A Rose by Any Other Voice

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“You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows that they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift.” ― Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus

There are different types of stories. Some you share, some that transform themselves into other creative endeavors, some that are stillborn with no hope of resuscitation, and some that you hide from everyone, sometimes even yourself.

When I wore a younger man’s clothes, I wrote a story. One that I’ve never shared, one that will never transform itself into another work of art, one I have not read since its inception. But every so often when my mind settles into a rare resting mode and all my thoughts become inconsequential white noise, the story whispers to me so that I don’t forget it. It does what it needs to do in order to survive.

No, it’s not a true confession, nor is it based on or inspired by true events. There’s no deep-seated ideological conviction behind it. It’s also not the most powerful or hard-hitting thing I’ve ever written. Hell, the thing isn’t even written in my voice. Chiefly because it’s not my story.

The story belongs to someone else, told to me in part before she died.

Rose loved to tell stories to take her mind off her illness, so we’d meet occasionally when her health allowed or sometimes talk over the phone and she would spin her vignettes. She wasn’t a professional writer so the stories were uneven and structurally unsound, but they were enjoyable nonetheless. She was witty and articulate and sometimes, but not too often, a good telling trumps structure.

And she continued telling stories until the pain became too much to bear, but before Rose died she said to me, “complete it,” and slow on the uptake as I can often be, I didn’t catch her meaning until months later.

It wasn’t an easy process. When I finally wrote the story down as close to verbatim as my past-its-sell-by-date memory could manage, I looked at the work and was confounded by what I could actually do with it. At first, I wanted to restructure and outline everything so that I could plot a logical ending, but that wouldn’t have been true to Rose’s storytelling style. A style I had become very protective of.

In the end, I decided this wasn’t a story that could be written, only transcribed, so I sat in front of a mirror with a digital recorder and recited the fragments Rose left me as a parting gift and traveled down a nonstructural road to see where it led me.

And I didn’t go it alone. I could feel Rose’s hand in mine, leading me down the path to the story’s final destination.

Sally forth and be damn-the-structure-and-just-tell-your-damned-storyingly writeful.

©2014 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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First Saturdays

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Hi, my name is Rhyan and I’m a movie addict.

And an insomniac.

Native New Yorker, born in Manhattan, raised in The Bronx, and because I inherited my mother’s transient nature, I’ve managed to live in each of the five boroughs. Poor as a skunk’s misery, a church mouse, Job, Lazarus, and dirt. Hell, I’m still poor, and most likely always will be.

The best thing about growing up without anything is that you learn to make the most of what you’ve got and distract yourself from what you haven’t got. My major distraction was television.

It was my babysitter, my tutor, and my secret friend that entertained me as the rest of the world slept. Its siren call would lure me into the living room, where I’d toss my blanket over the both of us so the light didn’t spill out of the room and give away my position. Then I’d plug my mono transistor radio earphone into the headphone jack and marvel at all the noir, horror and science fiction movies that played on CBS’ The Late Show, The Late Late Show, and The Late Late Late Show.

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I was always a wreck in school the following day, but man was it worth it.

The only thing that trumped this near nightly process was the first Saturday of the month. Like most poor folk, we were on welfare and this was before the Food Stamp bill was passed in 1970 which meant everything, rent, bills, and food monies arrived in the mailbox in one convenient check. The Saturday that followed check day was always considered my day. Wherever I wanted to go, wherever I wanted to play.

Tads

My playground of choice? 42nd Street. The first stop was Tad’s Steak House. Sure, the broiled steak was thin and more gristle than meat, the garlic bread was oilier than Brylcreem, the chocolate pudding coated with that yucky skin and a fountain Coke served in a large red plastic tumbler that smelled like the previous beverage it held… but to me, it was pure heaven.

42nd

Then my mother gestured at the movie theaters that lined both sides of the street and said the most perfect thing anyone could have said to me at the time, “You can see all the movies you can stay awake for.”

These were once majestic movie houses that slowly transformed during the decline of New York City starting in the late 50’s into grindhouse theaters before grindhouse was even a word. Each one ran three films, usually one current and the others whatever was on hand.

On these magic Saturdays, I tore through Roger Corman flicks, Hammer Films, the Toho tokusatsu imports and so much more. All uninterrupted viewing aside from the occasional mom hand that would clamp over my eyes during nude or sex scenes. Only when I started to nod off was it time to head home, despite my protestations.

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On the way home, we’d stop off at the Horn & Hardart automat and my mother would dump tokens into my hand and send me off to fetch dinner from the individual glass door compartments. Even though it was only plain food — sandwiches, beef stew, and the like — there was something about slotting coins and retrieving a prize that appealed to me.

Optimo

The final detour before reaching home was the Optimo Cigars shop that had a spinning wire rack of comic books where I’d select my month’s reading material.

I realize this may not seem like any great shakes to you, but it remains the only positive memory I have of my mother — too long and too personal a story to go into here — and I can’t think of a better way to honor the anniversary of her passing.

Sally forth and be playground exploringly writeful.

©2014 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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Vacancies, Vacancies Everywhere, Yet None of Them For Me

no-vacancies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2014 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Expanded, my response is:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2014 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

 

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

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

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

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

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

The downside?

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

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

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

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

A story for another day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I shrugged an oh, well.

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

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

Why not?”

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

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

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

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

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

You’re so mean.

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2014 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

Open Mic Nite

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McLaren took the mic and set the ground rules:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shhh. Lemme have this one.

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

Catch the lot of you in 2018!

-Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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Braiding Tales: We Built a World, Row by Row

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“We gave the Future to the winds, and slumbered tranquilly in the Present, weaving the dull world around us into dreams.” ― Edgar Allan Poe, The Mystery of Marie Rogêt

I spent most of my early teens in the Bronx. The street I lived on, corner to corner, ran the length of three average city blocks and was the picture of diversity—the melting pot that New York had become famous for. It was all about migration. Italians were moving to new ground as black people nestled in and on their tail were Hispanics followed by West Indians. It was a neighborhood in transition where multi-cultures learn by cohabitation that differences in race didn’t make a person less human.

It was also the 70’s and I rocked a killer afro to end all ‘fros. Metal pronged afro pick with the handle clenched in a black power fist and a peace symbol carved out on the base, tucked in the back of my hair.

It drove my parents crazy. They rode my back constantly to get it cut but there was that preteen Samsonian fear that the strength of my personality—-my Madd-ness—-would be stripped away, were a barber to lay clippers on my precious locks. When I got the “as long as you’re living under my roof” speech, I knew I needed a solution and I needed it quick.

Enter: Cynthia Holloway. I mentioned my plight in passing and out of nowhere she offered to braid my hair into cornrows. So, we sat on the stoop of a private house and armed with only a comb and hair grease, Cynthia worked her nimble fingers like a loom.

She was one of those neighborhood girls that I’d never really spoken to before outside the odd hello. Not that there was anything wrong with her, she was simply a person that kept herself to herself. The type of person you’d have to make an effort to get to know.

It would take many years for me to become that type of person.

But in sitting with her I discovered she was both intelligent and imaginative, with interesting stories to tell. Her father was a retired Army Ranger colonel, who spent a great deal of his free time on the road in a jazz band.

I’m not sure how much of that was true. No one could ever remember seeing Cynthia’s dad, so maybe it was a story she invented to keep nosy kids at bay. Or perhaps it was one of the quiet lies that parents tell their children to spare them from the harsh realities of troubled marriages.

Since we had nothing but time to kill, we talked about our constricted home lives, mentioned the odd hobby, told a few jokes and had a couple of laughs, and when all the conversation wells had run dry, we told each other stories.

At the end of every month, when the braids began to look a little ratty, I’d take them out and Cynthia met me back on that stoop to repeat the process. And after a brief bit of catch-up, we’d go back to telling each other imaginary stories and without meaning to, wound up designing an illusory sanctuary from the burdens and pains of our everyday pre-teenage lives.

While we mentally terraformed our neighborhood row by cornrow, we got to know each other in those months as the monarchs of our fantasy world. We explored the surroundings, went on adventures, and basically forgot the world for a few hours a month.

Come the fifth month, I sat on the stoop and waited, my hair a wild crop of imagination waiting to be plowed, but Cynthia never showed. I later learned from a friend of a friend’s sister that she and her mother had moved away in the middle of the night without telling a soul where they were headed.

I tried to imagine all the possible reasons that would cause them to make a hurried escape under the cloak of twilight and seriously hoped it had nothing to do with her retried-Army-Ranger-colonel-jazz-band-dad. Nothing negative, anyway.

And yes, I eventually had no other choice than to submit to the butcher shop barbershop haircut. Much to my surprise, I managed to retain all of my Madd-ness afterward. I was still filled with my nerdy sameness and when I missed her a bit, I’d sometimes sit on the stoop and give an imaginary Cynthia updates on the latest goings-on in the world we created.

Thanks for humoring me as I wool-gathered.

PS. Cyn, if through some bizarre happenstance you should come across this, hit me up real quick. There’s a world in some need of serious upkeep.

The Long Haul to Seventy-Five Short Stories

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

I began writing when I was young.

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

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

It was her favorite book.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for humoring me as I wool-gathered.

A Message to My Younger Self: Try Harder

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I have no doubt that my story will end in very much the same manner as it began, with a secret. And as I stand at the crossroads, caught at the precise moment where a lifetime of secrets left untold should either be revealed or die forever, I stare at the younger man, eyes full of dreams that have not yet been crushed ‘neath the heel of reality, and find it difficult to believe that I was once him.” — Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys, The Very Fabric of Time Itself

I was riding the Staten Island Ferry today and it was one of those rare occasions when I wasn’t plugged into my iPod. I had just finished listening to an episode of The Afternoon Drama (a daily BBC radio play series) and as I was letting the weight of the story settle in, I overheard a conversation between a couple. They were talking about the five messages they would include in a letter if they were able to have it delivered to their younger selves.

This, of course, got me thinking about my own letter and how difficult a process it would be to write. The younger me, we’ll call him Li’l Madd for the sake of this post, was a card-carrying member of The Bronx Chapter of the International Skeptics Society who wouldn’t have believed

  1. the letter came from the future, and more importantly,
  2. that his future self had written it.

Also, I’m sure if I flat out told him of the obstacles he would face, that information would be redacted by some faceless wage slave at the Temporal Post Office, so the message would have to be as succinct as possible. And, if I’m honest, I wasn’t in love with the notion of sending five messages because that seemed a bit much to me. No one follows all five pieces of advice they receive. Humans just aren’t built that way. I’d either have to settle on offering Li’l Madd three pieces of advice, hoping that at least one of them stuck, or offer one simple, yet key, bit of advice with a unifying thread. Most likely I’d go with the second option.

The next problem is offering the exact piece of advice Li’l Madd would listen to. That’s a toughie, that one. Yup. Yessiree, Bob. Sigh. I guess it would all have to fall under the category of Try Harder, as in:

Love fiercely and try harder not to break hearts. Befriend the friendless and try harder not to burn bridges. Laugh more and try harder not to take life too seriously. Follow your bliss and try harder to stave off the darkness. Turn off the TV and try harder to think deeply. Take your time but try harder to avoid procrastination. Dream bigger and try harder to stop worrying about dreams not coming true. And stay away from Jane Hester. Sure, she’s pretty to look at but she’s nothing but trouble and It. Will. Not. End. Well.

I’m sure that last bit will get redacted, but here’s hoping!

Author’s Note: While Jane Hester most certainly exists, Jane Hester’s name is not Jane Hester. I wouldn’t out anyone like that, not even Jane Hester. But if you ran into Jane Hester in the real world, you’d know exactly who she was, without even checking her scalp for the Mark of the Beast.

Passage Through the Graveyard of Earthworms

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My monotony needed twisting yesterday, so I went for a stroll, sans iPod. You know, breathe in a bit of city fresh air, clear some cobwebs, that sort of deal.

There I was walking down the street, mind-sifting through character conversations and scene settings when I looked down at the pavement and realized that I was traipsing through what looked like the aftermath of the Great Worm War of 2017. The sidewalk was a battlefield littered with the corpses of thousands of earthworms that coated an entire city block.

Logically I knew how this could have happened. I knew they came to the surface either during the heavy rains–but it’s been dry weather for the past week–or to pair off and mate only to get caught on things that are hard for them to crawl across, like sidewalks and subsequently fry on the surface from sun rays–but that normally occurs during spring.

So, what then? Had there actually been a battle? Warring clans pitched against one another over territorial disputes? Factions in conflict over the claiming of a throne? Families locked in a deadly dispute over an unholy union?

Or was it a warning?

As I stood there, staring at their dried remains, curled into runic shapes, I wondered if they had been somehow gifted with a vision of the approaching apocalypse and had sacrificed themselves in an effort to warn us in the only language they knew. The last Germanic language spoken to them by man before the two species went their separate ways.

In that moment I felt like Indiana Jones in the passageway to the Grail chamber, trying to decipher the worm cadavers’ possible portents of doom, only without the aid of a diary or Sean Connery whispering something about, “Only the penitent man will pass.” or like John Nash without an ounce of the mental code breaking ability.

And I stood there. Longer than I’m comfortable admitting. Frustrated by the limits of my linguistics. Finally, I forced myself to move on, but not before making a promise:

No more outdoor strolls without my iPod.