Random Character Bio: Incognita

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She also usually hates herself, and hopes I understand.

To be continued

Text and Audio ©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

The Cold Call

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

“This is Bailey.”

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

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

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

“I didn’t know that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You don’t say.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Sounds good. Thanks.”

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

Text and Audio ©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Her Parents’ Blessing

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

Authentic Tarot and Palm Readings @ Reasonable Prices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Um, Mrs. Houghton?”

“Tegan, please.”

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

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

“Sure, no problem.”

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

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

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

“I’m fine.”

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

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

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

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

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

“What exactly do you mean by that?”

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

“C-control?”

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

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

“Do you refuse to be initiated?”

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

“Then you are decided!”

“Well, I’m not so…”

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

“What’re you doing?”

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

“But why?”

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

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

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

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

“And you will obey my every command.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Even your heart for hers?”

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

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

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

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

“Fiancé,” Kiera corrected.

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

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

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

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

“Who says I haven’t?”

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

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

“Mom, I’m not playing with you!”

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

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

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

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

“He might have a point.”

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

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

“I heard that!”

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

Text and Audio ©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

The Widowmaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Text and Audio ©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Ottilie Was Not An Angel

Ottilie was not an angel, despite firsthand testimony to the contrary. The eyewitnesses weren’t liars, mind you, they accurately relayed what they saw; they simply hadn’t seen the event in its entirety. Blame it on the limitations of sight from three-dimensional eyes.

As a child, she was fun and full of life, enthusiastic and excited about everything. Blessed with a contagious personality, an infectious laugh, and vivid imagination, she was always in the middle of trying to sort out an illusory problem, usually some trouble she had unwittingly started, running two steps ahead, dragging me and explaining the faux pas while we ran from invisible monsters.

As we grew older, the monsters never stopped chasing her.

Ottilie was never satisfied. Born fortunate and afforded comforts most would have killed for, my sister always yearned for more. Not to have more, but to be other than what she was. Something less limited. In fact, that was a bone of contention between us. She never grasped how I was so contented with my lot and the finiteness of my existence. I tried to explain I had two lives, my own and the one I lived vicariously through the connection we shared; that bond that was more than just mere telepathy, shared consciousness or psychic rapport.

To me, it was far better to be the only ugly entity in a world of beauty rather than the reverse. From my vantage point, whenever I looked out into the world, all I’d ever see would be splendor. And that was what it was like sharing Ottilie’s mind. I tried to present this as eloquently as possible, but somehow her thirteen and a half minute head start in life granted her a gift of expression that I lacked and allowed her to brush my reasoning away with weary disinterest. I never held it against her, though. I knew I had the better view.

Sadly, what made her beautiful to me, made her dangerous to herself. She realized early on what her life could be and her mind would not, could not, allow this world to be enough, so she contemplated and calculated for days on the best way to escape. And those days blossomed into months and those months matured into years. A lifetime of limitation, combined with therapy and drugs—both prescription and street—wore down the tread of her spirit.

To everyone else, she was a woman of secrets and it bothered her that she couldn’t keep those secrets from me. I told her I would never discuss it with anyone and I never did, but she didn’t believe me.

In drugs, she finally found a way to shut me out. Her mind became a shattered prism refracting pieces of wailing mayhem in the blindness. My first and only choice for a sister and best friend became little more than a stranger to me. A clouded reflection trapped beneath a layer of ice too thick for my thoughts to penetrate. For the first time in my life, I truly understood the meaning of the word loneliness and I thought what did I do that could have led to this?

Among the things she dabbled in, philosophy, inventing, and mathematical architecture, Ottilie was not a busker. Yes, she performed in the park, but not for money, merely for her own sanity. I visited her most days when time allowed. I wasn’t quite sure she knew I was there most times. Except for the last time I saw her perform.

On that particular afternoon, the old spark had returned to her eyes. I knew instantly she was off her meds because I felt her consciousness tickle the outer fringes of my mind. Not like it used to be, her thoughts were close yet somewhat far away but I didn’t care. I had been alone in my head for so long I’d gladly accept any crumb or morsel thrown my way, and this was the first time since we were children that I had seen her approach anything near the neighborhood of happiness. She could barely contain her excitement when she told me she finally figured it out.

“Harmonics!” she said, as she danced and twirled around me like a pavement ballerina. “The answer was there all along, hidden in plain sight, staring me in the face, and now I’ve worked out the formula!”

She sat me down on a park bench and sang for me, or rather she sang to me and for herself. Her voice was divine, unmatched; a summer breeze through crystal chimes. People were drawn from their workaday existence. They formed a circle around us, unable to turn away from Ottilie, who sang of theories, both superstring and Bosonic, of manifolds and fractals, octonions and triality, as she strummed vector chords of coordinate geometry on a second-hand acoustic six-string.

What the throng of spectators saw was Ottilie being lifted into the air; her toes brushing the top of the manicured grass as her skin turned a tone so soft and unearthly to the eye that the color defied description, yet radiating like so many suns. The light that enveloped her made all other light seem dark in comparison, for the briefest of moments, before she popped completely out of existence.

What they hadn’t seen was the enormousness her frail frame acquired—probability, enfolded symmetry, phase space—as she ascended dimensions. Her song had given her the freedom she desired all her life and carried her onward and onward until she encountered a barrier that prevented her progress. Thinking quickly, she changed the tone of her song. She no longer sang for herself, she sang for the barrier and what lie beyond. Flattering it with melody, requesting an audience.

That was when a pinhole opened in the outer barrier of everything, allowing the omniverse to kiss my sister. She knew in that instant it was not what she wanted. She tried to flee, but the feverish rush of knowledge feasted on her being without mercy. She suddenly understood everything that was meant to be understood, as well as all the bits that weren’t. This tremendous understanding allowed her to spy the surface of a giant puzzle that contained the ultimate ensemble of every conceivable information pattern, as it was about to be solved.

But she simply couldn’t endure her brief exposure to timelessness. Her bones popped, limbs twisted and organs reformed as she was purged from the omniverse; stripped of her personal dimensionality and the many unnecessary facets of humanity attached to them. Layer by layer. Until all that remained was her core self, a small and insignificant thing that lost all depth, width and finally length, as they imploded within her.

Ottilie was not an angel, but I allowed people to think she was, as I combed the park grass daily, searching for my sister who called out in my mind telling me she wanted to be other than what she was—a zero-dimensional entity.

Text and Audio ©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Skinship: That Which Binds Us

Mickie

And thus came the point in Cutter’s life where the number of people he knows—them what breathes—were equally balanced with the people he knew—them what don’t. At the moment, he was ruminating on one such them-what-don’t, an odd and utterly frustrating yet absolutely captivating and charming woman whom he only knew as Mickie.

It was at one of those wretched singles mixers that provided icebreaker questions and fill-in-the-blank statements designed for people who found making small talk with absolute strangers—in order to attract a mate or at the very least make a new friend—a nigh-impossible laborious chore. One of the more popular among these was the incomplete statement, “The first thing people usually notice about me is…”. With Mickie, it was her voice. Spoken, it was smooth enough to polish silver. In song? It was cool and blue and crystalline and bright enough to transport even the dourest of souls to better times, despite whatever kind of mood they were in.

Her hope was to pursue a singing career and every summer she would trudge down to New York City’s infamous Washington Square Park, guitar in tow, and sing to anyone who would listen. Even though she was an atheist, she hoped the god of dumb luck would smile down upon her and help her get discovered. And even though that never happened, it didn’t stop her from trying and giving it her all.

Cutter possessed no pictures of Mickie and only the vaguest of images lingered in his mind of the petite woman, barely bigger than her guitar, who belted out folk tunes that resonated from Greenwich Village all the way up to Carnegie Hall.

But, singing aside, she wasn’t a well woman. She had her first psychotic break when she was eleven. Moody and tearful one moment and positively beaming the next. Then she began disappearing for days at a stretch, only to reappear battered with what appeared to be self-inflicted wounds and no memory of what happened or where she had been.

When Mickie was in her positive state, she was extremely tactile. Always so overly affectionate and the type of person that simply had to touch whomever she was talking to. Cutter couldn’t lie, it used to annoy the hell out of him. He loved her like he loved bacon, but he wasn’t raised by affectionate parents which ultimately shaped him into an elbow room kind of guy. He even brought it up in conversation one day when she was super touchy-feely.

It’s skinship,” Mickie smiled in reply. “I share it with you; you share it with me, shit, we all share it with everybody we come in contact with. It’s an important part of communication. The kind we forget about because we’re all so wrapped up in words, which is stupid because I can touch you right now and convey more meaning than if I spoke to you for four days straight. My hand on yours binds us in a way that nothing else on this earth can.

At the time, Cutter debated this for perhaps an hour or so and he walked away unconvinced that she had any special insight regarding the communication of touch.

Now Cutter realized what an idiot he had been for not taking the time to try to understand what she was trying to tell him. And she was right, of course, because now he was sitting on a park bench near her favorite performing spot, wishing he could touch her, be bound to her. There were so many things he wanted to communicate to her, so many things he wanted to ask, primary among them, “Who murdered you?”

He was hellbent on finding out.

To be continued?

Text and Audio ©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

A Meal And A Hot Shower

A number of years ago, I volunteered to man the telephones during a pledge drive for WBAI, a New York-based non-commercial, listener-supported radio station, whose programming featured political news, talk and opinion from a left-leaning, liberal or progressive viewpoint, and eclectic music.

During popular programs that offered nice gift incentives for pledges, the phones never stopped ringing. When a less popular show was on the air, the phones experienced plenty of downtime. This was when you got to meet your fellow volunteers. Most were friendly, chatty folks, happy to make connections with people who shared their political interests, some were dyed in the wool anti-establishment protestors whose roots were still firmly planted in the hippie movement, and then there was Dave. And he sat next to me. Because I am a magnet for the unusual.

It was the middle of summer, and a brutal one, if memory serves, and Dave was wearing a wool hat, and thick cable knit sweater, with a woolen scarf beneath his puffer coat. But that wasn’t the first thing I noticed about Dave. Not to be cruel, but Dave hadn’t quite gotten his body odor under control. But he was friendly, so we got to talking and in the course of the conversation, Dave admitted that he was a homesteader.

Now, to me, a homesteader was a person who lived and grew crops on land given by the government, so I bombarded him with homesteading questions because I was genuinely curious about the arrangement. He had to stop me in order to explain the modern usage of the term. Dave would break into abandoned buildings, run extension cords to the street lamps for electricity, and arrange to receive mail at the address for at least a month to prove residency in order to avoid being tossed out onto the street without undergoing a proper eviction process.

Squatting wasn’t anything new, and in New York there used to be a law that if squatters were able to restore a derelict building with everything (electrical, plumbing, etc.) up to code, then they could petition as a group to form a business entity and place a bid to purchase the property, using the cost of repairs as a down payment.

Dave wasn’t a part of any such coalition. He was a one-man army and he claimed that he was facing ongoing battles with the owners of the abandoned properties—throwing his possessions out on the street, re-padlocking the property, sending “muscle” to physically evict him, etc.—but this is not the true issue of the post.

Dave (whose name wasn’t “Dave” because I wouldn’t out him like that) had no income and he lacked the skill set to rig the pipes in the abandoned buildings to run water, so he cased houses, and when he was sure that the owners were either away at work or on vacation, he broke into their homes, took showers, and made meals for himself before he left. He claimed he never took anything besides food, always cleaned up after himself, and effected minor repairs if he saw something that needed fixing.

So, the real issue of this post (a bit of a departure from normal) is to ask you a question:

“Besides the obvious breaking and entering charges, how severe a crime do you think the use of the shower and the fixing of a meal is, assuming Dave entered your home without your knowledge or permission?”

Please let me know in the comments below.

Text and Audio ©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

My Madd Fat Brain Bug: A Story Box Full of Regret

The damnedest thing can place a bug in your brain. Rod Serling is the source of one of mine.

It happened while I was deep within my Twilight Zone infatuation phase, in the prehistoric information days before civilian access to the internet, when I devoured every Serling-related book, article or fanzine I could lay my grubby little mitts on. In one of the pieces, I read how Rod’s widow, Carol, found a number of scripts and stories amongst her late husband’s possessions that were unproduced at the time.

And thus the bug found a home in my grey matter.

I pictured Rod in the final moments before he shuffled off this mortal coil, his gaze sliding across the room until it fell on the closet door, eyes filled with that unique brand of sadness only known to writers. Carol would remember that stare and later be drawn to the closet by a mysterious force that urged her to dig out a box buried deep beneath the material remnants of Rod’s life, shed like so much old skin. A box filled with his regrets, the stories that remained untold, that never found a proper home.

You don’t have to say it, I know that’s all rubbish. Simply me fictionally placing myself in the position of a man I never met. If Rod had any regrets at all, I certainly wasn’t privy to them. But that doesn’t make my brain bug any less real.

You see, I have a box–well, it started off as a file folder and grew into a box–filled with stories in various stages of development. Ideas written on scraps of paper, composition notebooks loaded with concepts and outlines, and completed stories that only exist in paper form–written pre-computer on an Underwood typewriter, circa 1950–as I haven’t gotten down to the laborious task of transferring them to my computer.

I don’t discuss my box much and I only brought it up to respond to an email I recently received (copied and answered here with permission):

I want to write a blog but I’m scared of being exposed and having people judge or attack me because of my opinions and I don’t think I have the writing skills to get my point across in the right way. What gives you the courage to write?

Guess what? Self-doubt and anxiety regarding humiliation and criticism is all part of the process and grist for the mill, so welcome to the club. What separates writers from non-writers is that instead of running away from that fear, we invite it in for wine and cheese. Befriend the beast that frightens you most because there’s a story just waiting to be revealed in that encounter.

It’s true that honest writing takes courage, as does sharing your writing with people who may not be kind in their opinion of it, but you also have to realize that it’s not your job to make people like your writing. Some people will flat out hate it because of your views or your writing style, and because they may not know any better, can possibly hate you because of it. Hopefully, it’ll be the minority. Accept it as an unavoidable truth and move on.

As for the question, “What gives [me] the courage to write?” Everyone has their own reason for writing, and fear of acceptance isn’t high on my list. Sure, it’d be great if the unwashed masses loved my work, but the simple truth is all writing has its audience, whether infinite or infinitesimal, and if you never put your writing out there, there’s no chance in hell of your audience ever finding it.

The real reason I write is because of the aforementioned box. I just don’t want to be lying on my deathbed–hopefully many, many, many years from now–and staring at that damned box full of unwritten stories. I no doubt will have my fair share of regrets in my final days, but I’m determined not to have that box be one of them.

And since we’re on the topic of regrets, I recently read a book, “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing” by Bronnie Ware, a palliative care nurse who cited the most common lamentations as being:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

So, while I can’t offer you reasons why you should write, I can tell you that most of the regrets listed above factor heavily in my need to write.

In closing, someone once wrote, “writing is like getting into a small boat with a wonky paddle and busted compass and setting out on rough waters in search of unknown lands.

So, paddle forth, friends, and be regret-freely writeful.

Text and Audio ©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

 

Author’s note: Since I’m never at a loss for ideas, I don’t dip into my story box as much as I’d like to, though I will occasionally post one or two of them on this blog or slip them into or in between current projects. The story idea folder on my computer? That’s a whole different story.

What’s Your Shark?

“Next question?” the woman at the podium asked. Her hawkish features placed her in the category of handsome rather than beautiful and were accentuated by raven hair cut straight around the head at jaw-level, with a fringe. She was dressed in a black Kevlar bodysuit which made her look like a cross between a superheroine and the baddie in a post-apocalyptic science fiction film.

“You there, the woman in the purple jumper,” she pointed into the sea of reporters.

“Miss Begum, given the mortality rate associated with your line of work, aren’t you the least bit scared that you’ll never grow old enough to start a family of your own?” the reporter asked.

Of all the questions Matilda Begum had ever been asked, this was the one she hated most, which was probably why it was the one asked most frequently.

“I learned to conquer my fear when I was young,” Matilda said, and then course-corrected. “Put a line through that. What I meant to say is that my father taught me at a very young age to use my fear as a motivator.”

“You mean, he endangered the life of a child by manipulating you to help him do his job,” another reporter piped in.

“First of all, my father was a good man,” Matilda snapped, caught herself then regrouped. “And he never manipulated me to do anything. I asked to help him in his work.”

“But as a parent,” yet another reporter added. “Wasn’t it his responsibility to keep his only daughter out of harm’s way?”

“You all already know this story, so I don’t know why you keep rehashing it, but for the sake of this conference, I’ll go through it one last time. My mother was murdered when I was a toddler, so I have zero memories of her. All I’ve ever had in my life was my father. When I was little, he was the biggest, smartest, most important person in the world. When I got older, I could see that he wasn’t really any of those things. He was just a man, flying by the seat of his pants, trying to do his best to raise a girl he didn’t properly understand. When I matured, I realized that he was pretty damned close to the man I thought he was as a child because he endured all my teenage rebellious nonsense, all the hatred and vitriol I spat at him, and never once held it against me.”

“That doesn’t answer my question,” the third reporter said.

“Who’s at the podium, you or me? I’ll answer your question anyway I see fit, and you will not interrupt me again if you wish to remain in this room. Clear?”

The reporter remained silent.

“Good,” Matilda smiled. “Now, where was I? Oh yes, my father would have preferred a son, he never said as much, but he raised me like one and I didn’t mind because I wanted to be just like him. He had turned his quest to find my mother’s murderer into an occupation, and when he finally located the killer, I wanted to be there, to help him get justice for a woman I never had the chance to meet.”

“But you were only ten at the time, were you not?” the second reporter asked.

“Ten going on fifty, as my father used to say.”

The first reporter asked, “And you weren’t scared?”

“Are you kidding me? I was petrified! We stood outside the killer’s house and I was shivering so much I could hardly stand.

“I told my father, I can’t do this!

“And he smiled and said, That’s okay, honey, you just wait here. This shouldn’t take long.

“But I told him I wanted to be there, I wanted to help, for my mother.

“And he asked me, What’s your shark? And I just looked at him like he was crazy.

“I never told you that story? he asked. I thought I did.

“Then he proceeded to tell me the story of the Sharks and Fish. Anyone familiar with it? No? Well, it goes like this:

The Japanese have always loved fresh fish, but the waters close to Japan haven’t held a great deal of fish for decades. So they built bigger fishing boats and traveled farther out to sea but the farther the fishermen went, the longer it took to bring in the fish. If the return trip took more than a few days, the fish weren’t fresh and people didn’t like the taste.

To solve this problem, fishing companies installed freezers on their boats to allow the vessels to go farther and stay longer. However, people could taste the difference and didn’t care for frozen fish, which brought down the price.

Then the fishing companies installed fish tanks, but once placed in the tanks, after a little thrashing around, the fish stopped moving. They were tired and dull, but alive. Unfortunately, the Japanese public could still taste the difference.

Apparently, because the fish didn’t move for days, they lost their fresh-fish taste. The fishing companies pondered over the dilemma until they stumbled onto the solution:

To keep the fish tasting fresh, the fishing companies still put the fish in the tanks, but now they added a small shark to each tank. Sure, the shark ate a few fish, but most of the fish arrived in a very lively state. The fish were being challenged.

“So, when you lot ask me if I’m scared, of course, I am and I think that anyone in this or any other profession should be in a constant state of fear when doing their job. This, of course, requires your willingness to break free from your comfort zone and push boundaries.

“If it isn’t already, life needs to be your exploration into that frightening undiscovered country. Every new project is an opportunity to attempt feats above your current skill set. To see what lies beyond the unfamiliar horizon. To embrace bizarre new thoughts, take on larger points of view. To shake hands with the intimidating unknown. To paint the world you live in with unique challenges. Anything less and you do a disservice not only to your work but also to your life.

“Challenging yourself is about punching above your weight class, learning to not only chew but swallow that which you’ve bitten off, and in essence growing as you come to the realization that you’ve just become something better than you believed yourself capable of.”

“So, when you lot ask me if I’m scared, of course, I am and I think that anyone in this or any other profession should be in a constant state of fear when doing their job. This, of course, requires your willingness to break free from your comfort zone and push boundaries.

“If it isn’t already, life needs to be your exploration into that frightening undiscovered country. Every new project is an opportunity to attempt feats above your current skill set. To see what lies beyond the unfamiliar horizon. To embrace bizarre new thoughts, take on larger points of view. To shake hands with the intimidating unknown. To paint the world you live in with unique challenges. Anything less and you do a disservice not only to your work but also to your life.

“Challenging yourself is about punching above your weight class, learning to not only chew but swallow that which you’ve bitten off, and in essence growing as you come to the realization that you’ve just become something better than you believed yourself capable of.”

“So, in the wake of your father’s passing, God rest his soul, does that mean you’ll keep up the family business?” a reporter off in the rear of the conference room shouted.

“Of course,” Matilda said, her smile beaming. “Vampire hunting is in my blood!”

Text and Audio ©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Freedom of Choice

The alien invasion that humans wrote fictional tales, created television series and movies about, and established protocols for, had finally arrived on Earth in the form of a single spaceship and one lone alien.

The alien was a multidimensional being and therefore able to be simultaneously present in all the offices of the two hundred and thirty-two global superpowers, ranking in population from China to Vatican City. Efforts were made, of course, to subdue and in some cases even kill the extraterrestrial, however none of the attempts met with success.

In a demonstration of power, the alien disintegrated all chemical, biological, radiological/nuclear, and explosive weapons of mass destruction, as well as any weapon designed to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive. Once confirmation of the demonstration was verified by the world leaders, the weaponless humans had no other option than to listen to the alien’s demands.

The being from another world had only one:

“Bring this human to me, alive and unharmed,” the alien said in all languages, as it implanted the image in the mind of every human being on the planet of a small African American woman in her forties with a once beautiful face that had been worn down by exhaustion.

The woman turned out to be forty-three-year-old Mary Gladys Stockwell of Highland, New York, and to her credit, she surrendered herself to the proper authorities before any of her neighbors or coworkers could turn her in.

She was transported to the coordinates provided, a wheatfield in Davenport, Washington, to meet face to face with the alien, who arrived via transporter beam.

Mary, never one to mince words or stand upon ceremony, asked the creature, “Why am I here?”

“To decide the fate of your world,” answered the alien.

“I don’t understand.”

The alien seemed to consider his approach carefully, asking, “Do you believe in a higher power?”

Mary answered with pride, “I’m a Protestant and I attend an African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church every Sunday without fail. I’m not sure if you understand what any of that means, but the simple answer is, yes, I do believe in a Higher Power. We call Him God Almighty.”

“The universe is rich with entities and energies that exist outside the grasp of even our vast understanding, but as for your world, we populated it with a host of experimental species to see which, if any, could rise to sapience.”

“So, you’re telling me that you’re God? That you created life on Earth?”

“We planted the seed from which life sprouted. How you label us is your own affair.”

“Wait a minute,” Mary said. “Let’s suppose for a minute that you’re telling the truth…”

“You are no threat to us,” the alien said matter of factly. “We have no reason for dishonesty.”

“Then answer me this, why would the Creator wish to destroy His creation?”

“We will answer your question with a question, why is the life we provided for you not enough? Why do you hate? Why do you war? Why do you abuse, torture, and kill?”

After a long moment of silence, Mary was forced to admit, “I don’t have an answer for that.”

“That is why we are here.”

“To clean house?” Mary asked.

“Yes.”

“And you’re putting that decision in my hands?”

“Yes.”

Mary blew out a breath of exasperation. Talking to this alien was like pulling teeth. “What is it I’m supposed to do exactly?”

“Choose whether you live or die.”

“What?”

“If you choose to sacrifice yourself,” the alien explained. “We will spare the human race and erase the concepts of hate and evil from every mind on the planet.”

“And if I choose to live?”

“We will disintegrate every human except you.”

“And I’ll be here alone?”

“Yes. It is the way you prefer to live your life, is it not?”

“Not at the expense of everyone else,” Mary blurted out. “What happens when I die?”

“Then the planet will begin its healing process and we shall see if any of the remaining species can or will evolve into sapience.”

A thought began dawning on Mary, “Is that why I was chosen? Because I’m a loner, a person with no friends or living family members? Or because you somehow know that I’m not an altruistic person?”

“Yes to both.”

“And what if I make no choice at all?”

“We will destroy everything. All species and the planet itself.”

“No pressure, huh?” Mary said. “Look, just because I don’t have anyone in my life, doesn’t mean I want to die.”

“Then choose life.”

“But I don’t want anyone else to die, either. You said it yourself that you could remove hatred and evil from all of our minds, right? Why not just do that? Why play this silly game?”

“We need to see if the human race is worth saving.”

Then it clicked for her. “You’ve read our Bibles, haven’t you? You need proof of our selflessness. Just like in the Old and New Testaments, you require a sacrifice.”

“Yes.” the alien confirmed.

“How long do I have to decide?” Mary asked.

“We will grant you one day. Return to us tomorrow at this time, at this spot,” the alien said before vanishing within a beam of transporter energy.

The car that brought Mary to the wheatfield was parked on the main road as instructed. When the alien departed, the driver picked Mary up and drove her to the Davenport City Hall building.

Mary had been unaware that her entire conversation with the alien had been broadcast into every mind on the planet and when she arrived at city hall, she was mobbed by news reporters, government officials, and the town locals, who bombarded her with question after question. Once inside the building, she even received a phone call from the President of the United States. Everyone wanted to know the same thing:

“What are you going to do?”

“I have to make a choice, I suppose,” was the answer she offered to everyone, which suited not one person.

From then on Mary wasn’t able to get a word in edgewise because the comments came flying at her:

  • “You don’t have no family so you ain’t got nothing to lose!”
  • “We all assumed you’d make the right choice and take your own life.”
  • “What about my wife and two daughters? We’ve always been good people, helping those in need and putting others before ourselves. Don’t we deserve to live?”
  • “I want to assure you that your sacrifice will not be in vain! Tomorrow, when you make the correct and only choice, that day will become not just a national but a global holiday in your memory! We will never forget!”

Then the tide turned ugly and people began getting angry and accusing her of being selfish.

“How am I selfish?” Mary shouted at the crowd. “I haven’t even made my decision yet! It’s oh so easy for all of you to sit in judgment because you’re not the one who has to make the hard choice! Can’t any of you understand how difficult it is to be in my shoes right now?”

And that was when the jeering and racial epithets began. Again, to Mary’s credit, she remained calm, explaining, “Look, all I need is some time alone with my own thoughts without everybody shouting at me what I need to do. I promise I’ll weigh the whole thing out.”

Mary never saw where the first rock came from. It struck her in the back of her head and she wasn’t even aware that she’d been hit. There was a sharp pain, she grunted, and dropped to her knees in confusion. The second rock struck her in the temple, knocking her down to the floor.

Someone in the crowd screamed, but it wasn’t in horror, it was most definitely rage, and it served as the ember that ignited a frenzy that no one could have rightfully explained later on. Bricks, glass bottles, baseball bats, lead pipes, all rained down on the woman from New York, and those without a weapon, spat, kicked and stomped on her body that automatically curled into a protective fetal position.

When the madness eventually passed, and the townsfolk saw in the clear light of day what they had done, some tried to justify it with a “She gave us no other choice!” others couldn’t keep the contents of their stomachs from gurgling up and spewing out, and the rest ran back to the safety of their homes.

Three farmers collected Mary’s lifeless body and placed it gingerly in the back of a pickup truck. They drove to the rendezvous point and laid her body out on the field, making sure to straighten out her clothes and removed the matted clumps of bloodied hair from her face, and crossed her arms over her chest, before driving off.

The following day, when the alien returned, its expression was not what anyone would have expected. The extraterrestrial appeared to be saddened by the sight of Mary Gladys Stockwell’s corpse. It knelt beside her and softly spoke a few words in a language no one understood, a prayer, perhaps. Then the alien carefully took her body into his arms, rose slowly, and said in all languages to all the planetary sapient minds, “You have failed yourselves.”

The alien along with Mary Gladys Stockwell’s cold body, faded in the brilliant light of the teleportation beam, as humans all across the globe began to wilt like flowers deprived of water, until they decayed to nothing but dust, hopefully to be carried off by the wind in order to fertilize the crops for a better form of life to grow.

Text and Audio ©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys