Back then it really was just a dry mix of herbs and bark, nothing like a potion. Over the years he had experimented with ingredients and proportions, methods of mixing and different levels of heat. The most important change that had come with age, however, was his ability to sense the potential of things and his willingness to do whatever it took to realize that potential.

His focus was so strong today that the force of his resolve created an excess of magic. Severus knew when the potion was complete; any more power would push it too far and turn it to poison. He wrenched his focus away from the bowl in his hand and turned toward the river.

As the invisible blast of magic continued to surge out of him, Severus focused on the dirty water before him. His eyes snagged on the brightly colored crisp and sweets wrappers that clung to the shore, as if they were trying to escape drowning. The contrast of their bright colors with the filth which clung to them reminded him of the girl from up the hill and the butterflies flashing scarlet and black.

He smiled as the wrappers rose and began to spin. They formed a beautiful spiral, flashing for an instant in the darkness that defined Spinner’s End and Severus’s life.

Severus laughed as his magic ebbed, and the wrappers sank back down into the murky water, exhausted by their brief flight.

Severus’s father said that all magic was evil, and he said that Severus and his mother were inherently evil.

Severus knew, with the certainty of his almost ten years, that he would always be seen as a dark stain on the beauty of others. The world would continue to give him only garbage, and he would have to steal everything else. His future assuredly would be dark.

But he would not bend under the cruelty of the world. He would continue to learn how to make magic out of the things that other people ignored or threw away.

He would force the world to face the darkness they hated so fiercely. He would force them to see him, Severus Snape.

And they would never forget him.

Four Pi

Symbol of the Satanic cult Four Pi

When I did some research to identify the witches who pushed my mother down the stairs, I discovered that there was a Satanic cult operating in the late 1960s and 1970s called “Four Pi.” Several elements in the description of this cult matched the things my mother had said about t: they sacrificed black dogs and cats in their rituals, they claimed to perform human sacrifice, and their leader – the “Grand Chingon” – was a middle-aged, wealthy California businessman. 

Animal and human sacrifice are common elements of self-proclaimed Satanic cults, but the middle-aged businessman as leader seemed unusual enough to be more than a coincidental match. For a time in the 1970s, my mother worked as a real estate broker. She had told me that the pressure to join the “coven” came from a wealthy businessman whom she had met through her real estate deals.

I found this information about Four Pi in the book Cannibal Serial Killers: Profiles of Depraved Flesh-eating Murderers, by Christopher Berry-Dee, which was published in 2011. Berry-Dee was summarizing information that journalist Ed Sanders had gathered in 1969 while doing research for his book The Family: The Story of Charles Manson’s Dune Buggy Attack Battalion, which was first published in 1971.

I am not sure whether Four Pi was real and actually tried to recruit my mother or whether she read The Family and adopted the Four Pi section as part of her life. I’m also not sure which option scares me more – Satanists [1] or a mother who couldn’t tell the difference between reality and fantasy.

[1] Satanists are not necessarily cult members who perform murders. In general, Satanism is a philosophy based on the perceived practices and beliefs of Satan. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satanism

Princess Tuvstarr

Illustration by John Bauer

Princess Tuvstarr persuaded Skutt the Moose to take her away from her palace so she could see the world. As they wandered through the dark forest, Skutt warned her to hold on to his antlers with both hands. When they encountered fairies, she reached out to them and they stole her golden crown. The Lady of the Forest stole the princess’s golden dress in the same manner. When she climbed down to take a drink from a tarn, her golden locket fell from her neck into the water. There she sits, looking for her lost heart until this very day.

When I was young, my mother gave me a book of Swedish Fairy Tales with illustrations by John Bauer. Little Princess Cottongrass was my favorite. She looked just like me and she had adventures like I wanted to have and she was trapped like I was.

Years ago, my husband gave me a copy of this book. I tried to read it, but I couldn’t even open the book without crying.

Tarot

My first tarot deck was the Alice in Wonderland deck.

Created by Morgana Abbey

For the last three Halloweens I have dressed up as the Red Queen. I didn’t really realize that when I looked into that mirror, I was my mother. I have also thought of Maleficent as my mother – refusing to bless the newborn girl. But the Red Queen does speak to me. I get so tired of thinking about other peoples’ feelings that I want to scream. When do I get to be the selfish one? I have also wanted to be the Joker and watch the world burn. But that’s not me. Maybe someday.

The first deck I bought for myself was the Hanson-Roberts deck.

Created by Mary Hanson-Roberts

The 17th major arcana card in this deck, The Star, reminded me of Princess Tuvstarr from the Swedish fairy tale. But instead of wasting away looking for her lost heart, The Star represents intuition, generosity, and freedom. Just like the interpretation of Vasalisa in Women Who Run With Wolves. I always identified with blond heroines, like Alice, Tuvstarr, and Vasalisa. Girls who were fair in all senses of the world and who wander the dark forest, with the help of animals or dolls and childish logic. The Star reframes this isolation as freedom. Alone, as my mother lay in bed, I suppose I was free.

Sacrificed

Every time the school bus drove past the stump she pictured him.

Her mother told her there were witches. They lived in Santa Cruz, just a few towns over. They wanted her mother to join their coven. Her mother whispered this information, as though the witches could hear them in their own house, with the doors locked and the curtains drawn.

When her mother said “No” to the witches, they got angry. Her mother felt invisible hands push her down the stairs in front of their house, and she fell into the carport. The girl pictured the witches driving past their house in the night, slowing down and staring. She listened to each car that passed in the night, wondering which one held the witches.

She was frightened for her mother. She wasn’t frightened for herself until her mother told her that the witches practiced human sacrifice. They would take children right from their beds.

So every time the bus drove past that stump she pictured a boy there. A boy her age: nine years old. He was naked and sprawled on his back. His ribs stuck up, visible through his skin. His arms and legs were spread out, hanging limply. His head was thrown back, exposing his throat. An invisible hand thrust a knife down, through the boy’s breastbone. The bus drove on. No one else looked.