A Kiss Is Just A Kiss

It was early morning when the woman wearing a black backpack walked into the bar. The air was stale with old booze because this was a proper pub, a beer and whiskey joint, with nary a wine glass in sight. The space was narrow with an alcove for a pool table and video poker machine, and it was empty except for the bartender and a sad sack nursing a pint at the far end. She took a middle stool at the bar, not too close to the front door, and the bar mirror directly in front of her so she could keep an eye on what was happening behind her.

“I’ll have an Old Fashioned,” she said to the bartender. “Buffalo Trace Bourbon, if you have it.”

“It’s barely eleven, pretty early for a drink, wouldn’t you say?” said the bartender, who was dive bar attractive. On the cusp of his forties, ten pounds away from a dad bod, but he looked like he could handle himself in a fight.

“Depends on the hours you keep.”

“I suppose you’re right. I’m afraid the best I can do you is Jim Beam White Label,” he said apologetically.

The woman shrugged, “It’ll have to do.”

The bartender made the drink and set it on a napkin in front of the woman. She took a sip and nodded. Even though it wasn’t the bourbon of her choice, it wasn’t a half-bad Old Fashioned. She pulled out a one hundred dollar bill and placed it on the bar.

“It’s too early,” the bartender said. “I can’t change that.”

“You won’t have to, I’ll drink my way through it.”

Two sips later, the woman asked the bartender, “So, what’s his deal?” gesturing to the sad sack at the end of the bar.

“Who Herb?” the bartender said in a hushed tone. “Poor guy’s going through a rough patch. They say bad news comes in threes and sure enough he lost his job, found out his wife’s been cheating on him, and the bank foreclosed on his house yesterday.”

“Hmmm,” the woman said, as she got off her barstool, collected her drink and moved down the end of the bar next to Poor Herb. “Can I buy you a drink?”

Herb, abruptly pulled from his sulk, looked at this woman. Even though she tried to hide herself in baggy clothes, she was, without a doubt, the most beautiful human being he had ever laid eyes on in person. Burnt Sienna skin, willowy, and a face cut right from the pages of a men’s magazine. A real stunner, as his dad used to say.

“What’s the angle?” Herb asked.

“Angle? I don’t understand.”

“This is New York, lady. Women, especially beautiful ones like yourself, don’t buy drinks, they have them bought for them, whole bottles, top-shelf. So, when you offer to buy me, an absolute stranger, a drink, I’m smart enough to know that it doesn’t come free.”

The woman pondered this a moment and said, “I’m Marietta. Our bartender friend here…”

“Bill,” the bartender offered.

“…Bill, tells me your name is Herb. Now, we’re not strangers, are we? Normally, I like to drink alone but I don’t know a soul in town and I’m tired of talking to myself because I already know what I’m going to say. You can say no to the drink and the chat, if you’d rather be alone. That’s fine, I get it. I promise I won’t bother you anymore.” Marietta turned to walk back to her seat.

“Wait,” Herb said. “I’m a jaded New Yorker and a bit of an ass at the moment. If the offer still stands, I’d be delighted.”

“Just a chat,” Marietta said before taking the stool next to his. “I don’t want you getting the wrong idea.”

“Drink and a chat,” Herb said, holding up his first three fingers. “Scouts’ honor.”

“Name your poison,” Marietta said. “It obviously isn’t that beer or the glass would be empty by now.”

“It’s about all I can afford, and I was savoring it,” Herb admitted.

“Well, I can afford better than that, so down that puppy and tell Bill what you’re having.”

“A whiskey sour,” herb offered hesitantly, displaying that he clearly wasn’t used to someone else paying for his drinks.

“Done,” Marietta slapped the bar. “And what about you, Bill, what’s your drink of choice?”

“Dyed in the wool tequila man, just like my Mama,” Bill laughed in a short burst.

“Then set yourself up and let me know when that hundred runs out.”

And so they drank and talked, and in bar chat fashion, one person’s story sparked another person’s story and they compared miseries but not in a competitive way. Then the dam burst on Herb’s series of unfortunate events and after he spilled the entirety of his guts, the bar went silent.

“Words,” Herb finally said after several uncomfortable minutes. “I made my living slinging words but the truth of the matter is there isn’t a single word in any language, active, imaginary or dead, that could describe the pain I felt when my wife told me she’s been having an affair, and that she never loved me. Each syllable was a dull blade that sawed back and forth, tearing at my heart.”

“I know you probably can’t see it now, but you’re better off without her,” Marietta said.

“Listen to her, Herb,” Bill said. “One day you’ll be able to look back on all this and see it was for the best.”

“But what if that doesn’t happen?” Herb asked, eyes welling with tears. “What if I’m one of those people who gets stuck in a moment and spiral into misery and despair until I become a crazy homeless person that’s given up on life? What if I’m all out of rebounds, used up my lifetime allowance of fresh starts, and I never get another chance to rebuild my life?”

Marietta laughed and it was hearty enough for both Herb and Bill to eye her suspiciously.

“What’s so funny?” Herb asked.

“You don’t realize how fortunate you are,” Marietta answered. “Are you serious about that? Starting fresh? Because, Herb, my friend, I can do that for you.”

“You can do what for me?”

“I can put you back at square one.”


“By buying your past,” Marietta said like it was obvious. “You sell me your past and you get to start over again.”

“I don’t get the joke.”

“It’s not a joke, Herb,” Marietta said, slipping the backpack off her shoulders. She sat the bag on her lap and unzipped the main compartment, revealing the backpack was stuffed to the brim with bound stacks of hundred dollar bills. “Over two million tax-free dollars in non-sequential bills is yours if you agree to sell me your entire past.”

“Counterfeit bills?” Bill asked.

“Nope, check for yourself,” Marietta peeled a bill off one of the stacks and handed it to the bartender. “I’m sure you’ve got one of those counterfeit money detectors behind the bar somewhere.

Bill took the hundred over to the device right by the register and held it under a UV light. “It’s real,” he confirmed.

Bill started to bring the hundred back, but Marietta waved him off, “Keep that and keep the drinks coming. Things are about to get interesting.”

“Wait wait wait wait,” Herb waved his hands in the air like he was shooing off flies. “I’m a little drunk here and I just want to make sure I’ve got this straight: you’re going to give me two million dollars in exchange for my past?”


“I say, Sure, take my past, and you hand me two million dollars?”

“Right after we seal the deal with a kiss,” Marietta nodded.

“Two million for kissing you?”

“And your past, let’s not forget that.”

“Tongues?” Herb asked, embarrassed at how pathetically childish it came out.

“Herb!” Marietta reeled back in shock. “How dare you?”

“I’m sorry! I didn’t mean anything by it, honest! It’s the alcohol and the entire situation…”

“Calm down,” Marietta smiled. “I’m just messing with you. Of course tongues. I’m going to french you like there’s no tomorrow, or in your case, no yesterday.”

Bill returned with the drinks and asked, “You wearing poisoned lipstick, or something?”

Marietta shot the bartender an are you fucking kidding me right now? look. “One: I’m not wearing lipstick. Two: who am I, Mata Hari?”

“Then hell, if Herb won’t take you up on the offer, I sure as shit will.”

“Hey, stop trying to horn in on my deal!”

“So, do we actually have a deal, Herb, or what?” Marietta asked. “If not, I’ll offer it to Bill. It makes me no difference either way. You just seemed like a guy in need of a break.”

Herb pondered the entire situation for a long moment before saying, “I just want to let you know that I think you’re an absolute nutjob…”

“Guilty as charged.”

“…And I’m not buying a word of any of this…”

“Not necessary to complete the transaction.”

“…And I haven’t worked out the scam yet…”

“No scam. It’s just as it says on the tin.”

“…But, without meaning to objectify you, you are drop-dead gorgeous…”

“No offense taken, and thank you. You ain’t half bad yourself.”

“…And all I can think about is kissing you right now.”

“So, we have a deal?”

Herb nodded, “Yeah, we have a deal.”

“Then I need you to say that you, of your own free will, bequeath to me the entirety of your past in exchange for the money in this backpack.”

Herb made the pledge, and Marietta sat the backpack on the floor, rose from the barstool, and took Herb’s face in her hands. “Pucker up, you wonderful man!”

Marietta pressed her lips to Herb’s and she was the aggressor. Her tongue plunged into his mouth, deeper and deeper…and suddenly the logical part of Herb didn’t want this because her tongue was tangy with the threat of mold, but the animal part couldn’t give a tinker’s damn about the taste. It wanted her, all of her, and it wanted her to have all of him. He squirmed on his barstool, fighting in vain to break the kiss and now he had an erection that rivaled the best hard-on from the height of his virility. Her tongue reached the threshold of no return, and knocked, seeking entry. Logic screamed, No! but the animal inside him opened the gates and let her in.

Suddenly, memories of losing the fight with the bank for the house, pleading with his boss to keep his job, and sobbing like a child while his wife laughed at his misery and moved out of the house with her new, younger man, all rushed past him and vanished into the distance, and there was a strange sense of relief.

But then other memories followed:

  • Landing the job of his dreams in the writers’ room of his favorite tv science fiction show;
  • Receiving his first acceptance letter from a publisher for a short story;
  • The time the bathroom light behind Aunty Valerie revealed the outline of her body through her nightgown and the intimacy of the sight made him nervous because it was the closest he’d ever been to seeing a woman naked and he was amazed and repulsed at the same time;
  • Finally standing up to the school bully who later became his best friend throughout his school years;
  • Working alongside his dad as he fixed the family car;
  • Setting up the red cedar Christmas tree with his mom and sisters for the first time…

So many first times; first kisses; first attempts at intimacy; initial feels of new crushes; the early days of falling in love; when his geeky hobby obsessions were brand spanking new; all the excitement, pain, sorrow and happiness… gone, gone and gone.

Herb could feel Marietta’s kiss begin to wind down, and he found himself standing in the theater of his soul, and the seats were all empty now, no one to occupy his memories because he no longer had memories to occupy.

Marietta broke the kiss but held Herb’s face a moment longer. She looked him squarely in the eyes and said with complete sincerity, “You have no idea what a debt I owe you, and it’s a shame that all I can offer for your sacrifice is money.”

She lifted the backpack off the floor, rested it on her barstool and zipped it closed. Then she slid his arms through the straps and secured the bag to his back. “Best you wear this. You won’t believe the number of times I’ve set it down and almost left it behind.”

The bag was heavier than it looked, heavier than Marietta made it seem. Herb figured she must have been carrying it for a long while and had gotten used to the weight.

Marietta gave Herb a hug and whispered into his ear, “If it turns out a fresh start isn’t what you want after all, do what I did. You’re not a bad-looking guy, you can find someone to take you up on the offer. You won’t believe what some people will do for money. Oh, and I intend to make your wife pay for what she did to you, it’s the very least I can do.”

On her way out, Marietta tapped the bar, pointed at Herb and said, “Nice meeting you, Bill. You know, had the bar been empty, that could have been you.” and with that, she left the bar a million times (two, in fact) lighter than when she entered.

The man who used to be Herb just sat there, lost in his aloneness. He knew what transpired in the bar, Marietta left him that much at least, but that’s all there was. This moment in this bar was square one. He would have to build his life up from scratch. He pulled out his wallet and his driver’s license and all his credit cards were blank. He couldn’t even remember his name or the names of his family and friends, or even if he had family and friends.

He did not like the feeling at all.

Then the bartender came into his sphere of attention. Apparently, this man had been talking to him the entire time but he somehow managed to block the guy out.

“Hey, Herb! Are you all right, man?” Bill said, his face full of concern.

Previously-Herb shook his head, “No.”

“Oh man, don’t be going all catatonic on me like that! You had me freaking out for a moment!”

“Hey,” No-Longer-Herb said. “Would you really have traded your past for this money?”

“Pal, she wouldn’t have had to ask me twice.”

“Would you still trade it for the same deal?”

“What, to kiss you?”

Former-Herb nodded.

Normally, any guy who tried to kiss Bill would have gotten five knuckles across the gums, not that he was a homophobe or anything like that, it just wasn’t his practice, and he aimed to make that point clear the best way he knew how.

“You want to french me that way she did you?” Bill asked for the sake of clarification.

“I want to give you two million dollars for your past. Do we have a deal?”

“I’m not gay,” Bill announced for the record.

“Neither am I. Two million, in or out?”

Bill’s fist clenched and unclenched as he worked the situation over in his brain. Who in the hell did this guy think he was, making a proposition like that? Was he insinuating something? Was Bill giving off some sort of vibe that wasn’t aware of? If he was, how many other people were picking up on this vibe?

Then the little voice inside his head cleared its throat and reminded him of how life-changing two million dollars would be, and none of his memories were all that precious, as he tended to live in the now anyway. Not to mention that the bar was still empty, so nobody would ever know…

Text and Audio ©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Greetings from Europa – Seventeenth Transmission: Crash Site

First Transmission * Second Transmission * Third Transmission * Fourth Transmission * Fifth Transmission * Sixth Transmission * Seventh Transmission * Eighth Transmission * Ninth Transmission * Tenth Transmission * Eleventh Transmission * Twelfth Transmission * Thirteenth Transmission * Fourteenth Transmission * Fifteenth Transmission * Sixteenth Transmission

When NASA first introduced its latest rocket design, the Intergalactic Space Vessel Expediter, and proposed the manned fact-finding mission to Saturn, Alexander Edwards leapt at the opportunity, and former astronaut John C. Roberge backed his play.

Edwards, Eddie to his friends and colleagues, was an AsCan, an astronaut candidate, when he first came on Roberge’s radar. He was bottom of his class and written off as a wash-out, but Roberge saw something in Edwards, a drive, a determination, an unlucky kid who needed a break. So, Roberge took the kid under his wing and watched Edwards bust his hump to rise from last place to top of his class.

Roberge himself was sent to NASA Mission Control Center, located in Houston, Texas, when he was promoted to Capsule Communicator, or CAPCOM, for the Saturn Mission.

The astronauts who successfully made the vetting process were:

  • Dr. Georgina Douglas, physician, surgeon, and biologist.
  • Mr. Leon Powell, executive officer, second pilot, astrogator, astrophysicist, and photographer.
  • Dr. Faith Perkins, biochemist, and hydroponicist.
  • Dr. Ward Smith, semiotician, stores officer, and historian.
  • Dr. Natasha Marsden, atomics engineer, electronics and power technician.
  • Mr. Jude Randall, electronics engineer, chemical engineer, practical machinist & instrumentation man, and cryologist.
  • And Captain Alexander Edwards, commanding-pilot, astrogator, geologist and selenologist, and rocketry engineer.

Roberge wished his friend and protégé, as well as the rest of the Expediter crew, “Godspeed,” as the countdown commenced. The launch was a success and the Expediter was on route to Saturn.

When the message came in that the Expediter had been bombarded by several tiny meteors that damaged the integrity of the hull, Roberge was on duty, and the final message from Edwards before communication ceased completely was that the crew was going to attempt an emergency landing.

Knowing Eddie like the back of his hand and how Eddie thought because he taught the man to think like an astronaut, Roberge used Expediter’s last known position before the meteor strike and calculated their best chance of survival would have been to attempt a landing on Europa.

Roberge attempted to reestablish contact, listening for a reply. He listened and waited, waited and listened. For hours. Those hours became days, those days became weeks, those weeks months, and those months became years. But Roberge, in his role as CAPCOM, showed up every single day and broadcasted signals to his friend who was lost somewhere in the void and listened for a reply.

Eventually, NASA had no choice but to announce the probability that the Expediter and her crew had not survived the emergency landing. Funeral services were held for the brave astronauts but Roberge did not attend because he wouldn’t allow himself to believe they were dead.

Roberge was approaching retirement age, and the top brass planned to use that as an excuse to relieve the former astronaut of his duty, but before that happened, CAPCOM picked up a signal. It was Captain Edwards’s first transmission since the meteor strike. He was alive, and as Roberge suspected, he was broadcasting from Europa.

CAPCOM sent word to Mission Control and in violation of protocol, Roberge fired a tweet out on the Twitterverse.

Roberge attempted to broadcast a message back to Eddie, realizing that the relay time for a radio wave message to reach Europa was between 35 to 43 minutes and another 40 some odd minutes to receive a reply. When none came Roberge suspected the transmitter was damaged in the landing and could only transmit but not receive.

Talks of a rescue mission were underway and NASA was in the midst of designing an updated version of the Expediter model rocket when funding stopped over fears that a manned trip to Saturn was too risky. But now that Eddie managed to get a signal back to Earth, surely the funding would resume.

This, however, was not the case, chiefly because Eddie stated in his broadcast that he was the sole survivor of the landing. The question arose as to whether it was worth spending billions of dollars on a rescue mission to save the life of one man.

Other concerns were that he had made contact with the indigenous life on Europa, mated with one and had hybrid children. If brought back to Earth, what manner of diseases might he be infected with? And being stranded on the moon and forced to embrace alien cultures, how much of his humanity had he retained? Or was he under the influence of some alien superintelligence? And Capitalists were afraid of his power if he returned to Earth. He was now the unofficial ambassador to Europa and if he claimed citizenship all trade negotiations would have to funnel through him.

Still, the public movement to save one of their own had begun and #RescueEdwards became the new campaign of the western world.

Since the first broadcast, Eddie had managed to transmit once a fortnight at the same hour, but after the sixteenth broadcast in which he expressed concerns about a murder that happened in a place called Dairy Elock Prefecture the messages had stopped for a month.

Hope faded again, but Roberge held strong, and transmitted a message to establish contact on a regular basis. Eddie would have to make contact soon, because Roberge couldn’t hold off his bosses from forcing him into retirement.

As he was about to leave for the evening, a burst of static blared through the speakers and a voice fought its way to the surface:

“Greetings From Europa!” the voice said. It was Eddie but the signal was weaker than any of the earlier broadcasts. Roberge recorded the message and grabbed a nearby pen and pad on which to transcribe at the same time.

“This might be my final transmission because the battery indicator on the transmitter is showing it’s on low power mode. It could be a problem with the solar panel, the wire connections or the poor battery itself is at the end of its life. So, I’ll make this brief,” Eddie said. In the background there were chirpy clicking noises that several linguists identified as an alien language which was labeled Europese for simplicity. It was probably the voice of Eddie’s Europan son, Jampie.

“Since my last broadcast, my son and I have traveled through three villages without incident and now we’re less than a day out from Dery’Ylok Prefecture. Ever since we left the last village, I’ve been getting hit with strong surges of déjà vu and now I’m starting to realize why.

Just up ahead, although covered with tall grass are the five grave markers I made when I buried the members of my crew. This place is our crash site. When I last saw it, it was all scorched land, but even at a disaster site, nature persists. And those grassy hills in the distance beyond the graves must be the wreckage of the Expediter.

“Jampi!” Edwards called out and then his language switched to chirpy clicks, presumably as he spoke to his son. “Jampi! Jampi!”

“I am such an idiot!” Eddie said in English. “I explained to my son that those hills are actually my starship, how I came to be on Europa and no sooner than I got the words out, he was off like a shot to investigate it.”

More chirpy clicks but Edwards’ voice sounded worried.

In English Edwards said, “I’m stepping into the domed section of the ship that used to be stellar cartography and I have to admit that I’m filled with a bizarre sense of homesickness and fear. But, this could be a godsend because I’m surrounded by Earth tech, so perhaps I can locate a replacement powercell.”

“Jampi!” Edwards called out more forceful than before and communicated in Europese.

Then there was a sound of metal on metal, followed by a female voice, distant and echoey.

Although faint, Roberge could have sworn it said,

“Hello, Eddie. Been a while, hasn’t it?” in perfect English.

Then the transmission went dead.

To be continued

Text and Audio ©2014 & 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Glossary of Terms

  • Abogzons – Gynecological engineers.
  • Agvann – Translation: The will of Nes’Tim; an accident.
  • Alum’Vedca – The day marking the new solar cycle of Peace and Maturity; a tribute to the era when Europans evolved from their primitive prey state.
  • Arcek – A spiritual theologian
  • Biem – A time to show respect for the aged.
  • Biss’ore – Travelers, nomads
  • Bokloryn – An unrepayable debt; an act that places the receiver in a lifetime contract of servitude.
  • Cu’nal – A biological storage unit.
  • Denpa – An envoy equipped with an audiographic memory that can store and recall spoken messages at will in the same voice, tone and inflection of the original person who spoke it, who travels from village to village to deliver messages from other communities both near and far.
  • Egami – A docile mineral-based creatures primarily used for family transportation due to the fact they are virtually inexhaustible.
  • Gates of Juh’holl – Europan afterlife; where souls are released from the flesh to become stardust and rejoin the universe.
  • Grahas – A gerbil-sized creature, resembling a stone armadillo, that emits heat when stroked.
  • Homnils – A warm, yet sad, reminiscence about something in the past.
  • Ipu llqr mwyll xfrr – Abogzon credo meaning “success or death”; satisfaction guaranteed.
  • Isogoles – Europan monthly day of pay.
  • Jampi – Captain Edward’s son.
  • Jbwqnadb – The Europan spelling of lemonade.
  • Jhisal – Meis’lo’s home village.
  • Klanea – Translation: unknown to us; stranger.
  • Mecot’ra – Unterraformed areas of Europa.
  • Meis’lo – The only surviving witness to the murder of  the prophet Nes’Tim.
  • Micdow yl – The vessels of new life; children.
  • Nes’Tim – The most revered spiritual prophet on Europa, slain by a heretic tribe who call themselves Sel’Tab.
  • Pwyll – Europa’s highest mountain.
  • Qik’climajh – Depending on its usage in a sentence, denotes either the act of telling a story, or the storyteller themselves.
  • Sel’Tab – A heretic tribe responsible for the death of the prophet Nes’Tim.
  • Shig’umfu – “Interesting world of another”; a documentary qik’climajh in which neighbors tell the story of a person’s life as learned from casual conversations.
  • Spo – Food.
  • Uz Cu’nal – A biological storage unit used primarily for food preservation.
  • Uz – An unspeakable sexual act; a derogatory term; an insult.

Tales From The Set: “Call My Ex, Please?” (a true story)

When choosing some sort of creative art as a career, you find out early on that you need to find other employment opportunities outside your field of interest In order to pay the bills. And since I have yet to acquire the fortune that is my birthright, when I lived in Los Angeles briefly, one of those jobs was working background on tv and film sets — also known as being an extra.

Greys 1019
The simplest game of Where’s Waldo ever. Look for the clever clog in the gray suit on the left blocking his face with his own champagne glass. A star in the making.

As I had no aspirations of being an actor, I’m pretty easygoing regarding my placement in the crowd. Tucked behind tall people? Facing away from the camera? Set in a position farthest from the principal actors? Not a problem. I was glad to be working and I kinda liked being on set and watching the crew set up shots. Other perks include:

  • Absolutely no acting ability is required (thankfully)
  • Being booked on a series or feature gets me out of the house and breaks the monotony of my average day
  • I get to slip into the skins of different people (hospital administrator, construction worker, churchgoer, Muslim, parent, etc.)
  • I’ve seen myself on TV three times to date (freeze frame is my best friend)

The downside?

  • The pay could be better (but I’m non-union, so dem’s da breaks)
  • Lugging around your own wardrobe (always bring at least two options) on public transportation (guess who never learned to drive?) can be cumbersome
  • The hurry up and wait… and wait… and wait… and wait… can wear on your patience, especially later in the day
  • Craft services (the snacks and drinks table) for extras is a bit of a dice roll
  • And sometimes other background actors. Not all, mind you, you come across some interesting people chock full of stories and experiences who are willing to let you pick their brains… then there are the others.

Before I get to the meat of the nutshell, I need to set the stage. Picture a room that holds one thousand people. Only one person in that thousand is certifiably crazy. Do you know how you’d be able to spot the nutjob? It would be the only person speaking to me. Got it? Good. Let’s proceed.

One time I was on the set of a tv show named Grey’s Anatomy in extras holding (just as it says on the tin — a place where background actors lounge about while they wait to be called to set) minding my own business, when an attractive young woman stood close to me and started speaking. She clearly wasn’t looking at me, so I followed her eyeline to see if she was perhaps conversing with someone behind me. Nope, no one there. So, I assumed she invited her imaginary friend to the set to keep her company, and I shrugged it off.

For the record, I do not discriminate against people with invisible friends as I know full well the difficulty in making and maintaining worthwhile friendships, imaginary or otherwise. That, and I once dated a woman whose older sister was pretty chummy with Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Pluto and the rest of the Disney gang, and they would often go on Magic Kingdom adventures in the solitude of her bedroom.

A story for another day.

But this woman kept repeating the same sentence, loud enough for me to hear, but no one watching would ever had accused us of having a conversation. More like we were secret agents who daren’t risk breaking our cover, she was giving me the sign and awaited the countersign.

You’re not the first one to live in a strange place with strange people, nor the last,” she repeated.

I looked at her. She, however, refused to make eye contact and simply waited for my reply. Never one to resist the urge to poke the mental tiger, I finally said, “Sometimes it feels that way, though.”

The sluice gates were opened and I wasn’t prepared for the rush of conversation headed my way. Among the many topics she introduced:

  • How women are Christlike when they menstruate, as they suffer for mankind.
  • How she’s happy not to be dancing for biker gangs anymore.
  • How pigeons are truly blessed and carry our prayer up to heaven.
  • How she gave up selling subscriptions to a specialist magazine for ukelele players because she made a decision not to give up her integrity for money.
  • How the government was concealing the fact that chicken fried steak was the cure for cancer.
  • How her stepfather used to send Chinese pornography to her Toy Yorkie.
  • How July always smelled like shades of red.
  • How okra smells like sex before you cook it.

And a host of others I can’t recall at the moment (I’m sure they still haunt the nightmares I can’t remember). Throughout the day, I tried my best to avoid her. Trips to the restroom, striking up conversations with strangers, hiding within crowds of people, but she always managed to sniff me out and made other people uncomfortable to the point they drifted away and gave us space. I had been designated friend-of-mental and no one wanted any part of providing me shelter.

After the scene I was in wrapped for the day, I stood in line for one of the shuttle vans to take me from the set to base camp. Okra-Sex-Smell-Girl was nowhere in sight and as the van pulled up I thought I’d made my getaway. But the Transportation Captain held the van because there was still an available seat. I know I don’t need to tell you who the seat was next to, or who filled it.

Okra-Sex looked straight ahead. To my knowledge, her eyes never once fell on me. I was an entity that only existed in her peripheral vision. “Can you call my ex from your phone, please?” she asked.

What? No.” Okay, not the best response, but she blindsided me.

Please? I tried calling him but he won’t pick up the phone, probably because he recognizes my number. I think he’s still mad at me. I just want to make sure he’s okay because my friend threatened to beat him up.”

Call your friend and ask him if he beat up your ex.” Mystery solved. Columbo was on the case.

He wouldn’t tell me if he did. He knows I’d be upset.”

I shrugged an oh, well.

You’re not going to call?” She seemed genuinely surprised.

Nope. Not happening.” By this time I stopped looking at her, as well, figuring maybe the cold shoulder would silence her for the rest of the ride. As if.

Why not?”

Hmmm, because not my ex, not my problem?”

But he doesn’t know you. When he answers, just say you dialed the wrong number or something. Then tell me if he sounds beaten up or not.”

If he sounds beaten up. Under different circumstances, I might have let the exchange play out a little longer, but it had been a long day and I was both tired and hungry, so the best I could manage was, “What did I say? No? Then that’s what I meant,” before I officially checked out of the conversation.

Not that it mattered. Even without my participation, her side of the discussion continued without skipping a beat:

If you call, I won’t have to stop by his house tonight. You’d be doing me a big favor.”

You’re so mean.

Do you think I should just leave my ex alone?”

Well, you obviously don’t know what being in love is like.”

I’d do it for you. Do you have somebody you want me to call? Give me your phone, I’ll do it.”

And it went on like that for the entirety of the trip. When we reached our destination, she smiled, still not looking my way and said, “Thanks, for being sweet.” And maybe it was my imagination but as she walked away I thought I detected a spring in her step, like she’d made her decision on what needed to be done.

For at least a week afterward, I followed the local news for reports of a lover’s tiff gone horribly wrong in a room that reeked of sex… or maybe uncooked okra.

©2014 & 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

First Saturdays


Hi, my name is Rhyan and I’m a movie addict.

And an insomniac.

Native New Yorker, born in Manhattan, raised in The Bronx, and because I inherited my mother’s transient nature, I’ve managed to live in each of the five boroughs. Poor as a skunk’s misery, a church mouse, Job, Lazarus, and dirt. Hell, I’m still poor, and most likely always will be.

The best thing about growing up without anything is that you learn to make the most of what you’ve got and distract yourself from what you haven’t got. My major distraction was television.

It was my babysitter, my tutor, and my secret friend that entertained me as the rest of the world slept. Its siren call would lure me into the living room, where I’d toss my blanket over the both of us so the light didn’t spill out of the room and give away my position. Then I’d plug my mono transistor radio earphone into the headphone jack and marvel at all the noir, horror and science fiction movies that played on CBS’ The Late Show, The Late Late Show, and The Late Late Late Show.


I was always a wreck in school the following day, but man was it worth it.

The only thing that trumped this near nightly process was the first Saturday of the month. Like most poor folk, we were on welfare and this was before the Food Stamp bill was passed in 1970 which meant everything, rent, bills, and food monies arrived in the mailbox in one convenient check. The Saturday that followed check day was always considered my day. Wherever I wanted to go, wherever I wanted to play.

My playground of choice? 42nd Street. The first stop was Tad’s Steak House. Sure, the broiled steak was thin and more gristle than meat, the garlic bread was oilier than Brylcreem, the chocolate pudding coated with that yucky skin and a fountain Coke served in a large red plastic tumbler that smelled like the previous beverage it held… but to me, it was pure heaven.


Then my mother gestured at the movie theaters that lined both sides of the street and said the most perfect thing anyone could have said to me at the time, “You can see all the movies you can stay awake for.”

These were once majestic movie houses that slowly transformed during the decline of New York City starting in the late 50’s into grindhouse theaters before grindhouse was even a word. Each one ran three films, usually one current and the others whatever was on hand.

On these magic Saturdays, I tore through Roger Corman flicks, Hammer Films, the Toho tokusatsu imports and so much more. All uninterrupted viewing aside from the occasional mom hand that would clamp over my eyes during nude or sex scenes. Only when I started to nod off was it time to head home, despite my protestations.


On the way home, we’d stop off at the Horn & Hardart automat and my mother would dump tokens into my hand and send me off to fetch dinner from the individual glass door compartments. Even though it was only plain food — sandwiches, beef stew, and the like — there was something about slotting coins and retrieving a prize that appealed to me.


The final detour before reaching home was the Optimo Cigars shop that had a spinning wire rack of comic books where I’d select my month’s reading material.

I realize this may not seem like any great shakes to you, but it remains the only positive memory I have of my mother — too long and too personal a story to go into here — and I can’t think of a better way to honor the anniversary of her passing.

Text and Audio ©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

A Rose by Any Other Voice


“You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows that they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift.” ― Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus

There are different types of stories. Some you share, some that transform themselves into other creative endeavors, some that are stillborn with no hope of resuscitation, and some that you hide from everyone, sometimes even yourself.

When I wore a younger man’s clothes, I wrote a story. One that I’ve never shared, one that will never transform itself into another work of art, one I have not read since its inception. But every so often when my mind settles into a rare resting mode and all my thoughts become inconsequential white noise, the story whispers to me so that I don’t forget it. It does what it needs to do in order to survive.

No, it’s not a true confession, nor is it based on or inspired by true events. There’s no deep-seated ideological conviction behind it. It’s also not the most powerful or hard-hitting thing I’ve ever written. Hell, the thing isn’t even written in my voice. Chiefly because it’s not my story.

The story belongs to someone else, told to me in part before she died.

Rose loved to tell stories to take her mind off her illness, so we’d meet occasionally when her health allowed or sometimes talk over the phone and she would spin her vignettes. She wasn’t a professional writer so the stories were uneven and structurally unsound, but they were enjoyable nonetheless. She was witty and articulate and sometimes, but not too often, a good telling trumps structure.

And she continued telling stories until the pain became too much to bear, but before Rose died she said to me, “Complete it,” and slow on the uptake as I can often be, I didn’t catch her meaning until months later.

It wasn’t an easy process. When I finally wrote the story down as close to verbatim as my past-its-sell-by-date memory could manage, I looked at the work and was confounded by what I could actually do with it. At first, I wanted to restructure and outline everything so that I could plot a logical ending, but that wouldn’t have been true to Rose’s storytelling style. A style I had become very protective of.

In the end, I decided this wasn’t a story that could be written, only transcribed, so I sat in front of a mirror with a digital recorder and recited the fragments Rose left me as a parting gift and traveled down a nonstructural road to see where it led me.

And I didn’t go it alone. I could feel Rose’s hand in mine, leading me down the path to the story’s final destination.

Text and Audio ©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Alice: Reflections of a Looking Glass Friendship (true story allegory)

behind the glass

“Of course it hurt that we could never love each other in a physical way. We would have been far more happy if we had. But that was like the tides, the change of seasons–something immutable, an immovable destiny we could never alter. No matter how cleverly we might shelter it, our delicate friendship wasn’t going to last forever. We were bound to reach a dead end. That was painfully clear.” ― Haruki Murakami, Sputnik Sweetheart

They say you meet friends in the damnedest places when you aren’t looking for them and I thought this was utter nonsense until the day I found a friend in the reflection of a mirror. I know what you’re thinking and no, this isn’t a story about finally finding and befriending myself or coming into contact with the Supreme Intelligence that exists within me, because it wasn’t my reflection. This person, this woman who has no name as far as you’re concerned, that I will call Alice, stood beside the mirror version of myself, to the left. Always left of center. I should have taken that as a sign, but you never see the glaringly obvious without the benefit of hindsight, do you?

Before you mistake Alice for an imaginary friend, know that were I in a mirrorless room, I wouldn’t be able to communicate with her because she simply wouldn’t be there.

How she came to be trapped within mirrors is anyone’s guess and I doubt she truly knew herself, though whenever asked, she would always blame her fractured memory, splintered like the shards of glass of a shattered mirror that held incomplete images of her past.

She was fascinating in her way, Alice was. A brain filled with dark matter. Insecure to a fault. A high maintenance friend if ever there was one. Not only was she needy, self-absorbed to the exclusion of all else, devoid of a funny bonedespite the fact she claimed to have an excellent sense of humorbut she was also passive-aggressive and more than slightly obtuse when it came to the rules of the world that existed outside her own head. But as I said, fascinating in her own right.

It’s a shame that fascination wasn’t enough to carry through. I was determined in the beginning to plant our relationship in the soil of time, water it with patience and let it bask in the rays of understanding.

What sprang from the dirt wasn’t the flower of friendship, but the weeds of unwanted advice. It’s what broken people do, you see, they have an undying need to give others advice on how to fix themselves. I am by no stretch of the imagination a Bible scholar, but I am familiar with the passage:

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”

But I endured it. You ask me why? I couldn’t tell you. That’s what friends are for, I reckon. But then I started to notice that her reflection was dwarfing my own. She began taking up the majority space in the mirror, and I, trying to keep the peace had ignored the signs and allowed it to happen. My own fault, I plainly admit it.

But no more.

As I grow older, reluctantly wiser, and I reevaluate my life choices and take stock of my friends, I see with regard to the Alice matter that I will never get a decent return on my investment. Some people are a bad fit within their own skin as well as with other people.

Not long after, I noticed she wasn’t simply trapped within a mirror. Alice was actually trapped in a glass box of her own construction, caught within a mirror pocket dimension. And to add insult to injury, she was attempting to trap my reflection, and thereby me, inside one as well.

In the end, I did the only thing I could do, for she gave me no other choice. I placed her reflection in the only fitting place I could think of — my rearview mirror. The very last time I ever laid eyes on Alice, she was shrinking in the distance until she was little more than a dot on the horizon.

My sincerest wishes for her are to find her way out of her glass cage and strive to be more than a visual echo in the reflectors of others. But that first step begins with her. She has to want to be a real person, and I’m not sure she knows how.

In any event, adieu, Looking Glass Girl. Here’s not looking at you, kiddo. To the rest of you lot, go forth, make friends, and be mindful of mirror-lurkers.

Text and Audio ©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Braiding Tales: We Built a World, Row by Row (a true story)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for humoring me as I wool-gathered.

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

Text and audio ©2013 & 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

I Am A Sentient Black Hole. Ask Me Anything.

I’m feeling a bit under the weather today, so instead of either skipping a day or tossing up some filler nonsense, I’ve decided to invite a guest blogger, who happens to be a character in one of my science fiction novellas.

Please extend to her every courtesy.

– Madd Fictional

Sentient Black Hole

My name is Ganymedorah and I’m a sentient black hole keen to debunk stereotypes. Ask me anything.

The title says it all. In my recent travels throughout the universe, I found that many people know little to nothing about what it’s like to be me. Let’s change that!

saganosity How’d you come to be?

Ganymedorah Wow, a birds and bees question straight out of the gate. Okay, let’s see how to put this. Do you know what happens when two gigantic patches of darkness get so close to one another that they fall into each other? Well, sometimes, if they love each other very much, they take a honeymoon trip together. I am a result of a wild, crazy and uninhibited weekend.

SarahMcL If you had a pet, what kind would you choose and what would you name it?

Ganymedorah If I could own a pet, I’d probably choose an inverted supernova. I’d love to watch the little guy bury the bones of a dead solar system in the yard! And I’d name him Champagne, of course.

justice4hansolo What fact still blows you away even though you’ve known about it forever?

Ganymedorah The universe is filled with empty calories. Seriously. I can eat and eat an incomprehensible amount of matter at an absurd speed and never put on a pound. Well, almost never. Sometimes I manage to put on a little water weight.

syfy4lyf Star Trek or Star Wars?

Ganymedorah Star Trek, original series. Nobody beats Shatner’s Kirk. Nobody. Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga should be sent to Rura Penthe for the way they killed the character off in Star Trek Generations.

winstigator Do you think you could beat Centaurus A in a knife fight?

Ganymedorah Centaurus A is so full of shit, pardon my French, puffing up his chest and boasting that he’s a “giant galaxy.” If he ever looked at me sideways, I’d whup his superluminous central supermassive black hole butt without breaking a sweat.

fullostars What are your thoughts on Brian Cox, Neil Degrasse Tyson and Michio Kaku?

Ganymedorah Imagine that theoretical pub debate! If only I could find a place at the edge of the universe that pulled a proper pint. Time to whip out the old Hitchhiker’s Guide, methinks!

knows.e.parkour Tell us something you’ve never told anyone.

Ganymedorah I pick up broadcast signals all the time. Reality television is my guilty pleasure and I’m absolutely addicted to 90 Day Fiancé. Kirlyam is so friggin’ cute!

K-FitzMat Do you believe in ancient aliens?

Ganymedorah Believe in them? I still see them (there’s a whole weird bendable time thing that runs around and through me). I am totes timey-wimey. Oh, and before you ask, yes, dinosaurs existed and no, they didn’t ride on the ark.

othrwhtmeet Do you like bacon?

Ganymedorah Duh, who doesn’t? Next question.

icanhazeuropa Is there life elsewhere in our solar system, particularly Mars, given the variable quantities of methane in its atmosphere that could suggest bacterial activity beneath the surface?

Ganymedorah Aw, man… y’all are really making me regret spilling the beans on the whole ancient aliens thing. Why would you want me to ruin that surprise for you? Wouldn’t it be better to discover it on your own?

xs10shal What never fails to blow your mind about humans?

Ganymedorah 1) That people always choose to pursue things that are the absolute worst for their emotional and physical well being.

2) That even the most vile among you are sometimes capable of acts of kindness so incredible as to make my gaseous heart feel as if it’s about to burst.

3) The Captain & Tennille divorce. I mean, who saw that coming?

tinfoilhat Conspiracy theorist here. Is there a secret society of black holes?

Ganymedorah If I told you, I’d have to drop you into a gravity well.

trebek2dafutr If you appeared on the game show Jeopardy, how do you think you would do?

Ganymedorah Depends on the categories. I’ve got Space, Science and Potent Potables on lock. Do the kids still say that? But I’d suck (sorry, black hole humor) at Pop-Music, Sports and Math. I would definitely make the first few rounds, especially if I hit a Daily Double but ultimately would lose the Final Jeopardy question. Wheel of Fortune? That’s an entirely different matter.

statnislndmedim What are your feelings on the afterlife, and are you scared to die?

Ganymedorah Without any hint of braggadocio, I, by my very nature, am too much of a good thing to worry about my decomposition and demise. Too much mass, and too much gravity pushed together and collapsed into a single point with infinite density. In-fi-nite. I love the sound of that. Now, if I’m meant to die, I will not go gently into that good night, trust me. As for what awaits me on the other side, who knows? But I love a good mystery, me.

dollylamas Will our minds ever be able to truly comprehend our worth in the vastness of the universe?

Ganymedorah As long as you continue to ponder it. If I could impress one thing on people, it would be to stare into the unknown and unknowable without fear and full of questions.

constellationkate Last night, a 900-foot asteroid was due to streak extremely close to Earth, but it just disappeared, leaving astronomers baffled. Do you know anything about that?

Ganymedorah Yup, and you’re welcome.


Oops, pardon me.

Text and Audio ©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys


Greetings from Europa – Sixteenth Transmission: News From Dery’Ylok Prefecture

First Transmission * Second Transmission * Third Transmission * Fourth Transmission * Fifth Transmission * Sixth Transmission * Seventh Transmission * Eighth Transmission * Ninth Transmission * Tenth Transmission * Eleventh Transmission * Twelfth Transmission * Thirteenth Transmission * Fourteenth Transmission * Fifteenth Transmission

Greetings from Europa!

Jampi and I stayed in Jhisal long enough to repay Meis’lo and the rest of the village for their hospitality. This was done by sharing our stories and pitching in with the communal chores.

On the morning that we packed our egami and prepared for our departure, two Denpas entered the village, one from the east, the road behind us, and the other from the road ahead.

I recognized Huc’yan, one of the Denpas from my village, who carried word from Kubus and Veron. News concerning the children of Rezter was coming less frequently now because villages grew scarcer the further out they traveled, and when they finally arrived at Pwyll there would be no word until they had completed their pilgrimage and were on their way back.

For now, Kubus and Veron had managed to circumnavigate mecot’ra safely. They encountered biss’ore, a band of travelers, or nomads and after describing their pilgrimage, received an offer of friendship to camp with the group and travel together as they were headed in the same direction, at least for four days.

Huc’yan also had a message from my wife, who was relieved that our son was safe with me. She had never been separated from myself or our children before and admitted that she didn’t realize the value of the things taken for granted until they were gone. This was her way of saying that she missed me and Jampi and it nearly brought tears to my eyes hearing Huc’yan imitate not only my wife’s voice, but the pain in it as well. I made him repeat the message several times, which he did without complaint. I sent word back that neither I nor Jampi ever felt we were taken for granted, and I added, “We miss you, too.”

The second Denpa, the one who traveled in from the opposite direction, wasn’t known to me. He brought news of a terrible tragedy that occurred in Dery’Ylok Prefecture. A young Europan girl was killed (not the word the Denpa used, but my human inference) by the mother of another girl. The two children were playing in the field when they came across a (the Denpa used a word that I had never heard before. When I asked for clarity, no one could help for the word had no translation. It was known to Europans and had never needed explaining before). This object, whatever it was, was so fascinating that the girls fought over ownership of it. Their village elder was called in to arbitrate the dispute and after listening to both girls’ stories, awarded it to the one who told the most compelling tale. This threw the mother of the other girl into a frenzy and she strangled the little poor girl, stole the object and was caught attempting to hide it.

The news was almost too much to process. Fighting over an object? Jealousy and anger? Murder? This wasn’t the Europan way. As I mentioned in a previous transmission, Europan children are considered micdow yl, sacred, the vessels of new life. Something was definitely happening in Dery’Ylok Prefecture and it wasn’t right, and here I was traveling to this place carrying my son in tow.

I voiced my concerns to Meis’lo and asked if I could leave Jampi in his care. The old man agreed without hesitation, but offered a piece of advice:

“This is Jampi’s age of learning and he is with the best teacher, his father. He is safe with you because you will do everything to protect him, and he needs to experience the world, both good and bad.” I let that simmer a long while, and in the end, Jampi and I continued on our way to Dery’Ylok Prefecture. The little scamp would probably have found a way to sneak out of the village and follow me anyway, so it was best that I knew exactly where he was at all times. And Meis’lo was right, I would protect my son with my life, and if agvann occurred, then it would have been the will of Nes’Tim.

Until next broadcast, this is Captain Edwards, signing off.

To be continued

Text and Audio ©2014 & 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Glossary of Terms

  • Abogzons – Gynecological engineers.
  • Agvann – Translation: The will of Nes’Tim; an accident.
  • Alum’Vedca – The day marking the new solar cycle of Peace and Maturity; a tribute to the era when Europans evolved from their primitive prey state.
  • Arcek – A spiritual theologian
  • Biem – A time to show respect for the aged.
  • Biss’ore – Travelers, nomads
  • Bokloryn – An unrepayable debt; an act that places the receiver in a lifetime contract of servitude.
  • Cu’nal – A biological storage unit.
  • Denpa – An envoy equipped with an audiographic memory that can store and recall spoken messages at will in the same voice, tone and inflection of the original person who spoke it, who travels from village to village to deliver messages from other communities both near and far.
  • Egami – A docile mineral-based creatures primarily used for family transportation due to the fact they are virtually inexhaustible.
  • Gates of Juh’holl – Europan afterlife; where souls are released from the flesh to become stardust and rejoin the universe.
  • Grahas – A gerbil-sized creature, resembling a stone armadillo, that emits heat when stroked.
  • Homnils – A warm, yet sad, reminiscence about something in the past.
  • Ipu llqr mwyll xfrr – Abogzon credo meaning “success or death”; satisfaction guaranteed.
  • Isogoles – Europan monthly day of pay.
  • Jampi – Captain Edward’s son.
  • Jbwqnadb – The Europan spelling of lemonade.
  • Jhisal – Meis’lo’s home village.
  • Klanea – Translation: unknown to us; stranger.
  • Mecot’ra – Unterraformed areas of Europa.
  • Meis’lo – The only surviving witness to the murder of  the prophet Nes’Tim.
  • Micdow yl – The vessels of new life; children.
  • Nes’Tim – The most revered spiritual prophet on Europa, slain by a heretic tribe who call themselves Sel’Tab.
  • Pwyll – Europa’s highest mountain.
  • Qik’climajh – Depending on its usage in a sentence, denotes either the act of telling a story, or the storyteller themselves.
  • Sel’Tab – A heretic tribe responsible for the death of the prophet Nes’Tim.
  • Shig’umfu – “Interesting world of another”; a documentary qik’climajh in which neighbors tell the story of a person’s life as learned from casual conversations.
  • Spo – Food.
  • Uz Cu’nal – A biological storage unit used primarily for food preservation.
  • Uz – An unspeakable sexual act; a derogatory term; an insult.

The Strange Case of Wilhelmina Soames

“Tucker, Nelda, Aubrey…” a woman’s voice would call out.

“Farley, Vance, Giselle…” every day like clockwork.

“Odilia, Ainsley, Wesley…” regardless of the weather.

She was dubbed the Mad Mother of Main Street, this woman was, Miss Wilhelmina Soames by name, pushing an empty pram up and down the thoroughfare from sunup to sundown, calling out a series of names in the same manner that a mother would call her children and placing a hand behind one ear to listen for a response.

Most of the locals came to ignore Wilhelmina’s comings and goings because people had a way of accepting the things that happened every day, didn’t they, even madness. Those with nothing better to do than mind the affairs of others had many a nasty thing to say about the Mad Mother, but not one single solitary soul could have testified under oath that Wilhelmina spoke ill of anyone, not even of those who mocked and teased her as she strolled by.

Occasionally the mental Miss Soames would go rooting around alleyways and underpasses and all the other nooks and crannies that the city possessed, places ignored by upstanding citizens, places where the foolish, the nosy, the mischief makers, and the destitute often went missing, and she would sniff about and go digging like a truffle pig through the rubbish and muck. Most times she emerged disappointed but on rare occurrences there would be a smile wide enough to split her soot-speckled face in half, as she cradled something invisible to the eyes of everyone else but her own, and she would coo and sing lullabies to it as she gently placed it in the pram.

If Wilhelmina had a home, no one knew the address, and if she ate, no one bore witness to the consumption of food of any sort.

Because gossip was the least effective yet most prevalent form of communication, many rumors surrounded Mad Mother Soames, all supposedly from reliable witnesses explaining her separation from sanity. Some said she used to be employed as a childminder for a wealthy couple and lost track of her young charge while running errands, and the distraught parents ruined her socially, leaving her to fend for herself on the streets like a common beggar. Others claimed the baby lost was her own and in a moment of distraction, the handle slipped from her gloved grip and the pram rolled out into oncoming traffic.

And then there was the urban legend. Before cities were constructed, the planet was a patchwork of tribal lands filled with indigenous peoples who knew the ways to appease the forces that kept the balance of life in check. Those ways and the knowledge that accompanied them were lost when the colonizers arrived. As was the way with life, accidents would occur that sadly resulted in death and those souls too young to have bonded with their physical counterparts would become separated and wander aimlessly with no knowledge and no ability to find their path to the afterlife. So, every decade a new person who had unwillingly and unwittingly sacrificed a young life to the forces that kept the balance of life in check, would become the collector and guardian of those tiny lost souls.

The Mad Mother’s daily search ended when the city was asleep, and Wilhelmina would push her pram into a lot that had remained vacant as long as anyone could remember because it did not have a clear title. The ownership situation was so complicated that no real estate investor felt it was worth the time and effort to resolve.

Wilhelmina had been fortunate this day, so she scooped her invisible bundle out of the pram but tripped over a bit of rubble in the process, causing her to slip and strike her head on the jagged edge of a section of a demolished brick wall.

She awoke quite literally beside herself, her flesh encasement lying face down in the remnants of a building had taken on an ashen pallor, but she was surprisingly unconcerned because she realized it had served its purpose faithfully and it was now time for her to move on, as she had much bigger fish to fry.

Miss Wilhelmina Soames, the Mad Mother of Main Street, smiled as she looked out over the sea of baby souls surrounding her, all with arms outstretched for a cuddle and calling her Mummy.

Text and Audio ©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys