13 for Halloween: Unplanned Cesarean (audio)

Part 1 * Part 2 * Part 3

Certain truths take a while to be accepted as fact. The world going to hell was the latest example of this, and unfortunately for the human race, most likely the final time it would happen because, by the time the populace at large began taking the news seriously, it was already far too late.

When media outlets first began reporting that the viral internet video which led to the Presidential Internet Shutdown was responsible for opening interdimensional portals all across the globe, allowing demonic creatures to invade the Earth, it was easy to see how the news could have been ignored. It sounded like a prank on the scale of the Orson Welles’ 1938 “War of the Worlds” radio scare. But the portals would continue to appear until it was no longer possible to ignore.

Those who had never been in the presence of pure evil before soon discovered it to be a palpable sensation that overwhelmed all the senses because its very nature was too raw for the sane mind to handle. That was the scene in the Corbyn household. As the other residents of the Notre Villa Cooperative fled the city in search of a safe haven, Barnaby Corbyn was boiling hot water and fetching towels for his wife, Margot, who was in labor.

Out of his depth, the poor man tried contacting his wife’s doctor, the hospital, the ambulance service, and even the police, but none of the calls were able to get through because there was no longer a dial tone on their landline or signal on either of their mobile phones.

Normally, Barnaby was not a man who was good in a crisis and knew absolutely nothing about delivering a baby, but needs must when the Devil drives, so he intended to follow his instincts and do his level best, which included keeping Margot calm despite the oppressive tension that filled the bedroom. He soon discovered that his level best would prove insufficient to the task at hand when he caught an unnatural movement out of the corner of his eye.

His legs buckled as he staggered toward the bed. At first, what he saw had not made a bit of sense. Margot had gone limp suddenly during her patterned breathing, her face taking on a deathlike pallor, and pushing its way free of her pregnant stomach was what appeared to be a tiny obsidian hand.

A shriek that had never been issued from a human, let alone a man of his stature, escaped Barnaby as fingernails sharpened to scalpel points slowly and deliberately scratched at his wife’s bloody belly flesh. Instinctively, he covered his mouth, attempting to choke back the bile rising in his throat at the same time as he was screaming.

Sanity slowly leaked from Barnaby’s ears as the realization dawned on him that one of those interdimensional demon portals had opened in the last place anyone could have expected…inside Margot’s womb.

13 for Halloween: Homeless (audio)

Part 1 * Part 2

I don’t dream. I never have. Dreams are reserved for people who are asleep. Me? I’m what they call a true illuminate because I can transcend into a higher state of consciousness, beyond the realm of mere dreams. When my physical body is at rest, recharging, I enter into a state of intensified wakefulness and the universe becomes a playground for my astral form.

Sometimes I travel with purpose, to view the birth of a star, or bear silent witness to the death of a solar system. Other times I drift aimlessly in the cosmos and ruminate on the miracle of existence. Then there are times when I’m caught in the undercurrent of an event that exists in defiance of the natural order and chaos of reality.

Tonight, it’s the latter.

I’m being drawn against my will to a bedroom, where a naked couple performs some sort of, I don’t know, ritual? that can only remotely be considered sex by a raving lunatic. The sounds of their ecstasy? lament? fill the air as their bodies bend, twist and contort in ways the human form isn’t designed for, even if they happen to be triple jointed. They both move in a feverish and jerky fashion, attempting to slot themselves together, like two shifting pieces of an ever-changing puzzle, until the man’s mangled body finally forms the proper key to tumble the lock of the woman’s hideously misshapen physique.

There’s a sound unlike anything I’m ever heard and suddenly a patch of reality behind the deformed mass of the couple segments horizontally and lifts like a venetian blind being drawn. I can’t be sure, but I think they somehow managed to open a door to another dimension? plane of existence? and now shapes are moving in the reality rift, clawing their way through the opening.

I try to move closer in order to get a better look, tamping down my fear of the unknown because in my astral form whatever they are can’t hurt me. And just as the lead figure is about to come into view, I’m being pulled away, snapping back to my physical body, by a force stronger than the one that brought me here. On the way I see things, brittle and broken images of horrible events happening all over the world, racing past me at subliminal speeds…before I come to a complete halt.

It takes a moment for me to realize that I’m back where I started from, the spot I chose to rest, at the treeline of the forest behind my house. But something’s wrong. I hear noises coming from within the forest, unnatural sounds trying to mask themselves within the hum of nature. My senses are sharper during intensified wakefulness and I can feel them, lurking in the field of trees, cloaked by the shadows of the night, moving stealthily toward my sleeping body.

I force myself to remain calm. I still have time to slip back into my body, wake myself up and make it back to the house before whatever’s coming can reach me. The process of slipping back into my physicality is so simple…

No! It’s impossible!

I didn’t spend that much time away from my body. I’ve traveled longer distances and remained out until the crack of dawn with no problem plenty of times before.

My attention snaps back to the treeline. They’re braver now, all the stealthiness abandoned as they crawl out from the cover of the trees. And I see them for the first time, these things, like creatures out of a nightmare. I scream to draw their attention but they can’t hear me.

The inhuman beasts surround my defenseless outer casing. I try again to reenter my framework, but for some reason, maybe I was away too long, I’m now locked out of my own body. But I don’t give up. I lunge at them, swing my fists and try to kick them, which is about as effective as fighting air. So, I float, helpless to stop them, and all I can do is watch and cry as they tear the flesh from my bones and savagely devour my anatomy.

I once felt superior to everyone else. having the universe to explore, but now all I feel is homeless and alone, and I’m terrified because I’m not sure how long I can survive without the physical body that served as my anchor.

13 for Halloween: Sebaceous Splendors (audio)

I run a shoppe on the High Street, a tiny place that has a terrible word of mouth reputation, primarily for the produce I sell.

In my shop, Sebaceous Splendors, you can find the finest cuts of skin, the purest jars of blood, and the cleanest bones on the continent. Looking for a body part? Come to Sebaceous. Need a fresh organ to grind? Sebaceous has you covered. And where do you go when your sinew and tendons run low? You guessed it: Sebaceous.

In the cold light of day, townsfolk would not be caught dead entering my establishment, which is why I switched to night hours.

Under the cloak of twilight, as the rest of the village sleeps, slippered feet shuffle across cobblestones and slink into my shoppe. The shadowed alleyways surrounding my business are choked with clientele awaiting their turn to dash in and purchase a bit of the abnormal, either for spells and enchantment or to satisfy an unnatural appetite. I cast no aspersions. I sell what I sell. What you do with it is your own affair.

Not all who visit are right-minded, as one might surmise. Some syphilitic fingersmiths seek to cheat me of my efforts by attempting to nick a spleen or appendix and make a mad dash for it, which is why I purchased a NeverEver dog, so named because if one ever sank its five rows of teeth into you, you would never commit that or any crime ever again.

So, the next time you have a craving for something that cannot be procured at your local mart or need to bind someone to you, heart and soul, for all eternity, consider dropping by Sebaceous Splendors, open Midnight to Dawn, with nightly Hour of the Wolf specials!

13 for Halloween: The Man With The Rope Tattoo (audio)

Motshan was born a traveler, like his father before him, his father’s father, and so on and so forth. In his community, there was an elderly woman, Ethelinda, who had been blessed with a very special gift. People brought their newly born children to her and Ethelinda would predict with one hundred percent accuracy the manner in which the child would eventually die. Not the where and when, mind you, only the how.

Normally, the infant, unclothed, needed to be pressed against the flesh of her bare bosom, but baby Motshan’s destiny radiated from his tiny frame with such a fierceness that the moment he was brought into her tent, Ethelinda exclaimed, “He is destined to hang!”

So fearful of this prediction were Motshan’s parents that they kept anything resembling a rope or cord as far away from their son as humanly possible. And while it made growing up a challenge, for it was not easy to navigate things that could possibly be used in a hanging, it also gave Motshan a superpower. As he grew to maturity, he became fearless and recklessly threw himself into the face of many dangers simply because a man destined to hang could never die in any other way than hanging.

In fact, he was so cocksure that he could defy his fate and live to a ripe old age to die of natural causes, that he paid a tattoo artist, Danior, to etch upon his skin a rope that circled his neck three times, signaling the past, the present, and the future, of which he claimed to be in control of.

