Skinship: That Which Binds Us (Part 1)

Mickie

And thus came the point in Cutter’s life where the number of people he knows—-them what breathes—-were equally balanced with the people he knew—-them what don’t. At the moment he was ruminating on one such them what don’t, an odd and utterly frustrating yet absolutely captivating and charming woman whom he only knew as Mickie.

There were icebreaker questions and fill-in-the-blank statements designed for people who found making small talk with absolute strangers in order to attract a mate or at the very least make a new friend. One of the more popular among these was the incomplete statement, “The first thing people usually notice about me is…”. With Mickie, it was her voice. Spoken, it was smooth enough to polish silver. In song? It was cool and blue and crystalline and bright enough to transport even the dourest of souls to better times, despite whatever kind of mood they were in.

Her hope was to pursue a singing career and every summer she would trudge down to Washington Square Park, guitar in tow, and sing to anyone who would listen to her. Even though she was an atheist, she hoped the god of dumb luck would smile down upon her and help her get discovered. And even though that never happened, it didn’t stop her from trying.

Cutter possessed no pictures of Mickie and only the vaguest of images lingered in his mind of the petite woman, barely bigger than her guitar, who belted out folk tunes that resonated from Greenwich Village all the way up to Carnegie Hall.

But, singing aside, she wasn’t a well woman. She had her first psychotic break when she was eleven. Moody and tearful one moment and positively beaming the next. Then she began disappearing for days at a stretch, only to reappear battered with what appeared to be self-inflicted wounds and no memory of what happened or where she had been.

When Mickie was in her positive state, she was big on physical contact. Always so overly affectionate and the type of person that simply had to touch whomever she was talking to. Cutter couldn’t lie, it used to annoy the hell out of him. He loved her like he loved bacon, but he wasn’t raised by affectionate parents which ultimately shaped him into an elbow room kind of guy. He even brought it up in conversation one day when she was super touchy-feely.

It’s skinship,” Mickie smiled in reply. “I share it with you; you share it me, shit, we all share it with everybody we come in contact with. It’s an important part of communication. The kind we forget about because we’re all so wrapped up in words, which is stupid because I can touch you right now and convey more meaning than if I spoke to you for four days straight. My hand on yours binds us in a way that nothing else on this earth can.

At the time Cutter debated this for perhaps an hour or so and he walked away unconvinced that she has any special insight regarding the communication of touch.

Now Cutter realized what an idiot he was for not spending the time to try to understand what she was trying to tell him. And she was right, of course, because now he was sitting on a park bench near her favorite performing spot, wishing he could touch her. Bound to her. There were so many things he wanted to communicate to her, so many things he wanted to ask, primary among them, “Who murdered you?”

He was hellbent on finding out.

To be continued…

– Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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Breadcrumbing

breadcrumbing

Clive was a dyed in the wool true believer that online dating–the websites (both free and paid) and the process—stunk to high heaven. Not because a great deal of the time was spent sifting through miles of unimaginative profiles that featured photos of celebrities that in no way resembled the actual embittered people who recited a Don’t List of all the things they simply would not stand for in a partner or relationship—well, not mainly for that reason—but merely because he was forced to write a self-summary, also know as his personal kryptonite.

His experiment nearly ended right there.

Primary among the things he hated, in addition to being questioned about any personal information that he would never voluntarily offer up in conversation, was attaching descriptors to himself and/or writing a self-summary. The notion of having to explain the equation of his essence, his being, in order for a stranger to do a quick assessment and chuck him into a labeled box, was enough to make him retch. Not to mention the fact he considered himself boring as hell and had nothing interesting to fill a questionnaire out with if he were keeping it 100, as the young-uns said.

But needs must when the devil drives, so he picked himself up by the bootstraps and scratched his puzzler on the best way to go about creating a self-summary without laying out all his information upfront—like he was actually going to tell a bunch of judgmental strangers anything important about himself, please. Clive was determined to try and reintroduce the notion of courtship back into the dating world and planned to use the interweb to hone his slightly rusty—okay, severely rusty—wooing abilities. One wouldn’t need to be Ellery Queen to suss out the inherent flaws in that plan.

The workaround came fairly quickly and was a no-brainer. Clive was going to summarize himself in short story form, as a sort of coming attraction to ward off them what cain’t be bothered with a bit of good old-fashioned storytelling. This was the result:

One day an old woman stepped directly into my path on the street, stopping me cold, and asked, “Who are you?”

“Pardon?” I was taken aback by the suddenness of the question.

“If you had to describe yourself to me, an absolute stranger, what would you say?” she thwarted my attempt to sidestep her.

“Most likely…nothing,” I admitted. “Since I’m not too fond of the question.”

“Well, what if Nazis held guns to your parents’ heads? What would you tell me then?” she smiled.

Damn. The Nazi ploy.

I hated being manipulated like this, but I couldn’t have anyone, not even this old woman, think that I’m some heartless brute that would allow Nazis to murder my parents in an effort to avoid providing a self-summary.

“And don’t hand me any of that work in progress nonsense, because we’re all works in progress until we give up living.”

“Fair enough.” I nodded in agreement, for it was one of those overused expressions that I can’t stand, just like thinking outside the box.

“Who I am is a born-again optimist. What I believe is that love should not be denied to anyone, even to those born with icy hearts. What I know is that I’m wise enough accept love as it finds me and not reject it because it doesn’t come wrapped in a pretty package. What I hope is that someday every lonely person will reach out to another lonely person and befriend them so that the word lonely fades from our lexicon.”

“Corny and clumsily poetic…” she eyed me for a long moment. “…but an artful dodge, so I’ll let you get away with it… this time.”

This time? Just who did this woman think she was?

“If you had to write a summary about yourself, would anyone read it?”

 I shook my head. “Probably not.”

The old woman cocked her head to the side, “Why not?”

“Because I’m old-fashioned.”

“What does that have to do with anything?” she asked.

“Simply that I wouldn’t reveal too much. Instead of handing someone Cliff Notes about me, I’d prefer to let that information come out naturally during the course of a one-on-one conversation with the person I was interested in. I don’t think that my life and personality can be compressed into a resume.”

“Is that a fact?” she said more to herself than anything else. “So, what are you doing with your life? Living it…is not an acceptable answer.” She tapped her foot impatiently.

What a surprise. Another question I hated, for how do you sum up passion, goals and interest in a sentence? A paragraph? It needs to be discussed in casual give and take conversation, which I knew would not happen here, so I answered:

“I’m in a creation stage of my life, at the moment. The need to create things is strong in me and I do that utilizing art, writing, sculpture and filmmaking. Some of my work has been published, which has brought me some attention but not anything close to notoriety.”

“Very good…” the old woman said, pleasantly surprised. “I didn’t have to pull teeth that time.”

“And my final question for you today is… what are you good at? I mean, really good at?” the annoyance seemed to melt away from her face, which put me at ease a bit.

“Hmmm…” I scratched my puzzler at that one. “If I had to give you one thing, I suppose it would be my ability to suss out how things work. Not machines and the like, but other things, intangible things… and people, as well. Except for you, that is. You’re a complete mystery to me.”

The corners of the old woman’s mouth curved up into a slight smile, as she nodded “Thank you.” and left as suddenly as she appeared, leaving me perplexed as to what just transpired here.

And with the self-summary written, all that was left was to join a bunch of free online dating sites—who’d pay, I mean, really—and cast his line into the water. But Clive hadn’t wanted to be aggressive about it, so the only two restrictions he imposed on himself were:

  1. He wouldn’t be the first person to initiate contact.
  2. He wouldn’t submit himself to a dating questionnaire when a woman was trying to gather more intel on him. Why make it easy for her to dismiss him based on whether or not he looked good to her on paper without even the courtesy of a flesh meet?

He also had to ask himself an honest question, Was he doing this to find an actual companion, an activity partner—young’uns would only understand this when they were older—or was he just out to get laid?

To anyone reading this, the initial obvious answer was to get laid, Clive just knew it, and he couldn’t blame anyone. When one cleaved through all the bullshit that men did and subjected themselves to, 9.75 times out of 10 sex was the reason, the answer, and the end goal. And okay, maybe that factored in a little bit, but mainly it was to find a companion.

But how could Clive attract the attention of women without contacting them or putting his statistics on display? Naturally, he knew the answer was to blog, but keeping a running online journal of his daily life—wake up, work, watch movies, procrastinate, troll the internet, sleep, repeat—would’ve bored anyone to tears.

No, he’d be forced to resort to the only thing he’d ever been good at in his entire life…

Inventing shit.

To be continued…

A Tin For Tinder

Tinderbox 1

Houses live, despite being constructed with inanimate objects and once-living-now-dead materials and only at night, when the humans who inhabit them quiet down and seek refuge within the secret fears and hidden desires of dreams, do they make their presence known. It comes in the throat clearing pipe rattles and the eerie creaks and moans as the domicile stretches from its support beams to the rafters before settling down upon the foundation once more. And somewhere in between these growing pain noises, I hear you through wooden slats, insulation and drywall.

You are busy conducting your nocturnal activity of burning bridges. You do this when you think I am asleep, which I pretend to be for I do not know how to confront you on this matter. Although I have never caught you in the act, I discovered the place in which you secret your tinderbox, that rusty lozenge tin containing pieces of flint, firesteel and the charcloth you use as tinder.

But it is not physical bridges you set fire to, it is connections. Human connections. At first, you severed ties with your coworkers. When that supply well ran dry, you turned your attention to the neighbors, both long-standing and new. My family was next, which should have been easy for you as you never considered my kin an extension of your own. To my surprise, yours followed shortly after. Now, it is only you and I, and I hear the striking of flint and I know without a doubt that I am next. I should get out of bed, should stop you, but I do not because I do not know how to process the reality that you no longer desire me in your life. I tell myself my love for you is strong enough to withstand your attempt to distance yourself from me, but the truth of the matter is, as I hear the charcloth catch fire, I can feel the grasp of my love for you beginning to weaken.

I had not realized, until I felt the radiant heat as you approached with your flame, that our connection was a living bridge, a spiritual combination of the northeast Indian tribal root bridges, which are formed by training the roots of the banyan tree to grow across watercourses, and the Japanese Iya Valley bridges, constructed using wisteria vines woven together when they grew long enough to span the gap.

I am surprised at how very hot and very slow moving the fire is. It creeps at its patient pace, causing destruction to the fruits of our happy memories, the flowers of our passion and the buds of future events in the making. The fire chars through the vines’ bark to consume the cambium layer beneath, the thing that is essential for the growth of the vine’s vascular tissue; and without it, the vines die.

