One Hell Of An Offer

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.

“What? Why?”

“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.”

“From Hell?”

“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.”

“By whom?”

“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.

Text and Audio ©2014 & 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Things Kept Precious

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My mother warned me to guard the things I held precious by keeping them hidden inside me. The only thing I held precious was her and I found it impossible to place her inside my body. I was too young to understand she was talking about love. Too young to save the best parts of my mother’s love in my heart. Too consumed by the hate caused by her leaving me on my own. Too young to accept that death comes to us all.

It was hard to hold onto her love. Hard because I watched her body decay and rot away to nothingness. I watched to see the precious things she kept inside her and where she managed to hide them so I could do the same. I never found them. I watched as I picked vermin from her flesh and fought away carrion from her decaying form, until the day she was unrecognizable to me.

In particular, I watched her heart. Who knew what was inside there but I knew it was fragile because my mother spoke many times about how it had been broken. She said, “Sometimes you have to break a heart to find out how strong it really is.”

But when her heart became visible, I couldn’t see any cracks. I watched it as it bruised like an apple and disintegrated away. Nothing inside it but emptiness. I was hoping to see love—even though I had no idea what love looked like—or at least be privy to some secret that would explain the world to me. I found none of those things.

Her heart was a chamber for maggots. That was what my mother kept precious. Little disgusting creatures that fed off her body. They were everywhere. Stripping my mother of her beauty.

It grew harder to remember her face. I tried to recall the last time I saw her eyes or her smile but that memory was too distant in the past, lost in the forest of forgetfulness.

Occasionally I dreamt of my mother, standing in a room somewhere I had never been but yet felt so familiar to me, her face was a storm. Clouds roiled where features should have been. When she spoke, her voice was a swarm of black bees the drained the life of anything it touched. The bees blotted out the room and ate a pet dog I only had in dreams and never in real life, before coming for me.

I would run from the house and through the trees, down a dirt path that led to a black pond of brackish water. The water called to me and I was torn for the water was frightening, but so too were the bees who devoured trees on their way to eat me.

No real choice at all, I dove into the pond and discovered the water was actually tar and I was being pulled in, just as other creatures foolish enough to make the same mistake, the same fear-based choice as I had.

My nose and mouth filled with hot thick liquid, bitter molasses that scorched my insides, and melted me like butter on the griddle.

I woke alone in the dark, choking for air, my chest weighted with the heaviness of fear. My breathing was a thick, wet noise like someone sloshing through mud — or tar! — and I no longer felt safe in this world, so I did the only thing I could think to do.

I crawled inside the remains of my mother’s body and wrapped her tight around me so that I could be the thing she kept precious.

Text and Audio ©2013 & 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Of Air Returned

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i.

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

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

ii.

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

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

iii.

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

iv.

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

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

v.

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

vi.

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

vii.

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

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

There was no real choice.

viii.

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

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

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

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

Mother.

Text and Audio ©1988 & 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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

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

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

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

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

Qomal

The following is an excerpt from a police interview with Imogen Debenham conducted by Detective Sergeant Ellis Oxley on 14 March 2019:

DS Oxley: Do you have any idea why you’re here?

Debenham: Your sniffer dogs…

DS Oxley: Cadaver dogs.

Debenham: Made sure to get that little detail in, didn’t you? All right, your cadaver dogs found something in my rose garden.

DS Oxley: The investigators unearthed a box…

Debenham: Made of four-inch thick cedar planks. It measured 1.143 meters long by .381 meters wide.

DS Oxley: How do you know the precise measurements of the box, Miss Debenham?

Debenham: Call me Imogen, and I know the measurements because I built the box, as you call it, with my own hands.

DS Oxley: And what would you call the box, Imogen?

Debenham: We both know what it is, don’t we? It’s a coffin that I buried just shy of 23 years ago, which makes me wonder why now? What sort of tip could you have received 23 years after the fact and from which of my neighbors?

DS Oxley: That isn’t relevant at the moment, Imogen…

Debenham: Then what is relevant?

DS Oxley: We found remains inside the coffin, which included bones.

Debenham: It’s interesting the details you leave out.

DS Oxley: What do you mean?

Debenham: What type of bones did you find? Animal? Human?

DS Oxley: I’m not at liberty…

Debenham: Detective Sergeant, I intend to cooperate fully with your investigation. I have agreed to this interview without a solicitor, and will answer any question put to me truthfully, provided that there exists a level playing field of honesty between us.

DS Oxley: A quid pro quo situation?

Debenham: Always been a fan of the Thomas Harris novels, I have. So, let’s look at the facts, shall we? You’ve found remains on my property, and although you suspect foul play, I have not been formally charged. So, what type of remains have you found?

DS Oxley: (clears throat) Our forensic team have determined that the bones are not quite human, but they bear certain similarities.

Debenham: Here is where we run into a bit of difficulty.

DS Oxley: How so?

Debenham: I can tell you exactly what they are, the remains, but you won’t believe me.

DS Oxley: You have no idea what I’d believe. I’ve come across things in my line of work that would make a madman’s head spin. So, let’s have it, then.

Debenham: You wouldn’t think to look at me now, but when I was younger, I caught the eye of every man I came across, and I enjoyed the fruits of my beauty and pursued all manner of pleasure with reckless abandon.

DS Oxley: What does this have to do with anything?

Debenham: I was careless. I became pregnant. No idea who the father was, and out of all the men who claimed to love me, who’d do anything for me, only one stepped up to take responsibility. He was a kind man, not the sort I was usually attracted to, but he was attentive and saw me through the pregnancy…

DS Oxley: Imogen…

Debenham: It was a stillbirth.

DS Oxley: I’m…sorry for your loss.

Debenham: The funny thing was I hadn’t planned on keeping the baby. After it was born, I was going to put it up for adoption, and let the kind gentleman and myself off the hook, because I wanted to return to my lifestyle, only a little bit wiser as not to repeat this mistake. But, as soon as I saw the lifeless body of my newborn, I became inconsolable.

DS Oxley: The remains we found were not consistent with that of a newborn child.

Debenham: Of course not. My biological son, it was a boy, in case I hadn’t mentioned, was offered to a family who excelled in the care and raising of dead children, and in exchange, I was given Qomal.

DS Oxley: I need to stop you there, Imogen. Are you saying this family raised your son from the dead?

Debenham: Don’t be absurd. The family was from a race of the embalmed dead, who would embalm my boy and care for him as only they could. They were in a similar situation with a living being on their hands, with no means to care for it.

DS Oxley: So you swapped a dead baby for a living one?

Debenham: I swapped my son for Qomal. So much like a child. All it ever needed was a cup of milk with a few drops of my blood in it every morning, some toys to play with, and sweets and biscuits to eat. To keep the contract intact, all that was required was lighting a black candle every night, burn some incense, and recite a mantra.

DS Oxley: What sort of contract?

Debenham: A Qomal isn’t forever. They’re meant to help you through the grieving process for the loss of a child. It’s like a toddler, you see, except its skin has a greenish hue, its eyes are red and clouded, its ears are pointed, and it has rows of sharp teeth. But while it was alive, I saw none of this, because I was its mother and only viewed my Qomal through the eyes of love.

DS Oxley: And when the contract expires…?

Debenham: You mean when my grief was manageable? The Qomal grows weak, calcifies and dies.

DS Oxley: How did you know to do all this? Making the exchange, observing the terms of a contract?

Debenham: I didn’t. It was my kind gentleman who introduced this world to me.

DS Oxley: What is his name?

Debenham: That I will not tell you. I made him a promise and I intend to honor it.

DS Oxley: Are you two still together?

Debenham: No, we parted ways when Qomal died.

DS Oxley: Why?

Debenham: I was meant to cremate Qomal, place the ashes in an urn and bury it beneath a flower bed, but I couldn’t bring myself to burn something I loved, something that helped ease my pain and nurse me back to sanity. The gentleman said there would be consequences, and I have waited 23 years for them to arrive.

At this point in the interview, loud scratching noises can be heard on the recording, as well as the sound of footsteps and a door being opened, followed by the guttural snarls of an unspecified animal.

DS Oxley: Holy Mother of Jesus!

Debenham: My baby?

The recording concludes with the sounds of screaming amidst a great commotion.

The current whereabouts of Detective Sergeant Ellis Oxley and Imogen Debenham have yet to be determined.

Text and Audio ©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

The Crush

Lolsy never believed in infatuation at first sight. To her, attraction had always been a mental process. Physical beauty was a temporary thing, a pretty wrapping that often disguised an ugly package. Then she met Marleton, a new hire at work, who, at first glance, awakened an inner poet she never knew existed.

To her, this man was that magical type of handsome that seeped into the marrow of her bones, that drew her into the depth of his eyes, which would have been beautiful in any shade, with the siren song of his gentle voice. When he spoke her name, her mask slipped, the one she wore to keep the world at bay, her heartbeat quickened, and she became lost in lurid fantasies of how she would please his body all over the conference room, on the floor, the chairs, on top off the table, all while her coworkers watched with envy.

She caught herself locking eyes with him constantly, where he would smile and patiently wait for her to initiate conversation, but her vapor-locked brain turned her mute, forcing her to turn away in embarrassment. At night, she pondered how she could have fallen head over heels for an absolute stranger who was eight years her junior? She had never been interested in younger men before and sincerely doubted they would have had anything in common, so she made it her business to avoid him, but the office was too small for that to work effectively, and all it took was for him to laugh at her weak attempts at humor to be sucked into fantasies about having him on the copier machine, in the break room, in the elevator, and in the parking lot, on top of the cars, again, so all her coworkers could bubble over with jealousy.

And she knew the sex would be spectacular because she was an Aries and he was a Sagittarius, and everyone knew that Aries was ruled by Mars, that red hot passion planet, and Sagittarius was ruled by Jupiter, the planet of philosophy and luck. Their signs tended to look at the world in the same way, and his Sagittarius liked to take risks under Jupiter’s indulgent influence, and her Mars was all about initiative, and taking aggressive action. So, why then was she stalling? If she simply took what belonged to her, she knew he would be ready and willing to go along for the ride.

And that was all it took. Lolsy made her mind up to pop the latches on her restraint, as she damned the torpedoes, and went full steam ahead. The following day at work, she marched up to Marleton and told, not asked, but told him that they were going out on a date, and as she suspected, he offered absolutely no resistance with anything she planned for their night together.

When they met at the restaurant, Marleton arrived in casual wear, while Lolsy dressed up sexier than sexy, because she wanted to make her intentions clear. You don’t bring a knife to a gunfight. This man was going to have to step up his game. She was going to burst onto the scene like a crossfire hurricane, and run him through his paces, and make him feel the way he made her feel from the very start.

All that changed the moment he greeted her and pulled out her chair at the table. Her bravado evaporated, making way for sweet happiness, as they talked and flirted their way through the meal. The chemistry between them was undeniable, and they effortlessly progressed from laughter to kisses, to sweet whispered exchanges, to an Uber ride back to his apartment.

The time for pretense had long passed, so they went straight from the front door to the bedroom. In his presence, in this place, all Lolsy’s foolish notions of being in control melted away. The nearness of Marleton, filled her nose with a scent that let her know instantly that he was her drug. His arms wrapped around her back and in one gentle pull, their lips touched and his tongue probed her mouth and she was intoxicated in an instant.

“Whatever you want, you can have,” Lolsy said, trying her damnedest to focus on getting the words out clearly through the heady trance he put her under. “There isn’t a thing I can do to stop you, and I don’t want to stop you.”

With a laugh, Marleton lifted Lolsy off her feet, carried her to the bed, and set her down gently onto the mattress. He stripped her expertly, gingerly, before disrobing himself, and climbing in the bed beside her. His fingers combed through the softness of her hair, before moving along her cheek, down to her neck, and every inch of skin he brushed, his lips blessed that area with a kiss that sent electricity through her body. He went down one side, and came up the other, and when they were face to face, they locked eyes. He silently asked for consent and she granted it gladly with a nod. Then he was all business, moving atop her, slotting their bodies together as if they were missing pieces of a puzzle that had finally become whole.

They engaged in amorous congress for hours that seemed like days that seemed like years. When all was finally said and done, a weak and breathless Lolsy smiled and said, “I knew it would be like this.”

“You did?”

Lolsy nodded, “Of course. You’re a Sagittarius.”

“Far more than that, I’m afraid,” Marleton chuckled. “I’m also an incubus.”

Off her confused expression, Marleton explained that he was a demon, of sorts, who engaged in sexual activity with women in order to prolong his life. If she understood, or objected, he could not be sure, for Lolsy was too feeble by this point to effectively communicate, but although a demon, he was not a monster. He made her as comfortable as he could manage, as he drained her of every iota of her life force.

Text and Audio ©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

The Folds of Love

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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 break him off a piece. 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 be climbin’ on 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 of 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’s been a while since I spoke to the old man, after all.

Text and Audio ©2014 – 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

The Anniversary Meal

As Amantha carefully diced the spleen, she caught herself. Lost in the preparation of the meal, she absently sang a song under her breath. Normally, this wouldn’t have been a problem but she was doing it in her native tongue, a dead language that might have revealed her true identity, had anyone heard it. Not that they’d have been able to pinpoint what she was exactly, but they would have sussed she wasn’t what she appeared to be.

She bit the inside of her cheek as she marinated the kidneys, the pain and the coppery tang of blood in her mouth served as a reminder to be more cautious. The head that had been severed and chilled on ice overnight to preserve its freshness, was placed in the stewpot to dissolve in a broth that smelled faintly of sulfur. She would have to remember to do the same with the hands and feet and all the other body parts that couldn’t be disguised as normal cuts of meat.

Anal to a fault, Amantha arranged all the innards neatly on the countertop and went to work on deboning the torso and limbs, the bones of which would join the head in the liquefying broth. She knew she had plenty of time to get rid of the evidence, but she also wanted time to get dressed and made up before Onathan arrived. It was their one year anniversary and she wanted the meal to go without a hitch because she suspected he was going to propose tonight.

“He’s going to propose tonight,” she let slip aloud as she slit open the intestines to clean them. If only she had studied the language better, none of this food preparation would have been necessary.

Onathan’s mother was an important figure in his life, more a best friend than a parent, and he wanted to include her in the anniversary celebration, which Amantha had no problem with because she enjoyed the old woman’s company, she just wished he had phrased his wish differently.

His exact words were, “Do you mind if we had Mom over for dinner? It’s a special night that I want to share with her. Since Dad died, she’s been alone in that house and it’s not good for her.”

“Of course I don’t mind,” Amantha answered, playing the question over and over in her mind. “If you’re sure that’s what you want.”

“You’re amazing. I can’t believe how understanding you are.” Onathan pulled her into him and gave her the biggest kiss. Surely, she had gotten it right this time. The kiss made her confident that her first interpretation was accurate.

Amantha called Onathan’s mother over late last night after he had gone to bed and she came without question or hesitation. Either she was the most selfless person on the planet or she truly was lonely in that big house all by herself. This would be a good thing.

No stranger to the procedure, Amantha treated her hopefully soon-to-be-late mother-in-law to refreshments laced with a two-part toxin. The first substance was mixed into the pâte sucrée and would have passed through her system harmlessly, had it not bonded with the chemical placed in the sherry. Death was instantaneous and painless.

The phone rang not a few seconds later. It was her mother. When Amantha relayed the news and what Onathan asked and what she had done, there was silence on the other end of the line.

A chill ran down Amantha’s spine. Before her mother said a word, she knew she had gotten it wrong once again. English was such a bastard of a tricky language.

“These humans, they’re not like us, Ammie,” her mother said. “Relatives do not sacrifice themselves for celebration feasts nor do they feel pride in eating kin.”

“But what am I going to do, Mother?” the rising panic made her body quake.

“Are you sure she’s dead?”

Amantha prodded the old woman’s arm with her shoe. “No doubt about it. I followed your recipe to the letter.”

“Looks like you have no choice but to tell him the truth.”

“The truth? I can’t do that! Hi, honey, remember your mother? I killed her by mistake last night, sorry. He’ll never marry me now!”

“Then play ignorant,” her mother suggested. “Human females do it all the time.”

“And what about the body?”

“It isn’t a body anymore, it’s evidence. If you intend to live a lie, you’ll have to get rid of it.”

“I can’t move the body, somebody will see me!”

“Who said anything about moving the body?” her mother said nothing further, waiting patiently for her daughter to catch on.

“You mean cook her?”

“You were going to do it anyway.”

“I–I can’t. That would be wrong.”

Turned out she could. After hours of playing out scenarios in her head, she decided she couldn’t live without Onathan and he wouldn’t want to live with her if he found out the truth.

The difficult part was hiding the body until Onathan left for work in the morning. Amantha thought she had tipped her hand when she rushed him through breakfast and out the door. One of his mother’s earrings was on the kitchen floor, right beside his shoe! It was so close that if she made any move to retrieve it, he would have noticed.

But all that was behind her now, as she opened the refrigerator to get the older woman’s eyeballs to mash into a jelly topping for the dessert. But they weren’t there. She searched everywhere she hid body parts, everywhere they could have rolled but there were no eyeballs! She distinctly remembered plucking them out of their sockets last night.

How could she have misplaced them? Amantha knew she had to find them before Onathan came home in two hours. She threw herself into overdrive and tore the house apart, all the while cursing herself for not being more careful. The last thing she wanted was to have Onathan accidentally stumble upon one of the elusive orbs. He might not recognize it as one of his mother’s, but at the end of the day, it was a human eye and while she didn’t completely understand human culture, she was sure finding random eyeballs in your house wasn’t a common practice.

Amantha finally found them, yes, in the refrigerator. They somehow managed to roll off the saucer and landed in the crisper. She breathed a sigh of relief… until she looked at the clock; Onathan was going to be home in less than an hour, and she not only hadn’t finished dinner yet but now the house was a complete mess.

She prepared the dessert in record time then hopped on the massive chore of tidying up the house. Just as she put the finishing touches on her makeup, the doorbell rang.

Amantha sat on pins and needles the entire dinner. What if he recognized his mother’s taste? A silly concern but it plagued her nonetheless.

Onathan seemed nervous as well, his eye constantly checking the wall clock or shooting over his shoulder to the front door. It didn’t stop him from enjoying the meal and he ate everything placed before him. At the end of the meal. he accidentally knocked his fork on the floor. Amantha was about to comment on how clumsy he was when he came up on one knee with a ring in his hand. “I was going to wait until mother arrived, but I feel now’s the perfect time, after the perfect meal.”

And that was all it took. The dam of emotions she tried to suppress all evening burst wide open and Amantha began to cry uncontrollably.

“D-did I do something wrong?” Onathan said, confused. “I thought you wanted this?”

“No, no, I do want this,” she said, her breath hitching. “Just not this way.”

“I don’t understand.”

“It’s not you, you’re fine. Really, really fine. It’s me. I have something to tell you.”

Text and Audio ©2014 – 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Beast of the Illusory Moon

“Mǣnōn concede to me the quietude to recognize the effects I should not alter; the bravery to transform the conditions I am able to; and the insight to recognize the distinction,” he leaned against the chain link fence, covered in less blood than he first imagined and prayed to the moon.

Not the Moon, not Luna, the other one, Mǣnōn, the illusory moon that sat back and to the left, that was only visible every four years on the twenty-ninth of February.

***

He had never been so disappointed in himself as he stared at the nubiles sauntering in and out of the afterhours bars and nightclubs that lined the strip. The passersby, those who bothered to toss him a sideward glance, sussed him as an alcoholic, but his problem was far more severe than that.

His affliction stemmed from the fact that everyone had two sides, no matter how open and honest they appeared to be. There was the side they showed the world and the beast side that only revealed its face when they were all alone. And it wasn’t necessarily as evil as it sounded, but it was there nonetheless. And there was no way of really knowing someone’s true nature unless they revealed it to you.

But he saw it. On this night, with the gift he had been granted by the Goddess of a moon visible to no one but he, which wasn’t a present as much as a curse that gnawed at his sanity. He saw the true faces of evil that hunkered down within the tall brush of fashion, cosmetics, and innocence. And sometimes the evil saw him.

He caught sight of a woman as she appeared from one of the clubs, ultraviolet stamp still moist on the back of her hand. Ten years his junior, she was stunningly beautiful in an exotic way that unsettled him. Her auburn hair cascaded over the shoulders of her white satin dress and gave her the appearance of an old-world masterpiece come to life.

She walked past a Chinese take-out joint and the exposed ATM before she realized she was being followed. When she turned, he knew she had seen him for what he was as clearly as he had spotted her. Her countenance shifted from serene beauty to that of a woodland creature frozen in the headlights of a speeding vehicle. But it wasn’t fear that registered in her eyes—she was making a decision, flight or fight.

The moment her face tightened with determination, he knew she would rabbit. And she did. She spun on the balls of her feet, kicked off her heels and bolted out into the street, dodging cars as she ran against the traffic, inhuman toenails ripping into the tarmac.

He grinned as he whipped out past the parked cars; he loved it when they ran. His reflexes, sharp normally, were amped under the light of the illusory moon and hope blazed in his mind as he was about to overtake her easily. In this mode, before what had to happen actually happened, he saw himself as a savior. What he had to do was in everyone’s best interest, even hers. He would not fail this time. He intended to honor his duty. And as he was about to lay his hand on her shoulder and set things right—he heard a wet thumping sound and felt pain down to his marrow as a car bumper made contact with his hip and sent him sprawling into a lamppost.

Nausea and blood mixed in his mouth and as he looked up through blurred vision he could just make out her lithe frame turning down a side street. A voice cried out amidst the murmurs in the background, I’m sorry! it said. You came out of nowhere! I didn’t see you in time!

Voices shouted and people rushed to the scene from both sides of the street. He fought the pain and forced himself to his feet. He had to leave before the police showed up. Too many witnesses. He couldn’t have explained why he was chasing the girl in the first place. Who would have believed him? To bystanders, he surely must have looked like a psycho ex-boyfriend or worse, a perverted sex deviant.

He kept his head low and shielded his face from camera phones as he pushed through a crowd of people asking if he was okay, hobbling towards the side street, hoping against hope that he hadn’t lost her trail.

***

He still couldn’t fathom why he was chosen. Had he been a cop or any other branch of law enforcement, this might have been so much easier. Easier to pursue, apprehend and deal with a special brand of evil one night every four years. But as a thirty-seven-year-old accountant, what was he supposed to do? How long could this go on before he was caught, or even worse killed? He had no social life and how could he? This thing made him unfit for human consumption. And what if he managed to hook up with a woman only to see, come February twenty-ninth, what sort of demon lurked beneath her cool surface? He knew he had to quit at some point. Maybe tonight, if he was able to resolve this in time he would petition Mǣnōn to find a replacement.

Along with his heightened abilities came the urge. He needed to scour the streets and rid the city of pestilence on this very special of nights. It was a basic bodily function to him, as much a part of his continued existence as breathing.

He limped around the corner, his pace picking up as his fractured bones knitted themselves back together and his muscles and internal organs returned to their optimal state. The neighborhood wasn’t the safest to begin with and those with sense stayed on the strip in crowded well-lit areas. The side street was dark, streetlamps busted on both sides, which was probably why she chose it to escape into, to hide in.

He moved into the street and swiped a finger across a bit of dug up tarmac, touched it to his tongue, and smacked his lips, processing the taste of her. Motionless, twilight settled on him as he cleared his mind—then he picked up her trail.

***

“You don’t have to do this,” the woman called out from somewhere in the dark.

“Yes, I do,” he stood at the mouth of the alley and scanned the blackness as his eyes adjusted to the starlight. She was well hidden.

“I haven’t hurt anyone.”

“Yet,” he spat. “You should come out, you really should. It’ll be so much easier for you than if I have to tear this alley apart to find you.”

The woman eased herself to her feet, stepping from a darker shadow within the shadows, shaking off the alley debris like an octopus coming out of hiding.

“Please, let me go,” her voice, as soft as a butterfly’s footfall, was the sincerest plea he had ever heard from one of these demons. She stared at him, eyes watering, lips pursed into a small quivering bow. It was clear she wanted to live.

“That isn’t the way this works. The earth must be cleansed of all unnatural beasts.”

“W-wait…” her shaky hand reached down to fumble at the clasp of the handbag slung across her shoulder.

He thought she was going for some sort of weapon but what could she have been carrying in such a tiny purse that could hurt him when he was like this, at the zenith of human abilities? Although he wasn’t afraid, his body tensed reflexively, ready to pounce. And he was hit with that thought again, of how incredibly stunning his prey was even in her beastly form. Her hair, slimy from alley gunge, hung in her face like a tangle of dead eels but it couldn’t hide her eyes which were larger than he had ever seen on a living creature.

“All beasts must be cleansed? No exception?” she asked.

“None.”

“Have you seen yourself?” the woman pulled a compact mirror from her bag and held it up, catching the faintest bit of night light.

His expression shifted from predator to absolute horror. His jaw clenched, clamping down upon a shriek, and the grip loosened on his anger. He dropped down on his haunches. She was right. In the reflection, he could see that he was a beast, no different than she. It took a beast to catch a beast, he supposed. And he did the only sensible thing he could have thought to do.

***

Up against the chain link fence, he dug his claws into his own chest and tore out his heart, marveling at how little blood there was.

“Living one moon at a time; enjoying one solstice at a time; tolerating adversity as the conduit to tranquility; acquiring, as you do, this aberrant humanity as it is, not as I would wish it; believing that you will set all things right if I submit to your command; that I may be satisfied in this life and rewarded with you forever in the next,” his guttural voice trailed off to a whisper. And when he had completed his prayer, Mǣnōn, the illusory moon, embraced his spirit with open arms.

Text and Audio ©2014 – 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

About Beast of The Illusory Moon:

Ideas, or story inspirations, come from the unlikeliest of places and often strike when you least expect it. This one came about while I was viewing a trailer for the Kevin Costner movie, Mr. Brooks, that begins with him reciting the Serenity Prayer while staring at bottles of liquor on a shelf, so the logical assumption is that he’s an alcoholic but his actual problem runs along a different, darker line—if you’re interested in the true nature of his problem, view the trailer, the movie isn’t the subject of this introduction, the thought that it inspired is.

The trailer made me think about the dichotomy, the two mostly equal parts of peace and war, love and hate, and the black and white delineation of so-called good and evil that exist within us all.

The story itself doesn’t really tackle or explore the characteristics of duality but that’s the nature of an idea, isn’t it? It never ends up on the page the way it began life in your grey matter before being put through the meat grinder process of dramatic structure.

C’est la narration.

I Fell Through Hell

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Because it was bored and had little else to do but support my head while my body shut down to replenish itself, my pillow took advantage of the moment by whispering my destiny in my ear in the dead of night during that flash second of waking from a nightmare, the moment where the line between illusion and reality blurred, when fear tangled around the heart like a sweat-soaked bed sheet. It said:

Heaven holds no place for you.

It spoke to me in English but with a tongue drenched in an accent I was unable to place. Some dead language known only to pillows, I supposed.

My own unique brand of pillow talk first happened when I was a child and in defiance of all the childhood messages that slipped away unremembered, this one had taken root. I had accepted my fate at a tender age and decided to play the hand I was dealt. And after a lifetime spent in disregard of my fellow man and the consequences of my selfish actions as I baby-stepped my way through my sinful prophecy—I slipped and fell…

Down through the frozen landscape of Niflheim, where the branches, bramble and roots of the World Tree, Yggdrasill, beat my face and tore at my skin. And where Hel, daughter of Loki, stood on the Shore of Corpses, petting the head of Nidhogg, the giant snake that fed on the dead

Carried along on the poisonous snake river, Tuoni, I was brought through Tuonela, a place not wholly unlike Earth under the gloomiest conditions, where the maid of Death, Tytti, cast me down further for bringing no provisions as a tribute.

Down further, I was injured whilst falling onto the Chinavat Bridge, which was thinner than a hair, yet sharper than a blade. The twin four-eyed guardian dogs snapped their jaws at me, judging me based on the deeds in my life.

The bridge turned on its side, for my bad deeds outweighed the good, and pitched me into the demon-filled pit below, where the demon Vizaresh dragged me into the House of Lies, a place of disgusting filth, where I was served spoiled food and tortured by demons, hundreds in number, each representing a specific sin, before Apaosha, the demon of drought and thirst, and Zairika, the demon that makes poisons, cast me further down.

Through a lake of fire and up against an iron wall where I passed through a series of gates guarded by half-animal, half-human creatures named The Blood-Drinker Who Comes From The Slaughterhouse, and The One Who Eats The Excrement Of His Hindquarters, into Duat where my heart was weighed against a feather and eaten by the demon Ammut. Although horrified at the sight of my heart being eaten, I was fascinated by the sight and wanted to watch but I could not stop myself from falling…

Down through Gehenna, a deep and desolate place in which noxious sulfuric gasses hung in the air and flames continuously burned and rained from the sky into rivers of molten metal and where the followers of Moloch sacrificed children in the great fires. My fingertips clutched for purchase on this foundation but I fell…

Down past the nine-headed hydra, into Tartaros, where I was whipped by Tisiphone as I tumbled deeper into the deep black dungeon full of torture and suffering.

Down through Maharaurava where the serpent demon Ruru tried to eat my flesh.

Through Kumbhipaka where I was nearly boiled in hot oil.

Through Diyu where Yama Loki of Naraka condensed the 96,816 hells into 10 sections the Chamber of Tongue Ripping, The Chamber of Scissors, The Chamber of Iron Cycads, the Chamber of Mirror, Chamber of Steamer, Forest of Copper Column, Mountain of Knives, the Hill of Ice, Cauldron of Boiling Oil, Chamber of Ox, Chamber of Rock, Chamber of Pounding, Pool of Blood, Town of Suicide, Chamber of Dismemberment, Mountain of Flames, Yard of Stone Mill, and Chamber of Saw.

Down through Xibalba, where the lords of the afterlife inflicted various odd forms of torture on me such as causing pus to gush from my body, squeezing me until blood filled my throat and I vomited my organs…

Before being cast even lower into rivers filled with blood, scorpions, and pus, where I cascaded over a waterfall to my final death, crashing into oblivion and shattering into millions of pieces…

Only to wake up and hear my pillow whisper in its thick accent:

Hell holds no place for you.

So, again I lost my footing and fell, through limbo this time, into…

Text and Audio ©2014 – 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Shards of Silence

Lavinia’s skin was the shade just above albinism and her straightened hair, dyed deep crimson, framed a beautiful face marked with matching black eyeliner and lipstick, and occasionally when she tilted her head he thought he spotted black gages that created flesh tunnels in her earlobes. Black was the obvious theme for her ensemble as she was done up in black Elizabethan style clothing. Despite the fact that he had zero interest in goths, the four words Eason thought best described his blind date were: Out. Of. His. League. But somehow, through an odd series of events and several disastrous dates, they had become a couple.

And there was love, perhaps not on her part but certainly on his and even though Eason was treated far below the level he deserved, he could not bear to quit the relationship for the simple reason that should Lavinia leave, he feared no one would knock on love’s door ever again. So, while the theater of his soul was only occupied by one disinterested audience member, it was far better than playing his one-man lonely hearts show to an empty house.

But was it truly a relationship? Had Lavinia considered the poor, besotted fool more than a mere friend with benefits? They did not know each other’s friends, let alone their families, and the pair always met in obscure places like cemeteries, a section of a public park where creepy dolls had been strung up among the trees, the sites of car accidents where victims’ families and friends left flowers and lit candles in memoriam, and abandoned subway stations and catacombs. Essentially places where they ran little risk of running into known people.

There were also no public displays of affection, but amorous congress could be had if an area possessed the proper ambiance, such as in a freshly dug grave or a deserted mental hospital. When no such place presented itself, Lavinia allowed Eason to rent a motel room, the shadier, the better. He put up with her eccentricities for the same reason as thousands of women and men remained in bizarre relationships, because the coitus exceeded his every expectation.

During a rare dialogue exchange, Lavinia admitted to suffering from anthropophobia, which was a fear of both interacting with and being around other people, and she was only able to be with Eason because she had not thought of him as a person. She also considered herself a presentarian, a word she invented to describe only living in the present moment because the past was irrelevant and she did not believe in the future. And in his heart of hearts, Eason knew that they would not grow old together.

On the final night they would ever be together, Eason rented a nice hotel room and ordered room service with champagne and candles because he wanted to show Lavinia what he thought of her. The problem was he didn’t really see her. He was an ambivert overthinker whose head remained planted firmly in romantic clouds, and he had a terrible habit of constructing fantasies about women based on the limited knowledge he gleaned from their social media photos. While she was an introvert who would rather read true crime books than deal with the real world, and that she possessed an abnormal love of silence.

Lavinia picked at the meal, sipped some champagne but spent most of the evening perched on the window sill, in her very own pocket dimension of eternity, watching pedestrians on the street below. Eason always prided himself on being the most patient man on the planet but he came to realize that next to her, his patience was nothing, a pebble in a rock slide.

She was beautiful, silhouetted against the moonlight, and that beauty weakened Eason’s patience and made him annoyed at being ignored and when he was unable to bear it any longer, he broke the silence.

“Do you know the irony of being a mime?” he asked, and when no answer came, he continued. “Dying and being trapped in a box. Get it? Mime? Trapped in a box?”

It was a stupid joke, an icebreaker, and off her expression, Eason was immediately regretful of having disturbed her solitude.

Lavinia turned and held her hand up, palm facing him, exposing a tattoo he had not seen before. It appeared to be a baby’s skull that was divided by a dagger-like crucifix that was intertwined with a long-stemmed thorny rose.

“I remember,” she whispered low and soft but somehow her voice nearly shattered Eason’s eardrums. “When the cold of peace and the heat of evil were no different from each other. That was before the edges of earth were rounded by popular belief. I remember when the clouds would sacrifice its life to feed the hungry earth, slashing its wrists so this planet could drink its fill and slake its voracious thirst.”

Eason was about to speak, about to question the meaning of what she said but Lavinia crossed the room, pressed her black nailed finger to his lips, and eased him down onto the bed. He was suddenly dumbstruck by the power she had over him, this silent power. Even her body, which he mistakenly thought he knew so well, radiated a power that made him weak.

Hours passed, and Eason drifted in and out of sleep, still mesmerized by the very silent sight of her on top of him. He dozed off again, and when he came to, she was still astride him, but her normally long, cool stare was somehow different now and it caused him to tremble.

The corners of her mouth turned down in a slight frown. “You are a fool, Eason Gadsen, for making me see you as a person. Your affection disturbs me. It slides into my silence, shredding it and sending it spiraling down on the heads of those who pass under this window. They do not know or sense it now, but it will affect their lives significantly. They have taken pieces of a life that does not belong to them. That they do not deserve.”

“I don’t understand,” Eason said in a voice so timid that it might have belonged to a child.

“They are taking my silence with them, taking me. And I am not to be shared.”

“I still don’t understand.”

“Now, I must go to them, to each one and see the sights that assault their eyes, smell scents that nauseate them, touch the textures of their worlds, be compressed into the microcosms that are their lives. I was not meant for that. And if I cannot retrieve the pieces they have stolen, these strangers will kill me without ever knowing me. And it will be your fault.”

“None of this is making any sense, but tell me how I can help you! I’ll do anything you ask!”

Lavinia cupped Eason’s face in her hands and said, “I need you to promise me something.”

“Anything.”

“Do not hate me.”

“Never.”

“I need your help to undo what you have done. Will you aid me? Will you give me what I need?”

“Of course.”

“You have to promise.”

“I promise.”

“No, you must speak the words of the promise.”

“Okay,” Eason said, confused. “I promise to aid you, to give you what you need.”

“You are a better man than I deserve, Eason Gadsen, and I will never forget you,” Lavinia said as she pressed her lips to Eason’s mouth and inhaled sharply.

As per the promise, she breathed in what she needed: the elasticity of his skin, the strength from his muscles, the vision from his eyes, and every last drop of silence that he possessed. But in an act of kindness that proved that she too loved him, she had not taken everything. She left him his life, and perhaps, if she was able to reclaim what was hers, she would return to restore him for he had given her the ability to believe not only in love but the future as well.

Text and audio ©2011-2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys