Just Maybe for Everything, There Is a Reason

“Where have all the living people disappeared to?” Sally asks and I’m not quite sure whether she’s addressing the question to me or merely ruminating out loud as she is sometimes known to do. “I mean the real-life people, not the walking dead with their heads buried in electronics that fight to live in overcrowded cities only to isolate themselves in public and form fake surface relationships on the internet.”

I make the assumption she is talking to me and I’m about to reply, but either I’m wrong in thinking the conversation included me or I took too long to speak up, because she continues, “I am so tired of dealing with avatars,” this is the name Sally applies to all sentient lifeforms capable of effectively communicating with her who ignore her for text messages and Instagram videos. “There must have been some shift in the social axis that I wasn’t made aware of that suddenly made every avatar I encounter uber unfriendly, discourteous and unkind. It’s like I’ve suddenly become a stranger to my neighbors, the city—hell, the whole goddamned societal globe. How is a person supposed to exist today without someone, anyone, offering up a bit of emotional support or maybe even just a helping hand? Am I the insane one here?”

I don’t answer, chiefly because my truth and her truth are rarely in alignment and I have no desire to hurt her feelings or open up a can of worms. I decide it’s a safer bet all around to allow her to vent her frustrations.

“And now everyone tosses the term friend around so haphazardly,” Sally gestures broadly into the open air as if delivering a sermon to an unseen congregation. “Slapping it onto a multitude of undeserving random strangers so that the original meaning of being someone that shares trust, confidence, and support, despite the odds and no matter the situation. And if an expert were to examine current day friendships, they would find that the relationships only last as long the favors derived from the friendship continue to exist.”

“Well, I’m your friend,” I finally chime in. “And none of that applies to me.”

“I’m not talking about you, of course.”

“You’re not talking to me, either. This is the verbal equivalent of a thread rant and I’m not saying that I don’t understand how you feel and agree with what you’re saying in part but I’d like to address this topic in a broader sense, if I may?”

Sally is visibly put-off by my interruption but gestures, “By all means, fill your boots.”

And I explain to her that one of my pet peeves with social media profiles and posts is the rampant negativity that prevails. After touting how happy, friendly, down to earth they are, individuals will proceed to run off a list of don’ts and other things that they absolutely positively will not stand for.

“But why not simply concentrate on the positive? And that includes you,” I pause to gauge her reaction. Her face is expressionless, perhaps I should stop but to be honest I want her to hear what I have to say, so I press on.

“As overused as the Gandhi quote is, why not try to Be the change you want to see in the world? Which means, perhaps instead of expecting people to immediately conform to your desired way of being—”

“Desired?”

“Yes, desired. Are you really being the type of person to the avatars that you want them to be to you? Why not pay it forward and set the example by walking the walk in addition to talking the talk? You want people to wave Hi to you on the street? Try waving first.”

“So, the responsibility rests solely on my shoulders?”

“Do I even have to answer that, Sally? If you want the people within your sphere of influence to treat you differently, who better than you to take on the responsibility?” 

Sally opens her mouth, closes it, then opens it again but says nothing, obviously attempting to formulate her response. In the silence, I continue.

“What if all the avatars you pass every day, the ones who somehow seem familiar for no apparent reason, the ones who brush past you without so much as an Excuse me, were all meant to cross your path for a reason?

“What if a soulmate—yes, I believe you can have more than onesomeone who held a message for your life and possible insights into your future, was lost because you were too deeply into your righteous indignation to catch their gaze?

“Or better yet, what if every bump was meant to be a chance for an avatar to share something they know that might help you on your path, or maybe even better still, you happen to be one of those people holding onto a piece of their life that needs to be let go or needs to be passed on like a story you need to share?

“Think about it, haven’t you ever come across people in your life you think will be there forever, and then they just fade away? Moving onto their own journeys, their own paths only to find them in your life again, stronger and more beautiful?

“And speaking of beautiful, this is a crazy, beautiful world, but you only get to see how wonderful it all is if you take chances. Don’t let opportunities pass you by. You do you, live your life and stay angry and vigilant if you’re comfortable with that but pay attention to the signs that maybe there are messages out there for you. Maybe there are people you need to meet, souls that can add to your journey through life. Souls to help you grow, souls to make you cry. Adding strength to your life and your soul. Just maybe for everything, there is a reason.”

“And you accused me of going on a rant? What the hell was that and where did it come from? That’s the most you’ve said to me in the two years I’ve known you,” Sally says, raising one eyebrow, then lowered them both suspiciously. “Wait a minute. You mean you, don’t you? You think you’re the person that’s meant to be my soulmate?”

I can feel the blush rising from my collar, up my neck and enveloping my face and I am powerless to stop it.

“Is that such a crazy idea?” I ask in a voice that cracks like I’ve regressed to puberty.

“I-I don’t know,” Sally shakes her head like she’s trying to shift the idea into place. “This is all so left field. Maybe we can discuss it over a cup of coffee?”

I pull my phone out of my belt clip, unlock it and begin scrolling, “Um, okay, friend, but just let me check my messages to see if I missed an important text or something.”

Sally’s face flushes with anger but before she can rage at me, I throw my hands up in surrender.

“Just kidding! It’s a joke! I’m joking!” I smile as I put my phone away.

Sally whacks me on the arm hard enough to sting, but she’s smiling, too, so maybe, just maybe, things might work out for the both of us.

©2017 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

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When You Know What You Want, Contact Me

We hated each other from the moment we met. No logical reason, just something at our mitochondrial levels, some cellular vibration or preternatural instinct caused a repulsion between us instead of attraction.

But a cool current ran beneath our fiery surface feud, a sameness we hadn’t discovered until we accidentally had a civil conversation and I realized just how interesting she was. She must have felt something similar because during the conversation she made me promise that I would not sleep with her under any condition. The request caught me off guard coming out of left field like that but, to be honest, the thought had not crossed my mind, so I agreed without a second thought.

The following day we were back to normal but every once in a while we shared a pleasant conversational moment. When the holiday season finally rolled around, a bizarre set of circumstances led us to being alone in her home. She had been drinking but was far from drunk and I supposed it allowed her to feel a little more at ease with me so we talked and talked and talked and talked. It had been a long time since I held a woman’s company in conversation alone until the break of dawn.

She mentioned she was getting tired and I took that as my cue to leave… when she stopped me. Producing a crochet blanket from behind her leather couch, she told me how comfortable it was and how she had fallen asleep on it many times. Then she laid down on the couch to demonstrate and invited me to come see for myself.

So I did.

I slid behind her, the big spoon to her little one, with the scent of her perfume, shampoo and even the liquor mixing in my nose and making my heart race. I held her and we talked, soft, slow and sweet. The opportunity was there and if I said I was not tempted in the least, I would be bald-faced lying. But to this woman who was in so many ways out of my league, this woman who whispered “I love that way your mind works,” I had given my word and I kept it and I have kicked myself every day since.

I refuse to admit I love her. Chiefly because I don’t, or at least not in a way I’d like to. Not in a healthy way. I am infatuated with her, but it is different from any infatuation I’ve ever felt to date. I see her everywhere and in nearly anyone who comes close to her hair coloring and body type. To be clear, I do not fantasize about her nor can I picture a future in which we share a life, but I cannot get her out of my mind. I know exactly where she is but I will not contact her. On the rare occasions that she contacts me, I sometimes do not respond. I do not know why I do this.

Her last text message read:

Are you ghosting me? Something I said? Whatever the deal is, when you know what you want, contact me.

I will never tell her what I truly want because she cannot give it to me. I do not desire her, but I do miss her. No, not really. Not in that way. I want her attention and possibly her affection but not all the time. I guess all I really want is the ability to travel back in time and relive that special one-of-a-kind night when all the pieces fell into place…

and break my promise.

©2009 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

This Is Not a Test…

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This is not a test. This is a message from the Emergency Broadcast System. If you’re able to hear this message, I suggest you grab yourself a big glass of water and strap yourself down because this is going to be one tough pill to swallow.

The President of the United States of America is dead, as are all the other officers in the line of succession through to Secretary of Homeland Security, which leaves me. Who am I? You will have to wait a while to find that out, I’m afraid. I will not reveal my identity until I have a better understanding of the threat aimed at those who seat themselves in the Oval Office, but I wish to offer the following statement:

There’s no point in being polite about this so from this point on I’m going to speak to you plainly, truthfully, from my heart, so you’ll pardon my French as I do so.

For those of you oblivious nescients with your heads shoved up your own or someone else’s fourth point of contact, which is apparently more than half the population, we have been royally screwed by the so-called friendly visitors from the distant star, Prolexecor.

I have been pouring through complaints and pleas for help from people literally being fucked out of house and home by these little grey assclowns. If you’re listening to this right now and saying to yourself, “I don’t know what all the fuss is about, I have several friends who have adopted greys and they seem to be fitting in just fine”—I have a request to make: why don’t you blow out all the pilot lights, crank the knobs all the way up and stick your head in the oven so that I don’t have to hunt you down and do it myself.

I couldn’t give a rat’s ass, nor does the planet Earth give a rat’s ass about how much you love sucking off greys. You have five native racial classifications to suck and fuck on the planet and the greys are not, I fucking repeat, not among them. This message is about fostering relationships with humans, and that’s not even remotely possible if you’re going to throw sex at lifeforms that are not our genetic matchup.

