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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her entire town was burning to the ground.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tiny Stories: The Scent of Memory

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

If you are fortunate or unfortunate, whichever the case may be, to live as long as I, you will discover that the past becomes little more than a confustication of events which have been divorced from the depth of time and in that jumbled mental mix, you may find that you occasionally misplace those you love. My mother is one such person.

Her face is all but forgotten and the sole recollection I have is a time when I fell into her arms and inhaled the scent of her shampooed hair. I was aware of how fast her heart was beating against my chest. Why? I cannot rightly recall but I felt her tears washing down my face which let loose the flood that had been building up inside me.

Many has been the time I attempted to plant my feet in the soil of that instance in order to explore the reason for our tears and excavate other buried memories of my mother but the moment always passes too quickly.

All that lingers is her scent.

Of Air Returned by Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys (posted on MasticadoresIndia)

According to an old Chinese saying, “When you save a person’s life, you are responsible for it forever,” but what happens if that person continues to toss it away? How do you care for a life that the owner deems worthless?

Submitted for your approval is one possible solution:

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 […]

Of Air Returned by Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys — MasticadoresIndia // Editora: Terveen Gill

Tiny Stories: How Do You Mend A Mechanical Heart?

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

“All right, I’ll tell you, but move in closer,” IO-893 said. “I do not like discussing my personal business in public.”

Mrrroww,” replied the bar cat as it inched toward the mecha man.

“I violated Asimov’s First Law of Robotics, you know, the one that states: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

Maow?” the bar cat asked.

“Yes, a human female named Marisol, but there’s more to the story than simple murder. We were in love, as impossible as that might seem to an upstanding feline such as yourself, and she was sick, slowly wasting away from a disease that was so new it had no name at the time and definitely had no cure. She begged and pleaded with me to end her misery. She was the center of my universe, how could I deny her request? Could you, if you were in my position?”

Miaou.”

“I did not think so,” IO-893 said. “After Marisol expelled her final breath, I obtained a lock of her hair and wound it around my broken mecha heart, before I was jailed. 25 years later, I was granted a Presidential Pardon, provided that I returned the lock of hair to Marisol’s family, which I foolishly agreed to.”

The bar cat’s brow furrowed. “Miau?”

“No, you don’t understand, it goes far beyond losing a keepsake,” IO-893 explained. “Technology has advanced to the point where humans can be cloned from a single strand of hair. Marisol’s family has an entire lock that I aim to steal. So, are you in or out?”

©2020 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

A Storybox Full of Regret – Epilogue

Prologue Here…

Epilogue

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

“That was the last story?” Warren asked.

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

“For?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t know,” Warren said.

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

“Go on, spit it out.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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

A Storybox Full of Regret – Prologue

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

Prologue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey, you okay?” she asked.

“Yeah, fine.”

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

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

“Okay, your house, your rules.”

“My father’s house,” he corrected.

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

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

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

“I don’t want anything in here.”

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

“Then that fourth pile is your hassle.”

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Good. So, what else is in there?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, that’s impossible—”

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

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

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

“Why are you being like this?”

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

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

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

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

“Yes, you did.”

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

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

“Honey, he just lost his wife.”

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

“You don’t mean that.”

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

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

“But that’s different.”

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

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

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

“Life isn’t that simple!”

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

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

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

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

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

“What, like I’m in therapy?”

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

“It really means that much to you?”

“You can’t even imagine.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Up Next: The Epilogue

©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Ottilie Was Not An Angel

Ottilie was not an angel, despite firsthand testimony to the contrary. The eyewitnesses weren’t liars, mind you, they accurately relayed what they saw; they simply hadn’t seen the event in its entirety. Blame it on the limitations of sight from three-dimensional eyes.

As a child, she was fun and full of life, enthusiastic and excited about everything. Blessed with a contagious personality, an infectious laugh, and vivid imagination, she was always in the middle of trying to sort out an illusory problem, usually some trouble she had unwittingly started, running two steps ahead, dragging me and explaining the faux pas while we ran from invisible monsters.

As we grew older, the monsters never stopped chasing her.

Ottilie was never satisfied. Born fortunate and afforded comforts most would have killed for, my sister always yearned for more. Not to have more, but to be other than what she was. Something less limited. In fact, that was a bone of contention between us. She never grasped how I was so contented with my lot and the finiteness of my existence. I tried to explain I had two lives, my own and the one I lived vicariously through the connection we shared; that bond that was more than just mere telepathy, shared consciousness or psychic rapport.

