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

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

Duchess and the Anecdote

Duchess“Art to me is an anecdote of the spirit, and the only means of making concrete the purpose of its varied quickness and stillness.” —– Mark Rothko

They come from miles around, my characters do, traveling the great distance from the fringes of my minds eye, some even making the long and arduous haul from my childhood, just to sit and talk. They do this whenever I’m alone.

As they gather ’round, I cast an eye upon their many and various faces and can’t help but feel the slightest twinge of remorse. Being in my company, locked within the confines of my imagination, is not wholly unlike a purgatory for them. A holding pattern, a waiting room, where they converse amongst themselves in voices audible only to myself, trying to catch my attention in the slimmest hope of being set free. Birthed into a story.

Some are fresh meat, the rest lifers, each easily spotted by the differences in their appearance and the strength of their voices. Fresh meats are gossamers—newly formed characters, little more than a stack of traits—who shout in whispers. Lifers, on the other hand, are as fleshed out as you or I, perhaps even more so, who have acquired the proper pitch and turn of phrase to catch me unawares during the times when my mind idles.

Before the talks begin–serious conversation, not the normal natterings they engage in–a flying thing the size of a butterfly, jewel toned blue stripes, greenish gold spots, with flecks of silver on the wings, lands in the palm of my outstretched hand.

What is that, then?” a childlike voice asks from somewhere deep in the crowd, low to the ground. I recognize it instantly.

It’s an anecdote, Duchess. Come see for yourself.” I reply, as the creature’s wings beat softly on my palm.

The throng–my personal rogues gallery whose roster includes reputables and reprobates alike–part like the Red Sea, making way for the most noble of all serval cats, The Duchess.

An antidote? Have you been poisoned?” The Duchess queries as she saunters into the open space, a dollop of concern gleaming in her vivid blue eyes.

I try to not laugh, partly out of respect, but mostly due to the fact that though she is the eldest of my unused characters, she is technically still but a kitten. “No, Duchess, it’s an anecdote, as in a short, amusing or interesting story about a person or an incident.

I know full well what an anecdote is, thank you kindly. I was merely attempting to lighten the dreadfully somber mood with a bit of levity.” Not her best faux pas cover, but it was swift, which should count for something. As casually as she could manage, the kitten turned to see if anyone found amusement at her expense. No one did. They knew better. “May I hold it?

I hesitate and stare at the leapling. Created on February 29th all those many years ago, it was my rationale–on paper–for keeping her a kitten, seeing as she had fewer birthdays, she would naturally age at a decelerated rate. The actuality is I have an affinity for kittens. For full grown cats? Not so much. And now the dilemma is if her kittenish nature should come into play and, without meaning to, cause injury to the anecdote, then all this would be for naught.

Her eyes plead with all the promise of being good and I have no choice but to relent. “It’s fragile, so be gentle. Take care not to crush it.” I gently place the anecdote in her cupped paws.

Why does one need an anecdote?” The Duchess of Albion asked, her nose twitching whenever the creature moves its wings.

To tell a proper story.” I answer. “More than just a sequence of actions, anecdotes are the purest form of the story itself.

But I thought characters are at the heart of every great story?

They are and anecdotes connect the hearts and minds of those characters to a story.” I try to feign calm but I can see the kitten’s body tensing up. Her eyes, those glorious baby blues, are studying the creature closely. Was I wrong in my decision to trust that she rules her instincts and not the other way around?

They also add suspense to your story, giving the audience a sense that something is about to happen. If you use them right, you can start raising questions right at the beginning of your story—something that urges your audience to stay with you. By raising a question, you imply that you will provide your audience with the answers. And you can keep doing this as long as you remember to answer all the questions you raise.

The kitten’s breath becomes rapid and her paws close in around the anecdote and I want to cry out, urge her to stop, but it’s far beyond that point now. She is in control of her own fate. Canines bare themselves, paws pulling the creature closer to her mouth.

No!” she shakes her head violently. Her ears relax and her mouth closes as her breathing returns to normal. Then, the oddest thing happens…

The Duchess begins to vanish. All the characters look on in a dazed silence, uncertain how to react.

What is happening to me?” she shoots me a panicked glance as cohesion abandons her form.

Haven’t you sussed it out yet?

No… I’m scared!

Don’t be.” I smile. “Look around you. You’re at the heart of a story. You’re free.

Truly?” she is suddenly overwhelmed with delight, her expression priceless. “But — but what do I do with the anecdote now?

Open your paws, let it fly off.

She unfolds her paws. Tiny wings beat their path to freedom. Then someone from the back of the crowd gives The Duchess a slow clap. Soon, others join in, building into a tidal wave of applause.

The now translucent Duchess waves a tearful thank you to the crowd, before turning back to me with a request, “Say my name.

Why?

Because you always simply address me Duchess and I want to hear you call me by my full name one last time before I g– —

And just like that, she was gone.

I bid you a fond farewell, Your Grace the Duchess of Albion Gwenore del Septima Calvina Hilaria Urbana Felicitus-Jayne Verina y de Fannia. Enjoy your journey. You will be missed.

Sally forth and be writeful.

©2013 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

Every Picture Tells A Story, Though Not Always A Good One

It’s easy to put the boots to M. Night Shyamalan whenever he debuts a new film, but the fact of the matter is as long as Lady In The Water, The Happening and The Last Airbender exist, After Earth will never be considered his worst film.

The story, conceived by Will Smith while he was watching an episode of I Shouldn’t Be Alive, was originally meant to tell the tale of a father and son crashing their car in some remote region, and the son having to venture into rough terrain to get rescue for his father. Will later changed it to:

after-earth-1a

A crash landing leaves Kitai Raige and his father Cypher stranded on Earth, 1,000 years after events forced humanity’s escape. With Cypher injured, Kitai must embark on a perilous journey to signal for help.

It’s a simple story, which is what you should strive for when creating fiction. So, why doesn’t it work (apart from the wooden acting and bizarre futuristic southern military accents)? What storytelling lessons can you learn from After Earth?

1. When good exposition goes bad – Avoiding exposition is nigh-impossible when dealing with science fiction set in the future. In the case of After Earth, the audience needs to be brought up to speed on why humans fled the planet one thousand years ago, as well as being introduced to the new homeworld, Nova Prime. And that’s where it should end. Everything else the audience needs to know should be introduced organically. The one thing you should not use your opening expository scene for is telegraphing the solution for the climax of the story. It’s lazy and a cheat.

2. The protagonist/antagonist relationship – Even with coming of age stories, which After Earth is—–well, that and a motivational speech dressed up as a sci-fi actioner—–the strength and audience interest lies in the conflict found in the relationship between the protagonist and antagonist. The reason After Earth doesn’t ring true isn’t because the protagonist, Kitai, is weak—possessing a weakness that must be overcome is exactly what any good story needs.

The first problem is the antagonist. The thing that combats Kitai in the film is nature—which is filled with its fair share of animal and insect nasties (plus one blast from Kitai’s past, conveniently placed to help him arc properly)—but it doesn’t oppose him. There isn’t one beast that stalks him with animal cunning and outflanks him at every turn, with the ultimate goal of turning him into a tasty morsel. The wilderness isn’t planting snares and death traps in his path to prevent him from reaching his destination.

Not that either of those scenarios are particularly original or great, but something else is needed than to have Kitai stumble and bumble his way through unfamiliar and dangerous terrain. I would have been more invested if he actively tried to outwit the environment and was constantly met with defeat. At least then he would have gained some insight. We learn from mistakes.

Which is the problem I had with the resolution. At the all is lost stage, Kitai suddenly masters the gimmick that allows him to prevail in the end. Without obtaining the wisdom or acquiring the experience to properly do so. And again, it’s a cheat and lazy storytelling.

3. Telegraphing – Some writers mistake this with foreshadowing—the act of dropping hints about certain plot developments that will come to be later in the story. The difference between them? Telegraphing is giving away too much, too soon, thereby ruining the suspense, or the impact of the event.

Before using foreshadowing, have a good think. Is it necessary to heighten the tension? It can be difficult knowing which side of the line you’re on, so if you’re attempting to foreshadow, you should ask yourself if there’s any chance the audience can predict what you’re hinting at? If the answer is yes, take a good look around. You’re standing in telegraph territory. Try a subtler approach.

4. Flashbacks – It’s amazing how many screenwriters still get this wrong by thinking flashback sequences serve the purpose of filling in plot holes in the past. A well-constructed flashback should always move the story forward. Always. If your flashback doesn’t accomplish this, you need to rework your story and find a way to introduce whatever bit of information is missing from your plot.

In After Earth, we have dueling flashback sequences, one set belonging to Cypher which explains his estrangement from his son and the other set telegraphing Kitai’s final obstacle. Nether of these string-of-past-event-sequences impact the present day story, nor do they escalate the conflict. The just provide information that could have be delivered during the Act 1 set-up.

Naturally, there are other problems I had with this film, but delving into them would reveal too many spoilers, so I’ll just end the post here. If you happen to see the film and want to discuss it, feel free to comment below or drop me a line.

Sally forth and be writeful.

Sofa Jet City Crisis

SofaWelcome to ‘Lantic City NexGen, the newly renovated gambling mecca, where a 15 year old boy named Hofstra, on the run and desperately trying to prove his manhood, gets caught up in a private war between Buma Willys, a down-on-her-luck cyberspace gambler who’s looking for that one last big score, and Rockne Keobardi, the mob-affiliated casino owner that wants Buma dead!

I owe it all to L. Ron Hubbard. Well, not all of it, but Sofa Jet City Crisis at least.

Back in the revolutionary 80’s I discovered the Dianetics Master of the Universe’s quarterly contest, Writers Of The Future, and made it my mission to collect the contest winnings and build my sci-fi writing empire. I mean, how hard could it be, right? I had various projects in different stages of development scattered about the place, some carbon dating back to the tender age of 11 and I could have dusted any one of them off, given it a spot polish and submitted without breaking a sweat. But I was reading a lot of Harlan Ellison at the time and Mr. E. was fond of telling we silly mortals who hoped to make a career of writing to create a new story every single day. So, I was determined to create a brand spanking new tale for Mr. Hubbard’s competition.

I’m sure you can spot the road signs from here.

The original incarnation of this story dealt with a down-on-his-luck gambler betting against the devil. Convinced it was the best thing I had ever written, I happily mailed it off, sat back and waited for my check to arrive. And I waited. And waited. And waited. No check. What I did receive was a rejection letter from Orson Scott Card, another writer I admired (who doesn’t love Ender’s Game?)

Crushed but not defeated, it was a quarterly contest after all, I flung the story back on the drawing board, put my nose to the grindstone, and swapped out most of the religious mysticism for technology. I couldn’t let go of the devil, though (if I were a spiritual man, that statement might bother me).

Rejected again. Undaunted, I retooled the story, sans Satan this go-round. Rejected. So I tried again. And again. And again. A total of 12 times. 12 rewrites. 12 rejections.

Fast forward some 10 odd years and what did I discover at the bottom of my “someday story box” (a Pinocchio realm for my writing, “Someday, you’ll be a real story.”) and you know what? I didn’t hate it. At this time Peter Laird (half the creative talent behind Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) founded the Xeric Foundation which awarded money to creatives looking to publish their work within the comic industry. After more prodding than I’m willing to admit by then partner, Juanita Hicks, Sofa Jet took a 13th trip to Rewriteville. It was mid 90’s and I was heavily into William Gibson’s cyberpunk movement… so guess what wormed its way into the final draft? Apparently, it was the missing element because I was awarded the prize in 1997.

Special thanks go out to Adam Dekraker for lending his incredible talent to the visuals of this project.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Picture Yourself Being A Better You!

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©2014 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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