Joey Mac and the Pearlescent Unicorn Uniform Part 1

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His job made Joseph MacDonal II, Joey Mac to his pals, the enemy of the world and a target for assassination. He was one of the few people on the planet trained and licensed to butcher unicorns and prepare their meat for consumption. This also put him at odds with PAUTU (People Against the Unethical Treatment of Unicorns) who accused him of unicorn genocide.

The thing that stuck in everyone’s craw, more than selling unicorn steaks, chops and burgers, was the butchery aspect, though that was the bit they all had gotten wrong. Yes, Joey was technically a unicorn butcher, but the proper definition was:

/ˈbo͝oCHər – NOUN
A person whose trade is cutting up and selling meat in a shop.

which he did. What most folks failed to understand, though it was a matter of public record, was that his license hadn’t included or even allowed the hunting or slaughtering of unicorns or any other animals. In fact, Joey never killed a thing in his life. Insects that crossed his path were the subject of a strict catch, relocate and release system.

At this very moment, Joey sat across from a field news reporter undergoing makeup in preparation for the live broadcast. He found her cute in a cable news presenter sort of way, and probably would have been more attracted to her if she hadn’t that I’ll make my bones off this story hungry look in her eyes.

She ignored him completely, even brushing off his initial “Hello” until the cameraman counted her down. When the station anchor threw to her, the field reporter beamed a smile so unnaturally white, it would have stood out in a blizzard.

“Thank you, Sylvia. I’m here with noted unicorn slaughterer, Joseph MacDonal…” the field reporter said, finally locking her predatory eyes on him.

“Actually, I’m a unicorn butcher…”

“Same difference, isn’t it?”

“Actually, there’s a big dif–‘

“What made you decide to embark on this horrible profession?” she interrupted.

***

The economy had been in the toilet since before God talked to Moses and Joey hadn’t worked in forever. And even though he was one of the fortunate ones who managed to do what analysts suggested and set aside six months worth of salary in a high yield account before he was made redundant at the meat packing plant, now going on his tenth year, all that money was little more than a distant memory.

A Christian in name more than practice, it had been years since the soles of his shoes touched the floor of a church and that time was his best friend’s wedding, a wife twice removed. To say Joey was out of practice with the proper act of prayer would have been an understatement. His first attempt came off as more of a bitch session, with him blaming his parents for his rotten upbringing and lambasting society for its prejudice of gingers, which, he reckoned, was the chief reason for his being kept down by the man. Surprisingly, he saw no results.

His second attempt at prayer was akin to a letter to Santa, in which he listed all the positive things he’d ever done in life and expected a little compensation for his good behavior. Again, results were not forthcoming.

Third time was the charm, however, when he realized that he should have admitted his sin, expressed thanks for the things he had and humbly requested the one thing he needed most: a job.

He put no expectation on the prayer and went about his normal daily existence, when, a week later, he received a phone call. Seemed that a friend of a friend knew a guy who knew a guy who had a roommate who was related to a woman who owned her own business was looking for someone in his line of work.

Joey arrived at the interview, resume in hand, and launched into his well-rehearsed spiel when the business woman waived him off and ushered him into a small kitchen area.

“Show me what you can do.” she gestured at a section of the animal carcass, a shank, by the look of it, that rested atop a butcher block countertop.

Joey inspected the meat before touching a utensil. Not beef, nor pork, nor lamb, the texture was something he had never encountered before. A grain like beef, yet soft to the touch like flan, and it shimmered without a light source as if it were bioluminescent.  “What is this?” he asked.

“Are you interested in the job or not? I don’t have all day.” she drummed her fingers on her crossed arms.

Joey sighed, selected a knife from the butcher block and approached the slab of meat, much in the same manner a sculptor would a block of marble, envisioning the cuts before blade touched flesh. With no idea what type of animal he was dealing with, there was no way of telling how this woman expected it to be prepared, so he simply followed his instincts and let the meat talk to him. And in a way, it did.

Every time the stainless steel edge portioned the strange meat, Joey thought he heard a high-pitched tone, like the sound of a moistened finger running along the rim of a crystal goblet. A sound that broke his heart. But in the aftermath, when the tone was just about to become inaudible, he heard a voice inside his head. It said two words:

forgive you

and he felt a permission granted. This had not relieved the wave of guilt that flooded over him but it gave him the desire to do something with his own life worthy of this unknown animal’s sacrifice.

When he was done, the business woman nodded her approval, “Every bit the professional you claimed to be.” And it was a professional job. Every cut was perfect, none too generous, nor too small, and there were absolutely no scraps. He utilized every last bit of the meat.

“I’m curious, what type of meat is this?”

“Unicorn.” she said very matter of factly.

“Uni-excuse me?”

“You heard me.”

“I don’t get the gag.” Joey inwardly chastised himself on his tone. If his dumb mouth cost him the job, he’d…

“I’m quite serious.” the woman took him by the upper arm in a grip tighter than he was comfortable with and led him through a maze of stairwells and corridors, down, down, so far down beneath street level that he expected to see passage markers scratched into the walls by Arne Saknussemm.

Their destination was a room designed to look like a field, complete with grass, trees and rocks. Had he been blindfolded and dropped here, Joey would have sworn he was outside. The room was so vast, he couldn’t see the far wall. The only telltale sign this was, in fact, an indoor facility were the track lights that provided sunlight, positioned incredibly high overhead, but even they were mostly obscured by the clouds of the room’s self-contained weather system. But as fascinating as all this was, by far the most mindblowing thing were the unicorns grazing in the field.

“They’re real?” Joey asked.

The woman couldn’t suppress her chuckle, “Our organization, as advanced as it is, isn’t able to manufacture live unicorns.”

“But how is this possible?” Joey took a cautious step into the room and felt the spongy grass beneath his shoe. He moved slowly as not to spook a unicorn no more than ten feet away. The unicorn paid him no mind.

“Some trapper with an overabundance of dumb luck caught the last pair in existence by accident. Fortunately for him, and us, they were a stallion and mare. We made him a very wealthy man in order to breed them in captivity.”

“For food?” there went his tone again, but this time he didn’t care.

The woman shrugged. “There’s nothing else we can do with them. You can’t ride them. Young, old, virginal, virtuous… it doesn’t matter. They simply won’t allow it. Utilize the horn for its magical properties? It’s only magical for the unicorn, there’s no transference of power. Grinding down the horn and ingesting the powder for immortality? Turns out the human body is unable to digest the powder.”

“Then why not let them go?”

“Not until we recoup our investment. And we can’t risk one of our competitors getting hold of them and creating a revenue source we haven’t managed to think up ourselves… yet.”

“This is going to sound strange,” Joey said. “But I don’t know if I can do this.”

To be continued…

©2014 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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The Island of Misfit Posts #2: No Enemy But Time

Like its predecessor, Discouraged by Discouragement, this pesky fella here is another one of those posts that didn’t quite turn out as expected and ended up on the cutting room floor (though a part of its sentiment made its way into You’re Where You Are). Caught somewhere between my musings of growing older while still struggling with the craft and my intent of advising impatient writers to slow down, the post started taking the shape of something neither fish, flesh, nor good red herring:

“Do you think, I have not just cause to weep, when I consider that Alexander at my age had conquered so many nations, and I have all this time done nothing that is memorable!” — Julius Caesar

When you reach a certain age, you become acutely aware of time, how much you’ve squandered on things you swore were important at the moment, and how little you still have left in your account. Whenever I get the time brain bug, I’m always brought back to the line from Delmore Schwartz’s poem, Calmly We Walk through This April’s Day (quoted in that horrendous film Star Trek: Generations), “Time is the fire in which we burn.” I love that line. It resonates within me.

But I digress.

Many aspiring authors feel the pressures of time, either believing because of their age that they’ve gotten a late start in the writing process and need to play catch up, or simply haven’t got the proper time to devote to a writing regime, so they attempt to bang out herculean writing tasks without bothering to first learn the rules. They assume because they’ve taken on board the advice to write everyday that their skill set automatically improves and mistakes auto-correct themselves. They read, as instructed, but fail to apply storytelling rules–plotting, story goals, scenes and sequences, the purpose of characters, effective use of dialogue–to their own work.

That’s not to say their writing is bad, it simply lacks a consistent quality. A beautiful bit of prose or a dynamic character can easily get lost in the quagmire of weak grammar, poor pacing, and a meandering plot. Recognizing it can sometimes be hard to turn an objective eye on your own writing, here are a few questions to ask yourself, to see if you need to go back to writers boot camp:

1. Do you tell a story?

I assume you’re familiar with the phrase, “You can’t see the forest for the trees.” This applies to your writing as well, especially when you’re concentrating on your piece at the word choice and sentence structure level. Sometimes it helps to take a step back and get a big picture view of what you’re attempting to do, what it is you’re really trying to write about. The answer isn’t always as clear cut as you’d imagine.

2. Is your writing concise?

This one’s a toughie, because it calls on you to chuck out everything you learned in school about the proper way to write an essay. Well, this ain’t about writing essays, bub (or bubette, no gender discrimination here) and the rules of pacing language are different in fiction. The first rule you need to learn is: Never use a long sentence when a short one does the same job.

3. Are you addicted to adjectives and adverbs?

Adjectives and adverbs are among the more hotly debated issues in the writing community, and while opinions vary, the common rule of thumb is less is more. It can be hard to spot over usage while writing so when you’re done with your piece, look for chains–a string of adjective and adverb two or greater–and whittle it down until you’re left with one or two essential ones. Also worth bearing in mind, when you feel the need to modify a noun or a verb, make sure they need to be modified. If they do, select the best word to convey your meaning.

4. Are you familiar with the word “subtle?”

Your audience is smarter than you realize. There’s no need for you to spell everything out in exacting detail. And, believe it or not, some folks actually enjoy interpreting things for themselves.

5. Should you be shifting viewpoints?

Hopping from one character’s head to another without causing audience confusion requires a certain level of skill, and I’m certainly not suggesting that you shouldn’t be doing it (and if I told you not to, you’d rush out and do it anyway) but why not baby step your way towards it? Work on mastering the one character viewpoint first.

6. Do you show too much?

Yes, the standard rule is “show, don’t tell” but you don’t need to show everything. When in doubt, refer to Elmore Leonard’s rule,”Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”

7. Do you create apathetic characters?

You’re an artist, your work is all about the truth, even in fiction. I get it. I’ve been there. But creating a realistic character based on your current bout of apathy, depression, or (heaven forbid) suicidal thoughts, often doesn’t make for good reading. Your characters must have wants and needs to push the plot forward. Audiences have no need to read stories where the characters have no desire to live or accomplish something.

8. Is your antagonist one dimensional?

Villains that are evil for evil’s sake are boring. Flesh them out with wants and needs like you would your main character. And remember, every villain is a hero in their own mind.

9. Does your dialogue matter?

Yes, leaving white on the page is a good thing as no one like slogging through dense blocks of description, but are you breaking up paragraphs with bits of meaningless chatter? Dialogue should be used as a communication between characters that evokes reaction. One characters says something that another character reacts to, which sparks a reaction, and so on, until the scene concludes. If you have no idea what your character has to say, then you don’t know your character well enough.

10. Can you write an ending?

Some people excel at writing beginnings, and that all they’re good at. Each chapter is a new beginning, with no middle to be found and as for an ending? I’m sure you can work out the answer to that. Other people get off to a slow start in the beginning, come into their own in the middle and peter out at the finish line. Let’s face it, endings are tough. Not only must you keep it clear and simple while you deliver on the promise of the premise (without being didactic), but you have to tie up all your story’s loose ends, and if you’re planning to surprise your audience, it shouldn’t be with an inappropriate twist, added for shock value. Keep in mind that writing the words “The End” doesn’t finish a story if it has no resolution.

In truth, I couldn’t finish it because I wasn’t in the proper frame of mind at the time. Although it might not be visible in the post, that damned time brain bug kept nagging at me, not with words, but with a feeling – the feeling of being left behind in the race for achievement. Before you say a word, I know better. In fact, one of my favorite quotes on this matter comes from the now famous commencement speech, Ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’97:

“The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.”

But we’re human, aren’t we? And sometimes knowing a truth doesn’t prevent you from feeling the exact opposite.

Sally forth and be writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

The Island of Misfit Posts #1: Discouraged by Discouragement

When I sit down to write these posts, I never know what they’ll be about beforehand. It’s a first-thought-that-hits-me-stream-of-consciousness sort of thing. Sometimes they’re on point, other times they meander a bit, but as stated in the About This Blog section, the posts are less about me attempting to appear clever or knowledgeable (what are the odds, really?), and more about getting myself into a proper writing frame of mind with a warm up exercise. Mental calisthenics, if you will.

As you might imagine, it doesn’t always go to plan. Case in point: the post below. Inspired in part by Susannah Breslin’s Forbes article, Why You Shouldn’t Be A Writer, and Martin Levin’s, You Suck And So Does Your Writing–which is more about petty squabbles between notable literary figures (how I would have combined the two ideas is anyone’s guess)–it was meant to be a discouragement piece, you know, separating the wheat from the chaff, and all that, that started out like this:

Of All the Things You Could Do With Your Life, Why On Earth Would You Purposely Choose To Be A Writer?

Don’t worry, it’s not a trick question, but one you should be prepared to ask yourself and answer before undertaking writing in any fashion as a serious profession. Among the more common reasons I’ve come across in my travels are:

1. No commuting and every day is Pajama Friday!

I can’t fault your logic here because commuting is generally a nightmare and what’s better than tooling around your house in a onesie all day long like an agoraphobic superhero? Sadly, it isn’t a good enough reason to want to be a writer, especially since there other telecommuting positions that offer more stability and better chances at becoming a career.

2. What better way is there to make a ton of dough and roll around in my piles of cash?

Well, you could try your hand at playing the lottery or betting the ponies, for starters. Rich writers are the exception to the rule. The majority of people who claim writing as a profession, work their mental fingers to the bone, producing material for years before they even get a glimpse at recognition, let alone a healthy paycheck. Instead of rolling in piles of cash, you’ll most likely be rolling up your coins, praying your landlord accepts pennies for rent.

3. Nothing better than being my own boss with flexible hours!

Flexible hours? Been writing long? Writing is a huge commitment that commandeers your entire life with absolutely no guarantee of any sort of financial gain. As stated earlier, there are other work-from-home opportunities that are far more secure and come equipped with a steady payday. And being your own boss isn’t the sipping Mai Tais under a beach umbrella fantasy you imagine it to be. First off, there’s no one to delegate all the donkey work to, and your brain doesn’t simply punch out when the working day has ended. Writing–and the guilt of not writing–never leaves you in peace until the article/book/screenplay/project has been completed.

4. It would be amazing to see my best-selling book in a bookstore/my script turned into a blockbuster feature film/win the Pulitzer Prize for my groundbreaking article series.

Who wouldn’t want any of those things? While we’re daydreaming, I’d also like to be an astronaut so that I can save the planet from extraterrestrial threats, be the smartest man in any room I’m in so that I can solve all the world’s problems and become Earth President, and build a safe-box time machine–that protects me from any sort of injury–equipped with a high end movie camera in order to jump back and forth in time to make the ultimate series of historical documentaries.

Now that my feet have touched terra firma and I’m once again grounded in reality, I can tell you that while it’s great to dream big, fame is one of the worst reasons to choose writing as a profession.

But the post wasn’t really working for me because I could feel myself getting snarkier as the piece went on, which wasn’t my intent going in. So, I decided to step off my soapbox and kill the post. And there it sat in my trash for days, forgotten like Charlie-In-The-Box, Dolly, Spotted Elephant, and King Moonracer. But it miraculously survived deletion during my numerous trash emptying sessions. This had to be a sign. What sign, I hadn’t the faintest, but I decided to attempt recycling it into a less judgmental, more positive message:

Writers are born critics who will criticize any and everything that crosses their paths, especially fellow writers. They will issue their assessments and commentary with the righteousness of having had their opinions validated by the Mount Horeb burning bush. These are the writers who cut open veins and bleed for the love of the craft, whose skulls ring with haunting voices that cannot be silenced until exorcized onto the page, who believe in their heart of hearts that the only words that deserve to be written are the truths that need to be told.

I can’t lie, sometimes I feel the same way.

But I’m not as bothered by it anymore because I know first hand that the writing process has it’s own way of weeding out the fly-by-night scribblers, posers and pretenders with the obstacles it scatters on the long and winding path to a completed project. Whether your driving force is money, fame. to impress a person/people, burning need, or love of the artform, you will still experience your fair share of procrastination, anxiety, writers block, time crunches, lack of motivation, fear of rejection, judgment of peers, and impatience of selling a piece.

If you can repeatedly bash your head into these walls, get up, dust yourself off and continue to write, who am I to question your motives? That, my friends, is the best I can do fer ya, today.

Sally forth and be writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Things Kept Precious

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My mother warned me to guard the things I held precious by keeping them hidden inside me. The only thing I held precious was her and I found it impossible to place her inside my body. I was too young to understand she was talking about love. Too young to save the best parts of my mother’s love in my heart. Too consumed by the hate caused by her leaving me on my own. Too young to accept that death comes to us all.

It was hard to hold onto her love. Hard because I watched her body decay and rot away to nothingness. I watched to see the precious things she kept inside her and where she managed to hide them so I could do the same. I never found them. I watched as I picked vermin from her flesh and fought away carrion from her decaying form, until the day she was unrecognizable to me.

In particular, I watched her heart. Who knew what was inside there but I knew it was fragile because my mother spoke many times about how it had been broken. She said, “Sometimes you have to break a heart to find out how strong it really is.”

But when her heart became visible, I couldn’t see any cracks. I watched it as it bruised like an apple and disintegrated away. Nothing inside it but emptiness. I was hoping to see love—even though I had no idea what love looked like—or at least be privy to some secret that would explain the world to me. I found none of those things.

Her heart was a chamber for maggots. That was what my mother kept precious. Little disgusting creatures that fed off her body. They were everywhere. Stripping my mother of her beauty.

It grew harder to remember her face. I tried to recall the last time I saw her eyes or her smile but that memory was too distant in the past, lost in the forest of forgetfulness.

Occasionally I dreamt of my mother, standing in a room somewhere I had never been but yet felt so familiar to me, her face was a storm. Clouds roiled where features should have been. When she spoke, her voice was a swarm of black bees the drained the life of anything it touched. The bees blotted out the room and ate a pet dog I only had in dreams and never in real life, before coming for me.

I would run from the house and through the trees, down a dirt path that led to a black pond of brackish water. The water called to me and I was torn for the water was frightening, but so too were the bees who devoured trees on their way to eat me.

No real choice at all, I dove into the pond and discovered the water was actually tar and I was being pulled in, just as other creatures foolish enough to make the same mistake, the same fear-based choice as I had.

My nose and mouth filled with hot thick liquid, bitter molasses that scorched my insides, and melted me like butter on the griddle.

I woke alone in the dark, choking for air, my chest weighted with the heaviness of fear. My breathing was a thick, wet noise like someone sloshing through mud — or tar! — and I no longer felt safe in this world, so I did the only thing I could think to do.

I crawled inside the remains of my mother’s body and wrapped her tight around me so that I could be the thing she kept precious.

Sally forth and be keeping things preciousingly writeful.

©2013 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Beast of the Illusory Moon

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“Mǣnōn concede to me the quietude to recognize the effects I should not alter; the bravery to transform the conditions I am able to; and insight to recognize the distinction,” he leaned against the chain link fence, covered in less blood than he first imagined and prayed to the moon.

Not the Moon, not Luna, the other one, Mǣnōn, the illusory moon that sat back and to the left, that was only visible every four years on the twenty-ninth of February.

***

He had never been so disappointed in himself as he stared at the nubiles sauntering in and out of the afterhours bars and nightclubs that lined the strip. The passersby, those who bothered to toss him a sideward glance, sussed him as an alcoholic, but his problem was far more severe than that.

His affliction stemmed from the fact that everyone had two sides, no matter how open and honest they appeared to be. There was the side they showed the world and the beast side that only revealed its face when they were all alone. And it wasn’t necessarily as evil as it sounded, but it was there nonetheless. And there was no way of really knowing someone’s true nature unless they revealed it to you.

But he saw it. On this night, with the gift he had been granted by the Goddess of a moon visible to no one but he, which wasn’t a present as much as a curse that gnawed at his sanity. He saw the true faces of evil that hunkered down within the tall brush of fashion, cosmetics, and innocence. And sometimes the evil saw him.

He caught sight of a woman as she appeared from one of the clubs, ultraviolet stamp still moist on the back of her hand. Ten years his junior, she was stunningly beautiful in an exotic way that unsettled him. Her auburn hair cascaded over the shoulders of her white satin dress and gave her the appearance of an old-world masterpiece come to life.

She walked past a Chinese take-out joint and the exposed ATM before she realized she was being followed. When she turned, he knew she had seen him for what he was as clearly as he had spotted her. Her countenance shifted from serene beauty to that of a woodland creature frozen in the headlights of a speeding vehicle. But it wasn’t fear that registered in her eyes—she was making a decision, flight or fight.

The moment her face tightened with determination, he knew she would rabbit. And she did. She spun on the balls of her feet, kicked off her heels and bolted out into the street, dodging cars as she ran against the traffic, inhuman toenails ripping into the tarmac.

He grinned as he whipped out past the parked cars; he loved it when they ran. His reflexes, sharp normally, were amped under the light of the illusory moon and hope blazed in his mind as he was about to overtake her easily. In this mode, before what had to happen actually happened, he saw himself as a savior. What he had to do was in everyone’s best interest, even hers. He would not fail this time. He intended to honor his duty. And as he was about to lay his hand on her shoulder and set things right—he heard a wet thumping sound and felt pain down to his marrow as a car bumper made contact with his hip and sent him sprawling into a lamppost.

Nausea and blood mixed his mouth and as he looked up through blurred vision he could just make out her lithe frame turning down a side street. A voice cried out amidst the murmurs in the background, I’m sorry! it said. You came out of nowhere! I didn’t see you in time!

Voices shouted and people rushed to the scene from both sides of the street. He fought the pain and forced himself to his feet. He had to leave before the police showed up. Too many witnesses. He couldn’t have explained why he was chasing the girl in the first place. Who would have believed him? To bystanders, he surely must have looked like a psycho ex-boyfriend or worse, a perverted sex deviant.

He kept his head low and shielded his face from camera phones as he pushed through a crowd of people asking if he was okay, hobbling towards the side street, hoping against hope that he hadn’t lost her trail.

***

He still couldn’t fathom why he was chosen. Had he been a cop or any other branch of law enforcement, this might have been so much easier. Easier to pursue, apprehend and deal with a special brand of evil one night every four years. But as a thirty-seven-year-old accountant, what was he supposed to do? How long could this go on before he was caught, or even worse killed? He had no social life and how could he? This thing made him unfit for human consumption. And what if he managed to hook with a woman only to see, come February twenty-ninth, what sort of demon lurked beneath her cool surface? He knew he had to quit at some point. Maybe tonight, if he was able to resolve this in time he would petition Mǣnōn to find a replacement.

Along with his heighten abilities came the urge. He needed to scour the streets and rid the city of pestilence on this very special of nights. It was a basic bodily function to him, as much a part of his continued existence as breathing.

He limped around the corner, his pace picking up as his fractured bones knitted themselves back together and his muscles and internal organs returned to their optimal state. The neighborhood wasn’t the safest to begin with and those with sense stayed on the strip in crowded well-lit areas. The side street was dark, streetlamps busted on both sides, which was probably why she chose it to escape into, to hide in.

He moved into the street and swiped a finger across a bit of dug up tarmac, touched it to his tongue, and smacked his lips, processing the taste of her. Motionless, twilight settled on him as he cleared his mind—then he picked up her trail.

***

“You don’t have to do this,” the woman called out from somewhere in the dark.

“Yes, I do,” he stood at the mouth of the alley and scanned the blackness as his eyes adjusted to the starlight. She was well hidden.

“I haven’t hurt anyone.”

“Yet,” he spat. “You should come out, you really should. It’ll be so much easier for you than if I have to tear this alley apart to find you.”

The woman eased herself to her feet, stepping from a darker shadow within the shadows, shaking off the alley debris like an octopus coming out of hiding.

“Please, let me go,” her voice, as soft as a butterfly’s footfall, was the sincerest plea he had ever heard from one of these demons. She stared at him, eyes watering, lips pursed into a small quivering bow. It was clear she wanted to live.

“That isn’t the way this works. The earth must be cleansed of all unnatural beasts.”

“W-wait…” her shaky hand reached down to fumble at the clasp of the handbag slung across her shoulder.

He thought she was going for some sort of weapon but what could she have been carrying in such a tiny purse that could hurt him we he was like this, at the zenith of human abilities? Although he wasn’t afraid, his body tensed reflexively, ready to pounce. And he was hit with that thought again, of how incredibly stunning his prey was even in her beastly form. Her hair, slimy from alley gunge, hung in her face like a tangle of dead eels but it couldn’t hide her eyes which were larger than he had ever seen on a living creature.

“All beasts must be cleansed? No exception?” she asked.

“None.”

“Have you seen yourself?” the woman pulled a compact mirror from her bag and held it up, catching the faintest bit of night light.

His expression shifted from predator to absolute horror. His jaw clenched, clamping down upon a shriek, and the grip loosened on his anger. He dropped down on his haunches. She was right. In the reflection, he could see that he was a beast, no different than she. It took a beast to catch a beast, he supposed. And he did the only sensible thing he could have thought to do.

***

Up against the chain link fence, he dug his claws into his own chest and tore out his heart, marveling at how little blood there was.

“Living one moon at a time; enjoying one solstice at a time; tolerating adversity as the conduit to tranquility; acquiring, as you do, this aberrant humanity as it is, not as I would wish it; believing that you will set all things right if I submit to your command; that I may be satisfied in this life and rewarded with you forever in the next,” his guttural voice trailed off to a whisper. And when he had completed his prayer, Mǣnōn, the illusory moon, embraced his spirit with open arms.

©2014 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

About Beast of The Illusory Moon:

Ideas, or story inspirations, come from the unlikeliest of places and often strike when you least expect it. This one came about while I was viewing a trailer for the Kevin Costner movie, Mr. Brooks, that begins with him reciting the Serenity Prayer while staring at bottles of liquor on a shelf, so the logical assumption is that he’s an alcoholic but his actual problem runs along a different, darker line—if you’re interested in the true nature of his problem, view the trailer, the movie isn’t the subject of this introduction, the thought that it inspired is.

The trailer made me think about the dichotomy, the two mostly equal parts of peace and war, love and hate, and the black and white delineation of so-called good and evil that exist within us all.

The story itself doesn’t really tackle or explore the characteristics of duality but that’s the nature of an idea, isn’t it? It never ends up on the page the way it began life in your grey matter before being put through the meat grinder process of dramatic structure.

C’est la narration.

Songs As Stories: The Man

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*Inspired by the song “The Man” by Aloe Blacc

In the beginning of what most believed in their heart of hearts to be the End of Days, there was The Distant Signal. It came in the form of a definitive and verified multi-language message broadcast to all the countries of Earth simultaneously.

What should have been a moment of joyous acknowledgment that we were not alone in the universe, was tainted by a subliminal signal that triggered an automatic flight response in all the various and sundry life forms on the planet.

Dubbed The Great Terror by the media, it opened the door to speculation about the global impact alien contact might have on world governments, organized religions, stock markets, and most importantly human existence.

Then came news of the one person on the planet unaffected by the subliminal signal.

His business card was made of carbon-fiber reinforced thermoplastic. Laser etched in red on the back was his phone number, four digits, no area or country code, because it wasn’t needed. The number could be dialed from anywhere in the world, toll-free. The front of the card delivered the most accurate message any business card ever had. It told the bearer exactly who he was in two simple words:

The Man

Normally slang that referred to either the government, an authority in a position of power, or a drug dealer — which he had no issue with, as he had allegedly been all those things in his youth — it currently served as a term of respect and praise.

The Man had no official credit rating, never owned a bank account, and his fingers never knew the texture of cash. His currency was the Boon License, a service performed, payable by a service at his behest.

The Man never advertised his services, and thanks to a universal binary code, he wasn’t searchable on the internet. His legend was viral, spread word of mouth from those who benefited from his services. The downside of this Chinese whispers campaign were all the old wives’ tales that attached themselves to his accomplishments like gossip remoras:

  • He was incapable of telling the truth and he gained supernatural powers by winning a bet with the Devil in a liar’s competition.
  • He thrived on the broken hearts of virgins after he stole the purest form of love from them.
  • He was born without a soul.
  • He was a genetic engineering experiment using stem cell materials that hadn’t been able to be duplicated.
  • He was born with one hundred percent brain capacity and as a result, has all the information stored on every computer and the internet in his brain.
  • He averted World War Three by winning the jackpot in a poker game with the world’s superpowers.

For a person who bartered in boons, how could he resist collecting favors from the entire planet? But when The Man accepted the offer, he scoured governments, both domestic and foreign, for help, with absolutely no success.

Once The Man signed the contract, he was elected to make first contact, and the world leaders resigned from their posts and contingency plans were underway to build underground shelters. He could not find a government, nation, country or individual to stand by his side.

The final extraterrestrial message contained a set of coordinates for the rendezvous point. Although no one would stand by him, he was able to call in several favors to arrange transport to one of the remote volcanic islands in the South Atlantic Ocean, Tristan da Cunha.

The alien armada arrived like a meteor storm, ships of shifting geometrics burned through Earth’s mesosphere and parked themselves in the stratosphere around the entire planet so that they blotted out the sun.

Plunged into darkness, The Man stood his ground as a lone, illuminated craft, smaller than the other ships, descended to the rendezvous point and touched down on the soil light as a feather.

The ship altered its form and peeled itself away from its passenger and repurposed itself into a ramp. The alien glided forward. It existed on the outer fringes of humanoid description but The Man found its features and its form somehow alluring.

The alien handed him a card with strange markings and upon contact with his skin, the card pricked his thumb and took a DNA sample. The markings changed, cycling through alphabets until it hit his native earthbound English. When all the letters were in place, it simply read:

The Woman

The alien smiled.

©2013 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

The Little Green Book Part 2: Extraterrestrial Survival Critical Rules

THE LITTLE GREEN BOOK Part 2

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The object of this Survival Manual is to save the lives of off-worlders who are, if distant and recent history have anything to impart, on the endangered species list in this society of humans.

I started writing out rules of survival for my hatchling, Kuul, and I suddenly thought, “Why be selfish? Why not devise a set of directions for all extraterrestrials living on earth?” This manual is meant for extraterrestrial eyes only. If you are human and reading this, stop at once! This datafile has been encoded with an ultraliminal agent which causes blindness and hair to grow on your palms. Everyone you encounter from this point on will dismiss you as a wanton masturbator.

There are instructions available also, for protecting off-world children, and directions for groups wishing to set up Extraterrestrial Survival programs to teach survival to young off-worlders in school settings. (See: Appendix)

Knowledge is not only strength, but also the first step toward identifying the problems of staying alive and healthy. You should know what is happening in your city. Your local National ExtraTerrestrial Awareness and Safety Program (NETASP), Urban League, Church, Neighborhood Block Association, Off-Worlder Civil Liberties Unions and other groups should have information for you on the problems that extraterrestrials are experiencing in your area. Also, local newspapers will have a few of the reports. Ideally, parents, teachers, friends, social workers and legal professionals should set up Off-Worlder Survival hotlines so that extraterrestrials can report their cases and have them documented. Those organizations should be contacted for guidance in setting up documentation centers to collect Off-Worlder Survival statistics as a basis for Off-Worlder Survival Programs.

To survive in your own neighborhood, and in anyone else’s, there is something you must understand: even though the so-called “Off-Worlder Leaders” and the human media, for differing reasons, keep talking about “universal togetherness,” it isn’t necessarily the truth. Unless you are a twin or a symbiote, you were born by yourself – and you must take care of yourself. It is time to face the truth: some of the humans in and out of your neighborhood are robbing and killing extraterrestrials. So when you are walking and playing around in the city streets, you are going to have to remember to be constantly on your toes and aware of who is near you, and where you are – you are outside your house.

This is not meant to scare you – only to prevent you from walking around in the “dream state” we see so many off-worlders in – which begs for humans to knock them over their heads.

EXTRATERRESTRIAL SURVIVAL CRITICAL RULES

Rule #1: If you are hailed by a government official: run like hell! If apprehended, at the very least, you will be subjected to bizarre sexual rituals and experimentation. The worse case scenario is being the victim of a televised autopsy.

Rule #2: Always carry the Little Green Book with you. Fill in the fields right now; carry this datafile with you at all times. If you are apprehended by the humans, hand over the file freely. When the ultraliminal agent kicks in, make a break for it.

Rule #3: Find out the name of the commanding officer of the nearest secret government facility and memorize it. If you encounter government personnel you can, if you get the chance, mention the Commander’s name. Helpful hint: Do this before the autopsy begins.

Rule #4: Always carry a neural disruptor and personal teleportation device. Humans are particularly susceptible to weapons that attack the nervous system, and your teleporter should have a transporting range of at least 100 kilometers.

Rule #5: Take the time, when there is no immediate need for a lawyer, to find one who can represent you and memorize their telephone number. In making your selection, you should avoid lawyers who advertise on television, promising quick cash settlements.

Rule #6: Report trouble to the nearest news agency. When you are attacked, robbed, mugged, beaten or whatever, report it, even if the news agency doesn’t believe you, chances are they may run your story on a slow news night. Make sure you avoid tabloids generally found at the supermarket checkout counters, except of course for The National Inquirer and The Daily Mail.

Rule #7: When you are approached by government officials, take this time to show your race’s superiority. Do not show government officials that you are a docile “I come in peace” alien. If you have a superior ability — use it. If you don’t — fake it. Most times a human’s fear of the unknown will freeze them in their tracks. Make loud, intimidating threats, jerky gestures, and point at them menacingly. In the off chance that they draw weapons, hightail it. There’s no real shame in blatant cowardice.

Rule #8: Memorize the name of any government official involved in a current sex scandal. Mention the official’s name at the moment of your capture. This is merely a delaying tactic, and will most likely avail you naught, but wouldn’t it be fun to bring down a human with you in the process?

Rule #9: Do not carry plans for world domination on your person. The reasoning behind this should be self evident, and if it isn’t, then you deserve to get caught.

Rule #10: Do not show humans your plans to build a device with the power to crack the planet in half. Even if the humans are your closest friends, chances are they’re just a little more attached to the planet than you are.

Rule #11: When you leave or enter your apartment, look around first. If you spot men in dark business suits or a florist van that hasn’t moved in three days, relocate quickly. The government is on to you. Pack your things and go gently into that good night.

Rule #12: Avoid government and military installations. Duh.

Rule #13: If for some reason you cannot avoid government or military installations, try to look as human as possible. Novelty shops sell a variety of human masks and costumes that should serve you more than adequately. Helpful hint: Avoid masks bearing the likeness of celebrities. Richard Nixon going on a tour of the White House would bring you more attention than is desired.

Rule #14: If you are in the hospital, verify that the physician is licensed to treat your race in particular. All too often a physician will take a correspondence course in Venusian medicine and feel that he/she can now properly diagnose all off-worlders, regardless of their planet of origin.

Rule #15: Do not drink any substance that will lead to intoxication. Okay, so a glass of turpentine once a week with a meal maybe won’t hurt you.

Rule #16: Do not take drugs. Unless, of course, they’re mandatory to your survival in this alien atmosphere, and even then, stick to the recommended dosage. There’s nothing worse that seeing a Vemtraxor hopped up on methane pills.

Rule #17: Do not smoke. This applies to all races except Nentokites, who intake sustenance this way. It also does not apply to those races that emit smoke from their pores naturally.

Rule #18: Do not drink milk! It is evil! In certain parts of the galaxy, milk has achieved sentience and is overthrowing entire planets! Stay away from it! You have been warned!

Rule #19: If you are a carnivorous race — avoid eating humans. I know this can be difficult at times (I mean just how many times can you eat cows and pigs and fowl, before becoming bored?) but the planet on a whole frowns on the practice…so abstain, okay? Or at least eat as little human flesh as possible. And no deep-frying, please. Human meat is greasy enough.

Rule #20: Ask your native healers about high blood pressure treatments and how to prevent enlargement of the prostate gland and unnecessary surgery. Have you ever seen a Venturon with an enlarged prostate? Not a pretty sight, let me tell you.

Rule #21: Do not join the armed forces. Chances are, during wartime, you will be given a name such as Private Cannon Fodder and be appointed permanent Point Man status.

Rule #22: Learn to read, write and speak earth languages correctly. Do you want to earn more money? Sure. We all do. Take advantage of financial aid and register for courses in Algebra, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, American Government, World History, Atomic Weapon Repair, or get your specialized degree.

Rule #23: Finally, join the nuclear freeze movement. Stop humans from exploring the full potential of nuclear power. If we are successful in slowing this process down, the other worlds might have a chance to play catch-up.

***

GETTING BACK ON TRACK

This section is for you extraterrestrials who are doing drugs including alcohol, robbing banks and stores, mugging, raping, trying to scare humans, making humans pregnant without doing your part to prevent pregnancies or not caring for the hybrids when they are born, and killing humans. This extraterrestrial Survival manual is not for you, because you are either too stupid, lazy or inconsiderate to use more discretion! Yes, these pastimes are fun, and we all enjoy them, but must you be so blatant? If you continue on your current path, we will consider you part of the enemy and when the day of reckoning is at hand, you will suffer along with the humans you terrorized so publicly. End of sermon.

***

APPENDIX

If you have trouble with the government, write news agency based on the format below:

Name (Earth phonetics, if possible)

Address

Date

Name of news agency contact

News agency Address

Dear contact name,

On (date) at (time) (exact location), Government Employee (name[s]) INCLUDE ALL THAT APPLIES:

  • Beat me…
  • Called me names, ethnic slurs…
  • Took me against my will to a government facility without explanation…
  • Searched my house/space craft without a warrant…
  • Confiscated sperm/ovum samples without permission…
  • Forced me to participate on a FOX Network primetime special with no compensation…
  • Other…

I demand restitution.

Sincerely,

Your Name

cc: Government Bias Unit Commander of your local secret military installation, Mayor of your city, Your Congressperson Local Extraterrestrial Survival Documentation Center

***

You may have to ask a local organization like NETASP or Urban League, Church, Neighborhood Block Association, Off-Worlder Civil Liberties Unions to set up an Extraterrestrial Survival Documentation Center.

For instructions on setting up an Extraterrestrial Survival Documentation Center yourself, send $25 in your native currency (to cover postage and handling) to the address at the end of this datafile.

Until we are united on Invasion Day, think smart, live simply, and avoid milk. I cannot stress this enough.

-Rin Vagor

©2014 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

8 Simple Rules For Dating My Cthulhuian Daughter

Cthulhu

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 chose 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!

– Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

The Hooded Redahlia

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“Alas for those girls who’ve refused the truth: The sweetest tongue has the sharpest tooth.” ― Jack Zipes, Little Red Riding Hood and Other Classic French Fairy Tales

The various herbs and tinctures had been gathered from the garden and the cooking cupboard, carefully measured and mixed into the secret family recipe that had been handed down in their family from generation to generation and when all the baking was completed, Mother asked her only daughter, Redalhia, to take the specially prepared galette and pot of cream to Grandmother’s forest cottage.

Redalhia had not quite felt up for the journey as her body was undergoing a significant change and she found herself trapped betwixt and between being the girl she once was and the woman she would one day become. But she loved Grandmother so very dearly, enough in fact that she put her own cares aside, happily gathered the food into a wicker basket and donning her crimson hooded cloak before setting off for the forest.

How could she have done any less? Her grandmother had recently fallen ill and the severity of her malady forced her to live apart from the family in a cottage deep within the forest, for fear of passing the sickness unto anyone else.

***

The road on which Redalhia walked led to the tree line of the forest where it split in two and at that fork stood the changeling-wolf known in the village as Bzou. The shapeshifter’s senses were sharper than that of a human so he smelled the nectar of her menses long before she would have spotted him, an advantage he put to use by quickly assuming the form of a wizened man. When the blood-hooded girl grew close enough to benefit from the power of his bright smile, Bzou flashed his teeth and asked, “Excuse me, dear, where are you going?”

“To Grandmother’s house, sir,” Redalhia answered with that shy look young girls often wore, behind slightly pursed lips that teased a smile which required just a bit of coaxing.

Bzou sniffed the air, “And what, fair creature, do you carry?” but it was not the scent of the food in the basket that tempted his nostrils.

“Why, Mother’s cooking, of course. Bread and cream for Grandmother’s supper. She lives in the forest cottage.”

“And which path will you take?” Bzou asked, gesturing at both paths, one after the other. “The Path of Needles or the Path of Pins?”

Redalhia pondered this a moment. “The Path of Pins, I think, since it is the quickest.”

“Are you certain?”

“Yes, very. I have traveled both paths and Pins is the quickest.”

“Let us put your expertise to the test, shall we? I will take the Path of Needles, and we will see who gets there first.”

Redalhia shrugged for she knew she was right, but if the silly old man wanted to waste his time, who was she to stop him? She set off down the Path of Pins and thought it strange that he simply stood there, grinning, and watching her walk.

Bzou also knew the girl was right. Of course, the Path of Pins was quicker and she definitely would have reached the cottage first had the shapeshifter walked on two legs. But using all four? There was no way she would be faster than he. When the girl disappeared within the dense patch of trees, the wolfen shook off his human guise, trotted down the Path of Needles, and as he knew he would, reached Grandmother’s cottage first.

The cunning wolf altered his appearance to resemble the cherubic Redalhia and rapped gently on the door. When Grandmother answered, her thrill at seeing her favorite grandchild was short lived as Bzou slaughtered her, quickly and efficiently as not to leave a mess. He gnawed her flesh, lapped up her blood and ate her bones to the marrow, leaving only a small portion of flesh that he placed on a little dish in the pantry, and a bit of blood that he drained into a little bottle. Then Bzou cleaned himself, took the form of Grandmother and dressed in her cap and shawl before climbing into bed.

When Redalhia finally knocked on the door, Bzou carefully disguised his guttural voice before calling out, “Come in, my child.”

“Grandmother,” the girl beamed, removing her cloak and hanging it on the hook by the front door. “Mother sent me here with a galette and cream.”

“Put them in the pantry, child. Are you hungry and thirsty?”

“Yes, I am.”

“There is meat in the pantry for you to cook and wine beside it to drink.”

Redalhia cooked the meat and as she began to eat it, a little cat perched on the open windowsill and mewled. It must have been her imagination for she swore it sounded like the cat said, “You are eating the flesh of your grandmother!”

“Throw your shoe at that noisy cat,” said Bzou, and so the girl did.

As Redalhia washed the meat down with wine, a small bird alighted on the very same windowsill as the cat before and impossibly cried, “You are drinking the blood of your grandmother!”

“Throw your other shoe at that noisy bird,” Bzou commanded, and the girl did so.

When Redalhia finished her meal, Bzou said, “You must be exhausted from your journey, child. Take off your clothes, come to bed, and I shall warm you up.”

It was true, after the meat and drink, her head did spin slightly. There was something in the flavor of the meal, a familiarity basted in sorrow. “Where shall I put my clothing, Grandmother?”

“Throw them on the fire, child, for you won’t need them anymore.”

Normally, Redalhia would have questioned this but a sudden weariness fogged her mind. She tossed her bodice, skirt, petticoat, and stockings on the fire, and climbed into bed.

The nearness of her, the smell of her budding womanhood, caused Bzou’s concentration to wander and his guise slipped a bit.

Even through the sleepy haze, Redalhia noticed the change. Her once frail grandmother was hairier, her arms stronger, ears larger, and her teeth — those teeth were familiar but they had not belonged to her Grandmother. Where had she seen them before?

Bzou spoke in gentle tones to allay the girl’s suspicions, “My hair is to keep you warm on cold nights, my arms to hold you close, my ears to better hear your sweet voice, and my teeth…”

Sharp teeth. Sharper than any human has ever had. “The better to eat me with?” Redalhia leapt from the bed. “Bizou!”

The wolf smiled and let the disguise fall away completely. “Yes, ’tis I.”

“But where is Grandmo–” the truth slowly dawned on her. “You ate her!”

“I am afraid we share that sin, my dear. Now come and lie beside me.” Bzou patted the empty side of the bed.

The realization made Redalhia retch. “I — I feel ill…”

“Do it in the bed, my child, I do not mind.”

The girl backed out of the room, snatched her hood off the hook to hide her nakedness, staggered out the cottage door and vomited the undigested bits of her late grandmother against a plum tree.

Bzou followed her outside, shaking his canine head, “What a waste of good meat. Are you finished yet, deary, so that we may attend to our affairs?”

“My only affair is to see you dead!” the girl spat.

“You are welcomed to try after I take from you what is mine.”

Redalhia sprinted from the tree and took off down the Path of Pins.

“Ambrosia sweetened by the chase!” Bzou grinned as he darted down the Path of Needles, powerful legs carrying him to the fork in the road with a swiftness unmatched by any human. He braced himself for the girl to appear from the tree line. He would take her straight away, no more games. He waited. And waited. Until waiting turned to impatience and impatience turned to fury.

Bzou used his hind limbs and shoulders to propel himself through the Path of Pins at a full gallop until she saw the red hooded cloak crouched before a bush. He pounced–

And at first his mind was all a muddle. The cloak was in his teeth but there was no girl and he was suddenly upside down, tangled in something that bit at him. He was thankful for the sharp pain because it was enough to wrest him out of confusion. He was caught up in brambles. That clever girl draped her hood over a briar bush! Bzou concentrated on what he would do to the girl when he eventually caught her, to block out the sound of his screams as he slowly began to right himself and pull himself free of the tangle of prickly scrambling shrubs. The wetness of thick blood trickled from the rends in his flesh but he couldn’t afford to waste time nursing his wounds.

***

Redalhia had doubled back once she heard Bzou on the Path of Needles. Her first instinct was to run to the safety of her home, but she quickly realized how foolish a thought that was. She could not risk leading the wolf to her house, could not afford to lose Mother as well.

Branches and thistles and thorns and bramble tore at Redalhia’s naked flesh as she ran past the cottage and through the woods which had no path. And when she thought she could not run any further, she reached a river, swift and deep, where laundresses on both banks were hard at work.

“Help me cross,” she pleaded with them. The washerwomen took pity on the girl and spread a sheet over the water and held tightly to its ends. No sooner than when Redalhia had begun to cross the bridge of cloth, Bzou reached the river and jumped upon the sheet as well.

She too was on all fours now, scrambling to reach the other side of the river, and when the wolf was almost upon her, Redalhia dove off the sheet onto the river bank and yanked the linen from the laundresses’ hands and let it go.

Bzou’s paws clawed at the muddy river bank. looking for purchase but Redalhia kicked them away. He bobbed the surface a few times, shifting forms from wolf to the old man in the road to Redalhia herself to Grandmother and finally back to his true wolf self, desperately trying to swim against the tide but was too badly tangled in the sheet.

“Think… you have won… foolish whelp,” Bzou gasped each time his head resurfaced. “But you… tasted… the meat… you are tainted… cursed… I curse y–”

The wolfen let out one last pitiful howl before he drowned.

One of the laundresses, the elder of the group, gave Redalhia a sheet to wrap herself in and escorted her home, where she described to Mother in great detail the events of the day.

They held a funeral service for Grandmother and in a roughly hewn box they placed the bits of flesh Redalhia had been unable to digest, wrapped with an heirloom kerchief and buried it under the plum tree.

And as it often was in life, everything eventually returned to normal — with the exception of the four nights each month when the moon was at its fullest which always coincided with Redalhia’s personal cycle.

Just before her daughter’s bone structure began to realign itself, before her musculature changed and her hair grew, Mother would walk Redalhia to the forest cottage formerly occupied by Grandmother, secure her to the bed with silver, and cover the doors and windows with wolfsbane until the curse of the beast ran its course.

– Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Personal Space

Staten Island Ferry arriving at night

“Piece by piece, I fed my wardrobe to the night wind, and flutteringly, like a loved one’s ashes, the gray scraps were ferried off, to settle here, there, exactly where I would never know, in the dark heart of New York.”
― Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

The hawk was most definitely out tonight as I stood at the bow of the Staten Island ferry, coat collar popped and gloved hands thrust into pockets. This particular hawk bore a vicious set of teeth and wasn’t afraid to bite, which was fine by me. The colder weather combined with the icy wind that whipped off the bay afforded me some much-appreciated elbowroom, a concept that was foreign to most New Yorkers.

Being all alone out here wasn’t a problem. I had been alone most of my adult life. Alone in a crowded room. Alone in committed relationships. The people closest to me, those tenacious few who loved a challenge, were kept at an equidistant arm’s length.

Alone was my appetite.

Alone was my mantra.

Alone was my destiny.

Not too cold out tonight, is it?” a voice said, almost causing me to leap out of my skin. There, suddenly beside me, was a woman bundled against the chill air, lips curled slightly in sarcasm. Right next to me. Within the boundaries of my personal space.

Not as cold as it could be,” I replied more out of reflex than want. What I wanted was a little privacy, to tend to my own affairs as other people on the ferry tended to theirs. It was part of the unspoken rule when you agreed to live in this city. You avoided eye contact and kept yourself to yourself.

I looked at her, this stealthy woman that took me totally unawares. A full foot shorter than me, pretty, petite, and what was the politically correct term for it? Middle Asian? I wasn’t too sure and felt naked without my local ever-changing PC handbook to check for accuracy.

The immediate thing that came to mind wasn’t how stunningly attractive this woman was. My first thought was actually, Why are you talking to me? As a point of clarification, that was one of the things I admired about myself, whether it was my face or the vibe I gave off, people generally never felt the need to walk up and talk to me. Unless of course they were mentally challenged or capable—again I needed to consult the handbook—or nuts or out to start a fight with a stranger they mistakenly assumed was harmless. She was clearly none of those.

But the thought evaporated as suddenly as it appeared. She blurted out a simple statement of fact and I happened to be within earshot. Conversation over. Turn the page.

But it wasn’t over. “Do you know who you are?” she asked without a discernible trace of an accent.

Pardon?” I was taken aback by the suddenness of the question. “What, like my name?

No, that is what you are called. I want to know if you had to describe yourself to an absolute stranger, what would you say?

Most likely? Nothing,” I admitted. “I’m not too fond of the question.

Really? What if Nazis held guns to your parents’ heads? What would you tell me then?” she smiled politely, waiting.

Damn. The Nazi ploy.

As much as I hated being manipulated in this fashion, I couldn’t allow anyone, not even this woman, the most un-New Yorkian person I had ever encountered, to think I was some heartless brute that would have allowed Nazis to murder my parents in an effort to avoid providing a self-summary.

And just so you know,” she continued. “We, the Nazis and I, aren’t accepting you are a work in progress as a suitable answer, since we’re all works in progress until the moment we give up living.

Fair enough,” I nodded. It was one of those overused expressions that I couldn’t stand, just like thinking outside the box. I watched her with obvious suspicion and had half a mind not to answer, half a mind to walk away. Neither of those halves proved to be victorious.

I hadn’t the foggiest notion what came over me but words started spilling out of my mouth before I even realized I was speaking. “What I am is a pessimistic optimist, who believes love shouldn’t be denied to anyone, even to those born with icy hearts. What I know is that I’m wise enough accept love as it finds me and not reject it because it doesn’t come wrapped in a pretty package. What I hope is that someday every lonely person will reach out to another lonely person and befriend them so that the word lonely fades from our lexicon.

You must be a writer because that was corny and clumsily poetic,” she eyed me for a long moment. “But an artful dodge, so I’ll let you get away with it. This time.

This time? Just who did this woman think she was?

Now it’s your turn,” I said. “Tell me something about yourself. Anything. Start with where you’re from.

For the briefest instant, her expression took on a sadness that could only have belonged to reminiscence. “I was born and raised in India, longer ago than you would believe, but I have traveled all over, to places you probably do not even realize exist.

You’re probably right about that. Geography really isn’t my strong suit and I haven’t really traveled outside of the five boroughs,” I said, instantly embarrassed by my lack of worldliness. “So, what brings you to New York?

She remained quiet for a moment before answering. “I work for an organization, currently in a state of transition, that suffered drastic downsizing due to image problems and public opinion. My employer is in the midst of rebranding and taking on a new staff to suit the company’s new direction. You can say that I am one of many headhunters.

Talk about your artful dodge. You said a mouthful just now and told me absolutely nothing about what your organization does to make a profit.

I can tell you, but only if you really want to know because that information comes at a price.

Which is?” I asked.

Your undying loyalty.

I chuckled. “Of course.

“Of course, you agree to my terms, or of course, as in a mockery?” she cocked an eyebrow my way. “We must be clear about this.

The latter, no offense.

I see,” she ran a hand through her hair to remove it from her face. It was then that I noticed she wasn’t wearing gloves and hadn’t actually appeared to be cold. “You asked me what brings me to New York. Would you believe me if I said it was you?

I held up my hands in surrender. “All right, this is where I officially punch out of this conversation.

She took half a step closer. “Your loneliness, your isolation is like a beacon to me. I am drawn to you. I know your kind. I have seen your future and you will most assuredly die alone. No mate, no children to carry on your legacy.

I hate to break it to you, but I’m happily married with three kids who adore me.

Not true in the slightest. You have lived alone ever since your cat died of leukemia two years ago.

How — how could you know that?

The same way I know the first girl to break your heart was Shirley Hartsdale in the sixth grade when she began dating your best friend behind your back and made you the laughing-stock of the school. To this day you hold a distrust of people because of that incident, even friends and family.

I hadn’t caught the last part of her sentence. My brain was flooded with thoughts of Shirley Hartsdale, someone I hadn’t thought of in years and even now, she left a bad taste in my mouth.

The organization I work for has that sort of information available to them, not solely on you but everyone on the planet.

Oh God, I started to panic. She’s a terrorist. Part of some ferry-riding Sleeper Cell that uses attractive women to pry information out of dumb single Americans. My photo was most likely going to land in some Homeland Security dossier marked Al Qaeda Sympathizers. In that moment I just wanted this woman to be away from me. Far, far away.

I am not a terrorist,” she smiled. “Nor do I belong to a cult. What I am is a member of a peacekeeping task force that seeks to restore balance to the world with the help of people like you, the overlooked, the forgotten, the unloved. More than an organization, the company that employs me is my family and is directly descended from the first family ever to set foot on the earth. It can become your family, as well.

What I can offer you is a love unparalleled,” She touched a finger to my temple and the wind died away. The air barely moved for several moments and I listened as she spoke. My world began spinning savagely. I winced and swallowed hard to prevent nausea from triumphing as her words poured images into my mind, saturated with so much sensory information and emotion that I thought I might burst at the seams.

You will want for nothing. I will bear you many children and you will have a family the size of a small nation. A family who will worship and adore you. All this and more if you will simply pledge yourself to me forever and always.

She moved her finger away and the stillness of the air vanished as the wind rose once more. I staggered a moment, my mind reeling with the imagery that pressed a palpable weight on me. When I regained my balance and sight, I stood there stunned and in comparative silence after being shown a world that only existed as the flimsiest of pipedreams. The reality finally hit that I was dealing with something way beyond me, something that threatened to swallow me whole if I wasn’t careful.

And you will be free to follow your dreams. Become a novelist and millions will read your words. You will be well received all around the world. Spend your days lecturing, even teaching and sculpting young minds, if that’s your wish.

Or,” she continued. “Write and direct films that interest you and your following will be massive. Fellini, Scorcese, Hitchcock, Kubrick, Tarantino, would not be able to hold a candle to you. You could be like Woody Allen and release a film each year, all guaranteed blockbusters with the stars of your choice eager to play a role.

And all this will happen because of you?

Her tone shifted, becoming as sharp as a finely honed blade. “No, because of your pledge to be with me and only me.

Like signing my soul over to you?” I knew the answer but had to ask anyway.

What an archaic notion. All I need from you is your promise, sealed with a kiss. The question is: do you want to live the life you have always dreamed of living or not? After years of struggling and going unnoticed by women and society at large, you have learned to wear your isolation like a protective shell but this isn’t who you truly are, who you were meant to be. If anyone deserves a shot at the brass ring it most certainly is you, is it not?

I had trouble meeting her eyes. “That’s tempting, it really is…but I can’t.

You would turn down everything?

I’m too old to believe I can have everything. And old enough to know I won’t be happy. Maybe at first, on the surface, I will, but as time goes by I’ll know deep down that I didn’t earn any of those things. You wouldn’t be with me because you love me. You’d be with me because you needed something from me. Something I’m not smart enough to figure out at the moment.” I felt foolish because I truly couldn’t see the angle. My soul wasn’t worth that much so there must have been something else.

And suddenly I was aware of the nearness of the woman and no longer thought she was in my personal space but that I was in hers and I worried about what being within her sphere of influence might do to me. I was afraid that her essence, the power she projected would have tainted me, marked and cursed me forever.

It seems I misjudged you. All that talk of accepting love as it finds you and erasing loneliness from the lexicon is all just a mask. Your problem is not being too old, it is being too afraid.

What?” my voice cracked as I felt a sudden pang of fear.

You are a dichotomy of fear. You are afraid of dying home alone, yet you fear leaving your house to meet a woman you can form a relationship with, you fear being friendless yet fear making friends, fear being childless yet fear the responsibility of having children, you fear being loved, fear being hated, you fear life and just about everything else and you are content to let it rot your soul as you waste away out of existence.

The wind rose in unison with the pitch of her voice and I was hit with a blast so icy it made my eyes water. I wiped the tears away and the woman was gone.

I went inside because I felt the sudden and dire need to be around other people, be close to them, feel their warmth. I settled down in a seat between two strangers, neither of them pleased that I had invaded their personal space, but I was past caring at the moment.

Looking down the opposite end of the ferry I spotted the woman talking to a man, most likely another lonely bastard like me. I wanted to go over and warn him but he probably wouldn’t have believed me, and wasn’t it up to him to face his own temptations? Who’s to say that he wouldn’t have been within his rights to accept? And was I a fool for letting the opportunity to end my loneliness pass me by?

Then and there I made a promise to change my life, to put Shirley Hartsdale in perspective as I got on with my life and reconnected with old friends if it wasn’t too late and I pledged to make new friends and as I sought out the love I deserved and stopped waiting for it to come to me. Yes, that was what I was planned to do.

At least that was the lie I told myself.

©2013 – 2019 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

About Personal Space: This is one of them thar inspired by true events stories that happened one winter’s night when I was riding home on the Staten Island ferry.

A woman walked up out of the blue and started talking to me, telling me that she worked in the UN as a member of the Peacekeeping Task Force and her husband was a prosecutor for the War Crimes Tribunal. He was in The Hague, at that time, prosecuting a war criminal. She went on to tell me about their very strange but open marriage.

I blogged about this encounter on numerous occasions, mostly touching on the psychological effects the news media outlets’ constant terrorism scare reporting tactics have on the average person, even if they happen to be apolitical. And how even people who consider themselves to be an egalitarian, can get caught up in subconscious racial profiling.

It’s an encounter that has its hooks deeply embedded in my soul and I guess I’ll keep writing about it until the realization becomes easier to deal with.