Please Read My Lonely Talk (Part 1): Call Me Desla

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Please, call me Desla.

Not my actual name, mind you, but there is no real reason for you to know me by anything else. I was born– well, that is not important either, is it? All you need to know is that I am an alien — the extraterrestrial kind, not the immigrant kind — we can engage in intercourse for a fee, and you will most certainly not survive the experience.

Upon entering my boudoir you will undoubtedly notice the notches on the posts of my ornate bed. Your first inclination might be to assume these markings to be sexual conquests, and you would be severely mistaken. They are actually deaths. The number of grooves carved into the wooden headboard is one hundred and ninety-seven, at present, but the actual number is at least four times that. Only the deaths I regret have been engraved here. The rest received precisely what they came seeking and ultimately deserved.

A bit harsh, I realize, but how could you expect me to pity or mourn the passing of those who have tossed away so many possibilities, so many futures in search of la mort parfaite?

But I digress.

Due to the residency protocols of your Office of Planetside Security, the majority of my life was made an open book, yet there are certain things that remain hard for me to discuss. It is known that I was charged with treason back home for defending my personal beliefs — which remains my concern alone — and because my mate stood by my side during the trial, we were both exiled from my homeworld.

Set adrift in space, my people chose to let the universe decide our fate. If we were intercepted by a space vessel and taken aboard or found a world that would permit us to stay, then we were fortunate and were surely meant to live. If not, we would die on our craft when the life support and/or provisions ran out.

We traveled for what seemed like an eternity and never crossed paths with another vessel. Eventually, the ship malfunctioned and crash-landed on your planet. Only I survived, pulled from the twisted wreckage of my prison ship by a farmer who hid me away and chained me in his barn like an animal. He hosed me down and threw me scraps to keep me alive. What I did not know was that he was mustering the courage to have his way with me.

When I realized what he had in mind, I tried to warn him but I didn’t speak the language yet. I’m not sure even if I did that it would have made a difference. He forced himself on me and upon orgasm, promptly died.

My race can only mate with one partner in our entire lifetime. The first union sets into play a biological defense against infidelity by secreting a vaginal toxin that forces orgasm and subsequently death.

The aptitude test I was given, to determine if there was a place on Earth for me, was grueling and humiliating. And when I was finally issued a case worker, she sat with me and explained that the only opportunity available was in legalized prostitution. I was insulted and furious and baffled by the thinking behind this. Did they not understand that of all the professions they could have handed me that this was by far the worst possible choice? Then I stepped back to look at the bigger picture. The planet was overpopulated by indigenous humans and the influx of extraterrestrials and what better to cull the population than to tempt the thrill seekers who wanted to risk death? To treat terminal patients who wanted sweet release?

So, I embraced my role in society and performed my duty and was dubbed the “Whorebinger of Death” and the “Grim Raper” by the press. And naturally, because humans are bizarre creatures, there were ladies who worked the same profession who envied me.

I have yet to warm to this planet and it does not resemble my home planet in any way. My assimilation was slow to nonexistent and this was primarily my fault since I declined to undergo the genetic surgery offered to offworlders to make us appear more human. Though the human form is better suited for the physicality of this world and less cumbersome and my world has turned its back on me, I am still proud to be of my race.

The more time I spend here, the less confident I am about my appearance. On the occasions I watch a television show or movie or glance at an advertisement that places perfect people on display and I learn that there are those among you who feel your appearance doesn’t measure up, consider this: at least you are of the same species.

I stand at the edge of acceptability, balancing on the fine line of grotesque fascination and physical revulsion simple because my eyes are not the same color or shape as humans, and my hair, what little I have in places considered odd by your lot, was actually tufts of fine fur.

I also need to be aware of my nails and keep them within an acceptable length to where they were not considered claws. The same with my smile. Apparently, when I bare my teeth it triggers a fight or flight response in most people.

To be continued…

– Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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Songs As Stories: My Mind Is Not My Own Today

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*Inspired by the song “Once In A Lifetime” by The Talking Heads

My mind is not my own today. Neither of my minds.

That reality continues to plague me as I make my way through both my workaday lives, and I mingle with people both strange and familiar. My minds are not my own today. I have to keep telling myself not to put too much stock in my conflicting thoughts as none of them truly belong to me.

But it wasn’t always this way. Once I had a singular life. A life I can no longer recall because I am not in control of my memories. Not since this morning, when I woke up living two separate lives simultaneously and asking myself, “How did I get here?”

In my left eye, I see the existence where I live in squalor in some poverty-stricken part of the world, and although I have many friends and am surrounded by people who care about me, I am alone and lonely. There is no one here for me. No one to share my life. But somehow I manage to remain happy. Or at least I am not unhappy. Which is more than most can claim.

In my right eye, I live the other side of the coin. My house is unbelievably vast and luxurious. My wife is statuesque and blindingly beautiful, and my car, my car is large enough for a small family to live in.

One would think as my wealth has no limit, it would be a freeing thing, correct? But I find that I can’t manage it properly, for this fortune comes with no instruction manual. Can you tell me how a beautiful wife, a gorgeous specimen of a woman that was supposedly tailored to suit my needs actually works? What of a house and car that I feel absolutely microbic in? It is all somehow wrong as if I am a three dimensional being living in a three and one-quarter dimension reality.

Then my doubts become corporeal and wrap their bony fingers around my ankle in a death grip and pull me under the rushing tide of all the moral debts I have incurred throughout my lifetime.

The tide is a repo service that removes all the things that I possess. The push-to-start conveyance is no longer my large automobile, the mansion is no longer my beautiful house and the amazon is no longer my beautiful wife. Unable to hold my breath for long, I gasp for air, each mouthful leaking my fortune along with my air.

The repossession waters dissolve my belongings, removing them from my existence, remnants of luxury items sink to the bottom of the ocean as waves push me away from opulence and wash me onto a fork in the road of a highway, the signposts of which points left for “Right” and right for “Wrong”. What do these signs mean? Which should I take? What have I done? What have I become? Ami I right, or am I wrong?

And when I question my realities, a voice keeps repeating, a voice inside my head, a voice that is not my own, one phrase that is meant to calm me, to reassure me that everything is as it’s meant to be…

Same as it ever was.

Same as it ever was.

Same as it ever was.

Sally forth and be letting the days go byingly writeful.

– Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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The Little Green Book Part 2: Extraterrestrial Survival Critical Rules

THE LITTLE GREEN BOOK Part 2

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The object of this Survival Manual is to save the lives of off-worlders who are, if distant and recent history have anything to impart, on the endangered species list in this society of humans.

I started writing out rules of survival for my hatchling, Kuul, and I suddenly thought, “Why be selfish? Why not devise a set of directions for all extraterrestrials living on earth?” This manual is meant for extraterrestrial eyes only. If you are human and reading this, stop at once! This datafile has been encoded with an ultraliminal agent which causes blindness and hair to grow on your palms. Everyone you encounter from this point on will dismiss you as a wanton masturbator.

There are instructions available also, for protecting off-world children, and directions for groups wishing to set up Extraterrestrial Survival programs to teach survival to young off-worlders in school settings. (See: Appendix)

Knowledge is not only strength, but also the first step toward identifying the problems of staying alive and healthy. You should know what is happening in your city. Your local National ExtraTerrestrial Awareness and Safety Program (NETASP), Urban League, Church, Neighborhood Block Association, Off-Worlder Civil Liberties Unions and other groups should have information for you on the problems that extraterrestrials are experiencing in your area. Also, local newspapers will have a few of the reports. Ideally, parents, teachers, friends, social workers and legal professionals should set up Off-Worlder Survival hotlines so that extraterrestrials can report their cases and have them documented. Those organizations should be contacted for guidance in setting up documentation centers to collect Off-Worlder Survival statistics as a basis for Off-Worlder Survival Programs.

To survive in your own neighborhood, and in anyone else’s, there is something you must understand: even though the so-called “Off-Worlder Leaders” and the human media, for differing reasons, keep talking about “universal togetherness,” it isn’t necessarily the truth. Unless you are a twin or a symbiote, you were born by yourself – and you must take care of yourself. It is time to face the truth: some of the humans in and out of your neighborhood are robbing and killing extraterrestrials. So when you are walking and playing around in the city streets, you are going to have to remember to be constantly on your toes and aware of who is near you, and where you are – you are outside your house.

This is not meant to scare you – only to prevent you from walking around in the “dream state” we see so many off-worlders in – which begs for humans to knock them over their heads.

EXTRATERRESTRIAL SURVIVAL CRITICAL RULES

Rule #1: If you are hailed by a government official: run like hell! If apprehended, at the very least, you will be subjected to bizarre sexual rituals and experimentation. The worse case scenario is being the victim of a televised autopsy.

Rule #2: Always carry the Little Green Book with you. Fill in the fields right now; carry this datafile with you at all times. If you are apprehended by the humans, hand over the file freely. When the ultraliminal agent kicks in, make a break for it.

Rule #3: Find out the name of the commanding officer of the nearest secret government facility and memorize it. If you encounter government personnel you can, if you get the chance, mention the Commander’s name. Helpful hint: Do this before the autopsy begins.

Rule #4: Always carry a neural disruptor and personal teleportation device. Humans are particularly susceptible to weapons that attack the nervous system, and your teleporter should have a transporting range of at least 100 kilometers.

Rule #5: Take the time, when there is no immediate need for a lawyer, to find one who can represent you and memorize their telephone number. In making your selection, you should avoid lawyers who advertise on television, promising quick cash settlements.

Rule #6: Report trouble to the nearest news agency. When you are attacked, robbed, mugged, beaten or whatever, report it, even if the news agency doesn’t believe you, chances are they may run your story on a slow news night. Make sure you avoid tabloids generally found at the supermarket checkout counters, except of course for The National Inquirer and The Daily Mail.

Rule #7: When you are approached by government officials, take this time to show your race’s superiority. Do not show government officials that you are a docile “I come in peace” alien. If you have a superior ability — use it. If you don’t — fake it. Most times a human’s fear of the unknown will freeze them in their tracks. Make loud, intimidating threats, jerky gestures, and point at them menacingly. In the off chance that they draw weapons, hightail it. There’s no real shame in blatant cowardice.

Rule #8: Memorize the name of any government official involved in a current sex scandal. Mention the official’s name at the moment of your capture. This is merely a delaying tactic, and will most likely avail you naught, but wouldn’t it be fun to bring down a human with you in the process?

Rule #9: Do not carry plans for world domination on your person. The reasoning behind this should be self evident, and if it isn’t, then you deserve to get caught.

Rule #10: Do not show humans your plans to build a device with the power to crack the planet in half. Even if the humans are your closest friends, chances are they’re just a little more attached to the planet than you are.

Rule #11: When you leave or enter your apartment, look around first. If you spot men in dark business suits or a florist van that hasn’t moved in three days, relocate quickly. The government is on to you. Pack your things and go gently into that good night.

Rule #12: Avoid government and military installations. Duh.

Rule #13: If for some reason you cannot avoid government or military installations, try to look as human as possible. Novelty shops sell a variety of human masks and costumes that should serve you more than adequately. Helpful hint: Avoid masks bearing the likeness of celebrities. Richard Nixon going on a tour of the White House would bring you more attention than is desired.

Rule #14: If you are in the hospital, verify that the physician is licensed to treat your race in particular. All too often a physician will take a correspondence course in Venusian medicine and feel that he/she can now properly diagnose all off-worlders, regardless of their planet of origin.

Rule #15: Do not drink any substance that will lead to intoxication. Okay, so a glass of turpentine once a week with a meal maybe won’t hurt you.

Rule #16: Do not take drugs. Unless, of course, they’re mandatory to your survival in this alien atmosphere, and even then, stick to the recommended dosage. There’s nothing worse that seeing a Vemtraxor hopped up on methane pills.

Rule #17: Do not smoke. This applies to all races except Nentokites, who intake sustenance this way. It also does not apply to those races that emit smoke from their pores naturally.

Rule #18: Do not drink milk! It is evil! In certain parts of the galaxy, milk has achieved sentience and is overthrowing entire planets! Stay away from it! You have been warned!

Rule #19: If you are a carnivorous race — avoid eating humans. I know this can be difficult at times (I mean just how many times can you eat cows and pigs and fowl, before becoming bored?) but the planet on a whole frowns on the practice…so abstain, okay? Or at least eat as little human flesh as possible. And no deep-frying, please. Human meat is greasy enough.

Rule #20: Ask your native healers about high blood pressure treatments and how to prevent enlargement of the prostate gland and unnecessary surgery. Have you ever seen a Venturon with an enlarged prostate? Not a pretty sight, let me tell you.

Rule #21: Do not join the armed forces. Chances are, during wartime, you will be given a name such as Private Cannon Fodder and be appointed permanent Point Man status.

Rule #22: Learn to read, write and speak earth languages correctly. Do you want to earn more money? Sure. We all do. Take advantage of financial aid and register for courses in Algebra, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, American Government, World History, Atomic Weapon Repair, or get your specialized degree.

Rule #23: Finally, join the nuclear freeze movement. Stop humans from exploring the full potential of nuclear power. If we are successful in slowing this process down, the other worlds might have a chance to play catch-up.

***

GETTING BACK ON TRACK

This section is for you extraterrestrials who are doing drugs including alcohol, robbing banks and stores, mugging, raping, trying to scare humans, making humans pregnant without doing your part to prevent pregnancies or not caring for the hybrids when they are born, and killing humans. This extraterrestrial Survival manual is not for you, because you are either too stupid, lazy or inconsiderate to use more discretion! Yes, these pastimes are fun, and we all enjoy them, but must you be so blatant? If you continue on your current path, we will consider you part of the enemy and when the day of reckoning is at hand, you will suffer along with the humans you terrorized so publicly. End of sermon.

***

APPENDIX

If you have trouble with the government, write news agency based on the format below:

Name (Earth phonetics, if possible)

Address

Date

Name of news agency contact

News agency Address

Dear contact name,

On (date) at (time) (exact location), Government Employee (name[s]) INCLUDE ALL THAT APPLIES:

  • Beat me…
  • Called me names, ethnic slurs…
  • Took me against my will to a government facility without explanation…
  • Searched my house/space craft without a warrant…
  • Confiscated sperm/ovum samples without permission…
  • Forced me to participate on a FOX Network primetime special with no compensation…
  • Other…

I demand restitution.

Sincerely,

Your Name

cc: Government Bias Unit Commander of your local secret military installation, Mayor of your city, Your Congressperson Local Extraterrestrial Survival Documentation Center

***

You may have to ask a local organization like NETASP or Urban League, Church, Neighborhood Block Association, Off-Worlder Civil Liberties Unions to set up an Extraterrestrial Survival Documentation Center.

For instructions on setting up an Extraterrestrial Survival Documentation Center yourself, send $25 in your native currency (to cover postage and handling) to the address at the end of this datafile.

Until we are united on Invasion Day, think smart, live simply, and avoid milk. I cannot stress this enough.

Rin Vagor

©2014 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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Songs As Stories: A Scrapbook of Daydreams

1 *Inspired by the song “Wild One” by I Am Harlequin

That kind of relationship is doomed before it even begins,” her mother warned. “His type… they can’t be faithful, it isn’t in their genetic makeup.” But Alison paid no heed and fell head first in love with the living embodiment of a daydream.

She thought she’d made the right decision. What did her mother know? And in the beginning, Alison felt vindicated because he was always there for her, never once realizing that was the normal way daydreams functioned, recurring whenever the mind was idle.

The daydream held her in bed and distracted her with his essence so that she drifted off to sleep without the usual brain clutter that triggered her chronic insomnia, and made sure he was the first sight Alison saw when she woke up. He never slept. What use would a daydream have with sleep? He simply watched her and waited until she began her cute pattern of soft snoring, before taking a stroll through her mind.

He never spoke. He preferred instead to flash images in Alison’s mind. Naturally, he knew exactly what he was doing. Knew he owned the keys to her heart and soul and, as often was the case with the person in control in a relationship, he doled out his attention and affection in small doses. She tried, really tried her best not to be greedy and not to demand more, but that, like most things, was easier said than done.

Then one morning, after he laid her head on the pillow to rest the night before, as he had done numerous times before, he was gone. No note that indicated where he was off to or when he would have returned.

Then began the dark times. Seconds, minutes, hours stretched into the forever period of withdrawal, where Alison was crushed beneath the pressure of constant craving, when her heart sat within her chest like so much dead weight.

And after the craving stage had crept along at its snail’s pace, along came the self-examination stage to fill the void. What had she done wrong? Was she too needy? Smothering? And when she grew weary of guessing, of trying to rewrite the past as if that would have somehow altered the present so that he was still here with her, Alison tried to find a place for him in her past. A drawer or compartment where he could have remained tucked away until such time as she was stronger and more capable of dealing with the memory of him.

Forgetting him might have been much easier if not for the images he filled Alison’s head with, the stories weaved through pictures. They remained and were strongest when the dawn approached. That must have been when he left.

When her mother visited, she asked, “Why can’t you look me in the eye?

I don’t want to do the whole I told you so thing, Mom.” Alison replied.

When have I ever done that?

You don’t say the words, but I can see it in your eyes.

That’s a lie and we both know it,” her mother said. “The truth is you don’t respect me, maybe rightfully so.

Respect you? You’re a drunk, Mom. I’m sorry, there’s no other way to say it.” The words were out of Alison’s mouth before she could stop them.

I’m a recovering alcoholic…

Po-tay-to, po-tah-to. I mean, why would I take advice from a woman whose life is a shambles? Your drinking didn’t only wreck your marriage, it destroyed my family! So, how are you wiser than me when it comes to affairs of the heart?

Her mother exhaled slowly. “I understand more than you realize. You think you’re the only one who’s ever gone through what you’re going through, and that’s not necessarily your fault. When you’re young, you always feel that way.

But I’m here to tell you, kiddo, you’re not the first or only person to fall in love with a daydream. Not only did it happen to me, but I convinced him to marry me and we had you.

Dad?

Yeah. You think your father left because I drank, and that’s my fault because I should have explained it to you, but I didn’t know how. The truth is I started drinking when I felt him slipping away. I tried to hold on the best way I knew how but the inherent problem with a daydream, even a recurring one, is that they’re never meant to stay in one place for very long. They’re born to stray.

Oh. Mom… !” Alison hugged her mother as tightly as she could. She hoped somehow her mother could feel just how sorry she was about everything that happened between them over the years.

Realizing what a fool she had been, and instead of living in a past relationship and trying to hold her life together with spit and string, Alison chose to work on rebuilding the relationship with her mother, a woman who was stronger than she ever realized.

And every now and then, when there was that familiar twinge in Alison’s heart, a fast but powerful thought of her wild one, her mother helped her collect the stories in a scrapbook of daydreams. But Alison hadn’t done it for herself, she did it for the little one who would be arriving any day now.

Her daughter deserved to know about her father.

Sally forth and be daydream scrapbookingly writeful.

– Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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Songs As Stories: Aeton and Ioasephyn

Minds Eye *Inspired by the song “The Valley of The Mind’s Eye” by Thomas Dolby

Aeton was made for Ioasephyn, and she him, of this there was never any doubt. Formed during The Great Making and united in an unbreakable union when the world was in its infancy, the couple consummated their love as the molten planet cooled. Theirs was the first love and the fulcrum on which all love that followed would be balanced.

In the days before there were others, Aeton and Ioasephyn relaxed in fields of spun gold and stared upward, watching as the void caught fire, pinprick flames burst into life throughout the inky black and became stars. As the land masses grew restless and pulled away from one another, separating the waters into greater and lesser portions, the pair frolicked while the planet went through its growing pains.

When others came, some as a byproduct of their union, and the rest from elsewhere, they watched as gatherings became villages became towns became cities, and the overpopulated cities became nations. There were those who sought to rule these nations, some successfully, other less so. Aeton and Ioasephyn had seen the noblest of endeavors corrupted by pettiness, jealousy and greed and wished to separate themselves from the inevitable outcomes.

Time passed for everyone but the young lovers. Their children grew older, as did friends. Not all were accepting of the fact, so they vanished from the daily workings of societies, and only visited occasionally when curiosity got the better of them.

One such visit proved disastrous for Ioasephyn when someone in a new city recognized her. She thought enough time had passed and the world had forgotten them. How could she have known that she and Aeton had become the stuff of legend? A legend planted in the soil of truth, watered by myth in each retelling until it sprouted the belief that their blood, the liquid of pure first love, granted eternal life.

They surrounded her, the entire city did, and forced her into a prison until they consulted with an elder on the precise details of the ritual needed to extract the blood for the immortality elixir.

Aeton was on the opposite side of the world when he felt Ioasephyn’s fear tug at his heart. He pleaded with the moon to create a tide that would carry him to his true love’s side. It obliged and he rode the waters day and night without rest until he arrived at the city that held her.

Without delay, he met with the officials who held his love and attempted to reason with them. With a father’s patience, he listened to their wild tales and struggled to dispel the myths. He told them the truth in the Voice of Authority, but they paid no heed and took him prisoner, as well.

The legend warned that the couple’s invincible power was only focused in their union, so the jailers locked Aeton and Ioasephyn in cages separated far enough apart so they could not touch. Upon seeing one another, the lovers wept for they knew their demise would soon come. But they were not angry, instead, they pitied those who could never have seen the world through their eyes. The love they declared for one another stood the test of the sometimes wondrous sometimes terrifying times they lived through, and it would survive this as well.

Though they had accepted their fates, Aeton couldn’t bear the thought of Ioasephyn not existing, so he hid her away somewhere no one would ever think to find her. He hid her in plain sight, tucked her away in the corner of the mind’s eye of everyone in existence. He spoke the words of the incantation in his native tongue, acquired at the dawn of language when words contained magic.

Unbeknownst to Aeton, Ioasephyn had done the same to him. They truly were of one mind.

So now they lived where visionaries and dreamers created and though they often tended to their own affairs, sometimes they could be glimpsed frolicking on the cusp of thoughts or relaxing in fields of gossamer daydreams, staring upward and watching as the void caught fire, pinprick flames burst into life throughout the inky black to become ideas.

Sally forth and be mind’s eyeingly writeful.

– Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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Donor (1988)

low red blood cell count

The knock at the front door brought Tim back from his woolgathering excursion. He drew in a deep breath and held it a long moment to quell the anxious feeling hatching in the pit of his belly. Padding across the hardwood foyer floor on the balls of his feet, he hoped against hope that Death was on the other side of the door. He knew this wasn’t the case. The knock was too polite.

They’re all so damned polite, the knockers. Lightly rapping on his door all day, all night, in any weather, even on holidays. Especially the holidays. On the other side of the door, this time was a familiar face. Too plain to recall outright, Tim had to flip through the card catalog in his mind and play the reference game. An event that led to a location that led to a person.

Fundraiser ~~> community center ~~> Dick Cole.

And this was Dick’s friend. Linda something-or-other. Rhymes with seed. Greed? Mead? Plead?

“Reid, isn’t it? Linda Reid.” Tim smiled, more at the swiftness of the connection than pleasure in seeing the woman. “It’s been a while. Couple of years, I think.”

Tim gestured for Linda to step inside. Too many prying eyes on them from the people lined up at his doorstep. A line that ran the length of his front walk to the pavement, down the block, and most likely around the corner. All ages, ethnicities, men and women alike, everyone patiently waiting their turn for an audience.

“It has been,” Linda said, smiling a bit too much. “Sorry for not keeping in touch. Things have been so hectic down at the center with budget cuts and understaffing… and other things, that I don’t socialize much anymore. And you’ve got a lot on your hands at the moment—”

Tim waved off the rest of the sentence. “Not an accusation, just a statement of fact.” He led the woman into the sitting room. “Can I get you anything? Water? Juice? Or I could put the kettle on?”

“Do you have anything stronger?” Linda asked sheepishly as she sat down.

“I don’t imbibe, I’m afraid. Rules of my employment and all.”

“Yes, of course, how foolish of me.”

Tim sat opposite Linda and poured two glasses of ice water from a silver pitcher dotted with dew-like condensation. “Not to fret. Most people never consider it the first time they sit in that chair.

She took the water glass and swallowed two gulps. “So, how does this go? Do I have to fill out an application? Sign a legal document? Do you need proof? I didn’t think to bring any with me but I can get whatever it is you need.”

“If your request is granted, you’ll need to sign a few documents, including one that absolves me of any blame should the outcome fail to have the desired effect.” he said automatically.

“Naturally, without a doubt,” Linda answered, a bit too eagerly.

They’re always so eager at this stage, before the harshness of reality sets in, Tim thought. “But for right now, all you have to do is tell me what brings you here.”

“Um, okay,” she adjusted herself in the seat and wondered how her breath could so suddenly get caught in her throat. “It isn’t for me, you understand, I’d never come to ask for myself. It’s my fiancé, Dick, you’ve met him, in fact, he introduced us at a fundraiser two years ago.”

“Yes, I know Dick. What’s wrong with him?”

“He has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis,” Linda said in a quiet voice.

“Lou Gehrig’s disease.” Tim’s stomach turned over. He didn’t need her to elucidate further.

She nodded, her eyes fading down to the throw rug, absently tracing patterns. “It’s in the late stages now. I would have come sooner, but it’s taken me some time to talk Dick into this. He doesn’t think it seems right. Not what you do, that’s fine and he thinks you’re a saint for doing it. He doesn’t think it’s right asking you for help, especially this kind of help. Dick doesn’t want you or anyone else taking pity on him. He’s never taken a handout in his life and he can’t help but see this as charity.”

“Yes,” Tim said, not bothering to hear the rest of the pitch. That’s what they were, pitches. Not simple requests or imploration, these were stories designed to pull at his heartstrings. But who ever bothered to listen to his story? Not one of them. Not a single person among the many that crossed his threshold ever bothered asking him a personal question. As if he wasn’t human, as if he wasn’t allowed his own tragedy.

“What? I don’t understand.” She set the glass down on the nearby table, missing the coaster by half an inch. Tim either hadn’t noticed or decided not to comment.

“I’m saying, yes.”

“Yes, you’ll help?” Linda blinked and met the man’s gaze as a hopeful smile began to split her face.

“Yes.”

“I — I don’t know what to say,” she was on her feet before she knew what was happening, moving in for a hug. “I — thank you, Tim!”

Tim put his hand up, stopping the woman in her tracks. “Don’t thank me yet. There are still a few things you need to realize before you accept my offer.”

“It doesn’t matter. Anything! And I mean anything!” Interest colored her face.

“Please calm down for a moment and listen to me. This thing you’re asking of me, this gift of blood, it may not solve your problems and could possibly worsen matters for you.” Tim traced his finger around the rim of his glass.

“I’ll take that chance… we’ll take that chance!”

“Listen to me!” Tim brought the glass down on the table, just hard enough to startle and capture her full attention. At the cost of a wet sleeve and the water stains that would surely mark the cherry wood. “Ever since scientists discovered the curative properties of my blood, tests have been run. Mostly successful, I’m a match for all blood types, and my white blood cells haven’t encountered a disease it can’t cure—”

“Which is why I came to you. I did my research and you cured other ALS patients before—”

“The problem isn’t my blood,” he interrupted. “It’s Dick’s immune system reaction that’s the danger. If his body rejects my blood and tries to attack parts of it, there won’t be a second chance. He instantly becomes a non-match. On the other hand, if his body takes the transfusion, in a few month’s time, his white blood cells will resemble mine and he’ll automatically be enlisted in the same line of work as I am.”

The weight of Tim’s words slowly settled on Linda. “You mean, he’ll—?”

“He’ll never know another moment’s peace for the rest of his life. People will hound him, pleading for themselves or family or friends, day and night, night and day. Nonstop. Some gentle, others less so.”

“But why is that necessary?” Linda asked.

“My white blood cells can’t be synthesized. Top minds have tried and failed time and again. And although my blood can be stored, the white blood cells lose their miraculous properties over a period of thirty-six hours outside my body.

“I would have been strapped to a table in a laboratory for the rest of my natural life if I wasn’t for my brother. Hell of a lawyer. Fought his ass off to petition the quality of life rights that allow me the tiny bit of freedom I have. The stipulation is I must share my gift, triage the world, help the sickest among you. There are restrictions, legal hours when people have the right to approach me, but no one listens. How can they be expected to follow the rules when they or their loved ones are dying?

“I used to fight it. Turn people away when the established workday was through. Dealt with the angry mobs and the death threats. Then I asked myself, “Why?” Why fight my fate? If I’m meant to help people, why shouldn’t I do it when it needs to be done and not only when I want to do it? And there’s a selfish reason if I’m honest. You see, if I help enough people, if enough of the populace possesses my blood, I won’t be special anymore or alone in all this. Maybe then, when there’s enough blood to go around and my bit for the world is done, the price of my gift paid, maybe then I can be left alone to die in peace.”

Linda hesitated. She shook her head and turned to leave. “This… this is… “ She stumbled over the words, not knowing how to express her thoughts.

Tim realized too late that he said too much, chose the wrong person to unburden himself on. He regretted his action instantly. “It’s a lot to process, I know. Why don’t you go home and discuss it with Dick? You can contact me if you decide to go through with it.”

From his shirt pocket, he fished out a solid white business card, imprinted only with a faint phone number that had to be viewed at the proper angle in order to be seen. “A direct line, please don’t share it with anyone.”

“I won’t,” Linda muttered as she shambled to the doorway. “I — look, I know you can’t talk about the other people you’ve seen, but can you just tell me if anyone has ever turned down your help after you’ve explained everything to them?”

For a moment, Tim didn’t respond, he just watched as the hope drained from her face. “More people than you might imagine.” He noted she found no reassurance in his answer. He turned away, unable to look upon her sorrow any longer. He had his own to contend with.

Over his shoulder, he said, “On your way out, can you send the next person in, please?”

©1988 & 2016 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Personal Space

Staten Island Ferry arriving at night

“Piece by piece, I fed my wardrobe to the night wind, and flutteringly, like a loved one’s ashes, the gray scraps were ferried off, to settle here, there, exactly where I would never know, in the dark heart of New York.”
― Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

The hawk was most definitely out tonight as I stood at the bow of the Staten Island ferry, coat collar popped and gloved hands thrust into pockets. This particular hawk bore a vicious set of teeth and wasn’t afraid to bite, which was fine by me. The colder weather combined with the icy wind that whipped off the bay afforded me some much-appreciated elbowroom, a concept that was foreign to most New Yorkers.

Being all alone out here wasn’t a problem. I had been alone most of my adult life. Alone in a crowded room. Alone in committed relationships. The people closest to me, those tenacious few who loved a challenge, were kept at an equidistant arm’s length.

Alone was my appetite.

Alone was my mantra.

Alone was my destiny.

Not too cold out tonight, is it?” The voice almost sent me out of my skin. There, suddenly beside me, was a woman bundled against the chill air, lips curled slightly in sarcasm. Right next to me. Within the boundaries of my personal space.

Not as cold as it could be,” I replied more out of reflex than want. What I wanted was a little privacy, to tend to my own affairs as other people on the ferry tended to theirs. It was part of the unspoken rule when you agreed to live in this city. You avoided eye contact and kept yourself to yourself.

I looked at her, this stealthy woman that took me totally unawares. A full foot shorter than me, pretty, petite, and what was the politically correct term for it? Middle Asian? I wasn’t too sure and felt naked without my local PC handbook to check for accuracy.

The immediate thing that came to mind wasn’t how stunningly attractive this woman was. My first thought was actually, Why are you talking to me? As a point of clarification, that was one of the things I admired about myself, whether it was my face or the vibe I gave off, people generally never felt the need to walk up and talk to me. Unless of course they were mentally challenged or capable—again I needed to consult the handbook—or nuts or out to start a fight with a stranger they mistakenly assumed was harmless. She was clearly none of those.

But the thought evaporated as suddenly as it appeared. She blurted out a simple statement of fact and I happened to be within earshot. Conversation over. Turn the page. But it wasn’t over. “Do you know who you are?” she asked without a discernible trace of an accent.

Pardon?” I was taken aback by the suddenness of the question. “What, like my name?

No, that is what you are called. I want to know if you had to describe yourself to an absolute stranger, what would you say?

Most likely? Nothing.” I admitted. “I’m not too fond of the question.

Really? What if Nazis held guns to your parents’ heads? What would you tell me then?” she smiled politely, waiting.

Damn. The Nazi ploy.

As much as I hated being manipulated in this fashion, I couldn’t allow anyone, not even this woman, the most un-New Yorkian person I had ever encountered, to think I was some heartless brute that would have allowed Nazis to murder my parents in an effort to avoid providing a self-summary.

And just so you know, we, the Nazis and I, aren’t accepting work in progress as a suitable answer, since we’re all works in progress until the moment we give up living.

Fair enough.” I nodded. It was one of those overused expressions that I couldn’t stand, just like thinking outside the box. I watched her with obvious suspicion and had half a mind not to answer, half a mind to walk away. Neither of those halves proved to be victorious.

I hadn’t the foggiest notion what came over me but words started spilling out of my mouth before I even realized I was speaking. “What I am is a pessimistic optimist, who believes love shouldn’t be denied to anyone, even to those born with icy hearts. What I know is that I’m wise enough accept love as it finds me and not reject it because it doesn’t come wrapped in a pretty package. What I hope is that someday every lonely person will reach out to another lonely person and befriend them so that the word lonely fades from our lexicon.

You must be a writer because that was corny and clumsily poetic,” she eyed me for a long moment. “But an artful dodge, so I’ll let you get away with it. This time.

This time? Just who did this woman think she was?

Now it’s your turn,” I said. “Tell me something about yourself first. Anything. Start with where you’re from.

For the briefest instant, her expression took on a sadness that could only have belonged to reminiscence. “I was born and raised in India, longer ago than you would believe, but I have traveled all over, to places you probably do not even realize exist.

You’re probably right about that. Geography really isn’t my strong suit and I haven’t really traveled outside of the five boroughs.” I said, instantly embarrassed by my lack of worldliness. “So, what brings you to New York?

She remained quiet for a moment before answering. “I work for an organization, currently in a state of transition. Suffered drastic downsizing due to image problems and public opinion. My employer is in the midst of rebranding and taking on a new staff to suit the company’s new direction. You can say that I am one of many headhunters.

Talk about your artful dodge. You said a mouthful just now and told me absolutely nothing about what your organization does to make a profit.

I can tell you, but only if you really want to know because that information comes at a price.

Which is?” I asked.

Your undying loyalty.

I chuckled. “Of course.

Of course, you agree to my terms, or of course, as in a mockery?” she cocked an eyebrow my way. “We must be clear about this.

The latter, no offense.

I see.” She ran a hand through her hair to get it off her face. I noticed she wasn’t wearing gloves and hadn’t actually appeared to be cold, the more I thought about it. “You asked me what brings me to New York. Would you believe me if I said it was you?

I held up my hands in surrender. “All right, this is where I officially punch out of this conversation.

She took a step closer. “Your loneliness, your isolation is like a beacon to me. I am drawn to you. I know your kind. I have seen your future and you will most assuredly die alone. No mate, no children to carry on your legacy.

I hate to break it to you, but I’m happily married with three kids who adore me.

Not true in the slightest. You have lived alone ever since your cat died of leukemia two years ago.

How — how could you know that?

The same way I know the first girl to break your heart was Shirley Hartsdale in the sixth grade when she began dating your best friend behind your back and made you the laughing-stock of the school. To this day you hold a distrust of people because of that incident, even friends and family.

I hadn’t caught the last part of her sentence. My brain was flooded with thoughts of Shirley Hartsdale, someone I hadn’t thought of in years and even now, she left a bad taste in my mouth.

The organization I work for has that sort of information available to them, not solely on you but everyone on the planet.

Oh God, I started to panic. She’s a terrorist. Part of some ferry-riding Sleeper Cell that uses attractive women to pry information out of dumb single Americans. My photo was going to land in some Homeland Security dossier marked Al Qaeda Sympathizers. In that moment I just wanted this woman to be away from me. Far, far away.

I am not a terrorist,” she smiled. “Nor am I a member of a cult. What I am is a member of a peacekeeping task force that seeks to restore balance to the world with the help of people like you, the overlooked, the forgotten, the unloved. More than an organization, the company that employs me is my family and is directly descended from the first family ever to touch foot to the earth. It can become your family, as well.

What I can offer you is a love unparalleled.” She touched a finger to my temple and the wind died away. The air barely moved for several moments and I listened as she spoke. My world began spinning savagely. I winced and swallowed hard to prevent nausea from triumphing as her words poured images into my mind, saturated with so much sensory information and emotion that I thought I might have burst at the seams.

You will want for nothing. I will bear you many children and you will have a family the size of a small nation. A family who will worship and adore you. All this and more if you will simply pledge yourself to me forever and always.

She moved her finger away and the stillness of the air vanished, and the wind rose once more. I staggered a moment, my mind reeling with the imagery that pressed a palpable weight on me. When I regained my balance and sight, I stood there stunned and in comparative silence after being shown a world that only existed as the flimsiest of pipedreams. The reality finally hit that I was dealing with something way beyond me, something that threatened to swallow me whole if I wasn’t careful.

And you will be free to follow your dreams. Become a novelist and millions will read your words. You will be well received all around the world. Spend your days lecturing, even teaching and sculpting young minds, if that’s your wish.

Or,” she continued. “Write and direct films that interest you and your following will be massive. Fellini, Scorcese, Hitchcock, Kubrick, Tarantino, would not be able to hold a candle to you. Like Woody Allen and release a film each year, all guaranteed blockbusters with the stars of your choice eager to play a role.

And all this will happen because of you?

Her tone was like a knife. “No, because of your pledge to be with me and only me.

Like signing my soul over to you?” I knew the answer but had to ask anyway.

What an archaic notion. All I need from you is your promise, sealed with a kiss. The question is do you want to live the life you have always dreamed of living or not? After years of struggling and going unnoticed by women and society at large, you learned to wear your isolation like a protective shell but this isn’t who you truly are, who you were meant to be. If anyone deserves a shot at the brass ring it most certainly is you, isn’t it?

I had trouble meeting her eyes. “That’s tempting, it really is… but I can’t.

You would turn down everything?

I’m too old to believe I can have everything. And old enough to know I won’t be happy. Maybe at first, on the surface, I will, but as time goes by I’ll know deep down that I didn’t earn any of those things. You wouldn’t be with me because you love me. You’d be with me because you needed something from me. Something I’m not smart enough to figure out at the moment.” I felt foolish because I truly couldn’t see the angle. My soul wasn’t worth that much so there must have been something else.

And suddenly I was aware of the nearness of the woman and no longer thought she was in my personal space but that I was in hers and I worried about what being within her sphere of influence might do to me. I was afraid that her essence, the power she projected would have tainted me, marked and cursed me forever.

It seems I misjudged you. All that talk of accepting love as it finds you and erasing loneliness from the lexicon is all just a mask. Your problem is not being too old, it is being too afraid.

What?” my voice cracked as I felt a sudden pang of fear.

You are a dichotomy of fear. You are afraid of dying home alone, yet you fear leaving your house to meet a woman you can form a relationship with, you fear being friendless yet fear making friends, fear being childless yet fear the responsibility of having children, you fear being loved, fear being hated, you fear life and just about everything else and you are content to let it rot your soul as you waste away out of existence.

The wind rose in unison with the pitch of her voice and I was hit with a blast so icy it made my eyes water. I wiped the tears away and the woman was gone.

I went inside because I felt the sudden and dire need to be around other people, be close to them, feel their warmth. I settled down in a seat between two strangers, neither of them pleased that I had invaded their personal space, but I was past caring at that moment.

Looking down the opposite end of the ferry I saw the woman talking to a man, most likely another lonely bastard like me. I wanted to go over and warn him but he probably wouldn’t have believed me, and wasn’t it up to him to face his own temptations? Who’s to say that he wouldn’t have been within his rights to accept? And was I a fool for letting the opportunity to end my loneliness pass me by?

Then and there I made a promise to change my life, to put Shirley Hartsdale in perspective as I got on with my life and reconnected with old friends if it wasn’t too late and I pledged to make new friends and as I sought out the love I deserved and stopped waiting for it to come to me. Yes, that was what I was planned to do.

At least that was the lie I told myself.

* * *

Sally forth and be beautiful stranger avoidingly writeful.

Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

Savior Complex Part 2

Jesus Christ crown of thorns

…continued from Part 1

We sat on the sofa, all of us, Tatum paging through a family photo album on her lap. Pictures of vacations with the deadbeat boyfriend, of her during various stages of her pregnancy, of her and deadbeat holding a newborn Lee and later with Tatum holding a newborn Stacie while deadbeat lurked somewhere in the background. A life well documented.

Tatum told me how difficult things had been. Deadbeat had developed a drug habit and came around under the guise of seeing his children only to beg off some money to score and if that hadn’t worked, he stole things to sell or threatened to take the kids.

One time when Tatum refused to give him any more money, he made good on his threat and Stacie and Lee were taken from her by Child Services because of alleged abuse charges. She described the hell she had to go through to get her family back.

As if on cue, there was a knock at the door. It was deadbeat, whose Christian name was Oscar, most likely coming around again to score. She spoke with him in hushed tones through the space in the door allowed by the security chain. When his shouts turned to raged kicking on the door, I stepped up behind Tatum so that he could see me. “Everything all right, Tate?”

Gasoline on fire. He lost his mind and no manner of reason calmed him. I showed him my cell phone, made sure he had seen me dial 911 and only then as he weighed the options in his mind did he leave, but not before he made his threats. He would be back, to get his kids and make her pay.

Tatum convinced me not to involve the police but only after she agreed to let me stay the night in case Oscar decided to return. We tried to salvage the rest of the evening for the sake of Stacie and Lee but deadbeat’s presence lingered in the air.

The sofa was made up for me as comfortable as she could have managed, but sleep was the furthest thing from my mind. I was afraid that Oscar would return, afraid that I wouldn’t be much use since I wasn’t a violent man. All I could have done was to block his attack while Tatum grabbed the kids and made their way to safety. And if that was what it took, then so be it.

When I started drifting off, as the tension of the evening released its grip, Tatum came to me. Her nightgown slid off her perfect skin. Why hadn’t I ever noticed just how perfect she was before? She stood there, naked and beautiful in the moonlight that poured in from the window, and I knew than and there that I would have done anything for her. Smiling, she climbed on top of me and it was paradise.

After we were done, after all the love I was capable of making had been made, after the pillow talk in which things were said that were sweet and emotional and ultimately meaningless, Tatum gathered her nightgown and went back to her bed. I understood her not wanting the children to find her in arms in the morning, but a small piece of me was sad.

My head swam with a million thoughts, my heart filled with far too many emotions, and that combined with the feeling that something wasn’t right, meant there was no sleep for me tonight. I was so preoccupied that I hadn’t heard it at first. The sound. The jingling of keys.

I went silent, straining my ears—moments passed. It couldn’t have been him with a set of keys. Surely Tatum would have changed the locks. Then it happened again. The sound of a key sliding in a lock. I sat bolt upright on the sofa, eyes scanning the darkness for a weapon. Remote controls, game console controllers, DVDs—the candy dish! It was no gun, but glass and solid enough to damage a skull.

I stared into the dark hallway from the living room entranceway. The sound of the doorknob turning. The door opened a crack and light spilled in from the apartment building hallway. An arm slipped in through the crack. It held something wire-like. A hanger? The tip of the hooked wire scratched at the door until it found purchase. The handle for the security chain. It slid across the groove slowly until the chain fell away.

I should have acted then. I should have rushed the door, slammed his arm in it, put my full weight against the door, held him there and called the police for them to cart him away. But I was held in place by a tense moment that locked inside of me. Instinct had taken over. So had the fear.

The intruder’s silhouette appeared in the doorway before the door clicked shut behind him, plunging the hall back into darkness. Footsteps, slow and deliberate. The floorboards creaked as if they were screaming a warning.

Then I heard a rustling come from the kids’ room. Had they heard the noise? Were they coming to investigate? Something snapped inside me. This bastard wasn’t going to harm the kids!

I charged into the darkness until I collided with the intruder. But as angry and determined as I was, it was no match for his explosive violence. He heaved me into the air and threw me on the floor, punched and kicked me and I had no defense, I put my arms up but they blocked none of his attack.

He wrapped his hands around my throat and I flailed spastically to get him off me as I gasped for the air that had been cut off from me.

I was overcome with fear but my body was overcome with instinct. My limbs simply tried anything they could to free my throat so I could breathe. But the intruder was having none of it. He slammed my head against the floor in a violent demonstration of his control over me as I gasped my last remaining breaths.

Then light flooded the room. Tatum and the children stood at the end of the hall, staring at me. My emotions were mixed. I wanted them to go away, I didn’t want them to see me like this. I wanted them to get to safety, but on the other hand, I wanted them to help me. I didn’t want to die.

But there was something in the way they looked at me, something that told me things weren’t right. And I looked up at the intruder—

Who was no longer there. And now I understood why they were staring at me. Here I was lying on the floor with my own hands wrapped around my neck. It took some effort for me to loosen my grip. I staggered to me feet and tried to explain how Oscar had come back, how he had a key and he broke in and was going to do something terrible to them, but they didn’t understand.

Who was Oscar? they kept asking and, What’s wrong with Daddy? And I told them to stop that, it wasn’t funny anymore, I’m not their father and the looks of genuine hurt danced across their faces. And I ran into the living room and grabbed the photo album for proof and flipped through the pages of—

Tatum and I on vacation. Me posing with her during various stages of her pregnancy. The pair of us a newborn Lee and later with holding a newborn Stacie while Lee lurked somewhere in the background.

I had no recollection of having taken these photos, yet they existed.

And I looked at Stacie and Lee and they were different again, now a mixture of Tatum and I thought I actually saw bits of myself in their faces. The kids asked Tatum what was wrong and she explained that I, Daddy, just had a nightmare, that’s all. She tells them that everything would be all right in the morning, everything back to normal.

And as Tatum ushered me to the bedroom, she grabbed the pillow off the sofa and a something fell onto the floor. It looked like a figure made of folded palm leaves but I couldn’t see it properly because she quickly brushed it under the sofa with her foot. I asked her what that was and she said it was just one of the kids’ toys and she would talk to them about picking up their things tomorrow, or she suggested maybe I should do it, after he got back from Tuesday morning shopping, because she wouldn’t have time since she was staring at a monster of a day down at the law firm tomorrow.

©2013 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

Savior Complex Part 1

Jesus Christ crown of thorns

“You have a messiah complex, got to save the world.” — Dean Koontz, Odd Thomas

I’ve never been much for crowds. People huddled en masse tended to embrace a hive mind of boorishness, which was why I tended to do my shopping early on Tuesday mornings. Less people, less hassle as I collected my weekly provisions, zipped through the express lane and out of the market. But something was wrong today. Tuesday? Yes. Early morning? Yes. Empty supermarket? Not by a long shot.

The aisles crawled with miscreants of every variety. Attention deficit disordered shopping cart pusher that crashed into other carts and people with reckless abandon. Forsaken carts left in the middle of aisles blocking throughways. And cretins on checkout lines that were never properly prepared to simply pay for their items and go.

I contemplated turning around and leaving the shopping for another morning or possibly next Tuesday—surely I could have survived a week on basic rations. But had I left, I wouldn’t have run into Tatum.

Seventeen years since I laid eyes on her last. She was still attractive, more so now, a slender Honduran with mocha skin, shoulder length dreads and a disarming smile. Unlike previous times when I randomly encountered someone from my past on the street and immediately began flipping through the card catalog in my mind for any excuse to walk away, I was actually pleased to see her. In that moment of reciting the usual social pleasantries by rote, all the negative history hadn’t existed. Just heart-warming nostalgia.

Her smiled never wavered as she told me her life hadn’t turned out quite the way she planned. When we were together, she studied to be a lawyer. Now, she worked as a marketing senior manager for a cosmetics firm, was the mother of two, a girl and a boy, nine and thirteen years old respectively, who were fathered by a deadbeat boyfriend who ditched both the wedding and his kids in one fell swoop.

I had no idea how long we stood there, blocking the aisle much to the ire of the other shoppers, nor did I care. For the first time in quite a while I honestly enjoyed exchanging words with a person who wasn’t trapped within the confines of a television set. But all good things, as they say—so, we exchanged numbers, promised each other we’d call and went our separate ways.

And on my way home, the strangest nagging notion crept up from the back of my mind: had we been able to work things out all those many years ago, her life might have turned out differently. Better. Then came the guilt as if my absence was somehow responsible for the direction her life took. And on the tail of the guilt came the shame for not being a better boyfriend to her and a better person in general.

I promptly crumpled up her number and kicked it down a storm drain. Neither she nor I needed to be reminded of what might have been.

Less than a week later, once I had time to regret trashing her phone number, she called with an invitation to have lunch and meet her children. I wasn’t keen on the latter, but I wanted to see her again.

We met at a faux Italian restaurant, a fast food chain done up in dime store décor to give the eatery a stereotypical taste of Italy, and I had to admit that I didn’t mind her kids all that much. They were a bit unruly, but what children weren’t at those ages? Although I felt a little awkward being interrogated by her brood, it was nice being in Tatum’s company again. I experienced a level of comfort in her presence that oddly felt like home.

That was, until her daughter, Tracie, asked, “Did you and Mommy have S-E-X?” as if spelling the word somehow made the question safe to ask.

Confirmed bachelor that I was, I wasn’t comfortable chatting with a nine-year-old about sex. I had no idea what the proper protocol was, so I turned to Tatum and with a look, asked, Did we have S-E-X, Mommy?

Without batting an eye, Tatum answered, “Yes. We had sex.”

Was that how it was done nowadays? Was it the norm for ex-boyfriends to be brought to lunch with the kiddies to openly discuss their sexual history? I was still reeling from that exchange when her son, Lee, chimed in, “You could be our Dad!”

The old one-two punch. These kids worked me over like a speed bag. They laughed at my embarrassment and I tried to play it off, but it unnerved me on a deep level. The rest of the conversation was down hill after that, in terms of my personal discomfort, I meant. We got on well enough, the four of us, better than expected, and when we said our goodbyes after lunch, I was hit with another weird sensation—jealousy. Because her children weren’t our children, in her family there was no place setting for me. It only lasted an instant but long enough for it to have registered.

I tried to put things into perspective, tried to remember why our relationship ended in the first place, it wasn’t a build up of all the minor things, the petty annoyances that masked the underlying truth that people simply grew apart. If I was honest, it was the Santeria. I told her I didn’t believe in things like that and it was the truth, but the other truth was that it scared a pert of me that I didn’t want to acknowledge.

It wasn’t Tatum practicing rituals so much as her mother. That woman hated me the moment she clamped eyes on me, no rhyme, no reason, just pure unadulterated hatred. For some reason I hadn’t measured up to her exacting standards of what constituted a proper boyfriend for her daughter and she never bothered hiding the fact. She came over to our apartment constantly and after she left, I would find things hidden around the house, under the bed, in the refrigerator. Santeria objects everywhere.

One day when I had come home early, I walked in on a Santeria ritual. Everyone clad in white, drummers, talking to the gods, played their specific beat, eyes closed in a trance while robed dancers chanted in the ancient Yoruba as they spun and shook off the evil eye.

And there, in the center of the room, was Tatum’s mother, who looked at me like I was a burglar. She walked in ever expanding circles while smoking a cigar and blew smoke in my face as she spoke in tongues.

I moved out of the apartment that night and never looked back. Depending on how you looked at it, her mother’s spell actually worked. I was out of her daughter’s life.

I kept this firmly in mind when Tatum phoned and invited around hers for dinner. I accepted the invitation, mind you, but I kept the incident with her mother firmly in mind. It had been a month of Sundays since I had a proper home cooked meal because no one in their right mind would have called what I did cooking.

Tatum greeted me at the door, apron on, dusted with flour and seasonings, a happy homemaking in full effect. The kids were in the kitchen and to my astonishment were finishing up washing the dishes. They dried their hands before they ran up and hugged me. I looked into their faces and something seemed off. Their smiles were too wide, teeth too white and there was something unnatural about the intensity in their eyes. And their faces looked different. They still possessed features that were reminiscent of Tatum but the rest was somehow different, incomplete, faces in transition. I chalked it up to being over-tired and thought no more of it.

Dinner went well. Who knew Tatum could have been such a gracious hostess? The kids made the meal a pleasant experience, as well. They stopped bickering and playing with their food when I asked them to, laughed at my jokes and listened with rapt attention as he talked about the time I met their mother.

When dinner was over we sat in the living room. The apartment was too small for two growing kids but Tatum had arranged everything in a way that made it feel roomy, as though it was a real house.

To Be Continued…

©2013 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

The Gedankenexperiment of Speculative Fiction

“Funny, they made this new genre called Speculative Fiction, I thought all fiction had always been speculative.” ― Teri Louise Kelly

Once upon a time, science fiction fell into disrepute. The genre once considered the literature of ideas that explored the consequences of scientific innovations and discussed the philosophical ideas of identity, morality, and social structure became little more than a dumping ground for poorly written stories bereft of creativity. When readers began griping about content and authors sought a means to escape the mainstream critics’ prejudices associated with the genre, an older, forgotten term was plucked from obscurity, dusted off, and put into play:

Speculative fiction.

Largely thought to have been coined by Robert A. Heinlein in a 1947 issue of The Saturday Evening Post as a synonym for science fiction, the term can actually be cited as far back as 1889. But in the 1960s, it helped classify the New Wave movement stories that were characterized by a focus on soft science and a high degree of experimentation. Sadly, the term fell into disuse around the mid-1970s.

When it reemerged in the 2000s, it became a convenient collective term for a set of genres including, but not limited to science fiction, fantasy, horror, weird fiction, superhero fiction, supernatural fiction, utopian and dystopian fiction, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, and alternate history.

And with that bit of history in our rear-view mirror, let’s get on with the crunchy bits, shall we? Understanding that what works for me may not work for some, submitted for your approval, here is my short and uncomplicated list of suggestions to help you wrap your writerly noggin around the rules for creating a solid spec-fic piece:

1. Your story foundation is comprised of two ingredients. First up: Plot aka Worldbuilding.

Worldbuilding is a term popularized at science fiction writers’ workshops in the 1970s, and it does exactly what it says on the tin: it’s the process of constructing an imaginary world and/or entire fictional universe from the planet up, or the universe down, or a combination of both. Consider it the ultimate backstory for your piece as you develop history, create geographical maps, and define ecology.

Building from the planet up is the devil in the details approach, where most of your attention will be focused on local geography, culture, social structure, government, politics, commerce, and history.

When you’re building from the universe down, you paint your creation with broad strokes such as the overview of a world, its inhabitants (civilizations, and nations), technology level (key for determining cities, and towns), major geographic features (such as continents), climate, and history, adding the appropriate level of detail as you go along.

2. The second plot foundation ingredient: Characterization.

The protagonist, in a spec-fic setting, generally tends to either be a phenomenal person in banal circumstances or a normal person in bizarre circumstances, and the reason should be obvious as their very presence causes a disruption in their respective environments.

Should you decide to go the phenomenal person route, realize that perfect characters are boring. You should always feel the need to infuse your characters with the juices that makes them tasty to your audience. Yes, we’re talking about giving them flaws–or weaknesses–that come in either one of two shades:

  • A Psychological Weakness: A character trait (pride, cowardice, vengeance, distrust, etc.) within the protagonist which is destroying their life.
  • A Moral Weakness: A character flaw that harms the protagonist and those around him/her.

Characters can have more than one flaw and may even possess psychological and moral weaknesses at the same time, but you should try not to overdo it. Although your audience loves seeing broken characters struggling with their flaws, they may walk away if you push the envelope too far.

3. Be mindful of your speculative element.

Whenever you create a world from scratch, even if you’re basing it on the one in which you live, it will feature an element of unreality, or something that wouldn’t be possible in the real world as we know it. Whatever this element is, make sure it’s the context for your story, that it provides a foundation for the plot.

This speculative element is your gedankenexperiment, your hypothesis, theory, or principle that must be thought through to explore its consequence. When you’ve done that, you’ll have created the theme of your piece.

This should be done before you finalize your protagonist and plotline.

4. Keep an eye on the believability gauge.

In truth, this shouldn’t even be on the list because you should know better. How many times have you read a story when something absolutely ridiculous happened that yanked you right out of the moment? Yes, you entered into the story with the knowledge that it was a work of fiction, but every story has a set of rules that should be established upfront and when those rules are broken, your suspension of disbelief shatters along with it.

This especially applies to the laws of physics. Even if your piece contains magic or the technological equivalents of it, you should attempt to explain it as scientifically as you can manage with modified real-world physics. The closer it is to reality, the more believable it becomes.

5. Experiment and test the boundaries and limitations of genres.

I despise the term think outside the box, really I do, so what you should try to do instead is believe there is no box. No box. No limitations. No boundaries. Cherry-pick elements and tropes from other genres. Tell the story from an unusual point of view. Paint yourself into corners and use that brainbox of yours to finagle a way out.

The key here is to get out of the mindset of giving people what you think they want. Not only is that a dangerous game to play, but in all honesty, people who claim to want something new don’t actually know what they’re looking for because they can only judge new by what they’ve had before. Focus instead on giving your audience something unique to chew on, but not hard to swallow.

Number Six is unofficial, but important nonetheless: Have fun.

It’s extremely important that you enjoy the process of writing, as it’s a time-consuming endeavor and let’s face it, that time could be better spent doing something you truly love. And never mind if your writing isn’t great yet, all that matters is that you’re having fun. So just keep pushing that pen and writing your heart out until you put your story on paper.

Sally forth and be gedankenexperimentally writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Related articles:

The Three Characteristics of Successful Fiction

The Short and Short of Flash Fiction

I Question Your Character (and so should you)

Your Writing Says More About Your Character Than You Realize

Suggested speculative fiction reading list:

Strange Wine by Harlan Ellison

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind
Slightly behind and to the left : four stories & three drabbles by Claire Light
The Stone Raft by José Saramago
Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez