The Choosing Field

Umoja The Choosing Field

The Centria planted its feet atop the announcing mound and parted its lips slightly, a hairline fracture in a granite face that could not easily have been identified as either female or male, yet the sound it released rang out, dominating the mesonoxian air. The melodious octave, a tone lower than any being of flesh could detect unless at the precise moment of their birth or death, spread across the fields drowning out all other sounds. It was not merely a song though, it was an experience of music, one that incited a childlike fascination and curiosity within the listener but unlike a siren song that was an alluring appeal, The Centria’s aria was a command to be in attendance.

However, one tiny essentia who had named herself Umoja, declined to go to the ceremony. On outward appearances she was simply sitting in a field, plucking recall-me-not flowers and braiding them into a wreath. Internally, it took every iota of will to resist The Centria’s call. She strained her newly acquired imagination into picturing a giant hand of stone reaching from the ground and holding her as tight as it could, anchoring her to her favorite spot beside the ruminating pond. She did not appreciate being made to do things, especially things that brought her no pleasure. Truth be known, she did not much care for the gathering as she was not competitive like the others and with such a large crowd she was certain she would hardly be missed. So engrossed in her thoughts of rebellion, she hadn’t noticed the arrival of Custodian.

“Did you not hear The Centria calling for you, Umoja?” Custodian’s face, androgynous like The Centria, was pleasant and its tone gentle as always. No one had ever seen it be otherwise.

“I-I-I,” Umoja endeavored to hold onto her rebelliousness, but it evaporated in the presence of Custodian’s warmth. “I am not needed there.”

“Not needed? Why would you think that?”

“I am never chosen.”

“You are in pending status.”

“What?”

“It is another way of saying not yet. Never is an infinite word and is inaccurate in this case. You should have said I have not yet been chosen.”

“And I never will be.”

“That word again,” Custodian chuckled softly.

“I am not good enough or strong enough or loved enough.”

“Do you actually believe that?” Custodian took a knee, wrapped arms around Umoja and pulled her close. “Everyone here is equally good and equally loved. And as for being strong, you resisted The Centria’s call. I cannot remember anyone else in history ever doing that and my memory is long and infallible.”

“Really?”

Custodian nodded. “You should try being less hard on yourself. You are still forming and are not nearly what you will one day become.”

“And you know what that is?”

“How could I not? Your destiny is written all over your beautiful face.”

Umoja sprang to her feet, ran to the pond and studied her reflection. “I do not see anything.”

“Because you have not developed that sense yet and despite what you currently believe, I doubt you will remain here long enough to see what I see.”

The essentia spun back to Custodian, wide-eyed, “What does it say?”

“What does what say, dear?”

“My face! What is written on it? Please tell me! Please?”

“You have positioned me between the things I must say to you and the things I want to say. Sadly, I will not reveal your writings for one should never know their fate.”

“But what if I do not like my fate? How can I change it if I do not know what it is?”

“It would be foolish to attempt to outwit the plan you were destined for.”

“But…”

“If we are to continue this conversation,” Custodian interrupted. “It will have to be at a later time because I do not know about you, but I would rather not have The Centria vexed with me, so I am heading to the Choosing Field. Will you join me? I would appreciate the company.”

Umoja still did not want to go but Custodian had been so nice it would have been rude to refuse, so she nodded and placed the recall-me-not wreath on her head. Custodian scooped Umoja up and folded itself around her. They flew over the sea of emotions, past the knowledge trees and through the imagination mountains. She held on as tight as she could manage, occasionally nuzzling Custodian’s essence. She had never been this close to anyone before, felt this safe. She would not have traded this moment and wanted it to last forever, but the problem in a place where time has no meaning, where eternity is equal to an instant, is that treasured moments disappear within the blink of an eye. No sooner had Custodian lifted Umoja, they arrived at the Choosing Field.

Self-doubt played across Umoja’s face as she looked up at Custodian who was now surrounded by a light so bright one had to squint for risk of being blinded by its radiance. But within that light, there existed a warmth and comfort that Umoja wished she could take with her. Custodian leaned down to adjust Umoja’s recall-me-not headdress and smooth her rough patches. Her essence no longer fit her properly, it felt loose and saggy in places as if she had shrunken too small to fill it all the way. Every rejection seemed to take a bit from her and if things continued this way soon she would be little more than a husk.

The land was packed with preborns, essentias like herself yet uniquely different, as far as the eye could see in any direction. With a gentle nudge from Custodian, Umoja made her way down the aisle and squeezed in between a row of preborns, settling for a spot in the center of the crowd instead of taking a place in front which was her right. This gathering was her twenty thousand four hundred thirty-ninth which made her the oldest preborn in attendance, something that many of the essentias never failed to bring up. They questioned why Umoja had been overlooked so many times for so long. The inquiries weren’t born of malice, the new arrivals were merely curious but being the focus of unwanted scrutiny and speculation was never easy for her. Sometimes it was downright painful. But she bore it with all the grace she could muster, offering shrugs and smiles as answers.

The Centria’s song continued at a lower pitch, fading into the background when Custodian moved to a position before the crowd and began her speech.

“We are here to acknowledge and celebrate you magnificent preborns and the journey some, perhaps most, hopefully all of you are about to take. For the chosen, you are about to enter a new world filled with things beyond your imaginings. Some wondrous, others less so. Know that you come from a place of love, a place of hope and your arrival will be the cause of much joy. It is important that you keep within you, tucked away deep, the knowledge that you are not nor ever will be truly alone. You will not understand the importance of this yet, but I ask you to have faith especially when faced with adversities you cannot even begin to fathom as of yet.”

The preborns nearest her watched in amazement as Umoja silently mouthed the words as Custodian spoke them. “You are life. You are the keepers of the secret knowledge of the universe. As such, it is expected that you will not speak of this place or this process. For most this will not be an issue since you will be unable to properly communicate upon arrival at your new homes. You must learn how to operate your new body which has an extensive learning curve as well as learn the language which is different from our form of communication. By the time you have fully acclimated, the knowledge of this place will reside in a place not reachable by your conscious mind. Since there are exceptions to this rule, we ask that should you remember, please respect our rules and keep the secret from those who might sabotage our way of life.”

Speech done, Custodian asked the first row of preborns to line up in front of The Centria, who began singing a different tune, more complex, covering a vast span of notes in rapid succession. That was Umoja’s problem, the reason she had been held back. She studied the notes and practiced them repeatedly whenever her schedule was not occupied with other important matters, but she found it impossible to change notes swiftly and seamlessly, unlike the first row of preborns who had not struggled even slightly as they sang along with The Centria matching notes until they were in perfect harmony. One by one they faded from this place, transported to their new homes. Row by row the preborns took their places before The Centria and blended their voice perfectly with the melody and departed.

Finally, it was her turn. Her place in line put her directly in front of The Centria which only made her already anxious heart beat faster. Just behind the vessel of the sacred song, Umoja saw Custodian, in violation of the rules during the ceremony, offer her a secret smile. Her anxiousness began shifting to excited hopefulness. She could do it. Custodian had faith in her and perhaps that would be the little push that helped her go all the way this time. The Centria began the song and Umoja’s first note was so off key it drew stares from the preborns in line with her. If she returned their stares, she would have been done. This would have been her latest, her greatest disappointment and perhaps her final opportunity. How many more chances would they have allowed her before giving up completely?

Instead, she closed her eyes and thought of her deepest desires. The desire to have a home. The desire to belong to a family. The desire to be loved. The desire to build a life that demonstrated just how thankful she was to have been selected and given a chance to make a difference in the world beyond this world. Umoja opened her mouth and instead of forcing herself to hit the notes in unison with The Centria, she sang her own song which tasted sweet on her tongue yet made tears fall from her eyes. Suddenly it no longer mattered whether she could mimic the birthing song, all she wanted to do was sing her song forever, feel the happiness that was born of a sorrow that was now understandably necessary. She had finally accepted herself and her place in the workings of all things.

She opened her eyes and was prepared to stand off to the side to make way for the next row of preborns when she made eye contact with Custodian who also had tears rolling down its cheeks. Custodian mouthed the words, “Outwit your fate” as it beamed the brightest smile Umoja had ever seen and gave two thumbs up. Umoja was confused by this but returned the thumbs up only to notice her hands were turning translucent then transparent.

She had done it! Somehow she managed to sing the birthing song correctly. She wanted to run up to Custodian to give it a big hug and thank it and tell it that she loved it but it was too late. She was completely vanished.

The transition was a bizarre one. She could feel numerous types of sensation entering her presence. She was about to be born. She closed her eyes and prayed to be placed in the body of a girl. There had been stories of preborns that were birthed into bodies of genders in which they did not identify and the difficulties that resulted from this. Umoja had always identified as a girl and she wanted ever so badly to be placed within a girl’s body, so she made the biggest wish she ever made and closed it with the chant, “I am a girl. I am a girl. I am a girl.” But soon into the process, she realized this was not the case. There was an oddness to her new body that she could not identify outright but she somehow knew that she had been placed into the body of a boy. And for a moment there was a twinge of disappointment but it was short lived. She was successful in her endeavor to be born and she felt healthy and she would make the best of the situation with nary a complaint and live the best life possible for all involved.

But in the back of Umoja’s mind, a tiny voice chanted, “I am a girl. I am a girl. I am a girl.”

Text and Audio ©2017 & 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

About The Choosing Field: This story was a quickie one off warm up writing exercize that was inspired by something I heard in Vanessa Roth’s Netflix docu-series Daughters of Destiny, about the Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project, a pioneering school for the children of Dalits, members of the lowest group in the oppressive caste system that still shapes Indian society. In the first episode, they introduce the belief that our destinies are written on our foreheads at birth and the school gives the lowest caste children the opportunity to outwit their destiny. It stuck with me so I jotted down this story. Maybe I’ll come back to it someday to finish it or maybe I’ll incorporate it into another project. The important thing is I committed the idea to paper so it won’t be lost to me forever.

Oh, and if you get the chance, check out Daughters of Destiny. It runs four episodes and is absolutely worth your time.

Loving The Antisocial

There was no denying it all went wrong the day she met The Antisocial. Her marriage, her life, her reality. He stepped into the confidence of her world and slowly altered her polarity, molecule by molecule, turning her into the world’s biggest human misery magnet. How could she have been so blind? He was a super-charged lightning rod of suffering and unrest and she jumped in feet first and grabbed the rod with both hands.

How? The Burning Bush chiseled this question into the stone tablets of her grey matter. How and why? How had it happened with such severity? And, why The Antisocial? He was nothing she had ever been attracted to in her life. He was slight and pale and short. Three things she couldn’t stand in her men. And when they met, she was married. Very married. Endlessly she would extol the virtues of her Husband of the Round Table who sat in the Siege Perilous.

She and The Antisocial even began on the wrong chord. Their first conversation was over the phone. An argument. A full-fledged war of words and attitudes, waged on the fiberoptic battlefield, with no quarter asked and none given. Hatred festered between them, growing like mold on stale bread, infecting whole city blocks at a time.

Then came the inevitable: the first meeting.

She was geared for the worst, armed with a wit-sharpened tongue and poison-dipped fingernails. The Antisocial tricked her. His subterfuge included tactics of kindness and depth. She wasn’t stupid, she kept her guard, but The Antisocial had existed for centuries and knew how to ply his trade well. Exorbitantly, he picked the locks of her defenses and let himself into her heart. She was still Very Married.

The Antisocial never used ordinary tactics. He would insult her, then apologize with poetry. Something her husband had never done. He would put the boots to her during weak moments, and when she retaliated, he simply walked away. She threw herself at him, and he stepped aside. She showed him the knife he drove into her heart, and he twisted it. She threatened to walk out on him, and he opened the door. Crafty, crafty, was The Antisocial. Unprepared, unprepared, was she.

When she first started dating The Antisocial—convinced that she was still Very Married—she was a strong and proud princess of unshakable faith and optimism. The world catered to her whims. Whatever words she spoke became law, and she enforced those laws on everyone around her. Everyone obeyed the princess — except The Antisocial. That was the beginning of her ruin. He had planted the seeds of self-doubt. He confused her with contradictions, battered her with male logic and left her alone to wallow in the mire.

What confused her most were the contradictions. He claimed to love her strength, then proved that strength to be a lie, just to teach her how to be strong. Where was the sense?

The Antisocial also worked on her morality, dragging her down the path of decadence. Once she had assimilated, and even grown to like it, he turned cold and led her back up the path to friendship. What good would simple friendship do her now? She had already begun peeling away the facade of her Very Married home life, hacking rifts into the armor of Husband of the Round Table, besmirching his character so that the Siege Perilous was no longer a safe seat. What good was going back to the old fractured lie that was her fabled life? What good were rose-colored glasses in the pitch dark?

The Antisocial laughed. He knew these truths to be self-evident.

Her life with The Antisocial became a long list of Could-Nots:

  • She could not talk to him unless conversation was pleasant.
  • She could not be in his company unless she was happy.
  • She could not ask him questions that angered him.
  • She could not ask him why he was angry.
  • She could not see him while he was angry.
  • She could not try to take the anger away.
  • She could not expect anything from him.
  • She could not make demands on his time.
  • She could not interrupt his solitude.
  • She could not experience his personal side.
  • She could not include herself in his plans.
  • She could not discuss their future.
  • She could not coax him to make love to her.
  • She could not display intense emotions around him.
  • She could not ignore the things that made him happy.
  • She could not share the things that made her happy.
  • She could not talk to him about anything relevant.
  • She could not love him anytime he did not love her.

She could not take it any longer.

The Antisocial could not have cared less.

She would have left, but it was too late. He had destroyed her, tainted her to the point where no one else wanted her. He had taken her like a lump of mud and molded her into his ideal mate. There was no more of the original her left. She ate the loneliness he fed her and wore the sorrow overcoat he bought her. After a while, answering to the name Mrs. Antisocial had no effect.

They say there was someone out there for everybody, whether that’s true or not, she found her niche… loving The Antisocial.

Text and Audio ©1990 & 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

About Loving The Antisocial: I write copiously daily. I’ve learned that if I don’t write regularly with some sort of goal, my writing becomes stale and disinteresting in the process. My current writing regimen, at minimum, is five thousand words every day.

I’ll start a story off with great ideas, excitement, and plans for some sort of magnum opus. The ideas and prose flow along at a satisfying pace until it doesn’t. Then I’m often visited by the bane of my existence, my old pal, writer’s block.

To beat my nemesis into a bloody pulp, I write. Doesn’t matter what, as long as I keep my fingers peck-peck-pecking on the keyboard and them cute little letters keep dancing across the computer screen.

I write silly nonsense and observations, science fiction dogma, horror rhetoric, humorless jokes, movie and television rants or whatever else comes to mind. Just as long as I keep things moving forward. It’s my writing calisthenics. This story was the result of a question:

What does a person do when their significant other begins doing things that are completely out of character?

The Next Now

Next Now

Though he swore to himself that he would never ever in a million years be caught dead doing it again, Clayton Jacobson wound up working late. Nearly four and a half hours past his quitting time, according to the clock, whose disinterested face stared down upon him from its lofty perch above the office door. Which made it two hundred and seventy minutes since his co-workers abandoned him without a second thought, retreating to the comfort of their homes, leaving him to pick up the slack.

Traitors, all of them.

Experts claimed that it was impossible to put a dollar value on a human life. But Clayton knew that to be a lie. He was aware exactly what his life was worth at current market value between the weekday hours of nine-to-six, or better yet, nine-to-ten thirty. He was a salaried employee that wasn’t eligible for overtime pay, so rounded up, his life was worth twenty-six dollars and fifty cents an hour. That boiled down to forty-four cents a second that he collected as he sat at his desk completely inundated with work and wasting his life away doing something that held his interest not in the least. Forty-four cents for each precious second of his life that he had exhausted and could never reclaim ever again. And as he inched ever closer to his own inevitable demise, he couldn’t help but think how cheaply he’d sold a portion of his life to a faceless entity that wouldn’t be able to recall his name in the fiscal quarter that followed his inevitable termination date.

Clayton Jacobson was a corporate cheap date.

As a reward for his continued loyalty, he had been given what was considered to be the reasonable and customary stock options package, which made him the proud owner of five thousand shares of complete and absolute boredom. Every day at approximately this very instant, he cracked his investment portfolio wide and contemplated his stock, and as always, he came to the realization that he was wealthier than he thought. He personally owned more boredom than he knew what to do with.

Cursing himself for being a corporate lackey, he rubbed his tired eyes, yawned, stretched, and began the protocol for closing up shop. It’s not like he could simply get up and leave. His position as office manager included the responsibility of backing up the entire day’s work onto the server, which would cost him another half hour, at least.

While the backup chugged away at its steady pace, Clayton impatiently packed his briefcase with files stacked in his Incoming tray under the guise of finishing the work at home. But he knew all too well that once he stepped foot into his apartment, he would ignore the work like an overdue bill or a random bit of junk mail. Physically taking work home was just a force of habit. It made him feel like he was making a dent, which was the lie he told himself every evening.

After all the computers and office equipment were shut down, he shrugged on his coat, locked the front door and tripled checked that it was secure. That was the one and only OCD that Clayton had. Is the door locked? Did I lock the door? were the questions he would ask himself every time he left the building. And he realized that this problem of his wasn’t founded in reality since never once in all his years had he not successfully locked a door upon leaving a place, but still, he found himself constantly returning to check locked doors. Tonight wasn’t a particularly bad night. He only went back and checked the door three times. His standing record was twenty-seven, which was probably due to the fact that he was not only exhausted that night but also on a heavy dose of cold medication.

Clayton Jacobson did not take sick days.

On his fourth time exiting the building, Clayton lost his footing and hit the concrete pavement like a baseball player sliding home. The briefcase slipped from his grasp during the fall and popped open, scattering files and papers all over the sidewalk. Embarrassed, he looked around quickly to see if anyone caught his fall. Not a soul in sight. Good. He slowly got to his feet, dusted himself off and looked at the spot in front of the building where he had tripped. He half expected to see a patch of ice, grease or something, but there was nothing there.

That’s odd, he thought as he began scooping the papers back into his briefcase. Although it was a cold night, it wasn’t particularly windy, which was a good thing, since Clayton hadn’t fancied the idea of chasing paper down the street.

As he fastened the last latch on his briefcase, Clayton rose to see his bus pull away from the bus stop. He chased after it, hoping that the stoplight at the corner would turn red, giving him the chance to catch up with the bus and plead his way aboard. Usually, the bus drivers were more lenient about picking up passengers outside designated areas after ten o’clock at night. Unfortunately, the stoplight and Clayton were not in accord as it allowed the bus to escape him.

At the bus stop Clayton didn’t even bother reading the schedule because he knew the next bus was a half hour away and it was far too cold to stand out on the street and wait and if he went back into the office, he would get caught up in work and miss the next bus and most likely fall asleep at his desk. Since there were no open coffee shops at this time of night, he resigned himself to walk home. He lived close enough to his job so that walking wasn’t out of the question, which was the only real perk that was associated with his employment. Twenty minutes by foot if he hustled, a half-hour if he took a more leisurely pace. Theoretically, he could have been home before the next bus arrived, so he hoofed it.

At the corner, his nemesis, the streetlight, turned red and he was forced to wait his turn against the traffic. A man sidled up to Clayton’s elbow so silently he could have been a shadow.

“Excuse me,” the man said and Clayton tried to suppress the urge to jump out of his skin. “May I have a moment of your time?”

“Sorry. I have someplace to be.” Clayton didn’t even meet the man’s gaze.

“Surely you have a moment to spare, in one of your pockets, perhaps?” the man’s manner was polite and seemed completely genuine.

“Is this about money?” Clayton shot him a glance.

“No.”

“Cigarettes? Because I don’t smoke.”

“Neither do I. Not for some time now.” A fact the man seemed to find rather amusing.

“Okay, so are you some kind of cop or something? Am I under arrest? Are you looking for sex? Are you initiating into a gang and need to cut a complete stranger? A serial killer cruising for a little late night murder?”

“No, no, no, no, and no.” the man smiled.

“Then what, for God’s sake?”

“As I said initially, a moment of your time.”

“For what?” Clayton spat.

“I think you dropped something.” The man said, pointing in the direction of the office building.

Clayton assumed it was a sheet of paper that he missed when he was scooping up his papers, but what he saw instead was— well, at first he thought it was a pile of garbage. But that wasn’t right. It was a body. Strewn on the sidewalk like a rag doll.

Convinced that his eyes were playing tricks on him, he walked slowly to the body that looked strangely familiar. Well, it ought to have looked familiar, it was wearing the exact same outfit Clayton had on, identical down to the shoes. Even the open briefcase was the same.

“Who is that?” Clayton asked.

“You know who it is.” The man was suddenly behind Clayton again, but this time he didn’t jump.

“How?”

“Heart attack.”

“But I didn’t feel anything.”

“Some people never do. Perhaps you were too preoccupied?”

“Oh come on, is this some kind of sick joke?” Clayton tasted the fear in his own voice. “I slipped and hit my head, didn’t I? And now I’m hallucinating, right? Or maybe I’m still upstairs in the office asleep at my desk, or better yet at home in bed having a bad dream?”

“No, no, no, no and no.”

“Then I’m–” he couldn’t bring himself to say the word.

“Well and truly dead, I am afraid.”

“And you are?”

“Your travel companion,” the man offered Clayton another smile.

“Oh, I get it! You’re going to point out all the wrong I’ve done and give me the chance to rectify it, that’s what this is, right?” Clayton hadn’t meant it to sound so sarcastic.

The man shook his head. “You have not done any wrong.”

“Then maybe there was something I was supposed to do, some potential I was supposed to live up to that I didn’t…”

“No, you lived your life accordingly.”

“So, this is it? No ceremony? No pomp and circumstance? Just heart attack, boom, I’m dead?”

The man seemed confused. “Would you prefer there be a penance? A punishment?”

“Not exactly, but something more than this.”

“Oh, but there is more. Your mind simply has not adjusted to your new reality just yet, which is perfectly normal in the beginning. You are clinging to the shadows of your old life, but all this will fade and you will begin to see anew, once you have accepted the fact that what is done cannot be undone.”

“So, what do I do now?” Clayton asked.

“Travel with me for a moment.” The man gestured at a car that Clayton could have sworn was not there before.

“You drive a car?”

“It is my conveyance. Your mind views it as a car, as that is what you are accustomed to,” the man said patiently. “For your comfort, you may wish to remove your coat.”

“But it’s freezing out here—” and as soon as Clayton heard the words, he felt foolish. “Oh, right.”

“Let me help you.” The man took Clayton’s briefcase, slid the overcoat off his shoulders, and let both items fall to the ground. As they landed, there was a deafening boom, which cracked the pavement and shattered the windows in the surrounding area. Or Clayton thought the windows shattered. When he looked up again, the windows were whole, as if nothing happened.

“I feel so much lighter now.” Clayton bounced on his toes like a little boy.

“You have just stripped yourself of your biggest encumbrances.”

“Which were?”

“Labor and haste.”

This answer made Clayton stop bouncing for some reason and he turned to look at his body crumpled on the sidewalk. “Can we do something about this?” he pointed at his former shell.

“Like what?” the man asked.

“I don’t know.” Clayton scratched his head. “Rearrange it? Move it inside the building maybe? Something more dignified than this. This isn’t how I want people to remember me.”

“Those who remember you will do so in their own manner. You cannot change that,” the man said as he opened the door for Clayton, who looked at his lifeless body one last time with a twinge of regret for not having lived a richer more fulfilling life, before he slipped into the passenger seat.

The man entered the driver’s side and took the wheel. And they drove, so slowly that it seemed to Clayton they were not moving at all, but instead, time moved around them. Not through them, Clayton noticed, around them. There was no time within this conveyance. One moment, the time the man asked of Clayton, was the same as eternity in here.

“Where are we headed?” Clayton asked.

“The next now.” The man answered and said no more. And he hadn’t needed to because somehow Clayton understood. For the first time in his life, or more accurately his death, he understood perfectly.

Text and Audio ©2013 & 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

About The Next Now: One night I was working on a short story that I’ve been toying with for the better part of a year. I was knee-deep in the rising action stage, typing away—and even happy with most of it—when it happened: The Click.

It’s a magical moment. Your pupils dilate. Your breathing slows. The fog in your head clears. Time slows to a crawl. And for one shining moment, everything is perfect. Every sinewy thread of plot comes together. It may be a mess, but it’s all there. It can be fixed and made whole—we have the technology.

And then the world speeds back up and it’s a race against the clock to type out as much as you can before the perfect purring of a well-oiled machine becomes a sputter and you lose something—or worse—the machine takes a great big dump.

That’s this one right here. A simple story about a wage slave that dies, unappreciated. No fanfare, no glorious reward for living his life correctly and doing no harm. A simple leave your things behind and move on to the next phase of your existence, or the next now.

Runt

Kadari hunkered down in the space between the commode and the wall, knees hugged to his chest. He rocked slightly and muttered a prayer under his breath as the sound of heavy feet dragged their way closer to the bathroom. He knew this day wouldn’t end well.

The youngest of triplets, he was the clear runt of the litter and no one ever allowed him to forget it. His brother, Nodj—the creative one—had inherited their mother’s height, while Unane—the prodigal son—was gifted with their father’s strength. If fear and puniness were distinguishing characteristics, then they were Kadari’s stock in trade.

In addition to his innate artistic ability, Nodj also acquired their mother’s affliction. Kadari first recalled being aware of it one summer’s midday when the twin suns spiked through the jostling leaves of a bunak tree. As a hearty gust of wind bent the bunaks back, displaying their bright red bellies, Kadari watched his brother’s sanity peel away like so much dead skin.

Kadari lost something, too, that day. The sun, the bunak trees, even the summer never looked the same, nor held any peace or calm for him.

He felt somehow responsible, Kadari did, so he visited Nodj every day as he convalesced. He brought Nodj’s favorite foods and sat bedside and spoke only happy remembrances and tamped down memories of how his brother had been viciously cruel to him on occasion. He wasn’t certain whether it was his condition that made him tyrannical or just one of the character traits that went part and parcel with being an older sibling. Perhaps a bit of both.

Nodj no longer lived in the house but visited as regularly as his mood cycles and medication allowed. His presence always altered the mood of the regularly somber house. Their parents avoided each other normally. “A kept distance was a kept peace,” his father would whisper when his mother was otherwise occupied. But Nodj required their attention and when they were forced to occupy the same space for great periods of time, the battles began. All the resentment, all the things left unsaid, aired themselves as they traced the roots of insanity down both sides of the family tree in order to assign blame.

Kadari fortified himself against the hatred in the bathroom, holding his head under the running shower nozzle. The high-pitched whistle of the hot water offered him a personal refuge against his parents’ screams. Neither seemed to notice or care that he constantly went missing for most of Nodj’s home visits.

On occasion, they needed a break from one another—his parents—and left Nodj in his and Unane’s care with a list of special instructions if an incident occurred. And as soon as they left the house, so would Unane, who left his runt brother to look after his mad brother with nary a thought to possible consequences.

This wouldn’t have been an issue under normal circumstances, but their parents’ constant bickering stirred an agitation in Nodj that unnerved Kadari, so he retreated to the bathroom and prayed for the best, which in this case was that Nodj’s medication would allow his brother to sleep until someone, anyone came home.

The insistent pounding sounded like someone was throwing slabs of meat at the door and the message was all too clear, Nodj wanted in. He shouted that he needed to use the bathroom, then he pleaded, then he whimpered. A debate waged in Kadari’s mind, caution versus guilt. His brother’s ability to manipulate situations as well as to do mischief to himself and others was legendary but even still, he was no animal and had not deserved being treated as such. In the end, guilt won out and Kadari opened the door.

The realization of what a fool Kadari had been hit him when his brother pounced on him like a starving beast. The runt was once again the mad one’s prisoner.

The sun beat down much in the same way it had all those many summers ago. Nodj marched Kadari out of their home by the nape of his neck. Parked in front of the house—or better yet, abandoned—was an old skip vehicle, a line of sight teleportation car that hadn’t run in years. Kadari avoided it like the plague because of the memories associated with it. Memories of Nodj locking him in the trunk and cranking the engine, threatening to skip the car off a cliff or worse yet, set it to materialize inside a solid object like a tree or boulder. His struggling increased, though it chafed his neck and resulted in meaty slaps to the back of his head, the closer he got to the trunk.

Nodj stopped and made Kadari study the car as the mad one detailed the specifications of the engine which transformed into a rant about technology and how it was slowly murdering the deities. Manufacturers were the assassins of religion and the deities needed proof that their race was still worth saving so a sacrifice had to be made. Fear whispered in Kadari’s ear that he was destined to die today and that no one would ever find his body.

Nodj dragged Kadari to the skip vehicle’s trunk—then past it—marching him over to the park instead. The runt stared at the tager trees and the omye trees that lined the park’s walkway. The tager tree produced the most succulent fruit and its jellied pit was considered a delicacy. The omye tree grew tart figs that were best when dried and ground into spice, though the juice could be used in combination with herbs to create ailment remedies. Not many used it for medicinal purposes since a large amount of figs were required to yield the smallest amount of juice. It simply wasn’t worth the effort.

At the bend in the park path, there was a brackish pond in which nothing lived and from which no creature drank. Nodj flung the runt into the shallow waters and jumped in after him. There were no thoughts only instinct as Kadari’s vision went from trees and sky to briny water. The taste of salt ran through his mouth and nostrils as his head was forced beneath the surface by the powerful thrusting of his mad brother’s arms. Once, twice, thrice. The runt breathed in hard through his nose and then was marched further underwater, deeper into the pond. There was a thrashing of the water and it turned from white to grey before going dark. Kadari felt death. He swallowed it in huge gulps instead of air. Tarter than the omye, saltier than the pond water. He didn’t like it and thrashed harder.

The pressure on the back of his head, where Nodj’s hand had been, suddenly disappeared. Kadari broke the pond surface, coughing up water. When his eyes could focus, he saw the sky and the trees and Nodj holding his bloody lip, curled in a smile.

In his wild thrashing, he must have hit his brother and broke the hold. Nodj laughed and couldn’t stop. Not as Kadari lunged for him. Not as Kadari swung for his face and chest. Not as Kadari pushed him back onto the walkway, forced him down to the ground, straddled him and pounded on his flesh.

Kadari hit Nodj for all the times he had taken abuse, for all the times he was made to feel powerless and afraid, for all the guilt that he carried for a person who cared nothing for him.

“That is enough, Kadari.” A hand grabbed Kadari’s wrist. Unane’s hand. He was also smiling as he pulled the runt off Nodj. “I think Nodj has had enough.”

Kadari’s coughing fit died down. He spat the last of the salty taste from his mouth. His neck hurt, as did his chest, lungs and knuckles. None of this made sense.

Unane helped Nodj to his feet and checked him for injuries. The mad brother assured him he was fine. Hurt, but unharmed. They both stood shoulder to shoulder, their arms folded across their chest, with a strange look in their eyes. A look Kadari had never seen from them before. Admiration.

The youngest triplet’s realization was a rusted, squeaky gate that hung on a broken hinge that opened slowly and with great effort. But it had opened, eventually. And his brothers waited patiently as Kadari sussed it out.

“You think I do not see the fear in your eyes when you look at me?” Nodj asked. “No brother of mine should be afraid of any man, not even his own brother. Do you understand me, runt?”

It took a moment for things to settle on Kadari. It had been some sort of test, a rite of passage, staged by the pair. “I am not a runt!”

His brothers laughed but not in a mocking manner. “No, I suppose you are not.”

They clapped him on the back and walked back home as equals. No, better than that, as brothers.

Text and Audio ©1988 & 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

About Runt: The original version of this piece was written back in the dark ages when people didn’t have personal computers. Scribbled in the 80’s in a notebook with a pencil, then typed into manuscript form on a manual typewriter.

It was inspired by my then girlfriend who met up with her two estranged sisters when she went back home to bury her father. She never really got along with any of her family, her sisters especially, but attending her father’s funeral served as some sort of closure for the feelings she had for him.

The youngest of the three, she was constantly abused by her sisters, which is why she left and stayed away, and sure enough, when she returned, so did the abuse. Until she gave back as good as she got. Which earned her a little fearful respect.

I swapped genders, rolled back the years a bit and tried to write a coming of age story. Tried.

Dissatisfied with the result, I put the idea aside for a long time and came back to it only last year. A good friend who is a voracious reader often leafs through my box of regret and plucks a story out.

This was her latest find and she told me that I was being too judgmental and the story was fine as it is.

So, here it is in its original state.

The Trip Back Home

Trip Back Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you know the words?”

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

“What do you do?”

“I’m a space marshal.”

“You mean…?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Text and Audio ©2013 & 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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

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

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

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

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 on. 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 to 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 lying 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.

Text and Audio ©2001 & 2021 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.

Donor

low red blood cell count

There was a knock at Tim’s front door. Impossibly, there was a knock on a day there shouldn’t have been one. Not that it was a big disturbance, it had only interrupted his woolgathering. He began reading a book hours ago and somewhere along the way his mind drifted off to the point where he wouldn’t have been able, even with a gun pressed to his temple, to tell which page he was on or what part of the story he last read.

The knock again. Tim placed the book open face down on the side table. Next to it was the handheld trigger for the silent alarm which he picked up and let his thumb hover over the panic button. Should he press it or simply answer the door? Smart money was on activating the alarm but he had always been a slave to curiosity so he pocketed the remote, rose from his comfy chair, exited the living room and padded across the hardwood foyer floor on the balls of his feet.

The closer he got to the door he heard some sort of commotion going on outside and as his hand landed on the doorknob he drew in a deep breath and held it for a long moment to quell the anxious feeling hatching in the pit of his belly. Tim hadn’t realized just how unaccustomed he was to answering his own door, it had been so long.

As he turned the knob a thought crossed his mind, perhaps the person on the other side of the door, the lawbreaker, was a deranged lunatic or religious fanatic who saw it as their duty, their purpose, their God-given right to put an end to what they viewed as an abomination. He knew that wasn’t the case, though. The knock was far too polite. They were all so damned polite, the knockers. Lightly rapping on his door all day, all night, in any weather, even on holidays. Especially on holidays. The only time they didn’t knock was on Sunday, his sanctioned day of rest.

He opened the door to shouts and protests. A crowd of people clustered on his front porch began forming a semi-circle behind the woman who stood in the doorway directly in his face. They accused her of jumping the queue, shouted that what she was doing was illegal, and warned/threatened her with the prosecutable penalties of her actions. And the discontent was spreading along people of all ages, ethnicities, male and female alike who gathered in a line that ran the length of his front walk to the pavement, down the block, and most likely around the corner, who were waiting their turn for an audience. But all the chatter came to an abrupt halt the moment they caught sight of Tim.

The woman in front of him, the illegal knocker, had a familiar face but her features were too average, too face-in-the-crowd, to recall outright, Tim had to flip through his mental rolodex and play the association game. He twigged her face was connected to some sort of event that would have revealed a location that eventually would have produced a name. Taking a deep breath, he relaxed his mind and softened his focus and let his gears spin a bit until he came up with:

Fundraiser ~~> community center ~~> Dick Cole

This woman was a friend of Dick Cole. Linda something-or-other. Rhymed with seed. Greed? Mead? Plead?

“Linda Reid,” Tim smiled, more at the swiftness of the connection than the pleasure of seeing the woman. “It’s been a while. A couple of years, I think.”

“Settle down, everyone,” Tim addressed the throng beyond the woman. “You know I’m not allowed to accept appointments today so she’s not cutting in line ahead of any of you. She happens to be a friend.”

Tim gestured for Linda to step inside which prompted the grousing to recommence but he merely closed the door to let them vent amongst themselves.

“Sorry for causing a commotion,” Linda said, smiling a bit too much. “And for not keeping in touch. Things have been so hectic down at the center with budget cuts and understaffing…and other things, that I don’t socialize much anymore. And you’ve got a lot on your hands at the moment—”

Tim waved off the rest of the sentence. “No worries,” he said, leading her past the empty administrative desks and into the sitting room.

“Awful lot of furniture crowding your foyer,” Linda said.

“That’s for the staff, doormen, greeters, admin assistants, all government appointed. They see to visitors. There are also bodyguards posted at each of the house’s ingress and egress points but they all have the day off because it’s my day off.”

“I suppose that’s another thing I’m sorry for.”

“I don’t get many non-work related visitors so this is a welcomed change,” Tim said, gesturing for Linda to take a seat. “Can I get you anything? Water? Juice? Or I could put the kettle on?”

“Do you have anything stronger?” Linda asked sheepishly as she sat down.

“I don’t imbibe, I’m afraid. Rules of my employment and all.”

“Yes, of course, how foolish of me. Water’s fine, then.”

Tim popped into the kitchen and returned with two glasses and ice water in a silver pitcher dotted with dew-like condensation.

“Not to fret,” he said, sitting opposite Linda and filling her glass. “Most people never consider it when they drop by.”

She took the water glass and swallowed two gulps. “I–um–I think I have a slight confession to make.”

“This isn’t a social visit, is it?”

“I can explain.”

“Explain what exactly? That you’re a lawbreaker and you seek to make me complicit in your crime? Is this a trap? Did the organization send you? Are you here to test me? Well, I’m not having it so you can go back and tell your bosses that I don’t cut side deals to pocket a little extra cash. We made an arrangement and I’m honoring it to the best of my ability!”

“So, how does this go? Do I have to fill out an application? Sign a legal document? Do you need proof? I didn’t think to bring any with me but I can get whatever it is you need.”

“If your request is granted, you’ll need to sign a few documents, including one that absolves me of any blame should the outcome fail to have the desired effect,” he said automatically.

“Naturally, without a doubt,” Linda answered, a bit too eagerly.

They’re always so eager at this stage, before the harshness of reality sets in, Tim thought. “But for right now, all you have to do is tell me what brings you here.”

“Um, okay,” she adjusted herself in the seat and wondered how her breath could so suddenly get caught in her throat. “It isn’t for me, you understand, I’d never come to ask for myself.

It’s my fiancé, Dick, you’ve met him, in fact, he introduced us at a fundraiser two years ago.”

“Yes, I know Dick. What’s wrong with him?”

“He has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis,” Linda said in a quiet voice.

“Lou Gehrig’s disease.” Tim’s stomach turned over. He didn’t need her to elucidate further.

She nodded, her eyes fading down to the throw rug, absently tracing patterns. “It’s in the late stages now. I would have come sooner, but it’s taken me some time to talk Dick into this. He doesn’t think it seems right. Not what you do, that’s fine and he thinks you’re a saint for doing it. He doesn’t think it’s right asking you for help, especially this kind of help. Dick doesn’t want you or anyone else taking pity on him. He’s never taken a handout in his life and he can’t help but see this as charity.”

“Yes,” Tim said, not bothering to hear the rest of the pitch. That’s what they were, pitches. Not simple requests or implorations, these were stories designed to pull at his heartstrings. But who ever bothered to listen to his story? Not one of them. Not a single person among the many that crossed his threshold ever bothered asking him a personal question. As if he wasn’t human, as if he wasn’t allowed his own tragedy.

“What? I don’t understand.” She set the glass down on the nearby table, missing the coaster by half an inch. Tim either hadn’t noticed or decided not to comment.

“I’m saying, yes.”

“Yes, you’ll help?” Linda blinked and met the man’s gaze as a hopeful smile began to split her face.

“Yes.”

“I — I don’t know what to say,” she was on her feet before she knew what was happening, moving in for a hug. “I — thank you, Tim!”

Tim put his hand up, stopping the woman in her tracks. “Don’t thank me yet. There are still a few things you need to realize before you accept my offer.”

“It doesn’t matter. Anything! And I mean anything!” Interest colored her face.

“Please calm down for a moment and listen to me. This thing you’re asking of me, this gift of blood, it may not solve your problems and could possibly worsen matters for you.” Tim traced his finger around the rim of his glass.

“I’ll take that chance… we’ll take that chance!”

“Listen to me!” Tim brought the glass down on the table, just hard enough to startle and capture her full attention. At the cost of a wet sleeve and the water stains that would surely mark the cherry wood. “Ever since scientists discovered the curative properties of my blood, tests have been run. Mostly successful, I’m a match for all blood types, and my white blood cells haven’t encountered a disease it can’t cure—”

“Which is why I came to you. I did my research and you cured other ALS patients before—”

“The problem isn’t my blood,” he interrupted. “It’s Dick’s immune system reaction that’s the danger. If his body rejects my blood and tries to attack parts of it, there won’t be a second chance. He instantly becomes a non-match. On the other hand, if his body takes the transfusion, in a few month’s time, his white blood cells will resemble mine and he’ll automatically be enlisted in the same line of work as I am.”

The weight of Tim’s words slowly settled on Linda. “You mean, he’ll—?”

“He’ll never know another moment’s peace for the rest of his life. People will hound him, pleading for themselves or family or friends, day and night, night and day. Nonstop. Some gentle, others less so.”

“But why is that necessary?” Linda asked.

“My white blood cells can’t be synthesized. Top minds have tried and failed time and again. And although my blood can be stored, the white blood cells lose their miraculous properties over a period of thirty-six hours outside my body.

“I would have been strapped to a table in a laboratory for the rest of my natural life if I wasn’t for my brother. Hell of a lawyer. Fought his ass off to petition the quality of life rights that allow me the tiny bit of freedom I have. The stipulation is I must share my gift, triage the world, help the sickest among you. There are restrictions, legal hours when people have the right to approach me, but no one listens. How can they be expected to follow the rules when they or their loved ones are dying?

“I used to fight it. Turn people away when the established workday was through. Dealt with the angry mobs and the death threats. Then I asked myself, “Why?” Why fight my fate? If I’m meant to help people, why shouldn’t I do it when it needs to be done and not only when I want to do it? And there’s a selfish reason if I’m honest. You see, if I help enough people, if enough of the populace possesses my blood, I won’t be special anymore or alone in all this. Maybe then, when there’s enough blood to go around and my bit for the world is done, the price of my gift paid, maybe then I can be left alone to die in peace.”

Linda hesitated. She shook her head and turned to leave. “This… this is… “ She stumbled over the words, not knowing how to express her thoughts.

Tim realized too late that he said too much, chose the wrong person to unburden himself on. He regretted his action instantly. “It’s a lot to process, I know. Why don’t you go home and discuss it with Dick? You can contact me if you decide to go through with it.”

From his shirt pocket, he fished out a solid white business card, imprinted only with a faint phone number that had to be viewed at the proper angle in order to be seen. “A direct line, please don’t share it with anyone.”

“I won’t,” Linda muttered as she shambled to the doorway. “I — look, I know you can’t talk about the other people you’ve seen, but can you just tell me if anyone has ever turned down your help after you’ve explained everything to them?”

For a moment, Tim didn’t respond, he just watched as the hope drained from her face. “More people than you might imagine.” He noted she found no reassurance in his answer. He turned away, unable to look upon her sorrow any longer. He had his own to contend with.

Over his shoulder, he said, “Be sure you tell Dick everything I’ve told you, and if he refuses, try to understand. Sometimes there are worse things than death.”

Text and Audio ©1988 – 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

The Folds of Love

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When the delivery truck pulls up outside the shop, neither of us look out the window ’cause we know exactly who it is. 12:15 pm on the dot means Department of Tissue Waste Removal. Light load today. Driver only schleps in one body bag.

“You’re up, Mickey.” Jhonni nods my way. “Snag ‘n tag salvageables and dip the rest.”

Mickey. Only other person to ever call me that was my pops. I hated when he did it and I damn sure hate that my boss somehow exposed that raw nerve. He only does it to get a rise outta me, but I ain’t bitin’ so I let it slide this time. My mistake? Tellin’ baldilocks here I prefer bein’ called Michelle.

Snag ‘n tag means I gotta dissect the corpse for salvagables, which are any organs that ain’t completely shot to shit and dip whatever’s left over in the chemical vat for DNA repurposin’ — usually either cosmetic skin grafts, lifelike mannequins for movie stunts or some other bioengineerin’ bullshit I don’t really understand.

I sigh, chuck the rest of the deck onto my game of solitaire — cards weren’t cooperating, no how — and walk over to the body bag. I ain’t squeamish about dead bodies or puttin’ the blade to ’em, but I do have one hangup…

I hear myself mutterin’ before I have a chance to stop it, “Don’tbeadudedon’tbeadudedon’tbeadude…” and when I unzip the bag, guess what? A dude. So’s we’re clear, I gots no prob flaying a man, it’s just that chick thing that does me in. You gals know what I’m talking about.

Every man a woman meets, she sizes him up and decides if she’d break him off a piece. Sex, I mean. Young, old, fat, skinny, short, tall… alive or dead, you rate ’em. Would you do ’em, could you do ’em and under what circumstances? A dare? Boredom? For the story? Only me, I got this vivid imagination, see, and when I come across a mutilated dude, I see myself having sex with him. And no, I ain’t no nekkidphiliac, they’re very much alive in my scenarios, just all banged up, pardon the expression.

This one, Ethan Garner, by the toe tag, was tore up from the floor up. Anythin’ worth savin’ would be an innard and not one that’d bring high market value, either. Somethin’ nickel and dime like an appendix, spleen, or some shit.

The fluorescents buzz overhead and sweat breaks out on my forehead as I hear Ethan groan beneath me in my mind’s eye. Think of a dude I know, think of a dude I know. No good. Where’s my iPod? I need a distraction.

The cause of death is listed as Industrial Misadventure which meant poor old Ethan was mangled by machinery, probably one of them press and fold jobbers. His body looks like a bedsheet fresh out the package, tucked up all tight into a tidy square. How the hell am I going to get inside to harvest organs?

I put a little elbow grease into it, dig my fingers into a crease — an armpit, maybe? — and try to pry it apart. Bones creak and skin pulls apart from skin with the sound of moist velcro. I’m sweatin’ buckets now, cause in my head, Ethan is givin’ me the workout of a lifetime, only I can’t see his face so it’s like doing it with a Hot Pocket with a hard-on. Focus, Mickey! Focus! Damn, now that bastard’s got me doin’ it.

With the back of my blade I scrape away the dried blood, which there’s plenty of, and I find a seam. That’s right, a goddammed seam! Now, I wasn’t exactly top of my class in Biology, but I’m kinda certain the human body don’t come equipped with seams. But I’m curious about this so I make my first cut along Ethan’s unnatural hem.

My fingers move into the cut and part skin. I tilt the swing arm lamp to get a better view and the light catches somethin’ that makes my stomach hitch. Whoever bagged this on scene fucked up big time, which I suppose is kinda sorta understandable, given the unusual nature of the cause of death, but if I reported it, it’d probably cost that slob their job. The Office of Forensic Affairs forgives a ton of infractions, unfortunately body count ain’t one of ’em. This was incorrectly listed as a single, when Ethan here, is wrapped around a whole other body.

The second body’s a smaller one, a girl, judging by the tiny pink-painted fingernails, and in the middle of a splatter of brain matter is a child-sized tiara, pressed between them like a flower in a book. The sex visions with Ethan stop instantly and my stomach heaves as I try not to hurl.

My jumpsuit is dripping with sweat and it clings to my clammy body to the point it makes my skin crawl. And then my trusty dusty brain, with its wonderful imagination, kicks into overdrive and I play the story of their final moments.

Ethan works — worked — works in laundry services. It’s bring your daughter to work day. Maybe he’s a weekend dad that doesn’t get to spend enough quality time with his baby girl and he fights the court order and pushes for this until he’s able to negotiate terms.

So he brings her to his job and she insists on wearing the little princess halloween costume, the one with the tiara, and he can’t say no because she is his little princess. Things are going great and he tells her to be careful and stick close to him, but he gets distracted for a moment, maybe by his boss about special instructions on a rush job or somethin’.

The little girl tries to be good and listen to her daddy, but curiosity gets the better of her and she climbs on a piece of machinery she shouldn’t be climbin’ on and Ethan’s dad-alarm goes off and he spots her, losing her balance and he runs for her… runs and dives with no care for his own safety and he manages to grab hold of her but it’s too late and they both fall into the machine before his coworkers can hit the shut off switch.

So, Ethan does the only thing he knows to do… he wraps himself around the little girl and folds her in his love, as the machine does what it’s designed to do.

It probably ain’t even in the same neighborhood as the actual events, but even though my story is most likely bullshit, it’s still real to me. it’s what I choose to believe.

And it breaks my heart ’cause that’s how I wish it was with me and my pop, but after moms died, we can’t be in the same room for ten minutes without it breakin’ into some big production. I know he means well, but who the hell is he to give me instructions on how I should live my life? Holder of the Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition Lifetime Achievement Award, is who.

I carefully harvest the tiara and clean body residue out of every nook and cranny. Then I place the plastic jewelry on a towel and carefully fold it into the best presentable package I can manage.

“Fuck’re you doing over there, Mickey?” Jhonni says over his shoulder.

And suddenly I can’t do this anymore, not just Ethan and this nameless little girl, but any of it. I peel the sopping wet jumpsuit off me and throw it at my boss. “Quitin’ is what I’m doin’.” Correction, my ex-boss.

I take the tiara package over to the phone and search the directory for Forensic Affairs. “And it’s Michelle, by the way, you fat piece of garbage. Call me outside my name again and somebody’ll be unzippin’ you from one of those bags.”

I expect a response, an argument, a something… but he just sits there and takes it quietly. Makes me think this isn’t the first time somethin’ like this has happened.

I dial the number. Do I feel sorry for the person about to lose their job? Sure, but fuck ’em. There’re more important matters at hand. There’s a family that needs reunitin’.

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll make another call after this one. It’s been a while since I spoke to the old man, after all.

Text and Audio ©2014 – 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

The Anniversary Meal

As Amantha carefully diced the spleen, she caught herself. Lost in the preparation of the meal, she absently sang a song under her breath. Normally, this wouldn’t have been a problem but she was doing it in her native tongue, a dead language that might have revealed her true identity, had anyone heard it. Not that they’d have been able to pinpoint what she was exactly, but they would have sussed she wasn’t what she appeared to be.

She bit the inside of her cheek as she marinated the kidneys, the pain and the coppery tang of blood in her mouth served as a reminder to be more cautious. The head that had been severed and chilled on ice overnight to preserve its freshness, was placed in the stewpot to dissolve in a broth that smelled faintly of sulfur. She would have to remember to do the same with the hands and feet and all the other body parts that couldn’t be disguised as normal cuts of meat.

Anal to a fault, Amantha arranged all the innards neatly on the countertop and went to work on deboning the torso and limbs, the bones of which would join the head in the liquefying broth. She knew she had plenty of time to get rid of the evidence, but she also wanted time to get dressed and made up before Onathan arrived. It was their one year anniversary and she wanted the meal to go without a hitch because she suspected he was going to propose tonight.

“He’s going to propose tonight,” she let slip aloud as she slit open the intestines to clean them. If only she had studied the language better, none of this food preparation would have been necessary.

Onathan’s mother was an important figure in his life, more a best friend than a parent, and he wanted to include her in the anniversary celebration, which Amantha had no problem with because she enjoyed the old woman’s company, she just wished he had phrased his wish differently.

His exact words were, “Do you mind if we had Mom over for dinner? It’s a special night that I want to share with her. Since Dad died, she’s been alone in that house and it’s not good for her.”

“Of course I don’t mind,” Amantha answered, playing the question over and over in her mind. “If you’re sure that’s what you want.”

“You’re amazing. I can’t believe how understanding you are.” Onathan pulled her into him and gave her the biggest kiss. Surely, she had gotten it right this time. The kiss made her confident that her first interpretation was accurate.

Amantha called Onathan’s mother over late last night after he had gone to bed and she came without question or hesitation. Either she was the most selfless person on the planet or she truly was lonely in that big house all by herself. This would be a good thing.

No stranger to the procedure, Amantha treated her hopefully soon-to-be-late mother-in-law to refreshments laced with a two-part toxin. The first substance was mixed into the pâte sucrée and would have passed through her system harmlessly, had it not bonded with the chemical placed in the sherry. Death was instantaneous and painless.

The phone rang not a few seconds later. It was her mother. When Amantha relayed the news and what Onathan asked and what she had done, there was silence on the other end of the line.

A chill ran down Amantha’s spine. Before her mother said a word, she knew she had gotten it wrong once again. English was such a bastard of a tricky language.

“These humans, they’re not like us, Ammie,” her mother said. “Relatives do not sacrifice themselves for celebration feasts nor do they feel pride in eating kin.”

“But what am I going to do, Mother?” the rising panic made her body quake.

“Are you sure she’s dead?”

Amantha prodded the old woman’s arm with her shoe. “No doubt about it. I followed your recipe to the letter.”

“Looks like you have no choice but to tell him the truth.”

“The truth? I can’t do that! Hi, honey, remember your mother? I killed her by mistake last night, sorry. He’ll never marry me now!”

“Then play ignorant,” her mother suggested. “Human females do it all the time.”

“And what about the body?”

“It isn’t a body anymore, it’s evidence. If you intend to live a lie, you’ll have to get rid of it.”

“I can’t move the body, somebody will see me!”

“Who said anything about moving the body?” her mother said nothing further, waiting patiently for her daughter to catch on.

“You mean cook her?”

“You were going to do it anyway.”

“I–I can’t. That would be wrong.”

Turned out she could. After hours of playing out scenarios in her head, she decided she couldn’t live without Onathan and he wouldn’t want to live with her if he found out the truth.

The difficult part was hiding the body until Onathan left for work in the morning. Amantha thought she had tipped her hand when she rushed him through breakfast and out the door. One of his mother’s earrings was on the kitchen floor, right beside his shoe! It was so close that if she made any move to retrieve it, he would have noticed.

But all that was behind her now, as she opened the refrigerator to get the older woman’s eyeballs to mash into a jelly topping for the dessert. But they weren’t there. She searched everywhere she hid body parts, everywhere they could have rolled but there were no eyeballs! She distinctly remembered plucking them out of their sockets last night.

How could she have misplaced them? Amantha knew she had to find them before Onathan came home in two hours. She threw herself into overdrive and tore the house apart, all the while cursing herself for not being more careful. The last thing she wanted was to have Onathan accidentally stumble upon one of the elusive orbs. He might not recognize it as one of his mother’s, but at the end of the day, it was a human eye and while she didn’t completely understand human culture, she was sure finding random eyeballs in your house wasn’t a common practice.

Amantha finally found them, yes, in the refrigerator. They somehow managed to roll off the saucer and landed in the crisper. She breathed a sigh of relief… until she looked at the clock; Onathan was going to be home in less than an hour, and she not only hadn’t finished dinner yet but now the house was a complete mess.

She prepared the dessert in record time then hopped on the massive chore of tidying up the house. Just as she put the finishing touches on her makeup, the doorbell rang.

Amantha sat on pins and needles the entire dinner. What if he recognized his mother’s taste? A silly concern but it plagued her nonetheless.

Onathan seemed nervous as well, his eye constantly checking the wall clock or shooting over his shoulder to the front door. It didn’t stop him from enjoying the meal and he ate everything placed before him. At the end of the meal. he accidentally knocked his fork on the floor. Amantha was about to comment on how clumsy he was when he came up on one knee with a ring in his hand. “I was going to wait until mother arrived, but I feel now’s the perfect time, after the perfect meal.”

And that was all it took. The dam of emotions she tried to suppress all evening burst wide open and Amantha began to cry uncontrollably.

“D-did I do something wrong?” Onathan said, confused. “I thought you wanted this?”

“No, no, I do want this,” she said, her breath hitching. “Just not this way.”

“I don’t understand.”

“It’s not you, you’re fine. Really, really fine. It’s me. I have something to tell you.”

Text and Audio ©2014 – 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

No Future In Arguing

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Because of the argument with her mother, Lakshmi wasn’t able to sleep. It happened ten days ago to this very minute and her hatred for her mother hadn’t abated one iota. Truth to tell, she wasn’t able to remember who started the argument or what the initial disagreement was about, but, as with most feuds, it opened a doorway for all the other things, the niggling bits of minutia to spill out and words were exchanged and feelings were hurt on both sides.

Ten days of freezing her mother out. Ten days of refusing to eat or talk or even be in the same room as her mother. Ten nights of lying awake in bed, staring at the headlights of passing cars that trailed rectangles across her ceiling. Lakshmi knew every inch of the ceiling and walls of her room like the back of her hands… which was why she was shocked when her eyes fell upon the crack.

It was beside the mirror that sat atop her chest of drawers, a horizontal crack no longer than a foot in length that looked like a demonic smile. Lakshmi stared at the crack, long and hard, wondering how she had missed something so obvious before… when it blinked. All right, so maybe blinked wasn’t the proper word, but she could have sworn she saw a light flicker from within the crack.

Probably just the wiring, she thought as she pushed a chair against the wall beneath the crack. At night Lakshmi heard mice scurrying between the walls. One of them must have nibbled on a wire and exposed it. She’d have to remember to tell her father in the morning. She was sure it had to be a fire hazard.

Lakshmi stood on the chair and inspected the crack, running her index finger along its jagged yet smooth edge. It was surprisingly cold to the touch and she thought she felt a slight suction… then the flicker again.

This time she was sure she hadn’t imagined it. Lakshmi leaned forward and stared into the crack and was surprised to see something within it. She saw…

Herself.

It was like watching a movie. She watched herself being herself, doing the things she normally did, but not in any day she ever remembered. The images began at a normal pace then sped up to such a degree where to anyone else they would have appeared to be nothing but a blur but Lakshmi was able to follow along because she was somehow connected to them. They were her personal images, of her life and she was living them, retaining the information contained within them.

Her eyes glued to the crack, Lakshmi watched the rest of her life, the entirety of her existence, literally flash before her:

  • Her relationship with her mother falls apart in a series of little spats over the next few years which leads to the big fight when she turns seventeen that causes irreparable damage. That will be the final time the two will ever speak to one another.
  • Her father grows miserable with all the constant fighting, which wears on his soul until he can’t take it anymore. Lakshmi cries uncontrollably the day he finally leaves their home for another woman. She begins smoking to handle the stress.
  • Her dream career of becoming a geophysicist vanishes that day she quits college for a job that allows her to move out of the family home and away from her mother for good.
  • She works so many menial jobs, none of which manages to hold her attention for very long, and slowly saps all the dreams and creativity she holds in reserve. With each successive job, the sheen in her eyes dulls a bit more.
  • As with the job situation, so, too, her love life. Her many attempts at love fail for the same reasons time and time again. Somehow, she becomes relationship poison and seeks out the same.
  • Eventually, her worries and frustrations in finding a mate causes her to settle for a man beneath her standards, a man who adds nothing to her life, a man who also works dead end job after dead end job with no hope of career advancement.
  • Then comes the struggle to save money for secondhand furniture and a used car, and as rents increase, their apartments over the years become smaller and rattier.
  • She cries alone in the bathroom with a pregnancy test showing a positive result.
  • The birth of her daughter, Enid, is agonizing and when it’s done and the baby is placed in her arms, she knows she should feel something, tries to feel love, but the emotions just won’t come.
  • Not long after, she’s pregnant again with a premature boy this time, Jack, and makes the effort to spread the already nonexistent love even thinner.
  • Jack is born sickly and remains that way. Medical bills mount that they’re unable to pay, and her husband comes home later and later complaining of overtime that is never reflected in his paycheck.
  • Fed up, her husband leaves in much the same way that her father did, for another woman, and she now is forced to get a second job to make ends meet.
  • Her already distant relationship with her daughter grows volatile when Enid turns to drugs after running with a group of delinquents.
  • Jack’s condition worsens and neither her husband nor Enid are present at the hospital as he dies.
  • She develops a cough that turns into a hacking fit that turns into lung cancer that kills her a day before her sixty-sixth birthday. And like her son, she, too, dies alone.

Lakshmi thought the images would stop there, but was sadly mistaken. She was actually able to see beyond her own death, where Enid, holding a one-year Narcotics Anonymous recovery coin, arrives at her hospital room moments too late. Too late to apologize, too late to make amends, too late to say “I love you.” And the pain of this sends her running back to a den to score, where a fatal hot dose takes her life.

***

A noise, the sound of wood and plaster breaking in reverse, pulled Lakshmi away from the visions of her future and back into the room with such a quickness that she staggered back, fell off the chair, and hit the hardwood floor with a heavy thud.

A concerned woman’s voice called from outside the room and down the hall. Her mother. The woman she hated mere moments ago and wished all the nastiness a seven-year-old girl’s mind could muster… but now, there was something else. Something she couldn’t quite remember. The images of her future started jumbling inside her head to the point they made no sense and turned into so much mental vapor.

Something about her father and her husband leaving? Something about a baby… a girl, or maybe a boy, sick and dying? And a fight, a big fight…

Lakshmi scrambled to her feet and raced out of the door and down the hall as memories evaporated from her mind. There was something she had to do, something before these feelings vanished and she went back to being angry.

Lakshmi burst into her parents’ room, where her father, just about to fall into a deep sleep, jumped at the girl’s sudden arrival.

Her mother, on the other hand, was fastening her dressing gown and about to investigate the sound from her daughter’s room, when her daughter rushed up, arms flung wide and embraced her.

“I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!” Lakshmi sobbed, as the memories of her future disappeared completely.

Her father watched in confusion. Her mother shrugged at him, smiled and stroked her daughter’s hair, cooing that everything will be all right. Everything will be just fine now.

***

In Lakshmi’s room, the crack in the wall, once the length of a wooden school ruler, began to shrink, as the wall knitted itself whole again.

Text and Audio ©2013 – 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys