One Hell Of An Offer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, that’s no problem at all.”

“I’m here to take you to class.”

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

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

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

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

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

“What? Why?”

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

Modestine nodded, “Underprivileged kids. Twelve years.”

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

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

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

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

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

“From Hell?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re not? Then who… ?”

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

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

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

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

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

“By whom?”

“Your superiors would call them Basement Management.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Just Modestine, and why me?”

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

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

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

©2014 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

Top Ten 2013 Mundanities I Didn’t Mind Being Mired In

Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking, “A top ten 2013 list is so… December 2013,” but I didn’t realize I had this great idea until I swiped it from Lani-Lani-bo-Bani-Bonana-fanna-fo-Fani-Fee-fy-mo-Mani, sole proprietor of Life the Universe and Lani.

Why roll out this blog post version of a best of clip show? Is it some clever ruse to get you to follow me til your dying day? To shower me with much deserved (and ever elusive) praise? To send in donations so that I might begin construction on my pet project: The Everlasting Dream Church of Rhyan (my genius must be preserved!)?

Yes, yes, and yes.

So take a gander, and enjoy… or not. Totally your call, mate.

Macon

Number 10: The Maconheiro Preview Clips

Clips from a disastrous horror film I attempted to shoot with absolutely no money and with the kind assistance of local talent, until locations became increasingly difficult to obtain and actors booked paying jobs. Still, ya gotta try to find out what’s doable and what ain’t, am I right? Rhetorical question. Of course I’m right.

Number 9: Snatched From the Heart of Stars: What’s Your Creative DNA?

You most likely won’t like this one. No one does but yours truly. It originated from a dream and while I might have bungled it a bit bringing it into reality, I loved the internal exploration. It breaks the blog post rules of being too damned long and meandering, but it’s my baby, and I love it just the way it is. So, deal.

Number 8: My Mad Fat Brain Bug: A Story Box Full of Regret

Writing this actually prompted me to dust off some of my more prehistorically published short speculative fiction stories and repurpose them as a collection (available on Amazon, in case you’re interested)

Number 7: A Message to My Younger Self: Try Harder

An actual message I wrote to my younger self. I’m still working on the Dezil-Washington-Deja-Vu-esque time machine to send it into the past.

https://rhyscorhys.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/dead-worms-in-ohio.jpg

Number 6: Passage Through the Graveyard of Earthworms

One of the easiest posts I’ve ever written. Standing in the midst of sun-dried worm cadavers, I typed it up on my iPhone.

Number 5: Rise of the Fallen 722nd

The post pretty much says it all. Rarely am I inspired by a piece of commercial art, but…

hand-string-tied_~x10591428

Number 4: I Put This Moment Here

Sadly, this post hits closest to home because I am forgetting things at an alarming rate.

braid

Number 3: Braiding Tales: We Built a World, Row by Row

A true story I had forgotten about until an idle comment in some random conversation with absolute strangers triggered the memory. I love when that happens, but I fear how many memories I’ve already forgotten that will never find their triggers.

Number 2: Duchess and the Anecdote

A sort of indirect sequel post to my Number 1 pick, in which I finally managed to utilize a character that’s been stuck in my head for ages.

Number 1: Stories Are the Creatures That Forage in the Wilderness of Our Minds

Although a writing advice post, I really like the wraparound bits in this one and I realize that it’s a bit gauche to fall in love with your own cleverness, but the quote from which the title was extracted is inspired.

And there you have it. My personal best bits of 2013. Let’s see what gems this year brings.

Sally forth and be whipping out your credit card and dialing because operators are standing byingly writeful.

©2014 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

Famous Thoughts on Grammar and Usage

1. “You can be a little ungrammatical if you come from the right part of the country.” — Robert Frost

2. “Word has somehow got around that the split infinitive is always wrong. That is a piece with the outworn notion that it is always wrong to strike a lady.” — James Thurber

3. “It is indeed acceptable practice to sometimes split an infinitive. If infinitive-splitting makes available just the shade of meaning you desire or if avoiding the separation creates a confusing ambiguity or patent artificiality, you are entitled to happily go ahead and split!” — Richard Lederer

4. “When you catch an adjective, kill it.” — Mark Twain

5. “The adjective is the banana peel of the parts of speech.” — Clifton Fadiman

6. “The adjective is the enemy of the noun.” — Voltaire

7. “If the noun is good and the verb is strong, you almost never need an adjective.” — J. Anthony Lukas

8. “Don’t say it was ‘delightful’; make us say ‘delightful’ when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers ‘Please will you do my job for me?’” — C.S. Lewis

9. “Forward motion in any piece of writing is carried by verbs. Verbs are the action words of the language and the most important. Turn to any passage on any page of a successful novel and notice the high percentage of verbs. Beginning writers always use too many adjectives and adverbs and generally use too many dependent clauses. Count your words and words of verbal force (like that word “force” I just used).” — William Sloane

10. “The editorial ‘we’ has often been fatal to rising genius; though all the world knows that it is only a form of speech, very often employed by a single needy blockhead.” — Thomas Baington Macaulay

11. “Only presidents, editors and people with tapeworm have the right to use the editorial ‘we.’” — Mark Twain

Writing Joke of the Day: Comforting a Grammar Nazi

Q: What do you say when you are comforting a grammar nazi?
A: There, Their, They’re

English Professor

“In English,” he said, “A double negative forms a positive. In some languages, though, such as Russian, a double negative is still a negative. However, there is no language wherein a double positive can form a negative.”

A voice from the back of the room piped up, “Yeah, right.”

Library

A Texan was visiting Harvard University, and was lost. He stopped a student and asked, “Do you know where the library is at?”

“I sure do,” replied the student, “But, you know, you’re not supposed to end sentences with prepositions.”

“What?”

“Prepositions. You ended your sentence with an ‘at’, which you aren’t supposed to do.”

“Oh, ok,” said the Texan, “Do you know where the library is at, asshole?”

Grammar walks into a Bar

Three intransitive verbs walk into a bar. They sit. They Drink. They Leave

A comma splice walks into a bar, it has a drink and then leaves.

A dangling modifier walks into a bar. After finishing a drink, the bartender asks it to leave.

A Question mark walks into a bar?

Two Quotation marks “walk into” a bar.

A gerund and an infinitive walk into a bar, drinking a drink.

The bar was walked into by the passive voice.

The past, the present, and the future walked into a bar. It was tense.

A synonym ambles into a pub.

A gerund and an infinitive walk into a bar, drinking to drink.

A hyperbole totally ripped into this bar and destroyed everything.

A run on sentence walks into a bar it is thirsty.

Falling slowly, softly falling, the chiasmus collapsed to the bar floor.

A group of homophones wok inn two a bar.

Panda

A panda walks into a cafe. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.

“Why?” asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.

“I’m a panda,” he says at the door. “Look it up.”

The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation.

“Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”

Eleven Thoughts on Fiction

1. “Fiction reveals truths that reality obscures.” — Jessamyn West

2. “Truth may be stranger than fiction, but fiction is truer.” — Frederic Raphael

3. “Fiction’s about what it is to be a human being.” — David Foster Wallace

4. “First-rate fiction lays hands on the reader, to heal him or rough him up or, ideally, to do both.” — Ellen Currie

5. “The trouble with fiction is that it makes too much sense, whereas reality never makes sense.” — Aldous Huxley

6. “Details make stories human, and the more human a story can be, the better.” — V.S. Pritchett

7. “Character is the very life of fiction. Setting exists so that the character has someplace to stand. Plot exists so the character can discover what he is really like, forcing the character to choice and action. And theme exists only to make the character stand up and be somebody.” — John Gardner

8. “In writing fiction, the more fantastic the tale, the plainer the prose should be. Don’t ask your readers to admire your words when you want them to believe your story.” — Ben Bova

9. “Basically, fiction is people. You can’t write fiction about ideas.” — Theodore Sturgeon

10. “Structure is the key to narrative. These are the crucial questions any storyteller must answer: Where does it begin? Where does the beginning start to end and the middle begin? Where does the middle start to end and the end begin?” — Nora Ephron

11. “Fiction is a lie, and good fiction is the truth inside the lie.” — Stephen King

The Three Characteristics of Successful Fiction

Three characteristics a work of fiction must possess in order to be successful:

1. It must have a precise and suspenseful plot.

2. The author must feel a passionate urge to write it.

3. He must have the conviction, or at least the illusion, that he is the only one who can handle this particular theme.

— Isaac Bashevis Singer