I shed tears, though I no longer know why, for when you return to the bedroom, smelling faintly of smoke and slip under the covers, I move away from your touch for I do not know you. All the memories created in this place are ghosts that have evaporated like dreams upon waking. In the morning I will leave of my own volition, never to return and the only thing I will carry with me is your precious tin for tinder. I am filled with the sudden need to divorce myself from all human contact.

– Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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About “A Tin For Tinder”: Truth is, there’s no backstory here. I missed the last two week’s posts because I’m in the midst of my fever rush to get my #NaNoWriMo novel done by the thirtieth of this month, so this is simply stream of consciousness writing to keep my blog active and alive.

If you enjoyed it, happy to serve. If not, I completely understand.

‘Til next week…

Please Read My Lonely Talk (Part 3) Blind Man’s Bluff

Blind

“Lonely Talk” Part 1 here…

“Lonely Talk” Part 2 here…

The elegance palace I work at is huge, larger than most I’ve seen in the city, with at least two thousand working girls at an average age of twenty-five, which is pretty decent for a bordello.

In the center of the Hostess Center, there’s a big stage, where a live band sets the palace’s mood. Why a live band at a sex shop? To help break the ice. Most of the clients are pretty intimidated when they first walk in, so it’s the hostess’s job to make them relax.

One of the activities is the Single Mingle, where I have to dance with a client if they ask me. Refusing a client the dance means I have to pay a penalty. The only time I was ever tempted to pay was when this client who looked like he had great, great, great, great grandchildren, asked me to dance.

He kept pulling me in close by the waist and I could feel his erection poking my thigh. Hard enough to sex four women at once. But that was the only solid thing about him. His grip around my waist was feeble and he had a body tremor that he desperately tried to suppress. My guess is that he was rounding the corner on eighty and found a pill that gave him an eighteen-year-old erection. Problem is if I kissed him hard enough he’d have a heart attack, so instead, I danced him around until his hard-on caught up with his age and sent him on his way. I considered that my senior citizen service for the month.

***

I have a regular customer, a blind man, and if it’s possible for a girl in my line of work to have a favorite, then he’s mine. A hassle-free man that I don’t have to dress up in silly costumes for or pretend to be someone else. Our sessions are almost always the same. Short, but sincere small talk, followed by kissing and heavy petting, then a massage followed by a leg hump in cowgirl position until he ejaculated. The very first time I put his erection between my lubricated thighs and moved up-down for several minutes, he exploded easily.

When it was over, he asked, “Did you use a rubber?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Why not?”

It caught me off guard, the way he asked. If I’m honest, I felt a little insulted that he thought I was so filthy that he could get a disease off me from a simple leg hump. I wanted to tell him what I pack is far worse than any STD he could ever imagine.

“Is it really all right with you?” he asked.

Then I understood. He thought he was inside me. I chuckled and explained who I was, what I was capable of and what I actually did.

“Taking advantage of a blind man, eh?” If he was hurt, I couldn’t detect it.

“That’s not it at all. You didn’t know who I was. You didn’t come here looking to beat the odds or for an easy way to die. You didn’t judge me based on my appearance. I wasn’t a spectacle. So, what I gave you was pleasure and let you keep your life.”

He reached out for my hand and I took his. “I’m not sure how happy I am being deceived like that, but it felt real. The best I’ve ever had.”

And the damnedest thing happened. Despite the fact that I sell sex and death for money and I hate my job, this blind man paid me a compliment that made me feel good about myself.

Pathetic, I know, but you have to take the good bits as they come.

And for the record, for all you that might think a leg hump is lazy, let me tell you that it’s more work and harder to make a man ejaculate than either manual or oral stimulation.

Now, I hear you asking, “If you can do all this then why do you kill so many men?”

Human men die because human men are stupid! I offer them options but they always want what’s worst for them. Who wants any other orifice when they have access to a taboo killer vagina?

Did I mention how stupid human men are?

To be continued…

– Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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Maurine, Maureen, Part 1

two sisters twins posing, making photo selfie, dressed same white shirt, diverse hairstyle friends, lifestyle people concept

Maurine hadn’t thought of herself as a narcissist, who would, really, unless someone went out of their way to mention the possibility, which is exactly what Shelly McIntyre did. In front of her coworkers and the rest of the staff, Shelly, her supposed office bestie (a title Maurine never laid claim to at any point in time) denounced her as a narcissist, among other things that stung a lot less, in order to step over her shame-ridden body and into a corner office promotion. Maurine hadn’t known how to reply, so she remained silent, letting the accusation register properly, which she supposed could have appeared to her superiors as an admission of guilt. Guilt? Over what? Truth of the matter was she had no idea what the word narcissist actually meant.

At home, she looked up the word online and found to qualify as a narcissist, an individual needed to possess:

  1. A pervasive pattern of grandiosity
  2. The need for admiration, and
  3. A lack of empathy

which surely did not apply to her, but she called her mother, just to be on the safe side. After the requisite pleasantries, Maurine asked the question.

“What a bizarre thing to ask,” her mother said. “Did someone tell you you were?”

Maurine didn’t feel like rehashing the events of the day, so she simplified it by answering, “Someone made an off-comment in passing and I became curious to learn if people viewed me that way, that’s all. Like, am I giving off some sort of vibe or something?”

“Well, I may not be the best person to ask…”

“Why? Are you a narcissist, too?” the words slipped passed Maurine’s lips before she could catch them.

“No,” her mother chuckled, sounding confident in her answer. Far more confident than Maurine herself felt. “I may not be objective, is what I’m trying to say. As a parent all children seemed to be filled with a grandiose sense of self-importance, which is a beast we feed, I suppose. As a young girl, did you exaggerate your achievements and talents and fantasize about unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty and ideal love? Of course you did, all children do.”

Even though she could see her mother’s point, Maurine knew this conversation was not going to lead her in the direction she needed in order to confront her office bestie in the morning. So, she thanked her mother, made her excuses for cutting the conversation short and promised that she’d call more and visit more often and would definitely make the trip down to coast the celebrate the holidays with the family this year. Most of which she knew to be a flat-out lie.

Maurine didn’t feel much like cooking or eating for that matter, so she slipped on a comfortable pair of flats and went for an evening constitutional to air out her thoughts. So lost was she in the events of the day, she wasn’t paying attention to where she was going and bumped into a person walking the opposite way. When she looked up to apologize, the words wouldn’t come. And the other person, to her surprise, was equally dumbstruck…for they looked exactly alike. Not similar in the way that people with the same hair and eye color and facial bone structure reminded you of the other person. These two women were identical. Mirror images sans glass. The only differences were the hairstyles, Maurine wore her shoulder length hair up while her twin stranger’s hair framed her face, and their outfits, roughly the same style business skirt suit but in different colors.

Maurine, still mute, slowly lifted her hand to the other woman’s face and touched it gently. The other woman hadn’t flinched but Maurine, for a split second, swore she felt her fingers on her own face. Then she was overwhelmed by the urge to kiss this woman, this stranger, so she did. She nervously pressed her lips to the woman’s mouth and it was soft and warm and somehow strangely familiar and before she knew it, her tongue was slipping into the other woman’s mouth, probing, exploring. And when her poor thrumming heart couldn’t bear the passion any longer, Maurine broke the kiss and felt instantly ashamed.

“I…I’m sorry,” Maurine said, finding that she could no longer meet the woman’s eyes. “I don’t know what came over me. I just…”

“I wanted to know what I tasted like,” the other woman said, which was exactly what Maurine was feeling. “It isn’t every day you run into your doppelgänger.” The woman extended her hand, which seemed so silly and formal after they had just frenched. “My name is Maureen, by the way.”

“This…no, this can’t be happening. I’m Maurine, that’s my name.”

Maureen dug her ID out of her clutch and held it up for Maurine to examine. Maurine laughed and presented her ID as well. “Same name, different spelling. How Twilight Zone is this?”

“The better question is how much more Twilight Zone will it get?” Maureen reached out with her thumb, wiping away the lipstick smudge around Maurine’s mouth.

Maurine returned the favor, saying, “I don’t live too far from here. Care to head back to mine for a coffee and a chat? Promise I’m not an ax murderer.”

“But what if I am?”

“You know, I think I’ll take that chance,” Maurine smiled and took the hand of a stranger who wasn’t quite so strange at all and led her home.

Over coffee, they compared life stories trying to spot as many similarities as they could to keep the fascinating coincidence of a single entity living parallel lives in the same reality alive for as long as they could and there were many. Choices that one made that the other hadn’t that took them in different directions. And when they were satisfied they were the same person that had somehow branched off to live separate lives, the conversation stopped and the pair sat on the couch until the wee hours, silent touching and exploring each other’s bodies. Neither spoke the words because it wasn’t necessary. They felt an instantaneous attraction for one another the moment their eyes met.

When they awoke the next morning, Maurine mentioned her apprehension about going to work because of Shelly’s accusation.

Maureen took the nervous woman’s face in her hands and with a look of fierce determination said, “Maybe this Shelly-person is right.”

“What?” Maurine almost said more and stopped herself because she realized it was far too early days for her to be appearing vulnerable and overly sensitive.

“What I mean is even though we just met, I believe you are special and should only associate with high-status people or institutions! You should demand excessive admiration and have a sense of entitlement that demands favorable treatment and automatic compliance for everything you do! Shelly, who I must point out was interpersonally exploitative and took advantage of your kind and trusting nature, must be placed at the very top of your To-Do list as you give as good as you’ve gotten and absolutely lack empathy when you crush her like the bug she is. In fact, you should quit your job, right now!” Maureen reached over the the nightstand and snatched up Maurine’s smartphone, shoving it at her. “Do it! Show them who’s in control of your destiny!”

“But…” Maurine started, taking the phone but not dialing. “But I need my job. I need the money.”

Maureen shook her head and laughed, “Oh, honey, no you don’t. I have more money than you can imagine and if you’ll have me, everything that’s mine is yours.”

Have her? There was nothing more that Maurine wanted than to have this magnificent woman in her life from now ’til forever more. “I…I can’t take your money like that.”

“You’re not taking anything. I’m giving it to you. You know what? Hand me your phone,” Maureen put out her hand.

“Why, what are you going to do?”

“What needs to be done,” Maureen gently plucked the phone from Maurine’s loose grip and scrolled through the contact list, stopping at the entry marked Michele McIntyre. “Shelly, I assume?”

Maurine nodded and started to object but Maureen pressed a finger against her lips as she tapped the Call button. After a moment, “Shelly? Hi, this is Maurine,” Maureen’s tone was so over the top sweet it nearly gave Maurine a toothache. “I don’t remember if I did it or not yesterday but I just wanted to congratulate you on your promotion. There is one thing I need you to know, though I absolutely forgive you for the underhanded way you backstabbed me in front of the entire company and I wish you nothing but the best, I am subject to caprices. Since we’re such office besties I wanted to advise you to keep looking over your shoulder for the rest of your life just in case I decide to change my mind and be less forgiving. Oh and don’t worry about taking any disciplinary action against me at work because I quit. Byeeeee, bitch!” Maureen tapped the End Call button and tossed the phone on the bed.

“I…that…” Maurine struggled to get the words out.

“Yes?”

“That…was…incredible!” Maurine leaned forward, throwing her arms around the smiling woman. But she broke the hug and held Maureen at arm’s length, a worried expression playing on her face. “Wait. Did you mean what you said…”

“About the money?”

“What? No! About us being together.”

Maureen took her face by the chin, “I’m yours, honey. And whether you want it or not, the money is too.” They kissed and fell back into the bed. It would be hours before they rose again.

Maurine mentioned how much she liked her house, so Maureen arranged to move in with her and despite all the odds for a love at first sight relationship lasting and remaining healthy, they were happy. Any arguments or disagreements were minuscule compared to their love and were resolved almost immediately. Both their parents had raised them not to go to bed on an argument and they both had the marvelous knack of talking things out to the minutest detail until clarity existed on both sides.

When the laws changed and same-sex marriage had been legalized in both their city and state, they both took turns in proposing to one another. Neither Maurine nor Maureen considered themselves a lesbian or bisexual because gender wasn’t an issue in their relationship. They weren’t sleeping with another woman, they were one person sleeping with themselves, a point that made its way into their wedding vows. To their surprise, Shelly showed up at the service, contrite and presenting them with the most expensive gift from their bridal registry as a peace offering.

Married life hadn’t dulled their affection for one another but a few years in, Maurine felt as if something was missing. During one of their nightly pillow talk sessions, an idea formed and turned itself into a desire which slipped passed her lips before she realized what she was saying.

“I want a baby.”

To be continued…

About Maurine, Maureen: The story began life as this sneaky tweet for a Thursday Twitter hashtag game called Tales From The End Of The World (hosted by Marc Tizura @areyouingrenin) that I banged out while I was working my day job:

https://twitter.com/Madd_Fictional/status/882982291873640448

 

I Put This Moment Here

hand-string-tied_~x10591428

“If only there could be an invention that bottled up a memory, like scent. And it never faded, and it never got stale. And then, when one wanted it, the bottle could be uncorked, and it would be like living the moment all over again.” ― Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca

I have a memory like a sieve.  My recollections of the past come to me in flashes and snippets and I have to be mindful not to fall into one of the many great blank holes when traipsing around in half-forgotten yesterdays. Part of it is the result of a built-in self-defense mechanism, tamping down the harmful events that one never quite survives intact. The rest? Just plain negligence. I am a poor caretaker of retrospection.

And for a while, I wasn’t bothered by it. Then I reached a point in life when memories—–of love and pain and the whole damned thing—-became important because I found myself wanting to catalog my journey before I reached the end of the race (it’s always closer than you expect and they say you never see the finish line with your name on it).

But now, when I recount the tales of the various and sundry someones who impacted my life before blowing away like a leaf in the wind, someones whose names I used to be able to recite by rote, those names have now taken up permanent residence on the tip of my tongue but never so close as to venture past my lips.

I find that in order to remember a past event, I have to place it in a location that’s visible so that I don’t misplace it along with my keys and smartphone. I have chosen this place as the soil in which to plant my evaporating memories before they’re gone forever.

I put this moment here:

Of the girl that I fancied in the first grade whose name might have been Cheryl or Shirley but for some reason I remember it as “Squirrel,” whom I wrote about when the teacher asked the class to write about something we loved. And that selfsame teacher thinking it was so adorable that she took me to Squirrel’s class and made me read it aloud to her. You’re never too young to discover embarrassment.

I put this moment here:

Of the German woman who made me my first brown bag lunch for school that consisted of a healthy liverwurst sandwich which I enjoyed the taste of but stopped eating altogether after being teased at school by the other kids for eating dog food. It hurt her feelings and I wish I had a stronger conviction to continue eating the lunches she prepared with love.

I put this moment here:

Of the asexual woman I worked with at a car rental agency who looked like a young Peggy Lipton and lived in New Jersey. I remember riding the Path train to her house and we would regularly break dawn discussing her passion, serial killers. She didn’t own a television and instead had an impressive collection of serial killer and unsolved murder case books. I found her fascinating and in hindsight I suppose I’m lucky that I never went missing.

I put this moment here:

Of the woman I worked with at a banking institution who I wound up spending a bizarre New Year’s Eve with as we searched Manhattan for the perfect place to ring in the new year and wound up laying in the grass of Central Park making resolutions and wishing on stars for a better year to come.

Sometimes when my mind is idle, I struggle to recall the names of people and events trapped within synaptic pathways that withered from non-use, names and events I feel I should remember because of the emotions that linger despite the fact the memories have faded and recognition has faltered.

I lament the loss of these remembrances because they’re all a part of me and I’m afraid to learn the answer to what of myself will remain when all the memories have faded away.

Gather ye memories while ye may. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.

 

Braiding Tales: We Built a World, Row by Row

braid

“We gave the Future to the winds, and slumbered tranquilly in the Present, weaving the dull world around us into dreams.” ― Edgar Allan Poe, The Mystery of Marie Rogêt

I spent most of my early teens in the Bronx. The street I lived on, corner to corner, ran the length of three average city blocks and was the picture of diversity—the melting pot that New York had become famous for. It was all about migration. Italians were moving to new ground as black people nestled in and on their tail were Hispanics followed by West Indians. It was a neighborhood in transition where multi-cultures learn by cohabitation that differences in race didn’t make a person less human.

It was also the 70’s and I rocked a killer afro to end all ‘fros. Metal pronged afro pick with the handle clenched in a black power fist and a peace symbol carved out on the base, tucked in the back of my hair.

It drove my parents crazy. They rode my back constantly to get it cut but there was that preteen Samsonian fear that the strength of my personality—-my Madd-ness—-would be stripped away, were a barber to lay clippers on my precious locks. When I got the “as long as you’re living under my roof” speech, I knew I needed a solution and I needed it quick.

Enter: Cynthia Holloway. I mentioned my plight in passing and out of nowhere she offered to braid my hair into cornrows. So, we sat on the stoop of a private house and armed with only a comb and hair grease, Cynthia worked her nimble fingers like a loom.

She was one of those neighborhood girls that I’d never really spoken to before outside the odd hello. Not that there was anything wrong with her, she was simply a person that kept herself to herself. The type of person you’d have to make an effort to get to know.

It would take many years for me to become that type of person.

But in sitting with her I discovered she was both intelligent and imaginative, with interesting stories to tell. Her father was a retired Army Ranger colonel, who spent a great deal of his free time on the road in a jazz band.

I’m not sure how much of that was true. No one could ever remember seeing Cynthia’s dad, so maybe it was a story she invented to keep nosy kids at bay. Or perhaps it was one of the quiet lies that parents tell their children to spare them from the harsh realities of troubled marriages.

Since we had nothing but time to kill, we talked about our constricted home lives, mentioned the odd hobby, told a few jokes and had a couple of laughs, and when all the conversation wells had run dry, we told each other stories.

At the end of every month, when the braids began to look a little ratty, I’d take them out and Cynthia met me back on that stoop to repeat the process. And after a brief bit of catch-up, we’d go back to telling each other imaginary stories and without meaning to, wound up designing an illusory sanctuary from the burdens and pains of our everyday pre-teenage lives.

While we mentally terraformed our neighborhood row by cornrow, we got to know each other in those months as the monarchs of our fantasy world. We explored the surroundings, went on adventures, and basically forgot the world for a few hours a month.

Come the fifth month, I sat on the stoop and waited, my hair a wild crop of imagination waiting to be plowed, but Cynthia never showed. I later learned from a friend of a friend’s sister that she and her mother had moved away in the middle of the night without telling a soul where they were headed.

I tried to imagine all the possible reasons that would cause them to make a hurried escape under the cloak of twilight and seriously hoped it had nothing to do with her retried-Army-Ranger-colonel-jazz-band-dad. Nothing negative, anyway.

And yes, I eventually had no other choice than to submit to the butcher shop barbershop haircut. Much to my surprise, I managed to retain all of my Madd-ness afterward. I was still filled with my nerdy sameness and when I missed her a bit, I’d sometimes sit on the stoop and give an imaginary Cynthia updates on the latest goings-on in the world we created.

Thanks for humoring me as I wool-gathered.

PS. Cyn, if through some bizarre happenstance you should come across this, hit me up real quick. There’s a world in some need of serious upkeep.

The Long Haul to Seventy-Five Short Stories

short-story

“I love short stories because I believe they are the way we live. They are what our friends tell us, in their pain and joy, their passion and rage, their yearning and their cry against injustice.” ― Andre Dubus

I began writing when I was young.

Well, back then I drew pictures and wrote little stories beneath them in a prehistoric blog-like fashion. The first story I remember writing was about God. Couldn’t have been more than five years old at the time and I’m sure it wasn’t much of a story. The only reason I remember it is because I was punished for it. Not the story so much as the crayon drawing of God accompanying it. Just a bearded man sitting on a chair in the clouds. To this day I have no idea why it sparked so much anger.

In school, I devoured comic books and my storytelling reflected this as I scribbled comic panels in my composition notebooks and sometimes my textbooks if I ran out of paper. I only shifted gears to prose after Frank Herbert absolutely blew my mind with the first book in his Dune series that I read in the sixth grade to impress a girl named Jeanette Baker.

It was her favorite book.

Ultimately, she wasn’t all that impressed by either me or my ability to read feudal interstellar societal science fiction, but Paul Atreides, The Bene Gesserit, The Fremen, and The Spice Melange left a lasting impression on me.

Unavoidable circumstances after college pulled me away from writing for longer than I’m happy to admit, but today marks the completion of my seventy-fifth short story since I was lured back into writing after reading a copy of Harlan Ellison’s short story collection, Strange Wine, in a public library tucked away in Portsmouth Virginia.

Another mind altering experience, as Harlan introduced me to the world of speculative fiction.

This milestone doesn’t include my detours into graphic novel self-publishing or article writing and short/feature length screenwriting. Nor does it include the many and various unfinished stories that inhabit my Story Box Full of Regret. A handful were sold to a number of low-level zines during the halcyon days of snail mail querying and submissions and only thirteen have been forever filed away in the fad drawer due to outdated themes.

Of the remaining sixty-two stories, only six are so cringe-inducingly bad that I refuse to revise them. They serve as a reminder of just how awful my writing can be when I’m off my game and a yardstick as to how far I’ve come since my far-too-late-in-life return to the medium (no advice please, I’ve already written two posts on the subject and I’m well aware of the ages of the older first published authors).

The forty-five on the rung above are all inspired by actual events, ripped from the pages of my journal—-when I used to keep a journal—-and fictionalized into speculative and science fiction, horror and modern day twisted fairy tale pieces. This was when I followed that old chestnut piece of writing advice, Write what you know. These stories know the terrain well enough since they’ve been around the block a time or two. All they need is a bit of a touch-up, light revision at the most before they make their rounds again. I’m confident they’ll find a home somewhere.

The final eleven are hatchlings, newbie stories that are a tad more introspective and feature solid speculative elements. I’m a proud Papa so I must admit that these tales are my best, though if I had my druthers I would have planted their roots more firmly in the soil of either horror or science fiction instead of having them languish somewhere in the bleed of the two genres.

Of these, four are out for approval which leaves seven that I’m in the midst of revising before they join their brothers and sisters in the cold cruel world. The aim naturally is to send them all out so that can quit bugging me about wanting to be read. They can be so annoying that way.

Thanks for humoring me as I wool-gathered.

Snatched From the Heart of Stars: What’s Your Creative DNA?

DNA

“People they come together, People they fall apart,
No one can stop us now, ‘Cause we are all made of stars” — Moby

Ideas spark ideas, as I’m sure you well know, and while contemplating a previous post on the message I would send to my younger self, I was hit with another thought along similar lines, but the scenario requires a little theater of the mind setup first:

It begins with the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) Institute detecting a radio signal that finally confirms the existence of extraterrestrial life. How did the aliens learn of our existence, you ask? You know the deal: Voyager 1 and 2 get swallowed up by a singularity and spit out in the middle of uncharted space and intercepted by a curious and as-yet-thought-to-be-benign alien race. Now quit bogging down my backstory with unnecessary questions.

Top minds–-including astrophysicists, cryptanalysts, linguists and mathematicians–-are called in to decipher the message and after an exhaustive code-breaking session, the oddest thing is found embedded in the communique: My name.

Uh-uh, no questions, remember?

After being properly vetted—they’d have to make sure I’m not some wackadoo that’s gonna build himself an Interocitor using off-world schematics or sell the Earth off to the highest bidder—I’m brought in to begin a controlled dialogue with the alien. During the exchange, my new intergalactic pen pal asks the question: “Who are you?” I answer with my personal history and the reply I get back is, “No, who are you?

We’re all stumped at this point.

Over a pint and some pub grub, me, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Brian Cox, and Michio Kaku (let’s face it, they’re all my buds at this point) are trying to puzzle this out when I’m struck with an idea, “What if the extraterrestrials are utilizing fourth-dimensional, or higher, level thinking and need broader definitions in which to extrapolate the answers they seek?” The astro-brainiacs think I might be onto something.

[I need to pause the post at this point because I can hear your laughter and it’s a bit disruptive. And rude, if I’m honest. Out of everything so far, the only problem you have is that I offered a solution in an astrophysics think tank? Really?]

And now we get to the meat of the nutshell:

If I had to encode myself into a relatively short information sequence, what sources would I pick?

Since mathematics and I feud constantly and are court-ordered to remain at least 500 yards apart from one another at any given time, I know I can’t make this work on a fundamental science level. My only option is to go the artistic route.

Now, the chore becomes one of selecting 10 works that once read/viewed/listened to/etc., would allow an absolutely non-terran life form to know the essence of me. This is what I came up with:

  1. Movie: The Lion in Winter

Lion_In_Winter1

The film takes place in the year 1183 AD and tells the story of King Henry II’s three sons all of whom want to inherit the throne, but Henry won’t commit to a choice, so they and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, variously plot to force him.

I’ve chosen this to illustrate the relationship between me and all my families (both birth and extended). It speaks to the complexities of familial love and how I tend to love what I destroy and destroy the things I love.

  1. Book: Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A, Heinlein

In not so subtle Christ analogy, the book tells the story of Valentine Michael Smith, a human who comes to Earth in early adulthood after being born on the planet Mars and raised by Martians. It explores his interaction with—and eventual transformation of—terrestrial culture.

This was chosen to illustrate my social anxieties–that wax and wane in an unpredictable manner–and the fact that I never feel I properly fit in with any crowd that isn’t one of my making. There truly exists no place on Earth where I feel at home.

stranger_in_a_strange_land_cover

  1. Poem: Desiderata by Max Ehrmann

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be critical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.

Chosen to represent my attempt at zen thoughts. These are the inner things I strive for that always seem to exist just beyond the reach of my higher consciousness fingertips. One day, though. This and the lottery. Hope springs eternal.

  1. Art: The Scream by Edvard Munch

In his diary in an entry headed, Nice 22 January 1892, Munch described his inspiration for the image:

One evening I was walking along a path, the city was on one side and the fjord below. I felt tired and ill. I stopped and looked out over the fjord—the sun was setting, and the clouds turning blood red. I sensed a scream passing through nature; it seemed to me that I heard the scream. I painted this picture, painted the clouds as actual blood. The color shrieked. This became The Scream.

This piece represents the insanity that lies just beneath my cool surface. The things I see and hear that apparently, no one else acknowledges. But it’s real, dammit. It better be.

the-scream

  1. Sculpture: The Thinker by Auguste Rodin

The Thinker was originally meant to depict Dante in front of the Gates of Hell, pondering his great poem. This is precisely why I have chosen this, as I am well aware that I am the cause of most of the disasters that have occurred in my life and have often sat and pondered how I let things get to their current state.

Thinker

  1. Photography: Tank Man by Jeff Widener

The iconic photo of Tank Man, the unknown rebel who stood in front of a column of Chinese tanks in an act of defiance following the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. This is an obvious one as it represents my personal autonomy and contemptuous behavior/attitude towards authority figures to the point of appearing as a provocateur or just plain anti-social.

Tank Man

  1. Music: Ágætis byrjun by Sigur Rós

This album is 72 minutes of sonically rich, emotionally pulverizing perfection. From the orchestral splendor of “Starálfur,” to the transcendent ache of “Ný batterí.” each decayed synth tone and cymbal splash conjures a world of endless possibilities. Jón Þór “Jónsi” Birgisson wrote the following mission statement:

“We are not a band, we are music. We are simply gonna change music forever, and the way people think about music. And don’t think we can’t do it, we will.” 14 years after the fact — Spin presented Birgisson with that quote. He responded with laughter, “You’re young and full of energy and have this cockiness,” he said. “I think it’s beautiful.”

This represents my initial mindset when I first began to write again.

Ágætis byrjun

  1. Television: The Twilight Zone (1959 series) by Rod Serling and various

Rod

This science-fiction/fantasy anthology series consisting of unrelated stories depicting paranormal, futuristic, Kafkaesque, or otherwise disturbing or unusual events (typically featuring some sort of plot twist and moral), represents my imagination as it shaped the way I view fiction.

  1. Play: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street by Stephen Sondheim

sweeney

A 1979 musical thriller set in 19th century England tells the story of Benjamin Barker, aka Sweeney Todd, who returns to London after 15 years transportation on trumped-up charges. When he finds out that his wife poisoned herself after being raped by the judge who transported him, he vows revenge on the judge and, later, the whole world. He teams up with a piemaker, Mrs. Lovett, and opens a barbershop in which he slits the throats of customers and has them baked into pies.

This speaks to my Scorpio nature of quietly holding a grudge with untold patience until the chance presents itself to sting back. Not so much anymore, though. I’ve mellowed in my old age. Stop looking at me like you don’t believe me.

 

  1. Performance art: The Invisible Man: Liu Bolin’s camouflage artwork

liu-bolin-new-york_2172409k

Liu uses paint to camouflage him to make himself invisible in public. This represents the fact that I was born invisible and the only time I’m ever seen is when I write.

Before you start nitpicking the logic of sending earth-logic/culture-bound works of art to an alien, I refer you to the Moby lyrics quoted at the top of the post and if we are all truly made of stars, there surely must be some commonality that binds us together, yes? Why can’t art be the universe’s language?

 

A Message to My Younger Self: Try Harder

message-in-a-bottle-633134

I have no doubt that my story will end in very much the same manner as it began, with a secret. And as I stand at the crossroads, caught at the precise moment where a lifetime of secrets left untold should either be revealed or die forever, I stare at the younger man, eyes full of dreams that have not yet been crushed ‘neath the heel of reality, and find it difficult to believe that I was once him.” — Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys, The Very Fabric of Time Itself

I was riding the Staten Island Ferry today and it was one of those rare occasions when I wasn’t plugged into my iPod. I had just finished listening to an episode of The Afternoon Drama (a daily BBC radio play series) and as I was letting the weight of the story settle in, I overheard a conversation between a couple. They were talking about the five messages they would include in a letter if they were able to have it delivered to their younger selves.

This, of course, got me thinking about my own letter and how difficult a process it would be to write. The younger me, we’ll call him Li’l Madd for the sake of this post, was a card-carrying member of The Bronx Chapter of the International Skeptics Society who wouldn’t have believed

  1. the letter came from the future, and more importantly,
  2. that his future self had written it.

Also, I’m sure if I flat out told him of the obstacles he would face, that information would be redacted by some faceless wage slave at the Temporal Post Office, so the message would have to be as succinct as possible. And, if I’m honest, I wasn’t in love with the notion of sending five messages because that seemed a bit much to me. No one follows all five pieces of advice they receive. Humans just aren’t built that way. I’d either have to settle on offering Li’l Madd three pieces of advice, hoping that at least one of them stuck, or offer one simple, yet key, bit of advice with a unifying thread. Most likely I’d go with the second option.

The next problem is offering the exact piece of advice Li’l Madd would listen to. That’s a toughie, that one. Yup. Yessiree, Bob. Sigh. I guess it would all have to fall under the category of Try Harder, as in:

Love fiercely and try harder not to break hearts. Befriend the friendless and try harder not to burn bridges. Laugh more and try harder not to take life too seriously. Follow your bliss and try harder to stave off the darkness. Turn off the TV and try harder to think deeply. Take your time but try harder to avoid procrastination. Dream bigger and try harder to stop worrying about dreams not coming true. And stay away from Jane Hester. Sure, she’s pretty to look at but she’s nothing but trouble and It. Will. Not. End. Well.

I’m sure that last bit will get redacted, but here’s hoping!

Author’s Note: While Jane Hester most certainly exists, Jane Hester’s name is not Jane Hester. I wouldn’t out anyone like that, not even Jane Hester. But if you ran into Jane Hester in the real world, you’d know exactly who she was, without even checking her scalp for the Mark of the Beast.