Newsflash to the stupid asshats in our society: Greys don’t like fucking humans. Oh, wait, double newsflash: Greys don’t like fucking humans, they like fucking humans over. And they like doing it because we make it so ridiculously easy for them. Do you know why we haven’t been visited by any other alien races beside the Prolexecorians? Because they sent a message out to the rest of the known goddamned universe. Do you really need me to spell out what it said? It said that we Earthlings fucking suck as a species.

Did you get that? I’m talking to all the little dumbshits that openly brag about their xeno-coital exploits with creatures that cannot continue our line, in front of lonely, single humans who can. Are you people seriously mentally deficient? That’s not a rhetorical question, I actually want you to tweet the Oval Office to advise me if you’re mind-numbingly thick so I can make sure you’re on the passenger list for the next one-way shuttle off the fucking planet.

Think about it: if a family member announced to you that they wanted to get into an intimate relationship with the neighbor’s pet, would you be happy? Would you? No, you wouldn’t, so why the fuck would you let them do it with something that bears no resemblance to humans and produces no offspring? And brag about it?

First of all, you shouldn’t be shtupping the first visitors to touch down on our planet in since forever because it’s bad form and it gives not just you but the entire fucking planet a shitty reputation. Secondly, you shouldn’t be doing it bareback. I don’t give a fuck if your grey flashes some intergalactic medical card that states he/she/it is disease free. You don’t do it. You. Don’t. Do. It. And you especially do-fucking-not convince other humans to do it either. Disease-free for them may not be disease free for you.

And before you open your bassackward smegma eating piehole to try to justify your actions, saying something like, “I’ve been having sex with humans of all races for most of my life, doesn’t that count for something?” No, you obtuse fetal knuckle dragger, it fucking doesn’t. Do you wanna know why? It doesn’t count because you’ve turned your back on the human race and now you’re crawling with alien cooties. You’re a walking fucking human roach motel. Congratulations.

I’ve also come across stupid shitty websites devoted to technical virgins. You think it’s cool to lose your virginity to a grey and boast about still being a human virgin? It is not fucking cool. I’ve also seen Tumblr pages for humans that have sworn off humans. Humans. That. Have. Sworn. Off. Other. Humans. How simpleminded is that?

I don’t give a shit about fads and exotic tastes and getting your Kirk on, you were born a human so you leave the dance with the species who brought you. One of your own kind, stick to your own kind. And when I say fuck the greys, it doesn’t mean you actually get to go out and fuck the greys. Why? Is the concept of an alien invasion new to you? Are you really that blind? Or are you just so fucking clueless about the different ways a foreign invader can infiltrate our homeworld and take over? Well, it’s time someone told you that the grey you’re hot-monkey-loving, the selfsame one who couldn’t give two shits in a rucksack about you or your bland ass sexual prowess, that mother fucking non-terran cocksucker is only putting up with your horseshit to worm its way into your bank account and property. Every time you donate to their cause, every time you put them in your will or sign over your patch on land to one of them, we lose that much more of our planet. Our. Own. Fucking. Planet. And I swear to God I will personally groin punt the next person I discover doing something asinine like that, and I don’t give a fuck how young or old you are, I will fucking assault you.

Does this message make you feel like a shitbird? Good. If any of the grievances mentioned in this broadcast applies to you in any way, no matter how small, or even if you haven’t acted on your feelings yet but this shit is simmering in the back of your mind, this following message is for you:

Get the fuck off my planet.

I’m not kidding. Just leave. Seriously. If you’ve committed any act that possibly endangers the future survival and continuation of the human race and our birthright claim to this planet, be you rich, powerful, beautiful, healthy, or however genetically perfect… you need to find a new home. I would rather live on a world of loyal human misfits than share a planet with perfects who don’t care to preserve what we’ve built and fail to see just how important we are.

And when you rocket your treacherous asses off the planet, just know that I pity you because I don’t know how you’ve gotten this far in life, but I’m quite sure you won’t go any farther. Oh, and one more thing:

Go fuck yourself.

This concludes this message from the Emergency Broadcast System.

©2011 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

ONE MAN’S MEAT

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I tested the ripeness of Mr. Skelly’s soul more than thirty times this evening, all at the insistence of his wife, Tamara, who never left my side for an instant. I tried to explain to her that this was a delicate process that could not be rushed, but my words never reached her, as if her ears were made of cloth. Mr. Skelly’s ash gray body was laid out on the dining room table like a flesh centerpiece, table decorated with the finest cloth and place settings that she could afford.

This wasn’t uncommon. Most people were ignorant of the proper protocol in manners for a matter such as this. They would set out red wine and wafers, or specially baked bread and cakes, and some even brewed their own ales. Those trappings weren’t necessary, born mostly of superstition and old wives’ tales, but had they been presented, I would have tasted the offering.  If for no other reason than to be polite.

Her husband had come to see me some six months earlier. He was skeptical, as most people are when seeking my services, but I never believed in hard selling my skills. It was a matter of faith. Either you believed that I could do what I claimed I could do, or you didn’t. In the end, Mr. Steven Skelly did believe. He revealed to me he had Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia and wasn’t expected to survive the year. And the diagnosis proved to be accurate.

When I first arrived at her door, Tamara debated whether or not to let me in. Not with me. She debated with herself. A loud conversation, as if both halves of her brain, the logical and the emotional sides, succeeded in separating themselves from one another and exercised shared control over the body. A conversation only the bereaved could have had and still seemed sane.

This was nothing new to me, in fact, Tamara’s discourse with herself counted amongst the tamer exchanges I had been witness to over the past ten years. I remained silent, taking no side in the argument, and was prepared to comply with her decision, either way. If she declined my services, I would have quietly tipped my hat and walked away.

When she quieted down, we stood there, me on her porch, unmoving, and she wedged in between the narrow crack of her door, unspeaking.  Then, she shifted aside slightly, which I took as an invitation to enter, and squeezed past her as politely as I could manage in the limited space provided.

As I stated earlier, Mr. Skelly was laid out on the table in the dining room, dressed in his Sunday best, a Bible laid on his chest with his hands folded upon it.

“Mrs. Skelly, I wish you hadn’t gone through all this trouble—”

“Tamara, please, and it was no trouble at all,” she smiled kindly as she touched her dead husband’s face.

“No, what I mean is, we’ll have to remove your husband’s clothes. I can’t perform my job this way.”

“Oh. I’m sorry. I thought—”

“It’s all right, you didn’t know. How could you know?”

Mr. Skelly was a tall man, a sturdy man, and even cancer couldn’t rob him of that, but it made his dead weight all the more difficult to manage. How Tamara succeeded in dressing him all by herself in the first place was remarkable. Where there’s a will, I suppose. In silence and in tandem, we stripped the corpse, being as respectful to the man who was no longer with us as we could have managed.

“How long?” Tamara asked.

“Excuse me?”

“How long will it take for you to do your…thing?”

“There isn’t a set timeframe for this sort of thing, Tamara,” I took one of her hands in mine, and she let me.

“Most people believe that life and the soul are one and the same thing. This simply isn’t the case. Life ends when the human body shuts down completely. The soul is eternal. The soul doesn’t power the body. If that were the case, we’d all live forever.”

Tamara looked at her husband, hopeful. “So, you mean Steven’s soul is still here, with us?”

“His soul hasn’t released itself from the flesh yet, so yes, in some way, it is still with us.”

Tamara pulled her hand free of my grasp and rushed over to the table and caressed Steven’s face gently. “Honey? Steven? Are you still in there? Can you hear me? Give me a sign if you can hear me!”

I moved behind Tamara, placed my hands on her shoulders and whispered into her ear, “It doesn’t work that way. I’m sorry, it just doesn’t.”

She turned on her heels and was in my face suddenly, like an attack dog. Delicate hands balled into fists and pounding on my chest. “Then why are you just standing here? Why aren’t you doing what we paid you to do?  Why aren’t you helping my Steven? I can’t bear to think of him trapped in there like that, helpless!”

Her energy spent, she folded herself into my chest and I held her.

“He isn’t trapped, Tamara. He’s in a transitional stage, like a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly. If you can imagine a spiritual chrysalis, enveloping his soul, molding and shaping his essence into what it needs to become in order to move on, that’s what’s happening now.”

Tamara looked up at me, concerned. “Then shouldn’t you be getting to work now?  Before it’s too late?”

“His soul isn’t ready.”

“But how do you know?”

I couldn’t stifle a slight chuckle.  “I’ve been doing this for over ten years now. I just know.”

“And you’ve never been wrong? Never made a mistake? Not once?” Her concern was understandable but unjustified.

“Not once. When his soul is ready, when it reaches the stage just before it emerges in its new form, I’ll do what I’ve been paid to do.”

“You’ll eat his sin?” That question was the one thing that never varied in deliverance, from person to person, job to job, regardless of who said it. It always came out sounding the same. Part skepticism, part hope.

“Every drop of it.”

“And there’ll be no retribution?” she looked up at the ceiling but I understood her meaning.

“No retribution. He’ll move on to a better place and none of his sins will transfer to you.”

“And what about you? You take this all of this on yourself. What happens to you?”

“With all due respect, that’s none of your concern,” I expected an argument. None came.

“Well then,” Tamara straightened up and composed herself.  “Can I interest you in a cup of tea?”

“Tea would be nice.”

She stared at me a long moment, no doubt trying to decipher what made me do what I did. Trying to puzzle out how I came into this profession. But she never asked. I think she knew I wouldn’t be very forthcoming anyway, so she simply shook her head slightly and moved to the kitchen to put the kettle on.

©2011 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

THE SUBMISSION

My Movie

Darryl paced the length of the gravel path that divided the perfectly clipped lawn and stared at the bluestone pebbles that reflected the early morning light. He clenched an artist’s portfolio in a white-knuckled death grip, constantly checking his watch as he shot an occasional glance at the front door of the private house. He was clearly anxious about knocking on the door, but in truth was more nervous because he wasn’t sure of the makeup of the neighborhood or how he would be perceived, a young black man loitering on someone’s property.

He stopped and looked fixedly at the door. One deep breath to gird his loins. “Bump this.” He stepped up and wiped his sweaty palm on his pant leg before ringing the doorbell. An action, he discovered, that once began, could not be stopped. He worked the doorbell like a telegraph key — three short, followed by one long. “C’mon, c’mon, ‘fore I lose my nerve.”

***

The walls of Mark Brown’s bedroom were decorated with posters of comic book characters, and special collector’s edition comic books and rare comic art hung in ornate frames. Bookcases, a chest of drawers and anything else that provided a flat surface were littered with statues, model kits, action figures, toys, and piles of comic books and graphic novels. The room could have easily belonged to that of a young boy instead of a black man in his thirties.

Mark nearly leaped out of bed at the sound of the doorbell—more the pattern of the ring than the sound itself. Three short rings followed by a long one. Over and over again. He blindly reached for the alarm clock on the nightstand, rubbed the sleep from his eyes, and checked the time.

“Who the hell’s ringing my bell like they lost their goddamned mind this early in the morning?”

The doorbell chime continued as Mark stumbled to the front door in his pajamas, still wiping sleep from his field of vision. “All right! All right! I hear you!” Mark violently swung the door open. “What? And it better be good!”

“Uh—what’s crackin’, I–I mean good morning, sir. Sorry to bother you ’cause you look like you were sleepin’, but I’m lookin’ for a Mr. Mark Brown. He still live here?” Darryl stammered.

“Don’t you people keep in contact with each other? I’ve never bought a Watchtower from any of you, and I’m not going to start today, get me?”

“I ain’t no Jehovah’s Witness, sir. It’s a portfolio, not a briefcase.” Darryl held up his portfolio.

“Then who are you?”

“My name’s Darryl. Darryl Jackson.”

“That supposed to mean something to me?”

“’Pends on who you are.”

“I’m Mark Brown. What do you want?”

“The same Mark Brown who owns and publishes the Perceived Onslaught comic books?”

“The same Mark Brown you pissed off for getting him out of bed on his day off!”

“Mr. Brown, I said I was sorry ’bout that, but check it, I got here earlier than I thought I would and I tried to wait until a decent hour to show a brotha respect, but I’m kinda anxious, yanno? Slow, ya blow, snooze, ya lose.”

“What. Do. You. Want?” Mark said through gritted teeth.

“Uh — I was—I was kinda wonderin’ if —uh— you would—like—take a look at my submission samples? If it’s not too much trouble, an’ all?” Darryl said, visibly flustered.

“Well, it is too much trouble, and besides, all samples go through the submissions editor at my business address, so why don’t you drop them off there and I promise someone will take a look at them and get back to you.”

“Yo, but I tried that already, Mr. Brown, an’ all I keep gettin’ are form letters an’ stuff, tellin’ me to practice and submit again in a few months! What’s up with that?”

“What’s up with what?”

“What’s up with your submission editor? No offense, but I don’t think they know they butt from a t-square! I think they stoppin’ a lot of good work from reachin’ you, includin’ my stuff!”

“Look, Darren—”

“Darryl! Why you playin’ me?”

“—Darryl, my staff are dedicated professionals trained to spot talent and hire them if they’re at a professional level, and to nurture them if they’re not—”

“Yeah, yeah, I read all that in them interviews you be doin’, but I’m askin’ you to give me a chance! You run the company, don’t you? Can’t nobody veto your word, am I right?”

“Okay, I’ll tell you what, I’ll call the office and tell them to expect you. Instead of a form letter, someone will personally sit down with you and go over your submission.”

“No!”

“No?”

“No disrespect, but I don’t wanna deal with no flunky. I came to meet with you.”

“Then you should have made an appointment. Look at me. I’m standing here in my pajamas. I don’t do meetings in my pajamas. Maybe some other time, huh? At my office?”

“I tried that, too! I left you a hundred messages, but you never returned any of my calls! All that paper you got, you can’t get a beeper or nothin’? Page a brotha back or somethin’, know what I’m sayin’?”

“Hey, Darryl, no need to get upset, okay? Sorry, if I didn’t return your calls. It’s nothing personal. I just get so many messages on a daily basis that it’s impossible to call everybody back.”

“Yo, I didn’t mean to flare up at you, Mr. Brown, it’s just I took the day off from work and travelled here all the way from Ithaca for you to take a look at my art—”

“Speaking of which, how did you get this address?”

“From one of your old comics from like seven or eight years ago, when you used to publish outta your house, before you blew up an’ got that corporate office in the city. See?? I been readin’ your joints from way back, Mr. Brown. Why don’t you hook a brotha up with a portfolio review? Make up for them unreturned messages, know what I’m sayin’?” Darryl could tell by Mark’s expression that he wasn’t biting. “Awww, c’mon! Don’t sleep on me! My game is tight! Lemme show you a little somethin’, somethin’, an’ if you ain’t feelin’ my art, I’ll bounce. Simple as that. That’s my word.”

Mark sighed and sized Darryl up. “A quick review, then you leave and let me get back to sleep, deal?”

“Bet!”

Mark ushered Darryl in through the foyer into the living room and gestured for the young man to take a seat at the table, while he stepped into the kitchen.

Darryl was momentarily stunned by all the comic book related paraphernalia that adorned the place. “Yo, this crib is phat. I’ma get me one just like it, but bigga! Yup.”

He moved to the framed comic book art pages that lined the walls and inspected them with childlike exuberance. “Man, I remember all these joints! Yo, hang on to these, Mr. Brown, cause they’re gonna be like priceless collector’s items or somethin’.”

“You can call me Mark. Every time you say Mr. Brown, I turn around and look for my father.” Mark called from the kitchen. “Can I get you something to drink? Coffee?  Juice?”

“Sure, whatever you got.” Darryl answered. “Yo, check this, Mr. Brow — I mean, Mark, you ain’t gonna be sorry you gave me this chance, word. An’ I ain’t never gonna forget it, neither. I’ma be loyal to you! Forget Marvel! Forget DC! Me an’ you! That’s the way it’s gonna be forever! An’ when I start drawin’ your books, sales are gonna blow up, wait an’ see! I’m the next—”

Mark poked his head out the kitchen door. “Stop!”

“What’d I do? I ain’t break nothin’.”

“Let’s get two things straight, Darryl. First, this is a portfolio review and that’s all it is. No offer of work was made or implied by me, got it?”

Darryl nodded. “I hear you, I hear you. Just got a little carried away, yanno?”

“Second, you say I’m the next anybody and this review’s over quick-fast-in-a-hurry.”

“Why?” Darryl asked.

“Because two-thirds of the submissions we receive come with a cover letter that contains the sentence, You won’t regret hiring me because I’m the next— fill in the artist of your choice. Those submissions usually turn out to be the most amateurish, done by people who try to imitate their favorite artists.  Submission editors aren’t impressed by the statement, so do yourself a favor and avoid getting lumped into that wannabe category. Strive to be yourself, not a carbon copy of someone else.”

“Good lookin’ out.”

“Mark disappeared back into the kitchen and rummaged through the cupboards, which were just about devoid of anything remotely related to sustenance. “I’m out of coffee! How about some juice?”

“A’ight.”

Mark opened the refrigerator, which was in the same shape as the cupboards, and grabbed the lone orange juice container. He shook it, checked the date, then opened it and took a whiff.  It’s gone bad. “Juice is out, too! How about some water?”

“Nah, I’m straight.”

Mark shrugged and put the container back into the refrigerator. “I sure could use some coffee.” He mumbled.

Mark reentered the living room and pulled a chair up to the table, right beside Darryl. “Sorry about being such a bad host, but that’s one of the drawbacks of being a bachelor. Nobody around to remind you you’re out of the essentials like coffee, bread, toilet paper. What about you? You married?”

Darryl dug a wallet out of his pocket and rummaged for a picture that he handed to Mark. “Yeah, that’s my wife, Lashawndra, and my baby boy, Tyriq.”

“Beautiful family. Your son has his mother’s eyes. You must be proud.”

“Yeah, they my world. I’d do just about anything for them.”

Mark returned the picture to Darryl. “Cool. Okay, let’s see what you’ve got.”

Darryl placed his portfolio on the table, unzipped it and turned it in Mark’s direction as he opened it. Mark’s eyes passed over the pages quickly and he flipped through at a speed faster than Darryl appreciated. Darryl’s glance darted back and forth between the portfolio and Mark’s expressionless face.  When Mark got to the end, he flipped all the pages back to the beginning.

“Well?” Darryl asked, hopefully.

“Well, your work shows promise—”

“I knew it! Didn’t I tell you your submission editor was weak?”

“—However, you still need to work on a few areas.”

“Like what?” Darryl sounded more defensive than he wanted to.

“Hey, don’t get discouraged by my criticism. Very few people have broken into the comic industry without receiving at least a dozen rejections. A little hard work and a lot of practice is all you need—”

“Now you startin’ to sound like your form letter! I didn’t come all this way to hear you recite that mess verbatim!”

“You want to know what I really think?”

“Hell yeah!”

Mark shrugged. “You asked for it.” He started flipping through the portfolio pages again, this time stopping at certain pages. “I can tell that you never studied anatomy outside of copying it from a comic book. You’re inventing muscles that don’t exist, at least not on humans.  And look at your facial expressions. Why are all your characters yelling or gritting their teeth? Not to mention the stiff poses, the lack of background detail, you don’t spot enough black and your perspective is — just plain bad.”

“Damn. Then what’s good about it?”

“Your pencil lines are solid and you understand line weight, which’ll make your inker happy. Your panel layouts are good, too. You just need to fill them with more believable and fluid poses and background detail.”

“Man, you don’t know what you talkin’ about!” Darryl reached into the inside pocket of his portfolio, pulled out a comic and slapped it down on the table. “I been published before! If my art was so jacked up, why’d they print my work?”

Mark picked up the comic, looked at the cover with a mixture of astonishment and disgust. His expression didn’t change as he flipped through the comic. “Nigga Press presents The Togetha Niggaz? What’s this?”

“That’s real life, son! It’s about these four bangers, real hardcore street niggaz, that form this posse and be makin’ mad cheddah an’ be smokin’ corrupt  cops an’ whatnot! This book be keepin’ it real! What you know ’bout that?”

“Real? Is this what it’s like in your neighborhood?”

“For real!”

“In Ithaca?”

“What you tryin’ to say?”

Mark shook his head and tossed the comic on the portfolio. “Nothing. Forget it. Look, congratulations, you’ve been published. Maybe if you put together another story, they’ll print more of your work.”

“Can’t. They ain’t in business no more.” Darryl mumbled.

“I’m not surprised.”

“What’s that mean?”

“You’re kidding, right? Nigga Press? Negro, please. I’m surprised a printer actually wasted paper on that garbage! And you wonder why they published your work? Your art was the best thing in there! They’d be stupid to turn you away! But your work on The Togetha Niggaz is a far cry from commercial standards. I’m not trying to tell you what to work on but damn, couldn’t you find another company to work for?”

“What you think I’m tryin’ to do now? But fake-ass companies like yours be frontin’! Y’all don’t respect a brothas potential! So if Nigga Press is the only company tryin’ to big up a black man, what am I supposed to do? Say no? Then what? Then I’m ass out all around!”

“You have a point. Look—”

“An’ why you judgin’ me, huh? I ain’t even into “reality” comics, no how. That’s a’ight for TV an’ movies an’ books an’ junk, but comics, to me, comics is always ’bout superheroes. Cosmic brothas, mystic sistas, yanno what I’m talkin’ ’bout? But them kinda books, and the companies that make ’em, when they do come out, they don’t last that long. You in the business, you must know somethin’. Why’s that? Why do most of the comics with people of color as the star fail so fast?”

“You looking for some special answer? They fail for the same reason a good majority of the white hero titles fail. Poorly written stories with stereotypical, underdeveloped characters. Poorly financed. Poorly marketed. Poorly illustrated in what is commercially thought of as the “urban style”. All of the above. None of the above. Take your pick. But whatever you choose, realize that it’s only half true.  The reality is that most minority-themed comics are nothing more than rehashes of successful white comics done in black face.”

“I hear what you sayin’! White corporate America don’t want to publish no minority titles, but they can’t show their racists faces to the public, so they hire Uncle Toms to put out this substandard crap on purpose just so they can say, We put it out there, but there just doesn’t seem to be an interest for this type of material.”

Mark rolled his eyes. “Here we go again with that white corporate conspiracy to keep the black man down. One day I would love to have a professional conversation with a person of color and not have the white man is the devil pop up in the exchange. Don’t think I’ll ever live to see the day, though.”

“Somebody gotta keep it real!”

“Look, white-owned or not, any publisher would be stupid to intentionally produce a product that was substandard.”

“But now you’re contradictin’ yourself!”

“No, I’m not.  You’re not listening to me. Truth: a good majority of the minority comics published are crap.  Truth: a good majority of the non-ethnic comics published today are crap.  Truth: the number of high-quality non-ethnic comics on the stands greatly outweigh the number of quality minority comics, but a large part of that is due to the sheer number of non-ethnic titles being flooded into an oversaturated market.”

“Yeah, I been readin’ ’bout that comic glut an’ whatnot, so I can’t argue with that.  I’m just curious about why minority titles don’t do well.  I buy every title I know is published by a black man representin’ our people.”

“Even if the book is bad?”

“Come again?”

“You said you buy every minority title published by a black man. I asked you if you also bought the books that were of poor content quality?”

“Hell yeah!”

“Why?”

“To show a brotha support! White man ain’t gonna buy the book an’ put no paper in a black man’s pocket!”

“I understand supporting black-owned enterprises, but don’t we as a black consumer have the right to demand quality? Don’t we as black professionals owe it to one another to pull a brother’s coattail to shoddy workmanship? If you bought a chair from a black carpenter and it fell apart the first time you sat in it, wouldn’t you hold him accountable for giving you a quality product? Of course, you would. Why should it be any different when it comes to comics?”

“Yeah, well, that’s an interestin’ theory an’ I’m tryin’ to stay open-minded, but I get this vibe that you tryin’ to come off all superior on me. Lookin’ down on my published work, an’ all—”

“I’m just telling you like it is, or how I know it to be. But since we’re keeping it real here, I’ve got a question for you. Do you really think that the artwork in your portfolio is of a professional level?”

“Well, that’s not my most recent work—”

“Then why’d you bring it?”

“Cause the new stuff’s not finished yet. Work got me tired, black. When I gets home, I ain’t thinkin’ ’bout nothin’ but eatin’ and bustin’ z’s. But that sample’s the same one that got me a job with Nigga Press, so I figured—”

“You figured that it’s the kind of work all publishers are looking for?”

“Right.”

“How many publishers have you sent it to?”

“Not includin’ you? ‘Bout twenty, thirty.”

“Besides Nigga Press, who else offered you a job?”

“Nobody.”

“Then that should’ve told you something!”

“Why you attackin’ a brotha like that? Why’re you, a black man, endorsin’ the same two-dimensional thinkin’ that the white comic book industry uses to hold you down?”

“Endorsing? What the hell are you talking about? What’s me not thinking your samples are of a professional quality got to do with the white comic book industry?”

“Yanno what? Forget it, dog. I’m wastin’ my time here. In fact, yanno what else? Your comics suck! I only came here ’cause I figured I’d help a brotha out, know what I’m sayin’? But if you too stupid or too proud to accept my offer, I’ll just take my samples to a bigga, betta company. An’ I want you to remember this day, son, cause when I blow up, I’m comin’ back for that apology. Best believe that.”

“Oh, I’m too small for you now, huh? Whatever. See ya. Don’t let the doorknob hit you where the Good Lord split you.”

“Yeah, you like one of them tiny little Oreos that come inna cereal box.”

“And I’m an Oreo?”

“Think you ain’t? What relationship you got with the black comic readin’ community? What black comic associations you belong to? What black creators do you mentor?”

“What’s that got to do with you and your samples?”

“Why’re you ducking the question?”

“Because it bears no relevance—”

“Answer the question.”

“I don’t have time for this—”

“Answer the question!”

“Fine! I don’t belong to any black organizations, happy?”

“Why?”

“I don’t owe you any explanations—”

“Why?”

“I’ve had enough of this! Get out of my house!”

“Why!”

“Because black people can’t organize, that’s why! You think when I entered this game I didn’t want to make change, unite the black community, put out a product that would help uplift the race?” Mark’s tone took on a sermon-like quality. “And there are a hundred people just like me that start out trying to do the same thing, dreaming of the same outcome, outreaching the same hand, making the same offers! And you know what happens? White people do laugh at us, but it’s not the ones you think! It’s the ghosts of the whites from over 400 hundred years ago that are laughing! Cause they planted a seed in us that’s growing stronger with each generation! That seed causes us to challenge each other rather than organize! What do we call it? Crabs in a barrel syndrome? And it kills us every time! And why do we need that? Why do we have to make ourselves look bigger by tearing another brother down?”

“An’ you think you ain’t a goddam crab in that same mutha fuckin’ barrel? How you figga? Every time you turn a blind eye to a black man tryin’ make endz, or look right through a brotha that needs help, ain’t you holdin’ him down? Stoppin’ him from climbin’ out that barrel?”

“You want me to help you to make it in this industry? All right. I’ll give you a nickel’s worth of free advice. Stop looking for an excuse to hate a successful brother and take a tip from the white man, instead of blaming him for your inadequacies! Learn the comic industry first. Study it. Understand what makes it work. Understand what it is. Despite the fact that you grew up on comics and love to read them and drawing comic characters has always been a hobby, this is a business. A real business. Understand how a business operates. Study the mistakes and accomplishments of the people who are doing what you want to do. And forget about the instant gratification. Pay your dues. Do what it takes to break into the business. By any means necessary? By all means that don’t require you to compromise your beliefs or dreams.”

“Paper must be good.” Darryl said under his breath.

“For what?”

“Your job.”

“What, publishing? I don’t know, I make a living.”

“Nah, your other job.”

“What other job?”

“The one the white man pays you for.”

“What?”

“For doin’ his job for him.”

“Why do you keep bringing the white man into this conversation? There’s just the two of us standing here and no white man in shouting distance.”

“Matter of opinion.”

“Meaning what?”

“There’s always been so-called brothas like you out there, livin’ all comfortable in the white man’s world, afraid to break the shackles, fight the massahs, own your destiny as a free black man!” Darryl held his arms out in front of him, wrists pressed together as if they were shackled. “C’mon, say it with me now, Give us us free!”

“What do you know about me that allows you to come into my house and attack my character?”

“Well, I know you ain’t stupid. White man don’t hire stupid brothas. Probably sent you to college to get that degree in self-loathin’. What was your major, black? How To Discreetly Hate Anyone Darker Than Milk?”

Mark let out an ironic chuckle. “I get it. It all makes sense now. You can’t break into the comic business and it’s got nothing to do with the fact that you need to study and practice harder for your work to take on commercial qualities. It’s all my fault. I’m a hater hired by the white man to single-handedly keep you from entering the market and toppling the great white comic empire. None of this could possibly be your fault, right?”

“You can’t blame a victim of America, dog, cause that what we are, victims! Brought here against our will, enslaved, beaten, killed, forced to embrace a culture not our own, forced to forget our heritage, deny our birthright! An’ you’d know all this if you were a real black man!”

“Oh, give that old, tired downtrodden for 400 years bullshit rhetoric a rest!”

“Do you even notice what you doin’? Every time I try to drop a little science on you, you respond with contempt. Did you learn that from the whites?”

“From the whites? What am I, in South Africa?”

“You might as well be, you apartheid mutha fucka.”

“Get out of my house!”

“Why’re you afraid?”

“Afraid of what?”

“The truth! Hearin’ the truth, acknowledgin’ the truth, speakin’ the truth!”

“I’m not afraid of a goddamned thing! Now pack your things and get out of my house!”

“Oh, you not afraid, huh? Then why won’t you tell me what you thought of The Togetha Niggaz?”

“What I thought of—? It’s a revolting piece of shit, all right? Is that what you want to hear?”

“And Nigga Press?”

“All that ranting you do about the evil white conspiracy and you can’t see?”

“See what? Drop science.”

“Darryl, if there’s anybody that absolutely does not pose a threat to white corporate America, it’s illiterate, ignorant assholes like Nigga Press that perpetuate the negative stereotypes that castrate us as a race!” Mark’s calm and professionalism have unraveled at the edges. “But you can’t really blame them, can you? That’s our one claim to fame. Who needs the white man to hold us down and pick us apart? To devalue the black family structure and make us apathetic to the crimes we commit on our own kind? We do the job better than they do, cause we work twice as hard at it! In fact, if Nigga Press was smart, they would’ve sent copies of that garbage to the KKK! I bet they would’ve received enough funding to put Marvel and DC to shame!”

“All that, huh?”

“Take a look at that book again! This time try to be objective!”

“Can’t do that, dog.”

“Why not?”

“Cause I’m Nigga Press.”

“What?” Mark asked, confused.

Darryl grabbed the comic book, opened the cover and shoved it at Mark. “Read the indicia. ‘Sides bein’ one of the artists, I’m the writer, editor, publisher. Just like you, only different. Only real.”

“But why?”

“Why what? Why Nigga Press? Why alienate the white audience? Cause I don’t give a fuck about comic sales in a white comic store! Cause I wanted to create somethin’ the black youth could relate to! Cause I believe in our segregation from the white supremacist comic book industry that is determined to remain ignorant of any other culture than their own! Cause I am who I am, an’ who I am is a servant to my people! Cause I knew nobody else’d take the lead, so I became the mutha fuckin’ pioneer!”

“No. I no longer care why that trash was published. My question is why all the pretense?”

“Cause I had to peep your game, playa. Fuck your comic art job and your bitch-ass comics! That shit’s nickel an’ dime, kid.”

“Peep my game for what?”

“Ever see that commercial with that mutha fucka wearing the Riddler suit with all them question marks on it an’ shit? He’s always talkin’ about all this government money floatin’ around out there, an’ white people are on it with a quickness! So I did some researchin’ on my own an’ found out there’s much benjamins out there for minority businesses! Free money! An’ all you gotta do is meet some stupid criteria! Like being black in America ain’t criteria enough.”

“You still haven’t answered my question. And why come to me if my product is so bitch-ass?”

Darryl hesitated a long moment then shrugged. “Guess it don’t matta if you know, cause my game’s so fulla Machiavellianism you can’t touch it.”

“Machiavellianism. Riiiight.” Mark smirked.

“Yo, I ain’t even hearin’ you, fool, cause you ain’t gots nothin’ to say to me! See, I’m inna process of building a black multi-media alliance, but not just with comics an’ shit. I gots me all kinda TV, film, an’ record producers lined up, I’m talkin’ to magazine an’ book publishers, an’ my cousin even hooked me up with some toy an’ videogame makers. We gots every aspect of entertainment covered an’ it’s all black-owned! Way I figga it, separately we can apply for all that free government money an’ start poolin’ it all together into the umbrella company of the alliance! But before I start makin’ offers, I gotta make sure I come correct an’ flush out all you fake-ass Uncle Tom-owned businesses. So, go back to playin’ it safe in that lily white imaginary hater world you livin’ in, Chicken George, an’ give my regards to Mickey an’ Pluto an’ all them other mutha fuckas!”

Darryl snatched his comic out of Mark’s hand, shoved it back in his portfolio and turned to leave.

“Whereabouts, Darryl?”

Darryl stopped and cut Mark a glance. “What?”

“You said you traveled all the way from Ithaca this morning. Whereabouts?”

“What’s it to you?”

“I have friends and family in Ithaca. Maybe you know some of them? Maybe they know you? Hell, only so many Africans were brought over here, and even less survived slavery — we might be related. So where are you from?”

Darryl hesitated. “Greenville.”

“Greenville, huh? Funny, I know Ithaca pretty well and I don’t recall there being a Greenville.”

“Yeah, well, it’s a small hood an’ folks pretty much keep to theyselves.”

“Yeah, I guess it’d have to be small for me not to have heard of it. Most folks probably steer clear of it, being so dangerous, and all. Or there’s one more solution — you’re full of shit.”

“Yo, you best raise up off me!”

“Or what? You’re going to bust a cap in my ass? Violate that strong code of black ethics you’ve been slinging around here by participating in a little black on black violence?”

“I’ll do what I gots to do, bitch!”

“I ain’t your bitch, Darryl. Or your dog. Or your son. It’s either Mark or Mr. Brown, pick one, but if you call me outside my name one more time, I’ll show you how we get down where I come from.”

“Man, forget you! You ain’t worth the jail time! I’m ghost!”

“Why are you running from it, Darryl?”

“From what?”

“The truth. You accused me of refusing to acknowledge and speak it, but of the two of us, you’re the one with the real problem.”

“You the one livin’ the snow white lie—”

“Don’t play me, Darryl, play Lotto. You’ll get better odds.”

“Anybody played you, you played yourself!”

“That’s what you’d like me to believe, isn’t it, Darryl? It’d let you walk out of here with a little face.”

“Whatever you need to believe—”

“No, it isn’t whatever, it’s the truth. What, you think you’re the first? First artist to ever sneak through and get a private session? First person of color to accuse me of selling out? First person that thought I owed them something just because of the color of their skin? I’ve been doing this for eight-plus years,  you tell me what the odds are that you’d be the first to do any of these things.”

“I don’t care.” Darryl shrugged.

“All right, Mr. Machiavellianism, how about this, Why the portfolio?”

“What?”

“If your game was as tight as you wanted me to believe, then why didn’t you bring your research with statistics and figures that supported your proposed idea? A model business plan? Something? Instead, you brought artwork, and poor artwork at that?”

“I ain’t need to bring you jack!”

“And why meet at my house? I’m here once, maybe twice a month. Most times I sleep at the office. So how did you know I was here today? Luck? Coincidence? Or were you watching me?”

“So now I’m a stalker?”

“For how long? A couple of days? A week? Longer? And if you could afford to spend so much time watching me, that means that you probably don’t have a job, not a regular one anyway.”

“You ain’t gots to worry ’bout me gettin’ paid! I gets mine, black!”

“And since I’m on a roll here—”

“You ain’t on nothin’!”

“—I’m going to go out on a limb and say this probably isn’t even about you, is it? Awful lot of trouble to go through for a comic job for yourself. It’s about your family, isn’t it? Unless that picture you showed me was a lie, too? What was it? Some street ho and her crack baby?”

“Don’t you talk about my family, punk! An’ what you know ’bout that? What you know ’bout tryin’ to raise a family, huh? What you know ’bout me?”

“To tell you the truth, I don’t know anything about raising a family, but I do know, or I’m almost certain that you really came here looking for a job, didn’t you? And I can’t fault you for that, trying to do right by your family. That’s actually pretty noble. I could have done without the lies, attitude and language, though.”

“Fault me? Fuck you! I ain’t come here for no mutha fuckin’ job! Job? What that mean? J.O.B.? Just Over Broke? I ain’t about that! I’ma get paid an’ blow up much spots, know what I’m sayin’?”

“This isn’t about a job? Fine, then prove it.”

“I ain’t provin’ shit!”

Mark stood up, walked around the edge of the table and put out his hand. “I’m about to offer you a one year contract with Perceived Onslaught. That’s a year’s salary guaranteed, provided that you show up for work everyday and perform the tasks assigned to you. If it works out after that time, we’ll renegotiate your contract. All you have to do is shake my hand to cement the deal. And if I’m wrong, if this isn’t about a job, or the money, or feeding your family, then just walk out that door. No harm, no foul.”

“You so fulla shit—”

“I never offer what I’m not prepared to back up. I’m a smarter businessman than that. The choice is yours. It always has been. It always will be. You decide what course your life takes. All black men do. Many of us just don’t want to live up to the responsibility of our choices. I don’t really know you, but I don’t think you’re like that. So where do we, two black men with not a white man in sight, where do we go from here?”

Darryl just stood there for a long minute, head hung low, thinking. Reflecting on his past. Reevaluating his present. Reconnoitering the paths for his future. “You ever do somethin’ on impulse? Seems right at the time. Harmless. Then after it’s done you see the effects an’ you wonder, Why I ain’t seen that inna first place?” He said in a low voice. “Wasn’t nothin’ political ’bout Nigga Press. It was just a comic, yanno? People don’t take comics serious. With all the gangsta rap an’ thug life hype goin’ ’round, an’ people gettin’ mad loot offa it, I figured I’d get me a slice, too. No harm in that, right? I mean, I ain’t create none of that stuff, an’ with or without me, it’s still gonna play on, right? So, what’s one comic gonna hurt? Get in quick, make some paper an’ move on before anybody knows I’m Audi. Nobody’d care, right?”

“But my wife did.” Darryl continued. “Said I got a son an’ should be settin’ an example cause what other role models is he gonna have if he can’t respect his father? An’ I ain’t wanna hear that. Told her she messin’ up the cash flow, but she was right, tho. So, I ain’t say nothin’ else ’bout it. Just packed up the copies of the books that didn’t sell an’ stuffed them in a closet. I figured it was over, but she never lost that look in her eye, like she was ashamed of me or some shit. An’ when I lost my telemarketin’ job, shit started gettin’ worse. Ever try to live on unemployment checks with bills comin’ due an’ three mouths to feed? An’ one of them mouths is too young to understand why there ain’t enough food in the house to get fed three times a day.”

Mark’s hand remained outstretched. “Darryl, you don’t have to do this. I’m not here to judge you.”

“But even now, when I got nothin’, I still got my pride. An’ I don’t need nobody’s handouts.”

“Handouts are what you get from the government. A hand up is what you get from a brother. A true brother. And trust me, everybody on my payroll earns that money. My name isn’t Salvation and I’m not trying to raise an Army. Work or begone is the company motto. But if you’re loyal to the goal of trying to make my dreams a reality, then there’s nothing I wouldn’t do to help you—”

Mark took a few steps towards Darryl. “—I’d even meet you half way.”

Darryl knew it was do or die time. Put up or shut up. He stepped up and gripped Mark’s hand firmly.

“Welcome on board.” Mark said.

“But I thought you weren’t diggin’ my artwork?”

“What’s your artwork have to do with your job?”

“Then what I’ma be doin’?”

“I like that idea about the black media alliance. Think you could pull it off?”

“Hell yeah!”

“Then we’ll start mapping out a game plan tomorrow, but on two conditions—”

Darryl eyed the man suspiciously. “What?”

“One: Nigga Press never rears its head anywhere near my company and its business dealings, in fact this is the last time I hear the word Nigga at all from you.”

Darryl put a hand in the air. “Word is bond.”

“And two: you wait here until I get dressed.”

“Why?”

“Why? You bust into my house and disturb my sleep on my day off and you think you can just get away with it?”

“Said I was sorry ’bout that, bla—uh — Mr. Brown.”

“Mark. And sorry, my ass! You’re going to buy me a cup of coffee, goddamit!”

“Bet to that. I can charge it to my expense account, right?”

“I got your expense account, right here.” Mark gestured towards his crotch.

“Yanno, it’s funny how things work out.”

“How so?” Mark asked.

“If I’da said I lived in any other place but Ithaca, I’d be ass out right now.”

“Uh, not necessarily. All my folks are in Brooklyn. I don’t know a damn thing about Ithaca.”

“You played me!”

Mark shrugged and smiled. “Hey, game recognizes game.”

©2001 & 2018 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

About The Submission:

I was going to be a filmmaker.

Well, I still can be, especially if George Eliot’s words ring true—It is never too late to be what you might have been.It was the 90’s and the independent film movement was just beginning to blossom. I was lucky enough to publish a line of comic books and graphic novels during the independent boom of the comic book industry, and wanted to step boldly into the world of cinema.

I took a two-day Hollywood film course and filled with intent and blissful ignorance, I wrote the story you’re about to read. Based very loosely on a series of events that happened while I published comics and was foolish enough to list my home address in the indicia of the books, which resulted in more than a few unwanted visitors.

Principle photography was to begin in September 2001, but the events of that month pushed the schedule back a few years.

I eventually filmed it and while it’s not Oscar worthy, I learned a valuable lesson about storytelling—overwriting, on the nose dialogue, and editing, in particular. Still, it was a hell of an adventure.

Oh, and if you’re curious to see how the film turned out, you can catch it here:

The Space Between

angel-statue-angel-statue-stock-by-stock-weeping-angel-statue-for-garden

When I was asked to deliver this eulogy, I was terrified. I am not the best orator in the family, that honor goes to Arthur, my brother, who couldn’t be in attendance because he and his family lived too far away, as opposed to my youngest sister, Ethel, who simply couldn’t be bothered to pack up their families again for a repeat memorial service. You see, we buried my great grandfather Walter two short weeks ago and while I understand the inconvenience, family is family and they should have made it their business to be here, if not to offer support to those of us this passing strikes hardest, then at least out of familial obligation. If it sounds like I’m bitter, I am, and I apologize for burdening you with it but not sorry for voicing the way I feel. That was one of the lessons I learned from the person we’re memorializing today.

This woman gave life to the woman who gave life to the woman who gave life to me and I owe her so much because I have a good life. If it’s true that grandparents give us a sense of who we are and where we come from, then great-grandparents let us know how far we’ve come and the sacrifices that had to be made for us to exist.

Today, as we bid farewell to GiGiMaw Eleanor, I realize the size of the hole left in my heart and in my family. I am truly blessed to have so many strong women in my life and it is extremely rare for a relationship three generations removed to be so crucial and so enduring but then Eleanor was that phenomenal sort of person every single day of her life. And you don’t have to take my word for it, others will come up and tell stories that will make you laugh and fill your hearts with joy and hope. I, on the other hand, wish to tell a different story, one that few of you know but I think it’s time to clear the air of ghosts and secrets from the past.

Eleanor and Walter had two children, a daughter, my wonderful GiMaw Ruth, who is with us today, and her older brother, Ned, who is no longer with us. From the stories Eleanor told me, Ned, the granduncle I never had the honor of meeting, was an active little boy, rambunctious and always full of playful mischief, but he was kindhearted, especially to his baby sister. Always the defender of the weak and a paladin of justice, he had the makings for growing into someone important, someone the world needed.

When he was just six years old he was the victim of a hit and run which cut his life short. Alerted by the neighbors, Eleanor and Walter rushed to the scene of the accident and gathered up their son’s body and immediately carried him home as not to cause a spectacle. They carefully and lovingly cleaned Ned head to toe, dressed him in his Sunday best and placed him on their bed in the space between them and mourned their loss in private all through the night.

This was in a time before the dead were taken to morgues, back when it was the family’s responsibility to take care of funeral arrangements themselves. My great grandparents were poor, like nearly everyone else in town, so these two people, these two parents, dug their son’s grave with their bare hands, wrapped him in his bedsheet and placed his body into the ground, burying his corpse handful by trembling handful.

Eleanor and Walter divorced each other two months later. They were still in their twenties and chose to remain living under the same roof for their daughter’s sake, together but separated. Eighty plus years of sleeping in their marriage bed with a space forever between them where their phantom son lay, sharing an experience that was so painful that they couldn’t risk casting an eye upon the other for fear of reopening a wound that never fully closed.

But as I mentioned, they were private people who managed to keep that pain to themselves and had I not known the story I would have been hardpressed to spot their unhappiness whenever we stopped round for a visit. Up until the end, GiGiMaw Eleanor had more energy and showed more interest in my life and the lives of my children than anyone I’ve ever known. No offense, Mom.

What made my great-grandmother special? So wonderful? As the relative who lived the closest, she was always present, part of our everyday lives in such a tangible way, baking and cooking and babysitting and taking our daughters for surprise days of shopping at the mall.

You impacted my life in so many ways, GiGiMaw Eleanor, helped shape who I am, who my children are. You influenced all of us so greatly and I will always love you and save a special corner of my heart to keep you with me because you held the family together.

And in keeping with your tradition, I wanted you to know that we are not only laying you to rest today. It took some doing but we located Ned’s original burial spot and we’re having your son reinterred with you and GiGPaw Walter in the place he never ceased to exist, in the space between the both of you because family needs to be together.

©2018 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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To Sow, Perchance To Reap

book-honbachi2

The world is full of folks who appreciate nature and the great outdoors to the point of creating a mental happy place of some idyllic green pasture.

That ain’t me.

City boy born and bred. Concrete, glass and steel comprise my Garden of Eden. Yet, despite not being blessed with a green thumb, I planted something today.

An idea.

Okay, idea is a bit of a stretch. It’s more like a plot germ. As it stands, it’s a weak and feeble thing prematurely delivered into the world that requires incubation, so I decided to commit it to the ground at the back of beyond in my mind and ignore it until it has the strength to claw its way out of the story grave.

But don’t feel too sorry for it, though. It’s not alone. It’s planted beside random bits of cool dialogue that I’ll never be able to work into a real-world conversation and nebulous set pieces that don’t quite mesh with any of my existing stories. They’re all tucked away in my own personal mental pet cemetery.

The soil of a writer’s mind is stonier; a writer grows what they can imagine and scribes it.

Apologies for the bastardization of your quote, Mr. King.

And no, I won’t tell you what the plot germ is. Not out of fear of it being stolen but simply because:

  1. You wouldn’t understand it in its present form, and
  2. I’m not superstitious but I firmly believe in the dreaded jinx. If I tell you what it is, it’ll never grow.

So, I will go about my business and occupy my mind with trivialities and allow my subconscious to absently weed my preemie idea seed.

I’ll wait until it breaks free of its chrysalis as a brain-soil stained vision with roots that encircle the heart of a story that I cannot wait to write.

Until then, I’ll follow the sage advice of Mssr. Ron Popeil, hawker of the infamous Showtime Rotisserie Oven and, “Set it and forget it.”

©2018 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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The Heart Wants

Scary burning man with arms in a fire.

Dean wondered how long it had been since death set in? Had it actually mattered anymore? Of what relevance was time to the deceased? Especially when there were other niggling concerns such as not being able to move a single inch in any given direction, trapped within a decaying coffin of flesh. That was the toughest adjustment to contend with. And what was the explanation? What answers could he have offered himself this night, the last of his life, the first of his death, in the wee slight moments after the coil of mortality had been sufficiently shuffled off and he lingered in the strangled silence of limbo while the haunts of regrets past swooped down like raptors from on high?

There wasn’t only the matter of kidnapping and molestation, as if he could have simply left it at that.  There were also the mutilations, amputations, beheadings, and cannibalism that needed to be addressed. All sorts of mental distractions that, in the short run, served as curative methods to hush the whispers that shouted malevolence into the folds of his brain. Dean explored them all as he was never quite sure how much of which activity would have been necessary to ground him back down to normalcy.

There was also the presence of the obfuscation demons who frolicked in public places, daring the rest of society to gaze upon their putrescence, that forever clung to Dean’s flesh and flashed serrated toothed smiles from their insatiable maws, fingers tapping, awaiting the next feast. One million beasts ever at the ready, awaiting a sign or signal from him that the carnage that fueled their existence was about to begin.

Go on, they prompted, we understand what you need to do. We won’t judge you because we understand how difficult it was to treat meat with dignity. We can see it all so clearly from where we are.

They made it seem so obvious to Dean. Just one nudge at the right moment in the right direction. One glimmer of hope that the nightmares would end and he would find peace at last. One suggestion from the proper imp who offered him the precise piece of the puzzle that was needed in order to view the larger picture.

Pick your targets, that’s the ticket. The demons advised. Start small. Tiny murders can be done, they’re done all the time. Success stories abound. We can read you a list. Start today with a little ‘un and keep your focus there. Lay down a simple execution that you’re happy with. A death can be executed a thousand ways and despite how clairvoyant you think you are, you can’t predict the pleasure you’ll derive from adding this exciting little twist in the structure of your average day.

And of course, you can kill anytime. Why don’t you kill?  You never kill when you get like this. Why don’t you just kill?  It’s not a burden, not at all. Not killing is the burden, don’t you see?  Look what happens when you don’t kill. We get to this point of crisis where nothing works. It all gets broken like a skull shattered with the claw end of a hammer and you can’t reach down to gather up all the skull fragments because you’re holding your grey matter inside your head and we’re saying let’s stop the skull from shattering in the first place. We can turn the hammer away from you and swing the claw end at someone else. But you have to help out on your end and let us know you’re reaching for the hammer.

And eventually, we’ll get to a place where you don’t take every godforsaken murder you commit personally. It’s not always about you and where your soul will visit when you die and you’re making these assumptions and it creates all this drama. All the outbursts, then the realization that what you’re doing serves the greater good, then the embarrassment from the remorse and the humiliation from the shame. An endless tug of war needlessly played against yourself until you just feel tortured about feeling tortured. And you see this as somehow easier than slitting a random throat for our bounty?

Perhaps what troubles you is you don’t believe that our words, our cause has merit. Fair play. Why should you trust the imps?  We’ve never trusted anyone’s word. We’ve never followed a single command that anyone has given. And who has really? Is that ever how it’s done once you’ve been blessed with the gift of free will? The heart wants what it wants and who can deny it? What does yours want?

That was the question that ran through Dean’s mind. What did his heart want? Love? What good was that? Even if it wasn’t too late, what would it matter if the whole world lined up to love him if there was no penetration? Knowing what the heart wanted would be an unsolved mystery that would plague him in the grave.

And he would have eternity to hunt for clues. As the imps who turned on him abandoned him and found another, who in turn slaughtered Dean in much the same manner that he himself had killed so many others.

His soul should have wept as the demons tore into his flesh, but the truth of the matter was he finally had something to occupy his mind.

And that was the grace he found in death. The peace to deconstruct an unsolvable mystery.

©2014 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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Bath Time For Jadie-Mae

Depositphotos_170805564_xl-2015

Jadie-Mae loved Satur-days, especially after all the chores had been done, that’s when all the carefree frolicking occurred. Satur-nights was a whole different story. That was bath time and she didn’t want to get into the bathtub, even though Momma added her favorite scented bubble bath and tested the water to make sure the temperature was baby bear. Just right. She stood still as a picture, bare, grimy feet on the cold tiled bathroom floor, staring at the fluffy mounds of soap bubbles that resembled clouds in a storybook.

Momma came knocking, back of her hand rapping on the door like a dish panned woodpecker. “Jadalyn Maeve Langford, I distinctly remember telling you this was bath time, but I don’t hear any water splashing!” she said in that strict voice laced with a care that only mothers possess.

Jadie-Mae quickly dipped her hand into the tub and made a couple of quick splashes. “I’m splashin’, Momma, I’m splashin’.” Bubbles lingered on the back of her hand, tickling slightly as they popped out of existence.

“You better not be in there horsing around, young lady! If I come in there and find you’re not in the bath, only one of us is going regret it, and it’s not going to be me, hear?”

“Yes, Momma,” the little girl answered, deflated.

Jadie waited until she heard the sound of Momma’s slippered footsteps moving away from the door—scuff-plap, scuff-plap, scuff-plap—the woman’s voice fading yet still audible, speaking to herself as she often did, “I just don’t know sometimes. Why would anyone want to stink so bad the devil can smell them down in hockey sticks?” No one was allowed to say the name of the devil’s home inside the house. One of Momma’s Golden Rules. It went from being H-E-double-hockey-sticks down to just plain old hockey sticks.

Still, she didn’t want to step foot in that tub, something just wasn’t natural about sitting in hot water like a stew rabbit. But Momma could get right ornery if everything and everybody wasn’t clean. Cleanie-ness is next a’kin to Goddy-ness, she always used to say, or something like that. There really wasn’t any choice.

Jadie-Mae squeezed her eyes shut, held her breath tight, let the towel drop to the floor and stepped into the bathtub. As usual, the temperature of the water was just right. Momma was always good about getting things just right. As she sank down into the tub, the girl let her breath go and opened her eyes and smiled at the bubble welcoming committee.

Unnoticed as she played with soapsuds, dirt began sliding off her body, along with dead skin cells, hair, grease and body oils. All of this combined with the soapy water, creating a film that made a slimy grayish ring that clung to the bathtub wall. Then a shoreline developed on that ring. An eviscerated landscape in which idols of many and various forms pulled themselves from the gunk in fantastic and intricate detail.

Jadie-Mae stopped her bubble festivities for a moment and strained her ears. She could barely make out faint voices, implorations hidden within the murmurs of supplicants pledging their fealty to the unnamed ones and torturers laying whip to the split flesh of the unrepentant.

The soap bubbles slowly undulated as it began its metamorphosis into billowing clouds of fog that lost their tenuous grip on the murky water’s surface and circled in a tightly controlled oblong within the bath basin. From within the fog, at the other end of the tub, two cones of light rotated, sweeping the waters and Jadie was unsettled for a moment by the sound of foghorns of purest agony.

She shifted in the tub and shook her head, trying to clear the illusion from her sight. Her movements created ripples on the water’s surface. Ripples that grew into waves that carried with it the minuscule Charon skiffs, pitching them against the shoreline, splintering the vessels into so much wreckage. First, she heard the sounds of the tiny people who threw their arms up and pleaded to Little Horn, the anointed covering cherub, as a monstrous tidal wave crashed down on the landscape, reducing it to ruins. Then came the screams of those who lost their lives.

Her shock lasted all but a moment until she realized what was happening. Momma was right—when was Momma never right?—the devil himself smelled her from hockey sticks and sent his minions after her! They were going to make her home sick with wickedness and she couldn’t allow that. Momma didn’t raise no sinner! “I’m powerful sorry but I gotta do my washing up. I can’t have Momma be mad at me.”

Jadie-Mae grabbed the bar of soap from the dish and scrubbed her skin like her life depended on it, and it did. Her life and the lives of her family. Then she poured a dollop of shampoo on top of her head and worked it with her fingers into a lather. She dunked her head beneath the water level for a rinse, which created a wall of undulating foam and debris of proportional gigantic height that rolled towards the lighthouse made of skulls nestled betwixt her ankles. When the wave finally hit, the lighthouse was engulfed in churning water. It rocked back and forth and for a moment it looked like it would have remained anchored to the spot but the sweeping lights exploded and rained infinitesimal sparks as the structure crumbled.

Momma’s face was fierce like thunder when she stormed into the bathroom. “What in the world is all that commotion—?” and she stopped in mid-sentence, for there was her daughter, Jadalyn Maeve, a squeaky clean angel, beaming her biggest, brightest smile.

“All clean, Momma!” she said as pulled the stopper from the drain and stepped out of the tub and into the towel in her mother’s loving, outstretched arms. “Cleanie-ness is next a’kin to Goddy-ness.”

“Yes, it is, baby. It most certainly is.” Momma chuckled and dried off her precious little girl as the lifeless bodies of devil minions and the remnants of false idols spiraled in the whirlpool back down to hockey sticks.

 

©2014 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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Home, At Long Last

girl returning home to high roofed house

The car pulls into the driveway. It’s called an Uber and at first I think it’s the make and model of the car but the driver tells me it’s the name of a car service and although he’s patient and friendly in his explanation, I can feel my face flush red hot in embarrassment. There are so many things I don’t know that I don’t know. The entire world has a steep learning curve for me.

I wouldn’t have recognized the house, couldn’t have picked it out among the others because I haven’t seen it in over sixteen years and the memories are fuzzy because those years haven’t been kind. I’ve been told that it’s the house I grew up in and I nod with no acceptance or conviction because when I think about where I grew up all I can picture is being trapped in a dark and cold basement in a strange location. This house has never once appeared in my mind not even in my dreams.

From the moment the car arrives, people surge out of the front door but they don’t approach the car, perhaps because they’ve been advised not to or perhaps they’re as afraid to meet me as I am to meet them.

I thank the driver as I close the rear driver side door and walk toward the crying and smiling crowd, desperately trying to untwist the constrictor knot my stomach has become. I’m sure they don’t mean to be but each and every one of them is too loud and although they’re careful not to touch me, they’re too close and I want to run. I want to run into the basement and lock the door behind me and go down as far as I can manage and find the darkest corner to curl up into and if that place doesn’t exist, I want to dig a hole into the earth and bury myself in it until the world becomes a quiet place again.

It’s unmistakable, the feeling of warmth and comfort and community that exists in this place and I hate it almost instantly. I’m not supposed to as I’m a human being and we’re known to be social animals but if truth be known the only peace I’ve ever experienced has always been in complete isolation.

Nothing seems right. The sound of people’s voices expressing gratitude and the low volume music in the background blend into some abnormal din that assaults my ears like the opposite of white noise, even though I know that isn’t right because the other end of the spectrum from a combination of all of the different frequencies of sound would be silence and silence would be a welcome change at this point.

Even faces are foreign and I’ve known most of these faces for the first nine years of my life but the arrangement of their features is wrong. Even my own reflection is out of place and unfamiliar. I want to leave, to pivot on my heels and push past this closeness of flesh, flag down a police officer and ask them to take back to where I was found a fortnight ago.

I miss that basement because it’s the only home I know.

I want to back away but there are too many people behind so I push forward looking for a little elbow room, a safe barrier of personal space where I don’t have to feel the nearness of otherness or fight off a wave of nausea when someone’s aura scrapes against mine and makes a teeth-clenching noise like God raking His fingernails across the skin of the universe.

In the crowd I spot a face I don’t know and because I don’t know this woman and have no expectations of the way she must look she appears less odd than the rest. I lock onto her eyes and feel a transfer of knowledge between us. She is like me. She understands the words I’m unable to speak, words that will never be uttered by me in my entire life even if I live for two centuries. I want to move to her, to be closer to her, to stand within the sphere of her understanding but another woman, an aunt, I think, appears from nowhere and pulls me into an unwanted embrace and whispers into my ear with hot breath laced with wine, “You are such a brave girl.”

Brave? I want to say. What’s so brave about being afraid to let myself die? But instead, it comes out as, “Thank you.” I’m not even sure that’s a proper response, I simply need to say something to break the hold and by the time I manage it, the other woman, the woman with the understanding gaze, is gone.

And I’m aware of the people behind me again moving in closer pushing me forward without making contact with me when I come to the realization that their action is purposeful, they’re urging me forward from the front door through the foyer and into the living room for a reason and that reason being my mother and father standing in the center of the empty living room. I step in eagerly, not because I’m particularly glad to see them, I love them but the real reason I’m eager to get into the room is for the space so my soul can breathe again.

There’s this moment of silence and it’s like heaven and my mother takes on the form of Lucifer Morningstar by attempting to shatter paradise with the calling of my name that turns into a shriek that eventually ends in tears and hitching breath. Before I realize what’s happening, she’s on me wrapping her arms around me and lifting me off my feet. I am nearly as tall as she is and outweigh her by thirty pounds easily but this thin woman lifts me as though I was still the same nine-year-old who went outside to play and missed her curfew by more than a decade and a half. My face is buried in her hair and unlike this place that used to be and is once again my home, unlike the matured faces of the people I vaguely recognize as family, the smell of my mother’s hair, the scent of her coconut shampoo smashes through the floodgates of my mind and I am buried beneath wave after wave of memories which scare me and my eyes leak tears because I now realize how much emptier my life has been without this woman, although the world she inhabits still feels alien to me.

I say, “Hi, Mom,” and the word Mom feels distant, like I understand what the word means but the direct connection with it has faded and I don’t want to call her Mom at the moment, I want to call her by her first name but I have no idea what my mother’s name actually is.

She sets me down gently and her arms loosen and slide from around me but her fingers never leave me as they trace sweaty contrails across my back, under my armpits up to my neck where she cups my face in both hands. A move only mastered by a mother. “Hi, baby,” she says and I both resent it because I’m not a baby anymore and miss it because I would give the remaining years of my life for the chance to be nine again in the company of this woman if only for one day.

She calls my father over while carrying on a constant stream of nervous and excited chatter in an attempt to catch me up on all the events that occurred since the last time we laid eyes on each other.

My father approaches with caution as if I come with a warning. He has undoubtedly been told what has been done to me while I was in captivity and probably some of the things I had to do to myself in order to stay alive. He doesn’t know everything because I am the only survivor, there’s no one else to bear witness and I will never tell another soul everything that I’ve been through in order to be here today. And it would break him to hear it so it becomes one of the many burdens I must bear alone.

His haunted eyes are misted with tears that he fights to control as he offers me that sidewinder smile of his–a name Mom gave him because he only smiles and talks out of one side of his mouth as if he’s a stroke victim. “Hi, kiddo,” he says.

All the others unknowingly crowd me and the only person I would not mind that of, my father, does not. He sees it, the invisible property lines that mark my personal space and respects the boundaries. I want to tell him, forget the signposts, just come hug me, Daddy but those are words I don’t know how to speak so I say, “Hi, Dad,” and I manage to dig up a smile from the recesses of some long forgotten happiness. At least I hope it looks like a smile, I haven’t done it in so long, I fear I might’ve lost the knack.

Mom is still babbling away nonstop when she remembers her basic etiquette, “Oh! Are you hungry? You must be famished!” And before I can answer,

“Get her something to drink,” Dad says. “Something cold.” And Mom takes off like a shot into the kitchen.

My father just stands there looking at me, taking in the measure of me. I can’t see the missing years on my mother but on him, I see every second, minute, hour, day, month and year. Beneath his thinning hair, deep wrinkles crease his face. He’s worried and afraid of me and for me but he manages a smile.

In a voice low enough for my ears only, he says, “It’s gonna bother you, what you did, but just know you did the right thing. You ended the man who stole you from us and found your way home again. That’s my girl.”

I’m stunned. Of all the things I expected from this moment straightforward acceptance was never in the running. I rush my daddy and throw my arms around him and break down and cry and he squeezes me tight and all the things that I can’t say and all the things he can’t say, they’re all there, transmitted on a biological level and he doesn’t move, doesn’t speak, doesn’t loosen his grip on me until my body stops shaking, until I have no more sobs and no more strength left.

He scoops me up into his arms and for the second time today I am nine years old again. “I think she’s had enough excitement for one day, so thank you all for coming but now it’s time for us to be alone,” Dad says, as he pushes through the crowd and carries me upstairs to my old room.

He sets me down gently on my bed that’s now too small for me, brushes the hair matted by tears and snot from my face, kisses my forehead and says, “When you’re ready.” and I know exactly what he means.

He leaves, taking Mom with him, assuring her it’s the right thing to do and as their voices get smaller I get up from the bed, lock my bedroom door, draw the blinds shut and crawl until my bed and ball up fetal, relishing the dark and the quiet.

Tomorrow I’ll begin trying to locate the house I was rescued from because although this house is nice, it’s no longer a place for me.

I want to go home.

©2018 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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