Of Air Returned

images

i.

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

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

ii.

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

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

iii.

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

iv.

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

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

v.

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

vi.

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

vii.

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

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

There was no real choice.

viii.

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

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

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

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

Mother.

©1988 – 2019 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

Savior Complex

images (2)

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

I’ve never been much for crowds, not even as a child. People huddled en masse tended to embrace a hive mind of boorishness, which was why I tended to do all my necessities shopping early on Tuesday mornings. Fewer people and less hassle as I collected my weekly provisions, zipped through the express lane, out of the market and on to the next chore on my list that required social navigation. But something wasn’t quite right today. Tuesday? Of course. Early morning? Naturally. Empty supermarket? Not by a long shot.

The aisles were crawling with miscreants of every possible variety. Attention deficit disordered shoppers who treated their shopping cart like cars out of a Fast and Furious film crashed into other carts and shoppers with reckless abandon in search of the ever elusive sale of nearing-their-sell-by-date items they probably had no practical use for; forsaken carts parked in the middle of aisles blocking throughways and creating bumper to bumper trolley traffic; and coupon carrying cretins stalling checkout lines because they hadn’t quite mastered the simple art of having payment in hand for their items and beating a hasty retreat out into the open plains of the parking lot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I tried to put things into perspective, tried to remember why our relationship ended in the first place, it wasn’t a build up of all the minor things, the petty annoyances that masked the underlying truth that people simply grew apart. If I was honest, it was the Santería, the Afro-Cuban ritualistic and ceremonial worship of saints her family practiced religiously that rubbed me the wrong way. She asked how I felt about it and I told her I didn’t believe in things like that and it was the truth, but the other truth, the deeper truth, was that it scared a part of me that I didn’t want to acknowledge.

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

One day when I arrived home early with the intention of whipping up a surprise dinner for Tatum when she got off from work, I walked in on Tatum’s mother and sisters in the middle of a Santeria ritual. There were others with them, perhaps family members I hadn’t met or just fellow practitioners, all clad in white. Drummers talked to the saints, playing their specific beat, eyes closed in a trance while robed dancers chanted in ancient Yoruba as they spun and shook off the evil eye.

And in the center of the living room, Tatum’s mother stared at me like I was a burglar, like I was the thing that didn’t belong in my own home. Before I knew, the last of my resolve evaporated and I began yelling for her and everyone else to get the hell out of my apartment, jabbing my finger in the air at her for emphasis. The old woman ignored me and she walked in ever-expanding circles while smoking a cigar that smelled of things I’d never smelled before and blew smoke in my face as she spoke in tongues. It made me gag and start to cough. I clutched at my throat and lost consciousness to the sight of Tatum’s mother and sisters laughing at me.

When I came to and Tatum arrived home, I told her what happened and she called her mother on the phone. After a lengthy conversation, she said she understood how things must have seemed and apologized for not telling me she allowed them to use the apartment while we were out but ultimately she sided with her family over me.

That was all it took. I moved out of the apartment that night and never looked back. Depending on how you looked at it, if her mother was casting a spell to get rid of me, it actually worked because I was out of her daughter’s life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was like trying to put out a fire with gasoline. Oscar lost his mind and no manner of reasoning calmed him. I showed him my cell phone, made sure he had seen me dial 911 and only then as he weighed the options in his mind did he leave, but not before he made his threats. He would be back, to kill me, get his kids and make Tatum pay.

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

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

When the tension of the evening finally loosened its grip and I began drifting off, Tatum came to me. Without uttering a word, she slid her nightgown off her shoulders and let it fall to her ankles. Why hadn’t I ever noticed just how perfect she was before? She stood there, naked and beautiful in the moonlight that poured in from the living room window, and I knew then and there that I would have done anything for her. Smiling, she climbed on top of me and it was paradise.

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

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

I strained my ears, trying to locate the noise again. After a few moments of silence, I wondered if it had just been my overactive imagination. It couldn’t have been him with a set of keys, surely Tatum would have changed the locks. Then it happened again. The sound of a key sliding into a lock. I sat bolt upright on the sofa, eyes scanning the darkness for a weapon. Remote controls, game console controllers, DVDs—the candy dish! It was no gun, but the glass was solid enough to crack a skull.

I stared into the dark hallway from the living room entranceway and heard the front doorknob turning. The door opened a crack and light spilled in from the apartment building’s hallway. An arm slipped in through the crack holding a hooked wire, perhaps a piece of a clothes hanger, that scratched at the door until it found purchase in the handle of the security chain which it then dragged along the track slowly until the chain fell away.

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

The intruder’s silhouette appeared in the doorway before the door clicked shut behind him, plunging the hall back into darkness. Footsteps, slow and deliberate. The floorboards creaked as if they were screaming a warning. I threw the candy dish with all my might into the darkness and knew that I missed my target completely when I heard it crash off the front door and glass rained down on the floor.

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

I charged into the darkness until I collided with the intruder. But as angry and determined as I was, I was no match for his explosive violence. He heaved me into the air and threw me onto the floor, unleashing a hail of punches and kicks that knocked me senseless. I put my arms up to protect my face and instinctively curled into a ball but my defensive position blocked none of his attacks.

He must have sensed how weak I was, what a uselessly pathetic man he was dealing with because he stopped hitting me and chose instead to wrap his hands around my throat. I flailed spastically to get him off as I gasped for air but the intruder was having none of it. He slammed my head against the floor in a violent demonstration of his control over me as I gasped my last remaining breaths.

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

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

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

“Who’s Oscar?” the kids asked and, “What’s wrong with Daddy?”

“Stop that! It isn’t funny anymore!” I tried to yell through a raw throat. “I’m not your father!”

A genuine look of pain danced across Tracie and Lee’s faces as they turned to Tatum, asking, “Why is he saying this, Mommy? Why is he acting so strange?”

And I was feeling strange like my entire world had suddenly shifted on its axis.

“I can prove it,” I said as I ran past them into the living room and grabbed the photo album for proof and flipped through the pages of—

Tatum and I on vacation. Me posing with her during various stages of both her pregnancies. The pair of us cradling a newborn Lee and later with us holding a newborn Tracie while Lee lurked in the background pulling a silly face.

These weren’t the pictures I had seen earlier and I had no recollection of having taken these photos, yet they existed.

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

After Tatum swept up the shattered candy dish, she began to usher me to the bedroom, grabbing the pillow off the sofa when something fell to the floor, something that had been resting under the pillow. It looked like a figure made of red-tinged folded palm leaves, bound together by hair but I couldn’t see it properly because she quickly brushed it under the sofa with her foot. I asked her what it was and she said it was just one of the kids’ toys and she would talk to them about picking up their things, or she suggested maybe I should do it, after I got back from Tuesday morning shopping, because she wouldn’t have time since she was staring at a monster of a day down at the law firm tomorrow.

©2013-2019 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Madd Fictional presents “Unwritten Stories That Will Never See The Light of Day” (maybe)

Prodigy. Genius. Talented. Gifted. Blessed. While it’s true these words describe yours truly to a T, there are times when greatness does not come easily (no, really, it’s true) and some of the ideas that spill forth from my gray matter fall far afield of the greatness for which I am currently known (if I have to label this as sarcasm you are instructed to take a seat at the back of the class until such time as you are able to purchase a clue).

Most of these hideas (hideous ideas) are forgotten as quickly as they appear, but there are a handful, a select few, that hang around and claim squatter’s rights on mental real estate better suited to my magnum opus(es).

This post shall serve as an eviction notice, with the hope that given some minor attention, the ideas will pack their belongings and fuck the fuck off back to obscurity.

image

Venusian Gender Non-Specific Martians From The Moon

The year is 1938 and the United States launches a rocketship with the secret mission of sending settlers to stake claim to Earth’s moon for America. Upon their arrival, the lunar settlers stumble upon the satellite’s indigenous lifeform, Venusian Martians (the exiled offspring which resulted from the great Venus Mars Conflict) who do not identify by gender. The settlers also learn of a Venusian Gender Non-Specific Martian plot to invade Earth and mine the planet for the most precious energy source in the galaxy… human sex chromosomes!

image

Trouser Snakes On A Dame

Samantha Jackson, an asexual parking enforcement officer, is trapped in an interplanetary shuttle full of horny extraterrestrial businessmen during the rush hour commute and is forced to take on car after car of deadly, one-eyed snakes, deliberately unzipped to deflower any virgin who dares stand in their way of spacejacking the shuttle to the nearest pleasure planet!

I am sick and tired of these masturfapping trouser snakes on this mother loving dame!

image

Pocket Rocket To The Stars

It’s 1937 and America is looking for alternative fuel and power sources. Enter female rocket scientist, Hedda DiClasse, who builds a rocketship powered by the ever elusive and once thought to be mythical female orgasm. Problems arise when Captain Manuel “All Man” Hardbody is brought aboard to pilot the vessel despite the fact he possesses too much testosterone. Can he and Dr. DiClasse put aside their differences and come together to ride that rocket into the Milky Way?

image

I Was A Teenage Neanderthal Bride

Ooba wan’t going to be told whom she would marry, especially with all the potential Cro Magnon suitors running around, with their promises of a newer, better way of life. But even as she discovers the perfect homo erectus, she finds herself torn between pursuing her wondrous new life or saving her old life and her family from extinction.

image

If Books Could Kill

A single mother gives her daughter a popular children’s book, only to discover that it is possessed with the soul of her recently murdered serial killer husband who’s out for revenge.

image

Firstborn

A viral outbreak renders the human race infertile and in order to cheat death, the top scientists and surgeons turn to the works of Victor Frankenstein until generations later, the world is nothing but frankenpeople, but when a frankenwoman gets pregnant and gives birth, the planet will stop at nothing to dissect the newborn.

image

Gym Rat Blue

Five unbelievably attractive rookie cops who look as though they spend every waking moment at the gym, have just graduated from the police academy in a nondescript city that could be New York but is probably somewhere in Canada. Now that training’s over and the rough and tumble life of a beat cop begins, they must learn not only to deal with their duties as police officers, but also deal with the problems and expectation of their severely dysfunctional families and friends, while maintaining their unnatural good looks, even after being shot. Pose, pout, protect and serve is the name of the game at the One-Oh-Sex Precinct.

image

Let Go Of My Ears, I Know What I’m Doing

We never need talk about this story or its title ever again. Sorry I even mentioned it Move along, nothing to see here.

Sally forth and be repurposing your less than stellar story ideasingly writeful.

©2014 – 2019 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

Vacancies, Vacancies Everywhere, Yet None of Them For Me

no-vacancies

My secret self—the bit of me that hides in plain sight just behind a corner of reality—has been wandering my memory palace of late, searching for an empty room in which to steal a bit of solitude for I sometimes need to swaddle my internal dialogue in silence when even the quietest place on earth can offer me no rest.

You might have surmised correctly that I’ve been met with very little success.

Oh, there are rooms aplenty in which I enjoy the occasional lounge-about, each filled with bric-à-brac I’ve accumulated along the way. Items or concepts or vagueries that may or may not find their way into a story, plot germs that piqued my interest for one reason or another, displayed neatly on shelves beside those things kept precious, but each of these pieces of me gives off unique vibrations that assault my mind’s ear like anamnestic tinnitus.

A few of my unused characters who can afford the steep rent have made the suggestions that I either choose my favorite among them to room with or take turns bunking with every one of them for short periods as not to overstay my welcome.

But that really isn’t my style. I like the idea of knowing where characters are so that I might visit them and engage in brief social interactions when I’m in the mood, and leave them to their own devices when I’ve had my fill. And although I am quite capable of being alone in a crowded room, I cannot find solitude with people around, not even the people in my mind, the ones that I have breathed life into.

My irritation at not being able to claim residence in a place that I have been constructing since childhood is beginning to infect other areas of my life. My current location annoys me. My inability to write annoys me. The presence of other people annoys me. The sameness of the day annoys me. Even my annoyance at everything annoys me.

And so Wednesday comes ’round and I am attempting to build a new foundation for the memory palace extension on the lone and level sands of ground-down ideas, in a new territory where the old housing rules may not apply. Eventually, when my hoarder nature reveals itself and this section of the palace becomes filled with miscellanea most likely better left forgotten…

I’ll repeat the process. Search for my own patch of solitude. Light a candle and still curse the darkness. Build another room. And fill it with possessions that squeeze me to the point of eviction.

But until then, sally forth and be buying me a nice room-warming giftingly writeful.

©2014 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

 

JCBMX or One Set of Footprints (Alongside a Set of Tire Tracks)

christ-on-a-bike

For as long as I can remember, my mind has been a hornet’s nest of thoughts, worries, stories, alternative timelines in which I live the dream and face the consequences for daring to do so. It gets to be maddening every once in a while. To calm the hornets to a dull buzz, I often take brisk long walks, always alone, except today.

There’s a saying you grow accustomed to when you live in El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río de Porciúncula: straight out of Central Casting, which applies to a person who happens to strongly match a particular stereotype.

My guest on today’s journey was Christ on a bike.

The man, in his thirties, kept pace with me on his bicycle for a bit before flagging my attention, as I was otherwise occupied by my trusty dusty travel companion, ye olde iPod.

Before he said a word, my first thought was, Man, he looks just like the actor who played Jesus in that Son of God film. Long hair. Mustache and beard that teetered on the edge of becoming unkempt. No white robe, though, this cycling prophet rocked a denim shirt and jeans, but he did pedal in open-toed sandals.

He stated who he was, but as I am the infamous forgetter of names, I’ll simply refer to him as Jay. Polite enough, he attempted to engage me in conversation, but as I’m a New Yorker born and bred, whenever a stranger approaches me, I’m predisposed to assume they either want money or trouble. This go-round I placed my bet on money and smirked, thinking, You’re seriously barking up the wrong tree here, dude. Turns out I was wrong on both counts. All he was interested in knowing was if I had “a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?

Doesn’t take knowing me for long to realize I cannot abide proselytizing. It always carries an air of condescension, despite the best intentions of the Born Again speaker. Once you’ve asked and I tell you I’m not interested, your following action should be to move along to the next hopeful convert. This almost never happens. But as I said, Jay was polite, so I let him cycle through his spiel, occasionally answering

  • Yes, I’ve read the Bible, but I can’t quote chapter and verse.
  • No, I haven’t accepted the Lord into my heart, just as I don’t take in any of the other belief systems I don’t embrace.
  • Yes, I’ve heard the saying, the greatest trick Lucifer ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.

Clearly, the standard approach wasn’t working, so Jay switched gears and attempted to relate to a wretch like me. Turns out he, too, had fallen from the path of righteousness, lost his way and his faith in The Almighty, and it wasn’t until he was in his thirties (thirty-three, perhaps?) that a man approached him in a similar manner, directed by God to save a particular soul. Not once, but thrice did Jay try to stop me in my tracks and get me to pray with him in order to receive an instant release of all the burdens in my life. And like Peter, I denied him three times.

When it was evident that I wasn’t going to break stride, even if just to be rid of him, Jay shifted to the movie route. He offered me the red pill/blue pill Matrix option, tried to twist my melon with the Inception angle of this life being Man’s dream within Satan’s dream within God’s dream, before going off on a Jacob’s Ladder tangent that he couldn’t quite bring around to make his point. To his credit he didn’t challenge me with that time-honored favorite, “You don’t believe in God because you can’t see Him, but you believe in air and you can’t see that, right?

But eventually, he did ask, “Well, if you don’t have faith in God, what do you believe in?

I believe I’m not smart enough.” I answered, as I always did whenever anyone bothered to ask. But it’s a poorly constructed answer that required clarification. I should change it, but it had become an almost automatic response at this point. That, and I’m just too damned lazy to do so.

Expanded, my response is:

I, myself, am a non-spiritual entity who believes that when it comes to the origin of things–the universe, life, etc.–that I am simply not smart enough to know the truth. And when I say I, taking the full weight of ignorance upon myself, I actually mean we as in mankind or peoplekind or whatever passes for politically correct phrasing nowadays. This does not, however, mean that I do not applaud attempts to gain answers, I’m just not satisfied with any of the options presented to date.

And that’s not just with religion. Creationism versus evolution? I’ve got no dog in that fight. I proudly ride the ignorance fence when it comes to our humble beginnings because, in my opinion, religion and science both offer up a series of theories yet to be proven as fact.

You believe differently? Good on you. I sincerely hope that works out for you, sincerely hope you’re right, and sincerely hope you receive your reward for being righteous.

I’m not in the habit of knocking people’s spiritual beliefs. It’s none of my concern what system you choose to embrace, and with all due respect, I couldn’t care less who or what you worship. Totally your business and I’m cool with it all, especially if it gives your life some sort of balance and leads you to do no harm.

This isn’t to say that I don’t find the Bible a fascinating read, but I view it as–again, no offense intended–mythology. Same as with Greek, Celtic, Aztec, African, etc. writings that deal with the human experience in relation to the worshiping of gods. I also enjoy apocryphal and pseudepigraphal texts, all of which eventually finds its way into my work.

Jay didn’t agree with a lick of this blasphemous nonsense and after a good forty-five minutes of loggerhead debate, he gave the “stop and pray with me” one last-ditch effort. When I refused, he gave me God’s blessing and cycled off politely as he arrived.

So, in honor of the noble efforts of Jay, today, I urge you all to sally forth and be true to your own belief systemingly writeful (and should you wish to add this sinner to your prayers, I surely won’t stop you).

©2014 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

 

Tales From The Set: “Call My Ex, Please?”

In order to support myself until I acquire the fortune that is my birthright, I’ve had to secure employment working background — also known as being an extra.

Greys 1019The simplest game of Where’s Waldo ever. Look for the clever clog in the gray suit on the left blocking his face with his own champagne glass. A star in the making.

As I have no aspirations of being an actor, I’m pretty easygoing regarding my placement in the crowd. Tucked behind tall people? Facing away from the camera? Set in a position farthest from the principal actors? Not a problem. I’m glad to be working and I kinda like being on set and watching the crew set up shots. Other perks include:

  • Absolutely no acting ability is required (thankfully)
  • Being booked on a series or feature gets me out of the house and breaks the monotony of my average day
  • I get to slip into the skins of different people (hospital administrator, construction worker, churchgoer)
  • I’ve seen myself on TV three times to date (freeze frame is my best friend)

The downside?

  • The pay could be better (but I’m non-union, so dem’s da breaks)
  • Lugging around your own wardrobe (always bring at least two options) on public transportation (guess who never learned to drive?) can be cumbersome
  • The hurry up and wait… and wait… and wait… and wait… can wear on your patience, especially later in the day
  • Craft services for extras is a bit of a dice roll
  • And sometimes other background actors. Not all, mind you, you come across some interesting people chock full of stories and experiences who are willing to let you pick their brains… then there are the others.

Before I get to the meat of the nutshell, I need to set the stage. Picture a room that holds one thousand people. Only one person in that thousand is crazy. Do you know how you’d be able to spot the nutjob? It would be the only person speaking to me. Got it? Good. Let’s proceed.

On my most recent outing, I was in extras holding (just as it says on the tin — a place where background actor lounge about while they wait to be called to set) minding my own business, when an attractive young woman stood close to me and started speaking. She clearly wasn’t looking at me, so I followed her eyeline to see if she was perhaps conversing with someone behind me. Nope. no one there. So, I assumed she invited her imaginary friend to the set to keep her company, and shrugged it off.

For the record, I do not discriminate against people with invisible friends as I know full well the difficulty in making and maintaining worthwhile friendships, imaginary or otherwise. That, and I once dated a woman whose older sister was pretty chummy with Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Pluto and the rest and they would often go on Magic Kingdom adventures in the solitude of her bedroom.

A story for another day.

But this woman kept repeating the same sentence, loud enough for me to hear, but no one watching would ever accuse us of having a conversation. Like we were secret agents who daren’t risk breaking our cover, she was giving me the sign and awaited the countersign.

You’re not the first one to live in a strange place with strange people, nor the last,” she repeated.

I looked at her. She, however, refused to make eye contact and simply waited for my reply. Never one to resist the urge to poke the mental tiger, I finally said, “Sometimes it feels that way, though.”

The sluice gates were opened and I wasn’t prepared for the rush of conversation headed my way. Among the many topics she introduced:

  • How women are Christlike when they menstruate, as they suffer for mankind.
  • How she’s happy not to be dancing for biker gangs anymore.
  • How pigeons are truly blessed and carry our prayer up to heaven.
  • How she gave up selling subscriptions to a specialist magazine for ukelele players because she made a decision not to give up her integrity for money.
  • How the government was concealing the fact that chicken fried steak was the cure for cancer.
  • How her stepfather used to send Chinese pornography to her Toy Yorkie.
  • How July always smelled like shades of red.
  • How okra smells like sex before you cook it.

And a host of others I can’t recall at the moment (I’m sure they’ll haunt my nightmares). Throughout the day, I tried my best to avoid her. Trips to the restroom, striking up conversations with strangers, hiding within crowds of people, but she always managed to sniff me out and made other people uncomfortable to the point they drifted away and gave us space. I had been designated friend-of-mental and no one wanted any part of providing me shelter.

After the scene I was in wrapped for the day, I stood in line for one of the shuttle vans to take me from the set to base camp. Okra-Sex-Smell-Girl was nowhere in sight and as the van pulled up I thought I’d made my getaway. But the Transportation Captain held the van because there was still an available seat. I know I don’t need to tell you who the seat was next to, or who filled it.

Okra-Sex looked straight ahead. To my knowledge, her eyes never once fell on me. I was an entity that existed in her peripheral vision. “Can you call my ex from your phone, please?” she asked.

What? No.” Okay, not the best response, but she blindsided me.

Please? I tried calling him but he won’t pick up the phone, probably because he recognizes my number. I think he’s still mad at me. I just want to make sure he’s okay because my friend threatened to beat him up.”

Call your friend and ask him if he beat up your ex.” Mystery solved. Columbo was on the case.

He wouldn’t tell me if he did. He knows I’d be upset.”

I shrugged an oh, well.

You’re not going to call?” She seemed genuinely surprised.

Nope. Not happening.” By this time I stopped looking at her, as well, figuring maybe the cold shoulder would silence her for the rest of the ride. As if.

Why not?”

Hmmm, because not my ex, not my problem?”

But he doesn’t know you. When he answers, just say you dialed the wrong number or something. Then tell me if he sounds beaten up or not.”

If he sounds beaten up. Under different circumstances, I might have let the exchange play out a little longer, but it had been a long day and I was tired and hungry, so the best I could manage was, “What did I say? No? Then that’s what I meant,” before I officially checked out of the conversation.

Not that it mattered. Even without my participation, her side of the discussion continued without skipping a beat:

If you call, I won’t have to stop by his house tonight. You’d be doing me a big favor.”

You’re so mean.

Do you think I should just leave my ex alone?”

Well, you obviously don’t know what being in love is like.”

I’d do it for you. Do you have somebody you want me to call? Give me your phone, I’ll do it.”

And it went on like that for the entirety of the trip. When we reached our destination, she smiled, still not looking my way and said, “Thanks, for being sweet.” Maybe it was my imagination but as she walked away I thought I detected a spring in her step, like she’d made her decision on what needed to be done.

Since then, I’ve been following the local news for reports of a lovers tiff gone horribly wrong in a room that reeked of sex… or maybe uncooked okra.

Sally forth and be careful which mental tiger you go pokingly writeful.

©2014 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

Open Mic Nite

Staten Island is easily my least favorite of New York’s five boroughs and there ain’t a damned thing I miss about it. Okay, there is one thing. A pub. A tiny mom and pop tavern with that everybody knows your name ambiance that I didn’t discover until the final two of my nine-year stint on the isle. Bored, I popped in for a quick pint and stumbled upon Thursday karaoke night. It made my stay in hell a little more tolerable.

Shortly after leaving Staten Island, I found myself in Los Angeles (that move is a story in itself, believe me) and I’d been casually searching for a neighborhood tavern with a similar vibe. A drinking hole that was non-touristy and non-themed, frequented by locals that had the benefit of being divey without being stabby. And one weekend when I wasn’t even looking for it, I found a contender.

I was on my way home from a day of sightseeing and decided to wet my whistle before hopping on the bus. I used the scientifically proven picking rhyme method of ip, dip, dog shit to select from the three bars within my line of sight.

I chose the smallest of the three and when I opened the door, a guy was suddenly in my face, “Hey, cabrón, you didn’t even say what’s up, cabrón, da fuck’s up with that, cabrón?” Before I could respond, he got in a good look and followed up with, “Oh, sorry, bro, thought you was some other dude.” Less than ten seconds in and no stab wounds to speak of. I knew that I had chosen wisely.

It was a beer joint, not a wine glass in sight, narrow with an alcove for a pool table and video poker machine. The bartender was dive bar attractive (if you’ve ever spent time in a dive bar, you know exactly what I mean), and

  • was on the back end of her forties
  • used to own a restaurant in Santa Clarita
  • had to find a job after her boyfriend dumped her
  • her friend taught her the ropes behind the bar
  • dropped $500 at bartending school
  • went on a dating site that rhymes with No Way Stupid and met a guy
  • on their second date, he took her to Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta) and he promptly turned into a dick, so she dumped him and enjoyed her free 10-day India vacation

I knew all this because as the bartender was draping a vinyl cover over the pool table, she was being bombarded by questions from a woman who hailed from Kew Gardens, New York, and was only in town a few days visiting her parents.

So caught up in this conversation, and patiently awaiting the bartender to take my drink order, I failed to notice the graying, horseshoe bald, rail thin near double for Malcolm McLaren setting up equipment. He wore a faded Led Zeppelin tee, skinny jeans and weathered suede cowboy boots and I hadn’t become aware of his presence until he tuned his guitar and interrupted Sade singing Hallelujah with a “check one, check one, check one.

In Staten Island I had stumbled upon karaoke night, here, according to the handwritten poster behind McLaren’s head, it was Open Mic Nite.

A guy in camouflage walked in, lugging an oversized backpack like he just returned from a tour of duty and placed his name on the sign-up sheet. He was a twitchy fella and at first, I thought it was drugs but he asked the bartender if this was a smoking bar.

She replied, “Dude, this is California. You ain’t gonna find a smoking bar anywhere near here,” which forced Twitchy Backpack to feed his addiction out back in the parking lot.

McLaren took the mic and set the ground rules:

  1. Every artist on the list gets two songs the first round and one song each round after until closing time or everybody runs out of songs.
  2. Originals or covers, all songs were welcomed.

A woman popped her head in, attempting to bum ciggie butts but was promptly told to kick rocks as she was in violation of the No Cigarette Bumming sign plastered on a nearby wall.

McLaren, as the official host, was first up and opened with the joke, “Cherokee, reservation for a thousand. Your land is ready now,” before launching into his folk set.

It’s amazing how the bar cleared out as soon as the open mic went underway. No more than ten people remained and every last one of them was accompanied by a guitar… except for me and Twitchy Backpack.

I’m pretty hazy on all the performers and most of the songs were original but what I can remember is

  • An older gentleman who performed lyrical impressions that all seemed to sound exactly like him.
  • A Russian guy who brought a little R&B to the joint. Not only was his broken English jokes kinda/sorta amusing, but he wasn’t half bad (a compliment coming from me).
  • Twitchy Backpack, who stripped out of his camo jacket down to a filthy white tee with what I assumed was fake blood stains to add a little character. At least I hoped they were fake. He plugged his smartphone in and played a beatbox track that he recorded for his Eminem wannabe set.
  • An African American gym rat who was on a serious John Legend love tip. The three female performers in the remaining crowd loved him.
  • A wet-haired model-type who looked like he just swam there via Dawson’s Creek. He rocked a banjo and stomped on a tambourine as he improvised his way through original songs that he had forgotten the words to.
  • A lyrical comedian who broke out a little ditty rallying against songs about tits and ass and lamented the loss of songs about sweet, juicy pussy (don’t look at me, I didn’t write it).
  • And the all girl, all blonde, all guitar rock band. That’s right, three acoustics. More guitar bang for your buck. Their aim was to resurrect Ska but when their set was done, I still couldn’t detect a pulse.

There were others but as I’ve mentioned before, my memory downgraded to working a part-time job. Anyhoo, all the performers that remained (most departed after the second round) had gone through their material and McLaren tried to squeeze one last song out of the performers but had no takers. He looked my way and asked, “What about you?”

I shook my head. “Not a performer, don’t play an instrument and I sound shitty a cappella.”

Without missing a beat, Dawson’s Creek pulled his banjo out of the zippered bag and chirped, “What are you singing? I’ve got you.”

I’m normally not susceptible to peer pressure, but I’d knocked a few back so I was a little loosey-goosey and the clapping that accompanied the chant, “One song. One song. One song.” was kinda heady.

Know any Billy Idol?” I asked. Dawson’s Creek nodded and I wound up scream-singing White Wedding. to patronizing applause, hooting and hollering.

Although it was closing time and everybody was ready to go home before I took the mic, I preferred to see it as I officially closed the joint. All the other performers were my opening acts and I was the headliner. One song and done. How fucking rock and roll was that?

Shhh. Lemme have this one.

A happy, healthy and prosperous New Year to you few, you brave few, you band of bloggers who take the time to read, like and comment on my stories and random musings.

Catch the lot of you in 2018!

-Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

The Long Haul to Seventy-Five Short Stories

short-story

“I love short stories because I believe they are the way we live. They are what our friends tell us, in their pain and joy, their passion and rage, their yearning and their cry against injustice.” ― Andre Dubus

I began writing when I was young.

Well, back then I drew pictures and wrote little stories beneath them in a prehistoric blog-like fashion. The first story I remember writing was about God. Couldn’t have been more than five years old at the time and I’m sure it wasn’t much of a story. The only reason I remember it is because I was punished for it. Not the story so much as the crayon drawing of God accompanying it. Just a bearded man sitting on a chair in the clouds. To this day I have no idea why it sparked so much anger.

In school, I devoured comic books and my storytelling reflected this as I scribbled comic panels in my composition notebooks and sometimes my textbooks if I ran out of paper. I only shifted gears to prose after Frank Herbert absolutely blew my mind with the first book in his Dune series that I read in the sixth grade to impress a girl named Jeanette Baker.

It was her favorite book.

Ultimately, she wasn’t all that impressed by either me or my ability to read feudal interstellar societal science fiction, but Paul Atreides, The Bene Gesserit, The Fremen, and The Spice Melange left a lasting impression on me.

Unavoidable circumstances after college pulled me away from writing for longer than I’m happy to admit, but today marks the completion of my seventy-fifth short story since I was lured back into writing after reading a copy of Harlan Ellison’s short story collection, Strange Wine, in a public library tucked away in Portsmouth Virginia.

Another mind altering experience, as Harlan introduced me to the world of speculative fiction.

This milestone doesn’t include my detours into graphic novel self-publishing or article writing and short/feature length screenwriting. Nor does it include the many and various unfinished stories that inhabit my Story Box Full of Regret. A handful were sold to a number of low-level zines during the halcyon days of snail mail querying and submissions and only thirteen have been forever filed away in the fad drawer due to outdated themes.

Of the remaining sixty-two stories, only six are so cringe-inducingly bad that I refuse to revise them. They serve as a reminder of just how awful my writing can be when I’m off my game and a yardstick as to how far I’ve come since my far-too-late-in-life return to the medium (no advice please, I’ve already written two posts on the subject and I’m well aware of the ages of the older first published authors).

The forty-five on the rung above are all inspired by actual events, ripped from the pages of my journal—-when I used to keep a journal—-and fictionalized into speculative and science fiction, horror and modern day twisted fairy tale pieces. This was when I followed that old chestnut piece of writing advice, Write what you know. These stories know the terrain well enough since they’ve been around the block a time or two. All they need is a bit of a touch-up, light revision at the most before they make their rounds again. I’m confident they’ll find a home somewhere.

The final eleven are hatchlings, newbie stories that are a tad more introspective and feature solid speculative elements. I’m a proud Papa so I must admit that these tales are my best, though if I had my druthers I would have planted their roots more firmly in the soil of either horror or science fiction instead of having them languish somewhere in the bleed of the two genres.

Of these, four are out for approval which leaves seven that I’m in the midst of revising before they join their brothers and sisters in the cold cruel world. The aim naturally is to send them all out so that can quit bugging me about wanting to be read. They can be so annoying that way.

Thanks for humoring me as I wool-gathered.

One Hell Of An Offer

image

Modestine was aware of the gap in her memory, the section of consciousness that was removed and two separate events seamlessly spliced together in a non-jarring, dream jump-cut fashion.

The first partial memory was of Modestine stepping out of the shower. Her petite foot missed the rubberized shower mat by inches and instead slid along the wet tiled floor. Her vision shifted up toward the ceiling and her eyes locked on the one hundred watt energy saving fluorescent light bulb. The next instant, at the point of the splice, she found herself standing inside a pair of pearlescent gates, as patient as the lamb she was in life.

She was dead, of this there was no doubt. There was also no cause for alarm. She had no memory of either fear, pain or the precise moment of her death. That was the portion that was mercifully removed from her awareness, no doubt to aid in her acceptance of events.

Modestine watched the hubbub of nervous yet joyous chatter and a flurry of feathers as angels tested their wings in the air above her. They flew from structure to structure — she hesitated thinking of the impossibly tall spires as buildings because their various shapes defied her limited perceptions of architecture — getting the lay of the land. Though no one told her, she somehow knew this commotion was normal for the first day of new arrivals in heaven.

While she waited, Modestine’s eyes drifted over to an ornate pulpit offset to the right of the gates. This, she assumed, was where the welcoming saint was supposed to have been stationed, but Peter was nowhere in sight. She noticed a few pages had fallen from the ledger on the pulpit, so she spent a little of the time laying the leafs out, deciding the order they should go in, and locating the exact spots in the book they had fallen from.

Finally, an angel arrived, tall and thin with black horn-rimmed eyeglasses he no longer needed. A remnant of his physical life that he clung to, a misconception that it was a permanent part of his appearance. A trapping that would fade in time. This was yet another thing Modestine had known without being told.

The glasses made the angel look bookwormish and out of place in their surroundings. Then she felt guilty for judging his appearance. Who was she to do this? She, who had always been short and mousy in the physical world, what her mother affectionately called the uns — undertall and unassuming. She wondered what she looked like to him and if the same rules of beauty still applied here.

“Hi, I’m Modestine.” she offered a hand and a smile simultaneously.

Bookworm eyed her head to toe and back to head again, before taking her hand for two firm pumps. He opened his mouth and let out a high-pitched screeching noise, intense enough to rock her celestial molars.

Modestine, who graduated magna cum laude in never let ’em see you sweat university, replied, “Pleased to meet you…” and she tried her best to match the noise he made… but came up a little short. A lot short, actually.

Bookworm let out a burst of short laughs like a semi-automatic weapon. “Just messing with you. My name’s Phil. Welcome to Heaven!”

Modestine didn’t really get the joke but smiled anyway. “Are you here to give me the guided tour?” she asked.

“Heavens no,” Phil replied. “That’ll come later, once all this dies down. Saint Peter sends his apologies, by the way…”

“Oh, that’s no problem at all.”

“I’m here to take you to class.”

“Oh, okay.” Modestine followed behind Phil, a little unsteady on her wings, but through sheer determination managed to keep up.

Phil led her past fields of flora and fauna, the likes of which she could never have dreamed existed and finally into a structure that housed a vast amphitheater that was unmistakably set up like a classroom. Packed to capacity, its seats were filled with the most grotesque and vile creatures imaginable.

“Here you are.” Phil gestured in the direction of the amphitheater and was about to fly off.

“Wait! Wait!” Modestine caught his forearm and pulled him down to eye level. “Where do I sit?”

“At the podium, where else?” Even in Heaven, the duh look had a sting.

“What? Why?”

“Don’t tell me no one let you know?” Phil looked at the class with his best can you believe some people look. “You’re a teacher, right? Or were, before, you know…”

Modestine nodded, “Underprivileged kids. Twelve years.”

“Well…” Phil swept his arm in the direction of the class as if to answer.

“Oh, no… no way. I’m not qualified for this. I barely know what I’m doing here.”

“It’ll come to you as you need. Heaven’s cool that way.”

“But, this class…” Modestine whispered. “Not to be rude but what are they?”

“Our version of underprivileged students. They’re bussed in every day.”

“From Hell?”

“We tend not to use that term in front of the students. We call it The Basement.” Phil checked the invisible watch on his bare wrist. “Well, I’d love to stay and chat, but I’ve gotta run. Too many new recruits and not enough ushers. You’ll be great. I’ve got a feeling about you.” he smiled and shot into the sky, leaving Modestine’s jaw swinging on its hinges.

The once and now future teacher straightened out her ethereal robe, cleared her throat, turned and faced the class. “Pleased to meet you, class. My name is Modestine. Welcome to Introduction to Heaven.” The name she took off the lesson booklet on the podium. The completely blank lesson booklet. Beside it was the roster. “Hopefully you’re all in your assigned seats because it’s the only way I’m going to learn your names with a class this size.”

Modestine went through the attendance sheet and called her students one by one, each responding with a grunt or bodily noise that she assumed translated as “Present!” When she completed her check, surprisingly every student sat quietly or whispered inaudibly to their neighbor.

“Well, class, as some of you might have figured out, I’m new here, but don’t let that stop you from asking questions. My goal is to teach you everything about heaven, which means I’ll be learning it as you do, and if I don’t know an answer to your question, I’ll do my best to find out as quickly as possible. Today, though, I’m going to outline my expectations of you, and how you’ll be graded.”

The time passed swifter than Modestine had anticipated. Quite frankly she was surprised to be aware of the passing of time at all. For the most part, her students were orderly. A few class clowns, but nothing she couldn’t handle. She’d straighten them out before the course was over.

The entire class watched her closely, she never felt so scrutinized before, and a good deal of the period was spent answering questions about Earth. It wasn’t long before she realized these students were born in Hell and Earth was like some mythical place to them. When the earth questions began dying down, she introduced several icebreaking games before the class broke for recess.

As the class filed out of the amphitheater, some by flight, a few in a puff of eye-watering brimstone, and the rest on cloven feet, one student hung back.

“Miss Modestine,” the young demon said when all the others had left.

“Just Modestine, and, yes… ?” she searched the attendance sheet for the section he came from, hoping one of the names would jog her memory.

The demon shook his head. “You won’t find me on your list. I’m not one of your students.”

“You’re not? Then who… ?”

“Many names have I, from those who live and those who die, but for you, I wish to be known as Mister Thatch.”

Modestine frowned, looking down at this creature who straighten itself in an odd regality. “All right, Mr. Thatch… what is it you want?”

Thatch pulled a file folder from seemingly nowhere and opened it. “Interesting session today. I’m assuming you taught the class off the cuff, as I am unable to identify any of what was discussed in the pre-approved syllabus, correct?”

“As I stated at the beginning of class, this assignment was thrust upon me at the last moment, so if you have any objections…”

“No, please, you mistake my meaning. I’m not here to condemn you, I was simply assessing your performance. It’s what I was hired to do.”

“By whom?”

“Your superiors would call them Basement Management.”

“And do my superiors know you’re here?”

“They should. It would make for a shoddy operation if they didn’t. Now, as to my assessment,” he pulled a document from his folder, stapled in the top left-hand corner. “Here is an offer from my employers for you to teach your course to a larger audience of underprivileged students. Please study it carefully and feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns. Please be aware that agreement to the terms as stipulated in the contract will require you to abandon your post here. Out of curiosity, are you willing to relocate?”

Modestine stared dumbstruck at the professionally worded document in her hands. An immediate and instant “No” rested on the tip of her tongue but never quite made it past her lips, because, in her quick scan, she found a list of perks that tickled each and every one of her many interests, as any temptation worth its salt should have done.

“I’ll need to read this more closely, Mr. Thatch, before I can respond, of course.”

“Of course. I think you’ll find the compensation quite reasonable. If you have questions, you may ask me at any time. We have high expectations and we’re positive you can fulfill them, Miss Modestine.”

“Just Modestine, and why me?”

“You’re new and, as yet, unjaded by the caste system. We look forward to working with you.” Thatch held out a hand, which Modestine took. It was remarkably soft, despite its texture. “Enjoy the rest of your day.”

Modestine watched as the demon simply evaporated from the room. She looked at the contract. Am I willing to relocate? she asked herself as she walked over to her desk, sat and read the agreement more thoroughly. Again, she found it difficult to verbalize the word “No”. Chiefly because she loved working with underprivileged students and they didn’t come more disadvantaged than the denizens of The Basement. The second reason was she’d always preferred warmer climates and there was an odd constant chill to the air in Heaven…

Sally forth and be weighing out your options ’cause heaven ain’t for everybodyingly writeful.

– Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

The Folds of Love

image

When the delivery truck pulls up outside the shop, neither of us look out the window ’cause we know exactly who it is. 12:15 pm on the dot means Department of Tissue Waste Removal. Light load today. Driver only schleps in one body bag.

“You’re up, Mickey.” Jhonni nods my way. “Snag ‘n tag salvageables and dip the rest.”

Mickey. Only other person to ever call me that was my pops. I hated when he did it and I damn sure hate that my boss somehow exposed that raw nerve. He only does it to get a rise outta me, but I ain’t bitin’ so I let it slide this time. My mistake? Tellin’ baldilocks here I prefer bein’ called Michelle.

Snag ‘n tag means I gotta dissect the corpse for salvagables, which are any organs that ain’t completely shot to shit and dip whatever’s left over in the chemical vat for DNA repurposin’ — usually either cosmetic skin grafts, lifelike mannequins for movie stunts or some other bioengineerin’ bullshit I don’t really understand.

I sigh, chuck the rest of the deck onto my game of solitaire — cards weren’t cooperating, no how — and walk over to the body bag. I ain’t squeamish about dead bodies or puttin’ the blade to ’em, but I do have one hangup…

I hear myself mutterin’ before I have a chance to stop it, “Don’tbeadudedon’tbeadudedon’tbeadude…” and when I unzip the bag, guess what? A dude. So’s we’re clear, I gots no prob flaying a man, it’s just that chick thing that does me in. You gals know what I’m talking about.

Every man a woman meets, she sizes him up and decides if she’d throw him one. Sex, I mean. Young, old, fat, skinny, short, tall… alive or dead, you rate ’em. Would you do ’em, could you do ’em and under what circumstances? A dare? Boredom? For the story? Only me, I got this vivid imagination, see, and when I come across a mutilated dude, I see myself having sex with him. And no, I ain’t no nekkidphiliac, they’re very much alive in my scenarios, just all banged up, pardon the expression.

This one, Ethan Garner, by the toe tag, was tore up from the floor up. Anythin’ worth savin’ would be an innard and not one that’d bring high market value, either. Somethin’ nickel and dime like an appendix, spleen, or some shit.

The fluorescents buzz overhead and sweat breaks out on my forehead as I hear Ethan groan beneath me in my mind’s eye. Think of a dude I know, think of a dude I know. No good. Where’s my iPod? I need a distraction.

The cause of death is listed as Industrial Misadventure which meant poor old Ethan was mangled by machinery, probably one of them press and fold jobbers. His body looks like a bedsheet fresh out the package, tucked up all tight into a tidy square. How the hell am I going to get inside to harvest organs?

I put a little elbow grease into it, dig my fingers into a crease — an armpit, maybe? — and try to pry it apart. Bones creak and skin pulls apart from skin with the sound of moist velcro. I’m sweatin’ buckets now, cause in my head, Ethan is givin’ me the workout of a lifetime, only I can’t see his face so it’s like doing it with a Hot Pocket with a hard-on. Focus, Mickey! Focus! Damn, now that bastard’s got me doin’ it.

With the back of my blade, I scrape away the dried blood, which there’s plenty of, and I find a seam. That’s right, a goddammed seam! Now, I wasn’t exactly top of my class in Biology, but I’m kinda certain the human body don’t come equipped with seams. But I’m curious about this so I make my first cut along Ethan’s unnatural hem.

My fingers move into the cut and part skin. I tilt the swing arm lamp to get a better view and the light catches somethin’ that makes my stomach hitch. Whoever bagged this on scene fucked up big time, which I suppose is kinda-sorta understandable, given the unusual nature of the cause of death, but if I reported it, it’d probably cost that slob their job. The Office of Forensic Affairs forgives a ton of infractions, unfortunately, body count ain’t one of ’em. This was incorrectly listed as a single, when Ethan here, is wrapped around a whole other body.

The second body’s a smaller one, a girl, judging by the tiny pink-painted fingernails, and in the middle of a splatter of brain matter is a child-sized tiara, pressed between them like a flower in a book. The sex visions with Ethan stop instantly and my stomach heaves as I try not to hurl.

My jumpsuit is dripping with sweat and it clings to my clammy body to the point it makes my skin crawl. And then my trusty dusty brain, with its wonderful imagination, kicks into overdrive and I play the story of their final moments.

Ethan works — worked — works in laundry services. It’s bring your daughter to work day. Maybe he’s a weekend dad that doesn’t get to spend enough quality time with his baby girl and he fights the court order and pushes for this until he’s able to negotiate terms.

So he brings her to his job and she insists on wearing the little princess halloween costume, the one with the tiara, and he can’t say no because she is his little princess. Things are going great and he tells her to be careful and stick close to him, but he gets distracted for a moment, maybe by his boss about special instructions on a rush job or somethin’.

The little girl tries to be good and listen to her daddy, but curiosity gets the better of her and she climbs on a piece of machinery she shouldn’t climbin’ and Ethan’s dad-alarm goes off and he spots her, losing her balance and he runs for her… runs and dives with no care for his own safety and he manages to grab hold of her but it’s too late and they both fall into the machine before his coworkers can hit the shut off switch.

So, Ethan does the only thing he knows to do… he wraps himself around the little girl and folds her in his love, as the machine does what it’s designed to do.

It probably ain’t even in the same neighborhood as the actual events, but even though my story is most likely bullshit, it’s still real to me. it’s what I choose to believe.

And it breaks my heart ’cause that’s how I wish it was with me and my pop, but after moms died, we can’t be in the same room for ten minutes without it breakin’ into some big production. I know he means well, but who the hell is he to give me instructions on how I should live my life? Holder the Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition Lifetime Achievement Award, is who.

I carefully harvest the tiara and clean body residue out of every nook and cranny. Then I place the plastic jewelry on a towel and carefully fold it into the best presentable package I can manage.

“Fuck’re you doing over there, Mickey?” Jhonni says over his shoulder.

And suddenly I can’t do this anymore, not just Ethan and this nameless little girl, but any of it. I peel the sopping wet jumpsuit off me and throw it at my boss. “Quitin’ is what I’m doin’.” Correction, my ex-boss.

I take the tiara package over to the phone and search the directory for Forensic Affairs. “And it’s Michelle, by the way, you fat piece of garbage. Call me outside my name again and somebody’ll be unzippin’ you from one of those bags.”

I expect a response, an argument, a something… but he just sits there and takes it quietly. Makes me think this isn’t the first time somethin’ like this has happened.

I dial the number. Do I feel sorry for the person about to lose their job? Sure, but fuck ’em. There’re more important matters at hand. There’s a family that needs reunitin’.

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll make another call after this one. It has been a while since I spoke to the old man, after all.

Sally forth and be folding them what you care for into your lovingly writeful.

– Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License