When the tattoo was completed, Danior revealed that he was the brother of a Romany woman that Motshan forced himself on one drunken night, who was so traumatized by the assault that she took her own life. The ink used in the rope tattoo was mixed with her blood and Danior exacted vengeance for his sister’s death by imposing a curse upon Motshan. For each day that Motshan lived, the rope tattoo would grow tighter and tighter around his neck.

Motshan denied taking advantage of Danior’s sister and laughed the curse off as an idle threat directed at the wrong man. That night, however, his sleep was interrupted by the sound of a rope squeaking and in the morning, it felt as if an actual rope was digging into his throat.

He returned to Danior’s caravan with all the money he possessed and even dropped to his knees, begging for the curse to be lifted.

“What amount of money can bring my sister back?” Danior asked. “What is more priceless than having the great Motshan the Fearless grovel at my feet for his pathetic life?”

The tattoo artist had a point, he was indeed Motshan the Fearless, and having this man laugh at him and mock him, drove him into a rage. Motshan lunged to his feet and slammed into Danior, sending the pair tumbling out of the caravan to wrestle in the dirt. Rolling on top, Motshan snatched up the tattoo artist’s throat, twisting it so fast and so hard that a panicked whistle escaped the man’s lungs before his neck snapped and his body went limp as a ragdoll.

During the fight, a crowd had gathered and witnessed the savage murder. Motshan tried to explain his side of the story but they were too incensed to listen. Danior was a good man by reputation, grieving the loss of his poor sister, who did not deserve to die in that manner.

The crowd of onlookers turned into a mob out for vengeance and they came at Motshan with stones and whatever was handy that could be used as a weapon, so he ran into the nearby woods. They gave chase but Motshan was a fit man, stronger, healthier, and swifter than most of them, which meant he was able to evade capture.

But he did not get away.

Days later, his body was discovered hanging in midair beneath the branch of a dule tree. According to witnesses, the branch above Motshan’s head bowed as if supporting a weight but there was no rope, cord, or vine visible between the branch and the man’s lifeless body. Head lolled to one side, his eyes bulged from his bloated, purple face and his neck was cinched where the rope tattoo existed. Surrounding the rope were tattooed bloodstains that dripped down to his exposed chest and spelled out the word, VADOMA.

The name of Danior’s dead sister.

13 for Halloween: Mise en Place (audio)

Everyone wrote Mise en Place off as another cheap reality competition knockoff tv series because the premise was identical to a much better cooking show in which two teams of amateur chefs competed for a lucrative position at a Michelin 5-Star restaurant, while working in a restaurant-style kitchen set up in the television studio sound stage.

In order to test the rookie chefs’ knowledge base and skills, a series of cooking challenges that escalated in difficulty were designed to eliminate weaker contestants until there was a single winner.

Despite this similarity, the show set itself apart immediately in the very first episode during the “Eat It, Now Meat It” challenge, where chef-contestants had to recreate a protein dish prepared by celebrity chef and host, Jacquez Devereaux, by taste alone. The loser of the challenge faced elimination after the host delivered the show’s signature catchphrase, “You have been cut from the line, prepare to be served.”

When it was later revealed that the protein in the dish was human flesh which also had to be correctly identified by gender, nationality and country and city of origin, in order to secure a win, and the loser was escorted to the show’s abattoir to be cut into sections for the next competition, the show became an instant ratings success.

13 for Halloween: A Noise In The Woods (audio)

Part 1

Coralin Ann Bloye never ran with any of the crowds, popular, dangerous, nerdy or otherwise. Even from a young age, she was that oddly shaped piece that never fit any societal puzzle, but she wasn’t exactly unpopular, being blessed with a certain charisma that couldn’t be hidden or ignored. It wasn’t long before the myriad other high school misfits were drawn into her sphere of influence.

Coralin’s Clique, as they were casually referred to, never involved themselves in normal activities, so when All Hallow’s Eve rolled around, the group, too old for tricks or treats, too disinterested in dressing up in lame costumes for themed parties or participating in Mischief Night, opted instead to camp out in the woods overnight and honor the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain.

“Are we gonna sacrifice cattle?” asked Andy. Every group had that one questionable tagalong and Andy never failed to take a matter to the extreme.

“You even think about what you’re gonna say before you open your mouth?” asked Janae, the clique’s self-appointed second in command. “And do you have access to livestock? I know I sure as hell don’t.”

“We’re observing the ritual only, no animal cruelty,” Coralin advised. “You need to satisfy your bloodlust, pick up a soy burger on the way and have at it.”

***

The spot chosen for the campsite was far enough away from town so they shouldn’t be disturbed all night, the weather was actually decent for the end of October, the moon was full and bright, and the ankle-deep mist that hugged the earth in a comforting blanket that moved as serene water, perfectly set the stage for their festival. When it came down to who would collect the wood for the fire, no one volunteered so they played several rounds of roshambo and despite her best efforts, Coralin lost in the end.

“Don’t you dare start without me,” warned Coralin.

The clique promised they would wait but while their de facto leader was away, Janae, who not-so-secretly wanted to dethrone Coralin and run the group by her lonesome, showed the group a video she came across while scrolling YouTube. It featured a naked middle-aged man and woman doing things to themselves and each other that were unexplainable. If it was sex or even some sort of weird torture, it was kink on a level unlike anything they had ever seen or read about or could even have imagined in their dark and depraved teenage minds. But one thing was for sure, none of them, no matter how confused or disgusted they were, were able to tear their eyes away from the video that played on a loop.

The collective sound of their young minds snapping was almost audible over the ambient noise of crickets, owls, and frogs.

Not long after, Coralin returned to the clearing, twigs and branches bundled under one arm, saying, “You better not have…”

Her sentence trailed off at the sight of the empty campsite, but the cooler, backpacks and rolled sleeping bags poked their heads above the fog, so Coralin knew her friends hadn’t ditched her.

“Ha ha, funny joke, planning to jump out when I least expect it, but you’re wasting your time,” Coralin called out to the surrounding trees. “I don’t scare that easily.”

She let the firewood fall to the ground, which dispersed the fog enough for Coralin to notice something strange about the grass. The moon provided enough light so that she wasn’t stumbling around in the dark, but she pulled out her phone and turned on the flashlight app to get a better look.

The ground beneath her feet was moist, which she naturally attributed to evening dew but upon closer inspection the yellowing grass was freckled red and so were her white sneakers.

“What was this meant to look like, blood splatter? Are you kidding me? Your stupid little prank got fake blood all over my sneakers! If this stuff doesn’t wash out, so help me God…”

There was a noise. It came from the treeline to her left.

“I am seriously going to kill every last one of you,” Coralin said without any real conviction because a suspicion that something wasn’t quite right was slowly creeping up on her, largely due to the blood that trailed off in the direction of the noise she wasn’t able to properly identify.

Following the swath of liquid red, she stepped into a place that wasn’t the woods anymore, at least not any sort of woods she had ever been in. This patch of land had been transformed into hell on earth. The smell of excrement and blood was overpowering; the air rang with the lingering echoes of screams of pain, cries for help, and wails of mourning. And what she saw, shifted the earth beneath her feet.

Coralin fell on all fours, her own heartbeat pounding in her ears, and she vomited violently as the blood rushed from her head and pooled at her hands and knees before turning into molasses and weighting her to the spot.

The trees surrounding her creaked and groaned from strain, threatening to collapse under the weight of the disemboweled bodies of her friends, and somewhere amongst them was the thing that had caused all this misery. It remained hidden, leaping from shadow to shadow, with the only visible bit being the claw-like hand that held a smartphone playing a video that was too far away for Coralin to make out.

But whatever this creature was, it wasn’t alone. Noises were coming from all around her, unnatural noises that existed just above the invasive low-frequency hum of nature, and hidden by the trees and evening fog, something was scrambling toward Coralin. That was all that was needed for a rush of panic-driven adrenalin to unlock her paralysis. Without realizing it, she sprang to her feet and hauled ass in the direction of the main road.

Although running in a blind panic, Coralin accidentally stumbled upon her car, a gray Mazda 3, handed down by her old man when he upgraded to a Dodge Challenger, hidden in the brush just off the road’s soft shoulder. Frantically rummaging through her pockets, she prayed to God that she hadn’t somehow stupidly left the keys at the campsite. Luckily she found them, fumbled to slot the key into the lock, and managed to shut the door behind her just as something massive slammed into the side of her car with the force of a speeding truck.

“Please start, please, please,” Coralin pleaded. Fear lodged in her throat as she turned the key in the ignition. She knew for certain the engine was going to stall because that was the way of the world and just her dumb luck. But on this occasion, she was dead wrong. The engine turned over and she stomped on the gas pedal to the squeal of metal pulling away from inhuman claws as the Mazda peeled off out of the brush and onto the deserted road.

In the rearview mirror, Coralin definitely saw something, some things, on the road in the distance chasing after the car. Pedal to the metal, she pushed the car as fast as it would go, trying to put as much distance as possible between her and whatever the hell they were.

Safety and reinforcements were just up ahead. She spotted a bonfire, hellabig, that was probably part of a bunch of idiots’ mischief night prank, but Coralin quickly discovered it wasn’t a bonfire at all.

Her entire town was burning to the ground.

13 for Halloween: The Act That Couldn’t Be Unseen (audio)

It all began, as a great many things do, with a young girl being a nosy parker and snooping on her parents’ computer in a private folder that, in all fairness, should have been password protected. In that folder there was a video clip that ran exactly one minute and fifty-four seconds, the average length of a movie trailer.

It was once believed that homo sapiens only used ten percent of their brains and though that myth had been debunked, the truth of the matter was a region of human gray matter was purposefully made inaccessible as a sanity safeguard. There were things in existence, arcane matters which lived outside the boundaries of mortal ken, that were meant to remain forever unnoticed and unknowable. The video clip featured one of those forbidden subjects.

How her parents came into possession of the knowledge, why they decided to not only engage in but also record an act so heinous that it couldn’t be unseen or unremembered, remained a mystery to this very day.

What the young girl witnessed stripped away her common sense reasoning and even though she knew better, she downloaded the clip to her phone to show her best friend at school the following day, who made a copy and uploaded it to all the popular social media sites. These sites and their corresponding apps suffered an outage in the United States and most of Europe, remaining offline in excess of six hours. As a result, the President of the United States shut down the internet in North America but by then it was too late.

The act had been seen by millions, infecting all who viewed it and the madness was spreading, heralding the resurrection of the dormant Old Gods.

Tiny Stories: They Come At Night

Popular belief has it that the universe is comprised of atoms. In reality, the universe is actually made up of…

They come at night during the Hour of the Wolf, that gap between night and dawn when most people perish, when the sleepless are haunted by their deepest fear, when nightmares become flesh, and when ghosts are at the zenith of their power.

When they were alive they were families and neighbors who came to each other’s aid and fought for peace and tragically lost the battle before that peace had been established.

Now, these tortured souls step each pre-dawn from the void of the hereafter to remind us of how far we still must travel.

©2020 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

A Storybox Full of Regret – Epilogue

Prologue Here…

Epilogue

“…I swim against the current of my final destiny and pass through each body gathered in this place to leave a personalized vivid memory in an effort to ensure I am not forgotten. The end,” Nessa said as she set the sheet down on top of the pile of paper.

“That was the last story?” Warren asked.

“Yup, the rest of these are all rejection letters. Thank you, by the way.” She kissed her husband on the cheek.

“For?”

“Doing this for me. I know it wasn’t easy for you.”

“Well, if I’m being totally honest here, I didn’t hate it as much as I thought I would,” he admitted.

Didn’t hate it is high praise coming from you. I need to mark this down,” Nessa smiled and mimed writing in an invisible book. “Dear Diary, today my husband took his first step toward maturity…”

“Okay, smartass, let’s not make a big deal out of it.” Warren was on the cusp of a blush, which he desperately tried to tamp down.

“Seriously, though, how do you feel? What are you thinking?”

It took awhile for him to answer because it was all too new to him. Warren wasn’t like his wife who instantly knew her precise opinion and feelings on things. He needed privacy and time to reflect, to take the situation apart and properly inspect all the pieces before he could assess it as a whole.

“I wish I had gotten to know the man who wrote those stories,” he sighed. It was the best answer he was able to provide at the moment.

“Well, you know I don’t believe in accidents,” Nessa said. “There’s a reason for everything, including us finding these stories together.”

“Oh, come on Ness, not this,” Warren said and he couldn’t stop his eyes from rolling.

Come on nothing,” Nessa said, tapping her finger on the paper stack. “You know if you found this by yourself you would have thrown it out without even reading it. Think of what you would have missed out on.”

Warren started to saying something but Nessa cut him off, “Your father wanted you to read his stories so that you could maybe not forgive him as such but understand him a little better. I was meant to be here with you to help make that happen.”

He didn’t believe in fate or destiny but he knew arguing the absurdity of her theory was pointless. “You know what, I’d concede your point if we found a journal where he explained what he was going through, why he did the things he did, but these are just random stories.”

“Can’t you see they’re more than that? They’re pieces of his soul, something he felt he had to hide.”

Warren threw up his hands. “I—I can’t, okay? This is all too much to process right now.”

“I’m sorry, honey, I didn’t mean to push,” Nessa said.

She busied herself by gathering all the pages together and arranging them into a neat pile, to give her husband a little time to compose himself. Carefully, she folded the Kraft paper around the pile, wound the twine around and bound it with a neat bow.

“You fulfilled your end of the deal,” she said. “So, the choice is yours: which pile do these go in?”

“I don’t know,” Warren said.

“Well, I have a thought, but you might not like it.”

“Go on, spit it out.”

“I think we should try to get them published. It’s obviously what your father wanted and maybe the timing wasn’t right for him.”

“But they’re all short, I mean, shorter than the average short story…”

“So?” Nessa shrugged. “We present them as a collection.”

“Who in their right mind is going to be interested in a collection of super-short stories from an unknown writer? Do you have some insider knowledge of what’s trending with publishers and readers that I don’t know about?”

“How do you know if we don’t try?” Nessa countered. “Besides, if all else fails, we can publish them ourselves.”

“And why would we want to go through all that trouble?”

“Because you couldn’t ask for better closure than making your father’s dream come true. And I was thinking, maybe we can include the rejection letters in a section in the back of the book…or better yet, put each letter after the actual story!”

It was a waste of time, Warren knew that as sure as bread falls butter side down, but he watched how animated Nessa became at the thought of taking on the project, and although she drove him nutty a good majority of the time, he loved seeing that sparkle in her eyes.

And somewhere deep, deep, deep within the recesses of his being, the small, non-contrarian part of him reluctantly admitted that maybe, just maybe, she was right about this being the closure he needed in order to bury the resentment for his father in the past so that he could become a better father in the future.

He could even try his hand at writing himself. If his father could manage it, how hard could it really be?

©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

And there you have it, the tail end of my short story collection wraparound. Again, thoughts are welcomed, positive or negative. Cheers!

A Storybox Full of Regret – Prologue

I’m thinking about collecting a bunch of short stories and since my writing has always been a random mix of genres and topics, I thought I’d create a wraparound story to somehow justify the eclectic assortment of tales. This is the beginning of one of the ideas. Do me a favor, give it the old once-over and let me know what you think. Right track? Wrong track? All opinions are welcomed. Cheers!

Prologue

The key was nearly as old as he was and the lock he slotted it into definitely predated his birth.

“There’s a knack for opening this door,” Warren Burke said, as he jiggled the key a bit in order to get the lock to turn. Grabbing the doorknob in both hands, he gave it a sharp twist and lifted it at the same time while he put his shoulder to the old wooden door in order to force it open. “Used to stick in the summer and I had the damnedest time as a kid trying to get inside.”

He was greeted for his effort with a blast of air that had been still for too long and had grown quite stale.

“We need to get these windows open and air this place out,” his wife, Nessa, said as she moved past him and made a beeline to the living room.

“You relax,” Warren said. “Let me do it.”

“I’m pregnant, not made of porcelain,” she said over her shoulder, in a tone that said you relax, as she made her way to the first window.

Warren knew she hated when he became overprotective, but in his defense,  it was his first time at fatherhood and his wife was seven months pregnant with their twins. No names had been picked out because Nessa was a firm believer in the jinx, having lost a baby during pregnancy in her previous marriage.

And while Nessa pulled curtains apart and opened windows as far as they would go, Warren stood in the foyer and stared at his childhood home that seemed so much smaller than he remembered it.

This place was welcoming once, from the open door to the wide hallway. On the walls were the photographs of a family who so obviously loved each other. The floor was an old-fashioned parquet with a blend of deep homely browns and the walls were the greens of summer gardens meeting a bold white baseboard. The banister was a twirl of a branch, tamed by the carpenter’s hand, its grain flowing as water might, in waves of comforting woodland hues. Under proper lighting it was nature’s art, something that soothed right to the soul.

He hadn’t realized how long he’d been rooted to that spot until Nessa came to him after opening all of the downstairs windows.

“Hey, you okay?” she asked.

“Yeah, fine.”

“You know, if you’re having a change of heart, we don’t have to put the house up for sale.”

“You know as well as I do that we can’t afford two houses. This place is too small for the four of us, the neighborhood’s gone to pot, and there are too many bad memories here.”

“Okay, your house, your rules.”

“My father’s house,” he corrected.

“That he left to you in his will, so technically…your house.”

Warren sighed. “Let’s make three piles in the living room: things in decent shape that we can sell, things in fair shape that we can donate, and junk to throw away.”

“And one more pile,” Nessa said. “Things that we keep.”

“I don’t want anything in here.”

“I’m not thinking about you and your unresolved resentment toward your father, I’m thinking about our children who have no beef with their late grandfather, who deserve to know where they come from. Don’t fight me on this because you’re going to lose.”

“Then that fourth pile is your hassle.”

“Thank you,” Nessa said and kissed her husband on the cheek. “Now, I need to crack the upstairs windows.”

She turned but Warren caught her gently by the arm and said, “I know how you get when you’ve got a project. Take it easy, take it slow, we’ve got plenty of time. Please, for me.”

It was Nessa’s turn to sigh, as she nodded her head in reluctant agreement.

* * *

The sorting process started in the attic. That was Nessa’s idea, start from the top and work their way down. And it became apparent quickly that no one had been up there in years.

Boxes that held Christmas decorations, handmade and store-bought Halloween costumes, pots and plates, photo albums (which Nessa snatched up immediately for her To Keep pile), old moth-eaten clothes, suitcases, and a locked steamer trunk. All resting under a thick layer of cobwebs and dust.

The thing that caught Warren’s attention was the locked steamer trunk. He had been up in this attic as a boy playing pirates with his imaginary friends and this trunk had always been the treasure chest he had to protect from thieving scallywags. He could have wasted time rummaging through the house in hopes of finding a key, but chose, instead, to look up on YouTube how to open the lock with a screwdriver.

Inside he found his father’s military uniform, duffle bag, maps, MREs, an M1911 pistol, a box of ammunition—

“The uniform and MREs are an interesting piece of history, but that gun and ammo are not finding their way into my house,” Nessa said forcefully.

“No complaints here,” Warren agreed, carefully placing the firearm and ammunition to the side. “I’ll call the police station and let them know we’re bringing the gun in on our way home today.”

“Good. So, what else is in there?”

Under a layer of old clothes, Warren lifted a heavy case by its handle. He set it on the floor, flipped the latches and opened the lid to reveal an old Underwood manual typewriter.

“I wonder what’s this doing in there,” Warren said, more to himself than his wife.

“I think that’s pretty obvious,” said Nessa.

“Uh-uh, you don’t know my dad. I’ve never known him to write a thing in my life.”

Nessa peered into the trunk and spotted a parcel wrapped in brown Kraft paper and tied like a present with twine that the typewriter case had been hiding. Normally, she would have let Warren open it out of respect for his father’s personal belongings, but curiosity had gotten the better of her, and she was pulling one end of the twine to undo the bow and unwrapping the package.

Inside the Kraft paper wrapping was a pile of papers, some white, some yellowing, and some gone brown like autumn leaves.

“What’s that?” Warren asked, glancing over at the papers.

“Typewritten, double spaced, looks like a manuscript to me, and it’s got your father’s name on it: Geoffery Burke.” Nessa handed the top sheet over to her husband.

“No, that’s impossible—”

“I’ve got a stack of papers in front of me that says different,” Nessa rifled through the stack. “But I think I’m wrong about it being a manuscript. It looks more like a bunch of individual stories, and the bottom half are all rejection letters. You never know, sweetheart, this manuscript could tell you about your father and his past.”

Warren glanced at the stack of paper in his wife’s hands, then looked away. He busied himself by packing up the typewriter.

“Maybe it can’t tell me anything at all.”

“Why are you being like this?”

“Being like what? You want to sit here and create a fantasy life for my father, a man you never met—”

“And whose fault is that? I begged you to reconcile with him because I wanted to meet him, I wanted to know where you came from, and you denied me that, just like you denied him a son. He died all alone because you were too pigheaded and proud to bury the hatchet! Why would I want to be married to someone so callous and coldhearted?”

The temperature in the attic suddenly dropped twenty degrees and though they were mere inches apart, the distance seemed a thousand miles at minimum. Warren was at a loss for words, processing the enormity of Nessa’s outburst. Nothing but the sound of breathing passed between them for an eternity.

It was Nessa who broke the ice for she was always the bigger person whenever they argued, saying, “I didn’t mean that.”

“Yes, you did.”

“Okay, but I could have phrased it better.”

“I know you mean well,” Warren said. “But you have to understand that when I think about my father, I have two opposing sets of memories. The earliest ones, the distant ones, he was a happy man and when my mother became sick, he was the positive one, trying to keep everyone’s spirits up. My mother lost her battle with cancer when I was 10 and my second set of memories, the ones that stick, were of him shutting down emotionally.”

“Honey, he just lost his wife.”

“Yeah, and I lost my mom and my dad, too! He wasn’t a writer, okay? He was a contractor that threw himself into his work and forgot he had a son. He never raised a hand to me but sometimes I wish he had.”

“You don’t mean that.”

“At least then I would have gotten something from him besides indifference. He’d go to work each day, working as many double shifts as he could to pay off the hospital and funeral bills and when he came home he was barely human. Eating, brooding in his room, drinking himself to sleep. And who had to pick up the slack? Who cooked and cleaned and made sure things around the house got done? Me! With never a word of acknowledgment or thanks.”

“Do we really have to have a conversation about men not being the world’s best communicators?” Nessa said. “Tell me, how often do you thank or even acknowledge me for everything I do around the house?”

“But that’s different.”

“Please don’t fix your mouth to tell me that I’m your wife and that’s my responsibility—”

“Uh-uh, nope,” Warren shook his head. “Do not turn this into one of your rants on chauvinism. You know exactly what I meant.”

“Here’s what I know, when you want to be, you’re a sensible man who knows better. Is it a shame that your father shut down when your mother died? Of course, it is. And if he were still alive and shunning you, you’d have every right to be bitter about it. But he’s gone, Warren, and you shouting at his ghost isn’t going to settle the matter or change the past. Any grievances you had with your father should have been placed beside him in the coffin and left at the cemetery.”

“Life isn’t that simple!”

“That’s where you’re wrong,” Nessa said, taking hold of her husband’s hand. “Life is that simple. It’s us with all our expectation baggage that makes it difficult. Your father tried to handle his grief the best way he knew how, a lesson he probably picked up from his father. But what your father didn’t do was hang his depression over your head like a dark cloud for the entirety of your life. You did that all on your own. And you can stop doing that, as well. If you can’t manage it all on your own, guess what? You’ve got me to help you out. But I’ll tell you what I’m not going to help you do, and that’s dragging that dark cloud over into our family. Our baby deserves a fresh start with a cloud-free daddy, and I aim to see he gets just that, comprende?”

In every argument there comes a point where continuing to quarrel is futile, realizing this, Warren said, “Okay, since you’ve got all the answers, how do we go about dispersing the cloud?”

Nessa held up the stack of papers in her other hand. “This might give us a head start.”

“You want me to read his stories, stories he kept hidden from me all these years?” Warren tone made his opinion of his wife’s suggestion crystal clear.

“No,” Nessa clarified. “I want us to read the stories together and maybe we can talk about how they make you feel.”

“What, like I’m in therapy?”

“No, like you care for your wife and your unborn child and you’re willing to take this first step to make peace with your past for the sake of your family’s future.”

“It really means that much to you?”

“You can’t even imagine.”

“All right,” Warren said. “Here’s the compromise: we’ll read one story together, and if I’m not feeling it, we pack the rest away, never mention them again and find some other way to help me move on.”

Nessa set the papers down, spat in her palm and extended her hand, saying, “Deal!”

Warren eyed his wife with bewilderment. “You don’t expect me to—”

“Spit, candyass, and let’s seal the deal.”

Warren sighed, hocked a loogie into palm and grasped Nessa’s hand firmly. “Choose wisely.”

Nessa flipped through the pages, examining titles until she plucked a sheet from the pile. “How about this one?” she smiled.

Up Next: The Epilogue

©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys