“Of course it hurt that we could never love each other in a physical way. We would have been far more happy if we had. But that was like the tides, the change of seasons–something immutable, an immovable destiny we could never alter. No matter how cleverly we might shelter it, our delicate friendship wasn’t going to last forever. We were bound to reach a dead end. That was painfully clear.” ― Haruki Murakami, Sputnik Sweetheart
They say you meet friends in the damnedest places when you aren’t looking for them and I thought this was utter nonsense until the day I found a friend in the reflection of a mirror. I know what you’re and no, this isn’t a story about finally finding and befriending myself or coming into contact with the Supreme Intelligence that exists within me, because it wasn’t my reflection. This person, this woman who had no name, that I called Alice, stood beside the mirror version of myself, to the left. Always left of center. I should have taken that as a sign, but you never see the glaringly obvious without the benefit of hindsight, do you?
Before you mistake Alice for an imaginary friend, know that were I in a mirrorless room, I wouldn’t be able to communicate with her because she simply wouldn’t be there.
How she came to be trapped within mirrors is anyone’s guess and I doubt she truly knew herself, though whenever asked, she would always blame her fractured memory, splintered like the shards of glass of a shattered mirror that held incomplete images of her past.
She was fascinating in her way, Alice was. A brain filled with dark matter. Insecure to a fault. A high maintenance friend if ever there was one. Not only was she needy, self-absorbed to the exclusion of all else, devoid of a funny bone—despite the fact she claimed to have an excellent sense of humor—but she was also passive-aggressive and more than slightly obtuse when it came to the rules of the world that existed outside her own head. But as I said, fascinating in her own right.
It’s a shame that fascination wasn’t enough to carry through. I was determined in the beginning to plant our relationship in the soil of time, water it with patience and let it bask in the rays of understanding.
What sprang from the dirt wasn’t the flower of friendship, but the weeds of unwanted advice. It’s what broken people do, you see, they have an undying need to give others advice on how to fix themselves. I am by no stretch of the imagination a Bible scholar, but I am familiar with the passage:
“And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”
But I endured it. You ask me why? I couldn’t tell you. That’s what friends are for, I reckon. But then I started to notice that her reflection was dwarfing my own. She began taking up the majority space in the mirror, and I, trying to keep the peace had ignored the signs and allowed it to happen. My own fault, I plainly admit it.
But no more.
As I grow older, reluctantly wiser, and I reevaluate my life choices and take stock of my friends, I see with regard to the Alice matter that I will never get a decent return on my investment. Some people are a bad fit within their own skin as well as with other people.
Not long after, I noticed she wasn’t simply trapped within a mirror. Alice was actually trapped in a glass box of her own construction, caught within a mirror pocket dimension. And to add insult to injury, she was attempting to trap my reflection, and thereby me, inside one as well.
In the end, I did the only thing I could do, for she gave me no other choice. I placed her reflection in the only fitting place I could think of — my rear view mirror. The very last time I ever laid eyes on Alice, she was shrinking in the distance until she was little more than a dot on the horizon.
My sincerest wishes for her are to find her way out of her glass cage and strive to be more than a visual echo in the reflectors of others. But that first step begins with her. She has to want to be a real person, and I’m not sure she knows how.
In any event, adieu, Looking Glass Girl. Here’s not looking at you, kiddo.
The rest of you, go forth and be reflectively writeful (and be mindful of mirror-lurkers).
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
“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.
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.
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!
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!”
Pocket Rocket To TheStars
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Welcome back to the Infobahn Chronicle Channel! My name is Kari R. Wade and I’m coming to you live from Staten Island with a local news story that’s gaining national and international attention.
Before I begin, I need to issue the following warning: Tonight’s news story contains adult themes, possible sexual content, and strong language. If you are sensitive to any of these, please proceed at your own discretion. Furthermore, the opinions expressed during this broadcast, especially those from the people joining the live chat, do not necessarily reflect the views of the channel.
As previously mentioned, there’s a local story and by local I mean Staten Island, New York, where I broadcast from, involving a wife and husband, both of them nudists and professional photographers, who took nude photographs of their 10-year-old daughter and had them framed and placed on various walls of their house along with other photographs which were not all nudes and no there were other underage models. One day, one of the girl’s friends from school visits the house and sees her friend’s naked photos and when she gets home she tells her mother who promptly calls the police. With a warrant, the police confiscate the nude photos of the little girl and the couple is now facing child pornography charges.
Do you agree with this? Or can you see the parents’ point of view that the nude photographs of their daughter were art?
As I consider all of you my cohosts, I’m opening up the chatline to get your thoughts on the matter. As always, while I do believe in the freedom of expression and will air your content as is, this is a safe space everyone to express their opinions and hate speech and bully will not be tolerated.
Ah, we have our first contributor:
Casino_Royale: I have photos of all my children in the tub at play when they were younger. I love the shots. I think they are joyful and innocent and all things good concerning childhood but I wouldn’t hang those photos in a public space for anyone walking around my home to view for several reasons.
First among them being my children’s embarrassment. Second, the fact that the world we live in is full of some very strange humans that may not think them so harmless. Maybe someone looking at them isn’t seeing them in the light for which they were meant. Bringing attention to my child to that person is easily avoided by not displaying the photos. Artistically it sucks, I know, but it is as it is.
GILF57: I agree but let’s not forget the child is 10. That’s usually past the age that you refer to as joyful tub photos. I have a 13-year-old girl and we stopped taking those kinds of photos at around age 5. A big part of the law surrounding child porn has to do with the fact that the victim cannot legally give consent. I think if the parents weren’t into child porn, they showed remarkably poor judgment.
LarrytheAbleGuy: Like pornography, I can’t define art, but I know it when I see it. Without seeing it, I am with GILF57. Naked baby, maybe. Naked 10-year-old, fishy, or at least, remarkably imprudent, given the current climate.
NYCer4evr: How about giving those folks the benefit of the doubt? Having said that, Art is incredibly subjective, as is common sense at times, unfortunately.
Grimly: They should have known better but like Batman once said: “Hindsight is often better than foresight.” It’s hard for me to speak to the judgment of those parents. Perhaps they have strong convictions that conflict with the prevailing social standard. It wouldn’t be the first time that happened.
Sisterectomy: It’s child pornography.
Spam_I_Am: As Larry implies, the “current climate” is pretty puritanical when it comes to this sort of thing. Like Grimly, I cannot presume to know the parents’ philosophy and attitude from this distant vantage point. Nonetheless, I do agree with some others who suggest that their judgment about displaying them in a place potentially open to viewing by non-family-members may have not been particularly wise, given the puritanical attitudes that are so prevalent these days in the USA.
But I really cannot fathom how someone can immediately proclaim “child pornography” without any better insight than I into this matter. I presume that such a person would automatically assume that a child raised in a naturist environment is automatically and continuously a victim of sexual abuse then? That is an unfathomable position to me.
The mere fact that a child is photographed unclothed does not mean that photograph is child porn, any more than a nude picture of an adult is automatically pornographic. To me, the demarcation between “art/document” and “abuse” is a lot higher than the mere existence of the private image.
More than 20 some odd years ago a fine-art photographer by the name of Jock Sturges was raided and investigated by the FBI over allegations that some of his work was child porn. The charges were eventually dropped. Ironically he became a bit of a lightning-rod for silly attempts to censor artists and gained quite a bit of notoriety over this.
Bottom line for me: people need to tone down the hysteria and do a lot more to establish motive and intent before jumping to crazy premature conclusions.
Kindhrtd: Not having any children of my own, I can more easily be broadminded about some of these issues without feeling either of my knees jerking. I’m not sure how much weight I would put on the parents intent…its the end result that to me is important. I think a better solution to the problem would be to take the parents aside and strongly suggest that any such photos remain away from public view.
And of course, someone needs to have a conversation with the child. I agree with a number of commenters who feel like we don’t have enough information to make a determination. Just saying that the photos were of a nude child is not in and of itself enough. There have been many tasteful full nude photos on the covers of magazines in recent years (such as the expectant mothers on Vanity Fair) and I don’t think we can immediately claim that such photos are porn.
mommie_mia: I have two children of my own and also some “cute” pictures like the ones mentioned here, I believe all parents can appreciate proud parents wanting to display pics, but nude child photos are a parents memento, not for anyone who walks down the hall. Children are to be cherished and protected not displayed for all.
WitchrBadSelf: I am sure the parents did not mean ill, or pedophilia. However, 10 is too old, I didn’t take any naked shots after age 2. And hanging them in the house is a mistake, also. However, I hope it isn’t a mistake they have to pay too dearly for.
Grimly: Sally Mann is another prominent artist who has been challenged for photographing (her own) children in the nude, as has Bill Hensen, an Australian photographer who earned the wrath of the then prime minister, Kevin Rudd:
This is simply not an issue that can be disposed of easily or in a glib manner. Children should be protected. The freedom of artistic expression should be protected. Whenever our values come into conflict with each other, as inevitably they will, our response should not be to throw down gauntlets or prosecute, our response should be to come together, speak, listen, and collaborate.
Felicity: At age 10 it was, at the very least, wildly inappropriate. Art, perhaps, but the needs of the child are far more important than the artistic needs of the parents. It is a question of precedence.
DoverClover: Very poor taste and I question the parents’ sanity. Would they have their daughter walk nude into a room with people outside the family in it?
FromtheHip: There is no way this is legitimate “child porn” under any valid interpretation of laws in the USA, though twisting laws to perpetuate false arrests and malicious persecutions is a tactical goal of Rabid Religious wRong (RRR) organizations and those who arrogantly or cluelessly act on their instigation.
Kari, message me privately if these are friends who’d like help contacting any of the public interest law organizations or naturist and nudist activist leaders I know who may be able to help with legal resources, tactical advice, or filing Amicus support if they end up engaged in serious litigation.
What needs to happen in a case like this isn’t generally possible, but the friend and her parents who went to police, the cops involved, and the judge signing the warrant, need to be prosecuted as felons for conspiracy to deprive civil rights under color of law, and relevant parties sued for damages for false arrest or malicious prosecution or impeached and disbarred, ending government careers. The parents deserve a child abuse investigation for indoctrinating a kid to be incapable of respecting neighbor’s civil rights and likely to lack coping skills for our diverse society, quite possibly due to active parental and possible church or similar abuse and not merely negligent parenting.
As others have mentioned, there is a certain amount of case law that treats images like this as protected speech, not just in private noncommercial family surroundings or under some age, but as commercially published coffee table book or gallery quality life figure art, where lesser civil rights tests may attach (“intermediate scrutiny” rather than “strict scrutiny”) because of court interpretations of businesses not being citizens. That exists both for artists and photographers, and for book importers (eg, ALESSANDRA’S SMILE) and resellers, as well as private persons. Some of that case law can be found in this specialized law library, including cases not widely known to most counsel:
Kari, in what jurisdiction did this case occur? Do you know what specific charges have been filed? Is the Gestapo-like abuse of child protective services common to many jurisdictions also involved?
Of course law is strategic, tactical, and often deals with corrupt parties in all of black robes, blue suits we hand badges, guns, and truncheons, and prosecutor’s offices, especially in states where judges and prosecutors are elected rather than appointed employees, or where RRR related bigotry and subversion of government is common.
What is nothing more than a barely tolerable outcome in terms of Constitutional law may involve various time, money, and stress limits as well as the risk of a malfunctioning court not upholding the law due to various defects and prejudices prompting legal tactics that are far from adequate. Ideally, this kind of case calls for aggressive action against its instigators and perpetrators, from the other kid and her parents, through government agents largely immune due to sovereign immunity as if some king’s henchmen. A not guilty or dismissal, followed by a civil suit for false arrest, and recovery of legal costs and fees, plus the record of having done that to protect others (albeit only slightly), is likely a best possible real-world outcome. How far are these victims willing to go upholding the rule of law, versus just trying to cut and run?
It’s ludicrous to have laws that are so susceptible to abuse as are present kiddie porn laws. It sounds as if this is a case of hyper-aggressive bigots and thugs acting to lynch an entire family, as a result of prejudices and bigotry contrary to the rule of civil rights law for the USA. It’s fully legal for the acts of modeling or family lives or nudists and naturists to exist regardless of age and to photograph those.
Persons whose bigotry is so incompatible with respecting or at least tolerating neighbors living within their rights deserve to be prevented from abusing kids with those pathologies. Our government has an obligation to prevent this kind of lynching and never engage in malicious or reckless conspiracies to use violent force or threat thereof to create chilling illegal prior restraint against legal and protected speech or actions, as this case appears to be.
I also note that the most disrespectful of civil rights and clueless about US law comment so far in this thread comes from a government agent, who we fund and trust to use violent force potentially depriving other victims of civil rights. It’s overdue that corrupt criminal gangs we fund as the government be treated as worse crime problems, both personally and as organizations, than far less abusive non-government gangs of thugs or their members. End sovereign immunity and those willing to uphold the rule of civil rights law can be empowered to drive malicious thugs out of positions of power if they seriously abuse them.
Kindhrtd: I’m not at all sure I agree with everything that FromtheHip said…cuz he said A LOT…but DAMN, that boy has balls with a capital B!
Spam_I_Am: I should add to my last comment about establishing “motive and intent” and the word “harm.” Surely you can harm your children despite having good intentions, and it’s still child abuse. I just don’t see any evidence for jumping to that conclusion here based on the information we’ve been given so far.
For the same reasons I think it’s inadvisable to go bombing foreign countries just because they thumbed their nose at you once, I agree with Grimly that the first reaction in these sorts of cases should be dialogue, fact-finding and collaboration, instead of trying to be the first and loudest one to scream “off with their heads!”
Grimly: The bedrock of this issue is not a legal dispute, it’s a human one. Legal remedies seduce us because they promise a decisive outcome. They promise justice. The real stakes here cannot ever be decided in a court, however.
Baroness: I have to say I am with FromtheHip. If this was a situation where the child was or felt abused it would be different.
Topaz: Agree with Grimly’s point of view, not enough info.
Quietasitzkept: If anyone has actually seen Sally Mann’s work, it clearly isn’t pornographic. Disturbing, but by no means abusive or sexual. Sturges walks a much finer line, much more charged imagery, and was still let off. Photos of your own prepubescent child? As presented, it sure doesn’t sound pornographic. Stupid to hang on your wall, probably, but the parents’ sense of judgment isn’t the issue. Did it harm the kids? That’s the important question, which isn’t answered here.
FromtheHip: The fact that this has been already made a serious legal case means that it needs resolution as a legal case. It became something that is far from ideal and reflects pathologies of our society itself to tolerate the way hate cults endorse abusive parents indoctrinating kids in ways fundamentally incompatible with any diverse Western society, and authorities willing to turn into adrenalin junkies on any excuse to abuse power.
A lawyer friend calls me a tusked boar for some of the focused tactical redress I find needed in cases like this. To tolerate an atmosphere of chilling prior restraint this kind of case reflects can amount to an overall higher level of violence than taking out the thugs causing it, with one wrongful violence in small pieces, the other more concentrated force to uphold core legal standards.
It’s needed to do that to other parents who millions would view as normal for indoctrinating EITHER overt RRR hate cult OR institutionalized bigotry counterparts they may not consciously recognize themselves doing, such that the friend had the reactions she did. It’s needed to show that cops when they act as little more than mercenary thugs, politicians as mob bosses, and intermediate bureaucrats, can be held personally liable under the SAME legal standards that limit protections to corporate employees and officers, rather than be above the law. “Bivens” precedent for when it’s legal to personally as well as officially sue criminal cops, or exterminate bad cops perpetrating felonies many state laws say don’t qualify for lawful self-defense against cop perp’s, is far from adequate legal process.
It takes 3-5 generations to help masses of people adapt to small chunks of social changes as became overdue in full overnight in 1868 when the 14th Amendment extended the Bill of Rights inside states before our society diversified exponentially before ever catching up to 1868 law. In law on these issues, justice delayed is justice denied, yesterday, today, and tomorrow. That’s a chicken and egg mess, where legal remedies need to enable and pressure expedited social progress, but where social progress is needed before legal remedies are fully functional.
Anthony Romero’s boyfriend’s dad had an interesting experience at his business with his efforts to simply display what he thought was interesting art to make for a less dreary workplace. He found that insurance clerks complained that abstract life form pastels on the walls caused them to feel the workplace was hostile (not so clearly expressed, of course), while moving the same art to a boardroom and executive suites resulted in either no responses or positive comments from generally better educated and more intelligent employees or visitors to his large insurance company.
Besides Progressive Insurance’s general support of arts, they’ve also been a benefactor to the ACLU of over $30 million in donations, and that along with the Bush regime’s abuses motivating a more than doubling of ACLU membership have increased resources to assist this kind of victim of abuse of legal process.
Difficult as it may be, full enforcement of long-standing civil rights law interpreted based on current and honest societal fact, needs to be the yardstick for what kids need to be raised to have skills to live within and around. Monoculture supremacists, whether from hate cult dogma or gross lack of challenging adult and parenting skills, push an impossible paradox that civil rights should be restricted to reduce conflicts between their dictum and their kids lacking skills to deal in the real world of many conflicting life practices of neighbors (resulting in dysphoria & cognitive dissonance).
Alongside the obligation to use broad civil rights-related actions existing openly in society, religious or equivalent monoculture coercion cannot work in a diverse society, as even groups like Baptists or Mormons or Muslims have vicious feuds within themselves over which version of hate cult dogma to coerce on others. The best options for those who lack core parenting skills for the severe challenges of adapting kids to a diverse society with much chaos and complexity is to either not have kids, or pick their favorite Sharia court country and move there.
As to legal process, of course, a detailed finding and creation of a record of fact is important to this kind of case. In theory that’s what cops were required to do before filing for a warrant, and could not have done honestly based on the OP’s stated issues above. There are serious legal seminars on child porn with some rather disgusting examples that these cops should have attended before this kind of action.
There are also tactical seminars for prosecutors and cops to learn dirty tricks to circumvent the law and perpetrate malicious actions over legal speech, which arguably deserve to be found having a nexus to this kind of abuse and treated as instrumentalities of civil rights felonies, rather than protected religious or political speech. This result being an abuse of power backed by gunpoint gang is wrong whether the cops acted based on malice or negligence in professional and legal competency.
GILF57: Most of you have skipped the important fact here: these laws are made to protect the child(ren). The parents are collateral damage. While I can sympathize with them and hope that this is all a big misunderstanding or witch-hunting, the fact is that the child cannot ever give consent and any damage to her may not be known for years. I have known several victims of child sexual abuse. The damage may not show up for a decade and they never get over it.
Spam_I_Am: None of which excuses rushing to judgment. The real debatable issue here, to me, is what constitutes “harm.” I believe certain factions expand the definition of it to help them promulgate their personal agenda.
I think it would serve us all well to try to come up with a concrete definition, something other than “it might show up 10 years later, maybe.” Sounds like a blank check to me.
I also find it somewhat offensive to excuse any over-reaching legal action by claiming that it’s OK to breach this person or group’s rights (who have not been proven to have done anything illegal) in order to allegedly protect this other individual or group.
EVERYONE’s civil, legal and human rights should be respected and protected, until such time as it is very clear that someone has squandered certain of those rights by committing a crime.
Nana:@Spam_I_Am, I am astonished that you do not see the harm to a 10-year-old girl in this scenario. As a parent of a 12-year-old male, I think these parents should have put the photos under wraps years ago. Like, when they were 6-ish, and no longer babies.
@FromtheHip, you are an ass. And probably a pedophile, since you seem to have thought this issue through so seriously.
Sisterectomy: AMEN, Nana!
GILF57: I also find it somewhat offensive to excuse any over-reaching legal action by claiming that it’s OK to breach this person or group’s rights (In best Georgian accent) Like Jimmy Carter used to say, “Life, is unfair.”
Sisterectomy: @Grimly – The mental & physical damage a pedophile inflicts on a child in the pursuit of pleasure and what he calls “Love” and often “Art” is PERSONAL when you have children of your own. There’s not a parent out there who doesn’t feel a tug on their heart when they hear of a case and they don’t even get the real story. The real life facts are hideous and frightening. So Hell Yeah Man, it’s Personal.
Spam_I_Am: I don’t see the harm unless it is apparent the child feels harmed. I already said it was probably bad judgment on the part of the parents to have those photos in a place accessible to non-family-members.
I have known many victims of child sexual abuse – a number of them among my closest friends. Assuming that I have no compassion for people who’ve been through such things, simply because of what has been said here is dangerously presumptuous.
However, I draw massive distinctions between someone who, for example, was systematically and brutally raped by a parent for years on end, and some superficial hearsay about some nude pictures on some family’s wall, without knowing the slightest about the family, it’s history and dynamics.
If people think that presumptively and traumatically tearing up a family over such things – without any consideration about how healthy the overall environment was and how happy the children are, is better than simply sitting down with the parents and discussing, for example, the wisdom of having such photos on public display, then I don’t think there’s anything left I can say.
Spam_I_Am: The problem with that last point, Sisterectomy, is that you don’t have the facts in this case. Why you act like you do is a mystery.
No one is trying to argue that pedophilia is wrong or damaging to children. The point in this discussion is whether this case seems to meet the definition of pedophilia. I would like to see someone discuss in detail why they think it does, and how one ascertains damage/harm.
Because if it’s going to be a legal issue (as it already has become apparent and must be if the adult’s parental rights are being taken away), then it presumably has to meet the legal standard of either “pedophilia” or “child endangerment”. If someone would care to quote the legal definitions as applies to the locale in question, and how this case qualifies, I’d be interested to hear that.
Baroness: You’re opening a can of worms by deciding as an outside party that something relatively neutral is automatically a sign of abuse. Maybe it can raise a flag, but it is not an indication of abuse alone. By creating a tone of indecency around what might have been perceived as perfectly natural for the child, you’re completely warping any concept of normalcy or happiness in her future. It is not the place of outside parties (particularly uninformed ones on the internet) to decide children have been abused – and a lot of these crazy cases that turn out to be false are precisely that: outside parties who don’t listen to the children.
By no means am I somehow trying to minimize abuse victims, and I personally have a lot to say about the topic, but realistically Kari is very neutral. She doesn’t go into detail about the situation and to see people not only assume, but take up arms about something they don’t know anything about is a little disturbing.
Nana: This seems stupid. Can we meet the child? See the photos? Baring that, this is all kind of a joke.
IMO, displaying nude pictures of my 12-year-old child to anyone who happens to be in the room is just wrong. Anyone who does this should be reprimanded, hopefully by their own family and not by the state. Oh and sorry, my family is really fucked up and dysfunctional, so it can’t or will not control itself.
Spam_I_Am: I think it’s safe to say that opinions differ on the general appropriateness of nudity in the home. For example, naturism, as a lifestyle, is perfectly legal across the country. It would seem that the simple adoption of that lifestyle would automatically breach ana’s standard stated above.
So the challenge here, it seems to me, is how to reconcile these disparate views and standards, so that the various members of the community are satisfied. I also think it would be great if someone in the family were to bring up the question of whether the public display of the photos was a good idea. But even if the community/state got involved, it seems like the reasonable thing to do first is to, as Grimly said earlier, engage in a dialogue, rather than rushing to snap judgments.
None of us here have the details, so in a sense, as Baroness says, we’re all just sort of blowing a lot of hot air about it. Clearly, discussions like this are inclined to get emotional and inflammatory and make people quickly take sides, without actually resolving much in terms of specifics.
Baroness: What kind of people do you let in your house? I mean the daughter is inviting friends over and doesn’t display any behavior indication she has a problem with this. I find that to be an interesting indicator of tone. Even if you somehow think these photos would trigger an incident of abuse, you should still question what kind of “display” your private dwelling is on.
GILF57: I have known many victims of child sexual abuse – a number of them among my closest friends. Assuming that I have no compassion for people who’ve been through such things, simply because of what has been said here is dangerously presumptuous.
I didn’t assume you had no compassion if it came across that way, I apologize. What I am trying to get across, is that the needs of the child are paramount and if a mistake is going to be made by the State, it will be made in the child’s favor. Generally speaking, I can live with that.
I mean, the daughter is inviting friends over and doesn’t display any behavior indication she has a problem with this. I find that to be an interesting indicator of tone.
I cannot understand how her behavior is of any consequence. Lots of abuse victims find the situation normal and as I have said now many times, they cannot legally give consent anyway.
There does seem to be a big difference of opinion here by those who are parents and those who are not.
Baroness: This discussion is pointless. Let’s all teach our daughters to fear their bodies and feel only shame.
FromtheHip: One of the problems with lynch mobs rather than responsible citizens addressing these issues, is that the lynch mobs of emotive so-called adults and politicians pandering to them cause NAMBLA to become a legitimate and needed civil rights organization, in addition to a cover for real criminals. Clean up bad laws and the lynch mob mentality behind them, as well as address messy issues of post-pubescent sexuality and consent, plus a side dish of gay bashing, and most of the legitimate public purpose and need for NAMBLA or similar groups disappears. In effect, what many reckless religious or political predators espouse as if “protecting children” becomes a mode of abuse of kids and adults alike.
Pedophilia cannot legitimately be a crime. It’s a medical pathology, that crosses both sides of what’s necessarily a serious boundary for Constitutionally valid law, between thoughts that are legal even if warped, and crimes of actual molestation of specific victims. Beyond that, the term pedophilia is frequently used as an excuse for religiously biased laws to censor openly visible normal human sexuality of post-pubescents and to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, rather than restricted to its long-standing medical definition to depict only adults with an unnatural sexual interest in pre-pubescents. To be valid, laws must be narrowly constructed when they deal with issues of conflicting rights as sexuality relates to both privacy and religion, and must be based on real harm to specific victims rather than pander to broad prejudices of bigots and irrational masses.
As a long term naturist who’s reviewed developmental psychology and social psychology studies of child development comparing nudist and “textile fetishist” raised kids, I know that social prejudices coercing costume compulsion do on average harm kids, whereas nudist parenting practices on average result in teens with 18 months greater developmental maturity in several key areas (personal identity concept, boundaries awareness, decision-making skills) than for their costume-compulsive peers. In fact, indoctrinating kids to be costume-compulsive is a cause of teen suicides and lesser emotional pathologies, when in a “too much is never enough” economics driven culture many teens expect themselves to be not just models with specific body types and huge costume and makeup and salon services budgets, but airbrushed modifications of those. Reliance on Nikes or mall textile costumes to define oneself is far less healthy than mature concepts of a functional human.
I have assisted victims of bad laws defend fraudulent molestation complaints, including one divorce related extortion case where a friend was prosecuted after a psycho girlfriend of the X2B had her husband show the young kids porn videos on what was later found to be stolen video gear that husband was fencing, to enable the sick mother and friend to take the kids to police with the trigger for cops gone wild, worse than Joe Francis rapes, and plant the suggestion, “how would they know this (porn video scenes) unless daddy did something to them?”
I’ve also known “convicted sexual offenders” whose “crime” was having a boyfriend over the state age of sexual consent as teens, a year before unConstitutional laws were repealed or overturned, but not invalidating lynch mob convictions essentially where the crime was being a normal gay teen rather than having same ages heterosexual partners.
Lesbians have less often been targets of equivalent due process and other rights violations, also a form of due process violation by corrupt politicians and lynch mob voters and jurors. That’s not to say there isn’t long term harm decades later to victims of real molestation, and I’ve known some of those too, but that use of legal process for malicious or wantonly negligent civil rights abuses is unjustifiable subversion of government into the role of violent criminals.
For nudist and naturist families, as well as liberal arts involved communities, costumes are no more than that, or occupational task safety tools. To presume otherwise as many people do is often an excuse to wrongfully attempt to impose personal prejudices on others, or sidestep responsible parenting of kids who almost necessarily will be exposed and have to live alongside people of very different ideologies and practices than their own families.
That’s where sorting out legitimate causes of cognitive dissonance and dysphoria as real emotional consequences of values conflicts and life skills, from presumed religious or social bigotry based “standards” that are little more than personal or subculture preferences or prejudices, is essential to the rational development of legitimate public policy and law. Most people never spend adequate time inspecting their own issues of that nature, never mind looking at society broadly. As such, they’re less than competent as parents, or citizens. As our society continues to diversify, the importance of changing that grows rapidly.
It’s an old quote from a dead guy, but remains true: “Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are not even capable of forming such opinions.” — Albert Einstein, Ideas and Opinions
In our society, we need to see most people doing what old Albert suggested most people are incapable of doing. Were we to restrict baby hatching to adults with those developed faculties, we could easily reverse overpopulation related aspects of global warming. That kind of bias could be far more easily justified in public policies in tax codes and otherwise, than present ones that result in de facto dysgenics, where the only current USA positive birth rates are to the lowest IQ demographics of baby hatchers unlikely to be competent parents in this complex society.
BTW, presumably, you meant no one is claiming “pedophilia” (in the commonly used erroneous definition?) is NOT wrong or damaging? As discussed above, IMHO that needs to be refined among medical pathology and thought policing versus criminal law restricted to actual molestation of pre-pubescents, also separating out consent issues for teens who under many religious and cultural standards even if not some legal “bright lines” are sexual adults entitled to rights as such.
Spam_I_Am: What I see is certain people refusing to support their position other than trying to be divisive (by trying to divide the participants into opposing teams), or by throwing out non-sequiturs like “life is unfair sometimes”, or “it’s just collateral damage”.
I have a funny feeling that the writer of those things would be rather outraged if I had used the same phrases in response to the idea that children should be protected from pedophiles.
Grimly: Count me as an experienced parent, for what that’s worth.
@FromtheHip, I have to confess that I struggle with the long monologue form as an effective way to connect with someone who might not see eye to eye with you. I mean, we could spend hours just on the issue of how society might shift behavior from the legal to the medical arena, but you bring up a whole lot more than that in a single post.
Nana: ok, as far as sexism goes, I say again: MY SON (12) DOES NOT THINK THAT NUDE PICTURES PAST 3 YEARS OF AGE SHOULD BE DISPLAYED IN PUBLIC. We are a progressive, liberal, way more tolerant family than most in the Midwest. WE LISTEN TO OUR SON WHEN HE TELLS US WHAT IS APPROPRIATE.
Baroness: That’s your son’s opinion. And good for you for listening to him. But frankly, it does sound like you have influenced his opinion.
It is not a premise for judging this situation. Who here asked the girl how she felt about it?
JJBirdy: My son (who is 2) has many naked pics because he’s my nature boy who enjoys a good undressed romp in the well-enclosed backyard of his grandparents’ house. That said, I haven’t posted any of these exposed pictures on the walls nor have I posted them on any of my social sites where I post many pictures. I think the taking of the photos was not for the intent of being pornographic but it wasn’t a good idea to use them as art on the wall, especially since the child is 10. So calling them child pornographers is a bit much.
FeelTheForce: Interesting. I’d say that if the couple were to hide the photos and only look at them secretly and in private then it would be porn. Having them hanging in their home, I bet they viewed them as art.
As others have pointed out, It is difficult to say without seeing the photos. Maybe it was obvious in the photos that she was nude, but no “private” parts were showing? we just don’t know all the facts here.
As a side note, I am appalled at the fact that we’re calling each other pedophiles based upon a few comments in this thread. Can’t we have a simple discussion without name calling? Good lord people.
TeaLibby: I don’t think this is pornography. Any parent has taken a picture of their children nude. I have a few of my own. I have to agree with FromtheHip on this issue as well. What’s done in my house, dammit, leave it alone. Now if I sell the photos or post them on the internet for perverts to check out, in the sense, it might be porn. Otherwise, leave my photos alone.
Petalblossom: Simply said: None of us can determine the nature of these pictures since we cannot see them. That said, it’s doubtful they’re pornographic since they were on display in public areas of the home. See, no emotion first.
Ivy_Inverness: Petal is correct. The presumption of innocence has been lost here altogether. Also, I believe in protecting children, but the “moralistic” swing away from individual rights is appalling. As many others have stated, insufficient information to make an informed judgment. Those who jumped up and screamed, “pornography” with such scanty evidence are the same folks who believe in lynching without a trial.
Valkyrie: I think there are several issues to untangle here, and I’ll try and do that, and give my opinion on each.
1) Is taking nude photos of a 10 year old automatically pornographic?
I would say, no. Depends on the context, what the child is doing in the photo, whether the image is sexualized and whether the child feels comfortable.
2) Is it a good idea to take such photos?
3) Is it a good idea to publicly display and/or distribute the photos?
Definitely not, and very possibly illegal as well. Not sure how child pornography is legally defined.
Someone I know is now on the sex offenders register because she took a photo of her 7-year-old nephew playing in the garden in the nude, and had it reported by the developer.
4) Is it damaging for children to be photographed in the nude?
If they are comfortable with it, and not because they are victims of sexual abuse and so conditioned to it, if it is not a sexual picture, and if it is not displayed or distributed to cause them embarrassment, then I don’t see why it should be damaging.
Grimly: Kari actually presented a choice, and we are focusing on one side at the expense of the other. Would it be helpful to use an example that anyone can see for themselves? The photographs of Sally Mann are for sale at artnet.com.
Valkyrie: I wouldn’t class the Sally Mann’s as pornographic, although I imagine there are pedophiles who would find them arousing. Personally, I find things like children wearing t-shirts saying things like ‘boy toy’ much more disturbing.
DrinkenDrive: It strikes me as quite a strange thing to do and possibly embarrassing for the kids to have those pictures hanging up but child pornography it isn’t unless the kids have more to say about the way the pictures were taken.
Unfortunately, it looks like the US will head the same way as the UK with adults being scared to interact with kids in any way. You only have to look at this discussion to see that it didn’t take long for someone to be implicitly accused of being a pedophile.
CoffeeCopper: There is one small but CRUCIAL detail I didn’t get in the original story. Were these pictures of a naked child, or were they pictures in which the child was naked?
There is a difference between ‘nude’ and ‘naked’. One can pose without their clothes and convey something entirely different than sex, while some women are clothed when they pose in overtly sexual images.
What is pornography? If you define it merely by nudity, Anne Geddes should be arrested, and Betty Page is appropriate for children.
DrinkenDrive: “What is pornography?” To most people, it seems to be “Someone somewhere might get off on it” hence the hysteria over filthy pedophiles hanging out in every conceivable public space possibly recording children.
RunWild: I have children and they are often naked, I think nothing of it. I sometimes have baths with them and they often sleep naked in my bed with me. YIKES! Does that make me a pedophile? Er… I hope not!
I think the police should question the woman who reported them for having a mind that automatically thinks a photo of a naked child is “perverted.” What a sad world we live in.
Warrior_Princess: Ummm, a 10-year-old child’s naked photos, displayed in a place accessible to people other than family members…something sounds wrong in here. Freedom, alternate lifestyle…all that is fine… but are there some limits, somewhere? The world is not a nudist camp…so why display pics in public view? Nope, something wrong with the parents, for sure. I am not saying that they’re pedophiles but they need to develop their social sensitivities and common graces.
Adieu_Mluv: There’s not a parent out there who doesn’t feel a tug on their heart when they hear of a case and they don’t even get the real story.
Regarding legal consents etc, the problem (if there is one) is that until a kid has reached a certain age, it’s their parents that are charged with making decisions in her interest. That’s what society decided is fair. Sadly, too often parents fail to cope appropriately with this important duty. (One could perhaps say their decision making is as poor as that involved in them becoming parents in the first place.) I’m not sure why the parent-child relationship is so hallowed.
If the child is happy to invite people into her home where she knows there’s a picture of herself displayed, and doesn’t cover it up, then I’d have a hard time believing she is remotely affected let alone traumatized, but overblown PC reactions might start to make her feel guilty about not having been ashamed of it, and thus, in fact, cause trauma. True, lots of abuse victims find the situation normal, but lots of people who were not victims also find their situation normal and would be incensed to have others insist otherwise. It’s possible she’s one of those.
It’s sad that even when a kid goes on international TV to say she’s totally fine with her nude photos (as happened in the Australia case), she still gets dismissed as ‘just a kid’ as if she’s too young to know any better.
Underneath our fur and feathers, we are all completely naked, to quote a muppetism! There’s nothing inherently wrong with it. An additional factor in the cases mentioned is that they all involved established professionals. Would it have been better had they taken pictures of someone else’s child instead? What of other professionals who happen to be parents? Could professional doctors be had up for abuse for examining their offspring’s genitals?
I think the issue is not that the parents took photos of their kid and displayed them, it’s that some people are generally uncomfortable with ANY nude pictures of humans between certain ages. It seems to be between about 5 and the age of legal consent for everything. Oh, unless they are pictures in adolescent development texts.
I think naked photos of humans can be artistic, but most attempts at them (moody black and whites) are nothing more than snaps. It was possibly a bit tasteless to display them but plenty of people display tasteless pictures in their homes.
You know what’s even more tasteless, possibly even disgusting, yet widespread, being displayed in millions of homes? Images of a man being tortured to death.
Someone, I forget who, posted: “WE LISTEN TO OUR SON WHEN HE TELLS US WHAT IS APPROPRIATE.”
Really? So then can’t these other parents also listen to their kids when they tell them what they think is appropriate? Or is it that what is ‘appropriate’ for any kid to tell their parents or other adults actually depends entirely on what you think?
PEARL_NEKLESS: I think its also important to note, given the numerous mentions of concern about these pictures being ‘on public display’, that they do in fact appear to be on display only in the privacy of the parents home.
So, the ‘public’ are not exposed to the photographs, only invited guests and friends.
Which, of course, brings up the issue of what is permissible for us to display within the private confines of our own homes and whether or not people who take offense at what we might have hanging on our walls etc, have a right to pursue a legal action against us just because they feel offended as a result of entering our space.
Now knowing that the family are naturists also suggests to me the photographs were almost certainly not ‘pornographic’ in nature. That some people, nonetheless, might find sexual stimulation by viewing said photographs is no reason to charge the photographer with a crime, nor outlaw the taking of such imagery.
Adieu_Mluv: why display pics in public view? Inside one’s own home is “in public view?” Maybe to peeping toms and paparazzi.
Angieplastie: I haven’t read all the comments, so sorry if I repeat anything. Without seeing the pictures, nobody can judge this. If it’s full-frontal, legs-spread, porno-posed nudity, then yes, it’s child porn.
But it could be that you can only see her bare back, for example.
Adieu_Mluv: Is it fair to say that pornography is anything that has been created for the express purposes of sexually titillating or arousing others?
Wonky_Waiter: I lack time, alas, to read all of the comments, but what I’ve read always made sense, as in, there is the principle and the reality. When you make a law for the country, you have to set up some borders, well, some ahead of the real danger.
Like: if you prohibit shooting someone with a gun, you can’t allow people pointing guns at others, even if they won’t ever shoot: how do you know in advance? Then, they had to regulate the toys faking guys: they’ve been used to threaten people and rob them. See what I mean? I can’t say I’m any happier to see any pic of me nude as a baby. I don’t see the point of it: the genitals can be easily covered without making it an ugly photo.
Is murder an art? Is stealing an art? Is torture an art? Is horror an art? Gore? Concentration camps? See? The question is not here. Art is not a cover for just anything. Yes, in these troubled times, let’s be just simple and prudent, instead of getting lost through stupid attempt for philosophy.
If you really want to care about philosophy, search if you should not do something about the poor, the sick, the enslaved people, the homeless, war, etc. That’d make more sense in my eyes than the elitist thinking about such things, like “should we allow nude pics of any kind provided someone finds it’s art?” By luck, the basic worker has better to do of his time, and is, for such matters, smarter than middle-class people, lol.
Kargy_Korvette: It’s pretty much impossible to judge without seeing the photos. Nude doesn’t have to mean pornographic or even erotic.
Grimly: But you can see the photos that Sally Mann took of her children, and not only in the privacy of her home but online. Should Ms. Mann be arrested? It seems to me that the law is inadequate for serving the needs of all concerned.
CoffeeCopper: “Is it fair to say that pornography is anything that has been created for the express purposes of sexually titillating or arousing others?” Only if you want to be sensible or rational about it, Adieu_Mluv. As far as I can tell, people have little interest in rationality.
FromtheHip:“It is no measure of sanity to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” – Jeddu Krishnamurti
It was 1964 that saw Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart become the brunt of jokes that “porn is whatever gives the judge a hard-on” after he penned an opinion in Jacobellis v Ohio explaining why the notion of pornography is so arbitrary and subjective as to evade any valid means of being defined under core principles of US law in common with British law, without reaching additional issues of religious bias that make a later case like FCC v Pacifica Foundation judicial error or malice, as that court later pretended “indecency” was somehow a legal concept rather than an issue of subjective religious prejudice to its roots. Convicted felon-founded Citizens for Decent Literature, inc. was an Amicus party to Jacobellis, and was the first in a string of successor RRR organizations including NFLF, CDC, and ADF that have advocated legal tactics to censor Constitutionally protected speech of others, or Operation Rescue that advocated and organized regional campaigns to send criminal operatives (bastions of national morality) into bookstores and libraries with magic markers and razor knives to vandalize books and art, including among other targets those of Jock Sturges, David Hamilton, and Robert Maplethorpe. At one point, Operation Rescue was convicted under RICO statutes as a criminal mob operation rather than a legitimate religious advocacy group, along with its principals personally, though that mostly reflected their criminal terrorism and lesser crimes against women’s health clinics and their patients.
It’s interesting that most of those calling for criminal persecution of legal speech, or violating THIS SITE and likely their own ISP TOS with libelous accusations of pedophilia, are from the region of the US that brought us Hess v IN and Barnes v Glen Theatre inc, both lynch mob cases of RRR tactical censorship of legal speech, in the region whose Appellate court competes with Texas for 2nd worst in the nation for civil rights protection. Raising kids in such regions is often more challenging than in less RRR infested regions, as they need to be trained in skills that recognize most neighbors and friends as pathological, while still being functionally socialized to deal with them. The easier course of indoctrinating kids to be like sick neighbors is overdue to be treated as serious child abuse, difficult to enforce on such a large scale.
Under core principles of US law, all mala prohibita, what are loosely called “victimless crimes”, are Constitutionally suspect as reflecting prejudices of some advocacy group to marginalize and deny rights to neighbors. That generally includes speech content censorship, drug laws, “nudity” laws (try to define “nudity” in a substantive, neutral manner), and sexuality based laws. A reversal of archaic Puritan/Calvinist bigotry in US laws and roots in Common Law would call for protecting au naturel persons on Main Street equally as those with funny hats, sideburns, or other costumes related to their religions, both for persons for who naturism unto itself is a religion or others for whom it’s an element of religious practice that harms none, and for those entitled to merely be free of oppressive laws based on other people’s dirty dogma. There’s no valid reason to oppress a passive state of being that doesn’t affect others via law, even if many immature people have personal issues where they need to grow the fuck up and deal with human diversity.
This includes the use of White House regime FCC process to harass and intimidate broadcasters, who for commercial reasons in catering to audiences full of intolerant bigots already tend to self-censor heavily. Courts have recently reversed some large FCC fines driven by rabid fundy organizations, ruling that RRR tactics to use the FCC to impose chilling prior restraint by broad brush means and using amorphous legalese definitions designed to be impossible to clearly understand is fundamentally not legal. The importance of broadcast censorship isn’t whether Janet Jackson has good taste in non-piercing nipple jewelry, or whether war is cruel (Private Ryan). This is a question of whether censorship is tolerated to marginalize and subordinate real people and their real lives, by public policy that declares their values and lifestyles squashed from visibility in order to favor dogma of hate cults.
American Family Association, Don Wildmon’s organization, and its members who’ve joined his campaigns to file FCC complaints about programs and FCC licensees in markets those filing the complaints could not possibly have personally viewed, deserve to be prosecuted for large numbers of felonies they’ve perpetrated in their censorship campaigns. In addition to various regulatory violations, filing a false complaint about alleged broadcast “indecency” as AFA in one case managed to instigate 17,000 individual complaints, is a Federal felony under 18 USC 1001. When most people filing via AFA could not possibly have watched the programs on the stations against which they filed, those AFA members’ and supporters’ actions were clearly felonies. Unfortunately, a non-GOP FCC Commissioner with whom I’ve discussed these issues in public on the hearing record and in the shadows is likely correct, that the FCC nor DOJ (Justice) will not do their duty and pursue criminal investigations of AFA false filings absent marching orders from Congress.
I’ve made many filings with the FCC over the years, and never had an application denied, while in the two cases where I’ve filed petitions to deny renewal of broadcast licenses, both licensees were driven out of the industry along with facing serious legal costs and FCC fines.
People need to have their rights to visibly and opening live lives without censoring public existence of themselves meaningfully protected, unless by personal choice and not coercion of illegal laws or abuse of legal process they opt to maintain greater privacy. Anything less means some people are subordinated to pretending to be what they’re not, over issues of core civil rights. That results in any and every supremacist hate cult and its members being criminal child abusers, and not operating within religious or parental rights, when they indoctrinate kids to have the kinds of disabling dysphoria or cognitive dissonance reactions it appears the friend and her parents of this OP had, while lacking skills to cope with not just witnessing the diversity of skyclad pagans and alternate sexualities in private homes, but front and center on Main Street and on broadcast TV. Anything less is unworkable if we’re to uphold core standards of equal protection of religious and other rights for all citizens.
TeaLibby: Sally Mann’s photos of her children can be purchased for use by some sick pedophile who likes to be titillated and aroused by the sight of a naked child. Be it porn or not. To think that some sick a–hole can purchase this picture, get all excited and then go snatch a child off the street and molest or abuse them is just plain wrong. It’s just plain sick.
And believe me, being a child advocate, some of the a–holes do exactly that. Whether it be her right to photograph and display her child’s naked body is one thing, but what happens when like I said, the pedophile is let loose on the streets with a hard on looking for a child to molest? Or if it’s a horny ass woman. Girls do it too. Some people just don’t think about what a photo like Sally Mann’s might do to any of our neighborhood children just trying to play outside.
Spam_I_Am: @TeaLibby: If prohibiting such images in any form is your idea of saving humanity, then I say why stop at that? The logical extension of that would be to just dress all our children up in full burkas since clearly the sight of them doing innocent children stuff in public is way too titillating to tolerate in a proper society.
Adieu_Mluv: Sick a-holes can also purchase pictures of clothed children and get off on them. They can also purchase fashion magazines. They could also just look outside and see plenty of children, titillatingly running around merely being alive. That’s sick. We should anesthetize all children and keep them locked up in boxes in our own homes for their own safety.
Tommy_Tripod: Why the hell would you want nude photos of your 10-year-old? Maybe an infant or toddler… but a 10-year-old? That’s pretty creepy. What 10-year-old would be ok with that anyway?
Grimly: Censorship is not an effective way to prevent the exploitation of children.
Pompadoor: “We should anesthetize all children and keep them locked up in boxes in our own homes for their own safety.”
Exactly! Finally somebody who agrees with me. Soon as the cuteness wears off babies should be put in boxes and fed government approved medication and media.
That’s right kids, enjoy your time, soon as I take my position as benevolent and all knowing dictator y’all be on Ritalin and Fox News 24/7.
TeaLibby:@Spam_I_Am – I’m not saying prohibit the images. I’m saying not putting them out there for sale or for the public taking. I know many people who have nude photos of their children but they’re not displayed as art for sale.
I also know that if a pedophile wants to molest a child that it would happen without looking at photos first and would perhaps do it if the child was dressed in a burka. But do you call naked children outside doing innocent children stuff? Not in this society.
When we reach a proper society (as you call it) then I suppose it won’t be so titillating anymore. But in the meantime, while we are in a not-so-proper-society, I still say protect the children by any means possible. This is all about protecting the children.
Those who don’t live in the “proper society” just yet. Don’t get me wrong on the issue of naturism or one being a nudist either. I go nude. But in the society that we live in now, going nude outside of the proper place is unacceptable because we still have crazies who get so turned on by the naked body that they become violent. Until the tables turn, we have to protect the children. If we don’t they may grow up to live in some psych ward living off yours and my tax dollars. It’s all about the children.
FromtheHip: We’d better prevent kids from playing sports since they’re far more likely to be hurt seriously doing so than to hook up with a real pedophile (as opposed to the fictitious everywhere boogeymen of lynch mobs).
We’d better ban kids from watching TV, since so many do so instead of sports they become seriously unhealthy. That, of course, is prolific, and a cause of considering many parents unfit. It’s no excuse that some homes are in bad neighborhoods where it’s unsafe to go outside when staying inside causes harm to minors.
If kids were raised as most nudist kids are raised, the kids would be less susceptible to pedophiles than those who are raised as costume-reliant kids not taught to deal seriously with real-world issues. Nudist raised kids usually have a healthier balance of athletic risks and benefits than many peers, as well. Costume-compulsive indoctrinated kids are developmentally stunted on average 10% compared to peers by mid-teens, clearly a form of child abuse to those who are NOT raised as nudists.
While we’re banning stuff to protect kids, better ban toilets and bathtubs, where kids drown. Better ban cars and doctors, both causes of many avoidable deaths, even if they serve other legitimate functions too. Better ban blunt objects and personal weapons too, since NCIC data (FBI compiled police reports) shows they’re the tools of most violent felonies and homicides, unlike firearms or knives which together are a minority of tools used in serious crimes.
BTW, “personal weapons” in DOJ-speak means human body parts, and to ban those dangerous weapons requires converting humans to headless quadriplegics. All to protect us, rather than deal with complex social problems, and avoid illegal prior restraint, or substitute it for developing mature humans?
Tommy_Tripod: The real pedophiles are the people you would never suspect. The soccer coach with a wife and kids of his own… the “youth pastor” at your local church… grandpa… uncle… all the nice good-looking people who you would never suspect until their faces are all over the news.
Action_Junkie: Aside from verbose name-calling against people who have different philosophies than he does in the name of societal change and cloaked behind the constitutional grounds of allowable actions, FromtheHip makes valid claims.
I simply disagree with him. After all, community standards generally dictate what is considered porn. If you do not like the standards in your community then go elsewhere.
It would be interesting to see a study of how many people interested in violence have large collections of violent materials, how many bigots have bigoted material, how many robbers actually know about robbery, and how many pedophiles have collections of naked children.
You can bust my balls all you want, but I don’t belong to a single organization you mentioned and I still think the laws to protect children should unequivocally take precedence over the right of grownups to do what they wish with their art.
Tommy_Tripod: I’m sick of hearing about how nudity is not sexual. Of course, it’s fucking sexual… you’re displaying your sex organs for everyone to see.
DrinkenDrive: No it’s sexual to you perhaps but not everyone. You associate being able to see someone’s genitals with sex but that’s your problem. You know they even have beaches where people go naked and they don’t suddenly start humping each other.
Valkyrie: Of course nudity isn’t always sexual. I’m nude (or at least naked) at the moment. If I’m in the privacy of my own home, on my own, in the summer I often don’t bother to put on clothes. It’s about comfort. There’s nothing inherently sexual about nudity, it’s a social convention.
Is it only sexual if there is an observer? Because I also did life modeling when I was at university (and occasionally afterward). I certainly didn’t find that sexual, and I doubt whether the artists did.
I was asked to pose nude for a photographer once, one who was doing a series of studies of large women. I did consider it, but decided not to, because I didn’t want to be identifiable for professional reasons (or rather, for social reasons).
Tommy_Tripod: I’ve been to nude beaches… I had to sit down the whole time. I have a hard enough time not getting aroused at regular beaches.
Spam_I_Am: Nudity is not sexual. The perception of the viewer is what makes it sexual.
Surely it is understandable why viewing genitals tends to be viewed sexually in many cultures, but that is mostly social indoctrination-related. In cultures or environments where public nudity is widespread, this connection is not made in the same way.
And BTW – technically the definition of “nude” is “unclothed”. Thus you could have a business suit on, thus not meeting that definition, but have holes cutout for the genitals. And what about the female chest/breasts? Those aren’t genitals. What about the male chest? What makes those sexual or not sexual depends on cultural perceptions.
I don’t have a problem with the general concept that Action_Junkie presented, the idea of the safety of children to some extent trumping adult freedoms. But the real question is what people think is necessary to assure “safety”, and what constitutes “harm.” I’ve asked people to define this in this discussion several times now and there have been precious few responses to that.
Liberty_Belle: Wut? Nudity is not always about sex. I personally think that was a good idea. Like someone said there are nude beaches. There are even nude ranches. Some people just feel more comfortable in their nude state. Shit, I feel more comfortable in my nude state. Especially now. It is so damn hot.
Tommy_Tripod: Nudity isn’t sexual? Ok, let’s take a woman and put her in front of a man. Now let’s strip her naked, and see if he looks at her the same way.
DrinkenDrive: And how is this hypothetical man supposed to now see this hypothetical nude woman?
Pompadoor: Nude beaches are great. I also get a lot of exercise running to the water every time a hot woman walks by. And every now and then I run into the water for no apparent reason just to mess with people’s minds.
“Nudity isn’t sexual? Ok, let’s take a woman and put her in front of a man. Now let’s strip her naked, and see if he looks at her the same way.”
This only proves there’s a difference between a naked and a clothed person. There are several native Indian tribes that walk around naked all day. The relationship between nudity and sex is purely cultural.. or those naked native Indian tribe females are butt ugly, cuz they ain’t giving me no hard-on.
Grimly: I have a problem with “by any means possible.” I have a problem with “should unequivocally take precedence.” It is a pain in the ass to question the means we take, and it’s a pain in the ass to equivocate, but this is the work that must be done, that cannot be shirked.
PEARL_NEKLESS: “If you do not like the standards in your community then go elsewhere.”
This comes in several forms and is a classic fail of an argument.
“Nudity is not sexual. The perception of the viewer is what makes it sexual.”
The problem comes for some when the images are of children below the local age of consent but who are entering or going through puberty and therefore are displaying physical characteristics that have evolved both to indicate the readiness for mating and elicit arousal in potential mates.
If these physical characteristics go on to induce arousal (as they have evolved to do) in a viewer of the pictures, does this mean the images should never be taken or displayed in the first place?
Is it wrong that such arousal might occur?
Tommy_Tripod: Perception is everything. Why do you think it’s illegal to go outside naked?
Action_Junkie: There is one solution to a problem in the United States. That solution is political. Pass a law or statute that changes the law.
What really irritates me is the people who are too lazy to help change the law. They instantly want to go to the judicial (court) system, because this circumvents the will of the people. When people have no say, then you might as well have a government run not by the people but by a select few who think they know better than everyone or almost everyone else. Sure, there are numerous things that need to be addressed and redressed in the law, but this is what the judicial branch is made for.
Community standards are in place because communities are, uh, different. What plays in San Diego might not play in San Antonio. If you want a homogeneous society in a large country, then you might as well vilify the western cowboys, the Cajuns, the Alaskan natives, the Maine woodsmen & women, the metropolitan New Yorkers, the prairie pioneers, et al.
Valkyrie: PEARL_NEKLESS’s question is a good one, “Is it wrong to be aroused at images of children (at, or even before, puberty)?
Is it the arousal itself that is wrong, or the acting on such arousal? Does accepting that people will be aroused by acts/object choices that are illegal mean that they are more likely to commit those acts?
That’s a difficult question. Should a pedophile who is aroused by images of children, but who never acts on that arousal, be criminalized? With current virtual imaging, it is perfectly possible to produce sexual images of children that involve no actual children (so no harm of individual children in the production). But would this encourage ‘normalization’ of the act of having sexual contact with those children? I don’t know. That’s a question that can be asked of all pornographic images.
People who support pornography in general often state that it can provide a sexual outlet for people and thus prevent rape. People who oppose pornography say that it actually encourages rape. Neither side has actually proved their case, from what I’ve read (and I’ve read a lot more than the average person on this subject).
Tommy_Tripod: Pornography isn’t much of an outlet… it only exacerbates the problem. If I’m single and horny, and I look at porn… it doesn’t solve the problem. It makes it worse. It just makes me want to go out and get laid.
DrinkenDrive: People who oppose pornography say that it actually encourages rape. Neither side has actually proved their case, from what I’ve read (and I’ve read a lot more than the average person on this subject).
From what I’ve read the availability of pornography is negatively correlated with violent sexual crime.
As for whether arousal by such images should be illegal – it pretty much already is at least in the UK. I think this is perilously close to thought crime.
Tommy_Tripod: If you’re referring to child porn, it’s illegal because it’s depicting child abuse. In order to produce these images, some child had to suffer. So in a sense, it’s not being aroused that’s necessarily the crime, but being in possession of something illegal.
DrinkenDrive: I’m referring to computer generated images.
Spam_I_Am: I guess it’s somehow fitting that Orwell was British, eh? England is also now the proud home to the highest number of public security cameras per-capita in the world these days if I recall correctly.
I will accept that pornography doesn’t help you with your personal sexual stresses. But please don’t try to extrapolate your single personal/anecdotal experience to the rest of humanity.
Val makes a good point about “thoughts” versus actions. It is my observation that we have long since criminalized “thoughts” in the USA, England and much of the west, when it comes to alleged pedophilia. Now you can get thrown in jail just for having images on your computer. In regards to her point about virtual imaging, I recall that in the USA people were trying to ban “child porn” based on these computer-generated images as well. I don’t remember if that was part of the “COPA” legislation or some other court case. I find such things bizarre to the extreme.
Valkyrie: Depends on how you define correlation. I know there were figures from Sweden suggesting rape figures went down with the freer availability with porn, but I think that there may be other factors at work, for example, attitudes to women in general, type of porn considered, etc.
The best psychological research comes up with is that men who already have a negative view of women will have it reinforced by watching porn, and men who have a positive view of women will not. So if you think all women are sluts and there for your own gratification (whether or not they want to be) then porn may make you act on that, and help you justify that view. If you think women are wonderful creatures, then porn won’t make you more likely to rape.
Spam_I_Am: There are also vast differences in how women or any other actors or acts are portrayed in pornography. Some purveyors can be relied-upon for consistently portraying women in a negative light, in subservient, demeaning roles, and others the opposite. You can’t just lump everything with nude people in it under one big giant “pornography” umbrella.
TeaLibby: @Action_Junkie: I have to agree with you. We have to protect the children. I must admit Sally Mann’s photo of her daughter is lovely because the child is beautiful. She shows a perfect innocence about her, but that’s what pedophiles like. That’s what turns them on more than seeing the naked child. As far as nudity being sexual, Oh my gosh, if you think that it is, there’s a lot you must learn about sex and your own sexuality. The naked body is a beautiful thing and I don’t think that it was created to be clothed. Lust takes over and makes nudity sexual to some.
Valkyrie: Let me state that I am in total opposition to the sexual (ab)use of children. But I also think that the ‘protection’ of children has gone too far. Many children are so overprotected because of the culture of fear that they miss out on the freedoms I had as a child. That’s sad. In many ways, kids are more at risk from the crap that’s on TV and in video games. TV stations are clearly pedophiles since they frequently sexualize pre-teen girls (I haven’t seen so much sexualization of boys).
I don’t think that there are necessarily more pedophiles around today than in the past, just that the issue is more talked-about. Sexual abuse in the family is not a new phenomenon either. Good sex education at an early (but appropriate ) age, and making it clear to kids that they do have the right to say no to adults when they feel uncomfortable about what the adult is doing is a far better plan, in my view, than wrapping them in cotton wool so that they can never learn to make judgments.
When I was 10 or 11 my mum had to work in London for the day, and left me to look around Westminster Abbey (I was an archeology geek even then). I was actually sexually assaulted in a minor way by some youngish foreign guy in the cloisters. There is clearly a limit to how seriously someone can be assaulted in a public place full of tourists, and the memory is pretty faint for me, but I think it included words I did not understand and some groping I felt uncomfortable with. I didn’t tell my mother, because I didn’t really know how to process it, we didn’t talk about sex in our household. If we had, I might have been able to discuss it with her. I think I was also afraid that my freedom would be curtailed because I knew it was wrong what happened to me.
Was it wrong for my mum to leave me like that? Many would consider it so these days, I guess. But a century ago, kids were working full-time in field and factory and contributing to the family economy. While it’s a good thing that they don’t have that responsibility (in the developed world, anyway) I sometimes think that the balance has gone too far in the other direction.
Tommy_Tripod: Wow, you were molested in Westminster Abbey? That’s one of my favorite spots on London… I’ll never look at it the same way again.
twistontheside: Nudity in no way equals pornography. In most jurisdictions, a nude image of a child is not considered child pornography unless the child is depicted in some sort of sex act.
bowlingreen: “In most jurisdictions” Unfortunately, twist, “most” jurisdictions don’t account for America’s twatwafflishly puritanical and also perversely hyperfocused view on sex/art/childhood, whatever. In general, America just makes itself a laughingstock IMHO.
Which is why I insist on remaining a Canadian citizen until more people pull their heads out of their asses and start thinking for themselves (including those in government).
TwinkleToes: The first point seems to be: has anyone consulted the child in question? (Parents who took the photos, police who confiscated them, people who comment on this thread?) It seems a nonsense to talk about “child protection” when everyone assumes they know better than the child what’s good for her (or him). Is nudity inherently sexual?
I would guess one reason, in a naturist household, for displaying naked photos is to teach the important lesson that the answer is emphatically “no”. I’ve seen plenty of women in clothes which are titillating and arousing. I’ve also been in plenty of naturist groups which are extraordinarily UNsexual, even when we hug and caress affectionately while naked. Intention is everything.
Is there not room for difference between households, without imposing uniform standards on all? In many families, naked photos of children are not on display, and children would be embarrassed if they were. In some families, the children are relaxed about having their nude photos on display. Why do we have to impose one group’s standards on everyone else?
Obviously, some level of protection for children is important. The question is, are children protected by being taught shame about their naked bodies? I would say not. I understand the principle of an age of consent (although I find it odd that in UK, where the age of sexual consent is 16, children as young as 10 can be convicted for murder, as capable of criminal intent and understanding.)
I think there is an important discussion to be had, however, about the principle of saying a child cannot give consent, and their interests are best protected by parents. Does this mean children cannot withhold consent either? So, what do they do when they meet a real abuser? (eg, a father who wants sex, and says “your no doesn’t count, because you’re a child, and I know what’s good for you?)
It seems to me, if one really wants to prevent child abuse, the first step is to teach children that they have the right, and the capacity, to choose to say yes or no to who touches them and how, and to how their body is displayed. And to make a huge fuss if their “no” around these matters is ignored. If I genuinely believed my 10-year-old could not give or withhold consent about a photo of them I had on display (clothed or otherwise), I would think I had done a poor job of protecting them from any potential abuser.
As it happens, I have known a case of a family who had a photo of their naked daughter (aged about 8) on display just inside their front door. I knew the family quite well, their 2 daughters were good friends with my daughter, and I had no reason to believe the girl in question was upset, or incapable of complaining if she was.
Adieu_Mluv: Ok, let’s take a woman and put her in front of a man. Now let’s strip her naked, and see if he looks at her the same way.
Pity all the poor gynecologists having to stare at and probe women’s sexual organs all day. They must be ever so frustrated. Let’s not forget that one of the visible components (on a nude man) also doubles as an excretory organ. Ewwwww!
And that’s about all we have time for tonight. What an interesting debate and it’s a shame we have to leave it but even though the broadcast has ended that doesn’t mean the conversation has to stop.
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This is me, Kari R. Wade, thanking you and wishing you nothing but the best from the bottom of my heart. Remember you’re magnificent no matter what they write about you on the bathroom walls! Good Night!
“Where have all the living people disappeared to?” Sally asks and I’m not quite sure whether she’s addressing the question to me or merely ruminating out loud as she is sometimes known to do. “I mean the real-life people, not the walking dead with their heads buried in electronics that fight to live in overcrowded cities only to isolate themselves in public and form fake surface relationships on the internet.”
I make the assumption she is talking to me and I’m about to reply, but either I’m wrong in thinking the conversation included me or I took too long to speak up, because she continues, “I am so tired of dealing with avatars,” this is the name Sally applies to all sentient lifeforms capable of effectively communicating with her who ignore her for text messages and Instagram videos. “There must have been some shift in the social axis that I wasn’t made aware of that suddenly made every avatar I encounter uber unfriendly, discourteous and unkind. It’s like I’ve suddenly become a stranger to my neighbors, the city—hell, the whole goddamned societal globe. How is a person supposed to exist today without someone, anyone, offering up a bit of emotional support or maybe even just a helping hand? Am I the insane one here?”
I don’t answer, chiefly because my truth and her truth are rarely in alignment and I have no desire to hurt her feelings or open up a can of worms. I decide it’s a safer bet all around to allow her to vent her frustrations.
“And now everyone tosses the term friend around so haphazardly,” Sally gestures broadly into the open air as if delivering a sermon to an unseen congregation. “Slapping it onto a multitude of undeserving random strangers so that the original meaning of being someone that shares trust, confidence, and support, despite the odds and no matter the situation. And if an expert were to examine current day friendships, they would find that the relationships only last as long the favors derived from the friendship continue to exist.”
“Well, I’m your friend,” I finally chime in. “And none of that applies to me.”
“I’m not talking about you, of course.”
“You’re not talking to me, either. This is the verbal equivalent of a thread rant and I’m not saying that I don’t understand how you feel and agree with what you’re saying in part but I’d like to address this topic in a broader sense, if I may?”
Sally is visibly put-off by my interruption but gestures, “By all means, fill your boots.”
And I explain to her that one of my pet peeves with social media profiles and posts is the rampant negativity that prevails. After touting how happy, friendly, down to earth they are, individuals will proceed to run off a list of don’ts and other things that they absolutely positively will not stand for.
“But why not simply concentrate on the positive? And that includes you,” I pause to gauge her reaction. Her face is expressionless, perhaps I should stop but to be honest I want her to hear what I have to say, so I press on.
“As overused as the Gandhi quote is, why not try to Be the change you want to see in the world? Which means, perhaps instead of expecting people to immediately conform to your desired way of being—”
“Yes, desired. Are you really being the type of person to the avatars that you want them to be to you? Why not pay it forward and set the example by walking the walk in addition to talking the talk? You want people to wave Hi to you on the street? Try waving first.”
“So, the responsibility rests solely on my shoulders?”
“Do I even have to answer that, Sally? If you want the people within your sphere of influence to treat you differently, who better than you to take on the responsibility?”
Sally opens her mouth, closes it, then opens it again but says nothing, obviously attempting to formulate her response. In the silence, I continue.
“What if all the avatars you pass every day, the ones who somehow seem familiar for no apparent reason, the ones who brush past you without so much as an Excuse me, were all meant to cross your path for a reason?
“What if a soulmate—yes, I believe you can have more than one—someone who held a message for your life and possible insights into your future, was lost because you were too deeply into your righteous indignation to catch their gaze?
“Or better yet, what if every bump was meant to be a chance for an avatar to share something they know that might help you on your path, or maybe even better still, you happen to be one of those people holding onto a piece of their life that needs to be let go or needs to be passed on like a story you need to share?
“Think about it, haven’t you ever come across people in your life you think will be there forever, and then they just fade away? Moving onto their own journeys, their own paths only to find them in your life again, stronger and more beautiful?
“And speaking of beautiful, this is a crazy, beautiful world, but you only get to see how wonderful it all is if you take chances. Don’t let opportunities pass you by. You do you, live your life and stay angry and vigilant if you’re comfortable with that but pay attention to the signs that maybe there are messages out there for you. Maybe there are people you need to meet, souls that can add to your journey through life. Souls to help you grow, souls to make you cry. Adding strength to your life and your soul. Just maybe for everything, there is a reason.”
“And you accused me of going on a rant? What the hell was that and where did it come from? That’s the most you’ve said to me in the two years I’ve known you,” Sally says, raising one eyebrow, then lowered them both suspiciously. “Wait a minute. You mean you, don’t you? You think you’re the person that’s meant to be my soulmate?”
I can feel the blush rising from my collar, up my neck and enveloping my face and I am powerless to stop it.
“Is that such a crazy idea?” I ask in a voice that cracks like I’ve regressed to puberty.
“I-I don’t know,” Sally shakes her head like she’s trying to shift the idea into place. “This is all so left field. Maybe we can discuss it over a cup of coffee?”
I pull my phone out of my belt clip, unlock it and begin scrolling, “Um, okay, friend, but just let me check my messages to see if I missed an important text or something.”
Sally’s face flushes with anger but before she can rage at me, I throw my hands up in surrender.
“Just kidding! It’s a joke! I’m joking!” I smile as I put my phone away.
Sally whacks me on the arm hard enough to sting, but she’s smiling, too, so maybe, just maybe, things might work out for the both of us.
The car pulls into the driveway. It’s called an Uber and at first I think it’s the make and model of the car but the driver tells me it’s the name of a car service and although he’s patient and friendly in his explanation, I can feel my face flush red hot in embarrassment. There are so many things I don’t know that I don’t know. The entire world has a steep learning curve for me.
I wouldn’t have recognized the house, couldn’t have picked it out among the others because I haven’t seen it in over sixteen years and the memories are fuzzy because those years haven’t been kind. I’ve been told that it’s the house I grew up in and I nod with no acceptance or conviction because when I think about where I grew up all I can picture is being trapped in a dark and cold basement in a strange location. This house has never once appeared in my mind not even in my dreams.
From the moment the car arrives, people surge out of the front door but they don’t approach the car, perhaps because they’ve been advised not to or perhaps they’re as afraid to meet me as I am to meet them.
I thank the driver as I close the rear driver side door and walk toward the crying and smiling crowd, desperately trying to untwist the constrictor knot my stomach has become. I’m sure they don’t mean to be but each and every one of them is too loud and although they’re careful not to touch me, they’re too close and I want to run. I want to run into the basement and lock the door behind me and go down as far as I can manage and find the darkest corner to curl up into and if that place doesn’t exist, I want to dig a hole into the earth and bury myself in it until the world becomes a quiet place again.
It’s unmistakable, the feeling of warmth and comfort and community that exists in this place and I hate it almost instantly. I’m not supposed to as I’m a human being and we’re known to be social animals but if truth be known the only peace I’ve ever experienced has always been in complete isolation.
Nothing seems right. The sound of people’s voices expressing gratitude and the low volume music in the background blend into some abnormal din that assaults my ears like the opposite of white noise, even though I know that isn’t right because the other end of the spectrum from a combination of all of the different frequencies of sound would be silence and silence would be a welcome change at this point.
Even faces are foreign and I’ve known most of these faces for the first nine years of my life but the arrangement of their features is wrong. Even my own reflection is out of place and unfamiliar. I want to leave, to pivot on my heels and push past this closeness of flesh, flag down a police officer and ask them to take back to where I was found a fortnight ago.
I miss that basement because it’s the only home I know.
I want to back away but there are too many people behind so I push forward looking for a little elbow room, a safe barrier of personal space where I don’t have to feel the nearness of otherness or fight off a wave of nausea when someone’s aura scrapes against mine and makes a teeth-clenching noise like God raking His fingernails across the skin of the universe.
In the crowd I spot a face I don’t know and because I don’t know this woman and have no expectations of the way she must look she appears less odd than the rest. I lock onto her eyes and feel a transfer of knowledge between us. She is like me. She understands the words I’m unable to speak, words that will never be uttered by me in my entire life even if I live for two centuries. I want to move to her, to be closer to her, to stand within the sphere of her understanding but another woman, an aunt, I think, appears from nowhere and pulls me into an unwanted embrace and whispers into my ear with hot breath laced with wine, “You are such a brave girl.”
Brave? I want to say. What’s so brave about being afraid to let myself die? But instead, it comes out as, “Thank you.” I’m not even sure that’s a proper response, I simply need to say something to break the hold and by the time I manage it, the other woman, the woman with the understanding gaze, is gone.
And I’m aware of the people behind me again moving in closer pushing me forward without making contact with me when I come to the realization that their action is purposeful, they’re urging me forward from the front door through the foyer and into the living room for a reason and that reason being my mother and father standing in the center of the empty living room. I step in eagerly, not because I’m particularly glad to see them, I love them but the real reason I’m eager to get into the room is for the space so my soul can breathe again.
There’s this moment of silence and it’s like heaven and my mother takes on the form of Lucifer Morningstar by attempting to shatter paradise with the calling of my name that turns into a shriek that eventually ends in tears and hitching breath. Before I realize what’s happening, she’s on me wrapping her arms around me and lifting me off my feet. I am nearly as tall as she is and outweigh her by thirty pounds easily but this thin woman lifts me as though I was still the same nine-year-old who went outside to play and missed her curfew by more than a decade and a half. My face is buried in her hair and unlike this place that used to be and is once again my home, unlike the matured faces of the people I vaguely recognize as family, the smell of my mother’s hair, the scent of her coconut shampoo smashes through the floodgates of my mind and I am buried beneath wave after wave of memories which scare me and my eyes leak tears because I now realize how much emptier my life has been without this woman, although the world she inhabits still feels alien to me.
I say, “Hi, Mom,” and the word Mom feels distant, like I understand what the word means but the direct connection with it has faded and I don’t want to call her Mom at the moment, I want to call her by her first name but I have no idea what my mother’s name actually is.
She sets me down gently and her arms loosen and slide from around me but her fingers never leave me as they trace sweaty contrails across my back, under my armpits up to my neck where she cups my face in both hands. A move only mastered by a mother. “Hi, baby,” she says and I both resent it because I’m not a baby anymore and miss it because I would give the remaining years of my life for the chance to be nine again in the company of this woman if only for one day.
She calls my father over while carrying on a constant stream of nervous and excited chatter in an attempt to catch me up on all the events that occurred since the last time we laid eyes on each other.
My father approaches with caution as if I come with a warning. He has undoubtedly been told what has been done to me while I was in captivity and probably some of the things I had to do to myself in order to stay alive. He doesn’t know everything because I am the only survivor, there’s no one else to bear witness and I will never tell another soul everything that I’ve been through in order to be here today. And it would break him to hear it so it becomes one of the many burdens I must bear alone.
His haunted eyes are misted with tears that he fights to control as he offers me that sidewinder smile of his–a name Mom gave him because he only smiles and talks out of one side of his mouth as if he’s a stroke victim. “Hi, kiddo,” he says.
All the others unknowingly crowd me and the only person I would not mind that of, my father, does not. He sees it, the invisible property lines that mark my personal space and respects the boundaries. I want to tell him, forget the signposts, just come hug me, Daddy but those are words I don’t know how to speak so I say, “Hi, Dad,” and I manage to dig up a smile from the recesses of some long forgotten happiness. At least I hope it looks like a smile, I haven’t done it in so long, I fear I might’ve lost the knack.
Mom is still babbling away nonstop when she remembers her basic etiquette, “Oh! Are you hungry? You must be famished!” And before I can answer,
“Get her something to drink,” Dad says. “Something cold.” And Mom takes off like a shot into the kitchen.
My father just stands there looking at me, taking in the measure of me. I can’t see the missing years on my mother but on him, I see every second, minute, hour, day, month and year. Beneath his thinning hair, deep wrinkles crease his face. He’s worried and afraid of me and for me but he manages a smile.
In a voice low enough for my ears only, he says, “It’s gonna bother you, what you did, but just know you did the right thing. You ended the man who stole you from us and found your way home again. That’s my girl.”
I’m stunned. Of all the things I expected from this moment straightforward acceptance was never in the running. I rush my daddy and throw my arms around him and break down and cry and he squeezes me tight and all the things that I can’t say and all the things he can’t say, they’re all there, transmitted on a biological level and he doesn’t move, doesn’t speak, doesn’t loosen his grip on me until my body stops shaking, until I have no more sobs and no more strength left.
He scoops me up into his arms and for the second time today I am nine years old again. “I think she’s had enough excitement for one day, so thank you all for coming but now it’s time for us to be alone,” Dad says, as he pushes through the crowd and carries me upstairs to my old room.
He sets me down gently on my bed that’s now too small for me, brushes the hair matted by tears and snot from my face, kisses my forehead and says, “When you’re ready.” and I know exactly what he means.
He leaves, taking Mom with him, assuring her it’s the right thing to do and as their voices get smaller I get up from the bed, lock my bedroom door, draw the blinds shut and crawl until my bed and ball up fetal, relishing the dark and the quiet.
Tomorrow I’ll begin trying to locate the house I was rescued from because although this house is nice, it’s no longer a place for me.
The moon, merely a crescent in the cloudless night sky, shines brightly on the car parked at the corner Acorn and Walmer Streets. It is a lowered car, a lowrider—a 1967 cherry red customized Chevrolet Impala with an ornate sugar skull painted on the bonnet and intricate, colorful dia de los Muertos designs running on the sides, that rides on white wall tires with twenty-inch wire-spoked rims—and it has a name, Sangriento Asesinato, which translates as Bloody Murder.
Despite the car’s garish appearance, to the casual mundane observer, it goes virtually unnoticed because of the obfuscation spell it employs, low-level magicks weaved into the Day of the Dead designs that causes the eye to notice the car but immediately slide off it like July rain off a duck’s back to find something a little more interesting to view.
In Sangriento Asesinato’s passenger seat, Xiomara sniffs the air as her autumn-orange eyes shift left and right down the unnaturally dark and empty street just beyond the intersection.
“Sight doesn’t match the scent, Zami, so this must be the place,” she says. Xiomara is a red fox no bigger than a small dog but should anyone ever be foolish enough to call her a fox, she would do her level best to rip their throat clean out. She prefers to be called a Vulpes vulpes because it makes her sound like an animal that is all business at all times. Xiomara’s fur is flame red, with a white underbelly, black paws and ear tips and her bushy tail is tipped in white. “And the street is crowded.”
Getzami Romero drums her fingers on the chain steering wheel and says, “I’d expect no less. Hopefully, none of them are drunk, high, stupid or trigger happy. I’d rather this be a friendly visit.”
Getzami checks her face in the rearview mirror. Eyebrows penciled on, thin, arched and menacing. Winged black eyeliner. Black lined lips with blue-based red lipstick. Cheeks sculpted with a bronze based blush. Jet black shoulder length hair teased to sit off her face, secured by a red bandana with white sigils replacing the standard paisley design. The two studs on her forehead, her third eye piercing, centered between and just above the eyebrows sparkle as they catch the overhead street lamp, as does the moon phase—two gold crescents bookending a full moon—septum piercing. Large gold hoop earrings swing as she turns her head left and right. The look isn’t perfect, not up to her usual standard, but she is in a rush so it will have to suffice.
Reaching past the fox, Getzami opens the glove compartment and places her twin Glock 19 9mm pistols along with a karambit knife, Kubotan keychain and brass knuckles inside before closing the box.
“You’re going in naked?” Xiomara cocks her head to one side, confused.
“No choice, Xio. It’s a sign of respect and I can’t have them thinking there’s any hostile intent behind my visit.”
The driverside car door swings open and Getzami steps out into the night air which is cool and dry. She smoothes her flannel shirt—just the collar buttoned—with her hands so the open shirt frames the white bustier that accentuates her cleavage. Normally she would hide her breasts under layers of gold jewelry but all the accoutrements associated with this aspect of her working persona are back at her apartment and as stated before, time is of the essence. Luckily, she tossed all this stuff inside the trunk along with a pair of dress pants and high top Converse sneakers after she finished the Hell Jockeys gig, so the ensemble is at least ninety percent passable.
She leans on the open door. “You can sit this one out if you want. I’ve got it covered,” Getzami says to the fox who raises on all fours. She can tell Xiomara is nervous about being here and wants to give her friend an easy out.
Xiomara snorts and trot-hops off the car seat onto the pavement. “When have I ever not had your back, Zami?”
“Never,” Getzami admits and slams the car door shut.
Acorn Street runs the width of the city from river to river and is widely considered a boring thoroughfare as it lays no claim to fame to any unique or interesting shops, theaters or any other sites that attract tourism and if truth be known, it is fairly boring, which makes it a perfect hiding spot.
Every city, town and community in the world plays host to its fair share of ghost stories, urban legends and unexplainable occurrences and the tiny patch of Acorn that runs between Walmer Street and Readly Avenue is purported by the superstitious subculture to house the legendary Jecrossi Embassy.
The mystical and harmonious city neighborhood gently governed by the Grey Folk—first appearing in the 1944 novel Know No Home by Syrian author Miran Mansour—has become synonymous with an earthly paradise, a permanently happy land, that chooses to isolate itself from the world.
It is said that the Embassy exists within a pocket dimension—a space too small or too easily accessible to be truly considered a separate dimension—which is fine for things like a bag of holding which can contain numerous cumbersome items because it is larger on the inside but becomes unstable when trying to hold a small, secluded world complete with its own ecosystem and lifeforms.
As it turns out, the internet theories are correct and the Embassy is actually situated at this location but it isn’t visible or accessible because the single city block has been magickally shifted left of center one second out of sync with time and space. On her own, Getzami doubts she would have been able to sense this place, fortunately for her Xiomara, being a creature of enchantment gifted with an extraordinarily sensitive nose for magick, can smell the displacement.
Xiomara crosses the street, stopping at the curb and sniffs her way in a straight line from east to west and stops at a point just before the curb on the opposite side of the street. “Got it!” Xiomara smiles. “Follow me and stay close in case there are any twists and turns along the way. Some of these things can be like mazes and you can get caught up in them for hours until your air runs out. Others just boot you out but trust me, suffocating feels a whole lot better than having your atoms forced through a sieve.”
Getzami is surprised and a little embarrassed at the sense of growing unease, mostly because she imagines all the horrible things that can go wrong, even though she watches as Xiomara trots into the invisible entryway with apparent ease.
The mystic sigils dyed onto her bandana begin to glow as Getzami takes her first step and she experiences a sudden dropping sensation, the tarmac beneath her feet seems to fall away as if she is in an elevator, and her next unsteady step is like walking on a boat in choppy waters. She realizes it’s just her internal body clock adjusting to the one second time displacement which on its own would have been manageable if not accompanied by the feeling that she is passing through a veil of nematocysts, jellyfish stingers, a sensation she is all too familiar with after being stung at the beach as a little girl. Despite the sigils allowing her to step into sync with Jecrossi, she feels the nettles firing warnings into her body, thousands of needle pricks that urge her to turn back and leave.
She does her level best to remain upright and follows her friend, who stops at the tricky bits where the invisible entryway breaks into a sharp turn or bends in an odd fashion, and when they eventually pass through to the other side, Getzami notices the shift in reality almost immediately. The street beneath her feet is compacted soil instead of tarmac and the sidewalk is leveled natural stone instead of concrete. The air is different, too, nearly dense enough to be liquid and tasting of ozone just after a lightning strike and the scents of this neighborhood are somehow foreign, differing from the rest of the city. She commends Xiomara under her breath at being able to detect anything by smell alone amidst the chaotic fragrances.
“So this is what paradise looks like, huh?” Xiomara says. Sarcasm takes on a whole new flavor when coming from a fox.
But she is right. The Jecrossi Embassy, the fabled inner city Shangri-La, is little more than a magick ghetto. Visually, the street which seems deserted only a block away is bustling with activity and not only because of their arrival. Street vendors exchange their wares, foodstuffs, clothing, home essentials and yes, some enchantments and drugs for odd trinkets that bears no resemblance to any sort of currency on the planet to pedestrians who give Getzami and Xiomara strange and untrusting sideways glances.
There are magicks in these streets that emanate from the cracks in the sidewalk and the graffitied tenement walls. Animals that might be mistaken for rats, cats and dogs dart from in between the apartment buildings and the back alley of the restaurant on the far corner. Yet, despite the enchantment that crackles against her exposed skin like static electricity, life is no different on this block than the rest of the city. Dejection and starvation and cruelty exist here, evidenced by the diseased bodies and damaged minds that have abandoned dreams of a better life in order to simply survive on garbage scraps and sleeping in cardboard boxes amongst the vermin that are not rats or cats or dogs. Street preachers deliver sermons to these wretches from tattered grimoires that pass in looks but not content to holy scriptures.
“Look at the gaunt faces, Zami,” Xiomara says, her fox voice cracking. “The stories etched on them, stories enough to snap your heart in two.”
If Getzami hears her friend, she gives no indication. “We have eyes on us, Xio,” she says, pointing at the stoop of the nearest brownstone where three rail thin and heavily tattooed men turn their faces and whisper to each other. One of them whistles up to one of the brownstone’s windows and makes a sound like a crow’s caw.
“It’s showtime,” Getzami says, picking up her pace as she walks in their direction.
Xiomara doesn’t match her friend’s speed, preferring to hang back and assess the situation.
Getzami looks over her shoulder and says, “No shame in heading back to the car.”
“Shame’s got nothing to do with it,” Xiomara snaps. “I’m afraid because I’m smart enough to know that we’re walking headlong into trouble.” The red fox quickens her steps to catch up with Getzami.
From the brownstone’s main entrance, ten more wiry men with matching skin ink join the lookouts, making it a baker’s dozen. They approach, affecting that badass stroll wannabes wear like a tough guy accessory, pistol grips protruding from the top of their skinny jeans waistbands and for the first time she realizes they’re barefoot and now that she notices it, everyone on the street except for her isn’t wearing shoes. The fingers on all of their hands twitch as if they’re throwing gang signs but Getzami recognizes it as the actions of low-level magick users, apprentices, in order to prime the pump—in the same manner that a suction valve in an old water pump needs to be primed with water so that the pump functions properly. The Jecrossi specialize in earth magick and apprentices need to prime their bodies in order for earth energies to flow up into and through them.
Getazami holds out her empty hands, carefully lifts the sides of the open flannel shirt and does a slow turn to show she is not strapped. “Take it easy,” she says, in as disaffected a manner as she can muster. “Bringing no ruckus. Just need to speak with Ekaterina.”
Because they are all bald and thin and are marked by the same tattoos, the goons look like they come from the same mold with the one out in front being the first cast and the others appearing to have increasing degrees of degradation with each successive pressing. They cautiously fan themselves out until they form a circle around Getzami and Xiomara.
“You expected?” asks the lead goon.
“No, but she’ll see me,” Getzami says, her eyes locking onto the penetrating gaze of the lead goon standing immediately in front of her.
“Tell then who you are,” Xiomara says.
“Shut your mouth, little doggie, people are talking.”
“Vulpes vulpes!” Xiomara snarls.
“I’m a Vulpes vulpes, not a damned doggie!”
“You’re gonna be dinner if–”
The index and middle fingers of both Getzami’s hands go into her mouth. The goons raise their hands ready to cast on her and bring her down to the tarmac. Pushing back her tongue, she whistles six notes sharp and loud in a very distinct pattern, a pattern that halts the goons in their tracks. It is the Six Tones of Order Within Chaos, the call of the Jecrossi.
The goons stare at Getzami, disbelieving what they just heard. Then their expression shifts to suspicion.
“How do you know the call?” asks lead goon.
“Like I said, Ekaterina will see me because we go back, long before the likes of you or before she came to this neighborhood,” the sadness in her eyes mirrors Xiomara’s own upon first seeing the state of the people who seek refuge here.
Before the lead goon can respond, one of the middle windows on the top row of the brownstone opens and a brown-skinned woman pops her head out. “What’s going on?” she demands.
Lead goon is about to tell the woman it was Getzami who whistled but thinks better of it and opts for, “Someone here to see the boss.”
“Someone like who?” asks the woman.
Getzami brushes past the lead goon to step into the street light and calls up to the woman, “Someone like Apache Chola!”
“And Xiomara!” the red fox barks.
Getzami shoots Xiomara a baleful glance but can’t maintain it. “And her companion, the Vulpes vulpes, Xiomara!” she echoes and her scowl becomes a smile.
They are escorted by the lead goon and four of his cronies up to the common room which is uncomfortably larger than the exterior of the brownstone. It reminds Getzami of a museum, not just in terms of the space but in all the glass-encased artifacts, as well. The floor is tiled in polished sandstone, the walls travertine stacked stone and the furniture appears to be Mesopotamian in design but she can’t be certain on the accuracy of her assessment. Although artwork decorates the walls there are no personal photographs. There is enough room here to house dozens of the homeless outside but this seemingly perfect place is far too cold in its tranquility to feel in any way homey.
In the center of the room stands the brown-skinned woman who introduces herself as Serilda. She, a full foot taller than anyone in the room, points at Getzami, “You follow me, the Vulpes vulpes remains here.”
Xiomara begins to argue but Serilda remains firm and insists there will be no audience with Ekaterina if the Vulpes vulpes refuses to remain in the common room. Getzami tells the red fox it will be all right and repeats that she and Ekaterina go way back so there shouldn’t be any danger.
Xiomara ponders for a moment before reluctantly saying, “Okay, but if things go sideways just holler and I’ll tear through these clowns like field mice!” She stares directly at the lead goon when she says it and he replies with a mocking growl which makes the red fox’s fluffy tail twitch in anger.
Getzami is shown into the adjoining room which is somehow larger than the impossibly large common room, with Serilda in the lead and the goons bringing up the rear. The walls are lined with books stacked in a chaotic fashion on recessed wooden shelves and this indoor library smells of petrichor, the scent of rain on dry earth, which would explain the moisture that dots the spines of all the books. In the exact center of the room is a reading chair that is nothing more than a series of interwoven vines that grow directly from the lush green carpet of dewy grass and in the chair sits Ekaterina, positioned perfectly with a book open to a blank page on her lap, graphite stick firmly in hand and at the ready.
“I’d like to say something clever like all the chickens, even the headstrong independent ones always come home to roost but the fact of the matter is you’ve never been here, isn’t that right, Chola?” Ekaterina says in a warm but measured tone.
The woman’s alabaster skin and albino snakeskin dress are almost a perfect camouflage within the silky white mist that rises from the grass and snakes around her. She appears to be in her sixties—but Getzami suspects she’s much older because she looks the same as when they first met almost two decades ago—and wears absolutely no makeup because only an insecure fool applies foundation on natural beauty. Her pearl hair is oiled back and plaited in a style that should have looked ridiculous on someone her age but she carries it off with authority.
“You always did know how to strike a pose, Ekat,” Getzami says, attempting a for old time’s sake grin that simply will not come.
“That’s Ekaterina to you,” Ekaterina says as she takes in the sum of her unexpected visitor. “So, tell me a story.”
“What?” Getzami shifts uncomfortably in a small puddle on the carpet grass. Ekaterina has caught her off guard, a feeling she never appreciates. “I don’t have any stories.”
“Nonsense, everyone has stories and I collect them, you see,” Ekaterina says, gesturing with a nod for Getzami to sit. “Everything is present for a story to exist: a teller, that would be you, and an audience, which would be me.”
The offered seat—a normal metal folding chair with padding—is as much out of place with the room’s décor as she herself is. A reminder, no doubt, that she is considered an interloper. The fact that the chair is bone dry despite the moist surroundings is of small consolation. Getzami squirms until she finds the position that affords the least amount of discomfort and says, “Thanks for the seat but still…no stories.”
“No reunion catch up? No explanation as to why you disappeared on me in the middle of the night? Nothing that covers your whereabouts and activities over the years, things we might have discussed had you bothered to remain in contact?”
“I’m not the keep in touch kind of gal, you know that.”
“Well, if you’re not here to apologize, justify your actions and perhaps reminisce a bit, then what brings you to my home?”
“I’m on a case…” Getzami pauses because she feels unsure of how to phrase the next bit. “And I need your help.” She expects to be scoffed or laughed at but is instead greeted by nothing but silence.
“It’s a girl,” Getzami continues when it becomes clear Ekaterina is waiting to hear more details. “A little girl and I know who took her so I need to do an extraction.”
“Is she here?” Ekaterina asks. “Are you asking my permission before you steal someone from the Embassy?”
Getzami shakes her head. “She’s in Megorum. The Clanarchists have her.”
“Again, I ask, what brings you? Your target is a little girl, easy to transport. This should be a cakewalk for the legendary Apache Chola,” the insult in the way Ekaterina says her business name is plain as day and it cuts slightly.
“Megorum is shielded against me, I can’t get in. I’ve tried.”
Ekaterina shrugs, “Cast a piercer. Why darken my doorstep?”
“I don’t magick.”
“What? After all these years I would have thought you would have picked up something,” Ekaterina says then recalls something. “But they tell me you have a familiar?”
“Xiomara isn’t a familiar. She’s my friend—”
“Best friend!” the fox interrupts.
“…best friend with excellent hearing who should be minding her business and letting me handle mine,” Getzami shouts over her shoulder before turning her attention back to Ekaterina. “Xiomara caught the tail end of an enchantment meant for me and got transmogrified into a—” she is about to say red fox but catches herself in time. “—Vulpes vulpes.”
“She was human?”
“Still is, to me, and I’m working on tracking down the slippery bastard responsible for it.”
“Wait,” Ekaterina says. “You said Megorum is shielded against you. Not merely shielded, but against you in particular, that would make it—”
“A blood shield.”
“You can’t cross the barrier because traces of your blood have been intertwined in the incantation but why go through all that trouble, unless—” Ekaterina cuts the sentence short and dismisses Serilda and the goons, who go through the proper etiquette of voicing their objections and citing the possibility of an attack before complying with the request when it is restated as a command. When they are gone, Ekaterina asks, “Who is this girl?”
“She’s my daughter, Ekat. Those hijos de putas kidnapped my baby girl and I aim to get her back and put every last one of them in the ground!”
Ekaterina shakes her head and glances over at Getzami before turning her sorrowful
gaze to the ground.
“That is terrible news, it really is, and I realize how difficult it must be to come to me asking for help but I can’t help feeling like I’m being played here.”
“Not so much as a single hello exchanged between us in years, yet you knew to find me in this hidden part of the city so you’re obviously aware of the beef I have with the Clanarchists. If I get a sudden twinge of compassion and decide to help you pierce their blood shield—and I’m assuming the same barrier that stops you from getting in, also prevents your daughter from escaping, correct?”
“I’d imagine so.”
“Then the spell we cast would have to remain in place long enough for you to enter Megorum, locate your little girl and escape with her, which means the magick can and will be traced back to us, bringing a war to our doorstep. Where will you be when that happens? Standing at our borders fighting side by side with us?”
“If needs be, then yes.”
“If-then-yes isn’t a definitive yes, which is the problem I have with this situation because if by some small miracle this thing goes to plan and you’re able to get your daughter back, you’ll be grateful, I’m sure of that, but there’s a difference between feeling gratitude and showing gratitude.”
“You’re not catching me at my best here so you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t answer with the precise words you need to hear in order to help me, but I’ve got a lot going on in my head at the moment. Allow me to answer the question again: Yes, once my daughter is safe, I will return and help you defend your borders.”
Then the conversation stops and the long silence that replaces it is loaded with the dread of possibility that somewhere along the way Getzami said the wrong thing or the right thing in the wrong way and totally ruined her chance to recruit the aid of the Jecrossi leader who was once her friend.
Ekaterina stands and paces around her seat, her eyes cast downward and never making contact with Getzami. “This place used to be the paradise you hear about in the urban legends,” Ekaterina says in a low, almost under-the-breath voice as if she is talking to herself. “Built by the Grey Folk, it was meant to be a safe haven for enchanted beings and its doors were open to all, even the likes of me. And as bad as I was, I wasn’t the worst person to gain entry. There were people hungry for power, in love with destruction, nasty killers who didn’t care who or what they slew. And they tried to gut this place. But I and the last of the remaining Grey Folk stood against them and forced them into exile. The effort cost us. We depleted most of the magick within this place, the most powerful earth energy source on the planet. And I’m working with the strongest remaining earth mages to heal it, to return the land to what it once was, but the progress, the healing, is slow. So, you see, this thing you ask of me is no small matter.”
“Ekat, I could scream I’m sorry for not keeping in touch, for not being there when you needed me until I’m blue in the face but that’s not going to change the reality of what’s done is done. And there’s no way of me convincing you of the truth that if I did actually have some magick, I would help you restore this place. As it stands, the only thing I have to offer is my life and I would gladly give it to save my daughter but I swear on my little girl’s life that if you help me and pledge to keep her safe in case I don’t come out on the other side of this alive then my life is yours to do as you see fit.”
Ekaterina taps her lips with an index finger. “And you would enter the unbreakable pact of a blood oath?”
“Do you have a blade?” Getzami asks. “I’ll slice my palm right here and now.”
Xiomara goes through the motions of conducting an inspection of the room, sniffing this and that, but what she is actually doing is marking everyone’s location in the room and judging distances in the enormous space in order to formulate the best plan of attack and escape should she and Getzami need to beat a hasty retreat. Her attention snaps from the foot of a bronze statue of a naked man to the door of the antechamber as Getzami and Ekaterina enter. A piece of cloth is wrapped around each of their right hands and a bud of blood blossoms in their palms.
Xiomara races to Getzami making a series of brief clucks, her concerned gekkering as she pushes her snout into her friend’s bleeding palm, sniffing and biting at the cloth to remove it. “Are you okay? What happened in there? Let me see the wound! Is it deep?”
“It’s okay, Xio,” Getzami strokes Xiomara’s heading attempting to calm her. “I did this so we could get what we came here for.”
“Although the world outside the Embassy is of no concern to us at the moment,” Ekaterina addresses the room in a cool, even tone. “Apache Chola has sworn a blood oath to aid us and in exchange, we will help her retrieve her daughter who has been stolen by the Clanarchists.”
A grumbling begins to stir amongst Serilda and the goons, one of anger mixed with apprehension.
Ekaterina points at Serilda and the lead goon as she continues, “Serilda and Ozias, you will accompany Chola and her companion to cast a piercing spell and return them safely to us. Their lives are your responsibility now.”
Serilda nods acceptance. Ozias does as well but it takes him a little longer and he looks none too pleased.
Outside of the odd hashtag game on Twitter (including #SlapDashSat, the one hosted by yours truly) I usually don’t actively participate in writing prompts. Not that I have a snobbish attitude toward them, anything that gets the creative juices flowing and entices you to write is okay in my book, I’ve simply never encountered a suggested prompt sentence, paragraph or picture that inspired me. Until I stumbled upon the Noriyoshi Orai gem shown above.
Blindsided by an idea, I began scribbling notes of a futuristic war set in the past with the intention of re-imaging it as a zugzwang story using a fairy tale twist. Why a fairy tale? Because the old ones are replete with heavy messages, drenched in misfortunes of the world, and yet faith, perseverance, and sometimes sheer luck, can turn the tide in overcoming life’s trials. I wanted to present it as an old story, told in archaic language, laced with a subtle message still relevant to the modern world.
If you ever want to hear your muse laugh, tell her your lofty goals for a story before you’ve written it.
“Rise of the Fallen 722nd” began life as a story examining patriotism, loyalty, and the enduring human spirit in the face of the ultimate no-win scenario. The outline wasn’t difficult to put on paper. The story itself? That’s a different matter altogether. It went through the draft mill four times, each revision drastically different from the one before. Only one patch of dialogue survived from the original piece.
Futuristic war? Check. Set in the past? Check. Zugzwang? Double check. Fairy tale twist? Not so much. The fairy tale elements weakened the integrity of the overall structure and sadly had to be put down like Old Yeller. Still, it’s been fun (and frustrating) to write. And I’m not done with it. They say fifth time’s the charm, right?
Modestine was aware of the gap in her memory, the section of consciousness that was removed and two separate events seamlessly spliced together in a non-jarring, dream jump-cut fashion.
The first partial memory was of Modestine stepping out of the shower. Her petite foot missed the rubberized shower mat by inches and instead slid along the wet tiled floor. Her vision shifted up toward the ceiling and her eyes locked on the one hundred watt energy saving fluorescent light bulb. The next instant, at the point of the splice, she found herself standing inside a pair of pearlescent gates, as patient as the lamb she was in life.
She was dead, of this there was no doubt. There was also no cause for alarm. She had no memory of either fear, pain or the precise moment of her death. That was the portion that was mercifully removed from her awareness, no doubt to aid in her acceptance of events.
Modestine watched the hubbub of nervous yet joyous chatter and a flurry of feathers as angels tested their wings in the air above her. They flew from structure to structure — she hesitated thinking of the impossibly tall spires as buildings because their various shapes defied her limited perceptions of architecture — getting the lay of the land. Though no one told her, she somehow knew this commotion was normal for the first day of new arrivals in heaven.
While she waited, Modestine’s eyes drifted over to an ornate pulpit offset to the right of the gates. This, she assumed, was where the welcoming saint was supposed to have been stationed, but Peter was nowhere in sight. She noticed a few pages had fallen from the ledger on the pulpit, so she spent a little of the time laying the leafs out, deciding the order they should go in, and locating the exact spots in the book they had fallen from.
Finally, an angel arrived, tall and thin with black horn-rimmed eyeglasses he no longer needed. A remnant of his physical life that he clung to, a misconception that it was a permanent part of his appearance. A trapping that would fade in time. This was yet another thing Modestine had known without being told.
The glasses made the angel look bookwormish and out of place in their surroundings. Then she felt guilty for judging his appearance. Who was she to do this? She, who had always been short and mousy in the physical world, what her mother affectionately called the uns — undertall and unassuming. She wondered what she looked like to him and if the same rules of beauty still applied here.
“Hi, I’m Modestine.” she offered a hand and a smile simultaneously.
Bookworm eyed her head to toe and back to head again, before taking her hand for two firm pumps. He opened his mouth and let out a high-pitched screeching noise, intense enough to rock her celestial molars.
Modestine, who graduated magna cum laude in never let ’em see you sweat university, replied, “Pleased to meet you…” and she tried her best to match the noise he made… but came up a little short. A lot short, actually.
Bookworm let out a burst of short laughs like a semi-automatic weapon. “Just messing with you. My name’s Phil. Welcome to Heaven!”
Modestine didn’t really get the joke but smiled anyway. “Are you here to give me the guided tour?” she asked.
“Heavens no,” Phil replied. “That’ll come later, once all this dies down. Saint Peter sends his apologies, by the way…”
“Oh, that’s no problem at all.”
“I’m here to take you to class.”
“Oh, okay.” Modestine followed behind Phil, a little unsteady on her wings, but through sheer determination managed to keep up.
Phil led her past fields of flora and fauna, the likes of which she could never have dreamed existed and finally into a structure that housed a vast amphitheater that was unmistakably set up like a classroom. Packed to capacity, its seats were filled with the most grotesque and vile creatures imaginable.
“Here you are.” Phil gestured in the direction of the amphitheater and was about to fly off.
“Wait! Wait!” Modestine caught his forearm and pulled him down to eye level. “Where do I sit?”
“At the podium, where else?” Even in Heaven, the duh look had a sting.
“Don’t tell me no one let you know?” Phil looked at the class with his best can you believe some people look. “You’re a teacher, right? Or were, before, you know…”
“Well…” Phil swept his arm in the direction of the class as if to answer.
“Oh, no… no way. I’m not qualified for this. I barely know what I’m doing here.”
“It’ll come to you as you need. Heaven’s cool that way.”
“But, this class…” Modestine whispered. “Not to be rude but what are they?”
“Our version of underprivileged students. They’re bussed in every day.”
“We tend not to use that term in front of the students. We call it The Basement.” Phil checked the invisible watch on his bare wrist. “Well, I’d love to stay and chat, but I’ve gotta run. Too many new recruits and not enough ushers. You’ll be great. I’ve got a feeling about you.” he smiled and shot into the sky, leaving Modestine’s jaw swinging on its hinges.
The once and now future teacher straightened out her ethereal robe, cleared her throat, turned and faced the class. “Pleased to meet you, class. My name is Modestine. Welcome to Introduction to Heaven.” The name she took off the lesson booklet on the podium. The completely blank lesson booklet. Beside it was the roster. “Hopefully you’re all in your assigned seats because it’s the only way I’m going to learn your names with a class this size.”
Modestine went through the attendance sheet and called her students one by one, each responding with a grunt or bodily noise that she assumed translated as “Present!” When she completed her check, surprisingly every student sat quietly or whispered inaudibly to their neighbor.
“Well, class, as some of you might have figured out, I’m new here, but don’t let that stop you from asking questions. My goal is to teach you everything about heaven, which means I’ll be learning it as you do, and if I don’t know an answer to your question, I’ll do my best to find out as quickly as possible. Today, though, I’m going to outline my expectations of you, and how you’ll be graded.”
The time passed swifter than Modestine had anticipated. Quite frankly she was surprised to be aware of the passing of time at all. For the most part, her students were orderly. A few class clowns, but nothing she couldn’t handle. She’d straighten them out before the course was over.
The entire class watched her closely, she never felt so scrutinized before, and a good deal of the period was spent answering questions about Earth. It wasn’t long before she realized these students were born in Hell and Earth was like some mythical place to them. When the earth questions began dying down, she introduced several icebreaking games before the class broke for recess.
As the class filed out of the amphitheater, some by flight, a few in a puff of eye-watering brimstone, and the rest on cloven feet, one student hung back.
“Miss Modestine,” the young demon said when all the others had left.
“Just Modestine, and, yes… ?” she searched the attendance sheet for the section he came from, hoping one of the names would jog her memory.
The demon shook his head. “You won’t find me on your list. I’m not one of your students.”
“You’re not? Then who… ?”
“Many names have I, from those who live and those who die, but for you, I wish to be known as Mister Thatch.”
Modestine frowned, looking down at this creature who straighten itself in an odd regality. “All right, Mr. Thatch… what is it you want?”
Thatch pulled a file folder from seemingly nowhere and opened it. “Interesting session today. I’m assuming you taught the class off the cuff, as I am unable to identify any of what was discussed in the pre-approved syllabus, correct?”
“As I stated at the beginning of class, this assignment was thrust upon me at the last moment, so if you have any objections…”
“No, please, you mistake my meaning. I’m not here to condemn you, I was simply assessing your performance. It’s what I was hired to do.”
“Your superiors would call them Basement Management.”
“And do my superiors know you’re here?”
“They should. It would make for a shoddy operation if they didn’t. Now, as to my assessment,” he pulled a document from his folder, stapled in the top left-hand corner. “Here is an offer from my employers for you to teach your course to a larger audience of underprivileged students. Please study it carefully and feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns. Please be aware that agreement to the terms as stipulated in the contract will require you to abandon your post here. Out of curiosity, are you willing to relocate?”
Modestine stared dumbstruck at the professionally worded document in her hands. An immediate and instant “No” rested on the tip of her tongue but never quite made it past her lips, because, in her quick scan, she found a list of perks that tickled each and every one of her many interests, as any temptation worth its salt should have done.
“I’ll need to read this more closely, Mr. Thatch, before I can respond, of course.”
“Of course. I think you’ll find the compensation quite reasonable. If you have questions, you may ask me at any time. We have high expectations and we’re positive you can fulfill them, Miss Modestine.”
“Just Modestine, and why me?”
“You’re new and, as yet, unjaded by the caste system. We look forward to working with you.” Thatch held out a hand, which Modestine took. It was remarkably soft, despite its texture. “Enjoy the rest of your day.”
Modestine watched as the demon simply evaporated from the room. She looked at the contract. Am I willing to relocate? she asked herself as she walked over to her desk, sat and read the agreement more thoroughly. Again, she found it difficult to verbalize the word “No”. Chiefly because she loved working with underprivileged students and they didn’t come more disadvantaged than the denizens of The Basement. The second reason was she’d always preferred warmer climates and there was an odd constant chill to the air in Heaven…
Sally forth and be weighing out your options ’cause heaven ain’t for everybodyingly writeful.