Wishing White

Woman-face-black-and-white-283819715

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What kind of favor?”

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

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

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

“No, please–!”

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

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

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

“But you’ll let me go? You promise?”

“You have my word.”

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

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

“To the bedroom.”

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

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t belong here!”

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

“But–”

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

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

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

“What’s wrong with her?”

“Hate,” he grunted.

“I don’t understand.”

“She was the victim of a hate crime.”

“What happened?” Connie asked.

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

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

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

“Look at her. Can’t you see it?”

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

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

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

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

“I’ve never laid eyes on you before.”

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

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

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

“Why? Because the truth hurts?”

“It’s not true!”

“Then why am I here?” She asked.

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

“Why should it?”

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

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

“Meaning what?”

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

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

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

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

“I don’t have an aunt named Connie.”

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

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

“No, not just yet!”

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

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

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

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

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

“You know. Finish it.”

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

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

“No. Yes. You’re confusing me!”

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

“Ask.”

“Do you believe in wishes?”

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

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

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

“To be white.”

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

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

“That’s crazy.” She shook her head.

“Crazy? Okay, where do you live?”

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

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

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

“You people?”

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

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

“Because I don’t.”

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

“Why?”

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

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

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

“Seen what?”

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

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

Kurt was confused. “So?”

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

“No, no one forced her.”

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

“Yes.”

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

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

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

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

“Half life?”

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

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

“Sarah…“

“Connie,” she corrected.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connie was gone.

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

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

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

“Sarah? You’re back?”

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

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

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

©2001 & 2017 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strong Roots Amongst The Clay

Clay Boy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©1989 & 2017 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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

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

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

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

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

Beached

Sky Whale

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roland came upon an enormous whale beached on the surf.

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

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

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

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

let me die

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

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

thank you

And died.

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

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

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

He released his grip on life that very same evening.

***

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

©1988 & 2017 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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

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

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

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

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

Please Read My Lonely Talk (Part 2): Prexing Elevator Chat

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Looking for Part 1? Right here, my friend.

For most of my life on your world, I’ve made my living working in an elegance palace. Before you ask, the place where I work is really nothing more than a bordello. I don’t know who came up with the name elegance palace, but I have to tell you, neither I nor any of the other employees working there find anything elegant about it.

The elegance palace is hidden in plain sight amongst neighboring office buildings, yet secreted behind its by-appointment-only financial institutional facade lies a towering empire of adult-themed enterprises. From boutiques to restaurants, bars, clubs and pleasure suites, if it’s something even remotely related to sex, an office is listed for it in the directory. I call it prex melata, which in my native tongue translates as ejaculation building.

The thing I really hate about the prex is that it only has one entrance and one elevator. Yes, you heard me correctly. One. Elevator. When my shift eventually ends, no matter how carefully I time it, I always manage to get trapped in the elevator with potential customers who know who I am because I’m the only person on the planet who looks like me.

Alien.

The thing that doesn’t belong. The piece that doesn’t fit. I have no idea how you ply your trade, but put yourself in my shoes for a moment and try to imagine that after an arduous day of ending the lives of concupiscent individuals through intercourse that you now have to ride in a crowded box with clients who have just engaged in the sexual practice of their comfort level or financial ability, all of them eyeing you and thinking that they’re the one who could probably beat the odds and survive.

I hate it. I hate the looks, I hate the arrogance, and I hate the sameness of it all. Eventually, they all will come to see me. Eventually, they all will die.

At least in the elevator there’s hardly any conversation. I envy the employees who don’t have to talk to the clients they service. I, on the other hand, am legally obligated to strike up conversations with everyone interested in sleeping with me. I’m the only elegance employee that comes with a Surgeon General warning. Sleeping with me will kill you. You must be made fully aware of that and sign legal documents to that effect.

Occasionally, though, I’ll encounter a client that asks, “Do you work here?”

Well, duh, is what I think, although I answer, “Yes

I’d like to visit you. What’s your name? What floor do you work on? Do you see clients outside of here?”

I want to tell him not to come. Tell him that I don’t want to see him. That I don’t talk to, let alone service, clients outside the prex, especially those who have not paid to talk to me.

Some clients do that, the smart ones. They come in and lose their nerve and I don’t blame them. They still have to pay for my time but I cut them a discounted rate. And while I don’t enjoy talking to people who view me as a sexable piece of offworld flesh, I take pity on the ones who back out at the last minute. It must be similar to talking someone down off a ledge.

If I do happen to get a talker on the elevator, I don’t smile or make eye contact. I simply answer their questions as curtly as possible and walk away abruptly when the elevator doors open. This usually avoids them feeling comfortable enough to follow me on the street. It’s the thing that scares me the most about the job, honestly.

I have a friend who prefers to be identified by the gender-neutral pronouns they, their and them, well, they’re more of a colleague, in the business we call the sexociates, and I don’t know if it’s a vibe they give off or what, but they attract more gawker stalkers than all the rest of us combined.

Gawker stalkers are the creepers who lurk around the prex exit and watch the girls as they leave the building. It’s gotten so bad that Tawni, my sexociate, not their actual name but I doubt even I know their real name, has a taxi on call that they run into every night as soon as the elevator doors open.

Gawker stalkers never do anything to the sexociates, to my knowledge, they just watch. But it’s still creepy. I get chills thinking about the possibility of some strange creeper following me home. They should just commit and pay the fee and get to play a little bit rather than being a loser that skulks in the shadows and goes home alone, unsatisfied.

Surprisingly enough, I haven’t crossed social paths with too many prudish types. When most people find out what I do for a living, they seem so fascinated with the concept of bartering intercourse execution for currency. I almost regret letting people know because all our conversation after that point turns to them pumping me for kinky-or-weird-but-true stories.

And that’s when my relationships begin to die.

I don’t have any eccentric stories. My sex organ forces orgasm and death, and if that isn’t enough to interest you, then what else do we have to talk about? My life is boring, really. So boring that no one wants to hear about it.

How about you?

Will you please read my lonely talk?

To be continued…

– Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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Greetings From Europa – Brave New World

Europa

This is Alexander Edwards, former captain of the Intergalactic Space Vessel Expediter.

Greetings from Europa.

I know that sounds hokey, like one of those golden age of radio programs, but I really couldn’t think of a clever opening line. I chose that particular opening because it’s the most accurate. This broadcast is coming to you from the Jupiter moon we were warned to stay away from in 2001: A Space Odyssey. And truth to tell, I don’t know if I can really call this a broadcast. I mean, I was able to salvage this transmitter, but I’m no engineer. The green light blinks but I’m not sure this thing is working. And is a broadcast truly a broadcast if no one hears it?

I’m sorry if it sounds like I’m rambling. My thoughts are all over the place right now. I have so much information to impart and have no idea where to begin. My crew and I were on route to Saturn when our ship, the Expediter, was bombarded by meteorites the size of Fiddle Faddle and we were forced to make an emergency landing here on Europa. It was a catastrophe. But they say any crash you can walk away from is a good one.

The problem is, I’m the only one who can make that statement. The rest of the crew died on impact and I spent the next three days burying them in shallow graves. I know what you must be thinking, why would I waste three days of oxygen burying dead men. The way I see it, if not for their sacrifice, I wouldn’t have had oxygen to begin with. And they were friends who deserved a decent burial at the very least. I did for them what I hope they’d do for me in the situations were reversed.

Turns out that I used up all their oxygen for nothing. When I had depleted the last of the air supply, I decided that I was going to take my life by removing my helmet and succumbing to the Martian atmosphere. As you can see, I wasn’t successful. Oh, I removed my helmet, all right. I just didn’t die very well. It turns out that an aborted terraforming project that the Intergalactic Council labeled a failure, actually produced a layer of breathable oxygen. It’s thin and took my body some time to adjust to it, but it’s here nonetheless and is pollution free which isn’t a bad trade-off.

I wish I could tell you how long it’s been since I crash landed here, but I honestly have no idea. At the time I wasn’t thinking about tracking the days. The bulk of my concentration was focused on staying alive. I’m sure you understand. So, let’s just say I’ve been here for a while. A long while. Long enough to make contact with the indigenous life forms here, and acclimate myself to the Europan way of life. In fact, I’m married now…with children.

I would elaborate on that, but I’m trying to keep the transmissions short in order to conserve energy since I’m not sure how much juice this generator holds.

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

To be continued…

– Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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Please Read My Lonely Talk (Part 1): Call Me Desla

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Please, call me Desla.

Not my actual name, mind you, but there is no real reason for you to know me by anything else. I was born– well, that is not important either, is it? All you need to know is that I am an alien — the extraterrestrial kind, not the immigrant kind — we can engage in intercourse for a fee, and you will most certainly not survive the experience.

Upon entering my boudoir you will undoubtedly notice the notches on the posts of my ornate bed. Your first inclination might be to assume these markings to be sexual conquests, and you would be severely mistaken. They are actually deaths. The number of grooves carved into the wooden headboard is one hundred and ninety-seven, at present, but the actual number is at least four times that. Only the deaths I regret have been engraved here. The rest received precisely what they came seeking and ultimately deserved.

A bit harsh, I realize, but how could you expect me to pity or mourn the passing of those who have tossed away so many possibilities, so many futures in search of la mort parfaite?

But I digress.

Due to the residency protocols of your Office of Planetside Security, the majority of my life was made an open book, yet there are certain things that remain hard for me to discuss. It is known that I was charged with treason back home for defending my personal beliefs — which remains my concern alone — and because my mate stood by my side during the trial, we were both exiled from my homeworld.

Set adrift in space, my people chose to let the universe decide our fate. If we were intercepted by a space vessel and taken aboard or found a world that would permit us to stay, then we were fortunate and were surely meant to live. If not, we would die on our craft when the life support and/or provisions ran out.

We traveled for what seemed like an eternity and never crossed paths with another vessel. Eventually, the ship malfunctioned and crash-landed on your planet. Only I survived, pulled from the twisted wreckage of my prison ship by a farmer who hid me away and chained me in his barn like an animal. He hosed me down and threw me scraps to keep me alive. What I did not know was that he was mustering the courage to have his way with me.

When I realized what he had in mind, I tried to warn him but I didn’t speak the language yet. I’m not sure even if I did that it would have made a difference. He forced himself on me and upon orgasm, promptly died.

My race can only mate with one partner in our entire lifetime. The first union sets into play a biological defense against infidelity by secreting a vaginal toxin that forces orgasm and subsequently death.

The aptitude test I was given, to determine if there was a place on Earth for me, was grueling and humiliating. And when I was finally issued a case worker, she sat with me and explained that the only opportunity available was in legalized prostitution. I was insulted and furious and baffled by the thinking behind this. Did they not understand that of all the professions they could have handed me that this was by far the worst possible choice? Then I stepped back to look at the bigger picture. The planet was overpopulated by indigenous humans and the influx of extraterrestrials and what better to cull the population than to tempt the thrill seekers who wanted to risk death? To treat terminal patients who wanted sweet release?

So, I embraced my role in society and performed my duty and was dubbed the “Whorebinger of Death” and the “Grim Raper” by the press. And naturally, because humans are bizarre creatures, there were ladies who worked the same profession who envied me.

I have yet to warm to this planet and it does not resemble my home planet in any way. My assimilation was slow to nonexistent and this was primarily my fault since I declined to undergo the genetic surgery offered to offworlders to make us appear more human. Though the human form is better suited for the physicality of this world and less cumbersome and my world has turned its back on me, I am still proud to be of my race.

The more time I spend here, the less confident I am about my appearance. On the occasions I watch a television show or movie or glance at an advertisement that places perfect people on display and I learn that there are those among you who feel your appearance doesn’t measure up, consider this: at least you are of the same species.

I stand at the edge of acceptability, balancing on the fine line of grotesque fascination and physical revulsion simple because my eyes are not the same color or shape as humans, and my hair, what little I have in places considered odd by your lot, was actually tufts of fine fur.

I also need to be aware of my nails and keep them within an acceptable length to where they were not considered claws. The same with my smile. Apparently, when I bare my teeth it triggers a fight or flight response in most people.

To be continued…

– Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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Redahlia

 

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“Alas for those girls who’ve refused the truth: The sweetest tongue has the sharpest tooth.” ― Jack Zipes, Little Red Riding Hood and Other Classic French Fairy Tales

The various herbs and tinctures had been gathered, carefully measured and mixed into the recipe and when the baking was done, Mother asked her only daughter, Redalhia, to take the specially prepared galette and pot of cream to Grandmother’s forest cottage.

Redalhia didn’t quite feel up for the journey. Her body was undergoing a significant change and she found herself trapped betwixt and between being the girl she once was and the woman she would one day become. But she loved Grandmother so very dearly that she put her own cares aside and happily gathered the food into a basket before setting off for the forest.

How could she do any less? Her grandmother had fallen ill and the severity of her malady forced her to live apart from the family in a cottage deep within the forest, for fear of passing the sickness onto anyone else.

At the tree line of the forest, the road she walked split in two and at the fork stood the changeling-wolf known in the village as Bzou. The shapeshifter sensed her approach and quickly took the form of a man. When she grew close enough to benefit from the power of his bright smile, Bzou flashed his teeth and asked, “Excuse me, dear, where are you going?”

“To Grandmother’s house, sir,” Redalhia answered.

Bzou sniffed the air, “And what, fair creature, do you carry?” but it wasn’t the scent of the food in the basket that tempted his nostrils.

“Why, Mother’s cooking, of course. Bread and cream for Grandmother’s supper. She lives in the forest cottage.”

“And which path will you take?” Bzou asked, gesturing at both paths, one after the other. “The Path of Needles or the Path of Pins?”

Redalhia pondered this a moment. “The Path of Pins, I think, since it is the quickest.”

“Are you certain?”

“Yes, very. I have traveled both paths and Pins is the quickest.”

“Let us put your expertise to the test, shall we? I will take the Path of Needles, and we will see who gets there first.”

Redalhia shrugged for she knew she was right, but if the silly man wanted to waste his time, who was she to stop him? She set off down the Path of Pins and thought it strange that he simply stood there, grinning, and watched her walk.

Bzou knew the girl was right. Of course, the Path of Pins was quicker and she definitely would have reached the cottage first had the shapeshifter walked on two legs. But using all four? There was no way she would be faster than he. When the girl disappeared within the dense patch of trees, the wolfen shook off his human guise, trotted down the Path of Needles, and as he knew he would, reached Grandmother’s cottage first.

The cunning wolf altered his appearance to resemble Redalhia and rapped gently on the door. When Grandmother answered, her thrill at seeing her favorite grandchild was short lived as Bzou slaughtered her, quickly and efficiently as not to leave a mess. He gnawed her flesh, lapped up her blood and ate her bones to the marrow, leaving only a small portion of flesh that he placed on a little dish in the pantry, and a bit of blood that he drained into a little bottle. Then Bzou cleaned himself, took the form of Grandmother and dressed in her cap and shawl before climbing into bed.

When Redalhia finally knocked on the door, Bzou carefully disguised his guttural voice before calling out, “Come in, my child.”

“Grandmother,” the girl beamed, “Mother sent me here with a galette and a cream.”

“Put them in the pantry, child. Are you hungry and thirsty?”

“Yes, I am.”

“There is meat in the pantry for you to cook and wine beside it to drink.”

Redalhia cooked the meat and as she began to eat it, a little cat mewled, “You are eating the flesh of your grandmother!”

“Throw your shoe at that noisy cat,” said Bzou, and so the girl did.

As Redalhia washed the meat down with wine, a small bird cried, “You are drinking the blood of your grandmother!”

“Throw your other shoe at that noisy bird,” Bzou commanded, and the girl did so.

When Redalhia finished her meal, Bzou said, “You must be exhausted from your journey, child. Take off your clothes, come to bed, and I shall warm you up.”

It was true, after the meat and drink, her head did spin slightly. There was something in the flavor of the meal, a familiarity basted in sorrow. “Where shall I put my clothing, Grandmother?”

“Throw them on the fire, child, for you won’t need them anymore.”

Normally, Redalhia would have questioned this but a sudden weariness fogged her mind. She tossed her bodice, skirt, petticoat, and stockings on the fire, and climbed into bed.

The nearness of her, the smell of her budding womanhood, caused Bzou’s concentration to wander and his guise slipped a bit.

Even through the sleepy haze, Redalhia noticed the change. Her once frail grandmother was hairier, her arms stronger, ears larger, and her teeth — those teeth were familiar but they didn’t belong to the old woman’s face. Where had she seen them before?

Bzou spoke in gentle tones to allay the girl’s suspicions, “My hair is to keep you warm on cold nights, my arms to hold you close, my ears to better hear your sweet voice, and my teeth…”

Sharp teeth. Sharper than any human has ever had. “The better to eat me with?” Redalhia leapt from the bed. “Bizou!”

The wolf smiled and let the disguise fall away. “Yes, ’tis I.”

“But where is Grandmo–” the truth slowly dawning, “You ate her!”

“We share that sin, my dear. Now come and lie beside me.” Bzou patted the empty side of the bed.

The realization made Redalhia retch. “I — I feel ill…”

“Do it in the bed, my child, I do not mind.”

The girl staggered out the cottage door and vomited the undigested bits of her late grandmother against a plum tree.

Bzou followed her outside, shaking his canine head, “What a waste of good meat. Are you finished yet, deary, so that we may attend to our affairs?”

“My only affair is to see you dead!” the girl spat.

“You are welcomed to try after I take from you what is mine.”

Redalhia sprinted from the tree and took off down the Path of Pins.

“Nectar sweetened by the chase!” Bzou grinned as he darted down the Path of Needles, powerful legs carrying him to the fork in the road with a swiftness unmatched by any human. He braced himself for the girl to appear from the tree line. He would take her straight away, no more games. He waited. And waited. Until waiting turned to impatience and impatience turned to realization, “Clever girl. She…”

Doubled back once she heard Bzou on the Path of Needles. Her first instinct was to run to the safety of her home, but she quickly realized how foolish a thought that was. She couldn’t risk leading the wolf to her house, couldn’t afford to lose Mother as well.

Branches and thistles and thorns and bramble tore at Redalhia’s naked flesh as she ran past the cottage and through the woods which had no path.And when she thought she couldn’t run any further, she reached a river, swift and deep, where laundresses on both banks were hard at work.

“Help me cross,” she pleaded with them. The washer women took pity on the girl and spread a sheet over the water and held tightly to its ends. No sooner than when Redalhia had begun to cross the bridge of cloth, Bzou reached the river and jumped upon the sheet as well.

She too was on all fours now, scrambling to reach the other side of the river, and when the wolf was almost upon her, Redalhia dove off the sheet onto the river bank and yanked the linen from the laundresses’ hands and let it go.

Bizou’s paws clawed at the muddy river bank. looking for purchase but Redalhia kicked them away. He bobbed the surface a few times, shifting forms from wolf to the man in the road to Redalhia herself to Grandmother and finally back to his true wolf self, desperately trying to swim against the tide but was too badly tangled in the sheet. He let out one last pitiful howl before he drowned.

 

Sally forth and be shapeshiftingly but not grandmother-eatingly writeful.

– Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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Of Air Returned (1988)

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i.

I burned my soul to ash but the pain paled in comparison to the terror that struck my heart like a match, anticipating her arrival and the tirade she would carry in tow. An unwarranted fear, as she was calm when she saw what I had done. Calm and nurturing. Soothing my pain with herbs and aromas, and each early morning during the hour of the wolf, she laid an ear on my back and listened as my soul mended itself.

She never spoke the words of disappointment aloud but it registered in her eyes. Although residing within my body, this wounded thing, this unwanted soul, did not belong to me. She had laid claim to it many years past, and in my despondency, I had taken liberties with her property and attempted to destroy it. Again.

ii.

The first time, I threw my soul into a sinkhole and allowed the ground to swallow it whole. I made her acquaintance when she plucked it from the soil like a tattered tuber. “I saw what you did,” she said. “And since you would so recklessly toss this precious thing away, it is no longer yours, but mine, agreed?” I nodded and she handed my soul back to me for safe keeping.

I honored our pact for a few years, caring for it within my limited capacity, but during a particularly nasty bout of depression, I tied heavy stones to my soul and pushed it off the sea wall. For a second time, she appeared, fishing my soul from the waves and scolded me, “You are charged with protecting this thing that is mine, do you understand?” Again, I nodded. Again, I lied.

iii.

“Why do you want this worthless soul when it has been crushed by the earth? Why do you want it when it has been drowned in the sea? Why do you want it when it has been set aflame like so much tinder?” I searched long and hard yet found no answer in her silence.

iv.

During the day, when she thought me preoccupied, she secreted herself in the shadows and slept. One day I followed her into the darkness and watched her body twitch from dreaming and listened as she muttered,

One more soul, once buried deep.
One more soul, in ocean steeped.
One more soul, by fire burned.
One more soul, of air returned.

v.

Under her care, my soul grew healthier and it frightened me. I was pitilessly plagued and badgered by the phrase, One more soul, of air returned, that repeated in my mind’s ear until it turned dogged and cacophonous. But she was unaware of my inner torment, in fact, she was in an exceptionally good mood today, her voice almost a song, “I know you don’t see it, but you are a gift, you are. You have no idea just how special.”

vi.

Today was the day. I felt it in my marrow. Something was destined to happen, something I most likely would not survive. I should have embraced this eerie premonition, for it was no secret that I did not want to continue in this manner, broken, detached and alone. But the choice of how and when I departed this wretched life was mine to make and mine alone. So, I stalled by distracting her with trivialities. “May I have more broth? Have you seen my shoes? No, not that pair, the other ones? Can we go for a walk?” If she knew my plan, her expression never showed sign. No request was too large or small on this day. She granted them all.

vii.

We strolled along the pathway in the park that led to the duck pond, a place we visited often during my convalescence. Picked, naturally, as not to arouse suspicion as I searched for the proper diversion in order to make my escape. But I was so wrapped in my own thoughts, I failed to notice that she was walking slower than usual today. “Can we rest a moment?” she asked as we neared the benches. “I am a little short of breath.”

Her breathing became a labored and raspy thing before it hitched and became lodged in her throat. When her face went dusky blue and she slid off the park bench, I panicked. The opportunity had presented itself and there I stood like an idiot, frozen. Entangled in the decision of whose life to save, or more accurately, whose death I could live with.

There was no real choice.

viii.

Her breathing was a trembling, liquid sound as I pressed my mouth to hers and exhaled, but instead of me breathing air into her body, I felt her sucking air from my lungs, and not just air…

I tried desperately to pull away but her thin, vise-like hands clamped down on the nape of my neck and held me firm in a kiss that was collapsing me. My hold on life became dim and futile, but before I slipped away into emptiness, I noticed the oddest thing: her belly began to swell.

Every fiber of my actuality was drawn into her, and my soul, the object I had forever been so reckless with, was systematically being stripped of concern, of negativity, of identity. I fell further and further into a darkness that pressed on me from all sides. So tight, so constricted. I was still unable to breathe but the sensation was somehow different now.

At the very moment when it seemed the darkness was about to claim me for eternity, there came a burst of light so bright as to cut my eyes. Thankfully something soon blotted out the light – a face, slowly coming into focus but I knew her before I saw her. From the moment I heard her soft cooing, “You are a gift, you are. You have no idea just how special.”

Mother.

©1988 & 2016 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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Personal Space

Staten Island Ferry arriving at night

“Piece by piece, I fed my wardrobe to the night wind, and flutteringly, like a loved one’s ashes, the gray scraps were ferried off, to settle here, there, exactly where I would never know, in the dark heart of New York.”
― Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

The hawk was most definitely out tonight as I stood at the bow of the Staten Island ferry, coat collar popped and gloved hands thrust into pockets. This particular hawk bore a vicious set of teeth and wasn’t afraid to bite, which was fine by me. The colder weather combined with the icy wind that whipped off the bay afforded me some much-appreciated elbowroom, a concept that was foreign to most New Yorkers.

Being all alone out here wasn’t a problem. I had been alone most of my adult life. Alone in a crowded room. Alone in committed relationships. The people closest to me, those tenacious few who loved a challenge, were kept at an equidistant arm’s length.

Alone was my appetite.

Alone was my mantra.

Alone was my destiny.

Not too cold out tonight, is it?” The voice almost sent me out of my skin. There, suddenly beside me, was a woman bundled against the chill air, lips curled slightly in sarcasm. Right next to me. Within the boundaries of my personal space.

Not as cold as it could be,” I replied more out of reflex than want. What I wanted was a little privacy, to tend to my own affairs as other people on the ferry tended to theirs. It was part of the unspoken rule when you agreed to live in this city. You avoided eye contact and kept yourself to yourself.

I looked at her, this stealthy woman that took me totally unawares. A full foot shorter than me, pretty, petite, and what was the politically correct term for it? Middle Asian? I wasn’t too sure and felt naked without my local PC handbook to check for accuracy.

The immediate thing that came to mind wasn’t how stunningly attractive this woman was. My first thought was actually, Why are you talking to me? As a point of clarification, that was one of the things I admired about myself, whether it was my face or the vibe I gave off, people generally never felt the need to walk up and talk to me. Unless of course they were mentally challenged or capable—again I needed to consult the handbook—or nuts or out to start a fight with a stranger they mistakenly assumed was harmless. She was clearly none of those.

But the thought evaporated as suddenly as it appeared. She blurted out a simple statement of fact and I happened to be within earshot. Conversation over. Turn the page. But it wasn’t over. “Do you know who you are?” she asked without a discernible trace of an accent.

Pardon?” I was taken aback by the suddenness of the question. “What, like my name?

No, that is what you are called. I want to know if you had to describe yourself to an absolute stranger, what would you say?

Most likely? Nothing.” I admitted. “I’m not too fond of the question.

Really? What if Nazis held guns to your parents’ heads? What would you tell me then?” she smiled politely, waiting.

Damn. The Nazi ploy.

As much as I hated being manipulated in this fashion, I couldn’t allow anyone, not even this woman, the most un-New Yorkian person I had ever encountered, to think I was some heartless brute that would have allowed Nazis to murder my parents in an effort to avoid providing a self-summary.

And just so you know, we, the Nazis and I, aren’t accepting work in progress as a suitable answer, since we’re all works in progress until the moment we give up living.

Fair enough.” I nodded. It was one of those overused expressions that I couldn’t stand, just like thinking outside the box. I watched her with obvious suspicion and had half a mind not to answer, half a mind to walk away. Neither of those halves proved to be victorious.

I hadn’t the foggiest notion what came over me but words started spilling out of my mouth before I even realized I was speaking. “What I am is a pessimistic optimist, who believes love shouldn’t be denied to anyone, even to those born with icy hearts. What I know is that I’m wise enough accept love as it finds me and not reject it because it doesn’t come wrapped in a pretty package. What I hope is that someday every lonely person will reach out to another lonely person and befriend them so that the word lonely fades from our lexicon.

You must be a writer because that was corny and clumsily poetic,” she eyed me for a long moment. “But an artful dodge, so I’ll let you get away with it. This time.

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

Now it’s your turn,” I said. “Tell me something about yourself first. Anything. Start with where you’re from.

For the briefest instant, her expression took on a sadness that could only have belonged to reminiscence. “I was born and raised in India, longer ago than you would believe, but I have traveled all over, to places you probably do not even realize exist.

You’re probably right about that. Geography really isn’t my strong suit and I haven’t really traveled outside of the five boroughs.” I said, instantly embarrassed by my lack of worldliness. “So, what brings you to New York?

She remained quiet for a moment before answering. “I work for an organization, currently in a state of transition. Suffered drastic downsizing due to image problems and public opinion. My employer is in the midst of rebranding and taking on a new staff to suit the company’s new direction. You can say that I am one of many headhunters.

Talk about your artful dodge. You said a mouthful just now and told me absolutely nothing about what your organization does to make a profit.

I can tell you, but only if you really want to know because that information comes at a price.

Which is?” I asked.

Your undying loyalty.

I chuckled. “Of course.

Of course, you agree to my terms, or of course, as in a mockery?” she cocked an eyebrow my way. “We must be clear about this.

The latter, no offense.

I see.” She ran a hand through her hair to get it off her face. I noticed she wasn’t wearing gloves and hadn’t actually appeared to be cold, the more I thought about it. “You asked me what brings me to New York. Would you believe me if I said it was you?

I held up my hands in surrender. “All right, this is where I officially punch out of this conversation.

She took a step closer. “Your loneliness, your isolation is like a beacon to me. I am drawn to you. I know your kind. I have seen your future and you will most assuredly die alone. No mate, no children to carry on your legacy.

I hate to break it to you, but I’m happily married with three kids who adore me.

Not true in the slightest. You have lived alone ever since your cat died of leukemia two years ago.

How — how could you know that?

The same way I know the first girl to break your heart was Shirley Hartsdale in the sixth grade when she began dating your best friend behind your back and made you the laughing-stock of the school. To this day you hold a distrust of people because of that incident, even friends and family.

I hadn’t caught the last part of her sentence. My brain was flooded with thoughts of Shirley Hartsdale, someone I hadn’t thought of in years and even now, she left a bad taste in my mouth.

The organization I work for has that sort of information available to them, not solely on you but everyone on the planet.

Oh God, I started to panic. She’s a terrorist. Part of some ferry-riding Sleeper Cell that uses attractive women to pry information out of dumb single Americans. My photo was going to land in some Homeland Security dossier marked Al Qaeda Sympathizers. In that moment I just wanted this woman to be away from me. Far, far away.

I am not a terrorist,” she smiled. “Nor am I a member of a cult. What I am is a member of a peacekeeping task force that seeks to restore balance to the world with the help of people like you, the overlooked, the forgotten, the unloved. More than an organization, the company that employs me is my family and is directly descended from the first family ever to touch foot to the earth. It can become your family, as well.

What I can offer you is a love unparalleled.” She touched a finger to my temple and the wind died away. The air barely moved for several moments and I listened as she spoke. My world began spinning savagely. I winced and swallowed hard to prevent nausea from triumphing as her words poured images into my mind, saturated with so much sensory information and emotion that I thought I might have burst at the seams.

You will want for nothing. I will bear you many children and you will have a family the size of a small nation. A family who will worship and adore you. All this and more if you will simply pledge yourself to me forever and always.

She moved her finger away and the stillness of the air vanished, and the wind rose once more. I staggered a moment, my mind reeling with the imagery that pressed a palpable weight on me. When I regained my balance and sight, I stood there stunned and in comparative silence after being shown a world that only existed as the flimsiest of pipedreams. The reality finally hit that I was dealing with something way beyond me, something that threatened to swallow me whole if I wasn’t careful.

And you will be free to follow your dreams. Become a novelist and millions will read your words. You will be well received all around the world. Spend your days lecturing, even teaching and sculpting young minds, if that’s your wish.

Or,” she continued. “Write and direct films that interest you and your following will be massive. Fellini, Scorcese, Hitchcock, Kubrick, Tarantino, would not be able to hold a candle to you. Like Woody Allen and release a film each year, all guaranteed blockbusters with the stars of your choice eager to play a role.

And all this will happen because of you?

Her tone was like a knife. “No, because of your pledge to be with me and only me.

Like signing my soul over to you?” I knew the answer but had to ask anyway.

What an archaic notion. All I need from you is your promise, sealed with a kiss. The question is do you want to live the life you have always dreamed of living or not? After years of struggling and going unnoticed by women and society at large, you learned to wear your isolation like a protective shell but this isn’t who you truly are, who you were meant to be. If anyone deserves a shot at the brass ring it most certainly is you, isn’t it?

I had trouble meeting her eyes. “That’s tempting, it really is… but I can’t.

You would turn down everything?

I’m too old to believe I can have everything. And old enough to know I won’t be happy. Maybe at first, on the surface, I will, but as time goes by I’ll know deep down that I didn’t earn any of those things. You wouldn’t be with me because you love me. You’d be with me because you needed something from me. Something I’m not smart enough to figure out at the moment.” I felt foolish because I truly couldn’t see the angle. My soul wasn’t worth that much so there must have been something else.

And suddenly I was aware of the nearness of the woman and no longer thought she was in my personal space but that I was in hers and I worried about what being within her sphere of influence might do to me. I was afraid that her essence, the power she projected would have tainted me, marked and cursed me forever.

It seems I misjudged you. All that talk of accepting love as it finds you and erasing loneliness from the lexicon is all just a mask. Your problem is not being too old, it is being too afraid.

What?” my voice cracked as I felt a sudden pang of fear.

You are a dichotomy of fear. You are afraid of dying home alone, yet you fear leaving your house to meet a woman you can form a relationship with, you fear being friendless yet fear making friends, fear being childless yet fear the responsibility of having children, you fear being loved, fear being hated, you fear life and just about everything else and you are content to let it rot your soul as you waste away out of existence.

The wind rose in unison with the pitch of her voice and I was hit with a blast so icy it made my eyes water. I wiped the tears away and the woman was gone.

I went inside because I felt the sudden and dire need to be around other people, be close to them, feel their warmth. I settled down in a seat between two strangers, neither of them pleased that I had invaded their personal space, but I was past caring at that moment.

Looking down the opposite end of the ferry I saw the woman talking to a man, most likely another lonely bastard like me. I wanted to go over and warn him but he probably wouldn’t have believed me, and wasn’t it up to him to face his own temptations? Who’s to say that he wouldn’t have been within his rights to accept? And was I a fool for letting the opportunity to end my loneliness pass me by?

Then and there I made a promise to change my life, to put Shirley Hartsdale in perspective as I got on with my life and reconnected with old friends if it wasn’t too late and I pledged to make new friends and as I sought out the love I deserved and stopped waiting for it to come to me. Yes, that was what I was planned to do.

At least that was the lie I told myself.

* * *

Sally forth and be beautiful stranger avoidingly writeful.

Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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Duchess and the Anecdote

Duchess“Art to me is an anecdote of the spirit, and the only means of making concrete the purpose of its varied quickness and stillness.” —– Mark Rothko

They come from miles around, my characters do, traveling the great distance from the fringes of my minds eye, some even making the long and arduous haul from my childhood, just to sit and talk. They do this whenever I’m alone.

As they gather ’round, I cast an eye upon their many and various faces and can’t help but feel the slightest twinge of remorse. Being in my company, locked within the confines of my imagination, is not wholly unlike a purgatory for them. A holding pattern, a waiting room, where they converse amongst themselves in voices audible only to myself, trying to catch my attention in the slimmest hope of being set free. Birthed into a story.

Some are fresh meat, the rest lifers, each easily spotted by the differences in their appearance and the strength of their voices. Fresh meats are gossamers—newly formed characters, little more than a stack of traits—who shout in whispers. Lifers, on the other hand, are as fleshed out as you or I, perhaps even more so, who have acquired the proper pitch and turn of phrase to catch me unawares during the times when my mind idles.

Before the talks begin–serious conversation, not the normal natterings they engage in–a flying thing the size of a butterfly, jewel toned blue stripes, greenish gold spots, with flecks of silver on the wings, lands in the palm of my outstretched hand.

What is that, then?” a childlike voice asks from somewhere deep in the crowd, low to the ground. I recognize it instantly.

It’s an anecdote, Duchess. Come see for yourself.” I reply, as the creature’s wings beat softly on my palm.

The throng–my personal rogues gallery whose roster includes reputables and reprobates alike–part like the Red Sea, making way for the most noble of all serval cats, The Duchess.

An antidote? Have you been poisoned?” The Duchess queries as she saunters into the open space, a dollop of concern gleaming in her vivid blue eyes.

I try to not laugh, partly out of respect, but mostly due to the fact that though she is the eldest of my unused characters, she is technically still but a kitten. “No, Duchess, it’s an anecdote, as in a short, amusing or interesting story about a person or an incident.

I know full well what an anecdote is, thank you kindly. I was merely attempting to lighten the dreadfully somber mood with a bit of levity.” Not her best faux pas cover, but it was swift, which should count for something. As casually as she could manage, the kitten turned to see if anyone found amusement at her expense. No one did. They knew better. “May I hold it?

I hesitate and stare at the leapling. Created on February 29th all those many years ago, it was my rationale–on paper–for keeping her a kitten, seeing as she had fewer birthdays, she would naturally age at a decelerated rate. The actuality is I have an affinity for kittens. For full grown cats? Not so much. And now the dilemma is if her kittenish nature should come into play and, without meaning to, cause injury to the anecdote, then all this would be for naught.

Her eyes plead with all the promise of being good and I have no choice but to relent. “It’s fragile, so be gentle. Take care not to crush it.” I gently place the anecdote in her cupped paws.

Why does one need an anecdote?” The Duchess of Albion asked, her nose twitching whenever the creature moves its wings.

To tell a proper story.” I answer. “More than just a sequence of actions, anecdotes are the purest form of the story itself.

But I thought characters are at the heart of every great story?

They are and anecdotes connect the hearts and minds of those characters to a story.” I try to feign calm but I can see the kitten’s body tensing up. Her eyes, those glorious baby blues, are studying the creature closely. Was I wrong in my decision to trust that she rules her instincts and not the other way around?

They also add suspense to your story, giving the audience a sense that something is about to happen. If you use them right, you can start raising questions right at the beginning of your story—something that urges your audience to stay with you. By raising a question, you imply that you will provide your audience with the answers. And you can keep doing this as long as you remember to answer all the questions you raise.

The kitten’s breath becomes rapid and her paws close in around the anecdote and I want to cry out, urge her to stop, but it’s far beyond that point now. She is in control of her own fate. Canines bare themselves, paws pulling the creature closer to her mouth.

No!” she shakes her head violently. Her ears relax and her mouth closes as her breathing returns to normal. Then, the oddest thing happens…

The Duchess begins to vanish. All the characters look on in a dazed silence, uncertain how to react.

What is happening to me?” she shoots me a panicked glance as cohesion abandons her form.

Haven’t you sussed it out yet?

No… I’m scared!

Don’t be.” I smile. “Look around you. You’re at the heart of a story. You’re free.

Truly?” she is suddenly overwhelmed with delight, her expression priceless. “But — but what do I do with the anecdote now?

Open your paws, let it fly off.

She unfolds her paws. Tiny wings beat their path to freedom. Then someone from the back of the crowd gives The Duchess a slow clap. Soon, others join in, building into a tidal wave of applause.

The now translucent Duchess waves a tearful thank you to the crowd, before turning back to me with a request, “Say my name.

Why?

Because you always simply address me Duchess and I want to hear you call me by my full name one last time before I g– —

And just like that, she was gone.

I bid you a fond farewell, Your Grace the Duchess of Albion Gwenore del Septima Calvina Hilaria Urbana Felicitus-Jayne Verina y de Fannia. Enjoy your journey. You will be missed.

Sally forth and be writeful.

©2013 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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