The Trip Back Home

Trip Back Home

Ya Jiji was nestled on the peak of Muntanyes Oraș, a tiny tourist town with one road in or out and that road was always the scene of an accident which meant it was always choked with traffic. Antiquated traffic. Perambulators. Bicycles. Velocipedes. Motorcycles. Monocycles. Boneshakers. Wagons. Go-carts. Scooters. Skateboards. Any wheeled vehicle not pulled by a beast. Skip cars were banned on the winding mountain road that, at its widest was barely two-laned, and at its narrowest, well, where did you think all the accidents occurred? Besides, a line of sight teleportation car wasn’t of much use if you couldn’t see around the never-ending bend.

It was a two-hour trip down the mountain and another hour to Golainbale where the moon jitney traveled to nearest natural satellite, Waioni. As we left the quaint town, the road—amazingly smooth and unmarked—opened up a bit. Before we left, we hit a convenience store and were absolutely fleeced out of our local currency for heater meals and MREs. At least the clerk did it with style. He was nothing but politeness and smiles before, during, and after he fucked us.

When we arrived in Golainbale there was a great deal of negotiating, which translated to me having to pay. I paid a man, paid the man who knew the man, paid the man who knew the man who knew the man, and finally, I paid the man who employed all the men. Fucking governmental red tape blew dead bears no matter what planet you were on. The first man returned with a wad of receipts and boarding passes, stapled six times. We boarded the jitney and waited for a solid half-hour before being told the rocket was being taken out of service to undergo routine maintenance. I started to argue if the maintenance was routine, why had we wasted half an hour gnawing on tasteless MREs, but thought better of it. We were all so very far from home and running aground of off-world travel authorities was a notoriously bad idea.

So, instead, we hauled ass to board a second jitney scheduled for departure. The boarding staff was nice enough to hold lift-off for us. That last sentence was dipped in heavy sarcasm and spat through a gritted-toothed grin, in case it wasn’t obvious. As we settled in, my travel companions drifted to sleep immediately. I envied people who could sleep anywhere. Sadly, I wasn’t blessed with that mutant ability.

As we reached escape velocity, out of the window I saw bodies that floated in space like flotsam. Men. Women. Children. Pets. So many lined in a row they almost formed an organic ring around the planet. From a seat somewhere rows behind me came a rhythmic muttering. I caught the eye of an older gentleman across the row and chanced a question, “What’s he saying?”

“It’s a song to open the gates of the afterworld,” the old man said. “To allow the souls of the illegal immigrants jettisoned in space to move on to their final resting place.”

“Do you know the words?”

“I don’t speak Shadese. Sorry. I only know about the song because it’s a local custom and I’m here on business often.”

“What do you do?”

“I’m a space marshal.”

“You mean…?”

He nodded. “In accordance with the Intergalactic Space Travel Securities Act, I carry out my duty of committing to space any person or persons who illegally board any transplanetary vessel—otherwise known as stowaways—and lack the money to pay for passage and proper identification with which to travel.”

He said it so matter of fact as if he wasn’t talking about human lives like his job entailed nothing more drastic than taking out the trash. There was no challenge in his tone, nothing that suggested that he dared me to question his profession.

My mind was a wasp’s nest of questions and emotions, buzzing to know how this man justified his actions, how he slept at night if he was a religious man and if he was under any delusion that God approved. I tried to express my shock, my outrage, my disapproval, or even simply voice my personal opinion, but the words failed me. I felt my mouth opening and closing, wordlessly.

Stunned and silent I sat back in the chair and stared at all the wasted life that drifted in the inky sea outside. An abyss dotted with stars that once had names like Peter and Elizabeth and Scott, stars that breathe air same as I had, stars that ate food like me. Some so distant they had to crowd together to be seen in the endless black. Clouds of flesh, oceans of skin. Further from life but closer to the universe than anyone had ever been.

When the jitney touched down on Waioni, the marshal said goodbye. I pretended not to hear.

My travel companions and I checked into our hotel rooms. It would be another eighteen hours before our return flight home. They wanted to spend the time getting rat-arsed in the hotel bar but I went for a walk outside. It always helped clear my mind. I walked off the paved paths, far from the obstruction of man-made lights and checked the sky.

Stars. So many stars. Some of them falling. Making the trip back home.

©2013 & 2017 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

 

About The Trip Back Home: A few years ago, I wrote a manuscript which never got published. It was sort of a vacation scrapbook in outer space, detailing the travelogue of a man who hated to travel but got roped into a sweepstakes interplanetary cruise by his best friends. They’d travel in style and want for nothing—once they made it to the starcruise liner that was on the other side of the universe.

As I said, the manuscript didn’t get published. Because it was never quite what it needed to be. Not quite ready.  This aspect needed tweaking, that aspect needed editing.  Two years into the editing process, I decided I needed a break from this manuscript to write something else.  I was too involved with that manuscript.

I have no idea whether it’ll be salvaged or chopped up into bite sized bits and shopped as short stories, or reworked into other projects.

This slice was the first bit of writing that inspired the idea for the novel.

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Eulogy For Gurgi

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A man died today, a man whose name I never knew. We were given codenames, you see, and they became our identities. I was Eilonwy, named after the princess in my favorite book at the time, The Book of Three from The Chronicles of Prydain. And he was called Gurgi. I was a little girl when we met and the things I first remembered about him were that he always opened doors for me and he always carried a gun.

I never touched a door when Gurgi was around. He opened them when I approached and also as I exited. He spent a great deal of his time with me standing by doors or shooing me away from windows. I was too young to understand at the time that he was saving the life of a hot-tempered, stubborn and resolute little girl who happened to have royal blood coursing through her veins.

A fit man, ramrod straight back, dressed in a neatly pressed grey suit that he wore like a uniform, Gurgi was always polite even when I tested his patience demanding to play with his guns. He had so many of them. Mostly revolvers, with the occasional pump shotgun or automatic rifle. His belts were decorated with bullets and small pouches, compartments that held first aid kits, anti-venom and antidotes for most known poisons.

Gurgi would talk with me after the room had been secured and measures put into place so that my safety was insured. He told me of his many professions before finding employment with my father. A physician on his homeworld, he was unable to secure a medical license on Earth and forced to find work as an electrician, a skill taught to him by his father. A skill that introduced him to my father.

After being properly vetted, Gurgi was hired to rewire our home and during that time, the house came under attack and I was separated from my family. Men came to me, to hurt me, to abduct me, to possibly even kill me. Thankfully I never had the opportunity to discover which, as Gurgi happened upon the men who happened upon me and dispatched them. He took a gun off one of my attackers and shot them all until they no longer moved. A skill taught to him by his mother. A skill that impressed my mother.

On the rare occasion, he spoke about the life he left behind. His wife, whose name I sadly couldn’t remember, was famous in their colony for the roast she prepared for the Feast of Xoncha, a planetwide day of life appreciation. She roasted bamen but never relied on shop-bought, insisting instead on raising her own from pups that were well fed, cared for and loved just shy of becoming pets. Gurgi’s role in the process included rendering the bamen incapacitated, exsanguination, scalding and dehairing, evisceration and dividing the carcass in half longitudinally. The last one weighed five hundred and sixty kilos and was simply too large for his wife to handle alone.

I asked him if his wife served the bamen with its head.

“Of course!” Gurgi replied. “The tongue, cheeks, and ears were served as the appetizer with dipping sauces made from blood and innards.” I crinkled my nose and he burst into raucous laughter. It was the only time he both laughed and saddened when he reminisced about his life before me. It would be years before I understood that only love and nostalgia had the power to make you feel both happiness and sorrow at the same time.

He took breaks between the tellings to smoke. Out of necessity, not habit. In order to exist in our atmosphere, his lungs required an intake of a combination of elements that could only be found in the smoky by-product of a chemical reaction. He always made sure another man stood guard as he left the area to light his pipe, even though I told him I was quite capable of taking care of myself.

One recent evening when Gurgi stepped out into the garden to prolong his life, a number of people disguised as guards cut power to the house, slipped through father’s security systems and attempted to kidnap me. Gurgi hadn’t finished tamping down the compound in his pipe before he whirled to the sound of my muffled cries.

Glass exploded as two shots ripped through the sliding patio door and tore jagged wounds into two of the faux guards, one in the neck, the other in the eye. Gurgi crashed through the door in a shower of broken glass and before he could react, a baton from his blindside whipped down hard on his forearm and his gun went spinning across the floor.

He flung his arm back brutally as he spun, a wild swing — and a lucky one. His elbow smashed the nose of the attacker behind him who dropped like a stone. A heel to the Adam’s apple made sure the intruder stayed down.

Gurgi turned and locked eyes with the woman who held me by the throat and used me as a shield. He assessed but didn’t move. His stance was wide, his hands flexed.

My captor wrapped my hair around her hand, balled it into a fist, yanked my head back, and placed the muzzle of her pistol on my exposed neck. Gurgi dove, tackling us both to the ground. A shot went off before the gun skittered out of the woman’s grip.

The woman was agile, nimble. She spun away from Gurgi, and they both scrambled to their feet and faced each other, circling. The woman drew a knife from her belt and with cat-like reflexes leapt forward. The blade caught the light as it arced down and sliced into Gurgi’s arm.

I scurried to a corner of the room and grabbed a gun and aimed it in the direction of the two circling shapes in the dark, unable to get a clear shot and not wanting to shoot Gurgi by mistake.

“Run!” Gurgi yelled through a tight throat. He hadn’t smoked his compound so every breath he took now was slowly killing him. “Go!”

I hesitated, my heart pounding painfully, worried that I’d make the wrong choice. Too afraid to pull the trigger, and resisting the urge to turn and run.

The moment Gurgi shot me a sideward glance, the woman feinted to the side, then spun around, using her canted balance to put weight behind her thrust as she lunged. Gurgi grabbed her knife hand but the momentum of her pivot crashed her into him. They slammed into the wall with teeth-rattling violence, furiously grappling. The woman drove a knee into Gurgi’s midsection. He exhaled a grunt and nearly fainted.

She struck him with her free hand, a backhanded fist to the temple and followed with another knee to his stomach. Gurgi’s legs crumpled beneath him. The woman pounced on top of Gurgi, straddling him. He blocked her fatal knife thrust, but the blade bore down directly over Gurgi’s throat.

The pair were locked in a death embrace, but the woman had the advantage. She pressed her body on the blade and Gurgi struggled beneath her. Slowly, inexorably, the blade inched down until the tip pierced his skin and drew blood.

With the last of his strength, Gurgi bucked and threw the woman off balance. I panicked and slid the gun to him. The woman recovered quickly and brought the knife down on him again. A shot rang out. The back of the woman’s head exploded outward. She blinked once in disbelief, tugged weakly on Gurgi, then dropped to the floor.

I ran to Gurgi, who shivered and convulsed, as he fought every instinct to draw a breath. I fumbled through the compartment on his belt where he kept his pipe. It was empty. The garden! I raced outside and scoured the grass until I found where he had dropped the pipe. When I returned with it, it was too late. He was dead.

He will be sorely missed—both by his family and by his many friends, like me, whom he helped and inspired. But as he rests from his life’s long labor, this great bodyguard and friend should know that he made this princess proud. The world was most definitely a better place because of a man I only knew as Gurgi.

©2011 & 2017 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

 

About Eulogy For Gurgi: This started as a very vague idea ten years ago, after reading a novel in which the heroine was forced to undergo a transformation after the loss of her protector. I wondered what would make someone of royal blood want to become a bodyguard? It was such an unusual status/occupation that the idea stayed with me for years.

The idea simmered in my unconscious mind as I read piles of crime novels. It toyed with me as I watched the myriad twists on the crime procedural genre play out on television. It teased me mercilessly until I decided I wanted to take one of the twenty story snippets I had laying around and finish it. The princess bodyguard idea emerged from the pile and demanded a fairy tale happy ending suitable for a princess.

I wrote fast and ended up with a first draft with a gaping plot problem. It took me a month to figure out how to fix it. I was sitting in a meeting at work when the solution suddenly popped into my head. I scribbled the idea in the margin of my meeting notes and re-wrote the first chapter that night.

It will be a novel someday.

This is the teaser I wrote to get my juices flowing.

Wishing White

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Connie screamed and hurdled down the flight of stairs like she was on fire. She made a run for the front door, fingers frantically fumbled at the night latch, deadbolt and lockset. Head on a swivel, she tossed panicked glances over her shoulder at the middle-aged black man bounding down the stairs toward her.

The final lock tumbled, she grabbed the knob and tugged but the man rushed up from behind and slammed the door shut. He spun the whippet-thin woman around as if she weighed nothing, took her by the shoulders and pressed her against the door. Connie let out an ear-piercing screech that he cut short by clamping his massive hand over her mouth.

“Stop it, do you hear me? I’m not trying to put on a show for the neighbors, so I need you to stop screaming. Just. Stop.” He held her there for a long moment and leaned in uncomfortably close so she could see the seriousness of his intent. When she calmed down a bit, “I’ll take my hand away if you promise not to make a sound, deal?”

Connie nodded her blonde head helplessly. The man removed his hand and she stifled the urge to yell again. She tried to back away from his face that was far too close for her liking but there was nowhere to go.

“L-let me go. Please, let me go.” Terror cracked her voice.

Still pressing her against the door, the man reached over and secured the locks. “You can’t leave, not yet.”

“Don’t hurt me, mister! I-I’ll cooperate…do anything you want, I swear!”

Connie flinched in revulsion when he reached for her and lightly brushed the hair from her face. His expression softened. “You don’t have to be afraid of me, Sarah, I would never hurt you.”

“Sarah? You’ve got me mixed up with somebody else. I’m Connie, Connie—“ she struggled to remember her last name. Tip of her tongue. Something that began with a W.

“No, you’re Sarah. You were born May 4th, your favorite color is plain yellow though you tell people it’s chartreuse, your favorite book is Beloved, you love okra, God knows why, and you have a birthmark on your—“

Connie struggled with this. The things he said, the things she could remember were true but how did he know? And why couldn’t she remember her last name? W-I– it just wasn’t coming. “Look, mister, I don’t know what’s going on here, but—”

“Stop calling me mister, my name is Kurt.”

“Kurt.” She spat his name out like a curse.

“You know, maybe you’re right. Maybe you don’t know what’s going. I didn’t consider all this might be new to you.”

“What are you talking about? What do you want from me?”

“You said you’d do anything for me. Did you mean it? Anything?”

Anything suddenly seemed like a dangerous concept her. “I don’t know you and I’ve never done anything to you. Please don’t hurt me.”

“Don’t you see you don’t have to be afraid of me?” Kurt scanned her eyes, searching for something. It unnerved Connie. “It’s not what you think. I don’t want to hurt you. I just want you to do me a favor.”

“What kind of favor?”

“My wife, she’s sick, very sick. I mean, she’s been sick for a long time, only I didn’t know it, but now it’s worse…and I’m so lonely.”

No. This was going someplace bad. “What? I can’t—‘”

Kurt took hold of her tiny wrist and pulled her to the staircase. “Yes, you can. Come with me upstairs.”

“No, please–!”

“You promised to do anything I wanted as long as I didn’t hurt you, right? Have I hurt you?”

“No.” At least she didn’t think he did. Surely she would have remembered that, right?

“Then do what I ask and I’ll let you go. But you can never tell anybody about this, understand?”

“But you’ll let me go? You promise?”

“You have my word.”

The two walked up the flight of stairs, Kurt in front dragging a reluctant Connie behind.

“Where are we going?” Connie asked although she guessed the answer.

“To the bedroom.”

She thought she could be strong, go through with it, let him have his way, but the closer they got to the bedroom door, the more Connie resisted. “I don’t want to go in there!”

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t belong here!”

“Yes, you do. And if you quiet down and listen to your inner voice, it’ll tell you you’re doing the right thing.” Kurt opened the bedroom door with his free hand and gestured inside.

“But–”

“Step into the room.” He gave her a gentle shove.

The room smelled of the instant after a lightning strike, the air rich with the scent of ozone. Connie entered cautiously and froze. The man hadn’t been lying. There was someone here, a black woman in the bed, roughly her same age, wearing an identical sundress. She would have thought the woman dead if not for the slight rise and fall of her chest. “Is that–?“

“My wife,” Kurt nodded and closed the door behind him, guarding it.

“What’s wrong with her?”

“Hate,” he grunted.

“I don’t understand.”

“She was the victim of a hate crime.”

“What happened?” Connie asked.

“She was on her way home from work one night,” he answered. “It was late and normally I meet her at the train station, but that night I got caught up running errands. What’s funny is I remember not being too worried about it. I mean, it’s a quiet neighborhood and nothing bad ever happens here. But that night, she ran into four white teenagers on a stroll, who, I guess, were just looking for trouble.”

Kurt’s face flushed, his hands clenched and unclenched in an unconscious gesture of pure rage. “And they beat her. For no good reason other than the color of her skin, they beat her. She never hurt a soul in her life and they beat her to the point where I barely recognized her. They beat her…and they left her laying in the street like she was trash.”

“Oh my God, mister, that shouldn’t happen to anybody and I’m sorry it was your wife, really I am, but I don’t understand what this has to do with me.”

“Look at her. Can’t you see it?”

“What, that she needs medical help and maybe you do, too?” She regretted the last part before it finished clearing her lips.

“I was hoping seeing her up close might clear things up.”

Connie glanced at the woman’s face. “No. I’m still in the dark.”

“And me? You don’t remember me at all?”

“I’ve never laid eyes on you before.”

“Then how do I know so much about you?”

“I don’t know, maybe you’re a maniac-stalker-psycho with a taste for white meat?”

“Don’t. Don’t say that,” Kurt grimaced.

“Why? Because the truth hurts?”

“It’s not true!”

“Then why am I here?” She asked.

“Look around you. Doesn’t any of this bring back memories?”

“Why should it?”

“You lived–we lived here for years. I’m your goddam husband.”

“What? I – I would never marry somebody like you.”

“Meaning what?”

“You’re black,” she said, not bothering to spare his feelings. She couldn’t help how she felt.

“Sarah! Stop it! Stop. Please, stop. I can’t take this right now.”

“I told you before, I’m not Sarah! My name is Connie, Connie Wil- Wilk–”

“Wilkinson, that’s your maiden name. Your middle name is Connie, and you hate it. You were named after an aunt you hated because she beat you when your mother wasn’t around.”

“I don’t have an aunt named Connie.”

“In fact, Sarah isn’t even your birth name. It’s Bonnie. And that was just another reason to hate your middle name. Going through school with the name Bonnie Connie was torture, so you used the name of your favorite aunt, Sarah, and legally changed it when you were old enough.”

Connie waved it off. “This is ridiculous. I’m leaving now.”

“No, not just yet!”

“You said I could leave once I did what you wanted me to do. You wanted me to see your wife. Well, I saw, now I’m gone!”

“No, you didn’t really see, otherwise you wouldn’t be acting like this. Maybe– maybe you need to look closer…at her face.”

Connie stared at the woman and this time something nagged at her, something familiar.

“Your face, my thane, is as a book…” Kurt recited.

The tiniest fraction of a memory tickled her mind. “What was that?”

“You know. Finish it.”

As if an unseen force had taken control of her mouth, Connie spoke. “Your face, my thane, is as a book, where men may read strange matters.”

“Shakespeare. You used to say that all the time because I have a horrible poker face.” He smiled. “You remember that, don’t you?”

“No. Yes. You’re confusing me!”

“All right, let’s forget about that for now. I’d like to ask you a question, though, before you leave. Is that okay?”

“Ask.”

“Do you believe in wishes?”

“What, you mean like genie-rub-a-lamp type stuff?”

“I mean the power of a wish. Do you believe that a person could make a wish with all her heart and soul and if she left no room for doubt, not one iota, that that wish could come true?”

“I don’t know, maybe. Depends on what she wished for.”

“To be white.”

It took a moment for the scope of it all to register with Connie. “Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me. You don’t think that I’m–“

“The physical embodiment of my Sarah’s wish.”

“That’s crazy.” She shook her head.

“Crazy? Okay, where do you live?”

Connie pondered that a moment, another fact that eluded her. “I’m not telling you!”

“You can’t tell me because you don’t know. Come on, ask yourself, if you don’t live here, then why are you in this house? How did you get here?”

Again, memory was not her ally. “I don’t know. You’ve got me all spun around and nothing’s making sense right now, including this bullshit story about your wife wishing herself white. I mean, what sense does that make? Why would she want to be white? Aren’t you people big on that pride thing?”

“You people?”

“Yeah. Black, colored, African-American, people of color, whatever you’re calling yourself these days.”

“I can’t believe you come from Sarah.”

“Because I don’t.”

“It’s like everything that made her unique was just stripped from you. Not only her color but her heritage as well.” Disgust played on Kurt’s face. “And she thought being white might entitle her to a better life.”

“Why?”

“I wish I knew. She took the attack hard, hell, we both did. But even after her body healed, her spirit and her mind never did. She began to see the world as an ugly, hateful place, especially for people of color. She started to pull away from me and became more and more distant. And in the depths of her despair, she made a wish.”

“To be white. To be me, essentially, right?”

“Look, I don’t blame you for not believing me, I probably wouldn’t believe it either if I hadn’t seen it with my own two eyes.”

“Seen what?”

“Sarah make the wish. I stood here and watched you rise up out of her body like steam. And as insane as it sounds, you became solid right before my eyes. You simply popped into existence, took one look at me, and ran out of the room screaming bloody murder. I’m lucky I caught you when I did. If I’d been one second slower, you would have been gone, probably forever.”

“Okay, let’s approach this from a different angle. Even if I were to believe you, which I don’t…so–?”

Kurt was confused. “So?”

“So, your wife made the wish, right? I mean, no one forced her, am I correct?”

“No, no one forced her.”

“And you said yourself, it’s what she wanted, right, with every iota of her being?”

“Yes.”

“Then why are you holding me here? If this is God’s will, if this is her wish–“

Tears flowed down Kurt’s cheeks. “Because she’s going to die soon, I just know it. I was hoping that maybe with you in the room, she’d wake up long enough, for me to tell her that I love her, for me to say goodbye.”

Connie wanted to console Kurt, but it was difficult, strange and uncomfortable for her. “Hey, hey, don’t do that, okay? I’m sure she knows all that and who knows, maybe she’ll get better? We can call a doctor or something.”

“Why don’t you just go?” he said, turning back to her. “Go live your half life.”

“Half life?”

”Not even that. You’re just a shade of a person. You’ve got no family, no ties in this world. Because it’s not your life, it’s hers. And mine.”

“Then we’re done here? I can leave now?”

“Sarah…“

“Connie,” she corrected.

“I’m not talking to you. I’m talking to my wife. I know she’s in there somewhere and if you can hear me, honey, you’re wrong for thinking that being white will entitle you to a better life,” he said over his shoulder and walked over to the bed.

“You think this body’s going to have an easier existence? Good luck to you. You’ll need it because the very best part of you is lying on this bed. And when my Sarah passes, you’ll be none the richer for it. You’ll discover a gaping hole in your soul that you’ll never be able to fill even if you live a hundred lifetimes. So yeah, we’re done,” Kurt said in a low voice. “Now, why don’t you get the hell out of my house.”

Kurt sat beside Sarah in bed. He held her hand gently and leaned in close to her face. “You’re not the only one with a wish, you know. I wish that I could turn back time to that day and make it so the attack never took place. I’d convince you to call in sick and we’d play hookie and spend the entire day in bed and I’d do my best to show you how much I really love you. But there’s no chance of that one coming true, is there? Because unlike yours, it’s not my one true wish. You are.”

Connie made it as far as the doorway before she stopped and sighed, “I can’t believe I’m doing this.”

For reasons she couldn’t explain, Connie found herself kneeling on the side of the bed opposite Kurt. “One wish. All my heart and soul. No room for doubt. Not one iota.”

She took Sarah’s free hand and knew at once it was a mistake. Pain split her head like an ax. Her vision swirled and swam in streamers, her stomach clenched and heaved sending a surge of bile to the back of her throat. Dots of light raised from her exposed skin like goose flesh. She screamed and the bedroom exploded in a white light bright enough to cut the eye. When it faded, the scent of ozone filled the air.

Connie was gone.

Sarah’s fingers twitched and slowly wrapped around to squeeze Kurt’s hand. “Your face, my thane, is as a book, where men may read strange matters,” she said in a quiet voice.

Kurt looked up into Sarah’s face, her eyes slightly opened.

“Are those tears for me?” she smiled, struggling to sit up.

“Sarah? You’re back?”

“I never left. Because you wouldn’t let me go. You stopped me from making the biggest mistake of my life. I’m so sorry I hurt you. I–“ she sighed. “Thank you.”

Kurt pulled his wife into him and held her with every ounce of love he possessed. But he couldn’t push reality out of his mind. He had seen a side of her that he never knew existed. A contempt, the seed of racism she held, and he knew it wasn’t over by a long shot. It would happen again. And for the first time, he wasn’t sure his love was greater than or even equal to her self-hatred.

But in this moment, he made the decision to let that future take care of itself. He was happy to have her back home, warts and all.

©2001 & 2017 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

About Wishing White: This story originally began life as a short screenplay I wrote during my brief stint hanging around a small group of actors and crew looking to shoot their own material.

One of three shorts that were written overnight, I can’t tell you how inspired I was to produce new material on short notice. The air was rich with creativity.

It was also filled with petty squabbling, some of which I sadly was the cause of, so this was one of the projects that were rehearsed but never shot.

It came into being because of a conversation with a friend that remained in the back of my mind, in which she said, “I wish I was white for a day just to see how it felt.” Which of course sparked a conversation.

While I don’t necessarily agree with her thought process on the subject, I can respect that it was her wish and she felt comfortable enough to share it with me.

As she explained her logic to me, this was the scenario that ran through my mind.

Strong Roots Amongst The Clay

Clay Boy

Once there was a kindly woman who was known all about the town as Lovely Lucy, not so much for her appearance, for she was endowed with plain features—which wasn’t a bad thing at all—but she was called this because she was arguably one of the sweetest people who ever walked the face of the planet. The only parts of her life that suffered were her love life and her inability to bear children.

One morning, Lucy went to market and spoke with the town sculptor, who made statues large and small, some for himself and some which he sold. Lucy hadn’t much money so she explained what she wanted to do and begged the sculptor to spare some clay and promised to pay him another day. The sculptor remembered how Lucy had brought soup and sat by his bedside when he had taken ill, and gladly gave her as much of his special clay as she could carry, free of charge.

Thanking the sculptor for his kindness, Lucy rushed home and began working on a life-sized statue of a boy, aged five. She made the little boy perfect. His reddish-brown features depicted an unblemished beauty and innocence such as no real boy had ever possessed. Although she had no skill at sculpting, she crafted the statue with such love that upon first glance it seemed to be a live boy standing still. She took great care in painting her little angel, making his eyes blue like the sky, his lips and cheeks pink like the sunset and his hair black as twilight.

Lucy marveled at her creation. She held his little clay hand, kissed his rosy cheek, and told him many times a day how much she loved him. When she went out to market, he was always in her mind, and she searched for presents for him – flat, smooth rocks for skipping across the lake, seashells for tooting like horns, and twigs and vines woven into a ball. She bartered her baked goods for hand-me-down children’s clothing and dressed him in different outfits each day. She even brought him a puppy from the neighbor’s litter for company while she was away.

Lucy was not able to manage the other part of her suffering as easily. For reasons unknown to anyone, she attracted the wrong sort of suitors and was far too kind of heart to dismiss them, despite their many transgressions against her. It pained the townsfolk to see a woman so intelligent in all other respects remain so foolish in love.

Her most recent failed relationship was with a traveler who suspected her of being unfaithful one day when she had gone out to market, so he barred her from her own house and drew obscene pictures of her and posted them about town. Lucy begged and pleaded with the traveler and after a week or so, he changed his opinion and let her back into her home to be reunited with her clay boy.

That evening the traveler fixed her dinner and his mouth was sweet with words of love and a possible reconciliation. Cautious at first, Lucy finally let her guard fall, assured that his feelings and his intentions were genuine. That was the last thing she remembered before she awoke the following afternoon, face down in her bedding. She felt groggy and her body ached in unspeakable places as though she had been violated. She knew she had been drugged.

Lucy reported the incident to the authorities. The traveler confronted her in public, on the road from the market, after the authorities questioned him. Wishing to avoid an argument, she simply turned to walk away. Her next waking recollection was being bound to a chair in her home. The traveler had struck her a cowardly blow to the back of the head. She was helpless as he raged against her with rock and branch. But fortune smiled upon her when a neighbor heard her cries of anguish and contacted the authorities. This time, he was imprisoned.

From his prison cell, the traveler requested an audience with Lucy, and she, having a forgiving nature, went to visit. And his tongue was dipped in honey and he spoke sweetness and there was yet again talk of a possible reconciliation, which she honestly considered.

All was calm and happy between Lucy and the traveler when he was once again a free man. They sat together and talked, went out to the seashore and walked, and the traveler also lavished attention on the clay boy. All seemed right with the world and Lucy’s life was as close to being perfect as it had ever been.

Until one night she bolted upright out of a sound sleep and found the traveler standing over her, eyes doused in rage.

“I know you play me for a fool!” He spat through gritted teeth. “I know you have taken a lover! Who is it? The neighbor? The sculptor? Tell me who it is or you will never know a moment’s peace ever again!”

When she did not answer, he stormed out of the room and Lucy hoped he would leave the house but instead the sound of his thunderous footsteps headed in the direction of her private room—the room where the clay boy lived.

“No!” she cried as she dashed from her bed.

In the private room, she found the traveler with the wood axe resting over one shoulder. He stood next to her perfect little boy.

“Shhh,” he said. “If you wake him up, I will have to kill him.”

Lucy hadn’t a clue what to do so she started begging for the statue’s life, whispering as not to anger the traveler.

“What can I do?” she kept asking him. “What can I do to make this right?”

The traveler commanded her to her knees and she did this without a second thought. “Down on all fours.” And she complied. Then he made her crawl from the room backward, back into her bedroom.

“Now, on your knees,” he said, closing the door behind him. “Close your eyes and smile.” She was nervous, of course, but she obeyed. The next thing she felt was the ax handle as it smashed into her mouth, shattering her front teeth.

“Your life is mine! Your sad statue is mine! You both will cease to exist if I so wish it!” the traveler ranted.

She felt his foot on her shoulder, pushing her over, toppling her flat on her back. She wanted to look at him but was afraid, so she squeezed her eyes shut as he straddled her and beat her. Her head swam with pain, but Lucy knew she couldn’t scream for fear of this madman destroying her little boy, so she took the beating until she passed out.

Lucy dreamed she that she was an eagle soaring through clouds misted with morning dew above a river where children frolicked and although she was too high to hear the sounds of their tiny voices, she knew they were happy and having fun. But something tugged at her tail feathers like a dragging weight, pulling her back down to a place she did not want to go, a place of pain and sorrow—

When she woke up, regaining consciousness piece by piece, she was surrounded by the sharp claws of searing pain that pawed at her like a hungry animal. As her mind struggled for clarity she wondered where she was. In her bed? But how did she get there?

All around, the walls were covered in blood, so much blood. Too much to be her own. Then she saw the bits and pieces. Parts that belonged at one time to a whole, red soaked clumps of the remnants of the traveler. Divided from one another and from life itself by the wood ax buried in the man’s severed head.

She looked at her hands. Had she done this terrible thing? Then she heard a voice, tiny tingly, that chirped in song, “Not to worry, not to fear, everything is fine, Mama, I am here.”

She stared at a living boy whose eyes were blue as the sky, cheeks the color of the sunset and hair as black as twilight.

He hugged her neck and kissed her cheek and whispered, “I love you, too.”

©1989 & 2017 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

About Strong Roots Amongst the Clay: As a kid I never had much interest in fairy tales. In fact, I hated them. My mother told me that someone had given her a book about Squanto, also known as Tisquantum—the Native American of the Patuxet tribe who assisted the Pilgrims after their first winter in the New World—thinking it was a book of fairy tales. And where Mother Goose and The Brothers Grimm failed to put me at rest at night, the adventures of Squanto did the job nicely.

And I wouldn’t fully appreciate the cultural richness and power of fairy tales until revisiting them in the 1980’s. For the longest time I searched for something to spark an idea for a fairy tale story that I probably would never bother writing—there’s a difference between the wanting of a thing and the doing of a thing.

Then one day a story was relayed to me about a coworker at a retail job that I absolutely hated and the first thought that popped into my mind—after showing proper concern for my coworker, of course—was to give my fairy tale story a spin.

At the time I wrote the story, I wasn’t a fan of the fairy tale narration. I didn’t like reading it and I didn’t like writing it. I’m still not a big fan of a lot of the story’s voice,  but finally sitting down and writing a fairy tale piece taught me appreciation of it.

I’m still not sure if I like the ending or not. There’s a fine line between chilling and cheesy and I’m not sure which side I’m on.

Beached

Sky Whale

At first, his world was consumed by the sounds of the sea. Rolling waves smashing against rocks. The shrill caw of seagulls from somewhere high above. Then a noise. A song? Four repetitious notes that began on the lowest frequency sound perceptible to the human ear that rose to an ear-splitting wail. Roland was pulled into consciousness sometime around dawn. His eyes fluttered open and he thought he was blind for a moment, his vision refusing to cooperate, but as sight gradually returned, for an instant he wished for darkness again. Emerging from the haze of blurry blobs and shapes were the after effects of a shipwreck, thrust upon the shore by the relentless crash of waves.

He pushed the wreckage of broken wood and fabrics off of himself and stood unsteadily in the scattered aftermath that was once a vessel. The morning mist began to burn off and Roland could see for miles in the sunlight reflecting off the sea. The beach was quiet and uninhabited, polluted with ownerless possessions, jagged spires of twisted metal and wood pointing at odd angles towards the sky.

Combing through the debris for other survivors, all he uncovered were bloated bodies clustered in puddles of black blood. It felt like a long, sharp blade slowly being driven into his heart. A great weight of hopelessness settled on him, getting heavier and heavier. Although he was the only living thing on this deserted strip of an uncharted island, he felt like he was dead. No, it felt like he was dying, over and over again. Unliving forever.

He was lost. Roland wasn’t a mariner, the furthest thing from it, stranded without a map, without the slightest idea where the waters had washed him, without a means of communicating to another living soul. He was surrounded by gritty sand that irritated his already raw skin, a few trees that bore no fruit, and a great body of water that uttered waves of mocking laughter at his uncertainty of it being safe to drink. At first, he collected containers of seawater and strained it through fabric, but he soon acknowledged he didn’t know what he was doing and truth be told it was too time-consuming and he had always been an impatient man, even with so much time on his hands. If it was salt water, so be it. Better than dying of thirst.

He was lonely. Over the course of several days, remnants of the ship washed ashore. He tried to occupy his mind by building a makeshift camp from flotsam and foliage. He also created signal fires from bits of wood he placed in the sun to dry and spelled out giant SOS messages in stones on the sand, but none of this was enough to dull the ache for companionship that swelled within him and nearly outweighed his ever-increasing hunger.

During the early mornings before the sun set itself at the hottest point in the sky, forcing him to find shade, Roland explored the shoreline and picked through the mostly useless debris. It was a futile effort and he wasn’t sure why he kept at it. Most of the litter had been committed to memory, but on the morning he swore to himself that he wouldn’t explore any longer—

Roland came upon an enormous whale beached on the surf.

Elated that his food worries were over, he scrounged around and found a bit of metal with a sharp enough edge to be used as a knife and wrapped a length of cloth around the other end, fashioning a handle that ensured he wouldn’t cut himself in the process. But before Roland drove his blade into the beast, the whale regarded him with its great eye, and something in that momentary exchange of glances struck a strange sort of empathy in the man’s heart. It turned out his need for a companion outweighed his need for sustenance.

Roland gathered up all the cloth he could lay his hands on, dipped the fabrics into the sea and draped them over the cetacean. He then dismantled his shelter and rebuilt it nearer to his new island mate. It was the hardest relationship he ever had to maintain, constantly gathering water in containers to keep his friend wet and spearing fish to feed it, most of which he was forced to eat when his friend declined. But it was worth the price of not being alone. Of having someone to talk to, even if the conversations were all one-sided.

The following day Roland heard a sound. A vocalization of four notes that registered on the borders of his perception. He wasn’t sure if it was whalesong, wasn’t sure that whales possessed the ability to speak out of water, but whatever it was, it was a sound. And the whale made it.

Among the many things he knew nothing about, whalesong ranked high, but somehow he understood what the whale attempted to communicate. It had said to him:

let me die

Saddened by the prospect of being alone again, Roland argued with the whale, tried to reason with it, pleaded his case. The whale did not respond, apparently resolute in its decision. He had no choice but to abide by his friend’s wishes and formed a pact with the massive marine mammal not to leave its side, not to eat until the whale died.

For two days the man recounted the story of his life. He spoke of accomplishments and regrets in equal measure and tried to calculate the good he had done in the world and the legacy, if any, he would have left behind. And at the end of the second day, when all the stories worth telling had been told, the whale, skin dried and cracked rattled the notes for:

thank you

And died.

Roland mourned the passing of his friend and tried to no avail to commit the whale’s body back to the sea. His appetite never returned.

One morning, a week or so later, he spotted a ship on the horizon. He dragged his weakened frame across the sand over to the kindling of the signal fire and set about to light it but paused instead and looked over his shoulder at the decaying whale.

“Don’t think they’d be anxious to take you along, would they?” he sighed. “No. I guess they wouldn’t.” Roland turned his back on the ship and returned to his shelter.

He released his grip on life that very same evening.

***

A commercial fishing trawler, more rust than boat, bobbed across the heavy chops of the sea. The hard, beaten-faced crew hoisted up nets filled with their catch. A shadow suddenly fell over the deck and the fishermen looked to the vast spill of stars in the night sky and for the briefest of moments spotted the silhouette of a man riding on the back of a whale against the waning moon.

©1988 & 2017 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

About Beached: Growing up I created my own characters for my favorite TV shows and fantasized about how I could make the story different and in some cases better. When I returned to reality, the characters and plots were radically different from where I had begun.

There was a teacher I had a crush on, I didn’t have her in any of my classes and I can’t recall how we became acquainted but she always made time for me between classes. Anyway, she once told me there hadn’t been a new plot created in over two thousand years, but it’s the way the writer perceived the plot and created the characters that made the story unique.

Most of my work is inspired by the wisps of dreams and despite keeping a dream journal—that I don’t update quite often as I should—I don’t remember the precise details surrounding how I’m immersed in the story I wind up writing about. If I’m able to remember anything at all it’s usually only one aspect or detail that vividly sticks in my mind.

This single aspect becomes a what-if question that I strive to answer—the what-ifs of life are the basis of the best stories every told.

So, I do with my dreams the same as I did with the TV shows, in this case, I took a dream about being stranded on a strip of sand out in the middle of nowhere and this is what it became.