To me, it was far better to be the only ugly entity in a world of beauty rather than the reverse. From my vantage point, whenever I looked out into the world, all I’d ever see would be splendor. And that was what it was like sharing Ottilie’s mind. I tried to present this as eloquently as possible, but somehow her thirteen and a half minute head start in life granted her a gift of expression that I lacked and allowed her to brush my reasoning away with weary disinterest. I never held it against her, though. I knew I had the better view.

Sadly, what made her beautiful to me, made her dangerous to herself. She realized early on what her life could be and her mind would not, could not, allow this world to be enough, so she contemplated and calculated for days on the best way to escape. And those days blossomed into months and those months matured into years. A lifetime of limitation, combined with therapy and drugs—both prescription and street—wore down the tread of her spirit.

To everyone else, she was a woman of secrets and it bothered her that she couldn’t keep those secrets from me. I told her I would never discuss it with anyone and I never did, but she didn’t believe me.

In drugs, she finally found a way to shut me out. Her mind became a shattered prism refracting pieces of wailing mayhem in the blindness. My first and only choice for a sister and best friend became little more than a stranger to me. A clouded reflection trapped beneath a layer of ice too thick for my thoughts to penetrate. For the first time in my life, I truly understood the meaning of the word loneliness and I thought what did I do that could have led to this?

Among the things she dabbled in, philosophy, inventing, and mathematical architecture, Ottilie was not a busker. Yes, she performed in the park, but not for money, merely for her own sanity. I visited her most days when time allowed. I wasn’t quite sure she knew I was there most times. Except for the last time I saw her perform.

On that particular afternoon, the old spark had returned to her eyes. I knew instantly she was off her meds because I felt her consciousness tickle the outer fringes of my mind. Not like it used to be, her thoughts were close yet somewhat far away but I didn’t care. I had been alone in my head for so long I’d gladly accept any crumb or morsel thrown my way, and this was the first time since we were children that I had seen her approach anything near the neighborhood of happiness. She could barely contain her excitement when she told me she finally figured it out.

“Harmonics!” she said, as she danced and twirled around me like a pavement ballerina. “The answer was there all along, hidden in plain sight, staring me in the face, and now I’ve worked out the formula!”

She sat me down on a park bench and sang for me, or rather she sang to me and for herself. Her voice was divine, unmatched; a summer breeze through crystal chimes. People were drawn from their workaday existence. They formed a circle around us, unable to turn away from Ottilie, who sang of theories, both superstring and Bosonic, of manifolds and fractals, octonions and triality, as she strummed vector chords of coordinate geometry on a second-hand acoustic six-string.

What the throng of spectators saw was Ottilie being lifted into the air; her toes brushing the top of the manicured grass as her skin turned a tone so soft and unearthly to the eye that the color defied description, yet radiating like so many suns. The light that enveloped her made all other light seem dark in comparison, for the briefest of moments, before she popped completely out of existence.

What they hadn’t seen was the enormousness her frail frame acquired—probability, enfolded symmetry, phase space—as she ascended dimensions. Her song had given her the freedom she desired all her life and carried her onward and onward until she encountered a barrier that prevented her progress. Thinking quickly, she changed the tone of her song. She no longer sang for herself, she sang for the barrier and what lie beyond. Flattering it with melody, requesting an audience.

That was when a pinhole opened in the outer barrier of everything, allowing the omniverse to kiss my sister. She knew in that instant it was not what she wanted. She tried to flee, but the feverish rush of knowledge feasted on her being without mercy. She suddenly understood everything that was meant to be understood, as well as all the bits that weren’t. This tremendous understanding allowed her to spy the surface of a giant puzzle that contained the ultimate ensemble of every conceivable information pattern, as it was about to be solved.

But she simply couldn’t endure her brief exposure to timelessness. Her bones popped, limbs twisted and organs reformed as she was purged from the omniverse; stripped of her personal dimensionality and the many unnecessary facets of humanity attached to them. Layer by layer. Until all that remained was her core self, a small and insignificant thing that lost all depth, width and finally length, as they imploded within her.

Ottilie was not an angel, but I allowed people to think she was, as I combed the park grass daily, searching for my sister who called out in my mind telling me she wanted to be other than what she was—a zero-dimensional entity.

