Incognita 5: The Fitting Room

Incognita 1 * Incognita 2 * Incognita 3 * Incognita 4

Change is a peculiar thing. When it’s for the worst, it can happen overnight and typically comes in threes, and people learn the folly of security when they watch everything they built so carefully fall apart so easily. When change is for the better, it arrives at a tortoise’s pace. Positive change isn’t measured in leaps and bounds, it’s measured in centimeters, and that’s how it was for Incognita.

Nita was able to fake her way through therapy and she did this after watching a documentary about a Christian camp that tried to use the fear of The Almighty to expunge the gay out of youthful sinners. She was sure that if she were sent to one of these camps that they couldn’t break her, but why go through all that hassle? Besides, what she had wasn’t a same-sex attraction, it was a vibe attraction.

Certain people had a vibe that she was drawn to and she wanted to absorb as much of it as she could and share a bit of herself in the process and she couldn’t give a good goddamn whether they were boys or girls, but how do you explain that to the so-called people in charge who were locked in their binary ways of thinking?

So, Nita just nodded and played along and either she was really good at pulling off her ruse of realizing her mistake and choosing to be normal, or the therapist just didn’t give a fuck and signed off on her. Either way, no more therapy past the apocalypse that was 4th Grade.

The rest of grade school was more of the same but Nita was developing a thick armor coating and let most of the nonsense slide off her back. Junior high, however, was when things began to turn around. In those three years, Nita honed her skill at fighting back. She lost as many battles as she won, but now the bullies understood there was a fifty-fifty chance of them getting away with a cheap shot or cruel prank, or having Nita explode in their face like a preteen M18 Claymore mine.

High school was when it changed for good, as a result of two physical altercations.

The first happened in the cafeteria when a girl accidentally-on-purpose tripped and tried to spill a milk, corn and applesauce concoction all over Nita’s brand-new jacket. The girl hadn’t counted on Nita’s reflexes being quick enough to grab the tray, tilt it away from her and bring the hard-plastic tray up into the girl’s aquiline nose. The girl fell back and her nose sprayed blood in every direction.

“Oh my god, are you okay?” Nita said, her tone dripping with fake concern. “I think you slipped. Come on, sit up straight. No, no, don’t tilt your head back, that’ll only cause the blood to run down the back of your throat, and you may swallow it. Lean forward slightly.”

Sure, it was a ham-handed performance but it was enough to fool the teachers into thinking it was merely an unfortunate accident. What the teachers hadn’t realized was that Nita recognized the bloody girl as one of the Barbie clones from grade school who probably thought she could carry that Mean Girl shit over to high school.

When the Barbie clone returned to school wearing a nasal cast and sporting two black eyes, Nita leaned in while passing and whispered “Who’s the raccoon now?”

The second incident involved some lunkhead whose name Nita couldn’t remember if someone held a gun to her head, he was that unimportant. He was a grade above her and wanted to show all the fresh meat who was in charge, so he went down the line shoving and intimidating newbies. When he got around to Nita, the idiot actually tried to grab her boobs, but she put a stop to that quick fast in a hurry with a rabbit punch to his solar plexus. Knocked the wind right out of the dumb bastard and he crumpled like a paper bag. Nita could have told him to sit in a crouched position, calm down and take slow, deep breaths, but instead she stood over him and laughed like a loon before eventually walking away.

No. One. Messed. With. Her. After. That. Day.

Word quickly went around that sure, you could take a swing at the chubby girl if you wanted to, but the chubby girl was out of her fucking mind and she always hit back.

Kids being the little assholes they are, still talked about and made fun of her but they did it behind her back when Nita was well out of earshot. Ever since that day, Nita noticed a peculiar thing begin to happen. Girls began following her around, inching their way closer and closer, and eventually worked up the courage to sit at her table during lunch period.

She hated to call these girls mousy, but they were the timid and shy girls who got picked on the most by bullies who went after easy targets. None of the girls ever asked for her help, but Nita assumed they hung close to her figuring they were safe within her sphere of protection. She never guaranteed them anything but she didn’t chase them away, either. And they became an unofficial clique because sometimes things just worked out the way they worked out.

She actually became chummy with one of the girls, Charlotte, and one lusciously breezy day, when Nita had a few extra bucks burning a hole in the pocket of her Target jeans, they went to the mall together. Nita passed Express and The Limited with no interest because Lane Bryant was having a Spring sale.

“Let’s go inside,” Nita said.

“Oh, come on now,” Charlotte started, all doe-eyed and rosy-cheeked. “You don’t need to shop there! You’re not that big!”

“Not that big?” Nita actually liked this scrawny girl but she had the sudden urge to dropkick her into next week. “Sorry to disappoint you, Char, but I am that big and I do need to shop there. I actually enjoy shopping there. So why don’t you just slowly step away from my fat ass and go to the skinny store or something.”

Nita entered the store and it was liberating. She had been in chubby denial for the past two years or so, and to her coming out as fat was akin to coming out as gay or bi. Both of which she had to do and the former she actually found harder.

She remembered the exact moment that she came out to her mother as fat. She went to her mother’s job one day and her mother asked, “Where did you get that outfit?”

“Lane Bryant,” Nita proudly exclaimed. Okay, maybe it wasn’t so proudly, but damn it, she was just starting to get a handle on things.

“Oh, um…they have nice clothes there.”

Nita noticed the emphasis on nice. She could almost hear her mother’s insides screaming, “My God! Has it come to this? My little girl is fat!”

In Lane Bryant, while passing one of the store’s wall mirrors, Nita noticed she had a shadow. Charlotte, walking five paces behind with her head held down.

Nita spun on her heels and confronted the smaller girl. “I shop at Lane Bryant, so what? Sleeves on jackets go past my wrists for once. Shirts actually button around my chest. I don’t feel like a fucking freak here!”

“I don’t think you’re a freak,” Charlotte said. “I also don’t think of you as fat, I’m sorry, I don’t. You’re my friend and okay, I said something stupid and I hope you can forgive me. I mean, haven’t you ever said something, meaning well, that was taken the wrong way?”

Thoughts of Lorelei Kilgareth sprang to mind.

A long moment passed before Nita slowly exhaled her pent-up anger. She offered Charlotte a slight smile and said, “C’mon, help me pick out something nice. Let’s see if you’ve got any taste in big gal clothes.”

Nita was forced to admit to herself that shopping with Charlotte was actually fun. When their arms were loaded with outfit options, the girls went into the fitting room. Nita was so anxious to try on the new clothes in front of an audience that she stripped down to her underwear without even thinking about it. She realized the mistake when she saw the expression on Charlotte’s face change.

“What happened to you?” Charlotte asked, staring at the scars on Nita’s inner thighs.

“Nothing,” Nita said, snatching the nearest bit of clothing to cover herself up.

“Bullshit. That’s not nothing. Who did that to you?”

“Why do you care? Get out of here! It’s none of your goddamned business!”

“Of course, it’s my business! You’re my friend! If someone hurt you, I want to know about it!”

“I did it to myself, okay?” Nita admitted and had no idea why she did it. “Happy now?”

“But why?”

“I like scars,” Nita said, but it came out slowly, like she was struggling to get the words out. “At least that’s what I used to tell myself. The reality is that sometimes the world is just too sharp, you know, everything has edges, people, words, everything, and all those edges want is to stab at you, to cause you pain because they feed off your misery. And sometimes you want to feel you have some control over your life and if all you ever feel is pain then maybe you want to control that, too.”

Charlotte’s large and expressive eyes began welling up, proof that her soul was good and deep within she knew the true meaning of love and compassion. She hadn’t befriended Nita for protection, she actually had some sort of feelings for this tough girl who harmed herself in secret. The smaller girl knelt and moved the clothes Nita was hiding behind.

“What are you doing?”

Charlotte didn’t answer. She just lifted her hand and touched the scars. Delicate fingers traced the path of the razorblade cut marks gingerly, as if the wounds were still fresh.

Nita wanted to push Charlotte away, to beat her up for being so dammed nosy, and threaten her life if she ever told one single solitary soul about what she saw and heard in here, but she found that she was paralyzed, locked in the grip of something she didn’t quite understand.

Then Charlotte did the unexpected by pressing her pink tulip lips to the scars, the way a loving mother would try to kiss a child’s boo-boos better. And something inside Nita melted. Not because this clueless girl was kissing the insides of her thighs, but because she was showing tenderness to something that was much more private, more personal. She was kissing Nita’s secret pain, something she never shared with anyone, not even her own mother.

Then Charlotte wrapped her arms around Nita’s legs, gave them a gentle squeeze and said, “No more, okay? Promise me, no more.”

No one outside her own mother had shown Nita the slightest bit of gentleness and since she didn’t know how to accept it, her body trembled as her own eyes began to fill with tears as if all her emotions had condensed into a deluge of rain.

And the two girls remained in that fitting room for a long while, each crying for entirely different reasons.

©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Incognita 4: The Bathroom Kiss

Incognita 1 * Incognita 2 * Incognita 3

“You ever make out with a girl?” Incognita’s boyfriend, Toby, asked in the early days before they became a couple. It was a simple question born of mild curiosity, the kind a person asked when they were bored and some stupid idle thought popped into their head.

Nita was about to answer, “Nope, sorry. No lesbian stories for your spank bank,” but the question opened the door to a memory of a person she hadn’t thought about in years. Lorelei Kilgareth.

They shared a desk back in the 4th grade and just the thought of Lorelei filled Nita’s nose with the scent of her shampoo. This girl had a knack for always smelling so clean, even when the pair got sweaty from playing at recess.

Nita always got laughed at by all the vapid, stupid clone girls because of her clothes that came from discount stores and she was picked on by idiot boys because she was considered an easy target for ridicule because of her weight, but Lorelei never fell in with the crowd, and never made Nita feel like that goofy-looking kid with the retainer that appeared in all her class pictures.

Nita wanted to tell Lorelei how she felt but she couldn’t make the words sound right in her head. Since they lived on opposite sides of town and Lorelei’s neighborhood was a damn sight better than hers, they stayed school friends, but of course, Nita wanted it to be more. In fact, she used to talk to herself when she was alone in her room and pretend she was talking to Lorelei and they had great lengthy conversations about everything that couldn’t be said in person and in those fantasy-filled discussions they discovered that they felt the same way about each other and Nita would fall asleep hugging her pillow, pretending it was Lorelei.

One day, when they were alone in the girl’s bathroom, they shared a kiss out of the blue. No rhyme, no reason and no tongues, just a simple peck on the lips because why not? And that was the first time Nita ever kissed a girl and as a result of that kiss, during lunch period she finally worked up the courage to tell Lorelei how she really felt. But the words came out all convoluted and Lorelei’s beautiful face twisted into a horrified mask of disgust and she said a word that shattered the illusion of them being together forever, shattered their friendship, and shattered Nita’s heart into a quadrillion pieces.

“Dyke!” Lorelei said loud enough for everyone to hear.

Nita could still remember that awful cafeteria smell and Tommy O’Leary, the stupid little brace-face boy who pointed at her and repeated the word and that was the ember that lit the spark for all the other kids to join in on the chant and dogpile on a girl who was in love and foolishly thought that it conquered all.

Incognita wanted the ground to swallow her whole but instead she fainted and fell face first onto the white tiled floor, deviating her septum and giving her two black eyes. After that she became known as Dykey Raccoon, a name that somehow managed to follow her all the way through junior high school. To add to her misery, Lorelei reported Nita to their teacher, which got both sets of parents involved and Nita was transferred out of the class she shared with Lorelei and was forced to see a therapist to address her unnatural same sex attraction.

School life had never been a picnic but after that, it became a living nightmare. The next time Nita saw Lorelei was on picture day. Her mother made her wear a stupid pink dress that showed the entire school that she had more cleavage than the principal she stood next to, and all the Barbie clones had a field day with that revelation, and all the boys, too immature to know how to handle a young lady going through puberty, made a game out of trying to punch her in the chest. That was when she learned to defend herself.

But the thing that stuck out in Nita’s mind was that Lorelei couldn’t stop staring at Nita’s chest. Out of disgust? Jealousy? Desire? She wasn’t able to tell and would never find out because the two never saw each other after that day.

The sad truth of the matter was if Lorelei had apologized for what she said, even after all she’d been through, Nita would have forgiven her.

©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Incognita 3: The Sacred Sisterhood of Lavender

Incognita 1 * Incognita 2

Incognita ran into an old high school friend the other day and after a bit of catch-up, when she told him she had a boyfriend, his face twisted up.

He said, “I thought you were…”

“Were what?”

“You know…”

“No, I don’t, and I won’t know until you tell me.”

“Well,” his face turned red with embarrassment. “I heard you were that way.”

Going off a high school rumor, he wasn’t thinking the word bisexual. He wanted to say lesbian and his expression told Nita that he thought of her preference like it was a sickness or affliction.

He wasn’t a bad guy back in high school and probably was still decent, so Nita let him off the hook, saying, “Yeah, I sold out and got myself a boyfriend and a little apartment uptown.”

“I didn’t mean anything by it, I mean it’s your choice and none of my business…it’s just I saw you and that weird goth girl holding hands and kissing in the mall, and I thought…”

“You thought the same thing everyone else thought, that I was a card-carrying member of the Sacred Sisterhood of Lavender. But I kissed you, too, back then, or was it so bad that you don’t remember?”

“I remember, and I was hurt and confused because I thought we had something…”

“We did, we had a moment and it was nice.”

“But I wasn’t enough.”

“I didn’t know what I was doing back then. Nobody was enough because I didn’t know what I wanted. I kissed other boys besides you and other girls, too. I like kissing, sue me. Look, if it’ll make you happy, I’ll give back the toaster oven gift I got for being a switch hitter.”

“I think you’ve got this all wrong…”

“No, I understand it better than you do. You judged me back then, just like you’re judging me now, and you can’t even be decent about it and ask me how I feel, or take a moment out of your day to consider what I was going through. Do you have any idea what it’s like being too queer for the straights and not queer enough for the gays? Having both sides turn their backs on you?”

And that was when her high school friend shut down and the rest of the conversation was nothing more than him issuing a string of apologies over and over again. Incognita stood there longer than she should have and let him say sorry repeatedly because she knew this would be the last time she ever saw him.

©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Incognita 2: Gifted Kids Are Meaner

Incognita 1

Yeah, Incognita got teased. A lot. She was the smart one in the family. Most of her earliest memories (well, the good ones, anyway) were of curling up with one of her mother’s medical textbooks and encyclopedias, reading about exotic diseases and conditions, women’s lib, and mammals. But people never saw past her weight or funny clothes. Her mother tried hard, she really did, but the little blonde girls, safe in their pristine two-story houses with their mommies and daddies and all their pretty toys didn’t care for her one whit.

Early on, Nita entered the world of the gifted and she always felt that she didn’t belong. Most kids lived across the street from the upper-class genius school, but she had to commute from the lower-class area. Sure, there were a few girls she got along with, but most just pretended she wasn’t there. But as bad as the girls were, the boys were the meanest ones.

She doesn’t remember exactly what they called her, but she remembers being absent for almost half of fourth grade for fear of getting beaten up by this one boy who didn’t like her size. She wasn’t unhealthily obese or anything, just chubby…and poor.

Nita tried to make friends for two years or so, and when that didn’t work, she decided to become invisible. By age ten she became jaded and cynical, reasoning that maybe it was just stupidity that made them so happy. She watched them at an Easter fair, giggling, tossing rich, pastel confetti eggs in the air, and running from boys. Maybe ignorance made them laugh and made them whisper.

But gifted kids are meaner ’cause they know better.

She used to read Judy Blume books about slumber parties and crushes and wondered “Who are these people? Does this shit happen in real life?”, then decided probably not, and picked up “Go Ask Alice” instead. She often wondered if she closed her eyes real tight and made one of those Twilight Zone big wishes, could she have teleported herself home to where things were peaceful and safe? If she stared intensely enough at the back of someone’s head that she hated, could she make it explode? If she stopped smiling, would anyone on the planet notice? Then concluded that maybe if she just stopped asking questions and took it, it would be over sooner.

Maybe she could make it until Friday, and die before Monday.

©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Random Character Bio: Incognita

As the title suggests, I have a character who refuses to tell me her name, so I call her Incognita, or just Nita for short.

She’s a stubborn as hell 20-year old Taurus of Mexican and German descent, a genetic composition she claims makes her fit for world domination, but she lacks the drive to become a leader, whether it be in the form of a shepherd or an antichrist.

She spent most of her life alone with her mother, her beloved privacy, and repressed memories of an absentee father, until her mother remarried when Nita was thirteen. Inadvertently, she developed an affinity for Gershwin early in her adolescence.

She now lives in Houston with her boyfriend, Toby, in a shoebox apartment on the most interesting stretch of horizontal pavement in the city, and self-mutilation has become a nightly ritual because she loves scars.

She is a completely monogamous bisexual who’s endlessly intrigued by Japanese and Chinese culture, and from the moment she learned to read at age three, she fell in love with medical reference books, and they turned her into the sadistic little weirdo that she is today.

Nita really wishes she could draw but she handles a pencil as well as she does chopsticks, which is why she eats her Chinese takeout with a fork.

She despises misogyny in all of its veiled and abundant forms, and can sing and play the drums like the devil, but only when she’s alone.

Among the things she loves: her mother’s little black dog (more than anything in the world), deep burgundy lipstick on girls, scraping the frosting off birthday cakes, lined sheets of paper, and old school Nintendo games, especially River City Ransom and Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom, which she considers spiffy!

She can’t stand fashion magazines and their contradictory messages: Be yourself, but dress like this! Love your body, but long to be thin! Be independent, but here’s how to get a man! Be assertive, but speak softer! They all fall into the Go Fuck Yourself category.

She’s an absolute sucker for expressive eyebrows, hates to wake up before noon or go to sleep before two in the morning, and she used to like The Daily Show, Sifl & Olly, and Trauma: Real Life in the ER, but her cable got taken away due to non-payment, so now she feels she has nothing.

She also usually hates herself, and hopes I understand.

©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

The Cold Call

“Good afternoon! May I speak with Bailey Archer, please?”

“This is Bailey.”

“Terry here from The Organ Grinder Magazine. Our company has done some research on you based on your recent browser search history and we believe we can help you in your search for vital organs.”

“How do you know about that? I did those searches in Incognito Mode. They’re supposed to be private!”

“Not true, not true. When you use the incognito mode, you are not less susceptible to targeted advertising. Your information is private on your end, but to advertisers and website administrators, this is not the case. Your IP address is not hidden from them, and your searches or browsing habits are still their data.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“There’s a lesson in each conversation, my mother used to say. Do you have a quick minute to discuss a fantastic offer that’s tailor-made just for you?”

“I can spare you exactly one minute, no more.”

“Great! Bailey, I’m sure you’re a busy person and I want to respect your time, so I’ll be brief. If our research is correct, you’re in the market for some vital organs and looking to procure them in huge amounts, is this correct?”

“Prank caller! Prank caller! I’m hanging up the phone!”

“Bailey, I can assure you that I am not affiliated with any sort of law enforcement agency and this is not an effort to entrap you. Your needs are your own affair, I simply wish to make you aware of our magazine and what it offers its premium subscribers.”

“I will not confirm any of the assumptions you have made about me.”

“I understand. The Organ Grinder Magazine is published with premium content in print and then we have more up-to-date articles on our website to drive engagement. Experience tells us that people who share your alleged interest tend to give the print magazine their undivided attention during breaks and that related news and articles are effectively reaching them by email and on our website.”

“And not that I’m interested, but what type of content does your magazine offer?”

“This is the world’s leading magazine devoted to the unique and eclectic hobby of vital organ collecting. Each issue contains many obituaries from animals and humans all over the world offering thousands of vital organs and assorted body parts for sale or trade.  Looking for a liver or a kidney? This is the place. Here is your perfect chance to buy and swap and meet other people who are worse off than you, which coincidentally is an instant confidence booster.”

“You don’t say.”

“With your permission, I’d like to take what I have learned from you during this call, go back to my desk and devise a cost-effective plan for how we could add value to your hobby. I want to make sure that you get the most bang for your buck as possible. Can we schedule a call on either Monday or Tuesday next week so I can present this plan to you?”

“Um, sure, Tuesday at 10 am works for me.

“Fantabulous! Shall I call you on this number and also, please let me know your email address so I can send you my plan and also a meeting invite.”

“Okay. My email is BlackMarketBailey@discreetmail.net.”

“Perfect! I have what I need for now. It’s been great talking to you. I wish you a great rest of the week and I’ll talk to you on Tuesday.”

“Sounds good. Thanks.”

“Oh, one last thing before I forget: The publishers are in no way affiliated with the black market and take no responsibility for subscribers arrested in police sting operations. Thank you, bye for now!”

©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Her Parents’ Blessing

Ewan Marsh never believed in mystics, psychics or any of that paranormal nonsense, but he stepped into the tiny shop with bright red and blue neon lights in the window announcing

Authentic Tarot and Palm Readings @ Reasonable Prices

because it was Sunday night, nearly every other place was closed, and he was utterly bored out of his skull.

It was a hole in the wall, barely larger than a closet, walls covered in dark curtains. A round table covered with a tablecloth that matched the drapes sat in the center of the space. He was directed by hand gesture to take a seat in a padded wooden chair across the table from Madame Siora, skin of alabaster, lips of blood and eyes of emerald.

“Tired of living in the moment?” Madame Siora asked. “Of making a blind guess at the correct path that will lead you to what you desire? Are you ready to seek the counsel of one who is attuned to the forces that science and logic cannot define or understand?”

“I have to give you credit,” Ewan said. “You actually managed to say that with a straight face.”

Madame Siora smiled. “Doubters make the best believers,” she said. “Please, may I see your palm?”

With his patented cheesy grin in place, Ewan proffered his hand…and seventy-five dollars later, he knew this woman would be his wife.

They broke dawn together and over reheated Chinese takeout and beer, he learned that Madame Siora’s birth name was Kiera Houghton, and when they became serious and knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together, Ewan, being the old fashioned type, wanted to ask Kiera’s parents for her hand in marriage. Kiera told him that was absolutely not necessary, but Ewan insisted, so she arranged a date.

Ewan arrived early at the Houghton Family residence, but Kiera was running late because of a client who was paying serious money for an in-depth reading. Kiera’s mother, Tegan, welcomed Ewan with open arms. He must have caught her in the middle of a meditation session because she was dressed in a long velvet robe, deep crimson with some sort of crest over the right breast, and the house was illuminated only by candlelight.

“If I’ve come at a bad time, I can wait in the car until Kiera arrives,” Ewan said apologetically.

“Don’t be silly,” Tegan said. “It gives us a chance to get to know one another.”

Mrs. Houghton led Ewan to a room that was too large to be a sitting room and too small to be the living room. The walls were lined with tapestries depicting the darker nature of the Old Testament of the Bible, and the room was devoid of furnishings besides the sturdy long table varnished in a dark red lacquer in the center and the surrounding medieval metal candlestands.

Tegan Houghton moved with the grace of a cat and stood almost nose to nose with Ewan. She turned her back on him and asked, “Can you get the zipper, please?”

It took Ewan a moment to understand what she was asking. He located the zipper in the back of the robe, fumbled with the hook and unzipped the robe down to the small of her back.

“Thank you,” Tegan said, as she turned to face Ewan again, still a hair’s breadth away from touching noses. She did a little shimmy and the robe slid off her shoulders and gathered around her ankles, exposing her nude body.

At least Ewan thought she was nude. He wouldn’t allow himself to look down. She was Kiera’s mother, after all.

“W-will Mr. Houghton be joining us?” Ewan stammered.

“Jordan is running errands, picking up a few last-minute items for dinner tonight,” Tegan said with breath that smelled of honey and mint. “He was supposed to be here by now but he always runs late. A bad habit Kiera picked up from him.”

“Um, Mrs. Houghton?”

“Tegan, please.”

“Tegan, I, um, don’t really feel comfortable being in the same room with you while you’re naked. If anyone walked in right now, they might get the wrong idea.”

Tegan laughed. “If either Jordan or Kiera walked in right now, they would know exactly what was going on. They know how I am. I love the naked form, Ewan. May I call you Ewan?”

“Sure, no problem.”

“This was the way we were intended to be before that silly original sin was committed. Here I stand before you, naked and exposed, with all my secrets revealed. Do you want to see my secrets, Ewan?”

“No,” Ewan answered, sweat beading on his brow. “You’re entitled to your secrets.”

“How generous,” Tegan said, wiping sweat from Ewan’s temple and tasting it. “If it is too hot for you in here, feel free to strip down to your level of comfort. There is no dress code in this house.”

“I’m fine.”

“But I am not fine, Ewan,” Tegan Houghton said, her voice an octave lower than a moment ago. You stand here before me tonight for the first time and you have not yet become initiated into the mysteries of the ancient House of Houghton.”

“Um, I think there’s been some misunderstanding. I’m not here to be initiated into anything. I’m just here to ask for Kiera’s hand in marriage.”

“And you believe that my husband and I would grant you access to our daughter without first testing your mettle to determine if you are worthy of joining our inner circle?”

“That thought never really crossed my mind, if I’m being totally honest. I figured you’d either say yes or no.”

“Well, now that you have been made aware, you may be wondering what is going to happen, so I will tell you. Before proceeding to the mysteries, it is, of course, necessary for the mind and soul of the initiate to become purged and to be made clean.”

“What exactly do you mean by that?”

“You are going to need to become in tune with us by submitting to a very simple process of control,” Tegan’s eyes seemed to grow somehow, filling up Ewan’s entire field of vision.

“C-control?”

“You will need to place yourself under the guidance of the House of Houghton.”

“Please, can I just go back to the car and wait for Kiera? Maybe she can explain all this to me in a way I’ll understand.”

“Do you refuse to be initiated?”

“I mean, I really love your daughter and I want to be with her for the rest of my life…”

“Then you are decided!”

“Well, I’m not so…”

“Be silent! And relax,” Tegan took Ewan by the chin and turned his head in the direction of the nearest candle.

“What’re you doing?”

“Calm your breathing and keep your eyes fixed on this candle flame.”

“But why?”

“Shhh, just relax and keep your eyes fixed. Before receiving entry into the House of Houghton, your mind must be white and blank. You are already feeling sleepy. Do you hear me?”

“Yes,” Ewan heard his own lazy voice coming from outside himself.

“Your mind is becoming quite blank. You feel that, don’t you?”

“Yes, quite blank.” His concerns were evaporating level by level.

“And you will obey my every command.”

“Yes, obey.” It was less stressful to obey than to resist.

“Good. Now, remove your shirt and expose your bare chest.”

“Yes, remove shirt.” It was too hot in this room.

“Now climb upon this altar and lie on your back.”

“Yes, lie back.” Ewan climbed onto the table and did as he was told.

“Now, are you prepared to sacrifice everything to have our daughter?”

“Yes, sacrifice everything.” It was true. He would have given everything to be with Kiera.

“Even your heart for hers?”

“Yes, my heart.” It was the very least he could do.

From its special housing secured beneath the table, Tegan Houghton unsheathed a ceremonial dagger engraved with symbols from a time before language, gripped the handle in both hands and raised it above her head.

“Mom!” Kiera yelled as she burst into the room. “Will you stop fucking around with Ewan, put some goddamned clothes on, and snap him out of the trance, for chrissake!”

“Oh, come on, honey,” Tegan turned to her daughter and smiled. “I wasn’t really going to sacrifice your boyfriend.”

“Fiancé,” Kiera corrected.

“I was just having a little fun, that’s all. Who knew he’d be this susceptible?”

“Fun? You were about to stab him in the heart!”

“Only a little. You know we can bring him back.”

“Yeah, but you’re not the one who has to make love to a reanimated corpse!”

“Who says I haven’t?”

“Ewww! Too much information, Mom! I want this one alive, not all necromanced up like all the others, do you get me? In his original condition!”

“But look at his chest…it’s so stabbable. Just a quick one?”

“Mom, I’m not playing with you!”

“All right, all right, spoilsport, but if I let this one live, you have to promise to make some new friends and invite them over so your father and I can have a little fun. We don’t get out as much as we used to.”

“It’s a deal,” Kiera said. “And I know whom I’ll bring. Remember I mentioned that psychic shop that just opened right across the street from me? Turns out it’s run by some Eastern European outfit that’s using it as a front for a bordello.”

“Works for me,” Tegan Houghton said. “And just so you know, I think this one really loves you. He didn’t look at my body once. Imagine ignoring this pretty piece of flesh?”

Erp! Kiera placed a hand to her mouth. “I think I just threw up in my mouth a little. Now, get this all cleaned up before Dad gets home, and not a word of this to him! I’m not in the mood to hear him questioning Ewan’s manhood for not trying to cop a feel off you.”

“He might have a point.”

“I can reanimate, too, you know, so don’t push me,” Kiera warned. “And you never know, a good resurrection might just help you to mature.”

“Good luck with that,” Tegan said with a smirk, before slipping back into her robe. As she prepared to bring Ewan out of the trance, she leaned and whispered in his ear, “You’d better not let anyone slice into that heart of yours before I get a crack at it.”

“I heard that!”

“Honey, retrace your steps,” Tegan said, rolling her eyes. “I think you lost your sense of humor along the way.”

©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

The Widowmaker

The pain was slightly sharper than heartburn, lasted less than half a minute, and he felt perfectly fine after it subsided. He was of an age where unexplained body pains suddenly appeared and disappeared as a common occurrence, so he gave the chest twinge no further thought. But there was a saying, “You don’t know what you don’t know” and what he didn’t know was that he just had a heart attack.

It would be another two months until the pain returned, intensified to the point that it dropped him to his knees and led him to be taken to the emergency room. The cardiologist found two plaque build-ups that blocked ninety-nine percent of his left anterior descending artery, which was responsible for a heart attack known as the widowmaker.

In the intensive care unit, as he was recovering from surgery, mind swimming in a morass of anesthesia, a sound caught his attention. It was a heavy sobbing that seemed to be emanating from somewhere within the room. When he attempted to look in the direction of the whimpering, an unseen force turned his head away. Out the corner of his eye, he could have sworn he saw the night nurse’s shadow jitter and twitch in a jerky fashion.

At first, he thought it was an anesthesia hallucination, but came to believe that something unnatural was at play and his suspicion was confirmed when the nurse left the room…but the shadow remained behind.

The shadow struggled to break free from the confinement of the nurse’s silhouette and once achieved, it slid down the wall like obsidian mercury. It crossed the floor in a spidery fashion, tendrils of ebony arcing up and out, digging into vinyl flooring and pulling itself toward his hospital bed. The darkness that seemed somehow sentient pooled on top of him and he could feel its weight—weight that a shadow should not possess—putting additional pressure on his already weakened chest.

The black mass rose, building upon itself and transmogrifying into the solid form of a woman in tattered scrubs. Beneath its widow’s veil was a sorrowful face that wept tears of misery so black as to absorb the surrounding light. He wanted to turn his head, to stare directly at the creature, as his mother taught him to do when he was that young boy afraid of the monsters that lurked under his bed and in the closet.

“Look them directly in the eye, see them for what they really are, and make them disappear,” she said. But this beast was far more cunning than the night terror monstrosities of his youth, for it would not allow him to view it head-on, only from the corner of his vision.

“No fear, no fear,” the shape said in a voice as raspy as tires on a gravel driveway.

The weeping creature straddled him and splayed its fingers, the tips of which were flat like electrode pads and one by one placed them all over his chest. He could feel those fingers sinking through his hospital gown and grafting themselves to his trembling flesh.

“Feed, feed,” the deep timbre of its voice anchored his body in paralysis and he finally realized the creature’s purpose. Similar to the vampires of myth and legend, whatever this thing was, it gained its sustenance from the heartbeats of the living, as opposed to blood. This was the true Widowmaker.

He tried with all his might to struggle, to break the connection and throw this abomination off him, but he was too weak to prevent it from siphoning the precious beats that gave him life, an act that would continue for as long as his strained heart held out, an act that rendered him helpless and was inducing a deep and dreamless sleep.

His final thoughts, as he slipped into unconsciousness were how many heartbeats had the Widowmaker taken? How many hours, days, years, had been stolen? And would this mourning and hungry beast leave any behind for him to continue his existence?

©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys