Personal Space

Staten Island Ferry arriving at night

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

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

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

Alone was my appetite.

Alone was my mantra.

Alone was my destiny.

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

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

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

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

But the thought evaporated as suddenly as it appeared. She blurted out a simple statement of fact and I happened to be within earshot. Conversation over. Turn the page.

But it wasn’t over. “Do you know who you are?” she asked without a discernible trace of an accent.

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

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

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

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

Damn. The Nazi ploy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which is?” I asked.

Your undying loyalty.

I chuckled. “Of course.

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

The latter, no offense.

I see,” she ran a hand through her hair to remove it from her face. It was then that I noticed she wasn’t wearing gloves and hadn’t actually appeared to be cold. “You asked me what brings me to New York. Would you believe me if I said it was you?

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

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

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

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

How — how could you know that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And all this will happen because of you?

Her tone shifted, becoming as sharp as a finely honed blade. “No, because of your pledge to be with me and only me.

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

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

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

You would turn down everything?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least that was the lie I told myself.

©2013 – 2019 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

About Personal Space: This is one of them thar inspired by true events stories that happened one winter’s night when I was riding home on the Staten Island ferry.

A woman walked up out of the blue and started talking to me, telling me that she worked in the UN as a member of the Peacekeeping Task Force and her husband was a prosecutor for the War Crimes Tribunal. He was in The Hague, at that time, prosecuting a war criminal. She went on to tell me about their very strange but open marriage.

I blogged about this encounter on numerous occasions, mostly touching on the psychological effects the news media outlets’ constant terrorism scare reporting tactics have on the average person, even if they happen to be apolitical. And how even people who consider themselves to be an egalitarian, can get caught up in subconscious racial profiling.

It’s an encounter that has its hooks deeply embedded in my soul and I guess I’ll keep writing about it until the realization becomes easier to deal with.

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Of Air Returned

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i.

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

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

ii.

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

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

iii.

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

iv.

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

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

v.

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

vi.

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

vii.

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

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

There was no real choice.

viii.

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

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

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

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

Mother.

©1988 – 2019 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

About Of Air Returned: Delusion can be a scary thing, but it can also be wonderful at the same time. This piece was written in the early part of 1988, during a period when I swore I could do no wrong—it’s fine, you can laugh, I’ll just cringe quietly in the corner. I was heavily into both science and speculative fiction and had recently rediscovered the works of The Brothers Grimm, so I was determined to create my own collection of fairy tales for the—then—modern age.

Applying fairy tale rules, I could introduce the fantastic or the bizarre into any story with little or no explanation, and have all the characters in the tales accept everything as normal. Wishes as deus ex machina. Love as the ultimate cure-all. All the good stuff without all the fuss. Genius, right?

It would take the better part of six months for me to discover I wasn’t the groundbreaker I imagined myself to be. On the plus side, I followed my then idol, Harlan Ellison’s advice and was able to churn one of these puppies out a day.

Of course, most of them are unreadable. This one teeters on the edge. I kinda like it and it kinda embarrasses the hell out of me, but it was one of the three Rhyan Realm tales–yeah, I created my own sub-genre name for them, what of it?–that actually saw print… after 10-some-odd rejections.

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll kiss a few minutes goodbye.

Savior Complex

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“You have a messiah complex, got to save the world.” — Dean Koontz, Odd Thomas

I’ve never been much for crowds, not even as a child. People huddled en masse tended to embrace a hive mind of boorishness, which was why I tended to do all my necessities shopping early on Tuesday mornings. Fewer people and less hassle as I collected my weekly provisions, zipped through the express lane, out of the market and on to the next chore on my list that required social navigation. But something wasn’t quite right today. Tuesday? Of course. Early morning? Naturally. Empty supermarket? Not by a long shot.

The aisles were crawling with miscreants of every possible variety. Attention deficit disordered shoppers who treated their shopping cart like cars out of a Fast and Furious film crashed into other carts and shoppers with reckless abandon in search of the ever elusive sale of nearing-their-sell-by-date items they probably had no practical use for; forsaken carts parked in the middle of aisles blocking throughways and creating bumper to bumper trolley traffic; and coupon carrying cretins stalling checkout lines because they hadn’t quite mastered the simple art of having payment in hand for their items and beating a hasty retreat out into the open plains of the parking lot.

I contemplated pivoting on my heels and leaving the shopping for another morning or possibly next Tuesday—surely I could have survived a week on basic rations. But had I left, I wouldn’t have run into Tatum.

It was seventeen years since I laid eyes on her last. She was still attractive, more so now, a slender Honduran with mocha skin, shoulder-length dreadlocks, and a disarming smile that tended to pull a bit to the right side of her face. Unlike previous times when I randomly encountered someone from my past on the street and immediately began flipping through my mental card catalog for any excuse to walk away, I was actually pleased to see her. In that moment of reciting the usual social pleasantries by rote, all the negative history hadn’t existed. We waded in a pool of heart-warming nostalgia.

Her smile never wavered as she told me how her life hadn’t turned out quite the way she planned. When we were together, she studied to be a lawyer. Now, she worked as a marketing senior manager for a cosmetics firm, was the mother of two, a girl and a boy, seven and nine years old respectively, who were fathered by a deadbeat boyfriend who ditched both the wedding and his kids in one fell swoop.

I had no idea how long we stood there blocking the aisle much to the ire of the other shoppers nor did I care. For the first time in quite a while, I honestly enjoyed exchanging words with a person who wasn’t trapped within the confines of a television set. But all good things, as they say—so, we exchanged numbers, promised each other we’d call and went our separate ways.

And on the way home, the strangest nagging notion crept up from the back of my mind: had we been able to work things out all those many years ago, her life might have turned out differently. Better. Then came the guilt as if my absence was somehow responsible for the direction her life took. And on the tail end of that guilt came the shame for not being a better boyfriend to her and a better person in general.

I promptly crumpled up her number and kicked it down a storm drain. Neither she nor I needed to be reminded of what might have been.

Less than a week later, once I had time to regret trashing her phone number, she called me out of the blue with an invitation to have lunch and meet her children. I wasn’t particularly keen on the latter, but I definitely wanted to see her again.

We met at a faux Italian restaurant, a fast food chain done up in dime store décor to give the eatery a stereotypical taste of Italy, and I had to admit that I didn’t mind her kids all that much. They were a bit unruly, but what children weren’t at those ages? Although I felt a little awkward being interrogated by her brood, it was nice being in Tatum’s company. I experienced a level of comfort in her presence that oddly felt like home.

That was, until her daughter, Tracie, asked, “Did you and Mommy have S-E-X?” as if spelling the word somehow made the question safe to ask.

Confirmed bachelor that I was, I wasn’t comfortable chatting with a nine-year-old about sex. I had no idea what the proper protocol was, so I turned to Tatum and with a look, asked, Did we have S-E-X, Mommy?

Without batting an eye, Tatum answered, “Yes. We had sex.”

Was that how it’s done nowadays? Was it the norm for ex-boyfriends to be brought to lunch with the kiddies to openly discuss their sexual history? I was still reeling from that exchange when her son, Lee, chimed in, “You could be our Dad!”

The old one-two punch. These kids worked me over like a speed bag. They laughed at my embarrassment and I tried to play it off, but it unnerved me on a deep level. The rest of the conversation was downhill after that in terms of my personal discomfort. We got on well enough, the four of us, better than expected and when we said our goodbyes after lunch, I was hit with another weird sensation—jealousy. Because her children weren’t our children and in her family, there was no place setting for me at the table. It only lasted an instant but long enough to have registered.

I tried to put things into perspective, tried to remember why our relationship ended in the first place, it wasn’t a build up of all the minor things, the petty annoyances that masked the underlying truth that people simply grew apart. If I was honest, it was the Santería, the Afro-Cuban ritualistic and ceremonial worship of saints her family practiced religiously that rubbed me the wrong way. She asked how I felt about it and I told her I didn’t believe in things like that and it was the truth, but the other truth, the deeper truth, was that it scared a part of me that I didn’t want to acknowledge.

To be clear, it wasn’t Tatum practicing rituals so much as her mother. That woman hated me from the moment she clapped eyes on me, no rhyme, no reason, just pure unadulterated hatred. For some reason, I hadn’t measured up to her exacting standards of what constituted a proper boyfriend for her daughter and she never bothered hiding that fact. She visited our apartment constantly and after she left, I would find things hidden around the house, under the bed, in the refrigerator. Little Santería objects tucked away everywhere.

One day when I arrived home early with the intention of whipping up a surprise dinner for Tatum when she got off from work, I walked in on Tatum’s mother and sisters in the middle of a Santeria ritual. There were others with them, perhaps family members I hadn’t met or just fellow practitioners, all clad in white. Drummers talked to the saints, playing their specific beat, eyes closed in a trance while robed dancers chanted in ancient Yoruba as they spun and shook off the evil eye.

And in the center of the living room, Tatum’s mother stared at me like I was a burglar, like I was the thing that didn’t belong in my own home. Before I knew, the last of my resolve evaporated and I began yelling for her and everyone else to get the hell out of my apartment, jabbing my finger in the air at her for emphasis. The old woman ignored me and she walked in ever-expanding circles while smoking a cigar that smelled of things I’d never smelled before and blew smoke in my face as she spoke in tongues. It made me gag and start to cough. I clutched at my throat and lost consciousness to the sight of Tatum’s mother and sisters laughing at me.

When I came to and Tatum arrived home, I told her what happened and she called her mother on the phone. After a lengthy conversation, she said she understood how things must have seemed and apologized for not telling me she allowed them to use the apartment while we were out but ultimately she sided with her family over me.

That was all it took. I moved out of the apartment that night and never looked back. Depending on how you looked at it, if her mother was casting a spell to get rid of me, it actually worked because I was out of her daughter’s life.

I kept this firmly in mind when Tatum phoned and invited me around hers for dinner. I accepted the invitation, mind you, but I kept the incident with her mother firmly in mind. It had been a month of Sundays since I had a proper home-cooked meal because no one in their right mind would have called what I did cooking.

Tatum greeted me at the door, apron on, dusted with flour and seasonings, happy homemaking in full effect. The kids were in the kitchen and to my astonishment were finishing up washing the dishes. They dried their hands before they ran up and hugged me. I looked into their faces and something seemed off. Their smiles were too wide, teeth too white and there was something unnatural about the intensity in their eyes. And their faces looked different. They still possessed features that were reminiscent of Tatum but the rest was somehow different, incomplete, like faces in transition. I chalked it up to being overly tired and thought no more of it.

Dinner went well. Who knew Tatum could have been such a gracious hostess? The kids made the meal a pleasant experience, as well. They stopped bickering and playing with their food when I asked them to, laughed at my jokes and listened with rapt attention as I talked about the time I met their mother.

When dinner was over we sat in the living room. The apartment was too small for two growing kids but Tatum arranged everything in a way that made it feel roomy, as though it was a real house.

We sat on the sofa, all of us, Tatum paging through a family photo album on her lap. Pictures of vacations with the deadbeat boyfriend, of her during various stages of her pregnancy, of her and deadbeat holding a newborn Lee and later with Tatum holding a newborn Tracie while deadbeat lurked somewhere in the background. A life well documented.

Tatum told me how difficult things had been. Deadbeat had developed a drug habit and came around under the guise of seeing his children only to beg off some money to score and if that hadn’t worked, he stole things to sell or threatened to take the kids.

One time when Tatum refused to give him any more money, he made good on his threat and Stacie and Lee were taken from her by Child Services because of alleged abuse charges. She described the hell she had to go through to get her family back.

As if on cue, there was a knock at the door. It was deadbeat, whose Christian name was Oscar, most likely coming around again to score. She spoke with him in hushed tones through the space in the door allowed by the security chain. When his shouts turned to raged kicks on the door, I stepped up behind Tatum so that he could see me. “Everything all right, Tate?”

It was like trying to put out a fire with gasoline. Oscar lost his mind and no manner of reasoning calmed him. I showed him my cell phone, made sure he had seen me dial 911 and only then as he weighed the options in his mind did he leave, but not before he made his threats. He would be back, to kill me, get his kids and make Tatum pay.

Tatum convinced me not to involve the police but only after she agreed to let me stay the night in case Oscar decided to return. We tried to salvage the rest of the evening for the sake of Tracie and Lee but deadbeat’s presence lingered in the air.

The sofa was made up for me as comfortable as she could manage, but sleep was the furthest thing from my mind. I was afraid that Oscar would return, afraid that I wouldn’t be much use since I wasn’t a violent man. All I could have done was to block his attack while Tatum grabbed the kids and made their way to safety. And if that was what it took, then so be it.

When the tension of the evening finally loosened its grip and I began drifting off, Tatum came to me. Without uttering a word, she slid her nightgown off her shoulders and let it fall to her ankles. Why hadn’t I ever noticed just how perfect she was before? She stood there, naked and beautiful in the moonlight that poured in from the living room window, and I knew then and there that I would have done anything for her. Smiling, she climbed on top of me and it was paradise.

After we were done, after all the love I was capable of making had been made, after the pillow talk in which things were said that were sweet and emotional and ultimately meaningless, Tatum gathered her nightgown and went back to her bed. I understood her not wanting the children to find her in my arms in the morning, but a small piece of me was gutted.

My head swam with a million thoughts, my heart filled with far too many emotions, and that, combined with the feeling that something still wasn’t quite right, meant there was no sleep for me this night. And so preoccupied was I that I hadn’t heard it at first. The sound. The jingling of keys.

I strained my ears, trying to locate the noise again. After a few moments of silence, I wondered if it had just been my overactive imagination. It couldn’t have been him with a set of keys, surely Tatum would have changed the locks. Then it happened again. The sound of a key sliding into a lock. I sat bolt upright on the sofa, eyes scanning the darkness for a weapon. Remote controls, game console controllers, DVDs—the candy dish! It was no gun, but the glass was solid enough to crack a skull.

I stared into the dark hallway from the living room entranceway and heard the front doorknob turning. The door opened a crack and light spilled in from the apartment building’s hallway. An arm slipped in through the crack holding a hooked wire, perhaps a piece of a clothes hanger, that scratched at the door until it found purchase in the handle of the security chain which it then dragged along the track slowly until the chain fell away.

I should have acted then. I should have rushed the door, slammed his arm in it, put my full weight against the door, held him there and called the police for them to cart him away. But I was held in place by a tension that locked inside of me. Instinct had taken over. So had the fear.

The intruder’s silhouette appeared in the doorway before the door clicked shut behind him, plunging the hall back into darkness. Footsteps, slow and deliberate. The floorboards creaked as if they were screaming a warning. I threw the candy dish with all my might into the darkness and knew that I missed my target completely when I heard it crash off the front door and glass rained down on the floor.

Then I heard a rustling come from the kids’ room, obviously awakened by the noise. Were they coming to investigate? Something snapped inside me. This bastard wasn’t going to harm those kids!

I charged into the darkness until I collided with the intruder. But as angry and determined as I was, I was no match for his explosive violence. He heaved me into the air and threw me onto the floor, unleashing a hail of punches and kicks that knocked me senseless. I put my arms up to protect my face and instinctively curled into a ball but my defensive position blocked none of his attacks.

He must have sensed how weak I was, what a uselessly pathetic man he was dealing with because he stopped hitting me and chose instead to wrap his hands around my throat. I flailed spastically to get him off as I gasped for air but the intruder was having none of it. He slammed my head against the floor in a violent demonstration of his control over me as I gasped my last remaining breaths.

Then light flooded the room. Tatum and the children stood at the end of the hall, staring at me. My emotions were mixed. I wanted them to go away, I didn’t want them to see me like this. I wanted them to get to safety, but on the other hand, I wanted them to help me. I didn’t want to die.

But there was something in the way they looked at me, something that told me things weren’t right. And I looked up at the intruder—

Who was no longer there. And now I understood why they were staring at me. Here I was lying on the floor with my own hands wrapped around my neck. It took some effort for me to loosen my own grip. I staggered to my feet and tried to explain how Oscar had come back, how he had a key and he broke in and was going to do something terrible to them, but they didn’t understand.

“Who’s Oscar?” the kids asked and, “What’s wrong with Daddy?”

“Stop that! It isn’t funny anymore!” I tried to yell through a raw throat. “I’m not your father!”

A genuine look of pain danced across Tracie and Lee’s faces as they turned to Tatum, asking, “Why is he saying this, Mommy? Why is he acting so strange?”

And I was feeling strange like my entire world had suddenly shifted on its axis.

“I can prove it,” I said as I ran past them into the living room and grabbed the photo album for proof and flipped through the pages of—

Tatum and I on vacation. Me posing with her during various stages of both her pregnancies. The pair of us cradling a newborn Lee and later with us holding a newborn Tracie while Lee lurked in the background pulling a silly face.

These weren’t the pictures I had seen earlier and I had no recollection of having taken these photos, yet they existed.

And I looked at Tracie and Lee and they were different again, now a mixture of Tatum and I thought I actually saw bits of myself in their faces. The kids asked Tatum what was wrong and she explained that I, Daddy, just had a nightmare, that’s all. She told them that everything would be all right in the morning, everything back to normal.

After Tatum swept up the shattered candy dish, she began to usher me to the bedroom, grabbing the pillow off the sofa when something fell to the floor, something that had been resting under the pillow. It looked like a figure made of red-tinged folded palm leaves, bound together by hair but I couldn’t see it properly because she quickly brushed it under the sofa with her foot. I asked her what it was and she said it was just one of the kids’ toys and she would talk to them about picking up their things, or she suggested maybe I should do it, after I got back from Tuesday morning shopping, because she wouldn’t have time since she was staring at a monster of a day down at the law firm tomorrow.

©2013-2019 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Madd Fictional presents “Unwritten Stories That Will Never See The Light of Day” (maybe)

Prodigy. Genius. Talented. Gifted. Blessed. While it’s true these words describe yours truly to a T, there are times when greatness does not come easily (no, really, it’s true) and some of the ideas that spill forth from my gray matter fall far afield of the greatness for which I am currently known (if I have to label this as sarcasm you are instructed to take a seat at the back of the class until such time as you are able to purchase a clue).

Most of these hideas (hideous ideas) are forgotten as quickly as they appear, but there are a handful, a select few, that hang around and claim squatter’s rights on mental real estate better suited to my magnum opus(es).

This post shall serve as an eviction notice, with the hope that given some minor attention, the ideas will pack their belongings and fuck the fuck off back to obscurity.

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Venusian Gender Non-Specific Martians From The Moon

The year is 1938 and the United States launches a rocketship with the secret mission of sending settlers to stake claim to Earth’s moon for America. Upon their arrival, the lunar settlers stumble upon the satellite’s indigenous lifeform, Venusian Martians (the exiled offspring which resulted from the great Venus Mars Conflict) who do not identify by gender. The settlers also learn of a Venusian Gender Non-Specific Martian plot to invade Earth and mine the planet for the most precious energy source in the galaxy… human sex chromosomes!

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Trouser Snakes On A Dame

Samantha Jackson, an asexual parking enforcement officer, is trapped in an interplanetary shuttle full of horny extraterrestrial businessmen during the rush hour commute and is forced to take on car after car of deadly, one-eyed snakes, deliberately unzipped to deflower any virgin who dares stand in their way of spacejacking the shuttle to the nearest pleasure planet!

I am sick and tired of these masturfapping trouser snakes on this mother loving dame!

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Pocket Rocket To The Stars

It’s 1937 and America is looking for alternative fuel and power sources. Enter female rocket scientist, Hedda DiClasse, who builds a rocketship powered by the ever elusive and once thought to be mythical female orgasm. Problems arise when Captain Manuel “All Man” Hardbody is brought aboard to pilot the vessel despite the fact he possesses too much testosterone. Can he and Dr. DiClasse put aside their differences and come together to ride that rocket into the Milky Way?

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I Was A Teenage Neanderthal Bride

Ooba wan’t going to be told whom she would marry, especially with all the potential Cro Magnon suitors running around, with their promises of a newer, better way of life. But even as she discovers the perfect homo erectus, she finds herself torn between pursuing her wondrous new life or saving her old life and her family from extinction.

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If Books Could Kill

A single mother gives her daughter a popular children’s book, only to discover that it is possessed with the soul of her recently murdered serial killer husband who’s out for revenge.

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Firstborn

A viral outbreak renders the human race infertile and in order to cheat death, the top scientists and surgeons turn to the works of Victor Frankenstein until generations later, the world is nothing but frankenpeople, but when a frankenwoman gets pregnant and gives birth, the planet will stop at nothing to dissect the newborn.

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Gym Rat Blue

Five unbelievably attractive rookie cops who look as though they spend every waking moment at the gym, have just graduated from the police academy in a nondescript city that could be New York but is probably somewhere in Canada. Now that training’s over and the rough and tumble life of a beat cop begins, they must learn not only to deal with their duties as police officers, but also deal with the problems and expectation of their severely dysfunctional families and friends, while maintaining their unnatural good looks, even after being shot. Pose, pout, protect and serve is the name of the game at the One-Oh-Sex Precinct.

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Let Go Of My Ears, I Know What I’m Doing

We never need talk about this story or its title ever again. Sorry I even mentioned it Move along, nothing to see here.

Sally forth and be repurposing your less than stellar story ideasingly writeful.

©2014 – 2019 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

Story Tweets for the Week Ending March 9th

Lazy bastard mode is still in effect so here are more of my previous week’s Twitter story tweets. Hopefully, a new short story will be forthcoming next week.

Story Tweets for the Week Ending March 2nd

Yes, I have returned from my glorious two weeks off but, no, I have not created a new short story so you’ll just have to cut your teeth on my past week’s story tweets.

Ugh. I used “tongue” twice in the same sentence. When will I learn to stop tweeting past my bedtime? It’s 2019…where’s the damn EDIT button, Twitter???

Story Tweets for the Week Ending February 23

Yep, still on vacation, so my story tweets for the past week are gonna have to hold you until I return to scratch out new short stories. Enjoy!

Til next Monday, ciao for now, compadres!

-Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Story Tweets for the Week Ending February 16

It’s vacation time and I could have planned ahead and scheduled a couple of short stories to keep my blog parking space warm during my absence but I’m a lazy writer so what you get is a sampling of my Twitter story tweets from the past week instead.

Sorry, not sorry.

Yes, I am painfully aware of the typo.

Holler atcha next week, peeps!

-Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

So, This Happened The Other Day: Lilith and The Freemasons

So this happened the other day…well, before I get into that let me paint the picture: the label on the tin of the place where I earn a paycheck reads, artisanal bakery but let’s call a spade a spade, it’s a bread factory, a business open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year that churns out bread daily and nightly.

Every flu season, the recent strain cuts a wide swath through employee attendance and the company needs to bring in agency temps who usually do the grunt work, schlepping and dividing containers of dough, shifting racks of shaped bread dough to the proofer for fermentation or refrigerator to slow the activity of the yeast, etc. The guy they paired me with was from Peru who spoke absolutely no English while I am equipped with the ghost memories of 7th-grade Spanish.

To give you an idea of how long ago that was, the US was in the midst of a Cold War, a Space Race, the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal, an oil crisis and energy crisis, and Marvin Gaye’s single “Let’s Get It On” was the top of the charts.

I passed Spanish class by the seat of my pants. To say I half-assed it would have been generous, more like I 8th-assed it or better still 16th-assed it. The reason for refusing to embrace a new language was pure and simple childhood rebellion. Our 6th-grade teacher gave us a choice of learning French or Spanish when we returned after the summer recess and I chose the language of love. When I didn’t get the language of my choice I did the bare minimum to pass the class and quickly forgot it the moment school ended for summer vacation. That’ll show them! It’s funny how you never realize how childhood petty actions rob you, limit you, in so many ways.

But I digress.

My temp coworker for the day, despite the language barrier between us, was in a talkative mood so he asked me if I believed in vampiros. I tried to explain to him in my pidgin Spanish (assisted by hand signals and crude pictograms traced in rice flour on the tabletop) that I don’t believe in vampires, werewolves, ghosts, or even God for that matter but I wasn’t one of those radical hardcore atheists who gets in people’s faces about there being no transcendent will. I simply think we’re not smart enough to know our origins, arrogant enough to justify our existence, most certainly, but smart enough to know the truth? Sorry, not buying it. But, if your faith leads you to live a better existence and do no harm…good on you. I hope you’re right and in the end get the reward you deserve, because who knows? To quote the lyrical prophet, Billy Joel, “You may be correcto, I may be loco.”

Now, I’m not sure if he got all that but he smiled and nodded and when I was done, he kept repeating a word to me that I didn’t understand. Again and again he said it, more patiently than I would have been in his situation until the word began to make sense. It was a name: Lilith. Once I clued in, he proceeded to tell me about the primera esposa of Adán in the jardín del Edén.

When Adam lamented on his loneliness in Eden, Dios made for him a mujer like himself, from the tierra. God named her Lilith and presented her to Adam but they began to quarrel about everything, including sexo. Lilith, creado from the earth the same as Adam said, “We are both equal,” and would not give in to his demands.

Shortly after, Lilith deserted Adam, who immediately began to orar to his Creator, saying: “Maestro del universo, the woman that you gave me has fled.” God sent three UFOs (no, that’s not some atheistic typo, my coworker did not believe in angels) and said to them, “Bring back Lilith.”

The three UFOs found her in the sea at the place where the Egyptians were destined to drown. They said to her, “If you will not go with us, we will drown you in the sea.”

Lilith replied, “God created me to weaken infants from the moment of their birth until the eighth day in boys and the twelfth day in girls. After that, I have no dominion over them. I know my purpose, so I know you will not drown me.”

The UFOs told her that if she didn’t return with them, she will be filled with the desire to mate and bare a legion of children and each day one hundred of her children would die. As she couldn’t bring herself to return to Adam, she accepted her fate. And as the UFOs who turned against God’s grace crashed to earth, Lilith mated with them and bore many demons, one hundred of which died as the sun set each day.

When Adam and his new mate, Eva, began propagating the human species, Lilith turned her attention away from the UFOs and began seducing both men and woman alike, becoming the world’s first vampire. But she wasn’t driven by a constant hunger for sangre, she was fuel by a constant need of sex. She didn’t have to bite her victims to gain their compliance, the feromonas she secreted any living thing equipped with a sex drive.

My coworker traced “666” in the rice flour and asked me what it was. I asked, “The mark of the beast,” to which he shook his head. He explained that “666” was really “www” as in the world wide web. The internet was evil and was created by Lilith to lead humans astray. Also, “Satan” wasn’t a being, it was an office run by Lilith, and the serpent in the garden was none other than Lilith, who instead of tempting Eve with fruit, seduced Adam’s second wife into an asunto lesbico that opened her eyes to the truth.

My coworker swore that this was all true. The original Hebrew writings were revealed to him when he became a member of the Freemasons in Peru, writings that were subsequently changed by the Greeks to cover up the terrifying truth that Lilith still walks among us claiming victims each day.

And I could tell it was a topic he was extremely interested and invested in because he talked about it for the entirety of our shift. Definitely a twist in the sobriety of my normal working day.

I wonder what surprises are in store for me next flu season?

©2019 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Tweets as Stories: There is a Letter…

In my sock drawer, there is a hiding space behind a row what my father calls grave socks as in one foot in the grave because they either do not have a match, are riddled with holes, threadbare at the toes and heels, or the ankle elastic has given up their hold on life. In that hiding space, there is a letter written carefully in a mixture of cursive and print. In that letter, are words, feelings, emotions, and admissions that a boy would never say directly to a girl’s face, not even on a double dog dare.

On a bicycle, there is a shy paperboy who, even though I have not responded to his first letter yet, would write me another letter, I am sure of it, reminding me of our time in the park. In that park, there is a rum cherry tree under which I made a promise to the shy paperboy of seven minutes in heaven.

In my closet, on an afternoon when no one is home, I make good on my promise with the shy paperboy. In the dark, my mind is filled with a sort of scary, sort of awkward fireworks that I can see but cannot hear because my heart is pounding so fast and loud that I swear the shy paperboy can hear it.

In that kiss, there is something I do not have words for, something that drops my guard completely, makes me feel truly comfortable with the shy paperboy and I am desperate to let him see me in my entirety.

In that feeling, I am crying harder than I ever have before, harder than I even knew I could, crying past the point when I run out of tears. In the tearless sobs, my breath is hitching and I realize that this is most likely the happiest and most terrified I will ever feel in my life.

In the silence, after the kiss and the tears, the overwhelming and slightly painful joy is replaced by the sound of a key sliding into a lock, the tumbling of a bolt and the jangling of a woman’s metal bracelets.

In the house, there is a mother who will tan not only my hide but the shy paperboy’s as well, if she ever finds out I have company without permission and especially if my room door is closed and that company is a boy who is in my room.

In the window, there is a scared paperboy climbing out and mumbling a prayer that he does not hurt himself or makes a sound when he drops a story to the ground below.

In my mother’s eyes, there is suspicion when she opens the door and enters my room, catching me rushing to shut the window, cutting off the cool breeze even though I am dripping with sweat.

In my mind, there is a list of excuses that I cannot find in the clutter of thoughts so I just stare at my mother as innocently as walks past me and opens the window, about to stick her head out to inspect the backyard.

In my mouth, there is a fib, “A wasp!” I say just a bit too forcefully and I build on it by telling her there was a wasp in the room so I closed the door to stop it from getting into the rest of the house and I managed to chase it out and shut the window behind it.

In the moments that tick by too slowly, my mother glances at the window again, then at my face before turning to leave but as she reaches the door, she stops and says, “You should probably find a better hiding place. Your father’s been talking about throwing out your grave socks and you wouldn’t want him finding that letter, would you? And the no company without permission rule stands no matter how sweet a boy’s words are or how much your heart aches for him, understood?”

In the end, I realize I am not as clever as I think I am, nor is my mother that foolish or unreasonable and I discover a newfound respect for her as I answer, “Yes, ma’am.”

About There is a Letter: The story began life as this sneaky tweet for a Wednesday Twitter hashtag game called 1LineWed (hosted by Kiss of Death @RWAKissofDeath) that I banged out while I was working my day job:

©2019 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys