Holler atcha next week, peeps!
Holler atcha next week, peeps!
In my sock drawer, there is a hiding space behind a row what my father calls grave socks as in one foot in the grave because they either do not have a match, are riddled with holes, threadbare at the toes and heels, or the ankle elastic has given up their hold on life. In that hiding space, there is a letter written carefully in a mixture of cursive and print. In that letter, are words, feelings, emotions, and admissions that a boy would never say directly to a girl’s face, not even on a double dog dare.
On a bicycle, there is a shy paperboy who, even though I have not responded to his first letter yet, would write me another letter, I am sure of it, reminding me of our time in the park. In that park, there is a rum cherry tree under which I made a promise to the shy paperboy of seven minutes in heaven.
In my closet, on an afternoon when no one is home, I make good on my promise with the shy paperboy. In the dark, my mind is filled with a sort of scary, sort of awkward fireworks that I can see but cannot hear because my heart is pounding so fast and loud that I swear the shy paperboy can hear it.
In that kiss, there is something I do not have words for, something that drops my guard completely, makes me feel truly comfortable with the shy paperboy and I am desperate to let him see me in my entirety.
In that feeling, I am crying harder than I ever have before, harder than I even knew I could, crying past the point when I run out of tears. In the tearless sobs, my breath is hitching and I realize that this is most likely the happiest and most terrified I will ever feel in my life.
In the silence, after the kiss and the tears, the overwhelming and slightly painful joy is replaced by the sound of a key sliding into a lock, the tumbling of a bolt and the jangling of a woman’s metal bracelets.
In the house, there is a mother who will tan not only my hide but the shy paperboy’s as well, if she ever finds out I have company without permission and especially if my room door is closed and that company is a boy who is in my room.
In the window, there is a scared paperboy climbing out and mumbling a prayer that he does not hurt himself or makes a sound when he drops a story to the ground below.
In my mother’s eyes, there is suspicion when she opens the door and enters my room, catching me rushing to shut the window, cutting off the cool breeze even though I am dripping with sweat.
In my mind, there is a list of excuses that I cannot find in the clutter of thoughts so I just stare at my mother as innocently as walks past me and opens the window, about to stick her head out to inspect the backyard.
In my mouth, there is a fib, “A wasp!” I say just a bit too forcefully and I build on it by telling her there was a wasp in the room so I closed the door to stop it from getting into the rest of the house and I managed to chase it out and shut the window behind it.
In the moments that tick by too slowly, my mother glances at the window again, then at my face before turning to leave but as she reaches the door, she stops and says, “You should probably find a better hiding place. Your father’s been talking about throwing out your grave socks and you wouldn’t want him finding that letter, would you? And the no company without permission rule stands no matter how sweet a boy’s words are or how much your heart aches for him, understood?”
In the end, I realize I am not as clever as I think I am, nor is my mother that foolish or unreasonable and I discover a newfound respect for her as I answer, “Yes, ma’am.”
About There is a Letter: The story began life as this sneaky tweet for a Wednesday Twitter hashtag game called 1LineWed (hosted by Kiss of Death @RWAKissofDeath) that I banged out while I was working my day job:
©2019 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys
In the midst of a tantrum burst of emotions, Robson stomped into his room and slammed the door shut so hard the picture on the wall to the right came free of its hook and crashed to the floor. It was one of his favorites, a print of a painting depicting a young boy and girl building a snowman with the caption “Snowmen fall from heaven…unassembled” across the bottom. The glass and the frame were cracked and now it was ruined just like everything else in his life! He kicked over his wastebasket, the plastic one with Captain America and all the other Marvel’s Avengers on it and discarded candy wrappers and other bits of broken junk he no longer had a use for skittered across the floor which only made him angrier.
He threw his head back and screamed, “Why can’t you give me what I want? Why can’t I eat what I want to eat and watch what I want to watch on tv? I’m sick of this stupid house and I hate you both! I can’t wait until I get older and leave here forever!”
And the rage kept spilling out until he had expelled all the air from his lungs and the rant became a coughing fit, but he didn’t care. He pulled in a deep breath of new air and let out a frustrated and sustained, guttural bellow so loud it vibrated his eyeballs.
When the red mist of fury lifted from his vision and he was left with nothing more than the fatigue of ages pressing down upon him, he heard a soft rap on his door. He had no desire to respond, so he didn’t but the door handle turned slowly and his father pushed his head inside.
“Got it all out of your system?” his father asked with no trace of anything being out of the ordinary.
Robson didn’t answer, he couldn’t answer, the fatigue wouldn’t allow it. But as his father entered the room and surveyed the damage, the young boy stood firm, and let his breath out through his nostrils in a defiant hiss.
His father picked up the cracked picture frame and examined it as he walked past Robson to sit on the bed. He patted the full-size mattress, indicating for his son to have a seat but the boy didn’t move. “Come on, it’s not going to kill you to sit next to me. I just need you to listen to what I have to say and then I’ll leave you alone to continue being mad at us.”
Reluctantly, Robson dragged his feet as if the gravity in the room had suddenly increased and plopped onto the bed as far away from his father as he could manage.
“A shame about this picture,” his father said. “Your mother and I bought this for you because it was the first thing you actually asked for. You pleaded with us and made your case so succinctly that we had no choice. At the time, we didn’t have the funds to spare but sometimes the happiness of the people you love is worth more than money.
“The reason I’m bringing this up is to talk to you about sacrifices. You’re too young to fully understand this but everybody in the world has to make them, no matter how young or old they are. And you may think the things we ask or tell you to do is unfair but that’s only because you don’t see the bigger picture and there’s no real reason you should at your age. Our job as your parents is to take care of the big important stuff so that you can live the easiest life we can manage to give you. But it’s also our duty to prepare you for what’s to come and we planned to wait until you were a little older but since you’re so eager to grow up, let me tell you what life holds in store for you.
“As you get older, you’re going to learn that even the people who were never supposed to let you down probably will and someone who has the same opinion about you…you will let them down, as well. That includes the three of us, champ. We’re eventually going to let each other down.
“You’re going to fall in love one day and your heart will get broken and it will probably happen more than once and it will get harder to love with each passing break. And most likely you’ll break a few hearts yourself even if you remember how it felt when yours was broken and try to avoid doing it to someone else, it’s going to happen.
“Despite your best intentions, you’ll fight with your best friends, blame a new love for things an old one did, complain because time is passing too fast, wish you had your childhood to do over again to get things right, and you’ll eventually lose someone you love which includes me and your mother.”
Robson sat motionless, staring at the cracked glass and broken frame, unable to meet his father’s gaze because he felt the sting of tears in his own eyes. “What do I do?” he said in a small voice.
“What do you mean?”
“To stop all the bad things from happening. What do I do?”
“Well, you can start by not taking the good things and times for granted but do take too many pictures, laugh too much, and love like you’ve never been hurt…because every sixty seconds you spend upset is a minute of happiness you’ll never get back. But before any of that, you should go apologize to your mother, she was really upset by some of the things you said.”
Robson hopped off the bed, turned his back to his father and wiped the tears from his eyes with his shirt sleeve. He walked to the door with a purpose but stopped at the door jamb and said over his shoulder, “I don’t really hate you, you know.”
“I know, kiddo,” his father smiled. “Now, go give your mother a great big hug and kiss and shag your butt back in here so we can straighten this room up.”
The little boy took off like a shot out of the room yelling, “Mommy! Mommy! I’m sorry!”
His father stood up, righted the wastebasket and carefully tilted the broken glass into the little plastic bucket. He caught sight of the caption on the picture and thought, Snowmen aren’t the only things that require assembly, sometimes family bonds do too.
©2019 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys
She had the nerve to ask me, “Just who do you think you are?” and my temper spiked. Zero to sixty, I got hotter than the hinges on the gates of Hell, and I was fixing to tell her just who I thought I was.
I was going to tell her I’m the person she wants to have near when she’s dying, and whom she likes to be with while she’s alive. The certain someone she can spontaneously turn to for help when she’s in trouble, and who’s the first to hear the good news when she has good fortune.
The guy whose counsel she seeks when she’s perplexed and my congratulations when the perplexity is solved. The person in whom she can confide the secrets she wants no other living soul to know, and yet will never pry into her heart to discover whether there are any more secrets to be revealed.
The pillar on which she can lean when her heart aches, but who will never complain or take advantage of her leaning. Someone who will get down on my knees beside her when she’s down, and forget that I did so when she’s on her feet again.
The shoulder she can weep on when she’s sad and with whom she enjoys laughing when she’s glad. Always there with a tear on my cheek when she suffers and a twinkle in my eye when the sun shines on her again. Also, I’m the one with pain in my voice when she’s in distress and melody in my tone when her heart is happy.
Besides her family, I’m the one who admires her for her strong points and loves her in spite of her weak ones. I can laugh at her foibles without despising her for having them as well as make allowances for her limitations without allowing them to obscure her talents.
I’m that fella who’s proud of her when fortune favors her but not ashamed of her when she fails. I will contribute to her success without claiming any share in it. I feel and show satisfaction when she pleases me but never resentment when she disappoints me.
The stand-up guy that tells her the truth even when it hurts and without her taking offense. And yes, I am not ashamed to grant her a favor even at the risk of being imposed upon and can extend a helping hand to lighten her load without expecting any other reward than having had the privilege of so doing.
I give all I can whenever I can without ever keeping a record of what I have given and who says the best about her when everybody else is saying the worst.
I want to say all this and make her feel it, make her understand, but the anger passes and all I say is, “I am your friend,” and it’s all that’s needed to be said because it encompasses everything.
I watched him discreetly to see how he adjusted and was surprised at just how easily he accepted change. Don’t get me wrong, things were awkward at first.
Normally a surefooted man, he began stumbling into things and tripping constantly. Somehow, the growth of the additional eye must have thrown off his depth perception. This only lasted a few days, though. In no time at all, he returned to his usual graceful self, more so in fact. In recent times, I couldn’t recall him having a single episode of clumsiness.
His innate ability to adapt was a huge advantage and the more comfortable he became with his condition, perhaps the more likely he would finally feel comfortable to confide in me. I knew this wouldn’t happen any time soon because he was preoccupied with the advantages and shortcomings of his newly altered state.
Besides the obviously improved eyesight, his reading skill and speed increased one hundredfold. Magazines that he initially glanced through, the ones instantly bundled for the recycled trash day, he started tearing through, reading them cover to cover no matter what they were–Omni, Scientific American, Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan.
Once he conquered magazines, he moved on to books. At first, my little trashy paperbacks and dime novels, but then he moved onto more serious fiction. One time he even polished off Moby Dick and War and Peace in the same night. Many was the night that I tossed and turned to the sound of him in the den flipping through the pages of some book or other at a breakneck pace.
As fate would have it, just when I was beginning to adjust to his third eye, I discovered that his nose had changed. Nothing drastic, just a slight flaring of the nostrils. With this minute alteration came a sensitive sense of smell. Now I thought he’d have no choice but to talk with me about it, but he didn’t, he just became reclusive. It was obvious to me that this was just the beginning—of what? I had no idea. Concerned at this point, I began dropping hints. Asking how he was feeling. If he had an allergy or a head cold. When was the last time he had his eyes checked, surely reading for long periods under that dim reading lamp couldn’t be easy on the eyes.
He began to become irritated with my prying, so I stopped, convincing myself if he could live with the changes then so could I and maybe that would have been true if it stopped at his nose.
His ears were next. First the right and then a week later, the left. Sprouting upward to a point. The result was enhanced hearing. Accompanied by migraine headaches from sounds that even our dog couldn’t pick up.
Then his mouth. Bleeding gums that resulted from a second row of teeth that pushed their way to the surface over his original set. Tongue followed a short time later. Elongating. Forking.
After that, I couldn’t tell you what was next. I never saw him again. Not that he moved or I left him. He just kept himself forever on the other side of a locked door. Part of me was thankful. I was spared the sight of the monster he was becoming. And he was spared the look of revulsion that I could no longer hide. That didn’t curb my curiosity, however. I still peeked through keyholes and drilled tiny holes in the wall. Why? He was changing into a wholly new person and I had to see what the end result was. After all, he was the man I married.
On the few occasions when he caught me spying, he flew into a rage, demanding to know what my problem was. My problem? Like I was the one who looked like an inhabitant from the Island of Dr. Moreau.
And that’s all I know. Whatever loyalty I felt towards him, whatever love I had for him, was gone. Gone the moment I got a clear look at what he’d become and witnessed his potential for violence. I was probably an idiot for remaining as long as I did, but then, love blinds sometimes. All that was gone now. The very next morning I packed a change of clothes in a rucksack, emptied the bank account, gassed up the car and left. Without a backward glance.
And I avoided mirrors, afraid that I had contracted whenever disease afflicted my husband, terrified of looking into the face of my own change.
©2011 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys
This is not a test. This is a message from the Emergency Broadcast System. If you’re able to hear this message, I suggest you grab yourself a big glass of water and strap yourself down because this is going to be one tough pill to swallow.
The President of the United States of America is dead, as are all the other officers in the line of succession through to Secretary of Homeland Security, which leaves me. Who am I? You will have to wait a while to find that out, I’m afraid. I will not reveal my identity until I have a better understanding of the threat aimed at those who seat themselves in the Oval Office, but I wish to offer the following statement:
There’s no point in being polite about this so from this point on I’m going to speak to you plainly, truthfully, from my heart, so you’ll pardon my French as I do so.
For those of you oblivious nescients with your heads shoved up your own or someone else’s fourth point of contact, which is apparently more than half the population, we have been royally screwed by the so-called friendly visitors from the distant star, Prolexecor.
I have been pouring through complaints and pleas for help from people literally being fucked out of house and home by these little grey assclowns. If you’re listening to this right now and saying to yourself, “I don’t know what all the fuss is about, I have several friends who have adopted greys and they seem to be fitting in just fine”—I have a request to make: why don’t you blow out all the pilot lights, crank the knobs all the way up and stick your head in the oven so that I don’t have to hunt you down and do it myself.
I couldn’t give a rat’s ass, nor does the planet Earth give a rat’s ass about how much you love sucking off greys. You have five native racial classifications to suck and fuck on the planet and the greys are not, I fucking repeat, not among them. This message is about fostering relationships with humans, and that’s not even remotely possible if you’re going to throw sex at lifeforms that are not our genetic matchup.
Newsflash to the stupid asshats in our society: Greys don’t like fucking humans. Oh, wait, double newsflash: Greys don’t like fucking humans, they like fucking humans over. And they like doing it because we make it so ridiculously easy for them. Do you know why we haven’t been visited by any other alien races beside the Prolexecorians? Because they sent a message out to the rest of the known goddamned universe. Do you really need me to spell out what it said? It said that we Earthlings fucking suck as a species.
Did you get that? I’m talking to all the little dumbshits that openly brag about their xeno-coital exploits with creatures that cannot continue our line, in front of lonely, single humans who can. Are you people seriously mentally deficient? That’s not a rhetorical question, I actually want you to tweet the Oval Office to advise me if you’re mind-numbingly thick so I can make sure you’re on the passenger list for the next one-way shuttle off the fucking planet.
Think about it: if a family member announced to you that they wanted to get into an intimate relationship with the neighbor’s pet, would you be happy? Would you? No, you wouldn’t, so why the fuck would you let them do it with something that bears no resemblance to humans and produces no offspring? And brag about it?
First of all, you shouldn’t be shtupping the first visitors to touch down on our planet in since forever because it’s bad form and it gives not just you but the entire fucking planet a shitty reputation. Secondly, you shouldn’t be doing it bareback. I don’t give a fuck if your grey flashes some intergalactic medical card that states he/she/it is disease free. You don’t do it. You. Don’t. Do. It. And you especially do-fucking-not convince other humans to do it either. Disease-free for them may not be disease free for you.
And before you open your bassackward smegma eating piehole to try to justify your actions, saying something like, “I’ve been having sex with humans of all races for most of my life, doesn’t that count for something?” No, you obtuse fetal knuckle dragger, it fucking doesn’t. Do you wanna know why? It doesn’t count because you’ve turned your back on the human race and now you’re crawling with alien cooties. You’re a walking fucking human roach motel. Congratulations.
I’ve also come across stupid shitty websites devoted to technical virgins. You think it’s cool to lose your virginity to a grey and boast about still being a human virgin? It is not fucking cool. I’ve also seen Tumblr pages for humans that have sworn off humans. Humans. That. Have. Sworn. Off. Other. Humans. How simpleminded is that?
I don’t give a shit about fads and exotic tastes and getting your Kirk on, you were born a human so you leave the dance with the species who brought you. One of your own kind, stick to your own kind. And when I say fuck the greys, it doesn’t mean you actually get to go out and fuck the greys. Why? Is the concept of an alien invasion new to you? Are you really that blind? Or are you just so fucking clueless about the different ways a foreign invader can infiltrate our homeworld and take over? Well, it’s time someone told you that the grey you’re hot-monkey-loving, the selfsame one who couldn’t give two shits in a rucksack about you or your bland ass sexual prowess, that mother fucking non-terran cocksucker is only putting up with your horseshit to worm its way into your bank account and property. Every time you donate to their cause, every time you put them in your will or sign over your patch on land to one of them, we lose that much more of our planet. Our. Own. Fucking. Planet. And I swear to God I will personally groin punt the next person I discover doing something asinine like that, and I don’t give a fuck how young or old you are, I will fucking assault you.
Does this message make you feel like a shitbird? Good. If any of the grievances mentioned in this broadcast applies to you in any way, no matter how small, or even if you haven’t acted on your feelings yet but this shit is simmering in the back of your mind, this following message is for you:
Get the fuck off my planet.
I’m not kidding. Just leave. Seriously. If you’ve committed any act that possibly endangers the future survival and continuation of the human race and our birthright claim to this planet, be you rich, powerful, beautiful, healthy, or however genetically perfect… you need to find a new home. I would rather live on a world of loyal human misfits than share a planet with perfects who don’t care to preserve what we’ve built and fail to see just how important we are.
And when you rocket your treacherous asses off the planet, just know that I pity you because I don’t know how you’ve gotten this far in life, but I’m quite sure you won’t go any farther. Oh, and one more thing:
Go fuck yourself.
This concludes this message from the Emergency Broadcast System.
©2011 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys
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…”
Modestine nodded, “Underprivileged kids. Twelve years.”
“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.
– Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys
When the delivery truck pulls up outside the shop, neither of us look out the window ’cause we know exactly who it is. 12:15 pm on the dot means Department of Tissue Waste Removal. Light load today. Driver only schleps in one body bag.
“You’re up, Mickey.” Jhonni nods my way. “Snag ‘n tag salvageables and dip the rest.”
Mickey. Only other person to ever call me that was my pops. I hated when he did it and I damn sure hate that my boss somehow exposed that raw nerve. He only does it to get a rise outta me, but I ain’t bitin’ so I let it slide this time. My mistake? Tellin’ baldilocks here I prefer bein’ called Michelle.
Snag ‘n tag means I gotta dissect the corpse for salvagables, which are any organs that ain’t completely shot to shit and dip whatever’s left over in the chemical vat for DNA repurposin’ — usually either cosmetic skin grafts, lifelike mannequins for movie stunts or some other bioengineerin’ bullshit I don’t really understand.
I sigh, chuck the rest of the deck onto my game of solitaire — cards weren’t cooperating, no how — and walk over to the body bag. I ain’t squeamish about dead bodies or puttin’ the blade to ’em, but I do have one hangup…
I hear myself mutterin’ before I have a chance to stop it, “Don’tbeadudedon’tbeadudedon’tbeadude…” and when I unzip the bag, guess what? A dude. So’s we’re clear, I gots no prob flaying a man, it’s just that chick thing that does me in. You gals know what I’m talking about.
Every man a woman meets, she sizes him up and decides if she’d throw him one. Sex, I mean. Young, old, fat, skinny, short, tall… alive or dead, you rate ’em. Would you do ’em, could you do ’em and under what circumstances? A dare? Boredom? For the story? Only me, I got this vivid imagination, see, and when I come across a mutilated dude, I see myself having sex with him. And no, I ain’t no nekkidphiliac, they’re very much alive in my scenarios, just all banged up, pardon the expression.
This one, Ethan Garner, by the toe tag, was tore up from the floor up. Anythin’ worth savin’ would be an innard and not one that’d bring high market value, either. Somethin’ nickel and dime like an appendix, spleen, or some shit.
The fluorescents buzz overhead and sweat breaks out on my forehead as I hear Ethan groan beneath me in my mind’s eye. Think of a dude I know, think of a dude I know. No good. Where’s my iPod? I need a distraction.
The cause of death is listed as Industrial Misadventure which meant poor old Ethan was mangled by machinery, probably one of them press and fold jobbers. His body looks like a bedsheet fresh out the package, tucked up all tight into a tidy square. How the hell am I going to get inside to harvest organs?
I put a little elbow grease into it, dig my fingers into a crease — an armpit, maybe? — and try to pry it apart. Bones creak and skin pulls apart from skin with the sound of moist velcro. I’m sweatin’ buckets now, cause in my head, Ethan is givin’ me the workout of a lifetime, only I can’t see his face so it’s like doing it with a Hot Pocket with a hard-on. Focus, Mickey! Focus! Damn, now that bastard’s got me doin’ it.
With the back of my blade, I scrape away the dried blood, which there’s plenty of, and I find a seam. That’s right, a goddammed seam! Now, I wasn’t exactly top of my class in Biology, but I’m kinda certain the human body don’t come equipped with seams. But I’m curious about this so I make my first cut along Ethan’s unnatural hem.
My fingers move into the cut and part skin. I tilt the swing arm lamp to get a better view and the light catches somethin’ that makes my stomach hitch. Whoever bagged this on scene fucked up big time, which I suppose is kinda-sorta understandable, given the unusual nature of the cause of death, but if I reported it, it’d probably cost that slob their job. The Office of Forensic Affairs forgives a ton of infractions, unfortunately, body count ain’t one of ’em. This was incorrectly listed as a single, when Ethan here, is wrapped around a whole other body.
The second body’s a smaller one, a girl, judging by the tiny pink-painted fingernails, and in the middle of a splatter of brain matter is a child-sized tiara, pressed between them like a flower in a book. The sex visions with Ethan stop instantly and my stomach heaves as I try not to hurl.
My jumpsuit is dripping with sweat and it clings to my clammy body to the point it makes my skin crawl. And then my trusty dusty brain, with its wonderful imagination, kicks into overdrive and I play the story of their final moments.
Ethan works — worked — works in laundry services. It’s bring your daughter to work day. Maybe he’s a weekend dad that doesn’t get to spend enough quality time with his baby girl and he fights the court order and pushes for this until he’s able to negotiate terms.
So he brings her to his job and she insists on wearing the little princess halloween costume, the one with the tiara, and he can’t say no because she is his little princess. Things are going great and he tells her to be careful and stick close to him, but he gets distracted for a moment, maybe by his boss about special instructions on a rush job or somethin’.
The little girl tries to be good and listen to her daddy, but curiosity gets the better of her and she climbs on a piece of machinery she shouldn’t climbin’ and Ethan’s dad-alarm goes off and he spots her, losing her balance and he runs for her… runs and dives with no care for his own safety and he manages to grab hold of her but it’s too late and they both fall into the machine before his coworkers can hit the shut off switch.
So, Ethan does the only thing he knows to do… he wraps himself around the little girl and folds her in his love, as the machine does what it’s designed to do.
It probably ain’t even in the same neighborhood as the actual events, but even though my story is most likely bullshit, it’s still real to me. it’s what I choose to believe.
And it breaks my heart ’cause that’s how I wish it was with me and my pop, but after moms died, we can’t be in the same room for ten minutes without it breakin’ into some big production. I know he means well, but who the hell is he to give me instructions on how I should live my life? Holder the Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition Lifetime Achievement Award, is who.
I carefully harvest the tiara and clean body residue out of every nook and cranny. Then I place the plastic jewelry on a towel and carefully fold it into the best presentable package I can manage.
“Fuck’re you doing over there, Mickey?” Jhonni says over his shoulder.
And suddenly I can’t do this anymore, not just Ethan and this nameless little girl, but any of it. I peel the sopping wet jumpsuit off me and throw it at my boss. “Quitin’ is what I’m doin’.” Correction, my ex-boss.
I take the tiara package over to the phone and search the directory for Forensic Affairs. “And it’s Michelle, by the way, you fat piece of garbage. Call me outside my name again and somebody’ll be unzippin’ you from one of those bags.”
I expect a response, an argument, a something… but he just sits there and takes it quietly. Makes me think this isn’t the first time somethin’ like this has happened.
I dial the number. Do I feel sorry for the person about to lose their job? Sure, but fuck ’em. There’re more important matters at hand. There’s a family that needs reunitin’.
And maybe, just maybe, I’ll make another call after this one. It has been a while since I spoke to the old man, after all.
Sally forth and be folding them what you care for into your lovingly writeful.
– Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys
Once, in the gloomy and perpetually rainy City of Alphabet, there was born a girl who was said to be the living embodiment of love. From the doctor’s first slap, the girl giggled instead of crying and flushed the neighborhood of all its gray. Her smile was a bottomless thing, its roots branching up from her soul, and it beamed so brightly as to cause blindness if it caught you unawares. Her large jade eyes radiated an innocence so pure it momentarily took your breath away. Given her birthright, she was destined to have but one mate throughout her lifetime and that person would live a charmed life ever after.
Or so the story went.
An urban legend to most, Tyrone, son of William, believed the girl existed and based on the age of the story’s telling, surely had to be an adult now. He also was convinced it was his mission to locate the girl and put an end to love, once and for all.
Tyrone worked fingers to the bone for years and all the wealth he amassed was spent on all the matchmakers who claimed to have an in with the living embodiment of love. Most were scammers, of course, the rest were simply delusional and bestowed the honor upon the wrong women. Only one woman was genuine. She knew the embodiment’s true identity and so deep was her jealousy that she gladly agreed to arrange a match if it meant obliterating the anomaly from the face of the planet.
When Tyrone met the matchmaker in a single occupancy room off Delancey Street, he thought of all the people he had ever encountered, this woman was the flipside of the living embodiment of love’s coin. Emaciated with a rat’s nest for hair, her features were packed together tightly as if God had pinched her face when she was born and left it to set that way.
“Your fee has been paid in full. Why have you not set up the introduction?” Tyrone asked.
“You are not ready.” the matchmaker spat the words like a cawing crow. “As long as you wear your true intentions like armor, she will dismiss you outright.”
“If I pretend, she will spot the ruse instantly. I am sure she has developed the ability to detect friendly facades. I will approach her as a man scorned, which is the truth, and win her over from there.”
“Interesting. And how do you mean to kill her?”
“Those were not my words. I mean to put an end to love.”
“The difference being?”
“I intend to woo her, make her love me, and when she is at her happiest moment, I will argue with her, break her heart with harsh words and hurtful actions. And I will not let her leave, and I will not stop, not until the shine dulls in her eyes and the smile becomes a rootless tree, and even then I will continue until she withdraws, from our relationship, from her happiness, from the world.”
“That will take years if it ever happens at all.”
“It will. I am patient.” Tyrone said.
“But I doubt you are strong enough.”
“Then refund my money. I will find her on my own.”
The matchmaker leaned in closer and eyed Tyrone head to toe. His nose was full of her scent, decaying food left to stew in its own rancid juices.
“A deal is a deal,” she said. “So we are clear, I will make the introduction and my part will be done. Should you fail in your attempts, there will be no returning of the fee paid, understood?”
Tyrone nodded and she led the way out of the room on Delancey. Under the cloak of night, they dipped down into a subway station marked, Closed For Restoration. Past the turnstile and empty platform onto the train tracks. Tyrone masked his apprehension as he gave the third rail a wide berth and occasionally peered over his shoulder at the sound of distant train rumblings.
Between stations, they encountered a society of people, homeless and long abandoned by the surface world, who barred their path. Tyrone thought he would have to fight his way through, but the matchmaker had things well in hand. She mumbled something at the leader, a password perhaps, and pulled a tin of potted meat from her handbag and placed it in his hand. They carefully waded through a field of displaced people’s bedding and cooking stations until they finally reached the service passageway that led to a room not much larger than the one they just left.
In the room were two chairs that faced each other. The matchmaker sat in one and gestured for Tyrone to sit across from her.
“If this is some sort of trick…”
The matchmaker waived off the threat. “She will be here, I promise.”
“Why here?” Tyrone asked.
“There is an interesting story behind that.” The matchmaker cleared her throat and spat a gob of phlegm to the side. “It seems the gift of unconditional love that Arianna was born with — that is the name of the woman you seek, Arianna — the gift that flowed freely from her, the gift that touched everyone within her sphere of influence and filled them with ecstasy, proved too much to bear for most people.”
“Are you telling me people fell too much in love?” Tyrone asked.
“To the point of delirium. It drove them mad. Imagine the feeling when you have loved someone or something in your life, more than anything else in the world, loved it so much that it hurt. Now multiply that by ten, a hundred, a thousand, a million, even. Never any hatred, or indifference, only a love for everything that increases exponentially the longer you remain in Arianna’s presence.”
“I never considered that.”
“Most do not.”
“So what happened?” Tyrone leaned forward in his seat.
“Nothing like a good story, eh?” The corners of the matchmaker’s mouth curled slightly. “Arianna’s parents, immune to her gift, fearing for their daughter’s safety as well as their own, moved in the small of the night to parts unknown, somewhere far removed from society at large, and remained in seclusion.”
The matchmaker stopped talking. Tyrone waited, thinking she paused for dramatic effect, but after nearly ten minutes of silence, asked, “Is that it?”
“All the true bits. The rest is apocrypha. I figured that would not interest you.”
Tyrone shrugged, his disinterest unconvincing, “Since we are here…”
“Well, the way I heard it, the family managed to get along fine. True they were isolated but they were also together and safe and Arianna’s constant state of happiness helped the situation be less stressful. Their lives remained uneventful… until the day their daughter reached puberty.
“On the twenty-second day of the seventh month of her fourteenth year, Arianna began growing distant, her once innocent eyes darkened and the luster faded from her smile. The gift once thought to be good was slowly transforming from its former sham and ruse into the corrupt curse it truly was.”
Tyrone’s brow knotted. “So she is not actually a child of love?”
“Why would you think that? Arianna is the physical embodiment of love. At birth, she was the love that was new and innocent and when she entered womanhood, she became the other side of love, the dark side none of us admit to feeling or acting upon.”
“Whichever side she represents when I make her mine, I will cause it to wilt away to nothingness.”
“Do you have an alternate plan?”
“Should she find out what you are attempting, is there a fallback?”
“The only way she would find out is if you tell her…”
“Oh, I will not have to tell her anything… you already have.”
It took Tyrone a few moments to piece together her meaning. “You are… ?”
The matchmaker spread her arms wide. “The genuine article.”
“But you are…”
“A hag? Not at all what you expected? It is the only bit the urban legend got wrong. I was born an ugly child, but people viewed me through the eyes of unconditional love, so my looks did not matter.”
“You tricked me!”
“How? Hello, Tyrone, I am Arianna, pleased to meet you. Consider yourself introduced. Now, live up to your word.” Arianna said as she moved from her chair and sat on Tyrone’s lap. “Woo me and put an end to love. I dare you.”
Tyrone wanted to push her off, but perhaps he hadn’t really wanted that at all. Up close, Arianna wasn’t that horrible to look at. Her mottled skin was actually clear and smooth. Her nose once bent and crooked, appeared aquiline now. Her lips, full and delicious. Her build, athletic.
“Something the matter?” Arianna asked.
Tyrone’s heart beat in his throat. “What are you doing to me?”
“Giving you a taste. I can control the power now. Love, hate, passion, jealousy, to greater and lesser degrees.”
Tyrone tried to scowl but his face wouldn’t cooperate. “What are you going to do to me?”
“Offer you the opportunity to become my mate,” said Arianna. She climbed off his lap and drew her power back into herself, allowing Tyrone to see her in her true form again. “If legend is to be believed, a charmed life awaits you.”
“And if I decline?”
“Then you join the loveless.” Arianna gestured toward the door.
“You mean the people we passed… ?”
“Men and women, not much different than yourself, unable to deal with heartbreak or rejection. Selfish people who, being denied love, sought to prevent others from experiencing it.”
“Why do they mill about below ground so lost?” Tyrone asked.
“They were unable to fulfill their supposed heart’s desire of removing my influence from the world and refused my offer of companionship. Once you turn your back on love, what else is there?” Arianna drained the dark room entirely of love and let him ponder the notion as he sank deep into loneliness and wallowed in abandon and despair.
After an eternity of brooding silence, Tyrone spoke up, “I… accept your offer. I will become your mate.”
“And will you woo me, make me love you, and when I am at my happiest, will you break my heart and make me withdraw from the world?”
“That I will indeed, even if it takes the rest of my life.”
“Challenge accepted.” Arianna shook the man’s hand firmly.
Contract sealed, he put his plan into effect by telling the living embodiment of love his story. Of the woman he loved, that he did nothing to deserve but was blessed with nonetheless. Of their happiness together. Of the sharp knife of cruel fate that cut their time short. Of the anguish that swallowed him whole the instant her body was committed to the ground.
And when his tale was through, Tyrone, son of William, pulled her into his embrace and kissed her with every ounce of his intent and Arianna was forced to admit she felt a slight tingle. They battled for years in this game of hearts, each giving as good as they got, and if he actually succeeded putting an end to her, it was with kindness. Despite the competition that continued to their dying days, the couple wound up living happily ever after.
Oh, and they had one child, who was said to be the living embodiment of peace… but that’s a story for another day.
Sally forth and be careful that the love you kill isn’t your owningly writeful.
– Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys
His job made Joseph MacDonal II, Joey to his pals, the enemy of the world and a target for assassination. He was one of the few people on the planet trained and licensed to butcher unicorns and prepare their meat for consumption. This also put him at odds with PAUTU (People Against the Unethical Treatment of Unicorns) who accused him of unicorn genocide.
The thing that stuck in everyone’s craw, more than selling unicorn steaks, chops and burgers, was the butchery aspect, though that was the bit they all had gotten wrong. Yes, Joey was technically a unicorn butcher, but the proper definition was:
/ˈbo͝oCHər – NOUN
A person whose trade is cutting up and selling meat in a shop.
which he did. What most folks failed to understand, though it was a matter of public record, was that his license hadn’t included or even allowed the hunting or slaughtering of unicorns or any other animals. In fact, Joey never killed a thing in his life. Insects that crossed his path were the subject of a strict catch, relocate and release system.
At this very moment, Joey sat across from a field news reporter undergoing makeup in preparation for the live broadcast. He found her cute in a cable news presenter sort of way, and probably would have been more attracted to her if she hadn’t that I’ll make my bones off this story hungry look in her eyes.
She ignored him completely, even brushing off his initial “Hello” until the cameraman counted her down. When the station anchor threw to her, the field reporter beamed a smile so unnaturally white, it would have stood out in a blizzard.
“Thank you, Sylvia. I’m here with noted unicorn slaughterer, Joseph MacDonal…” the field reporter said, finally locking her predatory eyes on him.
“Actually, I’m a unicorn butcher…”
“Same difference, isn’t it?”
“Actually, there’s a big dif–‘
“What made you decide to embark on this horrible profession?” she interrupted.
The economy had been in the toilet since before God talked to Moses and Joey hadn’t worked in forever. And even though he was one of the fortunate ones who managed to do what analysts suggested and set aside six months worth of salary in a high yield account before he was made redundant at the meat packing plant, now going on his tenth year, all that money was little more than a distant memory.
A Christian in name more than practice, it had been years since the soles of his shoes touched the floor of a church and that time was his best friend’s wedding, a wife twice removed. To say Joey was out of practice with the proper act of prayer would have been an understatement. His first attempt came off as more of a bitch session, with him blaming his parents for his rotten upbringing and lambasting society for its prejudice of gingers, which, he reckoned, was the chief reason for his being kept down by the man. Surprisingly, he saw no results.
His second attempt at prayer was akin to a letter to Santa, in which he listed all the positive things he’d ever done in life and expected a little compensation for his good behavior. Again, results were not forthcoming.
Third time was the charm, however, when he realized that he should have admitted his sin, expressed thanks for the things he had and humbly requested the one thing he needed most: a job.
He put no expectation on the prayer and went about his normal daily existence, when, a week later, he received a phone call. Seemed that a friend of a friend knew a guy who knew a guy who had a roommate who was related to a woman who owned her own business was looking for someone in his line of work.
Joey arrived at the interview, resume in hand, and launched into his well-rehearsed spiel when the business woman waived him off and ushered him into a small kitchen area.
“Show me what you can do.” she gestured at a section of the animal carcass, a shank, by the look of it, that rested atop a butcher block countertop.
Joey inspected the meat before touching a utensil. Not beef, nor pork, nor lamb, the texture was something he had never encountered before. A grain like beef, yet soft to the touch like flan, and it shimmered without a light source as if it were bioluminescent. “What is this?” he asked.
“Are you interested in the job or not? I don’t have all day.” she drummed her fingers on her crossed arms.
Joey sighed, selected a knife from the butcher block and approached the slab of meat, much in the same manner a sculptor would a block of marble, envisioning the cuts before blade touched flesh. With no idea what type of animal he was dealing with, there was no way of telling how this woman expected it to be prepared, so he simply followed his instincts and let the meat talk to him. And in a way, it did.
Every time the stainless steel edge portioned the strange meat, Joey thought he heard a high-pitched tone, like the sound of a moistened finger running along the rim of a crystal goblet. A sound that broke his heart. But in the aftermath, when the tone was just about to become inaudible, he heard a voice inside his head. It said two words:
and he felt a permission granted. This had not relieved the wave of guilt that flooded over him but it gave him the desire to do something with his own life worthy of this unknown animal’s sacrifice.
When he was done, the business woman nodded her approval, “Every bit the professional you claimed to be.” And it was a professional job. Every cut was perfect, none too generous, nor too small, and there were absolutely no scraps. He utilized every last bit of the meat.
“I’m curious, what type of meat is this?”
“Unicorn.” she said very matter of factly.
“You heard me.”
“I don’t get the gag.” Joey inwardly chastised himself on his tone. If his dumb mouth cost him the job, he’d…
“I’m quite serious.” the woman took him by the upper arm in a grip tighter than he was comfortable with and led him through a maze of stairwells and corridors, down, down, so far down beneath street level that he expected to see passage markers scratched into the walls by Arne Saknussemm.
Their destination was a room designed to look like a field, complete with grass, trees and rocks. Had he been blindfolded and dropped here, Joey would have sworn he was outside. The room was so vast, he couldn’t see the far wall. The only telltale sign this was, in fact, an indoor facility were the track lights that provided sunlight, positioned incredibly high overhead, but even they were mostly obscured by the clouds of the room’s self-contained weather system. But as fascinating as all this was, by far the most mindblowing thing were the unicorns grazing in the field.
“They’re real?” Joey asked.
The woman couldn’t suppress her chuckle, “Our organization, as advanced as it is, isn’t able to manufacture live unicorns.”
“But how is this possible?” Joey took a cautious step into the room and felt the spongy grass beneath his shoe. He moved slowly as not to spook a unicorn no more than ten feet away. The unicorn paid him no mind.
“Some trapper with an overabundance of dumb luck caught the last pair in existence by accident. Fortunately for him, and us, they were a stallion and mare. We made him a very wealthy man in order to breed them in captivity.”
“For food?” there went his tone again, but this time he didn’t care.
The woman shrugged. “There’s nothing else we can do with them. You can’t ride them. Young, old, virginal, virtuous… it doesn’t matter. They simply won’t allow it. Utilize the horn for its magical properties? It’s only magical for the unicorn, there’s no transference of power. Grinding down the horn and ingesting the powder for immortality? Turns out the human body is unable to digest the powder.”
“Then why not let them go?”
“Not until we recoup our investment. And we can’t risk one of our competitors getting hold of them and creating a revenue source we haven’t managed to think up ourselves… yet.”
“This is going to sound strange,” Joey said. “But I don’t know if I can do this.”
To be continued…
– Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys