Hated Infatuation

There will never be a better time, a more perfect moment than this, so I muster up all the courage I possess and move in, angling my head for a kiss. The expression on her face is beatific. Wisps of hair fall loose from her ponytail and dance across her features and the morning light seems to make her glow. And hidden within her lips is the promise of sweetness and passion that I have been searching for my entire life.

This is the fantasy I’m in love with, of a woman I absolutely despise in real life.

Text and Audio ©2019 & 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Memory Is The Liar That Whispers Fantastic Pasts In Our Ears

Calvin-and-Hobbes-esque-Tiny-litle-snowman-army

“I’m not a liar. I just have a good memory for things that never happened.” ― J.T. Bock

There’s a story I’m fond of telling, about a girl I met in a park during a blizzard. Sad fact of the matter is I don’t remember what she looked like. Not exactly. In my fading memory’s defense, I only saw the bit of her frosty red face that was nestled within the furry ring of her hooded parka. And I’ll admit that my recollection of events might be slightly dramatized and infused with more schmaltzy innocence and devil may care fun, as we built a snow fort to defend ourselves from the invading snow army, but it happened, the girl was real and not some imaginary snow playmate—I’ve had plenty of those, so I know the difference—and a good time was had by all, or at least by me.

The memory gets more Michael Bay-ish with each retelling. It takes on mass and bulks up and challenges me to become a better liar in order to bear its additional weight. But am I actually a liar? If the current version records over the initial memory on the VHS tape in my mind and all I have left is the most recent telling, then I am relaying events as I recall them, no? And why shouldn’t I drape this memory with grace so that it might straighten its back and hold its head higher as it strolls amongst my other remembrances? I am one of only two people who possess this memory and since I cannot verify that the other party is holding up their end, it’s my sworn duty to keep it alive, embellishments and all.

It started out as one of my favorite kind of schooldays, you know, where you wake up and the world outside is completely white and Alice Cooper’s voice is on a continuous loop in your head as you do your victory dance in front of the window, “School’s out forever…

What was that? Just me, then? All right. Good to know.

Anyhoo, after lying about leaving my books at school–thereby avoiding studying to get ahead of the class (perish the thought)–and breezing through my chores, I ventured forth into snowmageddon and discovered… no one else was outside. Oh, sure, people were attempting to dig their cars out, but none of my friends, hell, no one my age was visible in the dense thundersnow.

Cowards, the lot of them!

Undaunted–I wasn’t going back inside, not on a day like this–I trekked to the local park and that was when I saw The Girl. Out on her lonesome, rolling the lower portion of a snowman-to-be with all the intensity of a Winterland Victoria Frankenstein.

When she eventually caught sight of me, she stopped and glared, trying to suss me out. Was I friend or foe? We stood there for ages, still as statues, locked in a silent Mexican Stare Off. She was determined, this one, to wait me out. She had staked claim to this park and I was the trespasser. If we were ever going to come to an accord, I’d have to make the first move. So, I did the only thing I could do in that situation…

I began rolling the middle portion for her snowman. That seemed to be good enough for her.

You ask me what her name was? Well, there are only two words that come to mind when I think about her: amber and hazel. So, either her name was Amber and she had hazel eyes, or she was an amber-eyed Hazel. Perhaps even something in between like Hazamberel or Amhazelber? I can’t rule any options out at this point.

The park was ours and ours alone, we two intrepid children of The Bronx. We laughed in the face of the snowpocalypse and frolicked–as much as our starfish overlayering would allow–and built an ominous snow army that we waged snow war against, plowed through the snow soldiers and beat them down to the ground, before turning on each other in the snowball fight to end all snowball fights, tried to sled downhill on a ratty piece of cardboard, discovered how truly fast squirrels are when we tried to catch one, marveled at how far trees could bend under the weight of snow and made a pact to be friends forever.

I learned that day that pacts are not unbreakable–I never saw Hazamberel again–and just how like a snowflake a memory is.

Not a terribly exciting story to hear, I realize, but I’m not telling it for your enjoyment. I tell it so that I don’t lose it, so that it doesn’t fade any more than it already has from the weathers of time, or become trapped and freezes to death in the hedge maze like Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

That’s part of the duty we owe to our past, to not only remember it but become the architects and build up the bits of the foundation that have crumbled away due to neglect.

So, please stop me if I’ve told you this one before, but once, when I was younger, I met a girl in a blizzard, at least I think it was snowing, maybe it was rain, and her name was some sort of color, Vermillion or Fuchsia, maybe…

Text and Audio ©2014 – 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

8 Simple Rules For Dating My Cthulhuian Daughter

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Hello, Brave Young Suitor

So, your plan is to court my daughter, is it? Please, step inside freely and of your own will. Once I have taken your coat, please make your way to the sitting room and help yourself to some refreshments. Be uninhibited and eat to your heart’s content. Gluttony is not frowned upon in this house. Neither is avarice or wrath, but you will discover all this if you make it past the vetting process.

What was that? My daughter never informed you that her mother and I intend to determine if you qualify to date the precious fruit of our loins? Her mistake. And yours, if you are not afraid. Our daughter is an extension of us and if you underestimate us then you are definitely underestimating her.

Do not be an underestimator.

The rules are simple and as follows:

One.

On the table to the right you will find three forms, one for consent, the second a waiver, and the final a non-disclosure. These must be read fully, initialed in the appropriate fields and signed and dated with the pen provided. When using the pen for the first time, some suitors have complained of a sharp pain in their writing hand. That is quite normal, I assure you. It is simply the pen’s piston converter filling device tapping an artery, as you will be signing in your own blood.

Two.

My wife will administer a unique personality test. Please endeavor to answer all the questions contained within truthfully as The Great Old Ones know when you lie and their retribution shall be swift and merciless. Be aware that we will not be accepting applicants who score below “Severely Aberrated.” Standards must be kept.

Three.

You will be escorted to a subterranean cavern and descend six thousand steps to a pit, seated with a shoggoth and made to read the Necronomicon – fleshbound volumes are available for purchase in my library for the insanely low price of your first born – front to back and back to front. You will do this aloud and the shoggoth will ask you questions at the end of each section to ensure proper comprehension.

Shoggoths are shapeless congeries of protoplasmic bubbles. They are also extremely sensitive about their appearance. Avoid commenting on their faintly self-luminous skin, and the myriad temporary eyes that form and un-form like pustules. This is for your own safety as they are extremely hungry, and they are not herbivores.

Four.

You shall be put through your paces. I will endeavor to push you past the limits of your physical endurance while simultaneously quizzing you to determine your intelligence quotient. Your hormones will be set out of balance and your psyche unraveled, dissected and scrutinized to ensure that you are a suitable suitor. Not to fear. I will reassemble you in the exact manner in which I found you.

More or less.

You have signed a waiver, after all.

Five.

If you have completed the tests successfully, you will join the ranks of prospective suitors at a ceremony in the deep woods, where you will battle one another under the supervision of a protean deity whose name you will have committed to memory by that point.

Important to note: if the idea of death, evisceration, and dining on the organs of slain foes makes you feel even the slightest bit uneasy, perhaps you are not the proper match.

Six.

Once you emerge victorious, and hopefully whole, you must leave old puny mortal faiths by the wayside and choose a new path. Our daughter prefers the Esoteric Order of Dagon, while her mother and I are partial to the Church of Starry Wisdom, but there are others, such as the Brothers of the Yellow Sign, the Cult of the Skull, Chorazos Cult, the Cult of the Bloody Tongue, and so on. Do not be swayed by any of us. The choice is yours.

Nothing involving aliens and volcanoes, though.

Seven.

You must take a blood vow to serve my daughter, though the path will surely lead you into the depths of insanity. You pledge to sacrifice yourself without question in order to continue her existence, if called upon to do so. And you swear to take her hand in yours and spread the entropy until you revive the ancient, powerful deities who once ruled the Earth from their deathlike sleep and bring the Great Elder God back in power.

This is non-negotiable.

Eight.

You are finally free to date. And since we realize in modern society sexual activity amongst adolescents has become a commonality, her mother and I fully support this. The only proviso we have is that should a union occur, you shall not spill your seed. Nor shall you engage in any sort of contraception. We require younglings.

Our ranks are thinning.

Signature x:_________________

Welcome to the family!

Text and Audio ©2014 – 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Savior Complex

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“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 it, 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, Tatum was 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.

Text and Audio ©2013-2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

I Put This Moment Here

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“If only there could be an invention that bottled up a memory, like scent. And it never faded, and it never got stale. And then, when one wanted it, the bottle could be uncorked, and it would be like living the moment all over again.” ― Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca

I have a memory like a sieve.  My recollections of the past come to me in flashes and snippets and I have to be mindful not to fall into one of the many great blank holes when traipsing around in half-forgotten yesterdays. Part of it is the result of a built-in self-defense mechanism, tamping down the harmful events that one never quite survives intact. The rest? Just plain negligence. I am a poor caretaker of retrospection.

And for a while, I wasn’t bothered by it. Then I reached a point in life when memories—–of love and pain and the whole damned thing—-became important because I found myself wanting to catalog my journey before I reached the end of the race (it’s always closer than you expect and they say you never see the finish line with your name on it).

But now, when I recount the tales of the various and sundry someones who impacted my life before blowing away like a leaf in the wind, someones whose names I used to be able to recite by rote, those names have now taken up permanent residence on the tip of my tongue but never so close as to venture past my lips.

I find that in order to remember a past event, I have to place it in a location that’s visible so that I don’t misplace it along with my keys and smartphone. I have chosen this place as the soil in which to plant my evaporating memories before they’re gone forever.

I put this moment here:

Of the girl that I fancied in the first grade whose name might have been Cheryl or Shirley but for some reason I remember it as “Squirrel,” whom I wrote about when the teacher asked the class to write about something we loved. And that selfsame teacher thinking it was so adorable that she took me to Squirrel’s class and made me read it aloud to her. You’re never too young to discover embarrassment.

I put this moment here:

Of the German woman who made me my first brown bag lunch for school that consisted of a healthy liverwurst sandwich which I enjoyed the taste of but stopped eating altogether after being teased at school by the other kids for eating dog food. It hurt her feelings and I wish I had a stronger conviction to continue eating the lunches she prepared with love.

I put this moment here:

Of the asexual woman I worked with at a car rental agency who looked like a young Peggy Lipton and lived in New Jersey. I remember riding the Path train to her house and we would regularly break dawn discussing her passion, serial killers. She didn’t own a television and instead had an impressive collection of serial killer and unsolved murder case books. I found her fascinating and in hindsight I suppose I’m lucky that I never went missing.

I put this moment here:

Of the woman I worked with at a banking institution, who I spent a bizarre New Year’s Eve with as we dropped tabs of acid that didn’t work and searched Manhattan for the perfect place to ring in the new year and ended up laying on the grass of Central Park making resolutions and wishing on stars for a better year to come.

Sometimes when my mind is idle, I struggle to recall the names of people and events trapped within synaptic pathways that withered from non-use, names and events I feel I should remember because of the emotions that linger despite the fact the memories have faded and recognition has faltered.

I lament the loss of these remembrances because they’re all a part of me and I’m afraid to learn the answer to what of myself will remain when all the memories have faded away.

Gather ye memories while ye may. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Text and audio ©2013 – 2021 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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

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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

 

Project: #Novel365 2018 – Week 8

#Novel365 2018 Week Seven

“I can read you like a book, you know,” I used the tire iron to drag the manhole cover into place overhead. “Right now, in your mind, you’re asking me, Why we didn’t try to access the station directly from Broadway and Warren Street?

Madi did her best to hide it but I could tell the climb down the wrought iron ladder rungs into the transit tunnel below was a chore. The problem was when it came down to offering emotional support or finding the proper words to act as a salve for difficult moments, I wasn’t the go-to person in our relationship for that sort of thing, she was. The best solution I could come up with was attempting to distract her by rambling on about the history of Beach’s invention.

“The simple answer is it doesn’t exist anymore. The entrance to the station was housed in the basement of Devlin’s Clothing Store in the Rogers, Peet & Co. building but after the project was shut down, the tunnel entrance was sealed and the basement was reclaimed for other uses. The entire building was eventually destroyed by a fire in 1898,” I said.

When Madi reached the bottom she immediately clicked on her a compact flood flashlight at maximum brightness, flooding the tunnel with 32,000 lumens and shone it in both directions. Unlike the average New York City subway tunnels which were rectangular in shape, the pneumatic passageway was circular and to my surprise, it wasn’t as cramped as I imagined, however watching Madi’s eyes widening in horror and hearing her breath begin to quicken, I knew she hadn’t shared my spatial opinion.

We were standing on a narrow brick-laid lip that I assumed was a pedestrian walkway in case the pneumatic car halted midway and passengers needed to disembark single file back to the main station or in the event technicians needed to arrive to effect repairs. To the right, the tunnel appeared to stretch into nothing. I tapped Madi’s shoulder, pointed left with my chin and gave her a gentle nudge to get her moving before the paralysis of fear consumed her body. Luckily, there weren’t any other distractions that would have made our being here more problematic for her. The corridor itself was dank but there was no scent of sewage, urine or any littered trash for that matter, no tunnel-dwellers—which was a very real concern according to a documentary I happened upon some time ago—and no rats. Just the two of us and the only sound, apart from the distant rumbling of a train somewhere beneath us, was the empty sound of our own footsteps.

“This is incredible, really,” I continued. “By 1870, Beach’s crew managed to build this tunnel, complete with a tunneling shield in only fifty-eight days. It runs three hun—”

“Uh-uh! Don’t give me numbers!” Madi snapped, shaking her head. After a moment, her tone softened. “And…thank you.”

“For what, bringing you up to speed?”

“You know what.” Madi’s voice had a forced calm to it that made me both proud of her and guilty at the same time.

I didn’t know how to respond. That was the closest she had ever come to admitting her phobia and it couldn’t have been easy for her to do in the moment. I opted for something I thought was safe, “Is it working?”

“I’m annoyed that Duffy and Thompson crammed junk in your head without your permission…so, yeah, I suppose.”

“Well, there’s plenty more where that came from,” I offered a weak smile. “Only one car ran on the track, controlled by a 48 short tons Roots blower, nicknamed the Western Tornado, that was originally designed for ventilating mine shafts. When the car reached the dead-end at its terminus at Murray Street, baffles on the blower system were reversed and the car was pulled back by the suction to the Warren Street main station.”

The brick-lined corridor began slanting downward into a left turn and I heard a hollow echo that suggested we were approaching an open space.

“Since the system couldn’t get approval as a regular mode of transportation, Beach opened it to the public as a novelty attraction at 25 cents per person with the proceeds going to the Union Home and School for Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphans.”

“Some good came from it, then,” Madi said.

“I’d say. During its first two weeks of operation, the Beach Pneumatic Transit sold over 11,000 rides and over 400,000 total rides in its single year of operation.”

“Whatever happened to it?” Madi asked. “The pneumatic car, I mean. After the fire.”

“Workers excavating for the current-day BMT Broadway line in 1912, dug into this tunnel and found the remains of the car, the tunneling shield used during initial construction, and even the piano in the subway’s waiting room. The shield was removed and donated to Cornell University, which has since lost track of its whereabouts.”

“And how much farther is this main station, Mister Tour Guide?”

“By my estimation—from the junk in my head, as you so eloquently put it—it should be just around this bend. I wish I could have seen it in its glory days. Reports claimed the main station was a very ornate proj—” and suddenly I was at a loss for words. There was no longer a need for Madi’s flashlight as we cleared the bend, for we found the Beach Pneumatic Transit station and it was fully lit.

I helped Madi step up onto what must have been the passenger boarding platform for the pneumatic car and just beyond that was a small flight of stairs which led to the waiting area. I was stunned and I could see that Madi was as well. It was beautiful beyond imagining. The light that revealed the luxurious interior of the waiting area was coming from Zirconia lamps fitted into two old-fashioned rock-crystal chandeliers. The walls were adorned with frescoes done in a style that seemed to expertly imitate the Italian Renaissance artist Raphael, in fact, one appeared to be the Sybils, his famous 1514 painting that decorated the interior of Santa Maria della Pace in Rome. In the corner nearest the stairs to the boarding platform was an elegant Steinway & Sons square grand piano. There were several bronze statues strategically placed in the space as well as plush leather easy chairs and settees and in the center was a goldfish pond filled with fresh water and live fish.

“This place is immaculate,’ Madi said, swiping a finger along the leather of an easy chair and holding up a finger to show no trace of dust.

“And it must have cost a small fortune to restore it and manage the upkeep,” I added. “But who would go through the trouble and for what reason?”

“Million dollar questions, the both of them,” a man’s voice said from behind and startled the hell out of me. Madi let out a little yelp. I swung around, maneuvered myself between her and the unknown visitor and raised the tire iron.

The man stepped out from behind a velvet curtain in the far corner, hands outstretched in front of him, palms facing us. “Unarmed, I assure you. I mean you no harm and my apologies, it wasn’t my intention to frighten you,” he said with a friendly smile. Going off his face alone, he looked to be in his mid-thirties but the graying at his temples was throwing my estimation off. His expression was one of weariness as he gave me the once-over but when he eyed Madi, he suddenly didn’t look tired at all.

“Are you the caretaker of this place?” I asked. My grip on the tire iron tightened.

“No. I’m as much a trespasser as the both of you. Good evening, Miss,” he nodded to Madi and tipped an invisible hat.

“Who are you?” I demanded.

“My name is Andrew McKissick,” he extended his hand and looked at the tire iron. The message was clear, I would either have to switch the steel level to my non-dominant hand or put it down to accept his greeting. “And you must be Darius Quaice. I’ve been expecting you but I wasn’t aware you would be bringing an assistant.”

Madi stepped in front of me and shook McKissick’s hand before I could stop her. “I’m Madison Wasonofski, Mr. Quaice’s business partner,” she said, gripping his hand firm enough it caused him to wince slightly and pumped it hard twice to stake her claim as my equal, as she had been known to do to thwart off misogynistic behaviors whether intentioned or born of ignorance.

“Wait a moment. McKissick. McKissick? As in the astrophysicist who examined the subway car for the MTA?” I asked.

“Guilty as charged.”

“But his name was never revealed in any of the arti—” Madi started but stopped when I tapped my temple.

“And you said you were expecting us?” I queried, leaning forward to take the man’s hand.

Madi suggested we be seated as we exchanged information and made her way to the settee and easy chair nearest the goldfish pond. I think she needed to focus on the fish in order to prevent her claustrophobia causing a scene.

McKissick explained that he had been visited by two men fitting the description of Duffy and Thompson, though they gave different names, two days ago in a meeting nearly identical to ours in which they informed him that I would be accompanying him on the subway shroud investigation shortly after they had the chance to speak with me.

I had never been a man who liked, believed in or trusted conveniences or coincidences. Someone was laying a trail of breadcrumbs and like a fool, I had followed it. Despite the knowledge implanted in my mind that confirmed his identity, there was no reason for us to believe this man was telling the truth or not to suspect that he was in league with Duffy and Thompson, or worse yet, the mastermind behind this entire affair. But I couldn’t deny that something in his manner put me at ease.

“So, you believe the subway shroud is a time travel device?” I asked. I sat beside Madi on the settee while McKissick took the adjacent easy chair.

“I wouldn’t state that conclusively but I suspect it may be capable, whether it was designed to or not, of generating a time dilation field.”

“Like in Doctor Who?” Madi asked. Off his confused expression, she added, “There’s an episode where the Doctor and Bill Potts are separated on opposite ends of a huge spaceship trapped in the gravity well of a black hole and time passes differently for the both of them.”

“I’ve never seen the show but the principle is sound,” McKissick said. “It’s the theory of relativity at play and it’s been tested with a pair of atomic clocks. One remained earthbound while the other was sent on a trip into space and when it returned there was a small disparity which proved that time moves slower under the influence of a stronger gravitational field.”

The three of us debated gravitational time dilation as an effective means for time traveling giving the limitations of being able to only move forward in time, speculated on the identity of the organization behind our recruitment, attempted to solve the riddle of why the pneumatic station was in pristine condition. When all the logical and completely absurd avenues of possibilities and probabilities had been explored and we each sat there in absolute silence, mulling the mysteries over in our minds, I was struck with a thought,

“Where’s the car?”

“What?” Madi said.

“Where is Beach’s pneumatic car? Someone went to great effort to restore this place to a working station, right? So why not restore the car as well?”

“Unless they did—” McKissick started before I cut him off.

“When we first spotted you, you were coming from that corner, McKissick. What’s behind those curtains?”

“Nothing, actually,” he shrugged. “Just a wall with a bit of writing on it.”

I leaped from my seat and hurried to the maroon velvet curtain. Brushing it aside I saw that the wall was covered by 2×2 inch polished mosaic tiles and at eye level were thirteen lettered tiles that spelled out the words COSTLY MENTORS.

Madi and McKissick were soon behind me reading the words over my shoulder.

“Is it some sort of clue as to who’s behind all this?” Madi asked.

“I thought it was some sort of inside joke left by the original builders or the restoration team,” McKissick said.

“Why tiles?” I said, thinking aloud. “Floor to ceiling, only this section of the wall is tiled and then covered in a room filled with dazzling opulence. The ultimate obfuscation? I mean, when distracted by the wonderment of everything else, who would bother to look here?”

“Dar, what are you getting at?” Madi’s voice faded into the background. The words Costly Mentors had my full attention now.

I ran my fingers over the raised letter tiles. They appeared to be loose but just barely, not enough for me to pry any of them free. Then I moved on to the surrounding tiles, exploring each until I discovered a plain bone-colored tile that had a slight give to it. I pressed the tile slowly into the wall roughly an eighth of an inch until it clicked into place. Stepping back, I waited…and nothing happened.

“Curious,” I muttered. Leaning closer, I inspected the tile edges surrounding the gap left by the recessed bone tile. There were grooves in the exposed ends of the tiles. Testing a theory, I placed two fingers on the tile above the gap and pulled down. The tile slid one space down without effort.

“What is it?” McKissick asked.

“A sliding puzzle?” Madi guessed.

Nodding, I continued shifting tiles around until I had access to the lettered ones. “I have an idea.” Sliding tiles around the puzzle was the easy part, lining the letters up also proved no real difficulty. The problem was arranging the letters into a word or words when I wasn’t sure what I was looking to spell. I managed MERCY TON SLOTS, MY LOST CORNETS, TRY MOST CLONES, and a series of others with no success…until I stumbled upon SYSTEM CONTROL. One digital beep and the sound of a magnetic lock tumbling later and the door to the Beach Pneumatic Transit System control booth opened.

“Pay no attention to the booth behind the curtain,” I smiled.

To be continued…

Week 8 of my personal 2018 writing challenge to turn my daily tweeting habit into something productive… and I’m not particularly happy with my progress at this point. It’s nearing the end of February and I’m at a mere twenty-three pages. Definitely time for me to step up my game, make some hard choices and push the plot forward.

As a recap to newcomers:

This story is an experiment to write a stream of consciousness book with no outline or plot in mind, just a year’s worth of whatever-pops-into-my-fragile-little-mind tweets without edits or the fancy flourishes that will come in the rewrite.

Although I have introduced one new character this week, I still have absolutely no idea what his importance in the greater scheme of things will be, or how many others will be added later on, what the story will ultimately be about (but it seems like it’s going to be time travel story which is bizarre because I’m not a fan of those) or how it will end. Initially that terrified and thrilled me simultaneously.

Though I’m lagging behind at the moment, I will persevere in my endeavor to either create something (hopefully coherent and good) from thin air or fall flat on my writerly face.

Don’t forget, if you can spare a moment, I invite you to either cheer me on or tell me what a colossal mistake I’m making. I’m good either way.

©2018 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

Project: #Novel365 2018 – Week 7

Untitled design

#Novel365 2018 Week Six

CHAPTER THREE

We gave Penny her back pay with a bonus for her patience and understanding from the cash retainer and deposited the rest into the business account before I went home for some much-needed rest. The events of the day were almost too much to process and my thoughts were in a jumble. I knew a nice long sleep would sort the facts out and I would be in a better state of mind to assess our latest case. But I found when I got home all the fatigue was gone. I hadn’t been unconscious that long when I passed out from the seizure so there was no possible way I could have gotten sufficient rest to feel this refreshed. Perhaps Madi was right. Perhaps the men calling themselves Duffy and Thompson had done something to me with their verisimilituder that made me accept the assignment without hesitation, that made weariness drain away and made me feel as if my true calling was to investigate the mystery of the subway shroud until I uncovered the truth.

I waited for as long as I could but tomorrow wasn’t coming fast enough so I found myself pounding on Madi’s apartment door just after midnight. She answered the door immediately, angrily, Louisville Slugger in hand hovering over her right shoulder ready to mete out justice on the delinquent who foolishly sought to take her unawares.

“Darius? Have you lost your mind?”

“Possibly.”

“Do you know what time it is?”

“Too late for a social call but not after your bedtime,” I said, making mention that she wasn’t dressed for bed, which meant she like I couldn’t sleep because she was most likely working the case.

“Banging on my door like that…I have neighbors!” Madi’s body language eased a bit and the hand with the bat dropped to her side.

“All right, I’ll admit that’s in bad form. May I come in?” I asked as I pushed my way past her.

“Wait a minute! What if this isn’t a good time? What if I’m entertaining a guest?”

“If there was someone in your life besides Penny and me, I know about it, trust me.” which was the wrong thing to say, said in the worst possible way and Madi spent the next ten minutes illustrating just how insensitive it was, as I prepared tea for the both of us.

After she had calmed down sufficiently to enter into a rational discussion, I sat across from her at the kitchen table and detailed the contents of the folder that had been flash-loaded into my mind. For the most part, it was the history of the New York City subway system.

“By 1869 street traffic had become such a nightmare especially along Broadway, the most crowded and congested thoroughfare in New York City, that an inventor and wealthy businessman, Alfred Ely Beach, had the radical idea of creating an underground system of circular, brick-lined tubes, inspired by the underground Metropolitan Railway in London, but instead of using conventional steam engines, he would place high-powered fans at the end of the vehicle which theoretically would create air pressure to push a streetcar back and forth along the line in the same manner that the pneumatic tubes of the time were used to transport mail. The plan received the go-ahead from William Magear “Boss” Tweed, the then Grand Sachem of Tammany Hall but only for the transport of mail, not people, and for two years Beach’s crew attempted to build the transportation system that promised to be gas, soot and steam-free in secret but the materials being delivered to Warren St near Broadway made the construction of the tunnel obvious to anyone who paid attention. And someone had been watching and taking note for the New York Tribune published an article a few weeks before the scheduled opening. Shortly after, the Beach Pneumatic Transit project was scrapped by Boss Tweed in favor of the construction of the elevated subway line in place today.

“The mayor at the time, George McClellan, who not only oversaw the openings of the New York Public Library, Chelsea Piers, and Grand Central Terminal but also licensed the very first taxicab and christened the city’s first subway service. It was a ceremony in which McClellan was only meant to start up the engine of the debut subway train but he was so fascinated by the whole experience that he wound up piloting the new train to 103rd Street before handing over the controls to George L. Morrison, the motor instructor of the company. That was the official story, the story that was printed in the papers and had become history.

“In actuality, when Boss Tweed introduced the bill for Beach’s subway, it didn’t pass, some blaming it on his Tammany Hall political machine which had fallen into disgrace. In an effort to gain reformer support, Beach stated that Tweed opposed his subway system, but if truth be told it was Alexander Turney Stewart and John Jacob Astor III, leading a collective of property owners along Broadway, who were afraid the underground tunneling would damage their storefronts and interfere with surface traffic. In an effort to dispel their fears, Beach operated his demonstration railway, which had one station in the basement of Devlin’s clothing store, a building at the southwest corner of Broadway and Warren St, and ran for a total of about 300 feet, first around a curve to the center of Broadway and then straight under the center of Broadway to the south side of Murray St.

“In 1871-72, the Beach Pneumatic Transit bills passed the legislature but were vetoed by Governor John T. Hoffman on the grounds that they gave away too much authority without compensation to the city or state. Governor John Adams Dix signed a similar bill into law in 1873 but Beach wasn’t able to raise construction funds and then the Great Depression later that year dried up the financial markets.

“While all this was happening, other investors had built an elevated railway in Greenwich St and Ninth Ave, which operated successfully with a small steam engine. Since this railway was well away from Broadway, the wealthy property owners had no objections to its construction.”

“I hate to interrupt you,” Madi said, setting her tea mug on a coaster. “But is this leading somewhere?”

“It is,” I nodded. “But I can’t control how a relay the information to you. I’m telling it the way it was implanted in my brain.”

“Still not happy about that.”

“Really? Try being the recipient,” I said a little sharper than was required. Madi’s expression softened, most likely at the realization that I was helpless in this matter and there wasn’t a thing she could have done to change that fact.

“Mea maxima culpa, which, by the way, should have been your response when I wigged out over your barging into my home in the middle of the night,” she sighed. “But that’s in the past now, so please, continue.”

“I will, but not here,” I said, thumbing toward her bedroom. “Go change into something you wouldn’t mind getting dirty and grab a flashlight. It’s best we get there before the sun comes up.”

“What? Wait…where are we going?”

“The Beach Pneumatic Transit station, of course.”

***

I never learned to drive, never saw the necessity in it. Manhattan-born and bred, I had lived in each of New York City’s five boroughs and could easily have hailed a cab, hopped a bus or train or walked to any destination. Despite the lousy reputation the MTA had for delays and passenger safety, I’d proudly hold it up against any other mass transit system in the world. The only times I wished I knew how to drive was when I needed a car to make a spur of the moment trip. It would have saved me considerable time trying to convince Madi to drive me to locations she considered inconvenient. The only acceptable places being the bank, the supermarket and the launderette which were all conveniently located between our office and her apartment. These exchanges usually involved my questioning her logic: “What’s the point of having a car if it doesn’t offer you the freedom and ability to travel anywhere you need to go, especially inconvenient places?”

She eventually relented as she always had when it involved an assignment, and we drove to lower Manhattan and parked on Broadway opposite the bus lane between Duane and Reade streets.“Pop the trunk and don’t forget your flashlight,” I said, opening the passenger side door and moving to the back of the car before she could ask me why. With a soft click the trunk of the teal Volvo S40 opened and from it, I retrieved a tire iron. What followed was the tricky bit.

I closed the trunk and walked toward Reade Street never once looking back to see if Madi had gotten out of the car or decided to follow me. Thankfully both foot and vehicle traffic down Reade Street was practically non-existent this night so there were no obstructions in the crosswalk. I was looking for a manhole cover and at this street crossing alone I found eight. I discounted the ones marked N.Y.C. SEWER, and WATER, which left two choices remaining. The larger of the two was bronzish in color and bore no writing. When I eyed the smaller, I knew I had found the right one. I slid one end of Madi’s tire iron into one the cast iron manhole cover’s pick holes and pried it up with considerable difficulty. I was surprised a lid so small would have been so heavy but I was able to lift the lid just enough so a portion of the cover rested over the lip of the hole. Then I readjusted the angle of the tire iron in the pick hole dragged the cover clear of the manhole.

I stood over the open manhole still not casting a glance over my shoulder to see if Madi was standing behind me. Even though I had convinced her to drive me here and even though it was for a case that could possibly bring a handsome bit of revenue into the business, had I told her we needed to root around the tunnels beneath the city in search of answers, she would have shot the idea down cold. I, therefore, needed to lure her into the mystery. Knowing her as I did, I knew she hated not knowing things other people, especially me, knew. She hated secrets and surprises to the point she demanded to know spoilers for the books she was reading or movies she planned on watching. She was a person who simply had to know and I was counting on her own brand of curiosity to compel her to join me. I didn’t want to do this alone. I didn’t want to do this without her. I am better and more at my game when she is around.

“You expect me to go down into the sewers?” her voice came from behind me and I stifled a smile. Did I know my Madi or didn’t I?

“Not at all. Those lead to sewer pipes, those to the water main and that, that one doesn’t say CON EDISON but I think it’s electrical,” I said pointing at each of the manhole covers.

“And the one you’re standing over?”

I pointed at the manhole cover bearing the initials NYPTS and I tapped each letter with the tire iron, saying, “New York Pneumatic Transit System.”

I pointed at the manhole cover bearing the initials NYPTS and I tapped each letter with the tire iron, saying, “New York Pneumatic Transit System.” After a moment I asked, “So, are you in?” and it truly wasn’t until that moment that I fully realized what I was asking.

This hole, the one I was inviting her to climb into was smaller than the others, a tighter fit. In my anxiousness to jump hip-deep into this mystery, I had forgotten that Madi suffered from claustrophobia. In my defense, though I wasn’t making excuses for my thoughtlessness, she never admitted to the affliction but from years of working side by side with this incredibly brave and tough as nails woman, I knew the phobia generally presented as a fear of restrictive movements but sometimes also reared its ugly head as a fear of unfamiliar small places. Her hesitation allowed me a moment’s self-recrimination. How selfish was I being? Was I truly afraid to take on the endeavor without her? I was about to suggest she go back to the car and act as lookout while I searched for answers when she cleared her throat.

“I’m here, aren’t I?” Madi shook the flashlight in her hand. “And you know where we’re going?”

“I can see it plain as day,” I nodded and tapped my temple, then I gestured to the manhole. “Ladies first.”

“Excuse me?” she couldn’t keep the panic out of her voice. “Why am I taking point? You’re the one with the map in his head.”

“I need to replace the cover behind us. We don’t want anyone knowing we’re down here or accidentally falling through the hole, do we?”

Madi shook her head and shot me a look so filthy that had it been put into words would have embarrassed that foul-mouthed celebrity chef with the Estuary English accent, as she descended into the manhole.

To be continued…

Week 7 of my personal 2018 writing challenge to turn my daily tweeting habit into something productive… and I find myself trying to flesh out and define the relationship between Darius and Madi.

As a recap:

This story, an experiment to write a stream of consciousness book with no outlineor plot in mind, just a year’s worth of whatever-pops-into-my-fragile-little-mind tweets without edits or the fancy flourishes that will come in the rewrite, has, as of this week, become a chore.

Although I have introduced a few characters, I still have absolutely no idea what their importance in the greater scheme of things are, or how many others there will be, what the story will ultimately be about or how it will end. Initially that terrified and thrilled me simultaneously, now, though it seems like a hinderence.

Still, I will persevere in my endeavor to either create something (hopefully coherent and good) from thin air or fall flat on my writerly face.

Don’t forget, if you can spare a moment, I invite you to either cheer me on or tell me what a colossal mistake I’m making. I’m good either way.

©2018 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

Project: #Novel365 2018 – Week 6

#Novel365 2018 Week Five

“Am I correct in assuming, as you’ve put your device away and haven’t raised an objection to Ms. Wasonofski viewing your file, that she’s covered under my NDA acceptance?” I asked.

Duffy replied, “Everyone in your employ is now bound to secrecy and will share responsibility…”

“In the event of a breach of trust.” Madi and I said almost in unison. Apparently, she caught the sinister undertones of the comment as well.

Upon closer inspection, the seal on the folder appeared to be the Chimera from Greek mythology, a monstrous fire-breathing hybrid creature composed of a lion with the head of a goat arising from its back and a tail that ended in a snake’s head. Encircling the offspring of Typhon and Echidna and sibling of Cerberus and the Hydra, was the Latin phrase, AUT VIAM INVENIAM AUT FACIAM which translated as, I will either find a way or make one, a statement attributed to the great ancient military commander, Hannibal. While interesting, it offered no real clue as to who we were dealing with.

My thumb slid inside the folder and Madi placed her hand on it, stopping me before I could open the cover.

Are you sure you want to do this? she said to me in Jarberish. It was our secret form of communication, seemingly jargon and gibberish words supported by a number of phonemic components, including movement of the face and torso as well as the hands. Basically, an idioglossia similar to the phenomenon known as twinspeak. We weren’t twins but Madi had been a part of my life since second grade and I couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment we had begun speaking in code but we thought it was brilliant creating words only the two of us knew and over time it grew from words to phrases to a comprehensive language.

What I want to do is go home and sleep for two weeks straight, I replied. But I get the sneaking suspicion this pair won’t let that happen.

Duffy commented on the language, calling it interesting, and asked its origin. Madi deflected the question, politely and expertly, each time Duffy and Thompson rephrased it until they finally got the message. Duffy suggested he and his associate could leave the room if we required a bit of privacy, but she let them know that wouldn’t be necessary. And then they simply sat there patiently as Madi and I finished our private conversation, the eyes of both men calm, placid and as cold as gunmetal.

I know you’re going to wind up opening that file no matter what I say, Madi said. But can we at least discuss this before you commit to what could be the biggest mistake of our career and maybe even our lives?

Of course, I nodded.

Let’s review the facts, shall we? Men In Black wannabes show up on our doorstep, an unlisted and unregistered office doorstep of a company that doesn’t advertise and whose clients are all referral based

Perhaps we were recommended? I interrupted.

Or maybe they work for an agency that’s been keeping tabs on us and the confidential work we do, which means they might have the upper hand of knowing more about us than we do them, Madi countered. Anyway, they pop up unannounced with a bag of money

Money?

That satchel is filled with hundred dollar bills, at least three hundred thousand of them, I’m guessing. They flashed it at Penny when she tried to give them the brush off. Don’t blame her, she knows we could use the money. It’s been a while since our previous case and it’ll be at least a sixty-day wait for Berkshire Hathaway to cut a check for the assignment we just completed. We’re running on fumes here, so the money got them in to see me and got me to drive to the airport to pick you up.

Cash payment, I sighed.

Yup.

From an agency or organization we know nothing about or who and what they represent.

Yup. And we don’t even know if they’re responsible for what’s going on in the subways. They could be looking for someone to pin in on as a diversion.

So, you think we should cut bait? I asked. Even though we could put that money to good use?

Absolutely, one hundred percent, without the shadow of a doubt.

But my curiosity is piqued.

Look what that did for the cat, and now it was Madi’s turn to sigh. You’re going to open the file, aren’t you?

I have to, I said, grinning apologetically at her. I want to see where this goes.

Madi removed her hand and I thumbed the folder open, surprised to find only a single white sheet of paper inside, totally blank. But it wasn’t blank, not exactly. My eyes swept across the page until I saw or thought I saw a white on white pattern reminiscent of the Magic Eye 3D hidden image stereogram posters that ignited a worldwide craze in the 90’s. The trick was to use parallel-viewing in order to see a picture secreted within a tiled pattern, so I unfocused my eyes and looked through the paper until the sheet became blurry and doubled which made the barely visible patterns overlap each other and each eye saw a slightly different image. It looked like a Quick Response Code, the type of matrix barcode first designed for the automotive industry in Japan. Only this QR code contained multilayered information, numeric equations, alphanumeric articles, byte/binary video segments that flooded my brain. Madi was saying something but her words, her voice, tapered off as if she was moving away from me or more accurately as if I was falling away from her.

***

The next thing I recalled was looking up into Madi’s sweet, concerned face. Ever since we began Qui Dubitat, I looked at her in a professional capacity. She was my friend, to be sure, my dearest and oldest, but in working together seven days a week over the past fifteen years, our relationship matured into a partnership as we struggled to keep afloat a business that seemed far more intriguing when we were younger and far more idealistic; it was only in moments such as this that I could appreciate just how beautiful she was. And I wished I could have lingered in that appreciation a bit longer and perhaps told her how much I’ve become accustomed to seeing her face every day and would happily have chosen it over every other face on the planet if I had only one face to see for the rest of my life. But that fleeting thought evaporated the moment Penny came into view beside Madi, holding a paper cup of water and behind them, the strangers that went by the pseudonyms, Duffy and Thompson.

I was lying on the brown Chesterfield leather sofa in reception and when I tried to get up Madi held me down, putting me through a series of questions, testing my state of mind, I supposed, and I was able to answer them, though I was very tired. When my agitation began to show, she let me sit up and I took the paper cup from Penny.

“Gentlemen, I must apologize,” I said, taking in sips of cold water. “I have no idea what happened. I must have been more tired than I thought.”

“No, we owe you an apology, Mr. Quaice,” Duffy said. “We should have warned you about the file.”

“Warned him? Why? Nothing was in it but a blank sheet of paper,” Madi said.

“It’s not blank,” I said, and my head began to throb at the thought of the QR code.

Off Madi’s expression, Thompson added, “The sheet is encoded with a subvisual, subliminal digital data stream that is only accessible to those exposed to the verisimilituder. As indicated on the file, the information within is classified Eyes Only and this method is currently the best way to ensure its secrecy.”

“In our experience, most people only suffer a minor headache, though a few have experienced mild vertigo,” Duffy was running interference, cutting off Madi before she had a chance to question what else their little device had done to me. “This is the first time we’ve ever seen anyone going into a seizure. Perhaps this was an unforeseen side effect of your jet lag. We can most certainly continue this another time when you’re feeling better.”

“That won’t be necessary,” I waved Duffy off. “We’ll take the case.”

We’ll do what? Madi said in Jarberish.

Trust me, I replied. To Duffy and Thompson, I said, “We’ll require a retainer to get the investigation underway.”

Thompson opened the satchel and began placing one hundred dollar bills in ten-thousand dollar currency straps on the coffee table. A total of thirty in all which meant Madi was correct in her guesstimation. Three hundred thousand dollars in cash sat in our tiny reception area.

“Penny, will you do me a favor, please, and write these gentlemen a receipt?” I asked.

It took a moment for Penny to tear her attention away from the coffee table. “Of course,” she said. “Gentlemen, if you’ll step this way.”

“A receipt won’t be necessary, Mr. Quaice,” Duffy said. “In the circles we travel in, your reputation is beyond reproach. How soon may we expect results?”

“You’ll have our initial assessment within the week, at which time we’ll be better able to offer you a fairly accurate timetable.”

And with a nod and not much else, Duffy and Thompson gathered their belongings and left, leaving Madi, Penny and myself staring at a pile of cash.

After a long period, Madi broke the silence, elbowing me in the side, “Have you lost your mind? What have you done, what did they do to you, and what was on that sheet of paper?”

To be continued…

Week 6 of my personal 2018 writing challenge to turn my daily tweeting habit into something productive… and I’d like to say the story is beginning to take shape in my mind but that’d be a big fat lie. Where this is all headed is as big a mystery to me as it is to you.

This story, an experiment to write a stream of consciousness book with no outline or plot in mind, just a year’s worth of whatever-pops-into-my-fragile-little-mind tweets without edits or the fancy flourishes that will come in the rewrite, has, as of this week, become a chore.

Although I have introduced a few characters, I still have absolutely no idea what their importance in the greater scheme of things are, or how many others there will be, what the story will ultimately be about or how it will end. Initially that terrified and thrilled me simultaneously, now, though it seems like a hinderence.

Still, I will persevere in my endeavor to either create something (hopefully coherent and good) from thin air or fall flat on my writerly face.

Don’t forget, if you can spare a moment, I invite you to either cheer me on or tell me what a colossal mistake I’m making. I’m good either way.

©2018 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

 

Project: #Novel365 2018 – Week 5

Untitled design

#Novel365 2018 Week Four

“Perhaps a later meeting would be best for all concerned,” Madi was on her feet, gesturing toward her office door. “Let’s see if we can slot you gentlemen in sometime next—”

“True, we should have contacted your office before dropping by unannounced,” Duffy interrupted, neither he nor Thompson budging an inch from their seats. “Before we leave, Mr. Quaice, will you answer a question for us? You said you’ve gone over all the relevant materials regarding the incident. Does anything leap out at you, aside from the shroud itself, anything gnaw at your gut?”

“Well,” I started and Madi handed over her computer tablet without my even asking. Was I really that predictable? I swiped my way through her notes, skimming information. “The New York subway systems have six hundred sixty-five miles of track, four hundred seventy-two stations, twenty-seven subway lines, so yes, two questions spring to mind: Why has this shroud only been spotted on the J line between the Alabama and Kosciusko stations and why hasn’t there been at least one report of a serious injury or death caused by whatever this is? With over six million riders a day, it seems highly unlikely someone hasn’t come in direct contact with it.”

Thompson slipped his hand into the same satchel from which he retrieved my book, this time producing two items: a folder marked with an official insignia I had never seen before and the bold, block text EYES ONLY stamped diagonally across, which he placed at the edge of the desk nearest him, and a metallic object that looked like a bizarre, ornate music box that he positioned in the center of the desktop.

Curiosity, always my master, I picked up the box half expecting one or both men to admonish me for touching the item before snatching it from my grasp. This did not happen. Upon closer inspection, the object hadn’t appeared like a music box at all but the moment I touched it I heard three unmodulated tones. Casting a glance around the room, it appeared that no one else heard the sound or they simply hadn’t reacted to it. I returned my attention to the box and as I slid my fingers along the intricate designs engraved on its surface, the sounds returned, discordant notes that seemed like a memory but one that was certainly not my own.

It was coming from the box, of that there was no doubt but it was playing in my head. Musical telepathy with an inanimate object? And was it truly music? The melody, if it could have been called that, was unfamiliar to me, somehow otherworldly, odd notes strung together that should have been disturbing but was instead unsettlingly beautiful. Strange that I thought of it as a box for I could find no seam on any of its sides in which to lift a lid. Was it a secret box, then? Something that could only be opened by solving a built-in series of discoveries?

They were all the rage during the Renaissance, complex brain teasers designed to entertain curious minds, with simpler versions containing only one trick sold as tourist souvenirs. The fascination with puzzle boxes naturally faded during the two world wars but returned to public notice during the 1980s and while I had seen many an interesting box, I never beheld anything as fascinating as this. The craftsmanship was astonishing. I turned it over and over in my hands just admiring the beauty of it but soon my touch became firmer as I searched the surfaces for pressure points.

At first, I was only using my index fingers but when I applied pressure with my right thumb, there came a soft click that I felt more than heard. A portion of the box slid out allowing one end of the octagonal object to be twisted like a Rubik’s cube. Then the room disappeared as I lost myself within solving the mystery of this box and its contents by locating hidden levers that cycled cylinders and for every puzzle I unlocked, a new, far more complex enigma took its place.

When a panel popped open revealing a compartment, I knew that I was victorious. Inside was a tiny device and when I went to retrieve it, Thompson promptly took it from my hands. I worked the box for what seemed like hours but when I glanced at the clock only a few minutes had passed.

“Impressive, Mr. Quaice,” Duffy said and grinned at me. “Most people never find the first locking piece, let alone successfully open the device.”

“Device?”

“Yes,” Thompson nodded, placing the box flat on the table. “It’s a verisimilituder, don’t ask, I didn’t come up with the name, but if you’re interested, I’ll show you how it works.”

Out the corner of my eye, Madi offered a slight shrug and I answered, “Sure.”

From the secret compartment, Thompson retrieved a small circular lens with a wire ring around the circumference that was attached to a four section rod that resembled a miniature blind folding cane when straightened to its full height.

“If you could place your right index finger here,” Thompson pointed to the small touch panel under the secret compartment’s lid. “And look directly into the lens, please.”

Following instructions, I pressed the panel and peered through the clear glass lens.

“We require your personal assurance that any information shared will be kept in strictest confidence,” Thompson said, pressing his fingertips on the EYES ONLY folder.

“And you have it,” I replied. “I will sign the nondisclosure agreement I’m sure accompanies whatever is revealed here.”

“There won’t documentation in any written form of this meeting or the information discussed within, nor any excerpts with facts and identities altered to be included in future articles, papers or novels. Do we have an understanding?” Duffy asked.

“On my word,” I said and a sudden bright light flashed in my eye that was nearest the lens. It temporarily stunned me so that I had not noticed Thompson slide the classified folder my way. “What was that?”

“Not to worry, it’s perfectly harmless, simply our version of an NDA,” Thompson said, fingers deftly returning the verisimilituder to its original state before returning it to his satchel. “The device registered whether you were being truthful when you agreed to our terms and recorded it for our files in the event of a breach of trust.”

In the event of a breach of trust, had the ring of a warning, a veiled threat, but I set it aside for later and invited Madi to move her chair closer so we could examine the information within the folder together. She had the remarkable ability of spotting the tiny important details I sometimes missed.

To be continued…

Well, it’s Week 5 of my personal 2018 writing challenge to turn my daily tweeting habit into something productive… and the bloom is definitely off the rose.

This story, an experiment to write a stream of consciousness book with no outline or plot in mind, just a year’s worth of whatever-pops-into-my-fragile-little-mind tweets without edits or the fancy flourishes that will come in the rewrite, has, as of this week, become a chore.

Although I have introduced a few characters, I still have absolutely no idea what their importance in the greater scheme of things are, or how many others there will be, what the story will ultimately be about or how it will end. Initially that terrified and thrilled me simultaneously, now, though it seems like a hinderence.

Still, I will persevere in my endeavor to either create something (hopefully coherent and good) from thin air or fall flat on my writerly face.

Don’t forget, if you can spare a moment, I invite you to either cheer me on or tell me what a colossal mistake I’m making. I’m good either way.

©2018 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License