Home, At Long Last

girl returning home to high roofed house

The car pulls into the driveway. It’s called an Uber and at first I think it’s the make and model of the car but the driver tells me it’s the name of a car service and although he’s patient and friendly in his explanation, I can feel my face flush red hot in embarrassment. There are so many things I don’t know that I don’t know. The entire world has a steep learning curve for me.

I wouldn’t have recognized the house, couldn’t have picked it out among the others because I haven’t seen it in over sixteen years and the memories are fuzzy because those years haven’t been kind. I’ve been told that it’s the house I grew up in and I nod with no acceptance or conviction because when I think about where I grew up all I can picture is being trapped in a dark and cold basement in a strange location. This house has never once appeared in my mind not even in my dreams.

From the moment the car arrives, people surge out of the front door but they don’t approach the car, perhaps because they’ve been advised not to or perhaps they’re as afraid to meet me as I am to meet them.

I thank the driver as I close the rear driver side door and walk toward the crying and smiling crowd, desperately trying to untwist the constrictor knot my stomach has become. I’m sure they don’t mean to be but each and every one of them is too loud and although they’re careful not to touch me, they’re too close and I want to run. I want to run into the basement and lock the door behind me and go down as far as I can manage and find the darkest corner to curl up into and if that place doesn’t exist, I want to dig a hole into the earth and bury myself in it until the world becomes a quiet place again.

It’s unmistakable, the feeling of warmth and comfort and community that exists in this place and I hate it almost instantly. I’m not supposed to as I’m a human being and we’re known to be social animals but if truth be known the only peace I’ve ever experienced has always been in complete isolation.

Nothing seems right. The sound of people’s voices expressing gratitude and the low volume music in the background blend into some abnormal din that assaults my ears like the opposite of white noise, even though I know that isn’t right because the other end of the spectrum from a combination of all of the different frequencies of sound would be silence and silence would be a welcome change at this point.

Even faces are foreign and I’ve known most of these faces for the first nine years of my life but the arrangement of their features is wrong. Even my own reflection is out of place and unfamiliar. I want to leave, to pivot on my heels and push past this closeness of flesh, flag down a police officer and ask them to take back to where I was found a fortnight ago.

I miss that basement because it’s the only home I know.

I want to back away but there are too many people behind so I push forward looking for a little elbow room, a safe barrier of personal space where I don’t have to feel the nearness of otherness or fight off a wave of nausea when someone’s aura scrapes against mine and makes a teeth-clenching noise like God raking His fingernails across the skin of the universe.

In the crowd I spot a face I don’t know and because I don’t know this woman and have no expectations of the way she must look she appears less odd than the rest. I lock onto her eyes and feel a transfer of knowledge between us. She is like me. She understands the words I’m unable to speak, words that will never be uttered by me in my entire life even if I live for two centuries. I want to move to her, to be closer to her, to stand within the sphere of her understanding but another woman, an aunt, I think, appears from nowhere and pulls me into an unwanted embrace and whispers into my ear with hot breath laced with wine, “You are such a brave girl.”

Brave? I want to say. What’s so brave about being afraid to let myself die? But instead, it comes out as, “Thank you.” I’m not even sure that’s a proper response, I simply need to say something to break the hold and by the time I manage it, the other woman, the woman with the understanding gaze, is gone.

And I’m aware of the people behind me again moving in closer pushing me forward without making contact with me when I come to the realization that their action is purposeful, they’re urging me forward from the front door through the foyer and into the living room for a reason and that reason being my mother and father standing in the center of the empty living room. I step in eagerly, not because I’m particularly glad to see them, I love them but the real reason I’m eager to get into the room is for the space so my soul can breathe again.

There’s this moment of silence and it’s like heaven and my mother takes on the form of Lucifer Morningstar by attempting to shatter paradise with the calling of my name that turns into a shriek that eventually ends in tears and hitching breath. Before I realize what’s happening, she’s on me wrapping her arms around me and lifting me off my feet. I am nearly as tall as she is and outweigh her by thirty pounds easily but this thin woman lifts me as though I was still the same nine-year-old who went outside to play and missed her curfew by more than a decade and a half. My face is buried in her hair and unlike this place that used to be and is once again my home, unlike the matured faces of the people I vaguely recognize as family, the smell of my mother’s hair, the scent of her coconut shampoo smashes through the floodgates of my mind and I am buried beneath wave after wave of memories which scare me and my eyes leak tears because I now realize how much emptier my life has been without this woman, although the world she inhabits still feels alien to me.

I say, “Hi, Mom,” and the word Mom feels distant, like I understand what the word means but the direct connection with it has faded and I don’t want to call her Mom at the moment, I want to call her by her first name but I have no idea what my mother’s name actually is.

She sets me down gently and her arms loosen and slide from around me but her fingers never leave me as they trace sweaty contrails across my back, under my armpits up to my neck where she cups my face in both hands. A move only mastered by a mother. “Hi, baby,” she says and I both resent it because I’m not a baby anymore and miss it because I would give the remaining years of my life for the chance to be nine again in the company of this woman if only for one day.

She calls my father over while carrying on a constant stream of nervous and excited chatter in an attempt to catch me up on all the events that occurred since the last time we laid eyes on each other.

My father approaches with caution as if I come with a warning. He has undoubtedly been told what has been done to me while I was in captivity and probably some of the things I had to do to myself in order to stay alive. He doesn’t know everything because I am the only survivor, there’s no one else to bear witness and I will never tell another soul everything that I’ve been through in order to be here today. And it would break him to hear it so it becomes one of the many burdens I must bear alone.

His haunted eyes are misted with tears that he fights to control as he offers me that sidewinder smile of his–a name Mom gave him because he only smiles and talks out of one side of his mouth as if he’s a stroke victim. “Hi, kiddo,” he says.

All the others unknowingly crowd me and the only person I would not mind that of, my father, does not. He sees it, the invisible property lines that mark my personal space and respects the boundaries. I want to tell him, forget the signposts, just come hug me, Daddy but those are words I don’t know how to speak so I say, “Hi, Dad,” and I manage to dig up a smile from the recesses of some long forgotten happiness. At least I hope it looks like a smile, I haven’t done it in so long, I fear I might’ve lost the knack.

Mom is still babbling away nonstop when she remembers her basic etiquette, “Oh! Are you hungry? You must be famished!” And before I can answer,

“Get her something to drink,” Dad says. “Something cold.” And Mom takes off like a shot into the kitchen.

My father just stands there looking at me, taking in the measure of me. I can’t see the missing years on my mother but on him, I see every second, minute, hour, day, month and year. Beneath his thinning hair, deep wrinkles crease his face. He’s worried and afraid of me and for me but he manages a smile.

In a voice low enough for my ears only, he says, “It’s gonna bother you, what you did, but just know you did the right thing. You ended the man who stole you from us and found your way home again. That’s my girl.”

I’m stunned. Of all the things I expected from this moment straightforward acceptance was never in the running. I rush my daddy and throw my arms around him and break down and cry and he squeezes me tight and all the things that I can’t say and all the things he can’t say, they’re all there, transmitted on a biological level and he doesn’t move, doesn’t speak, doesn’t loosen his grip on me until my body stops shaking, until I have no more sobs and no more strength left.

He scoops me up into his arms and for the second time today I am nine years old again. “I think she’s had enough excitement for one day, so thank you all for coming but now it’s time for us to be alone,” Dad says, as he pushes through the crowd and carries me upstairs to my old room.

He sets me down gently on my bed that’s now too small for me, brushes the hair matted by tears and snot from my face, kisses my forehead and says, “When you’re ready.” and I know exactly what he means.

He leaves, taking Mom with him, assuring her it’s the right thing to do and as their voices get smaller I get up from the bed, lock my bedroom door, draw the blinds shut and crawl until my bed and ball up fetal, relishing the dark and the quiet.

Tomorrow I’ll begin trying to locate the house I was rescued from because although this house is nice, it’s no longer a place for me.

I want to go home.

©2018 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

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Apache Chola 1 – The Big Ask (Zami y Xio)

woman killer

The moon, merely a crescent in the cloudless night sky, shines brightly on the car parked at the corner Acorn and Walmer Streets. It is a lowered car, a lowrider—a 1967 cherry red customized Chevrolet Impala with an ornate sugar skull painted on the bonnet and intricate, colorful dia de los Muertos designs running on the sides, that rides on white wall tires with twenty-inch wire-spoked rims—and it has a name, Sangriento Asesinato, which translates as Bloody Murder.

Despite the car’s garish appearance, to the casual mundane observer, it goes virtually unnoticed because of the obfuscation spell it employs, low-level magicks weaved into the Day of the Dead designs that causes the eye to notice the car but immediately slide off it like July rain off a duck’s back to find something a little more interesting to view.

In Sangriento Asesinato’s passenger seat, Xiomara sniffs the air as her autumn-orange eyes shift left and right down the unnaturally dark and empty street just beyond the intersection.

“Sight doesn’t match the scent, Zami, so this must be the place,” she says. Xiomara is a red fox no bigger than a small dog but should anyone ever be foolish enough to call her a fox, she would do her level best to rip their throat clean out. She prefers to be called a Vulpes vulpes because it makes her sound like an animal that is all business at all times. Xiomara’s fur is flame red, with a white underbelly, black paws and ear tips and her bushy tail is tipped in white. “And the street is crowded.”

Getzami Romero drums her fingers on the chain steering wheel and says, “I’d expect no less. Hopefully, none of them are drunk, high, stupid or trigger happy. I’d rather this be a friendly visit.”

Getzami checks her face in the rearview mirror. Eyebrows penciled on, thin, arched and menacing. Winged black eyeliner. Black lined lips with blue-based red lipstick. Cheeks sculpted with a bronze based blush. Jet black shoulder length hair teased to sit off her face, secured by a red bandana with white sigils replacing the standard paisley design. The two studs on her forehead, her third eye piercing, centered between and just above the eyebrows sparkle as they catch the overhead street lamp, as does the moon phase—two gold crescents bookending a full moon—septum piercing. Large gold hoop earrings swing as she turns her head left and right. The look isn’t perfect, not up to her usual standard, but she is in a rush so it will have to suffice.

Reaching past the fox, Getzami opens the glove compartment and places her twin Glock 19 9mm pistols along with a karambit knife, Kubotan keychain and brass knuckles inside before closing the box.

“You’re going in naked?” Xiomara cocks her head to one side, confused.

“No choice, Xio. It’s a sign of respect and I can’t have them thinking there’s any hostile intent behind my visit.”

The driverside car door swings open and Getzami steps out into the night air which is cool and dry. She smoothes her flannel shirt—just the collar buttoned—with her hands so the open shirt frames the white bustier that accentuates her cleavage. Normally she would hide her breasts under layers of gold jewelry but all the accoutrements associated with this aspect of her working persona are back at her apartment and as stated before, time is of the essence. Luckily, she tossed all this stuff inside the trunk along with a pair of dress pants and high top Converse sneakers after she finished the Hell Jockeys gig, so the ensemble is at least ninety percent passable.

She leans on the open door. “You can sit this one out if you want. I’ve got it covered,” Getzami says to the fox who raises on all fours. She can tell Xiomara is nervous about being here and wants to give her friend an easy out.

Xiomara snorts and trot-hops off the car seat onto the pavement. “When have I ever not had your back, Zami?”

“Never,” Getzami admits and slams the car door shut.

Acorn Street runs the width of the city from river to river and is widely considered a boring thoroughfare as it lays no claim to fame to any unique or interesting shops, theaters or any other sites that attract tourism and if truth be known, it is fairly boring, which makes it a perfect hiding spot.

Every city, town and community in the world plays host to its fair share of ghost stories, urban legends and unexplainable occurrences and the tiny patch of Acorn that runs between Walmer Street and Readly Avenue is purported by the superstitious subculture to house the legendary Jecrossi Embassy.

The mystical and harmonious city neighborhood gently governed by the Grey Folk—first appearing in the 1944 novel Know No Home by Syrian author Miran Mansour—has become synonymous with an earthly paradise, a permanently happy land, that chooses to isolate itself from the world.

It is said that the Embassy exists within a pocket dimension—a space too small or too easily accessible to be truly considered a separate dimension—which is fine for things like a bag of holding which can contain numerous cumbersome items because it is larger on the inside but becomes unstable when trying to hold a small, secluded world complete with its own ecosystem and lifeforms.

As it turns out, the internet theories are correct and the Embassy is actually situated at this location but it isn’t visible or accessible because the single city block has been magickally shifted left of center one second out of sync with time and space. On her own, Getzami doubts she would have been able to sense this place, fortunately for her Xiomara, being a creature of enchantment gifted with an extraordinarily sensitive nose for magick, can smell the displacement.

Xiomara crosses the street, stopping at the curb and sniffs her way in a straight line from east to west and stops at a point just before the curb on the opposite side of the street. “Got it!” Xiomara smiles. “Follow me and stay close in case there are any twists and turns along the way. Some of these things can be like mazes and you can get caught up in them for hours until your air runs out. Others just boot you out but trust me, suffocating feels a whole lot better than having your atoms forced through a sieve.”

Getzami is surprised and a little embarrassed at the sense of growing unease, mostly because she imagines all the horrible things that can go wrong, even though she watches as Xiomara trots into the invisible entryway with apparent ease.

The mystic sigils dyed onto her bandana begin to glow as Getzami takes her first step and she experiences a sudden dropping sensation, the tarmac beneath her feet seems to fall away as if she is in an elevator, and her next unsteady step is like walking on a boat in choppy waters. She realizes it’s just her internal body clock adjusting to the one second time displacement which on its own would have been manageable if not accompanied by the feeling that she is passing through a veil of nematocysts, jellyfish stingers, a sensation she is all too familiar with after being stung at the beach as a little girl. Despite the sigils allowing her to step into sync with Jecrossi, she feels the nettles firing warnings into her body, thousands of needle pricks that urge her to turn back and leave.

She does her level best to remain upright and follows her friend, who stops at the tricky bits where the invisible entryway breaks into a sharp turn or bends in an odd fashion, and when they eventually pass through to the other side, Getzami notices the shift in reality almost immediately. The street beneath her feet is compacted soil instead of tarmac and the sidewalk is leveled natural stone instead of concrete. The air is different, too, nearly dense enough to be liquid and tasting of ozone just after a lightning strike and the scents of this neighborhood are somehow foreign, differing from the rest of the city. She commends Xiomara under her breath at being able to detect anything by smell alone amidst the chaotic fragrances.

“So this is what paradise looks like, huh?” Xiomara says. Sarcasm takes on a whole new flavor when coming from a fox.

But she is right. The Jecrossi Embassy, the fabled inner city Shangri-La, is little more than a magick ghetto. Visually, the street which seems deserted only a block away is bustling with activity and not only because of their arrival. Street vendors exchange their wares, foodstuffs, clothing, home essentials and yes, some enchantments and drugs for odd trinkets that bears no resemblance to any sort of currency on the planet to pedestrians who give Getzami and Xiomara strange and untrusting sideways glances.

There are magicks in these streets that emanate from the cracks in the sidewalk and the graffitied tenement walls. Animals that might be mistaken for rats, cats and dogs dart from in between the apartment buildings and the back alley of the restaurant on the far corner. Yet, despite the enchantment that crackles against her exposed skin like static electricity, life is no different on this block than the rest of the city. Dejection and starvation and cruelty exist here, evidenced by the diseased bodies and damaged minds that have abandoned dreams of a better life in order to simply survive on garbage scraps and sleeping in cardboard boxes amongst the vermin that are not rats or cats or dogs. Street preachers deliver sermons to these wretches from tattered grimoires that pass in looks but not content to holy scriptures.

“Look at the gaunt faces, Zami,” Xiomara says, her fox voice cracking. “The stories etched on them, stories enough to snap your heart in two.”

If Getzami hears her friend, she gives no indication. “We have eyes on us, Xio,” she says, pointing at the stoop of the nearest brownstone where three rail thin and heavily tattooed men turn their faces and whisper to each other. One of them whistles up to one of the brownstone’s windows and makes a sound like a crow’s caw.

“It’s showtime,” Getzami says, picking up her pace as she walks in their direction.

Xiomara doesn’t match her friend’s speed, preferring to hang back and assess the situation.

Getzami looks over her shoulder and says, “No shame in heading back to the car.”

“Shame’s got nothing to do with it,” Xiomara snaps. “I’m afraid because I’m smart enough to know that we’re walking headlong into trouble.” The red fox quickens her steps to catch up with Getzami.

From the brownstone’s main entrance, ten more wiry men with matching skin ink join the lookouts, making it a baker’s dozen. They approach, affecting that badass stroll wannabes wear like a tough guy accessory, pistol grips protruding from the top of their skinny jeans waistbands and for the first time she realizes they’re barefoot and now that she notices it, everyone on the street except for her isn’t wearing shoes. The fingers on all of their hands twitch as if they’re throwing gang signs but Getzami recognizes it as the actions of low-level magick users, apprentices, in order to prime the pump—in the same manner that a suction valve in an old water pump needs to be primed with water so that the pump functions properly. The Jecrossi specialize in earth magick and apprentices need to prime their bodies in order for earth energies to flow up into and through them.

Getazami holds out her empty hands, carefully lifts the sides of the open flannel shirt and does a slow turn to show she is not strapped. “Take it easy,” she says, in as disaffected a manner as she can muster. “Bringing no ruckus. Just need to speak with Ekaterina.”

Because they are all bald and thin and are marked by the same tattoos, the goons look like they come from the same mold with the one out in front being the first cast and the others appearing to have increasing degrees of degradation with each successive pressing. They cautiously fan themselves out until they form a circle around Getzami and Xiomara.

“You expected?” asks the lead goon.

“No, but she’ll see me,” Getzami says, her eyes locking onto the penetrating gaze of the lead goon standing immediately in front of her.

“Tell then who you are,” Xiomara says.

“Shut your mouth, little doggie, people are talking.”

“Vulpes vulpes!” Xiomara snarls.

“What?”

“I’m a Vulpes vulpes, not a damned doggie!”

“You’re gonna be dinner if–”

The index and middle fingers of both Getzami’s hands go into her mouth. The goons raise their hands ready to cast on her and bring her down to the tarmac. Pushing back her tongue, she whistles six notes sharp and loud in a very distinct pattern, a pattern that halts the goons in their tracks. It is the Six Tones of Order Within Chaos, the call of the Jecrossi.

The goons stare at Getzami, disbelieving what they just heard. Then their expression shifts to suspicion.

“How do you know the call?” asks lead goon.

“Like I said, Ekaterina will see me because we go back, long before the likes of you or before she came to this neighborhood,” the sadness in her eyes mirrors Xiomara’s own upon first seeing the state of the people who seek refuge here.

Before the lead goon can respond, one of the middle windows on the top row of the brownstone opens and a brown-skinned woman pops her head out. “What’s going on?” she demands.

Lead goon is about to tell the woman it was Getzami who whistled but thinks better of it and opts for, “Someone here to see the boss.”

“Someone like who?” asks the woman.

Getzami brushes past the lead goon to step into the street light and calls up to the woman, “Someone like Apache Chola!”

“And Xiomara!” the red fox barks.

Getzami shoots Xiomara a baleful glance but can’t maintain it. “And her companion, the Vulpes vulpes, Xiomara!” she echoes and her scowl becomes a smile.

***

They are escorted by the lead goon and four of his cronies up to the common room which is uncomfortably larger than the exterior of the brownstone. It reminds Getzami of a museum, not just in terms of the space but in all the glass-encased artifacts, as well. The floor is tiled in polished sandstone, the walls travertine stacked stone and the furniture appears to be Mesopotamian in design but she can’t be certain on the accuracy of her assessment. Although artwork decorates the walls there are no personal photographs. There is enough room here to house dozens of the homeless outside but this seemingly perfect place is far too cold in its tranquility to feel in any way homey.

In the center of the room stands the brown-skinned woman who introduces herself as Serilda. She, a full foot taller than anyone in the room, points at Getzami, “You follow me, the Vulpes vulpes remains here.”

Xiomara begins to argue but Serilda remains firm and insists there will be no audience with Ekaterina if the Vulpes vulpes refuses to remain in the common room. Getzami tells the red fox it will be all right and repeats that she and Ekaterina go way back so there shouldn’t be any danger.

Xiomara ponders for a moment before reluctantly saying, “Okay, but if things go sideways just holler and I’ll tear through these clowns like field mice!” She stares directly at the lead goon when she says it and he replies with a mocking growl which makes the red fox’s fluffy tail twitch in anger.

Getzami is shown into the adjoining room which is somehow larger than the impossibly large common room, with Serilda in the lead and the goons bringing up the rear. The walls are lined with books stacked in a chaotic fashion on recessed wooden shelves and this indoor library smells of petrichor, the scent of rain on dry earth, which would explain the moisture that dots the spines of all the books. In the exact center of the room is a reading chair that is nothing more than a series of interwoven vines that grow directly from the lush green carpet of dewy grass and in the chair sits Ekaterina, positioned perfectly with a book open to a blank page on her lap, graphite stick firmly in hand and at the ready.

“I’d like to say something clever like all the chickens, even the headstrong independent ones always come home to roost but the fact of the matter is you’ve never been here, isn’t that right, Chola?” Ekaterina says in a warm but measured tone.

The woman’s alabaster skin and albino snakeskin dress are almost a perfect camouflage within the silky white mist that rises from the grass and snakes around her. She appears to be in her sixties—but Getzami suspects she’s much older because she looks the same as when they first met almost two decades ago—and wears absolutely no makeup because only an insecure fool applies foundation on natural beauty. Her pearl hair is oiled back and plaited in a style that should have looked ridiculous on someone her age but she carries it off with authority.

“You always did know how to strike a pose, Ekat,” Getzami says, attempting a for old time’s sake grin that simply will not come.

“That’s Ekaterina to you,” Ekaterina says as she takes in the sum of her unexpected visitor. “So, tell me a story.”

“What?” Getzami shifts uncomfortably in a small puddle on the carpet grass. Ekaterina has caught her off guard, a feeling she never appreciates. “I don’t have any stories.”

“Nonsense, everyone has stories and I collect them, you see,” Ekaterina says, gesturing with a nod for Getzami to sit. “Everything is present for a story to exist: a teller, that would be you, and an audience, which would be me.”

The offered seat—a normal metal folding chair with padding—is as much out of place with the room’s décor as she herself is. A reminder, no doubt, that she is considered an interloper. The fact that the chair is bone dry despite the moist surroundings is of small consolation. Getzami squirms until she finds the position that affords the least amount of discomfort and says, “Thanks for the seat but still…no stories.”

“No reunion catch up? No explanation as to why you disappeared on me in the middle of the night? Nothing that covers your whereabouts and activities over the years, things we might have discussed had you bothered to remain in contact?”

“I’m not the keep in touch kind of gal, you know that.”

“Well, if you’re not here to apologize, justify your actions and perhaps reminisce a bit, then what brings you to my home?”

“I’m on a case…” Getzami pauses because she feels unsure of how to phrase the next bit. “And I need your help.” She expects to be scoffed or laughed at but is instead greeted by nothing but silence.

“It’s a girl,” Getzami continues when it becomes clear Ekaterina is waiting to hear more details. “A little girl and I know who took her so I need to do an extraction.”

“Is she here?” Ekaterina asks. “Are you asking my permission before you steal someone from the Embassy?”

Getzami shakes her head. “She’s in Megorum. The Clanarchists have her.”

“Again, I ask, what brings you? Your target is a little girl, easy to transport. This should be a cakewalk for the legendary Apache Chola,” the insult in the way Ekaterina says her business name is plain as day and it cuts slightly.

“Megorum is shielded against me, I can’t get in. I’ve tried.”

Ekaterina shrugs, “Cast a piercer. Why darken my doorstep?”

“I don’t magick.”

“What? After all these years I would have thought you would have picked up something,” Ekaterina says then recalls something. “But they tell me you have a familiar?”

“Xiomara isn’t a familiar. She’s my friend—”

“Best friend!” the fox interrupts.

“…best friend with excellent hearing who should be minding her business and letting me handle mine,” Getzami shouts over her shoulder before turning her attention back to Ekaterina. “Xiomara caught the tail end of an enchantment meant for me and got transmogrified into a—” she is about to say red fox but catches herself in time. “—Vulpes vulpes.”

“She was human?”

“Still is, to me, and I’m working on tracking down the slippery bastard responsible for it.”

“Wait,” Ekaterina says. “You said Megorum is shielded against you. Not merely shielded, but against you in particular, that would make it—”

“A blood shield.”

“You can’t cross the barrier because traces of your blood have been intertwined in the incantation but why go through all that trouble, unless—” Ekaterina cuts the sentence short and dismisses Serilda and the goons, who go through the proper etiquette of voicing their objections and citing the possibility of an attack before complying with the request when it is restated as a command. When they are gone, Ekaterina asks, “Who is this girl?”

“She’s my daughter, Ekat. Those hijos de putas kidnapped my baby girl and I aim to get her back and put every last one of them in the ground!”

Ekaterina shakes her head and glances over at Getzami before turning her sorrowful
gaze to the ground.

“That is terrible news, it really is, and I realize how difficult it must be to come to me asking for help but I can’t help feeling like I’m being played here.”

“Played?”

“Not so much as a single hello exchanged between us in years, yet you knew to find me in this hidden part of the city so you’re obviously aware of the beef I have with the Clanarchists. If I get a sudden twinge of compassion and decide to help you pierce their blood shield—and I’m assuming the same barrier that stops you from getting in, also prevents your daughter from escaping, correct?”

“I’d imagine so.”

“Then the spell we cast would have to remain in place long enough for you to enter Megorum, locate your little girl and escape with her, which means the magick can and will be traced back to us, bringing a war to our doorstep. Where will you be when that happens? Standing at our borders fighting side by side with us?”

“If needs be, then yes.”

“If-then-yes isn’t a definitive yes, which is the problem I have with this situation because if by some small miracle this thing goes to plan and you’re able to get your daughter back, you’ll be grateful, I’m sure of that, but there’s a difference between feeling gratitude and showing gratitude.”

“You’re not catching me at my best here so you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t answer with the precise words you need to hear in order to help me, but I’ve got a lot going on in my head at the moment. Allow me to answer the question again: Yes, once my daughter is safe, I will return and help you defend your borders.”

Then the conversation stops and the long silence that replaces it is loaded with the dread of possibility that somewhere along the way Getzami said the wrong thing or the right thing in the wrong way and totally ruined her chance to recruit the aid of the Jecrossi leader who was once her friend.

Ekaterina stands and paces around her seat, her eyes cast downward and never making contact with Getzami. “This place used to be the paradise you hear about in the urban legends,” Ekaterina says in a low, almost under-the-breath voice as if she is talking to herself. “Built by the Grey Folk, it was meant to be a safe haven for enchanted beings and its doors were open to all, even the likes of me. And as bad as I was, I wasn’t the worst person to gain entry. There were people hungry for power, in love with destruction, nasty killers who didn’t care who or what they slew. And they tried to gut this place. But I and the last of the remaining Grey Folk stood against them and forced them into exile. The effort cost us. We depleted most of the magick within this place, the most powerful earth energy source on the planet. And I’m working with the strongest remaining earth mages to heal it, to return the land to what it once was, but the progress, the healing, is slow. So, you see, this thing you ask of me is no small matter.”

“Ekat, I could scream I’m sorry for not keeping in touch, for not being there when you needed me until I’m blue in the face but that’s not going to change the reality of what’s done is done. And there’s no way of me convincing you of the truth that if I did actually have some magick, I would help you restore this place. As it stands, the only thing I have to offer is my life and I would gladly give it to save my daughter but I swear on my little girl’s life that if you help me and pledge to keep her safe in case I don’t come out on the other side of this alive then my life is yours to do as you see fit.”

Ekaterina taps her lips with an index finger. “And you would enter the unbreakable pact of a blood oath?”

“Do you have a blade?” Getzami asks. “I’ll slice my palm right here and now.”

***

Xiomara goes through the motions of conducting an inspection of the room, sniffing this and that, but what she is actually doing is marking everyone’s location in the room and judging distances in the enormous space in order to formulate the best plan of attack and escape should she and Getzami need to beat a hasty retreat. Her attention snaps from the foot of a bronze statue of a naked man to the door of the antechamber as Getzami and Ekaterina enter. A piece of cloth is wrapped around each of their right hands and a bud of blood blossoms in their palms.

Xiomara races to Getzami making a series of brief clucks, her concerned gekkering as she pushes her snout into her friend’s bleeding palm, sniffing and biting at the cloth to remove it. “Are you okay? What happened in there? Let me see the wound! Is it deep?”

“It’s okay, Xio,” Getzami strokes Xiomara’s heading attempting to calm her. “I did this so we could get what we came here for.”

“Although the world outside the Embassy is of no concern to us at the moment,” Ekaterina addresses the room in a cool, even tone. “Apache Chola has sworn a blood oath to aid us and in exchange, we will help her retrieve her daughter who has been stolen by the Clanarchists.”

A grumbling begins to stir amongst Serilda and the goons, one of anger mixed with apprehension.

Ekaterina points at Serilda and the lead goon as she continues, “Serilda and Ozias, you will accompany Chola and her companion to cast a piercing spell and return them safely to us. Their lives are your responsibility now.”

Serilda nods acceptance. Ozias does as well but it takes him a little longer and he looks none too pleased.

To be continued…

©2018 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

We Bought A Graveyard

Old_graveyard,_Copeland_Island_-_geograph.org.uk_-_209117

I opened the apartment door performing my famous grocery juggling act, organic cotton bags of the heavier items in each hand with two more sacks containing lighter stuff dangling off my wrists. I could have pulled out the shopping cart and saved myself the hassle of lugging the load from the supermarket, true, but the building’s elevator was on the fritz yet again and I didn’t relish the thought of pulling my arms out of their sockets by dragging the cart up seven flights of stairs one agonizingly slow step at a time. Slamming the front door shut with my heel, I went to the kitchen and flicked the light switch with my nose—and nearly dropped the bags.

There was someone standing in the kitchen.

My husband was at work and Katy was watching my daughter so the apartment was supposed to be empty but there this stranger stood. Terror trapped the scream in my throat and locked my legs rigid. I walked in on a robbery and now there was a very distinct possibility that I was going to die. And even if the burglar didn’t kill me, I wouldn’t be able to identify him. I was born with a visual processing disorder where I wasn’t able to differentiate between certain shapes, letters, small details and facial features. Therapy helped me learn a unique way of processing visual information so it was manageable except during anxiety attacks or when I encountered a sudden visual shock.

The man in my kitchen–I assumed it was a man because the blob was taller and broader than me–appeared to me as nothing more than a silhouette, a thing that didn’t compute, that didn’t make sense because he wasn’t supposed to be here. Still rooted to the spot, unable to move, I tried to calm myself, to focus, so that if I managed to survive I could give the police some sort of description.

And slowly I began assembling and rearranging bits of visual fragments. It was a man. His back was to me. He was standing in front of the under-cabinet mounted microwave, his hands picking at something that sounded like plastic. Then the puzzle pieces fit into place and I knew this man by his brown comb-over with its deep part, the slump of his shoulders in the navy pea coat.

“Caleb! Oh, my friggin’ God! What the hell are you doing lurking in the kitchen in the dark like that? You almost scared the living daylights out of me!” The tension flooded from my body and I was suddenly aware of the weight of the groceries that nearly slipped from my hands as I stumbled to set them on the kitchen table.

“I thought you were a burglar about to kill me or something! What are you doing here? Why aren’t you at work?” I demanded.

“Sorry about that, babe, I should have called,” Caleb said. He was about to put a small bag of pork pot stickers in the microwave but set the plastic pouch back on the counter. He didn’t turn around.

“Honey, what’s wrong?”

“I have to tell you something,” he said and I didn’t like the sound of his voice.

“What something and why won’t you turn around and look at me?” I asked but my heart was hammering in my chest because all I could imagine was that he was going to admit he was cheating on me. All those long hours when he was supposed to be at work–

“It’s about the job.”

It almost didn’t register because I was preparing myself for the worst. When it finally sank in I let out a sigh of relief but caught myself. “Did you get fired?” That was something that absolutely positively could not happen now, not with Elizangela going back to school next month.

“Worse than that, I’m afraid.”

“What’s worse than getting fired?” I asked. After being frightened half to death, the needle on my patience gauge was swiftly approaching the big red E.

“I got–” Caleb swung around and smiled that fantastic smile of his, the one that made the butterflies flutter in my stomach. “Promoted!”

I could feel my eyes going wide. “No friggin’ way!”

“Yes friggin’ way,” said Caleb and he was on me before I knew it, sweeping me off my feet in that wonderfully secure bear hug of his. “And it comes with a hefty, hefty, hefty salary bump!”

I went rigid in his arms. “Wait a minute. Three hefties? Either you’re exaggerating or that’s a lot of money. Don’t get me wrong, honey, I’m not saying you don’t work hard and deserve every penny of it but what’s the catch?”

Caleb set me down gently. “It isn’t like that, babe, there’s no catch. Not really.”

“I knew it. Spill.”

“Built into the pay raise is an insane relocation fee–”

“Relocation?”

Caleb nodded and continued, “If I can manage to move house and start work by the fifteenth.”

“The fifteenth? That’s only a week away!”

“I know but we’ve always been the #ChallengeAccepted type,” he smiled again but I wasn’t having any of it this go-round.

“Relocate to where?”

“Fort Wayne, Indiana,” he said under his breath.

“Who-what-where? What the hell is in Fort Wayne, Indiana?”

“I’m sure there’s plenty of stuff but the biggest attraction is the relocation fee could cover the cost of our first house. Our. First. House. Our dollar would go a long way and we could spend more of it on Liza to make sure she gets the best of everything, things we can’t afford to give her in New York. Where is she, by the way?”

“With my sister, it’s easier to do the shopping with her preoccupied.” Elizangela was at the Ooo, Mommy, can we please get this? stage in her development which was okay for the leisurely stroll through shops but not so great on the money-is-tight necessity runs.

I looked at him for a long moment. He’d have had to know about this for a while now but he kept it from me even though we made a no-secrets pact and if I brought this up he’d hand me some line about not wanting to jinx the promotion and I’d be upset but I’d know he was telling the truth because he was a big believer in the almighty jinx.

My first instinct was to say no, to fight him tooth and nail, all because I hadn’t consulted me on this enormously life-changing decision. But that would have been petty. Yeah, my feeling were hurt but it would be our first house, something we’d been talking about for years. And a better life for our daughter? I’d be a heinous-monster-worst-mother-on-the-planet if I didn’t set my wounded pride aside and at least consider it. So I did. “Okay.”

“Okay?” he asked.

“Okay, let’s do it,” I shrugged.

“Are you serious? I can tell my boss yes?”

“You didn’t accept it already?”

“Of course not, not without checking with you first.”

I gave him a hug and a quick kiss on the cheek before leaning in to whisper in his ear, “You big, stupid idiot! I love you, sometimes, you know that?”

***

Thanks to the internet, finding a house, even one that was seven hundred and forty-seven miles driving distance away was a piece of cake. The hardest part? Ignoring the common sense warnings from our parents and friends who thought our decision was rash, something we’d done because we were bored. But in the end, it was our choice to make and if they still hadn’t liked it after we explained the situation to them, they could just go ahead and lump it.

Online, we managed to locate a real estate agent who understood our situation and was willing to work with us in finding a fixer-upper in our price range, getting the house appraised and coordinating the paperwork so we could close the sale in five days, skipping the entire mortgage credit process by paying in cash.

Elizangela was the biggest shock in the relocating process. I’d have bet my eyeteeth that she would have kicked up a storm having to leave Queens and all her friends behind but Caleb cleverly presented the idea using Duck Tales, her favorite tv show, as an analogy.

“We might solve a mystery?” Elizangela asked, face full of childish hope.

“Or rewrite history,” Caleb answered and joined her in singing the show’s catchy theme song.

And like that, our daughter was sold on the idea and helped pack all her things with nary a complaint. My only complaint? We decided it was cheaper to drive, though it added five hours or so to the trip which Caleb and I took turns behind the wheel of the rental so there was no problem there, it was Elizangela singing the once adorable but now monotonous Duck Tales theme song on a loop for most of the time she was awake that began grating on my nerves.

***

Our new home pretty much matched the virtual tour we took on the realtor’s website. It was indeed a fixer-upper and would probably take the better part of a year before all the repairs could be completed. The outside was another story entirely. The front lawn was a respectable size, enough for me to create a nice vegetable garden, but the backyard was massive and overgrown to the point I thought we’d have to buy a couple of machetes, like in those old safari films, to hack the tall grass down to a mowable size. The plan was to tame the savage land and maybe build a grilling deck for our eventual summer barbeques and a playset for Elizangela to go on her Duck Tales adventures in and maybe entice some of the neighborhood kids to come over so she could make some new friends. Those plans all changed the moment we came across the graveyard.

I was on Caleb the moment he stepped into the house after work. “Do you want to know why this house was so cheap?”

“It’s a fixer-upper,” he answered, confused and a little more than slightly uncomfortable at the proximity of my face to his own. “We both knew that going into this. Why is it a big deal all of a sudden?”

“It’s not the repairs, Caleb Allen Mitchell,” I whisper-screamed. Even though I was on the verge of hysteria I was mindful not to upset Elizangela who was upstairs playing in her room. “It’s the friggin graveyard sitting smack dab in the middle of our backyard!”

“Graveyard? Did the previous owner bury a pet or something?”

“Pet? There are twelve graves with headstones out back! That’s not a memorial for poor, dead Fluffy, it’s a creepy-as-hell-honest-to-goodness graveyard!”

“Okay, calm down. Let me check it out,” he said trying not to sound skeptical and doing a lousy job at it.

I marched–it was more of an angry stomp-walk that seemed to me at the time to be childish but I couldn’t help myself–him down the foyer, past the living room, through the kitchen and flung the back door wide.

“Tell me I’m overreacting,” I said gesturing at the tombstones.

Caleb trudged over the carpet of tall grass that I spent the better part of the day attacking with the weed wacker and knelt beside the closest headstone.

“These are pretty old,” he said, running his over the cracked surface of the crumbling stone. “The inscriptions aren’t even legible anymore, most likely due to acid rain which means they’re probably made of calcite.”

“How do you know so much about headstones?”

“My dad,” Caleb answered. “My gran died when I was little and I was terrified of the cemetery when we buried her so my dad took me on walking tours of graveyards and told me the truth about what happens when we die and why funerals were important. Sometimes we’d just marvel at the tombstone designs and he could tell what they were made from just by looking at them. Some fathers and sons had sports, me and my dad had graveyards. That may seem pretty morbid to you, but those were some of the best memories of my dad. It was just the guys and he would talk to me like a man.”

“I think it’s kind of sweet in a weird way,” I said and placed a hand on his shoulder.

“Yeah, Dad’s always been pretty unconventional,” Caleb patted my hand, stood and dug the cellphone from his pocket. He made several calls, the first being to the realtor who sold us the house. I had to admit, he was good deal calmer and damn sure more polite than I would have been had the roles been reversed.

“No, this is not a crank call,” Caleb said into the phone. “Yes, there are twelve headstones. No, they’re really old, the information on them has been worn. No, I have not dug them up to confirm the existence of dead bodies. How do I know it is a graveyard? The headstones I just mentioned are giving me a strong indication that someone interred their dead beneath them. I can snap a couple of pics and send them to you if you’d like.”

Believe it or not, he had to repeat those answers several times to several different departments and organizations and what we learned was there was not going to be a swift resolution to our problem.

First, we had to contact the Historic Preservation Office to see if the land our house was built on was a former cemetery. Luckily for us, it wasn’t. Nor was there a family plot permit on record with the town Zoning Commission or approval from the state Department of Health.

We were informed there was a possibility the gravestones had been discarded. As creepy as it sounded, some people saw the value of the stones as building materials, but our stones–I didn’t like the fact that Caleb acknowledged ownership when speaking on the phone or that I had come to refer to them in the same manner–were out in the open and not used as part of our house’s foundation. The other suggestion offered was the previous owners might have thought they made for cool conversation pieces during backyard barbeques. Since the only way we could have verified this was to dig up one the graves ourselves–and there was no way in hell we were going to do that–we contacted the police.

To make a long story short, let’s just say the grave markers weren’t for show. Each stone did indeed contain a coffin in which were human remains. When the medical examiners arrived with the local tv station reporters and camera crew, our internet-folly-first-house became a tabloid story and possible crime scene.

A forensic anthropologist was brought in to examine the human remains to establish the identity, or if that was not possible, at least the age, sex, number of individuals present, and other facts. Once it was established that the remains were not part of a crime scene they were turned over to a local cemetery for reburial.

Then we were contacted by the Registrar of Cemeteries and told about the Funeral Burial and Cremations Services Act, which made it our responsibility to fix the problem. Because some grieving or possibly idiotic person choose to bury their dead in the backyard and the realtors hadn’t bothered to check the tall grass behind the house, we had to foot the bill for either reinterring at another site or cremating the remains–hell, let’s just call them what they were, bones–at a price tag that ranged between $500 and $1,000 per body.

That was when I went lawyer shopping, even though the realtor assured us, “The situation can be worked out amicably.” Amicably meant they might accept partial financial responsibility for a clerical oversight. My aim was to make them pay entirely for their screw up with a little extra for the obvious emotional distress. I played that distress up on camera the day I discovered a newspaper reporter lurking outside my daughter’s school waiting to ambush the both of us for an interview.

During the entire ordeal, Elizangela was grace under fire. She got that from her dad. She was full of questions, though, and we answered them as truthfully as we could. The graveyard forced us to introduce the concept of death sooner than we wanted to and she struggled with the same concepts I struggled with when my parents had the talk with me.

“Death is permanent,” Caleb said. “Do you know what permanent means?”

Elizangela shook her head and her bangs danced in front of her eyes.

“It means forever, honey,” I said, taking her tiny hand in mine. “It means once you die, you go away and never come back.”

“You mean move? Like we did from our old home to our new home?”

Calen shook his head slowly. “No, Liza, when a person dies, that means their body stops working. Their heart doesn’t beat anymore, they don’t need to eat or sleep, and they don’t feel any pain ever again. They leave their body because they don’t need it anymore.”

“But that’s other people, not us, right?” Elizangela asked.

What followed was a very long, extremely exhausting everything that is alive eventually dies conversation that ended with our baby saying, “Oh.” No tears, no hysterics, no subsequent nightmares or follow up questions. Just, “Oh.”

***

After a month or so of avoiding the backyard after the police concluded their business and things in the neighborhood began returning to normal, Caleb and I revisited plans to spruce up the area behind the house. The first order of business was filling in the former graves.

The problem was they wouldn’t stay filled.

The dirt shoveled into the holes the day before appeared by the graves the very next day. Not all the dirt, mind you, but enough to make noticeable piles. I didn’t want to worry Caleb about it, he had too much on his plate as it was with the new position and following up on our lawsuit with the realtor and tracking down the previous owners of the house, so I shoveled the dirt back in and never mentioned a word to my husband. But the following morning, sure as bread fell butter-side down, there the dirt would be in neat little piles.

We had gotten to know all our neighbors pretty well, especially after the tv news coverage put our area in the spotlight longer than most of the residents were comfortable with, but the neighbors to our immediate left, Hannelore and Sean Bogatz were two of the kindest people that ever set foot on God’s green earth. I spotted Hannelore–Hannie, to her friends–one morning when we were both retrieving the morning paper from our front lawns. During casual conversation, I mentioned the grave issue.

“It just boggles the mind why anyone would sneak onto our property and dig up the graves after we fill them? I’d write it off as an animal or something but the dirt is always piled up so neatly.”

“Well,” Hannie shrugged. “It could be kids up to a little mischief they consider to be fun or funny and if you’re leaning toward that way of thinking, I’d take a good look at those Woods boys, always up to no good. Sean and I had a run in with them a little while back that ended the moment we spoke to their parents. Strict as Irish priests in the seminary, Michael and Ella are.”

I had half a mind to pay Michael and Ella Woods a visit but what would that accomplish, accusing their sons with no real evidence? Which meant I needed to gather some. So, later on, after I put the day’s affairs in order, I took a midday nap before I needed to pick Elizangela from school and while she was up in her room, I quickly refilled the holes in the backyard–more scraping dirt into the open former graves that shoveling.

It was hard concentrating on conversations during dinner and the board game during family time because I wanted nothing more than to go out back and patrol the yard. But that had to wait until Elizangela had been put to bed and Caleb’s deep breathing turned into a light snore.

Sliding out of bed slowly and lifting my smartphone off the nightstand, I stepped as silent as I could manage, trying to remember where the creaking boards were located on the hardwood floor, and crept out of the bedroom and downstairs to the kitchen.

The casement window gave me the perfect vantage point to see out over the entire garden and one of the backless saddle stools we used for the kitchen island was the perfect sitting height for me to rest my elbows on the counter beside the sink. Earlier today I downloaded a night vision app–that was actually capable of capturing images at night, not the fake ones that simply inverted daylight images with a green overlay–on my phone in preparation for the stakeout. Not only was I determined to catch the culprit, I was also willing to sit up all night if need be.

I activated the night vision and turned the phone’s camera lens slowly, sweeping the yard. There was movement! Not a body, but dirt flying out of the hole nearest the house! I hopped off the stool, made a beeline to the kitchen door that led to the backyard–and it was unlocked? Had Caleb missed it when he made his nightly rounds securing the windows and doors? It hadn’t seemed likely. We were both native New Yorkers, Caleb represented Queens and I was raised out in Brooklyn, just like the lyrics of that LL Cool J song, and we never went to bed without making sure the house was secured.

Never mind, I would deal with that later. Now, I was racing across the cool grass and ignoring the pain in the soles of my feet as I pushed pebbles and pointy stones into the earth, on my way to gather evidence I could show Michael and Ella about their boys.

I stopped at the edge of the hole and snapped a picture. “I’ve got you now, you little shi–” It wasn’t the Woods boys.

Elizangela knelt in the center of the hole, nightgown pulled up above her knees, dirt cupped in her small hands.

“Liza, why are you playing in the–” I nearly said grave but caught myself and changed it to, “hole? It’s the middle of the night, honey!” Elizangela became upset and started to cry. Was it because I startled her, or made her feel she had been caught doing a bad thing?

I climbed into the (grave) hole and wrapped my arms around my daughter. I held her in silence until sobs waned to tears that quieted down to the occasional shudder.

“It’s okay, sweetheart. I just want to know what you’re doing and why you felt you had to sneak around at nighttime instead of just telling me?”

I thought Elizangela was so distraught that she couldn’t answer my question but after a long silence, she said, “Because you and Daddy said we shouldn’t tell secrets.”

“Secrets? Whose secrets are you keeping? Did your daddy tell you a secret?” I became suddenly afraid of what her answer might be, but she shook her head.

“I can’t tell you. I’m so sorry, Mommy,” Elizangela paused and asked, “Do you still love me?”

I was floored by the question. I cupped her small face in my hands and wanted desperately to say something definitive, something that would stick within her always so she never felt the need to ask that question ever again.

“Of course I do,” I answered. “I’ll always love you, Liza, no matter what.” And I meant it but it came out too quickly, sounded too rehearsed, too much like a pat answer.

“Maybe,” Elizangela started, careful not to look at me. “Maybe it’d be okay to tell if I asked them.”

I was about to ask her who they were but she began talking out loud in a funny voice, one I would never have recognized as coming from my daughter. At first, I thought she was talking to herself then I realized she was asking questions to the dirt walls surrounding us, reasoning with them, before she made her request.

My daughter smiled, finally making eye contact. “They said okay.”

“Who said–” I started and then a door opened in my vision, a door that has been hidden in plain sight, most likely for the entirety of my life. A door that could have been responsible for my visual processing disorder. From the doorway emerged ghosts of all ages shapes and sizes. Some of the older spirits carried the essences of babies that perhaps weren’t alive long enough to develop physical bodies.

They spoke to me but not in words. Images flooded my mind, of light and darkness, of peace and violence, each of them a history being forced into my mind, faster and faster until they became a subliminal blur.

Out the corner of my eye, I saw black ink bleed from the grave walls and swirl around me and I was suddenly caught up in a tornado of black. I lost sight of Elizangela and tried to call out to her but my jaw was clamped tight as if it had been wired shut. Electrical pulses shot through my body and deadened my nerve endings. I couldn’t catch my breath as my vision started to slowly fade out.

I found myself in that ethereal realm that occupied the space between dreaming and consciousness and in that space I wasn’t me. Though I couldn’t see myself, I knew that I was in another body, or better yet, bodies, twelve to be exact. The same as the number of graves. I was in twelve different places as twelve different people living twelve different lives at the same time. The histories that had been forced upon me moments? days? years? ago now made sense. I understood these people. I knew who they were, knew their struggles, their loves, their pain, their inevitable fates and more to the point, I knew their names.

The information burned itself into my memory as I lost my footing in the intangible nirvana and slipped toward the harsh reality of the waking world. When I came to my senses, my head was resting on my daughter’s lap and she was stroking my hair the very same way I’d done to her so many times before.

“It’s only like that the first time, Mommy,” she said, smiling in that way that always reminded me of Caleb.

I sat up in the grave. There was no escaping the cold that seeped into my bones and settled in the marrow. Everything felt wrong, not just the cold. There were foreign sounds in my head, voices that weren’t my own, too loud, too busy when all I wanted was a bit of silence, some time to sort things out. And there would be time but it would come later.

I focused on Elizangela with a desperation I hadn’t felt since the day she was born, when I was afraid I knew nothing about being a mother. But my daughter’s eyes were calm and wise. Without saying a word, she told me she knew.

And now I knew, too. The bodies belonged here, it was their land first. They needed to be returned, needed to have their grave markers restored with their names and information to mark their forgotten existence on the planet. Once that was done, they could finally move on.

Now all I had to do was convince Caleb which meant I’d have to give my father-in-law a call for some pointers.

©2018 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

 

 

Project #Novel365 2018 – Intermission

Ade5

I have decided to stop posting the Project #Novel365 2018 story on the blog because it has reached a point where I need to fine-tune and enhance the story so it can indeed become a proper novel–spare me the I-told-you-so’s. It was a stream of consciousness writing experiment that I enjoyed toying with and learned a valuable lesson from.

If you followed along, I hope you enjoyed the bits I shared and I appreciate all the comments that have been made on it.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled Monday short story program.

Sally forth and be writeful.

– Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Project: #Novel365 2018 – Week 21

2018 (1)

#Novel365 2018 Week Twenty

Cariad was sent an Academy card form to sign and return together with a passport photograph along with college contractual documents and arrival information. Shortly after she received her Candida Isca Academy Single Sign On IT account details, that granted her access to central IT services.

The weeks that followed passed in a frenzied blur as the entire Boerum household prepared for what Rupert called Cariad’s Grand Adventure. Somewhere during the process of Cariad sorting through her belongings to decide what would travel with her and what would remain behind, Ruth passed by the room and spotted her daughter placing her piggy bank into a luggage case.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Ruth asked.

Cariad gave her a what does it look like I’m doing stare but answered anyway, “I’m packing Chris P. Bacon.”

“I can see that but why?”

“She’s a good luck charm and I never know when I might need some emergency cash.”

“I plan on giving you a card for emergencies! What kind of mother do you think I am?”

“I don’t know, Mom, the kind that keeps dirty little secrets?”

Rupert appeared in the doorway, shaking his head, “Don’t you ever speak to your mother like that again!”

“But she’s the one who started it, Dad! She barged in here trying to run my life!”

“All I did was try to stop you from burdening yourself with unnecessary things like that silly little bank of yours and these ratty t-shirts,” Ruth plucked several worn and faded novelty tees out of the case and flung them on the floor.

“You’re the queen of chucking out unnecessary things, aren’t you, Mom? Like your daughter?”

“Enough!” Rupert shouted. Cariad had never heard her father sound so angry. He paused, swallowed. “We’re a family, dammit, so it’s about time we started acting like one again! Ruth, let her pack what she wants to pack, she’s going away, not you!” Ruth opened her mouth to argue her point but Rupert put up a hand to cut her off. “And you, young lady, should learn to show a little respect because I know we raised you better than that!”

As he stormed away, Rupert added, “And if you can’t be civil toward one another then the very least you can do is be silent!”

And that was exactly what happened. From that moment there was a temporary ceasefire between Cariad and her mother and calm reigned. When they worked on a project together and speech could not be avoided, they maintained a strained civility and when words were not necessary they shared an icy silence. After the row with her mother, there was something about the act of packing her things and getting her affairs in order that gave Cariad the feeling that she actually was ready to leave home and she carried that feeling with her up until the moment she arrived at the airport and had to say goodbye to her parents.

“No, I’m not leaving,” Cariad’s eyes glistened as she tried to hold back the tears. It was a valiant effort and she put up one hell of a fight but it was a losing battle.

Rupert placed his hands on her shoulders and pulled her in for a hug. Her cheek felt damp and she thought she had started crying but she felt her father’s chin tremble against her and realized the tears were his. This made her hug him even harder.

“Are you afraid of school?” Rupert whispered in her ear.

She shook her head.

“Then it’s alright for you to leave,” Rupert gave her one last tight squeeze then held her out at arm’s length. “Your mother and I will find a way to manage without you for a while.”

Cariad turned to Ruth who held her arms out for a hug but the gesture looked uncomfortable, almost insincere as if it was a protocol that had to be followed, the socially acceptable thing to do in a situation such as this in order not to appear a monster in society’s eye. Instead of the hug, Cariad clasped one of Ruth’s hands and pumped it up and down firmly, politely smiling, “Thank you. Really.”

The air hostess announced the final call for her flight. Cariad turned and picked up her carry-on bag and wiped her eyes as she rushed to the gate. Before boarding, she stopped at the jet bridge and turned to wave at her parents. They smiled and returned the wave. Ruth mouthed words that Cariad read as I love you but she could have been misreading it so she didn’t mouth anything in reply. Her father, while waving, was also tapping his pocket, a gesture she didn’t understand. She was about to shrug What? to him but the air hostess was ushering her into the jet bridge.

***

Once she reached Candida Isca, there was hardly any time to settle in. Week Zero was filled with completing all the steps of her Academy registration in order to attend her program of study, release her tuition grant from the Student Loans awarding body, activate her University email account, obtain her University Card, print an enrollment certificate, become eligible to take examinations and access her results. When all that was finished her status as a member of the Academy was confirmed.

As she was a first-year undergraduate, Cariad was provided accommodations in the Green-Hart Family House with the understanding that she might be required to move out to private accommodation in her second or third year or she had the choice to share a house with friends.

Cariad was greeted in the common room by RA Cosette who was about 20 but her smooth face and the mysterious carefree attitude made her seem much younger. Her light ash brown hair was pulled back into a ponytail and she wore blue jeans, boat shoes and a cotton blouse. “My name’s Cosette, welcome to Green-Hart House,” the RA smiled.

Cariad let go of the handle of her rolling travel case, shook hands, introduced herself and because she hadn’t prepared anything in the way of small talk, said, “So, this is my dormitory?”

“We call it a residence hall, but yeah, this is the place you’ll call home for the next year or so. Dea and Burton are out and about somewhere so I’ll give you the five-cent tour.”

“Dea and Burton?”

“The hall director and assistant hall director. You’ll meet them during orientation when they set the ground rules.”

“Oh, you’re not—?”

“Nope, I’m the resident assistant who lives on your floor. Let me grab one of those for you,” Cosette grabbed the strap of one of the bags, slung it over her shoulder like it weighed nothing and led the way through the house.

“All right, things you should know,” Cosette said. “The floor you’ll be on is all first year so you shouldn’t run into too many hassles with upperclassmen. It’s also single gender—which means no guys—and substance-free—which means no drinking and definitely no drugs.”

“Oh, you don’t have to worry about me,” Cariad waved the notion off.

“I’ve been RA for two years, RA supervisor for one and in my experience, it’s always the ones I don’t have to worry about that make the biggest scenes. These next few weeks are going to be Buckle up, y’all time for me because you’re going to break every single rule and make the stupidest mistakes known to mankind. First time away from home is when freshmen need to get the drinking and fucking and all that other free will nonsense out of their systems. So, I’m going to been overly understanding with you in the beginning but keep in mind we’re operating on a three strikes rule. If you try to be slick and can take advantage of my good nature, you’ll find yourself hunting for a new place to live.”

“I’m not like that.”

“Okay, Carrie, prove me wrong, I dare you,” Cosette smiled but her expression was deadly serious.

The shortening of her name hit Cariad like cold water to the face. Her father had called her by a few nicknames that she had outgrown but neither of her parents had ever called her Carrie. She wasn’t quite sure how she felt about it. It was said without contempt so it wasn’t like she was being teased but it was a little too familiar a little too quickly.

Cosette ran through the tour of common areas, kitchens, shared bathrooms and shower facilities fairly quickly, none of which found a fixed space in Cariad’s memory and it ended at a room where two five by three white cards, one bearing her last name and the other that read Guō were push-pinned on a small corkboard beside the door. Cosette gave a little knock and announced herself and entered when a small voice from inside the room gave her permission.

The hall room itself was smaller than she imagined, approximately 12 feet by 16 feet with an 8-foot-high ceiling. Two loft beds were situated against the righthand side wall and beneath the elevated wooden frame of each bed was a small wooden writing desk and chair.

“It’ll seem a little cramped at first but you’ll get used to it and it’s only for your fresher year,” Cosette said, letting Cariad’s bag slide off her shoulder to floor. “The rooms get better year by year.”

“This is your roomie, Bao. Bao, meet Carrie,” Cosette said.

“Cariad, actually,” Cariad corrected. The last thing she needed was for that nickname to stick.

The Asian young lady seated at her writing desk in a plain button-down blouse and linen pants looked up from her laptop and gave Cariad the once-over before offering a lackluster, “Hi.” Cariad returned the greeting with equal enthusiasm.

“Well, now that the hard part’s over, I’ll leave you two to get acquainted,” Cosette said, patting Cariad on the shoulder on her way to the door. “Once you get settled in, come find me and I’ll tell you about a few of the activities that’ll help you get to know your fellow floor residents and you should make it your business to attend because we’re all about building a community that’s fun, friendly, and respectful.”

Bao’s eyes never left Cariad. She remained silent when their hall door clicked shut and the sound of Cosette’s footstep faded in the distance.

“Since I was raised to believe that honesty is the best policy,” Bao said, carefully enunciating each word, “I’m just going to put this out in the open: I’m very nervous about this dormitory living situation. You know, moving in with a complete stranger, it makes sense, doesn’t it? I’ve been reading way too many dorm-room horror stories online of crazy, nasty, or downright terrifying roommates.”

As she was speaking all Cariad could concentrate on were all the small framed photos hanging on the wall, propped up on the writing desk and even the background of her laptop screen. They were all snapshots of Bao. Not Bao and friends; just Bao.

Cariad’s attention refocused on Bao’s ramblings in time for her to hear her roommate say, “I don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night to find you standing over me with a knife, do you know what I’m saying?”

To be continued…

‘Til next week,

☮️  💗

©2018 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

Project: #Novel365 2018 – Week 20

Untitled design

#Novel365 2018 Week Nineteen

After registering to fulfill the test requirement part of her application process, Cariad was called into the office of a member of the admissions staff which she and those who were in earshot found peculiar including members of staff as none of the other registrants before her received this treatment.

The admissions person who introduced himself as, “Mr. McCune,” sat her down in the cramped office that resembled more of a research nook than a proper office and politely asked her a series of random questions which she automatically assumed to be a sort of psychometric test. No, test wasn’t accurate because tests were graded on right or wrong answers. This was more of a verbal questionnaire to discover what kind of person she was in ways that a person wouldn’t necessarily admit to in an interview, with questions designed to expose how Cariad behaved and what motivated her.

When he felt he had gathered enough information to make an assessment, McCune thanked Cariad for her time, escorted her out of the office and asked her father to step in for a moment. McCune closed the door but the latch hadn’t slid into the strike plate so the door remained slightly open. She considered walking away back into the corridor but the opportunity to eavesdrop was a temptation she couldn’t avoid so she loitered at the door.

“Thank you for taking the time, Marco,” her father’s voice said.

“You’re one of our top contributors and a damned fine lecturer, Rupert, so how could I refuse?” McCune replied. “Besides, for a twelve-year-old, she has a top-notch mind as a result of your homeschooling, no doubt, so if she aces her test I’ll make sure she tops the shortlist.”

“I should probably warn you, she tends to be a homebody, one of the unfortunate traits she picked up from me, so her social skills aren’t yet what they should be which means her professors can expect for their hands to be full.”

“What genius doesn’t have social rough patches? I can remember a ruddy-faced freshman who was so full of himself and piss and vinegar when he first attended Uni.”

“Stop exaggerating, Marco, I wasn’t that bad.”

“The hell you weren’t. Do you want to know the best thing that ever happened to you, aside from marrying Ruth and having Cariad, I mean? Meeting me.”

Cariad found that she felt uneasy listening to the rest of the conversation. She had never considered that life her father had outside their family or before she was born and the fact that her father had friends he never discussed with her made her feel envious and left out. Logically they were crazy emotions but she couldn’t help the way she felt at the moment. Something else nagged at her, clearly, she was here because of her father’s connections with Candida so why had he lied to her and said it was Mom’s doing?

***

The admissions test was pretty much what Cariad expected, a timed, written exam designed to show the academy how she thought: how she analyzed and solved difficult questions as well as how she applied her knowledge to texts or problems she hadn’t encountered before.

The hardest part for her was deciding which course she wanted to study as she could only apply for one course in the same year and time studies, which technically fell under the category of horology or clockmakers, wasn’t presented as an option on Candida Isca’s course list. She opted to follow the path her father had paved for her and selected theoretical physics. Physics did not require written work to be submitted as part of the application process but Cariad completed four papers on Understanding Time as The Fourth Dimension, Traveling Through Wormholes, Alternate Time Travel Theories, and the Grandfather Paradox.

When she received her letter to interview, despite knowing that her father’s friend placed her on the shortlist as a favor, she felt a wave of excitement washing over her. She wouldn’t allow herself to race but she walked at a rate quicker than her normal pace and made the announcement to her parents. Rupert caught her up in a bearhug and nearly squeezed the life out of her so strong was his pride in his daughter. Ruth smiled a genuine smile that somehow seemed equal to the hug and announced that she would be making the trip with Cariad to Candida this time.

The academic interview was not at all what Cariad had expected. She had read up on interview techniques and how to avoid falling into traps on certain types of questions aimed at catching interviewees unawares, but none of it was relevant. Yes, there were four tutors in the room but they were very friendly and simply asked her questions regarding physics and her thoughts on higher dimensions and time travel. Without meaning to, she rambled on for an hour, reiterating things she had written in her papers and the tutors smiled and nodded along in agreement the whole time. Then the tutors presented her with something she hadn’t encountered in her father’s lessons: The Hierarchy problem.

“Why is gravity such a weak force?” Tutor Lefevre asked. “It becomes strong for particles only at the Planck scale, around 1024 GeV, much above the electroweak scale—100 GeV, the energy scale dominating physics at low energies.”

“Why are these scales so different from each other?” Tutor Valdez added.

“What prevents quantities at the electroweak scale, such as the Higgs boson mass, from getting quantum corrections on the order of the Planck scale?” Tutor Abrams inquired.

And Tutor Wood chimed in with, “Is the solution supersymmetry, extra dimensions, or just anthropic fine-tuning?”

The questions came in rapid succession and Cariad realized it was designed to rattle her, which it did. She stumbled in the beginning but began applying the knowledge she possessed to offer solutions. She even asked if she could work the problem out on paper and before receiving an answer began jotting down mathematical equations and when she became stuck at certain points she was surprised to discover the tutors were offering hints to steer her in a direction around various obstacles. By the time the interview had ended, she left feeling rattled but her mother dismissed it as a normal reaction to being verbally tested and suggested she should concentrate on doing something frivolous to distract her until they received word from the academy.

It was just the two of them on this trip, not because her father was too busy or too disinterested to make the trek but because he thought it best that the two most important women in his life get to spend some alone time with each other. Cariad was full of topics she wanted to discuss with her mother including why Ruth wanted her out of the house so badly, what didn’t her mother want her to know about what was going on behind her back, but she refused to make the first move. Her mother would have to initiate conversation first, make an effort to bridge the gap between them because that’s what a mother was supposed to do. It was her responsibility as an adult to own up to her actions, actions that made Cariad feel like an outcast, a burden, an unwanted thing. Her mother should have known something was wrong and if she cared she would have spotted it months ago and done something about it. And since she made no effort whatsoever to reconcile their relationship and Cariad refused to make the first move, the pair travel home in silence.

***

In January of the following year, the Boerums were notified that Cariad’s application had been successful. This was followed by direct communication from the academy that she had completed all the necessary administrative steps and was given an unconditional offer, which meant her place was guaranteed at Candida Isca, even though the college she would go to had not yet been specified and would not be decided until after her final examination results had been published.

To be continued…

‘Til next week,

☮️  💗

©2018 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

Project: #Novel365 2018 – Week 19

Untitled design

#Novel365 2018 Week Eighteen

Chapter 8

“Should you attend Candida Isca next semester,” the tour guide, who announced herself as Anna, said over her shoulder. “You will find that it has a unique academic structure. Students, researchers and lecturers benefit from belonging both to the academy, a large, internationally-renowned institution, and to a particular house or hall, a small, interdisciplinary scholastic community.”

Anna led the rather sizeable group of interviewees and their parents on the long and winding scenic path to the admissions building. There was a shorter more direct route, of course, but first appearances being everything, a good impression had to be made. And everyone in the tour group was impressed, all except Cariad.

“I know you’re doing this against your will,” Rupert gave his daughter a little nudge. “But you could at least pretend to be listening.”

“To impress who, Dad?” Cariad said. “She’s just a tour guide. I’m saving all my enthusiasm for the interview, I promise. Besides, all she’s doing is reciting the information that’s on their website and I read through that already.”

Which was the truth. Cariad learned online that Candida Isca Academy wasn’t so much a school as it was the academic equivalent of a sovereign state, comprised of 47 financially independent and self-governing learning institutions which related in a federal system to the central academy.

“And if this was really so important, wouldn’t Mom be here?” Cariad said, a little too sharply, revealing more hurt than she cared to admit to her father and herself.

“You know she’d be here if she could, just like you know an important engagement got rescheduled at the last minute, something she needed to handle personally,” Rupert said.

“Yeah, well, it really isn’t that big a deal, anyway,” Cariad shrugged. “You keep calling it an interview but it’s actually registering to take a test as part of my application that has to be submitted by mid-October. Then I’ll have to decide which courses I want to take and send in written works along with my application. If I’m shortlisted, then I’ll be invited to interview in December.”

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s an interview or registration, it would mean a lot to me and your mother if you presented yourself properly.”

“Dad, I know you lecture here from time to time so I’m not going to embarrass you, okay?”

Rupert put his arm around Cariad’s shoulder and gave her a gentle hug. He went to remove his arm but his daughter held it in place and leaned into him slightly as they walked. She was a good kid, though, strong-willed like her mother which probably explained why they were having difficulty getting along recently.

“There are also six permanent private halls, which are similar to academies except they tend to be smaller and are founded by investors with special interests in specific arts and experimental sciences.” Anna continued. “The academies, halls and houses are close scholastic communities, which bring together students and researchers from different disciplines, cultures and countries. This aids in fostering the outstanding research achievement that has made Candida Isca a leader in so many fields. In fact, the houses, halls and the academy work together to organize teaching and research, and many staff at Candida Isca will hold both a house and an academy post.”

“Even you have to admit that this—it feels wrong calling it a campus, it’s more like a town—is impressive,” Rupert said, brushing hair back from his daughter’s face. “All the libraries and museums cafes and restaurants and bars and nightclubs…and my hope is that when you get accepted—”

If I get accepted,” Cariad corrected.

When you get accepted, my hope is that you go heavy on the libraries and museums and light on the bars and nightclubs.”

“No promises, Dad.”

“No?”

“I mean, it’ll be my first taste of freedom, which means there will be a fair amount of experimentation as I explore the boundaries of free will,” Cariad smirked and that smirk turned into a full-blown smile when she saw the troubled look on her father’s face.

To be continued…

‘Til next week,

☮️  💗

©2018 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

Project: #Novel365 2018 – Week 18

Untitled design

#Novel365 2018 Week Seventeen

PART TWO

CHAPTER 7

The colors came in small bursts that brought a widening smile to Cariad Boerum’s twelve-year-old face which shined with wonder as she explored this the pigments of this wonderland. Images appeared within the color blotches in that beautiful way clouds in the sky sometimes took on shapes of faces and objects. But it wasn’t only objects, people, places and things that were visible, there was music, too, or perhaps not music as she had known it, the type played by instruments but the supposedly random sounds of life that were drawn to one another and strung themselves together like notes on sheet music and these notes were visible, gentle whirls of color, blurred, spinning and brilliant, the kaleidoscope of nature’s soul, in every shade of the spring flowers, carried aloft by the ambient drone of the wind.

Then the images faded taking along with then the rich colors and she found herself back home in the weather-beaten and sun-faded hues of her father’s workshop in the dullness of her singular reality. Here nothing was too bright, nothing was big or even bold. And though she loved her parents very much she longed to be back in that fantastical realm away from her sorrows, the only place that gave her peace. When reality had firmly set itself in her vision, Cariad found she was staring at her Welsh-Guyanan reflection in the mirror. Her hair was still ebony, her eyes still the color of emeralds and her sun-burnished skin was still honey but the colors seemed muted now.

“How was it?” her father said over his shoulder. Professor Rupert Boerum sat hunched over his worktable littered with cogs, chronographs and assorted watch parts, a magnifying loupe positioned over his right eye. He was tinkering on a miniature watch movement with a one-millimeter screwdriver in his right hand and brass tweezers in his left.

“It was fantastic, Dad,” Cariad answered hardly able to control her enthusiasm. “What was in that stuff you put in my eyes and why did it go away so quickly?”

Rupert placed the tools on the table and swung the loupe from over his eye before picking up the tiny bottle with the eyedropper. “This is an accident,” he said. “It was meant to be a cure for macular degeneration which is a common eye disorder that causes central vision loss or what you see when you’re looking straight ahead. What we believe it actually does is dilate the eye just enough to visually detect the passage of time. And it went away quickly because I diluted the solution.”

“I was looking at time?”

“A tiny portion of it, or so our theory goes.”

“Then why aren’t you working on that instead of wasting your time on stupid clocks and watches that nobody uses or even cares about anymore?” Her tone was wrong, it was disrespectful and Cariad knew it the moment she heard herself but it was too late.

Her father didn’t get mad, however. He let out a sigh that was almost imperceptible though she did see his shoulders drop slightly as he said, “My hobbies aren’t decided by how many are interested in them, the only thing that matters is that horology brings me joy so I don’t consider it a waste of time. And this watch that I’m working on is more related to those eye drops than you realize. This was the third method of telling time, after sundials and water clocks.”

Rupert gently lifted the watch movement and gave the crown a little twist and it began to tick. “What do you hear?” he asked.

“I hear ticking,” Cariad shrugged. Was this meant to be some sort of trick question?

“No, that’s what is happening, the watch is ticking. What do you hear?”

Cariad had no idea what her father meant or how she was supposed to answer the question. All she heard was the stupid ticking of the stupid watch.

Rupert sighed again, this time more audibly, “When baby animals, puppies and kittens and the like, were separated from their mothers, ticking watches and clocks were placed in their bedding to soothe them and stop them from crying at night because the sound mimicked the heartbeat of their mother. So, that’s what I hear when a clock ticks, I hear the heartbeat of existence, the movement of time as the universe as it expands, I hear evolution and it brings me comfort for as long as that ticking continues, time continues which means we continue.”

Rupert put the timepiece back on the table and covered it with a cloth. “And speaking of time, it’s time to get ready for dinner.”

“Dad, I’m sorry about what I said. Your hobby isn’t stupid, I am. I have a bad habit of saying things I don’t mean all the time now. I don’t know what’s wrong with me,”

Tousling his daughter’s hair, Rupert smiled, “You aren’t afraid to speak your mind, you get that from your mother. Maybe someday, hopefully sometime soon, you’ll learn to balance that with diplomacy. That you will get from me.”

Cariad rolled her eyes because she knew he was calling her immature in his own special way. “Can you put the drops in one more time? Please?” she pleaded, dragging out the word please the way she used to when she was younger to wrap her father around her little finger. She hadn’t used it in a while and was out of practice.

“And keep your mother waiting? Not on your life and not on mine,” Rupert plucked the bottle from the tabletop, slid it into the top left-hand drawer of his work table and locked it, placing the key on its assigned wall-mounted hook. Cariad made note of the hook location.

“Can’t you tell her we’re in the middle of an important experiment or something?”

“Lie to your mother? Have you met the woman? She would pick it apart before I finished the sentence and then I would never hear the end of being foolish enough to let you talk me into making the attempt.”

Cariad knew all this, it was just the idea of having to sit through the process of dinner. When it was just her and her father, dinner was eating on the couch in front of the wallscreen watching a science program or a comedy and laughing or discussing a topic around a mouthful of food with drinks precariously perched on sofa arms or sometimes wedged between the cushions to avoid spills.

With her mother, dinner was always served in the dining room, elbows off the table, back straight, take small bites and chew with mouths shut, make pleasant conversation but never with a full mouth, finish the entire plate, use the napkin, ask permission to leave the table, help clear the table, sweep the floor, help wash the dishes.

When she left her father’s study she would have to wash and change into her dinner attire, a ritual she never understood. Washing her face and hands? Yes. But a full shower? And wearing an outfit only design to eat a meal in? Where was the sense?

***

Everything was as Cariad expected it to be. The dinner—roasted yellow pepper and tomato bisque, salmon with lemon dill cream sauce, warm butter rum lava cake—was prepared to perfection. Her mother, Ruth, used to be a chef in what she called her former life before she met Rupert and used Sunday dinner, which was traditionally a big family meal though it was now just the three of them, as an excuse to show off her culinary skills. If she actually derived any pleasure at all from cooking, she managed to keep it a well-guarded secret.

Mostly everything about her was never a topic for conversation as Ruth Boerum excelled at playing her cards close to her vest. Over the past week or so she hadn’t looked her best but maintained a stoic appearance. Cariad would have asked her if anything was the matter but they currently did not have that type of relationship. Conversations between them that used to be very long were now very short. Cariad was not able to pinpoint the exact moment the familial bonds between them had become ruins. Perhaps it was not something that happened all at once. Perhaps it was little things that had built up over time that initiated the decay. The foundation of their relationship was in the process of disappearing.

As for tonight’s meal, there was one unexpected admirer of Ruth’s cooking, Cariad’s cat, Sacha, who somehow mastered the art of remaining out of the adults’ line of site as she stood on her hind legs and tapped Cariad’s thigh with her paw to request food. Cariad would oblige by placing bits of salmon in her mouth and transferring them to her napkin and discreetly passing them to Sacha during the pleasant dinner conversation that began in a typical fashion until her mother introduced a new topic.

“Your father and I have been thinking about your education,” Ruth said, touching the cloth napkin folded into a triangle to the corners of her mouth.

“What about it?” Cariad asked.

“We feel it might be best if you studied abroad, to expand your horizons.”

“I don’t want to study abroad,” Cariad turned to address her father. “I want to study with you, Dad. You taught at university so you know what you’re doing and my schedule is flexible so it won’t get in the way of your work and I can even assist you with that, if you’ll have me. Please?”

Ruth eyed her husband who appeared quite content not to join in the conversation but her expression was clear as crystal, she needed Rupert to side with her. They would need to be a united front if there was any hope of sending Cariad away to school.

“Education is not merely memorizing and reciting passages from books, isn’t that right, Rupert?” Ruth said in her usual manner where a question wasn’t actually a question but more of a statement.

“Your mother’s right,” Rupert placed his fork with the untasted rum lava cake down on the dish. “There is a world outside this house, outside our family, a huge world full of wonders and delights that will terrify you at first but it will also come to amaze you. You have a place in this world and you will only discover it after you learn the rules, what makes it work, which rules to follow, which ones to break. So, perhaps instead of thinking of it as school, you consider it a primer for society. A sneak peek into the life you’ll be leading once you move out on your own.”

“When have you ever heard me express any interest in society and how it works? All I want to do is study time like you do! Isn’t that what devoted children do, follow in their parents’ footsteps?” the frustration in Cariad’s voice was rising dangerously close to what her mother considered disrespectful territory.

“And no one is stopping you from doing that, dear,” the word dear had a dagger-like sharpness to it and Ruth spat it at her daughter with deadly accuracy. “All we’re suggesting is that you add more variety to your personal portfolio than being a carbon copy of your father. You might find there are other people in the world to look up to.”

Cariad’s face was alive with a kind of terrible anger but a strain was also present. She was forcing herself not to blurt out the hurtful things that could never be taken back. Instead, she turned to Rupert and managed to say, “Are you just going to sit there and take that?”

When her father didn’t respond, Cariad said, “You know what? Forget I said anything,” she pushed her chair from the table, startling Sacha who bolted from the room. Without asking to be excused, Cariad stormed off, stomping her way up the staircase to her room, ignoring her mother’s demands to return to the table at once. It was an immature move and she knew it but she needed to release the frustration of not being able to bring herself to say the things she truly wanted to say to her mother.

Inside her bedroom, she slammed the door for good measure, to let the household know how truly upset she was. Sacha eventually gathered enough courage to poke her head out from under the bed.

“It’s okay, Sacha,” she said. “I’m not mad at you.” Cariad plopped down on the bed. Sacha, still wary, head bunted Cariad’s leg as she came out into the open, marking the girl with her scent glands before jumping onto the bed to lay her weight beside her human.

“The problem is they think I’m still a little girl. They think I can’t see something’s going on with Mom. Why can’t they just be honest with me for once? It’s so unfair!” Cariad stroked Sacha’s head and the cat showed her appreciation in purrs and long, slow blinks.

After a while, there was a knock at her door, a gentle tapping that belonged to her father. She wanted to tell him to go away, to leave her alone but it came out as, “Come in,” which made her angry at herself for being so weak.

“Before you say anything,” Rupert said as he closed the door gently behind him. “I’m not here to make you do anything you ultimately don’t want to do, I just want to offer up a little more information to help you make the right decision. Will you allow me to do that?”

Reluctantly, Cariad nodded.

“Good. The school we had in mind isn’t just any old school, it’s one of the best in the world. Candida Isca Academy.”

“Candida?” Cariad eyes turned round and shocked. “How can we afford that?”

“Your mother called in some favors and managed to land you a scholarship. Don’t ask me how, she wouldn’t say but I do know it wasn’t a simple process. You still have to interview, though, which is why we can’t force you to attend. You sabotage the interview and Candida’s out of the question.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“When have I ever lied to you?” Rupert asked and the truth of the matter was Cariad had never even considered the possibility of her father lying to her and put on the spot like this could not come up with a single instance.

“Okay, then,” she decided to test him, “tell me what’s going on with Mom. I’m not stupid, you know.”

“No one thinks you’re stupid, you’re simply at that age where you think you’ve got the world figured out and trust me on this point, you don’t. Your mother and I are handling a situation right now and she wants to be the one to tell you in her own way in her own time. I’m simply respecting her wishes the same way I’ve always respected yours.”

“You two aren’t getting a divorce, are you?”

Rupert wrinkled his face and said softly, “What? Nothing of the sort.”

“Because you’d tell me if you were, right? Because not telling me would constitute lying to me, you know that, don’t you?”

“Well aware of it. No divorce, I promise. Your mother will be my wife for the rest of our natural lives and then some.”

Cariad was silent, staring down at the Turkish area rug, eyes scrying its light blue, cream, navy blue and rust red pattern, searching for an answer, any answer. Finally, she exhaled and asked:

“Can I at least have some time to think about it? It’s not fair springing it on me like that and expecting me to make a snap decision.”

“The interview is in a month, after that the point becomes moot.”

Cariad tore her eyes from the rug and looked at her father. “I meant what I said, you know, about following in your footsteps.”

“It is possible to do both you know and you might even make a discovery that would make me want to follow in your footsteps. And don’t give me that look, stranger things happen every single day,” Rupert smiled and patted his belly. “Now, I don’t know about you but I missed dessert and a slice of homemade lava cake is sounding real good right now. Join me?”

“I don’t know. Is Mom still down there?”

“If you don’t cut your mother a little slack—”

“I’m joking, Dad. I’ll play nice…for now.”

“At this point, I’ll take whatever concessions I can get.”

To be continued…

‘Til next week,

☮️  💗

©2018 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

Project: #Novel365 2018 – Week 17

Untitled design

#Novel365 2018 Week Sixteen

I was suddenly in the train car again, snapped back like a stretched rubber band returning to its original state, my every thought in high definition. My eyes were taking in every detail trying to make sense of my surroundings as if I had been asleep too long and woke in unfamiliar surroundings. I heard the noises of the train car, the hum of the lighting, breathing bot mine and others, sounds I had not been aware of previously.

I stumbled backward only a step or two because Madi caught me by the arms to steady me. “What happened to you?” she asked. “One moment you were staring at the reader, frozen, the next you looked like you were about to faint.”

Had it only been a moment? It felt like I was away for longer. I suddenly did not like being able to sense the passage of time. “I-I was in a private library, in a room larger than this, and I found a book, Madi, about us, about our company, about our cases, even the one we are working now. It told me everything up to the point where I was reading the book but when I turned the page to see what would happen next…I was thrown back here.”

“A parental lock,” said Boerum. “To prevent you from knowing things that could affect the future. I should have warned you, I apologize if the experience unsettled you.”

“But it felt so real, all of it. I could actually smell the books.”

“The reader comes equipped with a total immersion option which I forget to disable. Again, my apologies,” Boerum plucked the reader from my grasp, gave it a quick sharp shake and returned it to its membranous state before placing it back on the table. “The best part of the option is the solitude and silence it offers. Have you ever been in a library or place of study that was so perfectly quiet?”

“Never. And there were so many books, thousands of them. Has your father read each of them?”

“His library contains roughly two point five million research items. A little over a million of them are books, while the rest are microforms, microfiches, photographs, music sheets, maps, programs, prints and the like. Knowing my father, he has reviewed all the materials contained within at least twice over.”

“But the book I was holding, it was about the exploits of my company, private matters that I am certain neither Madison or myself or our clients would divulge—”

“Your records were made public as part of the Open Secrets Act which will be passed long after you and your clients have slipped the mortal coil, so to speak. The remainder of the book, that part you were unable to read not only contained future cases you will be involved in but also cataloged the date, time and nature of both your death and Ms. Wasonofski’s, something no person should know.”

“I hate to admit it, Darius, but she’s right. I don’t want to know how and when I’m going to die,” Madi said as she pulled away from me.

“I have shown you how to operate the reader and it is at your service to make use of freely, though some will be written in languages I doubt you will understand. If you encounter such a tome the reader offers an array of accurate translation services, both written and verbal. You will have access to everything except articles on science, technology and history past the point you came to us,” Boerum said.

“Thank you,” I nodded my understanding for the restrictions, “for placing this library at my disposal.” I stared at the reader and a thought struck me, if the book I was holding detailed all my cases, why couldn’t Boerum simply read through The Pneuma Paradox entry and locate the answer she needed, the solution I was to deliver in two years time? From that moment I made it my mission to find a way to remove the parental lock. I promised if that were to happen, I would not look further than this case for clues on how to solve it. And I was almost certain I was telling the truth.

***

Boerum stepped to the train door opposite the one we entered this dining car that had been modified into a space where her team, as she called them, conducted their research and we followed her through the door and into the next car.

The first car we entered had been stripped bare, the second car served as a base of operations and the third car should have simply looked like an old-fashioned passenger car with rows of wooden seats lining both sides of the cabin, which it did but there was another interior more technologically advanced overlaid on top of it.

“Hologram,” Boerum said, once again before the question passed my lips. “A replica of our main control stations.”

The overlap image winked in and out in a manner that reminded me of the subway shroud. One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi. The overlay was visible for approximately three seconds. And one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, four Mississippi, five Mississippi, six Mississippi, it disappeared for six seconds. There was a device in the center of the cabin on the floor with a flashing light that matched the appearance of the overlay. Obviously the holographic projector.

“Is it defective? The projector?” I asked.

Boerum shook her head, “No, it is synchronized with an anomaly.” And said no more. It was here that the five members of her team were assembled, positioned between seat rows on either side of the cabin, manning stations for three seconds at a time when the overlay appeared. She was lost in their calculated and timed movements. I studied her with great interest, silently analyzing the strange expression on her face. Leaning forward on her elbows against the back of a wooden seat, she no longer saw Madi, McKissick or me. She had forgotten our presence.

At three second intervals, the cabin was filled with various types of advanced instruments and equipment. Signal lights and display panels flickered in repetitive patterns. And each man hunched over their assigned station, hands hovering above where the overlaid panels would appear, fingers at the ready. The tall, wiry man barked out a series of operational orders and the rest of the team shouted responses in time with the actions performed at their stations. They performed this ritual over and over and over again, so many times I lost count and was beginning to lose interest. Finally, the wiry man turned to Boerum and said, “We’re ready as we’ll ever be, Dr. Boerum.”

Boerum nodded and asked, “Will one of you be so kind as to fetch the harnesses and rope our visitors so kindly supplied us with?” The bald man hopped to and raced past us into the car we just left.

I shot Boerum a questioning glance to which she responded, “Mr. Quaice, I understand your confusion. I hope that you and your party will excuse the unceremonious way in which you were received and ask you to bear with what must appear to you to be madness and place your trust in a total stranger that there is a method to it.”

The bald man returned with the items and Boerum ordered both he and the man who wore his hair in a top knot to fit us with the harnesses but we elected to suit up ourselves.

“I am assuming the rope as well,” I held up one end of the rope and was prepared to thread it through the harness when Boerum said:

“I must insist you allow my team to handle this. They know the requirements.”

Top Knot tied a knot at one end of the rope then measured a length of approximately five feet before threading it through McKissick’s harness. Bald Man measured out the same length for Madi’s harness and Top Knot did the same for mine.

We questioned it. We questioned the need for harnesses and the rope, questioned her insistence for the order in which we positioned ourselves, questioned if we were about to be placed in harm’s way, and the doctor took the questions with a strained patience and answered simply:

“Indulge me just a bit further. I promise all is about to become clear.”

We did as instructed and made certain the rope was fastened securely between the three of us before I turned to Boerum and asked, “And why is all this necessary? Why just us three and not you and your men?”

“Experience, sir,” Boerum answered. “We have done this many times before. The first time can be a bit tricky and we need to ensure your safety.”

“Safety for what?” Madi asked.

“Before I answer that,” Boerum turned to McKissick, “may I ask you a question, Mr. McKissick? You are a physicist, are you not?”

“My degree is in theoretical physics, yes. What’s your question?”

“Can more than one object occupy the same space at the same time?”

“The popular answer is no; however, it isn’t necessarily the correct answer. According to Pauli’s exclusion principle more than one identical fermion, particles with half-integer spin, cannot occupy the same quantum state simultaneously. This, of course, applies to normal matter, which is made out of only a few kinds of fermions tightly bonded together. However, electromagnetic waves are bosons; particles of integer spin. Thus, they can and often do share quantum state, as with the photons in a laser.”

“Then allow me to rephrase the question, sir: can two solid man-made objects can occupy the same space?” Boerum reiterated the question more forcefully this time.

“No, they cannot,” McKissick sighed.

Boerum made her way over to the door leading to the next car and yanked it open. “Then how do you explain this?”

And for the second time this day, if this could still be considered a day in a place where time did not seem to exist, Dr. Cariad Boerum exposed me to a sight that left me slack-jawed. My brain formulated no thoughts other than to register that it was in shock. I closed my mouth, then looked at Madi and McKissick who wore similar expressions before glancing back to catch Boerum’s eye. “What are we looking at?” was all I could manage.

“That, Mr. Quaice, is what you so quaintly called my time vessel.”

Beyond the door, it looked as if someone had placed three slides into a projector, each containing a different machine but at the same angle and clicked between the three in rapid succession over and over again. One machine was what I assumed to be the steam engine of the Zanetti, one seemed familiar but was unknown to me and the last matched the image implanted in my mind of Alfred Ely Beach’s pneumatic transit car.

“This is the final destination of our tour and it is also the reason for your tether,” Boerum said, scooping up the knotted end of the rope and handing it to Wiry Man, who walked through the open doorway and stood on the lip of the train car that rested above the coupling.

Boerum’s team chanted nine words repeatedly as they stared at the shifting images of machines before Wiry Man. It was in whatever language they spoke but I knew they were doing the same thing I had done when watching with the holographic overlay. They were counting. Timing the shifts. And on the ninth beat, Wiry Man leaped off the platform lip and disappeared into the shifting machines. The rope went slack for a moment but soon pulled taut, forcing McKissick to step toward the train door.

Bald Man sidled up beside McKissick, right arm around the physicist’s shoulder, then other clutching his arm above the elbow. “Bend your legs. Good, just like that. You’ll feel a quick double tug on the rope,” Bald Man said, “that’s the signal for you to jump forward as far as you can. When you’re in the air, go limp. Don’t worry, I’m jumping with you so I’ll catch your fall.”

McKissick was about to say something, ask a question, argue the matter, but the double tug came and Bald Man pushed him forward which would have been sufficient to cover the distance had the rope not yanked hard. Both men vanished and the rope pulled Madi to the door.

“Darius,” Madi turned to me, we were both thinking the same thing.

“Don’t think about, Madi. Thinking leads to fear and fear is the mind killer. Just do it,” I said.

Top Knot griped Madi and issued the same instructions given to McKissick and when the signal tug came they leaped into the shifting mechanisms and the rope now pulled me to the door.

“I will accompany you, Mr. Quaice,” Boerum said as she put an arm around me to brace me for the jump and as nervous as I was to be leaping into the unknown I found that I was far more nervous about the nearness of her.

“Ready?” she asked and I nodded. She gave a quick jerk and when the double tug came I held my breath and leaped. As I approached the machines I instinctively closed my eyes fearing impact and I did make an impact but with the floor of the first car in the train’s chain. Boerum helped me to my feet and moved me forward as the remaining members of her team leaped in behind us.

We were standing in a demarcated area on the floor while our surroundings were in a constant state of flux. It was a steam engine locomotive car, Beach’s pneumatic car and what I presumed to be Boerum’s time vessel at equal three-second intervals.

“Welcome aboard the Pneuma,” Boerum said. “Now, I suppose, an explanation is in order.”

To be continued…

‘Til next week,

☮️  💗

©2018 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

Project: #Novel365 2018 – Week 16

Untitled design

#Novel365 2018 Week Fifteen

Madi, McKissick and I looked to one another but before we could respond, Dr. Boerum let out a sharp short whistle, something that seemed out of character for my initial impression of her. Shortly after, a wiry man appeared and Boerum conversed with him in their bizarre, possibly native, tongue that was still unrecognizable to me.

“Everything is ready for your arrival,” said Boerum. “Permit me to lead the way.”

“After you, Doctor,” I said.

We followed Boerum; and as soon as we had stepped through the door, we found the space between the cars had been surrounded by some sort of material that resembled a carbon fiber wrap, presumably to shield the doctor and her crew from the effects of unfiltered time as they passed from car to car. As I stepped over the train car coupling and moved to the door of the next car it opened automatically.

We entered what appeared to be a dining car decorated and furnished in a style that might have been considered elegant at one point in time when extravagances were in short supply. Despite its minimalism, the car still echoed the natural world of Italy in 1911. Booths dominated the space, rectangles of oak with polished tapered edges with chairs that looked as if they had come from the same tree, each one beautiful in its simplicity, all clean straight lines and high backs. The floor beneath it all was carpeted, not a runner rug like in the last car but a full coverage that ran the entirety of the floor. The walls were papered in an old-fashioned floral design which would have given the room a pleasant feel if not juxtaposed against the ugly metal plates welded over the windows.

One of the booth tables was richly laid out with foodstuffs that looked familiar then I realized it was from our rations, the meals packed by our administrative professional, Penny.

“Help yourselves,” Boerum gestured at the spread. “It is all yours, all the food you brought with you and I assure you it has not been tampered with in any way, but you will find that you do not need it.”

Though we said nothing, Dr. Boerum looked at us, guessing our thoughts and answered of her own accord the question which entered our minds simultaneously.

“Do any of you feel hungry?” she had not waited for the answer. “No? How long have you been here, on the train, locked in the caboose? You cannot rightfully say, can you? That is because time does not pass here, not for us, or if it does it creeps at such a petty pace as to seem like it is standing still. We have chronometers that mark how time should move and they have not budged since our arrival. I cannot tell you how long we have been here for my perception of space/time has been interrupted but I would hazard a guess that it has been months if not years and neither myself or my team has felt the slightest hunger pang or the need to relieve ourselves.”

“If what you say is correct, if time is frozen here, how are we able to move, able to breathe, able to communicate?” asked McKissick.

It was a solid question. According to my limited knowledge of the laws of physics, if time stopped and we were somehow immune to the effects of the stoppage, we would be unable to maneuver around the frozen air molecules and could not very well take motionless air into our lungs. Nor could we use the atmosphere to transmit sound waves making speech impossible.

“And wouldn’t we freeze to death?” Madi added. “There’d be no way to generate heat.”

“Yes, yes, and sight would also be affected as well as gravity,” Boerum said impatiently. “We have considered all this and the only logical explanation is that here, within the vein of God, the laws of physics either do not apply or operate differently from our Earth-based understanding of them.”

“In other words, you have no clue,” I said.

“There is no shame, Mr. Quaice, when standing in the face of the unknown to admit you do not know the answer. In your line of work, surely you have found yourself in this position at least once, no?”

I sensed her annoyance at having to admit the simple truth that she was just as much in the dark as we were and I could have apologized, could have explained how no harm was meant, but at the moment I was not overly concerned with her feelings. Instead, I moved on to the next booth. On this table lay our phones, each one field stripped with the individual components carefully placed around the phone casings. Again, Boerum anticipated my question and answered:

“Before engaging with you directly, we dismantled your devices to determine what time period you originated from. Have no worries, I will have one of my team reassemble them in working order and returned to you.”

Our personal effects were also situated on the table. “You have no objections, I am sure,” I said after I plucked my wallet and belongings off the table and began arranging them in my pockets. Madi and McKissick gathered their things as well.

“Of course not,” Boerum waved the notion away as if it was foolish. “They belong to you.”

“So, you are a historian, Dr. Boerum,” I said.

“Historian? What would lead you to believe that?”

“You told us you were conducting a historical research experiment.”

“Ah, yes, so I did,” Boerum nodded, “and we were but if I am honest it was more a time travel experiment than a historical one. You see, I shared my father’s fascination with time and how could I not? It is everything and everywhere. It gave birth to the universe and will serve as a marker when all we know as existence dies a natural death. It is the stuff of life, the foundation on which reality is built, always of the essence, on our side and running out simultaneously. It is the beautiful thing that awaits us all, embraces us all and leaves us all in its eternal wake. Do you not concur, Mr. Quaice?”

“I have to admit that I have never given it much thought, doctor. I strive to live in the present and not worry about what the future holds or waste my waking hours with how much time I frivolously squandered in my youth in my attempts to find myself,” I answered but what I had not said was:

Now that I had met Dr. Boerum and she presumably existed in a time after my death—why else would she be seeking me in 2020 if I was still alive in her time?—I could not help but worry about the future, could not help but contemplate the infinitesimal speck my life inhabited in the Earth’s timeline. I foolishly believed I had time enough to accomplish all my goals, so much time that I failed to notice how much of it I let slip through my fingers like quicksilver, all the possibilities that no longer lay ahead of me as I stand here on this impossible horizon in a time-frozen moment that may very well be my last yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Dr. Boerum remained silent for a long moment after my reply, seeming slightly agitated but then she regained her accustomed cold expression and turned to me.

“Mr. Quaice,” she said, “would you care to press on?”

The table in the next booth was littered with the contents of our backpacks and the one after that held assorted items, odd items, apparently future items belonging to Dr. Boerum and her team. One such item caught my attention. I thought it was a sheet of black paper until I saw an image dart across it, not on top of it but within it. I instinctively reached for it but caught myself and turned to Boerum.

“May I?” I asked.

Boerum considered the request for a moment before gesturing to the item. “Be my guest,” she said.

It took me several attempts to lift the paper that was not a paper. It was gossamer thin and I was afraid it might rip during my clumsy attempt to lift it from the tabletop.

“You needn’t be so gentle, it is more durable than it looks,” Boerum said, showing me how to hold the sheet. Left forefinger and thumb holding the upper left corner, right forefinger and thumb pinching the right lower corner and when pulled tautly, a ripple ran across the sheet and when it subsided it became as rigid as plastic.

“What type of material is this?” I asked.

“Something that will not be available in your lifetime, therefore I am not at liberty to discuss it or its properties. I should not allow you to interact with it but I am afraid I need to speed your assimilation along. Now concentrate on the screen and think the word, wake,” Boerum instructed.

I did and nothing happened. Taking a deep breath, I concentrated hard on the word wake and felt my brow knotting with the effort. As I was about to abandon the effort, the sheet flickered. I called it a sheet because I still thought of it as a paper-like substance although technically it could be called a sheet of plastic or whatever material it was. Then the image of a door appeared on the sheet.

“Is this a computer?”

Boerum laughed and it was an intriguing thing to experience. It was not simply a noise that issued from her mouth. The laughter was in her eyes, in the way her face changed into a surprising vision of relaxed joy and unrestrained mirth.

“Mr. Quaice, we have not had a computer model that large in ages. This is merely a reader, an ancient one, the newer models are smaller as well. This one belongs to my father. He is attached to it as it was a gift from my mother.” Boerum’s expression returned to its stoicism at the mention of her mother. “Focus on the door and just as you did to activate the reader, concentrate on the word open.”

No sooner than I knitted my brow, was I transported away from the train car. My eyes went out of focus for a moment and when they adjusted, I scanned the new room as fast as I could, trying to take it all in. I was now standing in the middle of an old library, stacks of books towered towards the tall ceiling in every direction I looked at in the round room. The bookshelves themselves were crafted of solid burl wood in a rich finish, with black trim and inlaid floral designs. The lower part of one of the shelves contained a recessed compartment for a settee, intricately carved detailing on the wooden base and rolled arms with tan upholstered seat and back that was luxuriously soft to the touch. In the center of the room was a distressed finish Mappa burl reading table set on caster wheels.

I ran my fingers along the spines of a row of books at eye level, breathing in the woody aroma of the library. It was the smell of a congregation of books of varying ages that was part smoky and earthy with just a hint of vanilla. I knew this place was an illusion but the smell, the smell was real.

The books were hardcover bound to have the same appearance and only by touching a book’s spine was I able to read the book’s title as it appeared in glowing letters beneath my fingertips. I mindlessly touched books and let my eyes absorb the titles, some of them known to me but most not, until I came upon a book that froze me to the spot. The glowing letters read, Qui Dubitat, the name of my company.

I open the book slowly, cautiously, afraid of what I might find and my suspicions were warranted for in this book there was a record of my company and the cases that we handled. The covert cases. All of them. The Sign of The Cosmic Chimera. The Mystery of The Hallowed Boudoir. The Ethereal Empire. The Case of The Griffon Biographer. The Quest of The Frantic Spider Silk Collector. The Riddle of The Dangerous Stained-Glass Sawmill. The Wailing Sand Conundrum. All the codenames I had given the cases and the pseudonyms to protect the identities of my clients, each marked with asterisks associated with an addendum to each case revealing the secrets of the coded information. They were documented in chronological order and were mostly accurate save minor details here and there and after my most recent case, one that I had not had time to sit and commit to the case log, the one I had thought to name The Three Courtesan Solution which was written here in full detail as if I had written it myself, after that was a case named The Pneuma Paradox. It described my meeting with Duffy and Thompson, both names asterisked, the discovery of Beach’s train station, the encounter with the subway shroud, the meeting with Cariad Boerum, my immersion into the library and finding the book I was currently reading and though I knew better, though my every urge was to shut the book in order to prevent me knowing the future, I turned the page.

To be continued…

‘Til next week,

☮️  💗

©2018 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License