The Blessing

“Do you even have the faintest idea why you’re still single?” my mother asks. Questioning me out of the blue is the way she offers her unsolicited and always unwanted opinions.

“I don’t know, Mom, because I just watched The Exorcist and cried through the entire thing?” And this is the way I try to dodge the conversation. “I mean, I know how it’s going to end and I feel terrible for Pazuzu. When it’s all over, Chris has Regan, Father Karras and Father Merrin ascend to heaven but what does Pazuzu get? Bupkis. Nada. Nothing.”

“You’re an odd duck.”

“A sentimental odd duck, let’s not overlook my ability to empathize and emote.”

Mom doesn’t take the bait. “I just want you to find someone so badly. You’re such a wonderful, albeit weird person and you deserve to meet someone really special,” she says.

And then, on cue, Dad pokes his head into the living room and in true man-fashion, tries to fix the problem.

“You attract more bees with honey than vinegar, pun’kin. Maybe if you spruced yourself up a bit,” he says. “Not that there’s anything wrong with the way you look–“

“Shut up, George!” Mom punches Dad in the arm.

“What? I’m just saying some fellas need to see the car polished before taking it out on a test drive, that’s all.”

“You want strangers test driving your daughter?”

“No! Of course not!” Dad waves the notion away as if it was a wasp. “What I mean to say is would it kill you to maybe wear a dress and some makeup once in a while and socialize with actual people in the real world in a social setting instead of throwing your youth away on the internet in chat rooms?”

“Dad, I know you mean well but you’re old–“

“I’m 56.”

“And that’s ancient, so is your way of thinking. Women shouldn’t have to gussy themselves up–“

“I never used the word gussy.”

“–in order to attract a mate.”

“We’re not talking about mating we’re talking about dating.”

“Same difference, Dad. If I met someone and we were into each other we might just hook up. It’s only sex.”

“Not in my house, it’s not! There’ll be no it’s only sex happening under my roof, young lady!”

“Which answers your question, Mom, as to why I’m still single.”

“What?” Mom looks confused. “How did this come back on me?”

“Not that it’s any of your business but I still have my V card.”

“Your what?”

“She’s still a virgin, George.”

“Well, thank Christ for small miracles, I suppose,” Dad breathes a sigh of relief.

“And if and when I hand in my card, I want it to be with someone who gets me, someone on my level and I want it to happen in a place where I feel safe and that’s here, with you guys.”

“You’re not asking us to watch, are you?”

Mom punches Dad in the arm again. “George!”

“Ewww, Dad, don’t be gross!” I decide to make one last attempt at explaining my reasoning. “This place isn’t the fanciest but it’s lived in and it’s filled with love—your love for each other and for me and my love for you. I want my first-time love to exist in the same place.”

“Seeing as it will be your first time, it might not be filled with as much love as you think,” Mom says under her breath and it’s Dad’s turn to punch her lightly on the arm.

“Hey,” he says. “Don’t spoil her fantasy.”

“So,” my voice turns sheepish. “Do I have your blessing?”

They stare at each other for a long contemplative moment and to my surprise, Dad is the one who breaks the ice. “Yeah, kiddo. It’s okay.” And Mom nods in agreement.

“Great!” I snatch my laptop up as I bound off the sofa and race past them and upstairs to my room.

“Where are you off to?” Mom asks.

“To get ready! Tommy’ll be over in a little while and we’re totally going to do it tonight! You guys are the best!”

Mom turns to Dad, “Who’s Tommy?”

“Dead meat if he knocks on this door,” Dad says cracking his knuckles.

©2019 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

The Randomness of 16

Kymmie Blanchette, now Kymberly Marshall had a life plan instilled in her by her parents which she followed to a T. She was a good kid, did well in school, had a core group of parent-approved friends, enjoyed spending time with her parents even as a teenager. She grew to be an outstanding adult, a high functioning, informed citizen who contributed positively to society and her parents’ careful planning led her down the predictable path of a solid career and a faithful marriage. She was a devoted mother to two children who also grew up to be successful in their respective fields.

But as her body became tender to the touch and the constant pain once relegated to the background pain stepped to the forefront and her body cooled and the pattern of her breathing began changing frequently and spontaneously—a delirium clouded her mind and she slipped down the corridor of her youth, back to her only bout of rebelliousness, back to the randomness of being 16.

A few days after her birthday, Kymmie made a friend all on her own, secret from her parents and other friends, secret from everyone. Insomnia—birth name Ines—was everything Kymmie never had the courage or confidence to be. She was what her grandfather would have called a spitfire, who always spoke her mind to teachers, her parents, everyone. She constantly went toe to toe with the abusive jocks and snarky queen bees without ever flinching or backing down and couldn’t care less about people’s opinions of her.

Why they became such close friends was anybody’s guess but they first met when Kymmie caught Insomnia secretly watching hentai in AV Club. Somni—her nickname of choice—cool as a cucumber said, “You got me dead to rights. Ball’s in your court so what’s it gonna be? Narc me out or become otaku?” Kymmie had no idea what otaku meant and she really wasn’t into animated tentacle pornography but this raven-haired edgy girl had given her something no one else had up to this point: a choice.

Kymmie became Somni’s sidekick, her partner in crime and together they tried all the challenges—the cinnamon challenge, the choking challenge, the salt and ice cube challenge, the fire challenge—they even hotwired a very large Oldsmobile in a Walmart parking lot and took it for a joyride with nary a driver’s license between the pair of them. And down by the abandoned factory they took turns surfing on the hood, roof and bumper of the car while the other drove. Kymmie did more driving than surfing but Somni gave her props for making an attempt.

One day they even raided Somni’s parents’ medicine cabinet for unused prescription pills, created a drug cocktail and washed it down with cooking wine and cough medicine in basement.

When they were properly buzzed, they began to talk, about themselves, about their feelings, about how lonely life can be sometimes, how hard it was to bridge gaps between the people you liked most in the world. People who weren’t blood related but were closer than family. And Somni, usually tight-lipped when it came to expressing emotions, opened up a little and shared her secret wish to be a vampire so she could exchange blood with another being and become one with that person.

Was it the drugs or the cooking wine that made Kymmie brush the hair away from her neck as she told Insomnia, “Ball’s in your court so what’s it gonna be? Whine about your loneliness or become one with me?”

“You’ve got no clue what you’re doing,” Somni said.

“Neither do you, which is why you had to get high in order to tell me how you feel about me.”

“Who said this is about you?”

“It’s not about me? Then why are we in your basement, Ines?”

“Don’t call me that!” Innsomnia snapped.

“Why not, it’s your name, isn’t it?”

“It’s my mother’s name!”

“No it’s not, your mom’s name is Brenda.”

“That’s my stepmother, bitch! My mother left to be with some asshat and his family because we weren’t enough! Because I wasn’t enough!”

“I-I’m sorry, I had no idea,” Kymmie said. “But you not being enough…that’s just crazy thinking. I don’t know her but if she abandoned you like that then your mom is the real asshat here.”

“Shut up.”

“No, and you can’t make me.”

“Wanna bet?”

“What are you going to do…hit me…beat me up? Go ahead, if that’s what it takes to get it out of your system. I’m not afraid of you.”

“Really? Why are you shaking, then?”

“Because you terrify me, not because I think you’ll beat me up because I don’t think you will, at least I hope you won’t. You’ve terrified me from the moment I first saw you.”

“Hey, I’m straight.”

“So am I, I think, but does that mean I can’t be in love with you? I mean, something’s there and I know you feel it, too,” Kymmie said. “Even if this doesn’t end well, we have to air it out before one or the both of us hurts ourselves by keeping it in.”

“What part of I’m straight don’t you get?”

“This isn’t about about sexual preference. Somni, so stop freaking out about labels, I mean you of all people, you should know better than that.”

“I just don’t want you getting any wrong impressions. You’re cool to hang out with and all but, you know, as a friend.”

“Oh my god, why are you so guarded right now? A minute ago you were spilling your guts to me…”

“Yeah, well, a minute ago I wasn’t under a lesbian microscope.”

“I’m not calling you a lesbian, we’re not doing labels, okay? I just want you to admit you feel a certain way so that I don’t feel like an absolute loser for feeling the same way.”

“What way do you feel?” Somni asked.

“Really? Are we doing the whole ‘No, you go first’ thing?”

“You started this.”

“No, you got all vampiry and wanted to suck my blood so you could feel closer to me!”

“Okay, psycho.”

“I’m the psycho? How about the person who doesn’t like to be touched always being so affectionate with me? You let me lay my head in your lap and stroke my hair when I need a nap. You sit on my lap and whisper secrets in my ear.”

“That was one time.”

“Okay, but you still did it!”

“Why don’t you just woman up and tell me how you feel, you drunk lesbian.”

“I’m not a…okay, so maybe I’m a little drunk, can you get drunk off of cooking wine? or high off the pills, what did we take again? anyway, I don’t know what I am because i i haven’t been with anybody yet but I’m not attracted to girls. It’s just you. Whenever you’re around, I just want you to notice me.”

“Of course, I notice you, doofus, we hang out all the time.”

“I think you’re my soulmate.”

“Okay. That wasn’t awkward.”

“Can you be soulmates with a same sex person? Does being a soulmate mean you have to be a sexmate, too?”

“Okay, we need to sober you up because it’s time for you to leave and I can’t send you home like and risk you narcing on me.”

“I’d never narc you out.”

“Not intentionally, maybe.”

“And why aren’t you as fucked up as me?”

“Not my first time at the rodeo,” Insomnia draped an arm across her shoulder and helped Kymmie to her feet. “Coffee time. Let’s go.”

“No,” Kymmie resisted.

“No?”

“I’m not going anywhere until you kiss me.”

“What?”

“You heard me. On the mouth. Right now. Let’s go. Take the leap. I dare you. What are you, chicken? Bwak! Bwark! I double dog dare you!” Kymmie continued to squawk like a drunken chicken.

“Keep this up and I’ll street you and let you find your own way home.”

The taunts came to a halt and for a moment Kymmie seemed to sober up, “Please. Somni, please. I have to know. It hurts so much. Show me you care. Make me feel wanted.”

What went on in Insomnia’s mind, Kymmie would never know but her friend relented and the two girls. kissed. It lasted only a few seconds before Kymmie broke the wet kiss and wiped her mouth, saying, “Uh-uh. No, no.”

“That’s what I’m been trying to tell you, asshat!”

“I’m not an asshat, your mom’s an asshat!” and what could have been an uncomfortable and awkward moment was broken by the two girls bursting into a fit of uncontrollable, uproarious laughter that was only interrupted by Kymmie throwing up the entire contents of her stomach.

“You are such a fucking mess,” Insomnia said as she pulled Kymmie hair back and led her to a small rusted metal trash pail. “But I love you.” The words were said it in a soft voice that was hard to make out over the din of her own retching but Kymmie heard them clear as day.

They remained friends after that, never discussing the basement conversation again and continued doing stupid random teenage things that should have led to one or both of their deaths several times over but sometimes God watched over idiotic teenagers so they managed to pull through unscathed. Then, near the end of the year, Insomnia’s parents were forced to move because of the scarcity of job opportunities and the girls tried keeping in touch but long distance relationships required an attention that adult life seldomly permitted.

Kymberly chuckled at the memory which appeared more as a rasping cough to those sitting bedside and as the end approached, she whispered “Goodbye” and her family thought it was meant for them but she was actually saying farewell to her old friend.

©2020 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

My Name Be Entropy

I was never what anyone would have called creative by any stretch of the imagination but my parents, my loving mother and father taught me how to appreciate creativity when I encountered it especially when we gazed up at the night sky.

They schooled me on using my imagination, on connecting the dots to form pictures and manipulating those images in my mind to construct the most beautiful art imaginable. I was alive with a raw energy that I could not brush onto canvas or mold in clay. Nor was I able to express in song, speech or written word the joy I felt standing with those whom I loved most dearly beneath a canopy of loveliness brought to life by divine hands.

But that was then.

Now I serenaded the twilight every night, luring stars close enough to be plucked from the sky, one by one, and I saved their beauty in my clutch bag for the day my mother and father, who grew bored with me and succumbed to wanderlust, decided to finally return home.

“Why do you continue doing this thing, Enny?” my neighbor, the Spinster Wainwright, once asked in a tone that was more condemnation than curiosity.

“Because my mother once told me that stars used to inspire wishes,” I replied. “And I will continue to do this thing until my wish has been granted.”

To this, the old woman had no response. She simply stood at my side, watching the night sky grow darker as one by one the stars were plucked from the heavens and placed into my purse, causing galaxies to shudder.

Eventually, our star, our sun would join the others and this lonely existence would be eaten by the dark motes that share my name.

©2019 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

One Last Thing, Before I Go

Photo by Robert Lawton

They gather at my wake, my family and friends do, and I am surprised to find they are not alone. For in the crowd of mournful faces I spy the many acquaintances I have made along the way, long lost playmates from my childhood, as well as the beautiful women who I recognize immediately as the pretty girls I loved in my youth, each with children not much younger than we were when we courted.

Each of the assembled grievers tell a story, most of which I remember fondly and some I have forgotten with age, stories that make me laugh at how foolish I had been when I was at my most serious and some touching enough to make the eye water at the perceived kindnesses I bestowed upon others without even being aware.

And when the time for remembrances both affectionate and painful has past, my loved ones—and yes, even the acquaintances are loved now—raise a parting glass to wish me safe passage on my unearthly travels to where I do not know and as I feel myself being gently pulled away from this realm, I swim against the current of my final destiny and pass through each body gathered in this place to leave a personalized vivid memory in an effort to ensure I am not forgotten.

©2019 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Story Tweets for the Week Ending March 2nd

Yes, I have returned from my glorious two weeks off but, no, I have not created a new short story so you’ll just have to cut your teeth on my past week’s story tweets.

Ugh. I used “tongue” twice in the same sentence. When will I learn to stop tweeting past my bedtime? It’s 2019…where’s the damn EDIT button, Twitter???

Story Tweets for the Week Ending February 23

Yep, still on vacation, so my story tweets for the past week are gonna have to hold you until I return to scratch out new short stories. Enjoy!

Til next Monday, ciao for now, compadres!

-Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Story Tweets for the Week Ending February 16

It’s vacation time and I could have planned ahead and scheduled a couple of short stories to keep my blog parking space warm during my absence but I’m a lazy writer so what you get is a sampling of my Twitter story tweets from the past week instead.

Sorry, not sorry.

Yes, I am painfully aware of the typo.

Holler atcha next week, peeps!

-Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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