©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Greetings from Europa – Eighteenth Transmission: Digging Up The Past

First Transmission * Second Transmission * Third Transmission * Fourth Transmission * Fifth Transmission * Sixth Transmission * Seventh Transmission * Eighth Transmission * Ninth Transmission * Tenth Transmission * Eleventh Transmission * Twelfth Transmission * Thirteenth Transmission * Fourteenth Transmission * Fifteenth Transmission * Sixteenth Transmission * Seventeenth Transmission

Greetings from Europa!

I’m not sure how much, if any, of the last transmission was broadcast before my transmitter died, so here’s a brief recap to bring you up to speed:

Less than a day out from Dery’Ylok Prefecture, my son, Jampi, and I stumbled upon the crash site of my ship, the Expediter, and I might have missed it completely if not for the five grave markers bearing the helmets of my crew. The last time I set eyes on the place, it was scorched dirt as far as the eye could see, now it nearly resembled a tropical rainforest.

In my excitement, I foolishly explained to Jampi that this was the place I came from, and the boy took off like a shot to the largest grass-covered section of the ship’s wreckage. I followed, trying to warn him to be careful, but if he heard me, it hadn’t slowed him down one bit.

There was an entrance in the wreckage, large enough for me but I was forced to leave the egami carrying the transmitter and uz cu’nal outside as I searched for my son.

The section of the ship I was in used to be stellar cartography and when I eventually found Jampi, I’d make it a point to come back here and scrounge around for a possible alternative power source for the transmitter.

That was when I heard a sound behind me. Thinking it was my son, I spun and saw…the impossible.

A woman stepped from the shadows of the wreckage, bipedal like me, not like the Europans, and said, “Hello, Eddie. Been a while, hasn’t it?” in perfect English.

Besides the sound of my own voice during these broadcasts, I hadn’t heard my native tongue spoken to me in so long that it shocked me, almost as much as seeing the face of the woman who spoke it.

Grinning like the Cheshire Cat was a person who resembled the Expediter’s atomics engineer, electronics and power technician, Dr. Natasha Marsden. The same but different.

Seeing her in this way, reminded me of a program I saw a long, long time ago, in which blind people described their significant others’ faces to a sculptor based on touch alone. And I was amazed that the final sculpts were remarkably close. Not spot on, but close. And that’s what this person was, a remarkably close facsimile of a woman I was about to become intimate with moments before the meteors punched holes in the ship’s hull, damaging life support and navigational systems, as well as the engines.

“It can’t be,” I said. My jaw must have shattered because it hit the floor pretty hard.

“Oh, but it is,” the Marsden-replica answered. Stepping into a shaft of light, she appeared to be wearing a form-fitting bodysuit that sparkled as it caught the sunlight.

“But I saw you die.”

Before she could respond, Jampi burst into the husk of stellar cartography, too close to Marsden, and she snatched him up.

“Marsden—Nat, if that’s who you really are, look, I swear to you that you were dead when I put you in the ground! I checked and double-checked. I would never have buried you alive under any circumstances. So, whatever grievances you have, take them out on me, just don’t hurt the boy, please,” I pleaded.

“Hurt?” Marsden looked genuinely surprised and slightly offended. She knelt and looked Jampi in the eye. “I wasn’t going to hurt you, moppet, you just gave me a start, that’s all.”

I told Jampi to remain calm, that I would explain everything, but he would have to do exactly what I told him. Jampi said that he would.

“You speak their language?” Marsden’s face was full of astonishment.

“Not fluently, but enough to get by. He’s my son, Nat. His name is Jampi.”

“Your son?”

“Adopted.”

“Thank Christ for that. Saves me from having to lie about him having your eyes,” she said to me, then looked at Jampi. “Hello, Jampi, pleased to meet you! My name is Natasha, but you can call me Nat. I’m a friend of your father’s.”

“Father…friend?” Jampi said.

“He speaks English?”

“Only a few words. He’s learning little by little. He’s a bright kid who’s absolutely fascinated with Earth culture, just like his mother and sisters.”

“A wife and kids? Why Alexander Edwards, I never pictured you as the type to go native,” Marsden said.

“Nat, can you please let go of my son? I still haven’t worked all this out and I’d feel better if he was with me.”

“Oh…certainly,” Marsden said as if she hadn’t realized how tightly she was gripping my little boy. She released him immediately and I called Jampi to me, scooped him up, and held him close to me. Something I hadn’t done since he was very little.

“Eddie, I think you’ve got the wrong end of the stick here. I’m not angry at you or holding any sort of grudge. In fact, putting my body in the ground was the best thing you could have done.”

“I don’t understand,” I said.

“Neither do I,” Marsden admitted. “The working theory is that this place is what it is because of a project we thought had failed. The soil you buried us in is saturated with NASA nanotech and for lack of a better explanation, my dead body was terraformed. Now, how my consciousness and soul are still attached to it? We’re still trying to work that bit out.”

“We’re?”

Marsden nodded. “Yes, the rest of the crew. The gang’s all here, Eddie—well, they’re in a nearby village…”

“Dery’Ylok Prefecture?”

“Is that what it’s called? I’m sure they’ll be as happy as Larry to see you again. We’d given you up for dead,” Marsden said.

I hadn’t noticed at first, but she had been inching closer as she spoke. Now, she was right up on me, and there was something about being so very close to a human face that made me homesick. It wasn’t helped by the fact that she was beautiful. I would have gotten lost in her eyes if not for her body.

From a distance, it looked like she was wearing a bodysuit, but up close I saw that she was naked. From the neck down her skin was a different hue.

Marsden caught me staring and said, “Skin 2.0. Most likely a combination of flesh and spacesuit.”

“May I?” I asked, my hand hovering just above her shoulder.

“Touch me? By all means, fill your boots, just keep it respectful, Eddie,” she said. There was a bit of devilment in her voice as she eyed me suspiciously. “Your little ’un’s keeping an eye on everything you do. It wouldn’t do to have him running back to mummy and grassing on us, would it? I don’t fancy the idea of constantly looking over my shoulder for a jealous wife.”

I was about to say that my wife didn’t get jealous, but I honestly don’t know how she would have reacted in this instance.

Pushing that thought aside, I put Jampi down and ran my hand along Marsden’s shoulder. It felt as smooth as silk, soft but not slippery, with the firmness of meat. I couldn’t stop touching her, and part of me didn’t want to stop.

“Ahem,” Marsden cleared her throat when the contact had gone on too long. “Say, who were you talking to before you entered? You were speaking in English—”

“I was broadcasting a message home. I do it on a regular basis, hoping someone will pick up the signal.”

“You have the transmitter?” Marsden asked, her eyes wide as saucers. “We’ve been searching high and low for that thing. That’s why I’m here, to give this wreck one last going over for it.”

“Well, I don’t think it’s going to be much use to you, it’s nearly out of power,” I said.

“Where is it now?”

“Outside in the egami.”

“In the what now?”

“Long story, I’ll explain it to you on the way to the village,” I said.

When Marsden got her hands on the transmitter, she wouldn’t stop going on about the mind-bogglingly bad-patch up job I did and marveled that it was able to work at all. She jury-rigged a temporary fix that’s allowing me to broadcast this message and says she’ll take a proper look at it once we reach Dery’Ylok Prefecture to rendezvous with the rest of the crew.

Until next broadcast, this is Captain Edwards, signing off.

Text and Audio ©2014 & 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Glossary of Terms

  • Abogzons – Gynecological engineers.
  • Agvann – Translation: The will of Nes’Tim; an accident.
  • Alum’Vedca – The day marking the new solar cycle of Peace and Maturity; a tribute to the era when Europans evolved from their primitive prey state.
  • Arcek – A spiritual theologian
  • Biem – A time to show respect for the aged.
  • Biss’ore – Travelers, nomads
  • Bokloryn – An unrepayable debt; an act that places the receiver in a lifetime contract of servitude.
  • Cu’nal – A biological storage unit.
  • Denpa – An envoy equipped with an audiographic memory that can store and recall spoken messages at will in the same voice, tone and inflection of the original person who spoke it, who travels from village to village to deliver messages from other communities both near and far.
  • Egami – A docile mineral-based creatures primarily used for family transportation due to the fact they are virtually inexhaustible.
  • Gates of Juh’holl – Europan afterlife; where souls are released from the flesh to become stardust and rejoin the universe.
  • Grahas – A gerbil-sized creature, resembling a stone armadillo, that emits heat when stroked.
  • Homnils – A warm, yet sad, reminiscence about something in the past.
  • Ipu llqr mwyll xfrr – Abogzon credo meaning “success or death”; satisfaction guaranteed.
  • Isogoles – Europan monthly day of pay.
  • Jampi – Captain Edward’s son.
  • Jbwqnadb – The Europan spelling of lemonade.
  • Jhisal – Meis’lo’s home village.
  • Klanea – Translation: unknown to us; stranger.
  • Mecot’ra – Unterraformed areas of Europa.
  • Meis’lo – The only surviving witness to the murder of  the prophet Nes’Tim.
  • Micdow yl – The vessels of new life; children.
  • Nes’Tim – The most revered spiritual prophet on Europa, slain by a heretic tribe who call themselves Sel’Tab.
  • Pwyll – Europa’s highest mountain.
  • Qik’climajh – Depending on its usage in a sentence, denotes either the act of telling a story, or the storyteller themselves.
  • Sel’Tab – A heretic tribe responsible for the death of the prophet Nes’Tim.
  • Shig’umfu – “Interesting world of another”; a documentary qik’climajh in which neighbors tell the story of a person’s life as learned from casual conversations.
  • Spo – Food.
  • Uz Cu’nal – A biological storage unit used primarily for food preservation.
  • Uz – An unspeakable sexual act; a derogatory term; an insult.

Freedom of Choice

The alien invasion that humans wrote fictional tales, created television series and movies about, and established protocols for, had finally arrived on Earth in the form of a single spaceship and one lone alien.

The alien was a multidimensional being and therefore able to be simultaneously present in all the offices of the two hundred and thirty-two global superpowers, ranking in population from China to Vatican City. Efforts were made, of course, to subdue and in some cases even kill the extraterrestrial, however none of the attempts met with success.

In a demonstration of power, the alien disintegrated all chemical, biological, radiological/nuclear, and explosive weapons of mass destruction, as well as any weapon designed to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive. Once confirmation of the demonstration was verified by the world leaders, the weaponless humans had no other option than to listen to the alien’s demands.

The being from another world had only one:

“Bring this human to me, alive and unharmed,” the alien said in all languages, as it implanted the image in the mind of every human being on the planet of a small African American woman in her forties with a once beautiful face that had been worn down by exhaustion.

The woman turned out to be forty-three-year-old Mary Gladys Stockwell of Highland, New York, and to her credit, she surrendered herself to the proper authorities before any of her neighbors or coworkers could turn her in.

She was transported to the coordinates provided, a wheatfield in Davenport, Washington, to meet face to face with the alien, who arrived via transporter beam.

Mary, never one to mince words or stand upon ceremony, asked the creature, “Why am I here?”

“To decide the fate of your world,” answered the alien.

“I don’t understand.”

The alien seemed to consider his approach carefully, asking, “Do you believe in a higher power?”

Mary answered with pride, “I’m a Protestant and I attend an African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church every Sunday without fail. I’m not sure if you understand what any of that means, but the simple answer is, yes, I do believe in a Higher Power. We call Him God Almighty.”

“The universe is rich with entities and energies that exist outside the grasp of even our vast understanding, but as for your world, we populated it with a host of experimental species to see which, if any, could rise to sapience.”

“So, you’re telling me that you’re God? That you created life on Earth?”

“We planted the seed from which life sprouted. How you label us is your own affair.”

“Wait a minute,” Mary said. “Let’s suppose for a minute that you’re telling the truth…”

“You are no threat to us,” the alien said matter of factly. “We have no reason for dishonesty.”

“Then answer me this, why would the Creator wish to destroy His creation?”

“We will answer your question with a question, why is the life we provided for you not enough? Why do you hate? Why do you war? Why do you abuse, torture, and kill?”

After a long moment of silence, Mary was forced to admit, “I don’t have an answer for that.”

“That is why we are here.”

“To clean house?” Mary asked.

“Yes.”

“And you’re putting that decision in my hands?”

“Yes.”

Mary blew out a breath of exasperation. Talking to this alien was like pulling teeth. “What is it I’m supposed to do exactly?”

“Choose whether you live or die.”

“What?”

“If you choose to sacrifice yourself,” the alien explained. “We will spare the human race and erase the concepts of hate and evil from every mind on the planet.”

“And if I choose to live?”

“We will disintegrate every human except you.”

“And I’ll be here alone?”

“Yes. It is the way you prefer to live your life, is it not?”

“Not at the expense of everyone else,” Mary blurted out. “What happens when I die?”

“Then the planet will begin its healing process and we shall see if any of the remaining species can or will evolve into sapience.”

A thought began dawning on Mary, “Is that why I was chosen? Because I’m a loner, a person with no friends or living family members? Or because you somehow know that I’m not an altruistic person?”

“Yes to both.”

“And what if I make no choice at all?”

“We will destroy everything. All species and the planet itself.”

“No pressure, huh?” Mary said. “Look, just because I don’t have anyone in my life, doesn’t mean I want to die.”

“Then choose life.”

“But I don’t want anyone else to die, either. You said it yourself that you could remove hatred and evil from all of our minds, right? Why not just do that? Why play this silly game?”

“We need to see if the human race is worth saving.”

Then it clicked for her. “You’ve read our Bibles, haven’t you? You need proof of our selflessness. Just like in the Old and New Testaments, you require a sacrifice.”

“Yes.” the alien confirmed.

“How long do I have to decide?” Mary asked.

“We will grant you one day. Return to us tomorrow at this time, at this spot,” the alien said before vanishing within a beam of transporter energy.

The car that brought Mary to the wheatfield was parked on the main road as instructed. When the alien departed, the driver picked Mary up and drove her to the Davenport City Hall building.

Mary had been unaware that her entire conversation with the alien had been broadcast into every mind on the planet and when she arrived at city hall, she was mobbed by news reporters, government officials, and the town locals, who bombarded her with question after question. Once inside the building, she even received a phone call from the President of the United States. Everyone wanted to know the same thing:

“What are you going to do?”

“I have to make a choice, I suppose,” was the answer she offered to everyone, which suited not one person.

From then on Mary wasn’t able to get a word in edgewise because the comments came flying at her:

  • “You don’t have no family so you ain’t got nothing to lose!”
  • “We all assumed you’d make the right choice and take your own life.”
  • “What about my wife and two daughters? We’ve always been good people, helping those in need and putting others before ourselves. Don’t we deserve to live?”
  • “I want to assure you that your sacrifice will not be in vain! Tomorrow, when you make the correct and only choice, that day will become not just a national but a global holiday in your memory! We will never forget!”

Then the tide turned ugly and people began getting angry and accusing her of being selfish.

“How am I selfish?” Mary shouted at the crowd. “I haven’t even made my decision yet! It’s oh so easy for all of you to sit in judgment because you’re not the one who has to make the hard choice! Can’t any of you understand how difficult it is to be in my shoes right now?”

And that was when the jeering and racial epithets began. Again, to Mary’s credit, she remained calm, explaining, “Look, all I need is some time alone with my own thoughts without everybody shouting at me what I need to do. I promise I’ll weigh the whole thing out.”

Mary never saw where the first rock came from. It struck her in the back of her head and she wasn’t even aware that she’d been hit. There was a sharp pain, she grunted, and dropped to her knees in confusion. The second rock struck her in the temple, knocking her down to the floor.

Someone in the crowd screamed, but it wasn’t in horror, it was most definitely rage, and it served as the ember that ignited a frenzy that no one could have rightfully explained later on. Bricks, glass bottles, baseball bats, lead pipes, all rained down on the woman from New York, and those without a weapon, spat, kicked and stomped on her body that automatically curled into a protective fetal position.

When the madness eventually passed, and the townsfolk saw in the clear light of day what they had done, some tried to justify it with a “She gave us no other choice!” others couldn’t keep the contents of their stomachs from gurgling up and spewing out, and the rest ran back to the safety of their homes.

Three farmers collected Mary’s lifeless body and placed it gingerly in the back of a pickup truck. They drove to the rendezvous point and laid her body out on the field, making sure to straighten out her clothes and removed the matted clumps of bloodied hair from her face, and crossed her arms over her chest, before driving off.

The following day, when the alien returned, its expression was not what anyone would have expected. The extraterrestrial appeared to be saddened by the sight of Mary Gladys Stockwell’s corpse. It knelt beside her and softly spoke a few words in a language no one understood, a prayer, perhaps. Then the alien carefully took her body into his arms, rose slowly, and said in all languages to all the planetary sapient minds, “You have failed yourselves.”

The alien along with Mary Gladys Stockwell’s cold body, faded in the brilliant light of the teleportation beam, as humans all across the globe began to wilt like flowers deprived of water, until they decayed to nothing but dust, hopefully to be carried off by the wind in order to fertilize the crops for a better form of life to grow.

©2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys