Adam Zane Cook

Emilia (Novel Excerpt)

Chapter 4: There are mouths to be kissed before mouths to be fed.

The light had been coming in through the locker room windows differently those past few days. It was not that it seemed brighter. Or not just that it seemed brighter. But softer too. Cleaner. The weather was cooler. It felt like autumn, like the long Southern California summer would abate.

This was a trick of the weather, of course. Every year the weather in Redlands cooled for a bit towards the end of September, and then the heat came back with a vengeance, usually by mid October, and stayed in the low eighties all the way to the New Year. Knowing that this respite of false fall was so fleeting filled it with a sense of dread. Like so much of life. Of course, everything ran out. But the good stuff seemed to run out so much more quickly than the bad. The quilts from my grandmother, maple syrup from Vermont, even the sun, the thing that was our hope for a greener, cleaner, solar California, would eventually run out. Light——the very light that came through the locker room windows——was not endless.

It had been a run day that day in PE. Danny Coleman lapped me twice. The second time, he stopped, put his hands against my back, and said, “Let me help. I’ll push, but you have to run.” He did this almost every week. Two years ago, the first time he’d done it, it had almost been funny. But it was an inevitability now. Like the light. Like the weather. Like the false fall. At least run days would be ending soon. There was only one more year of PE, then the graduation requirement would be filled. And then no more PE. No more run days where Coach Lopez expressed her disappointment with my 16:22 mile time. No more changing in front of Danny Coleman and having him grab my fat, my “tits,” and smelling his cheap body spray on me for hours after.

Trudging into the locker room, my breath just regained, my legs sore, my shirt slick with sweat, I took comfort in the fact that even PE was not endless, no matter how interminable it felt.

God is endless, they’d told us at church. He represented the hope that there was something beyond the looming, black punctuation mark that was death. But what came after that? More of the same? Was existence (and after-existence) just one long line? Or were we to, as one of the speakers at church had once said, look to the seasons for our answer? That the way the year repeated itself was a sign from God that we too could be resurrected? Which implied rebirth. But rebirth into this same life? Into a new life?

We had to watch a PBS documentary on the Big Bang theory in eighth grade science. The teacher, in an attempt to appease the fundamentalist students, had prefaced the viewing by stressing that what we were learning about was a theory and that none of us had to take it as fact. It wasn’t the Big Bang I had a problem with. The Mormon Church didn’t have an official policy on it, and the general consensus was that there was no problem with viewing God as the “Ultimate Scientist.” What was unsettling came about halfway in when a scientist explained the “Big Crunch,” the theory that the Universe would eventually stop expanding and start contracting and eventually compact itself into a single, infinitely dense mass, wherein it would explode and create a new Universe. And that the Universe had been doing this, making and unmaking itself, longer than time.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the Big Crunch, and about how the entire universe would look compacted down. Would it be the size of a planet? A comet? A baseball? An atom? Would you be able to see it? And what would it be among? I had asked my mother about it as she was making dinner that night and she said she didn’t like to think about things like that. Which is what she always said when I brought up questions like “Where did God come from?” and “Will I be the same age as you in Heaven?”

I couldn’t explain to her how it wasn’t just that it made my head hurt to think about the Big Crunch, but that the thought made my body feel weightless and hollow, and that my chest constricted like my heart was imploding, and that it became hard to breathe, and a pin-prickly, numbing sensation spread over my entire body. I couldn’t tell her how there were only 36,525 days in a century, how that didn’t seem like that many, and how, given the average lifespan of the American male, I knew I was bound to see many fewer than that 36,525. How if I was thirteen at the time, and I lived to be as old as my great-grandpa had, 87, an eighth of my life had already elapsed. How in such moments, death seemed not only inevitable, but imminent, preferable, even. If only to get it over with.

“Why don’t you pray about it,” she finally said. “And I’ll pray about it too.”

I told her I would, recognizing that I had reached the end of the help she could give me. She pecked me on the forehead, and I left her in peace.

I wanted her to tell me that maybe the Big Crunch did go against the Church. Dismissing it outright would have made things easier, like my evangelical friends did with evolution. But if my mom, so logical but so devout, wasn’t willing to disown it… then both science and religion confirmed it: the very nature of existence was that there was no meaning, no novelty, just repetition. We were meant to repeat these patterns over and over again, like the Buddhist monks who made the same artwork in sand every day only to brush it away. In which case, there needed to be an end point for things to have meaning. Real flowers die, that’s why they’re prettier than plastic ones. Novels end, that’s why they make us cry. But if an end provided meaning, did Heaven rob life of its meaning? Even a Heaven where you were forever separated from your loved ones?

I had to pull myself back. Out of the polluted swamp of my consciousness. Back. Back. Back to the P.E. locker room, and out of the mud and tar and radioactive waste.

It will be many years before I learn the meditational breathing techniques that help in such situations. And even then, they will not help much. Instead, at that moment, I looked to the light for help. I followed it as it came through the paneled windows and fell on the floor near Chris Demirdjii’s lithe form——half-naked of course——caressed only by those thin white briefs of his. How pretty life is, I thought. Enjoy it now, you depressing bore.

It was hypnotic following the neat groups of muscles that ran up Chris’s legs. Up and down. They were not marbled with jiggly fat, like mine. They were neat, spare, fibrous. You could see the individual chords rise and fall, leading into the next group, all the way from his ankle to his calf to his thigh to just above the waistband on his briefs. There was a small razor cut just above his left knee. He had shaved his legs. Just last week, there had been a thick matting of black hair running up and down them, but they were bare now, milk white. Is that in now? Shaved legs. Even the swim team boys only shaved their legs because the coach made them. Shaved legs said a certain thing about a boy. Was Chris on the swim team now? Or was he a certain thing?

Mr. Roth was a certain thing. I hadn’t been able to get that out of my mind since Emilia had told me the other day. It was such a loss of control; Mr. Roth giving into his baser urges, leaving his wife. And for a man. A man. Even constructing the sentence in my mind felt wrong, like the social order was being undone by the mere existence of the concept. He had a wife, a house, a good job. He’d done everything he was supposed to.

Did he feel guilt over what he felt? Did he try desperately to think of girls while his mind kept going back to boys? Beautiful boys. With their smooth skin and hot breath, their garlicky odor and their piquant deodorant, their big, body-built arms so out of proportion with their bodies, their Adam’s apples, the way their hair changed in texture and color as you tracked it down their torso. I thought of Mr. Roth, glasses off, his black hair slick with sweat, his frumpy body slamming against Jeff the janitor, over and over again. Jeff’s eyes rolling back in his head, biting his lower lip, a low, guttural grunt emerging with each of Mr. Roth’s thrusts. Or switching positions, with Jeff’s taut, wiry body overtaking Mr. Roth. Again and again I thought about it.

At church we were told to envision our “future families.” Not our present families, of course, with our parents and siblings. Those people were preparation, the pupal stage that would eventually molt off and be left behind in a husky, translucent pile. No, we were always meant to consider our future family. The one that would be composed of the person we married and the children that resulted. Ever present were they, my future family. Every decision had to be made weighing them in mind. College, career, diet, exercise, where to live, whether or not to have a dual-income home. And these were decisions that had to be made now. Now, they told us. Women wanted to marry men with a future (whereas men, we were told, wanted to marry women without a past), and the only way to have a future was to decide now, not for ourselves, but for these people who would come to rely on us.

My future family always seemed to be composed of those wooden, jointed modeling dolls, the kind with smooth, nondescript features that artists use to draw the human form in different positions. They doll family was not unkind. We always seemed to be sitting around the dinner table in a house not unlike the one I grew up in, the dolls talking to each other in a language made up of the scrapes and squeaks of their various joints moving.

Earlier that morning, before Chris Demirdjii and the locker room and Danny Coleman and the run and everything else, while I was lying in bed, before my alarm had gone off, an anarchic, electric thought had occurred to me: Would I care if one of my children told me they were haunted by the certain thing? Would I tell them God hated them? Would I believe God hated them? Them, spiritual and corporeal duplicates of myself. Would I hate them?

Across the room, Chris Demirdjii buttoned up his plaid shirt, pulled on his pants, ran a hand through his hair. For the first time the thought verbalized that he was beautiful, not just the light or the hair or the muscles, but the holistic he was beautiful. And even more so standing there in that square of light. The sunshine reflecting off his black, curly hair, giving the effect of a bronze halo hovering just above his head.

Would I hate my child? And did I hate Mr. Roth now, when he had been my favorite teacher up to that moment?

Danny Coleman walked into the square of light, in front of Chris Demirdji. Lost in thought, I had been looking too long. Danny locked eyes with me, gave me a toothy smile, his eyes lupine and hungry. I immediately squinted, as if I were trying to see something above Chris. Danny moved.

I turned to my locker and started changing quickly. I had to get out of the locker room. I ripped off my PE shirt and shorts, rolled them up into a funky ball and shoved them to the back of my locker. I grabbed my t-shirt and frantically tried to pull it on. My arm banged against the row of lockers and my elbow seized with blunt pain. I paused to rub it, and in that pause Danny darted up behind. His arms were around me almost as quickly as I noticed him. They were veiny.

“God, your rack,” Danny said, lightly pinching my nipples. “If I had these I’d be playing with them all day.”

I followed a vein from the top of his bicep as it ran down his forearm. His hairless forearm. Danny had shaved them. Had they always been hairless? Or was Danny on swim team now too? He didn’t have the build for it.

In the locker room, other guys chatted, the teachers in their office at the other end laughed, and… these things are so brash in their clarity that the only option, sometimes, is that they are not the things they are. I apologize, I am being obscure. When I meet up with friends now, old high school friends for a coffee or lunch or a drink, they will say, “I always knew. We all did.” and I will say, “But no one told me.” And they will say, “It was so obvious.” And we will laugh, and I will not know why we are laughing. Things hide in plain sight. You do not see Danny Coleman sneaking up behind you in the locker room. You do not see the way your male teacher flirts with the male janitor. You do not see the clear inconsistencies in your religion, the contradictions in dogma, but you know they are there. And you know you are not supposed to see them. So you don’t. Meteors swoop past Earth and scientists tell us we should have seen it coming. Fascists win elections and the pundits tell us how blind we were to reality. And it might be late at night, and you might have never thought about killing yourself before. You might not have seen how easy it would be, via a jump from a high ledge, one of your father’s guns, by running your car in the garage, or any number of frighteningly possible methods, to pass from the land of the living to the land of the dead, if there is one. And suddenly you see it all.

Danny brought his mouth close to my ears. “You like this, don’t you?” he asked, his soft lips brushing my earlobe, conforming to its curve. They were soft and conformed to the curve of my ear. The warmth and moistness of his mouth mere millimeters away from my skin. Goosebumps spread up and down my arm. My dick hardened. In that moment, I realized it always did when Danny grabbed me.

In Danny’s arms time always went slowly. They were strong, his arms. There was no escaping them, even if I tried. They were sturdy. Comforting. I could go limp in them and he’d still have me. ‘You like this, don’t you?’ he asked again, softer this time, as if he did care whether or not I liked it. As if he would change if I said, ‘No, a little softer.’ I let my legs weaken a little bit. His arms bulged, his vein popped even more. And still he had me.

The smell was intoxicating. The fruity, vinegary smell of his fresh sweat, adulterated by the chemical spice and citrus of his cheap body spray, astringent and overbearing. Why ruin perfectly natural body odor with such obvious artificialities? His skin was so smooth, his body so hard, so strong, his breath hot against my neck, his heart beating underneath it all. Maybe I do like it, I thought. And another part of my brain answered, No, not now.

He gripped a handful of my tummy fat and slid his thumb slowly over it. “You could get rid of this if you actually tried running out there.” His deep voice vibrated against his throat. In ward choir, Danny always had to sing the low bass notes. He wasn’t bad. A little flat, but all basses tended to be. Danny’s other hand left my nipple and started to roam around. He caressed my arm, my side, my back. My breathing shallowed. “I used to have this baby fat like you,” he said. “Keep up with me next time. It’ll melt right off.” How long had Danny been holding me? It had to be longer than normal. Or maybe I was just enjoying it more. Maybe I do like it, I thought again, stronger this time. Maybe this was how Mr. Roth felt when he cheated with the janitor. And the other part of my brain answered again, No, not now. And I thought, Then when?

I needed to pull away. Danny’s constricting hold had loosened enough. I could get out. And there was only so much time left before Danny did it himself. Better to have it be under my own terms. But I didn’t pull away. I held off. Suddenly other paths in my life seemed not only present, but traversable.

Under some force, conscious and unconscious, Celestial and Terrestrial, I pushed myself back into Danny to further feel his body against me. It felt like falling. Falling into his uneven stubble snagging against my neck, and his clearly defined six pack, and his pecs, his tight little nipples that poked out of his shirt at church because he didn’t wear an undershirt. Falling into “faggot” and “nice tits” and his high-pitched, gatling gun laugh that he reserved for his own jokes, and the way he called me “Brother Cook” with rehearsed respect in Sunday school. Falling into his tree trunk arms, and his gammon legs, and his spoiled wine smell, and a hardness bulging against the thin netting of his PE shorts.

In fifth grade, when the school nurse showed us the videotape about sexual reproduction, I learned the word “erection,” meaning “the enlarged and rigid state of the penis, typically in sexual excitement.” The knowledge that I wasn’t the only one who experienced the phenomenon of having an appendage, which previously had the consistency of jello, randomly become “enlarged and rigid,” was comforting. But the word didn’t encompass everything around it. Erection sounded like something you built, something you controlled. It did not seem to indicate the feeling that your body was visibly betraying your inner thoughts, or the shame when you dashed to the bathroom in the morning, hoping no one saw. Not to mention the pressure of realizing you had to produce one should you ever wish to have future children with your future wife.

I pushed further into Danny. The hardness became harder. Oh, I thought. So that was what they felt like when other people had them. Before I could even think, Danny pushed me away, against the lockers. I banged my arm again, tripped over the bench, fell flat against the concrete floor on my back. “Fucking fa…” Danny started to say. Gone was his clement tone, his impish grin. But he couldn’t finish saying it. Because if he did, it would mean something about him—some thing about him. Like that needling saying from when we were kids. “I know you are, but what am I?” Because if I actually was the real McCoy, the fucking fag, then not only he had gotten too close, he would have actively held me there. His face had hardened into a scowl, his eyes were matte. He was thinking. And Danny’s thoughts were never anodyne.

I looked away. And when Danny didn’t move, I picked myself up, and started to change. I didn’t look at him. I didn’t want to provoke him. He began to take deep breaths. It was coming. Everyone else in the locker room went about their business. Guys chatted with other guys, they got dressed, put on deodorant. Chris Demirdjii pulled on a pair of jeans that were far too big for him and strapped them on with a belt. In the teachers’ office, all the coaches were talking, drinking coffee. If Danny decided to hit me he’d only get a few good punches in before the teachers got to him. And at the very least, I could ball up to minimize the damage.

I was down to my blue plaid boxers, and he still hadn’t done anything. My fingers had gone numb. My clothes, as I grabbed them out of my locker, felt like they had no texture. The only sensation was their slight weight in my hands. Danny needed to punch me soon and get it over with. He needed to punch me soon or… or I would punch him. Yes. I would punch him. How dare he wield such power over me. How dare he claim to know things and things when he was the one with the erection, the one chasing after my body. When he acted more the thing than I ever dared.

I turned to him, still in my boxers, shirt in hand. The numbness had spread to my entire body, as if I had mainlined novocaine. I looked him straight in his eyes. His wide eyes leering right back into mine. They narrowed ever so slightly. His brow furrowed a bit, worried. He broke eye contact for a millisecond. He was no longer trying to take in just me and my stance, but the wider picture, and an escape route. Oh yes. I could punch Danny Coleman. And he knew it.

“What do you want?” I asked.

He returned his gaze to me, his eyes no longer hard and set, but unstable, watery even. Confused. They were beautiful too, his eyes. I had never noticed them. Or perhaps, like Chris Demirdjii, I had, and never allowed myself to call them beautiful. But they were. Amber, with hazel flecks. His eyelashes long, soft. I pulled back to take in his full face. His scowl was gone. His lips were loose, slightly downturned. He was scared. I hadn’t seen Danny so subordinate, so powerless since we were in nursery. It was… exciting, knowing that I had made him this way. And by something as simple as getting too close. I wondered what else I could make him do.

I zeroed back in on his eyes. It was beginning to feel like the staring contests I used to have with my sister. Except with Danny, I blinked freely, as if to say, No, it’s all right. Blink away. But I know you. You’re mine now. And I can do whatever I want with you. And there is nothing you can hide.

Time had stretched out again, and I was not sure how much of it had passed.

“Stay away from me,” Danny said finally, breaking eye contact. He attempted an anxious laugh, but it got stuck in his throat and came out like a small squeak. He walked off quickly and didn’t look back.

I pulled on my shirt, my shorts. Rubbed some deodorant under my arms, grabbed my backpack, put the lock on my locker, pushed up extra hard. The locker room was almost empty now.

Danny was talking with his friends in a circle outside. They all wore tight polo shirts in blue, green, red, or in a particularly assertive mood, pink. The shirts hugged their muscular frames and tightened at the cuffs to emphasize their biceps. You could tell the difference between the boys who got their shirts from the nice store versus the department stores by if the polo shirt had a little piece of embroidery over the left pec, the crocodile or the polo player being the most desirable of these embroideries.

The boys were always rowdy and would routinely break out in violent, cacophonous laughter. It was frightening. Like thunder. Everyone was waiting behind the gates to the PE area, waiting for the bell to ring. No other group was as loud as Danny’s. No matter where you were in the hoard of people, snatches of their conversation would find you. “This weekend.” “So drunk.” “That bitch.” They were allowed to make their mark on the world, allowed to take up as much space as they pleased.

I examined Danny from afar in the group. It was seldom that I looked at the boys outside of the locker room. There weren’t enough distractions. People were more likely to notice. The locker room was a liminal space, nothing concrete happened in there, and so staring outside, in the real world felt active, definitive. But this newfound boldness was surprising to me, and I was taking to it quickly. Why should I not exact on Danny the same entitlement to his body that he took with me?

Danny was looking intently at the boy who was speaking in the group at the moment. I did not know this boy. Perhaps his hair was a little more artfully messy, perhaps the crocodile on his shirt was a bit bigger, but he was essentially a carbon copy of the rest. But Danny looked at him with such respect, such admiration, like he was studying him. His eyes, his beautiful eyes, had that soft openness of the new converts at church, people who have let their barriers down, who are ready to believe anything. Danny nodded at everything this boy said. He smiled when this boy smiled. He laughed a good half-beat before everyone else. The thought came to me so clearly: Danny wished he was this boy.

I wondered if this was how we all are: looking from person to person, hoping someone in this world was doing it right. Danny looked to this boy, this boy looked to someone else, and so on and so on. Where did it end? Our progenitors? God? And who did God look up to? Or was God just the culmination of all this longing?

Danny’s eyes darted to me, and just as quickly they darted back to the boy.

That’s right, I thought. Look away. Maybe I am frightening. Maybe I am too much to look at. Maybe you could never compare to me. And so you hate me. Maybe I am.

Maybe I am.


Adam Zane Cook grew up in Redlands, CA, and currently resides in the Bay Area. He received his BA in Creative Writing from UC Riverside. He is a substitute teacher, and is pursuing an MFA in Fiction at San Francisco State University.

Gil Zamora

Beyond What is Required


“You’re going to walk straight into Mexico,” Daniel told his mother. His smile didn’t quite hide his concern.

“I just need to stay moving,” she told him. She grabbed her purse and didn’t bother to tell him where she was going.

I just need to stay distracted, she thought. Her walks had started out of necessity. Julio had been driving her car that night and the Riverside Police Department kept it for further investigation. The first few weeks, there were so many people around, that any errand she needed to run or arrangement she needed to make, there would be an available chauffer. It gave people something they could do to “help.” She could feel them being proud of themselves, while she sat in their passenger’s seat and sighed deeply, almost against her will.

But after the good intentions returned to their normal lives, she still had things to do and places to get to, so she started walking. Getting to work was almost a mile walk to the bus stop. The post office and the grocery store were a disappointing shortcut through an alley that ran behind several cul-de-sacs or a hike around the park that was perpetually under construction.

When the police returned the car, she continued to walk everywhere; trying hard to not even look at the vehicle.

She had taught Julio how to drive. Her voice was horse by the end of the first lesson.

“Watch out!”

“Ay Ma, I know what I’m doing!” Julio responded. He stomped on the gas and the brake at the same time.

“Dios Mio!” she said. “Sabes que? No. No. No. I’m not doing this.”

“No Mami! Please? Mami, please… please?”

No matter how angry he could make her, her son’s big beautiful eyes had a way of undoing her convictions. With a heavy sigh, she agreed and continued the lesson, circling the mostly empty grocery store parking lot.

“You look like an ad for toothpaste,” she said and laughed when he got his license. He was so proud, but all she felt was dread and worry. She tried to shake it off and kissed her son on the forehead and told him he looked very guapo on his picture.

Both of her sons were good looking, but different. Julio’s black hair and dark caramel skin were a polar contrast to Daniel’s light brown hair and fair skin. It was hard to tell they were brothers, except to her they were like a complimentary set. Julio’s soft hazel eyes matched his brother’s light complexion, while Daniel’s eyes were black, making his pupil nearly impossible to distinguish. Julio was two years older than Daniel and they were inseparable.

When Julio was three, he demanded to take his baby brother with him to his first day of preschool.

“He can’t, he’s a baby,” his mom explained and after the tenth time, Julio seemed to accept this fact. The next morning, however, she woke up early and found Julio in his brother’s crib, trying to get little Daniel into his Transformers backpack.

They also beat each other up. Julio’s upper hand as the bigger brother ended when Daniel turned ten and stretched two inches taller than Julio. This did nothing to discourage Julio from claiming he was king of the remote control or flushing the toilet while Daniel was in the shower or tackling him and trying to fart on his head.

No matter how bad the fights—bloody noses, loss of baby teeth, torn comic books—their anger never lasted. On more than one occasion, she had gone as far as to turn the water hose on them. But after everything settled, she figured they’re just young bear cubs and hoped all the sibling roughness would teach them to fight their way through this world.


She walked towards the grocery store, knowing there was nothing she really needed to buy. She used to drive miles down the road to avoid that grocery store because it was where she met her ex-husband, when he was a bag boy and she a shy teenager.

Her parents had just sent her to live with her tía. She never imagined her world would become so small when arrived in the U.S. When wasn’t sitting quietly in the back of her high school’s ESL class, she was babysitting her cousins or helping her tía clean old people’s large houses. She didn’t have any social life the first couple of years. Her Tia dropped her off at school and picked her up right after. Only her solo trips to the grocery store felt like daring adventures, and Renaldo, with his smile, his confidence in his English, and his large hands, was the príncipe azul of those adventures.

They married when she was seventeen and he was twenty-one. Since the moment she told him she was pregnant, Renaldo prayed every night for a boy. He picked the name Julio in memory of his abuelito.

“My son’s going to be el mero güey,” Renaldo would say, his gentle and stronger fingers smoothing her bare belly.

Only they didn’t have any idea how much everything would change. Their studio apartment was too small. The baby’s wails and the thumping of the walls from the drug addicts above them, sparked more and more tense arguments. Even with Renaldo’s employee discount at the grocery store, there was hardly money for diapers or the specialty foods when it turned out that Julio had severe allergies to nuts, eggs, dairy, and wheat. Renaldo took a second job and when she told him she was pregnant the second time, he couldn’t even manage a smile.

Julio and Daniel were never that joy that Renaldo wanted, just burdens. She saw less and less of him. Between his full time and the part-time job and drinking with his buddies that she never met, it seemed to her that he only came home to shower, sleep, eat and shit.

When he packed his bags and headed to Jalisco to visit his padrinos, she knew he wouldn’t be back.

He had found another woman, she thought. Before he left, he hugged her and the boys, but it wasn’t the hug of a husband or a father. It was that of a distant relative that had overstayed his welcome. She could feel the pain of his estrangement coming, even with his arms still around her, but she didn’t cry. Neither did Julio who was six. Only little four-year old Danny cried. He did the crying for all of them. He cried for three days straight, resulting in a slight rasp in his voice that never went away.


In Junior High, Julio began hanging out in the parking lot of that grocery store, skateboarding with other boys that made her nervous. Around that time, she noticed a switch in him. The light of his hazel eyes went cloudy and sad. He began to distance himself from Daniel, to ditch classes, and she slapped him across the face and yelled at him until one in the morning when she found cigarettes in his room. Finally one day, after he was suspended for fighting, Ms. Hunt, his English teacher, knocked on their door.

“Hi, Mrs. Rodriguez,” said a slightly pudgy, young woman with a beautiful clear skin and big brown curly hair.

Ms. Hunt was nervous and that made her nervous, but she knew how to hide it better. She knew to not fidget and or avoid someone’s eyes. She led Ms. Hunt to the tiny kitchen where she served her a cup of coffee.

“Um, well, I’d like to talk about Julio and the fight… Did he tell you what happened?”

“No… He doesn’t tell me anything.”

“You see Mrs. Rodriguez, he wasn’t so much fighting… but more like defending himself.”

“What happened?”

“Three boys cornered him …and they just started teasing him, calling him names.”

Ms. Hunt looked down at her cup, then took a deep breath and answered: “They… they called him names like faggot, bitch, and um—”

“Faggot?” she asked almost under her breath.

“Yes, and um, they reached down to grab Julio’s, um, privates, and Julio threw a punch, and um, well its Beverly’s stupid, I mean, Principal Beverly’s policy that says since Julio threw the first punch…”

“But, I mean—they were trying to grab his… Does the principal know that?”

Ms. Hunt reached for the milk and pretended to concentrate on pouring a small amount into her coffee.

“Did they get suspended too?”

“Um,” she said after a slow sip from her cup, “no, they didn’t.”

“Mierda.” She was angry. She felt the whole of herself become violent. She wanted to break something, to hit the walls with her fist.

After a few minutes of silence, interrupted only by occasional slurping sounds, finally Ms. Hunt said: “I think Julio keeps cutting class because of those boys…and other people like them and well, I just think, that well maybe, it might help if Julio went to a youth support group…”

That evening, while Daniel watched television in the living room and Julio was in the shower, she ransacked through his stuff. Hiding in his underwear drawer, she found a manila folder full of pages torn from the Sears and Macy’s catalogues with men standing around in their underwear or bathing suits. Julio walked in saw his mother on his bed, holding the manila folder. He froze; his hair was dripping-wet. Then for the first time in years, Julio broke down and cried.

“I’m sorry Mami, I’m sorry Mami. I’m so sorry Mami…”

She wanted to be angry, in fact, she was sure that she wanted to slap him and ask him how he could do this to her. It’s not fair, she had thought. After everything, after all the graveyard shifts working as a janitor in that hospital, saving to buy this small house for them, after trying so hard…

Para que tu me salgas con esto? She could feel the words lodged in her throat, ready to burst.

But with her son standing before her with only a towel wrapped around him; his right eye bruised to a deep violet and his bottom lip swollen from that fight at school, the acid turned in her stomach. Her rage rose. How could someone do this to her boy? Shaking, unsure of what else to do, she extended her open arms toward him.

He fell asleep, whimpering, still only wearing a towel and in her arms. She had never heard Julio cry that way before, the depth of his pain so real, that she was terrified.


She walked through the automated doors and immediately spotted Omar waiting in line at the cash register. He was wearing a ridiculously tight gray sweater despite the heat outside. His hair was gelled, slicked back and his I-used-to-be-fat face (as Julio had once described it) was shaven meticulously and only a thin line of facial hair outlined his cheekbones and chin. Before he could see her, she quickly grabbed a shopping cart and sped away.

Omar had first called the house at the beginning of Julio’s sophomore year and the first time she met him, his exceptional politeness told her a lot about him. He wanted to impress her; he cared too much what others thought. When she told Julio this, he laughed.

“Wow Ma. You psychic?” At school, he told her, Omar avoided him like a plague. When they went to mall, Omar needed a cushion of three feet of space between them. Julio answered his mother’s unasked question when he said, “we’re just friends.”

“Que pajaso!” she said, “Mi’jo, don’t let people make you feel any less than you are.”

In the month that followed, she didn’t know what exactly had happened, but the phone ringing would be followed by a serious deep tone in Julio’s voice.

“Omar quit crying and stop being so damn dramatic!” she overheard her son sternly command as she eaves dropped.

When she and the boys had gone out to eat one Sunday, they came home to find one very long and awkward message from Omar, followed by seventeen hang-ups, on the answering machine.

Finally, she overheard Julio tell his brother: “Yeah, he claims to love me and all…but he won’t even sit and eat lunch with me.”

“Man, would you forget that dumb piece of shit?” Daniel asked. “Let me answer the phone next time and I’ll tell that puto that he best fucking leave you alone with his pretending-to-be-straight bullshit… Dumb-ass Drama queen.”

“Nah,” Julio laughed, “he’ll tire himself out eventually.”

A couple of weeks later, Omar showed up at their doorstep, drunk and pleading.

“I’m so, so, so sorry!”

“Please go home,” Julio said calmly, “You want my mom to take you back?”

“No! I want you…”

They dropped Omar a few houses away from his own so that he could sneak in without his parents finding out. Julio answered another of his mother’s unasked questions, “He cheated on me…I mean, it’s not like we were ever an official couple or anything, but he went out and messed around with this other ugly guy and whatever, but, you know, he’s all dumb and saying that I ‘have his heart’ and just dumb stuff like that.”

She didn’t say anything until they pulled into their driveway and although Julio was stoic, and nothing about him was asking for pity, she reached over and stroked his hair. “Mi’jo… there are hombres buenos out there, and maybe, just maybe, one day we’ll both find one.”

They both laughed. It took a while, but Omar’s calls became less and less frequent until they finally stopped.


She walked up and down each aisle, pushing the empty cart until she reached the produce section. She abandoned the shopping cart, grabbed a bag of green grapes, paid at the register and left. She suddenly felt very tired. She decided to take the short cut through the alley. Hundreds and hundreds of times, she had told her boys to stay out of the alleys, they’re dangerous.

Warnings, she thought, are so useless. Nothing is ever really safe.

The strong smell of urine distracted her from her thoughts. She covered her nose and walked faster.

Then, she saw a large bucket of paint. It didn’t have a lid on it and it was propped oddly on top of two blocks of wood. She slowed down as she approached it. She stopped directly in front of it and looked inside.

Floating in a half-empty bucket of beige paint, there was a small puppy. She dropped the bag of grapes and some of them, like soft green marbles, rolled across the alley. Her tongue shrank back with a heavy inhale. She closed her eyes, but she could not turn to leave. Slowly, she forced herself to open her eyes.

The puppy’s head was turned awkwardly, as if it was trying to float separate from the rest of the body; as if the neck had been broken when it was being held down. The puppy’s long eyelashes were bent down by the weight of paint and the eyelid seemed sucked in, glued shut by the paint that seeped under them. The puppy’s tongue seemed wedge between its teeth, all beige.

She started to cry, softly at first, but then, she cried without restraint. She dropped to her knees and cried the way she cried when she got the phone call; the way she had wanted to cry when she found out that they crushed his skull with a cinder block. She cried the way she almost cried when they told her that all of the fingers on his left hand were still missing. She cried the way that at the funeral, Daniel cried the black out of his eyes until they turned light hazel. She cried like the way she wanted to cry when a month later, in the mail, she got his college acceptance letter.


When she regained enough composure, she emptied the rest of grapes onto the ground and with the plastic bag, carefully scooped the drowned puppy out of the paint. She walked fast making it quickly into the garage, not noticing the trail of paint drops behind her.

Then, she placed the puppy in the mop bucket. She found an old can of paint thinner and poured it over the dog, knowing it might not do anything to remove the paint.

“Tomorrow morning,” she said. “I’ll bury you.”

She hid the bucket in the corner of the garage. The fumes mixed in her a strange calmness, and, light-headed, she went inside to the kitchen to wash her hands, to find Daniel and to start dinner.

Gil Zamora received his BA at San Francisco State in Creative Writing and his MFA from Roosevelt University in Chicago. He has had poetry and prose in Coe Review, Carnival and Verdad. Gil spent a large chunk of his childhood in Riverside, California and still manages a run with his cousin on Mount Rubidoux when he visits.

Brian J. Helt

Scars On A Doll and The Art Of Release

Tamara’s severed foot landed in the plastic waste bin with a muted, fleshy thud and its soft percussion cooed hollowed melody into Ori’s ears.  The long walk to inventory and back was a trip he had made countless times daily under the sickly fluorescent lights hanging high above him, mindless.

Flesh on the right, compartmentalized and divided by the gradation of skin tones, skeletals on the left.  He kept his eyes on the flesh inventory labels: fingers, hands, arms, head templates, torsos hanging by their fixtures, breasts piled one on top of another.  Feet were kept at the back.  He turned the corner of the last shelf and raised Tamara’s foot up, comparing skin tones and as Ori thought of her, he saw in his mind, her eyes; the eyes of devastation and sharpness, a stare that pierced deep into the heart of a human with the canorous reminder: you are only that, only human, you are imperfect and aberrated.  He knew that he was closest to perfection with Tamara, closer than he had ever come with any other one before her, entirely within his grip.  She was perfect and perfectly tractable.  The soothing inebriation that came with the taste of control was something that haunted him and though he tried his best to expel it from his heart, he simply could not.

Ori found himself back at his work station and the stool was hard against his hindquarters and he knew that he had spent a long day in that spot, working on Tamara.  He took his shaping tool in his left hand and one of Tamara’s new feet in his right and while keeping an eye on Tamara’s old foot, began to shave away at the arch of it.  Bit by bit he peeled away flakes of silicone composite, translucent with the faint remembrance of fleshy pinks.  The flakes flittered down onto his lap, rolled off and fell onto the concrete work floor and still, Ori worked, lost in his own meditation.  Synthetic precision, he reminded himself, was the only perfection in the sex-death-world, the world of flesh smashing against flesh, sticking into flesh before birthing more flesh, born of flesh only to die as flesh.  Nothing greater.

Ori glanced at the clock.  Five Minutes.  He hated to wait for her.  He had always hated that.

Any time now, she would call to tell him she was outside, as she did every night and through the torment of waiting, falling under the whim of another, a whirling synthesis of excitement undercut with dread gripped Ori at his core as he wondered what damage she had done to herself this time.  Had she tried to re-angle the septal cartilage of her nose, tried to thin it out again?  Had she gone after the bleach?  Ori wondered when she would finally cut deep enough to hit that human nerve and return to herself.  But he knew the more likely case was that one day she would cut too deep and the bleeding would not stop and she would fade away into the obscure and shapeless void, as all things of flesh do and Ori knew that he would blame himself for it until the day he died.  If only he could replace the parts of her he had broken, fix them the way he replaced the dolls’ broken parts.  But somewhere in him he knew the pieces that were broken in Ellie, he couldn’t fix.

The truth, Ori thought, is that the scars a human leaves upon themselves are nothing compared to the scars they leave upon another, intentional or not.

The prattling chatter of Ori’s phone, dancing across the table as it jittered and chimed, tore him from his saturnine meditation.  He snatched his phone up with the same hand that he held his shaping tool and swiped his right index finger across its screen to answer.

“’Lo,” he said.

“I’m outside,” Ellie replied.  Her voice came through the phone like a crumpled plastic bag.

“Be out in a sec.”

Ori hung up his phone, slid it into his pocket and placed both feet between Tamara’s legs with the shaping tool between the feet.  He drew the big tarp over her as he returned to the foot of the table, fastening it with four large clamps at each corner.  After, he crossed the warehouse to the entrance and shut off the anemic fluorescent tubes hanging sickly above.  He opened the entrance door and locked both the handle and the deadbolt as he listened to Ellie’s car gasp and wheeze behind him across the gravel driveway.

He turned around and saw the apparition of her, through the driver’s side window; platinum blonde hair, fire engine-red lipstick, dark ink rising up the side of her neck.  Something like a frenzy of joyful bees awoke, stirring in the hive of his heart.  He crossed in front of the car, his boots crunching and grinding the shards of rocks below them.  The headlights blinded him, white ringing pain in his eyes and ears and he opened the passenger side door, inviting out the bowel-screams and soprano-shrieks of some death metal, tussled by the dissonant tremolo of a shaking guitar.  Ori was transported years before when things were different, and the two of them were on their way to oblivion, together, tweaked out and blistered.  Ori fought off the recollection, shooing it away as he tried his best to focus on the moment before him.

With a slender hand, nails painted black, Ellie turned the nob on the stereo and quieted the noise as Ori sat down, swallowed by the scent of cigarette smoke choking out the fruity florals of some cheap perfume.  The roof light faded once the door had closed with a whinnying cry from the dried metal joint and Ori caught a glimpse of Ellie’s swollen and bruised nose.  In the fleeting moment, he saw the realization in her eyes, that of her self-exposed injury and she turned towards the steering wheel after putting the car in drive and creeping slowly along the driveway.

“How was work?”  Ellie asked.

“Not too bad.  Got a repair order today, probably finish tomorrow.  How about you?”

“Same.  Had a shoot at Old Oaks Inn.”

“Kind of like way back when, huh?”  Ori asked, met only with Ellie’s silence though she had undoubtedly heard his question.  “Not too shady, then?”

“Not too shady.”  Ellie paused.  “So I got some big news.”

“What’s the news?”

“Talk about it over a beer?”  Ellie asked and the unsure tone of her voice made Ori suspicious.  He knew her too well to believe all was well.

“Sure,” Ori replied.

As Ellie pulled onto Old Valley Road, Ori leaned over and turned the nod of the stereo all the way to the left, silencing the death metal and leaving only the muted roar of the tires as they rolled along the cracked and bumpy road.

“So was that before or after the shoot?”  Ori asked.

“What?”  Ellie asked.

“Did you break it?”

“Don’t worry about it,” Ellie said, her voice unsteady.

“Don’t deflect.  Did you do it?”

“Why are you nagging me?”

“I’m not nagging.”  Ori defended.

“Well you’re gonna start, I can already tell,” Ellie pressed.

“Just tell me, was it part of the shoot?”  Ori asked.

“You know they’re not Johns right?”  Ellie asked with a new venom to her voice.

“I know that, Ellie.”

“So why would it matter if it was part of the shoot?”

“Because it would.”

“And why’s that, Ori?  Are you gonna go hunt them down?  Beat them bloodied?  What’re you going to do, Ori?”

“That thing’s fucking broken and you’re gonna tell me that it’s a fucking fantasy and that it’s okay?”

“Maybe I broke it myself.  Maybe some big motherfucker smashed it with his fist before ramming his cock in me, what the fuck do you care?  It’s not like you would never have done the same.”

Ori cringed.

“I care because it’s fucked up that you think that’s normal.” He said.

Ellie shot Ori a glance that by which he knew she meant business.  “I don’t think you get to decide what’s normal anymore, Ori.”

A silence, which let in the howling from the unkempt road below and the air as it rushed all around the car, seemed to stretch so far and so long.  He felt naked in that car, stripped of all power he ever had.

“I think I get at least some say.”  Ori declared.

“Don’t try that shit with me, we both know it was the only option.” Ellie said, desperation glowing at the edges of her words.

“Maybe it wasn’t to me.”

“Oh, and were you just gonna drop everything?  Become an upstanding citizen and role model?”

“At least I didn’t kill it like some fucking gnat.”  Ori said, tasting the bitter poison of his own words.

As Ellie crammed her foot onto the brake, the tires seized at their four corners and screeched, sending the car into a gentle fishtail before arriving to a nauseating and lurching stop that threw both Ori and Ellie back and forth.

“Get the fuck out,” Ellie said with a sharp finger pointed across the center console.

“Ellie, I’m-“

“Get the fuck out!”

Ori gripped the handle of the passenger side door and gave it a pathetic tug, leaned over and lifted himself out of the car.  The scent of hot rubber perfumed from the asphalt and found his nostrils, burnt and curdled.

The engine to Ellie’s car revved as she sped off down Old Valley Road and into the night, gone again, leaving Ori behind.  He thought about all the things he had put Ellie through and began down the block under the sodium vapor streetlights.


Tamara laid across the worktable, legs ajar, body centered within the rectangular frame.  Her eyes shot invisible tethers into the space between the air and the nothing and they remained fixed and immovable like some exotic and ornamental flowers.  Ori sat on his stool and stared into the vaginal cavity as he replayed the previous night in his mind over and over and over again.

Despite the very palpable urge to avoid those thoughts, he couldn’t stifle the remembrance of all the previous nights at shady motels, sitting in the adjacent room, listening so closely with his ear to the wall, ready to pounce.  He shook off the specter of years since gone and stared into the fleshy silicone composite of Tamara, seeing her as she was, rendered eternal, an everlasting configuration of the only perfections of the human specimen.  Things were different now. He was different, or so he promised himself.

She was truly amazing, Tamara, a staunch and glowing monolith of glory which spat in the face of the human, a grotesque beast, not above the slovenly mewling of swine and shit-eaters.  The human is a machine, Ori thought, of consumption and hatred.

He wondered why Ellie couldn’t be more like Tamara.  A doll is not prideful, does not go against its best instinct, will not scream or insult but most important of all, Ori reminded himself, a doll cannot be hurt.  He hated himself in that moment, that very human moment as his own imperfection stared him in the eyes, inescapable, no new thing.

From his pocket he pulled out his phone and scrolled through the contacts to Ellie’s avatar before pressing it with his finger.  The dial tone rang rapturous in his ears and at the moment he wondered if Ellie would ever pick up, her voice rattled in the speaker.

“’Lo?”  She said.

“Hey, it’s me.”  Ori said through an awkward pause, unsure of what to say.

“What’s up?”  Ellie asked and Ori could tell she was still so far from him.

“I wanna talk about last night.”  He said.

“Can’t.  Got a shoot in a minute.”

“Pick me up tonight?”


Ellie was the first to hang up and Ori kept the phone to his ear with his eyes fixed on Tamara, wishing he could trade one for the other.


Time crawled by like a lost crab across hot pavement.  It had taken all day, which it shouldn’t have, but by the time the warehouse was approaching its closure, Ori finished the repairs on Tamara.  With the lower skeletal joints tightened and feet replaced with a seamless composite fill, he put the final cosmetic touches on her; new nails, eyelashes, lip and nipple pigmentation.

She was heavy across his shoulders as he carried her to a crate.  Feeling as though he could drop her at any moment, he strained to lower Tamara onto a chair in the crate before taking a wide fastening belt and propping her upright before clicking in the belt which kept her that way.  He stepped back.  He saw Tamara sitting there, almost alive, and knew she would outlast him and her owner and he could no longer find the comfort in that.  The eternity of Tamara in the face of his own fading human existence terrified him in that moment, and she seemed to remind him that at the time of her owner’s death, she would remain on this earth without him as he would have moved onward into the void.

When he turned around, he saw her standing there like a doll escaped from its crate, staring at him with her anguished eyes, buried under the soil of a young woman with nothing to fear and nothing to live for.  Still, her pain, the agony he knew was inside her, reaching in all directions for years, seemed to peek out through the cracks of her crafted exterior.  She was nowhere near perfect, her thighs and arms riddled with the pink pigmentation of cicatricial tissue, stitching her together like a bundle of found rags and Ori wondered if any of them had been carved in his name.  He was ashamed in how he hoped there was at least one.

Her hair had been dyed and bleached so many times that it reached out for years like the spectral arm of a never before thought of god-being, untamed and wiry, and looked as if it would snap if given the slightest tug.  But she was there, she was in that moment, an expanding and contracting respiration and so was Ori, and he thought in that moment that between two metabolic, organic beings, there was no room for a doll, no room for the synthetic and imagined love story.  Between two people, there was only room for the true and fleeting war of adoration and love and self-loathing whereby both parties do their best jobs of destroying one another.

Ori knew he had already destroyed so much of Ellie.

In that moment, he could almost feel the words crossing his own flushed lips: I love you, but something kept him silent, something composite, something muted, something of a doll inside him.

“You’re early,” said Ori.

“I-” Ellie began before her words trailed off and her eyes searched the floor to recover them.  “I can’t drive you home tonight.”

“What’s wrong with your car?  I might be able to fix it” Ori asked though he knew the truth, anticipating what would undoubtedly come.

“Car’s fine.  I just can’t drive you home.”

“You could’ve texted me.  Didn’t have to drive all the way out here.”

“I just know,” Ellie said as her eyes rose to meet Ori’s, “that if I did, everything would be undone.”

“What’re you talking about, Ellie?”

“All the work I’ve done and the decisions I’ve made would be undone and I’d have to go back if I drove you home because I know that’s where you would take me, like you always have.  Even before we cleaned up and quit the old life, it’s always been that way.  You’ve always had that power over me, even when you didn’t want it.  And I’d do the same thing tomorrow night, and the night after and I’d never really ever do it, make the break, because I’m in love with you, and you’re the worst thing for me.”

“Take you?”  Ori asked, fighting back the storming beehive inside him.  He wanted to scream at her and the urge pulled and tore at his guts and chest.  He wanted to shout out how different he was, how things would never be as bad as they were all those times before.

“I’m leaving, Ori.  I’m moving to the Palm Desert.”

The words struck Ori with a tragic familiarity and he knew in a flashing moment, smaller than a second spun out like the sugar chains of cotton candy, he knew that he had done this.

“When do you leave?”  Ori asked through a knot in his throat, telling himself that after what he had brought them through all those years before, that this is what he owed her.

“Tomorrow.”  Ellie replied.  Her words, bladed by their truth, sunk into him and cut through the core of his soul and Ori worked furiously to unscramble the tangled lines of his heart, to unlock the puzzle of this torrent inside him.

“How long have you known?”

“Studio called me last week with the offer.”  Ellie replied.

Silence returned; crept into the warehouse like a low lying fog.

“You don’t think I can change,” Ori began, “but I can.  I did.  The minute you told me you were-we got clean, we’ve stayed cleaned.  On the straight and narrow.  It was all for you.”

“Ori,” Ellie said with a matched pace of her words, “if it wasn’t a game of power to you, I’d have kept it.  I’d have stayed with you.  But this is who you are, you’re a pimp.  You’ll always be a pimp.”

Ori stared into the floor, seeing for the first time, the pocks and scratches etched into the concrete year after delicate year.  A silence had snuck in between the two of them, standing so far from one another, each positioned at opposite points of the universe.  The air had frozen inside the warehouse as Ori looked up saying, “I regret everything I ever put you through.”

The door thudded hard, severing his words, and the latch clasped with a quaking resonance that could’ve pushed Ori into the ocean all those miles away.  She was gone and he was left with nothing more than his workstation and the dolls which seemed somehow all too permanent for him.


The following afternoon, in a rapturous moment, Ori was torn from his thoughts as the freight door rattled and shook with a rapping from outside.  He pulled the chain adjacent to the freight door and watched it climb incrementally with each tug, revealing a freight truck and a man standing at its rear with a coffin box.

Ori took the clipboard from the man who stood, waiting.  When he finished, Ori handed the clipboard back to the man before retrieving his dolly from his workstation.  He tipped the box up and slid the tongue of the dolly underneath before tipping it back towards him and wheeling the coffin in, peaking at his path from the side as he craned his neck outward.

He tipped the box down in front of his work table and, with a crow bar from under his worktable, pried open to the front palate of the coffin box to reveal a doll.  From the interior of the box, he pulled out the order form, seeing that it called for a renewal of hair and eyes, cosmetic touch ups and a vaginal replacement.

With the doll sprawled out across his work table, Ori observed its ivory flesh contrasting with the heat of fiery red hair and the celeste-blue eyes that reached out into the void, through the space of all things.  It could’ve been so much more than a doll, a supreme apex of ornately chosen features, the gorgeous sum of its parts.  But it wasn’t, not anymore at least.

As Ori kept his gaze on the doll, he saw not a doll but a clumsy aluminum skeletal frame, bound by tight silicone composite, trimmed, buffed, glued and painted and the synthetic odor of the composite reached into his nose and Ori knew he was truly alone.

He closed his eyes and saw her laid out on the table before him, Ellie, the scarred and misarranged misanthrope, choosing all the wrong ways to be human, or so it had seemed to Ori.  He wondered if she was as miserable as he, imagining her bleached hair, choked and dried, resting atop her head where the contours of her face were far too pronounced from the heavy hand of too much make up.

Ori opened his eyes, hoping to see Ellie standing before him, his eyes meeting only the doll, laid across the table in her contortion of limbs, gaping and vapid.  A hatred boiled inside Ori as the doll reminded him that it was everything Ellie wasn’t and he knew he had received all he had worked for.

Across from his work table, he saw the clock staring back at him, immovable.  Time stood still.  He turned towards parts inventory and took small and slow steps to it.  There seemed to be no rush as the boundaries of time had dissolved into the horizon.  Infinite.

He felt his phone buzz in his pocket in that very moment, and with a diving, digging hand, tore it from its denim tomb to see a screen unlit, and to feel the stillness of its non-vibrating being.  A stone.

Ori stared into the blank screen.  He waited for it to ring.  He waited an eternity for Ellie to call or text or anything, powerless in the shadow of her whim.  He was alone in the vacuum, surrounded by the inanimate death locked inside the dolls who seemed to watch him, waiting too.


Brian credits attending CSSSA/Innerspark in 2006 and again in 2007 for igniting his passion for writing.  He continued to study Creative Writing at San Francisco State University which took that passion and directed it towards a focus on fiction.  Brian’s work has appeared in publications such as Ginosko Literary Journal, Forge Journal, The Blue Moon Literary and Arts Review and more.  You can follow him on Twitter at @brian_helt.

John Brantingham

A Kind of Social Justice

They hold Dale’s retirement breakfast in the far corner of a ballroom on a Friday morning, forty-three people huddled together in a room meant for two thousand. That’s all right, he supposes, as is the gold watch and the handshakes and sentiments, but he’s happy to get out of there. When he does, he’s surprised at the lack of sentiment he has for Continental Works, his boss, coworkers, and the profession of civil engineering.

Mostly what he thinks about as he drives through this neighborhood is how closely his life has stayed on the little path he thought it would take. His retirement party after all is in the town where he went to college. On a whim, he drives up to the old neighborhood in Claremont where he rented a backhouse, he and his three roommates, one of them the only black person he knew in the entire city.

He parks in front of the place and can see into the yard. The mother-in-law house they used to rent is gone, replaced by a giant pool. Across the street there is an open house, and Dale goes in. He’s still wearing his suit and tie from the breakfast, and the woman who’s selling it gives him a quick look and smiles broadly. “Hi, you in the market for a home?”

“No,” Dale says without bothering to think about a lie. “I was in the neighborhood, and I was remembering a time when I broke into this place as a kid. I wanted to see if it had changed.”

Once it’s out of his mouth, Dale can hear how it sounds, wonders if he’s scared the poor woman, but she cocks her head, shifts her weight to her other leg, and laughs. “Well, I’ve never heard that one before. What, are you just getting out of prison today?”

“No, it wasn’t like that.” Dale smiles. “It was a dare in college. I used to live with a black guy named Stuart. I was trying to prove to him that it wasn’t any easier being white than it was being black.”

The real estate agent laughs again. She knows how to do it so it doesn’t feel fake the way he’d expect from someone trying to sell him a house. Maybe it is real, too. She leans against a doorjamb framing herself in front of a window onto the backyard. “Did you actually believe that?”

“Sure. I was young. There was a big party going on across the street, and he said he bet I could just walk on in, and no one would stop me, but they’d probably call the cops on him.”


“And they stopped him at the door.”

“And you?” She folds her arms.

Dale shrugs. “I walked right in. It was a wedding reception, and no one had any idea who I was. I just put on a tie, and no one thought to question me. When Stuart came in, they did everything but call the cops.”

“You’re like me.” She smiles at him. “You’ve had just one big indiscretion in life, right?”

“Yeah, but that’s not the end of the story. I got a drink at the open bar and a steak, and I knew that Stuart had been right. I sat there talking to the bride’s sister, who was feeling bad about her dress, and I realized that I could do pretty much anything I wanted in this house.”

“You mean to her?”

He shakes his head. “No, not like that.” He thinks a moment. “I guess maybe like that too. I mean if I wanted to. I realized that I walked around like I came from money, which I did, and that meant people looked at me differently.”

“So what did you do?”

Dale can feel himself blushing. He’s never admitted this part of the story to anyone in his life. “Well, I went into the bedroom where all the purses and jackets were, and I stole a couple hundred dollars out of a woman’s wallet.”

She covers her mouth with her hand. “Seriously?”

“I took Stuart on a road trip to Vegas and thought of it as a kind of social justice. The woman’s purse was made out of expensive leather, and it was on top of a fur coat.”

“So Stuart was right.”

“Yeah, he was. I could have made a career out of breaking into houses if I had wanted to. I was thinking that now that I’m old and look like I come from money, I could have an entire second career of crime.”

“Same holds true for me,” she says. “People trust women more than men, but the thing about crime is that you don’t make all that much money doing it.”

“Second careers aren’t about money really. They’re about new experiences.” He’s joking. Of course he is, but there’s something to what he’s saying. “So what was your one big indiscretion?”

She laughs and waves a hand at him and blushes, and he’s sure she’s not going to answer, but she says, “God, I slept with a married man.”


“I was nineteen, and he was a minister, and there was something really sexy about that.”

“Were you married?”

She shakes her head. “No. I never thought about the other woman.” She’s been smiling this whole time, but it weakens now, wavers. “Oh, God, I’ve been thinking about her lately.” She shakes her head and laughs a little to herself.

“And you’ve followed the rules ever since?”

“Sure,” she says. “I never break the rules anymore.”

“But you wish you had.”

She shrugs. “No. I wish everyone had. I wish that the world were full of rule followers, but that’s just not who we are. So I guess I might as well just break all the damn rules.”

“Do you want to get back at him a little maybe? Maybe with me?” Dale knows there must be a him, knows what this him must have done. Still, he can’t believe that he’s saying this, Dale Worth, retired civil engineer, coming up with lines like this.

She must be surprised too because she looks at him in a way that women haven’t in a long time. He must be exuding confidence. Maybe she has a bad boy thing. He hasn’t been a bad boy since the day he broke into that house, and come to think of it, he got laid in Vegas that weekend a couple of times.

Whatever the reason, when she leads Dale back to the bathroom, it doesn’t feel as if it’s about him, but what does that matter? It’s not about her either. It’s about that terrible breakfast commemorating the last forty-one years. It’s about what he might have been doing that whole time, what he’s missed out on in his windowless office.

They have sex on the edge of a bathroom counter quickly, roughly, ending before anyone else comes to the open house. When they’re done, they laugh together, not really because anything is funny. They just laugh. Her skirt is off but her blazer and blouse are still on, and that’s funny to him now that he notices it. He laughs once more.

The bathroom seems to be a world to itself where the rest of society doesn’t exist and rules don’t apply. Inside, they are friendly partners, and she keeps her palm resting on his chest. When they leave, she turns into the aloof saleswoman, which is almost certainly the mask she wears for the world.

“So,” she says, straightening her skirt, “I don’t suppose there’s any chance that you’re actually interested in buying a house in Claremont?”

“No.” He shakes his head.

“Well then. Maybe in the future.” She offers him a card that he takes and reads. Her name is Shirley.

This is the problem with crime, dangerous sex, theft, or whatever. The profits are never good unless someone really knows what he’s doing. Dale tosses the card on the front stoop as soon as he closes the door, and he thinks about Stuart. At some point thirty-five years ago or so, they lost touch. By then, Stuart was an accountant who had moved to downtown Los Angeles. He wonders what happened to him in the riots of 1992. He wonders if life has gotten any easier for him, and if he has a family, and if he is rich.

Maybe he’ll call him when he has time. Maybe he’ll look up Shirley too. Probably not. His wife is waiting for him with a little retirement party with his family. The kids. The grandkids.

For now, he has to get home.

John Brantingham is the author of seven books of poetry and fiction and is the editor of the LA Fiction Anthology. His work has appeared in publications such as The Best Small Fictions, Writer’s Almanac, and The Journal. He teaches composition and creative writing at Mt. San Antonio College and in a program that is free to the public in Sequoia and Kings Canyon.

Michael Overa

We Live Here Now

My kid sister Phoebe stood in the doorway of the cheap motel staring into the dimness. Cubby, her stuffed bear, dangled from her five year old hand, his butt hanging a fraction of an inch above the crinkled gray paint of the outdoor hallway. It’s one of those indelible moments that will be forever painted on the inside of my eyelids.

“S’this?” She asked.

“Our home,” I said.

I channeled every possible sentiment of good nature I’d ever witnessed, but never felt. I squeezed past her and ran my hand up and down the wall until I found the switch. The warm orange glow of the table lamps didn’t seem to make her feel any better. Phoebs took a few reluctant steps into the room. She was still wearing her scuffed pink slippers. The dingy fake fur at the ankle was worn into a threadbare fold. She hugged Cubby to her chest, his button eyes regarding me suspiciously.

“See,” I said.

“It isn’t a home.”

“It sure is,” I said, “it’s our home. It’s yours and mine and Cubby and Mama’s.”

Ma was out at the van grabbing our bags. Suitcases clattered on asphalt, and I could hear her cursing into the evening humidity.

“It’s not even a ‘partment.”

“It’s just like an apartment,” I set my duffle bag on the floor, “In fact, it’s even better than a ‘partment.”

Mom thumped up the steps, the metal railing pinged as the suitcases hit it. I picked Phoebs up and half-flung her onto the far bed, where she bounced to a stop without ever letting go of Cubby. Ma appeared in the doorway suitcases dangling from each hand. I may forget the day of the week, or the name of the place, or whether the soap was in little rectangular packages or little round packages – but I will never forget that image of her.

“Great,” she said.

“Is there more?” I asked.

“Phoebs, brush teeth.”

“Want me to get anything else from the van?”
“This isn’t even a ‘partment.”


The door stood open to the late summer and the heat came through in waves, shimmering the street lights into blurred halos. The suitcases were piled on the carpet at Ma’s feet. I picked up Phoebe’s pink roller suitcase and dug out the Ziploc with her toothbrush and glittery toothpaste.

“Listen to Ma,” I said.

“I’ll be back,” Ma said.

“Where are you going now?” Phoebs whined.

“I’m going to the store.” Ma was looking at me but talking to Phoebs, “Carl can grab you a snack from the vending machine.”

“I’m ‘posed to do teeth.”

“Pick something out. Then teeth.”

Ma fished a crumpled wad of cash from her wallet and held it out. As I grabbed the bills she held them fast and pulled me close. With our faces inches apart she mouthed: I don’t have to tell you.

And she didn’t.

Down in the parking lot I heard the van start and pulled back the heavy curtains in time to watch Ma ease onto the otherwise empty street. She’d be gone a while. She wasn’t going to the store; she was going to get blind drunk.

Phoebs sat on the bed with her arms around Cubby.  I looked at the wad of cash in my hand. I’d seen a row of glass-fronted vending machines on the ground floor next to the rumbling icemaker. I hoisted Phoebs to my hip and walked down the stairs. The staticky sound of cicadas electrified the middle distance. I set Phoebs in front of the machines and she examined her options. The stink of industrial cleaners and melting tar loitered among the cars.

“S’that one?”

“Peanut Butter cups.”

She pointed to another.

“Milk Duds,” I said, “Carmel with chocolate on the outside.”


I looked. “Yeah, they have Skittles.”

I lifted her up and she fed the dollar into the machine and punched the buttons. The thunk of the package made me wince. Phoebs squatted in front of the machine and I pressed back the plastic door. She peered into that pocket of darkness and grabbed the package. Back in the room she curled under the blankets as I opened the package for her and found cartoons on TV. She looked miniature on the king sized bed; the wrapper crumpled as she fished out several Skittles at a time. Cubby sat beside her, the shadow of the two of them morphing into a glob of round bear ears and little girl ponytail. The smell of stale cigarettes and dust had been ground into the carpet. The AC chugged along behind me, prickling Goosebumps along my arms and neck. I stared down at my backpack and gently nudged it into the corner with my toe.

The room was one more unfamiliar place in a growing chain. Everything was a rental for us: apartments, falling apart houses, motel rooms. Other than a long winter we spent with Mas parents, we’d never lived anywhere long; never owned anything other than two cars and our clothes. North Carolina, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee. We’d lived a dozen different places before Ma landed a job at the hospital in Virginia. That spring we lived in a brick rambler, tucked back off Grandin Road. By mid May the heat settled in, pressing humid hands down on our shoulders. Ma’s worked nights, opposite of Pops, and most days she left right after he got home. If she left before he got home it was no doubt because of the argument I’d heard through the bedroom walls the night before.

Going into the basement was verboten. Pops disappeared down there for hours at a time, often right after dinner. Thin wooden stairs that led down into the basement seemed as if they’d barely support you. It was a late weekday afternoon when, mostly to escape the heat, I ventured into the smell of mildew, spilled beer, and sweat. At the bottom of the stairs a chain dangled from a single bare bulb. Along the far wall was an old workbench. Tools and faded porno mags littered the scarred wooden surface. Behind the workbench, tacked to the wall, was a tattered Rebel Flag. Off to one side an old rag covered something bulky.

I grabbed a corner of the cloth and folded it back. Underneath was a pistol I didn’t know Pops owned. I sat down on a barstool near the workbench to examine the thing. It was heavier than I expected. The dull metal shined in the stark light as I turned it over in my hands, running my thumb along the crisp edges.

I hadn’t heard his truck pull up or the front door open. Through the opened door I could hear the TV playing. But there he was, standing at the top of the stairs with a beer in each hand.

“You piece of shit,” he said starting down the steps.

He was so focused on me he forgot to duck under a low ceiling beam. His head cracked against it and he tumbled backwards onto the steps. His beer cans skittered across the concrete as he groped for the railing, swinging one arm up to keep his balance. His hand smacked against the dangling bulb and the chain rattled as the light swung back and forth casting hideous shadows on the cement. It looked like someone turned on a red faucet above him. I never thought a person could bleed so much.

“Piece of shit,” he said.

One of his eyes was squinted closed. He looked from me to the blood on his hand, edging towards me like a drunk in a darkened room. I moved out of reach, backing up until I was against the brick wall. Pops placed one hand on the workbench and sat on the barstool. An entire galaxy of blood stretched across the floor.

“Get a towel,” he said.

I didn’t move. He was leaning forward, his hands pressed to his head as he grimaced. The tendons and muscles of his back stretched the black cursive letters of Donnelly Construction from shoulder to shoulder. Dribbles of blood curved down his cheek and neck. He leaned so far forward that the back legs of the chair hovered above the floor. I counted the rhythm as he rocked slowly forward and back. As he took deep breaths his shirt stretched and went slack. I took a step forward and hooked my toe under the crosspiece of the stool. I waited. The legs inched upwards. I kicked hard. The chair came out from under him and his chin smacked the workbench. His head ricocheted backwards. His body bounced against the concrete.

The light bulb slowed to a soft, lazy circle. The chair splintered beneath him, one of the legs snapped off and landed across the room. He laid there motionless. A bubble of spit and blood expanded and contracted on his lips. The silence of the basement settled in as I stared down at him, the gun gripped tightly in my hand. I backed up the stairs. In the kitchen I set the gun gingerly on the counter; the image the gun bent and distorted in the chrome finish of the toaster. Phoebs stood in the hallway; behind her in the living room I could hear the babble of cartoons.

“S’that,” she pointed to the gun.


“I want juice.”

My kid sister pulled back a chair and clambered up. Numbly I walked to the refrigerator and opened the door. The humming coolness of the refrigerator chilled the sweat on my forehead as I bent down. Phoebs hummed one of those kids’ songs from TV. I poured her apple juice and set it in front of her.  Grasping the cup in both hands she tilted her head back, swallowed, and finally gasped when she the cup was empty. I listened to her slippered feet scuff down the hallway to the TV.  She sat cross-legged in front of the TV with Cubby at her side. The gun sat on the counter and as I reached towards it I could see my hand shaking.

Each creaking step into the basement was louder than the last. I braced one hand on the low ceiling beam and ducked under. Pops was lying on his back in the middle of the room. The bubble of spit and blood had popped, speckling his lips with pink froth. He made a little groaning noise, but didn’t move. I took a few steps forward and crouched down, listening to his shallow breathing. I wasn’t sure if I was happy he was alive.

From the kitchen phone I called Ma at work and told her Pops had fallen down the stairs. She asked me if he was conscious, and if he was breathing. She told me to hang up and call 911. Phoebs came down the hall again as I stood there on the phone with the dispatcher. I hung up. I stood there in the thick, stale heat of the kitchen. The weight of the gun dragged me towards the ground. Without much thought I opened the freezer and set the pistol on a bag of frozen peas, pressing it down as the metal fogged over.

When they arrived I led the paramedics to the top of the stairs. The lights of the ambulance lacked urgency. As the two men trundled down the stairs with their boxes, my sister hid behind my arm, pulling it around her. Her tiny weight pressed against my leg; her clammy hands twisted around mine as we stood in the kitchen. The men bent over Pops and talked to each other in casual voices.  Ma got home as they loaded him onto the gurney. She stood in the kitchen with her keys in her hand, her gray hair curled in heavy waves across her scalp. I could see the heavy lines etched into her face. She wanted to know how bad it was. She told them she was a nurse.

“He’s stable,” one of the men said as they wheeled Pops past.

Pops looked at me around the oxygen mask with nothing but shear and absolute hatred. Ma, Phoebs, and I stood on the front steps as they loaded the gurney into the back of the ambulance. We watched as they pulled away. Ma led us inside and closed the front door. The TV was still playing in the next room. She looked at the two of us there in the narrow doorway. Phoebs hadn’t let go of my hand since the paramedics arrived. Ma turned and walked down the hallway to the bedroom.

Over her shoulder she said: “Start packing,”


Phoebs fell asleep just after midnight. Ma wasn’t back yet, and I didn’t expect her anytime soon. I turned off the TV and tugged the edge of the covers over my sister. She hadn’t brushed her teeth, but I figured it didn’t much matter. I took off my shirt, the fabric was damp from sweat and cold from the AC. I shivered as I wrapped myself in the scratchy wool blanket. The floor was hard and the room was so dark I could barely see anything; light from the parking lot bled through the curtains. I could hear Phoebs snoring on the other side of the room. I imagined a hospital bed somewhere. Pops connected to a tangle and tubes and wires. Ma in a back road tavern with a Boiler Maker and a cigarette. A whole new chain of rentals. New states. New schools. Nothing would change.  I stared at the ceiling and listened to the drone of the AC.  Rolling over I reached out and placed a hand on my bag, feeling the contour of the pistol beneath the canvas.


Michael Overa was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. After completing his MFA at Hollins University he returned to Seattle where he currently works as a writing coach and is a writer in residence with Seattle’s Writers In The Schools Program. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in the East Bay Review, Across the Margin, Fiction Daily, Portland Review, and Fiction Daily, among others.

A Thinning Veil by Andrea Fingerson

Still Hungry for More Thrills & Chills?

We will continue to run a new story each day this week. These stories were written at an Inlandia workshop for those wanting to write for Ghost Walk.


Cast of Characters: Male Narrator, Female Bystander, Isadora, and Fred.

When the scene opens, a man and a woman are arguing with each other upstage. Downstage the Narrator (an elderly male) is preparing to introduce the scene when he begins talking to a bystander (female) hidden in the audience.

Narrator: Welcome. Welcome. Please, gather around. Come closer. But not too close, of course. We are surrounded by visitors tonight.

Bystander: Visitors?

Narrator: Yes, of course child. It’s almost Halloween. The veil between our world and the next has been stretched thin. Look, the ghosts are beginning to bleed through.

Bystander: What are you talking about? I don’t see any ghosts.

Narrator: Oh, you will. Take those two, for instance.

Bystander: The couple in the corner?

Narrator: That is Fred and Isadora. Poor souls. They’ve been stuck here for at least half a century.

Bystander: What are they fighting about?

Narrator: Who knows. It’s always something with those two. Let’s listen in. But remember, don’t get too close.

Bystander: Why?

Narrator: Trust me. It’s for you own good.

Fred: I still can’t believe you killed me.

Isadora: It’s no more than you deserved. Or have you forgotten about shooting me on the steps of the courthouse?

Fred: You were trying to take our daughter away from me.

Isadora: For good reason.

Fred: Things were perfect until you filed for divorce.

Isadora: Sixteen trips to the emergency room is not what I would call perfect.

Fred: Why, I ought to.. (he tries to hit her, but misses; they’re both ghosts, but they can’t touch each other)

Isadora: I’m not afraid of you anymore, Fred. You can’t hurt me.

Fred: You never used to be so flippant.

Isadora: Now all you can do is annoy me.

Fred: It’s the only way to have fun in this place.

Isadora: It’s called limbo.

Fred: Who cares what it’s called. I just want to know how to escape.

Isadora: You’re not the only one.

Fred: Oh, I’d give anything to be able to touch something again. Anything. Even you.

Isadora: You’d probably just hit me.

Fred: And this is my punishment? An eternity stuck with you?

Isadora: You deserve a torturous afterlife. I, on the other hand-

Fred: (interrupting) Killed me, remember?

Isadora: Not quickly enough. I should have started dosing you with arsenic the first time you hit me.

Fred: You were so timid. That’s what I liked about you. You never hurt a fly, until you went and killed me.

Isadora: Best decision I ever made.

Fred: I would never have hurt our daughter. I loved her.

Isadora: And how was I supposed to know that? You took your frustration out on me enough times.

Fred: God. What I wouldn’t give to have another chance at life.

Isadora: That’s probably the one thing we agree on.

Fred: What would you do differently? If you had the chance?

Isadora: I wouldn’t be so timid, that’s for sure.

Fred: But it was your best quality.

Isadora: You mean my worst. No, if there’s one thing I’ve learned being stuck with you all these years, it’s to take what I want.

Fred: So I did make an impression on you.

Isadora: Don’t flatter yourself.

Fred: I won’t. I’ve learned a little humility being stuck with you all these years. (quieter) Wish I would’ve learned it sooner.

Isadora: What was that?

Fred: I said I wish I would’ve learned it sooner. Ok?

Isadora: Oh, Fred. You mean I’ve made an impression on you too?

Fred: I suppose so. Despite myself.

Isadora: At least that’s something.

Fred: And I intend to do something about it.

Isadora: What are you talking about, Fred?

Fred starts looking around at the crowd. He begins to examine them carefully. Isadora is following behind him, asking him what he’s doing)

Narrator: (backing up) Oh no. We’ve gotta get out of here.

Bystander: What are you talking about?

Narrator: We need to leave. Now.

Fred: (stops in front of the bystander) Oh yes, you’ll do nicely.

Narrator: I’ve heard about this. (he starts to push the bystander away) You’ve gotta get out of here.

Before the bystander can leave, Fred pushes Isadora into her. After this, the actress who plays Isadora should stand one to two feet behind the bystander and mimic the bystander’s words and movement.

Bystander: Fred. Fred. Where are you? What’s happening?

Fred: Coming dear.

Fred faces the narrator, staring at him.

Narrator: Oh no you don’t.

The narrator turns to run, but Fred grabs his arm and pushes himself up against him. After this, the actor who plays Fred stands one to two feet behind the narrator and mimics the narrator’s words and movement.

While this is happening, Isadora and the bystander are freaking out and calling for Fred. They don’t know yet that they can be seen by everyone else.

Narrator: Wow. That felt weird. (he turns to the bystander) Are you in there Isadora? Did it work?

Bystander: Wait. Can you see me?

Narrator: Of course I can, Isadora.

Bystander: (looks closely at the narrator) Fred? Is that you?

Narrator: (proudly) It is.

Bystander: What happened? Where are we?

Narrator: This my dear, is our second chance. I suggest we make the best of it.

The entire cast walks out, arm in arm. The actress playing Isadora and Fred should follow behind the narrator and the bystander.

Spooky Story in Three Parts by Christina Guillen

Still Hungry for More Thrills & Chills?

We will continue to run a new story each day this week. These stories were written at an Inlandia workshop for those wanting to write for Ghost Walk.


Part I—Ghost in the Dark


(Phone rings in office. Secretary smiles and laughs, passes phone to Building Owner.)

Owner smiles: “A boy! No kidding…Wonderful! Be right there!”

Owner (To the cleaning woman.): “Go on home, I’m a granddaddy!”

Owner (To the carpenter.): “Go home, I’m a granddaddy!”

Owner (To the secretaries.): “Go on home, I’m a granddaddy!”

(Staff leaves. Owner locks door and kicks heels.)

(Dim lights, late afternoon.)

(Electrician with bag of tools knocks on the front door, Ghost Woman, long black hair, answers.)

Electrician: “Afternoon ma’am, here to look at the ‘ol hot box. Can you show me the electrical room?”

(Ghost Woman leads him to a door to a tiny room and right away he finds the boxes.)

Electrician: “Thank you.”

Ghost woman: “Uweka.”

Electrician: “Uweka, ma’am? I’ll have the job done faster than you can blink!”

(Electrician sets bag of tools on floor and gets to work.)

Electrician (Scratches head.): “Let’s see…”

(Electrician sighs and peeks behind him. Ghost woman waits and watches. Electrician shocks himself.)

Electrician: “Ouch! Diggity-diggity! Excuse my language, I don’t mean to be crude before a lady. Having a bit ‘o trouble here.”

Ghost woman (Glaring.): “Uweka.”

Electrician (Scratches head.): “Ha? Doing everything I can…”

(Ghost woman stares.)

(Lights buzz, brighten. Electrician smiles.)

Electrician: “All set ma’am, thank you for waiting. I’ll be going now.”

(Ghost Woman leads him back the way he came and he leaves.)


(Owner and his Wife in living room.)

Owner: “I just remembered! I forgot to call the electrician yesterday and tell him not to come. I better call and apologize.”

Wife: “Yes, you’d better.”

(Owner dials, phone rings.)

Electrician: “Hello?”

Owner: “Yes, this is the owner of the ____________ building downtown.”

Electrician: “Good morning, how do you do sir? Everything went fine yesterday. Your lovely secretary let me in and helped me find the electric boxes.”

Owner: “Are you sure? I was just calling to apologize for not notifying you. I forgot to tell you everyone went home early. There shouldn’t have been anybody at all to let you in. I personally gave everyone permission to leave and locked the door myself.”

Electrician (Big eyes.): “Uweka! Uweka!”

Owner (Looks at phone.): “So sorry, I’m, I don’t understand…”

(Electrician hangs up. Dial tone sounds.)

Owner: “Hello, hello? Hello…”

(Wife looks at owner.)

(Lights flicker.)

Part II—Spider Who Keeps Watch


(Axel swats a spider.)

Gonzo: “I wouldn’t kill spiders on Halloween.”

Axel: “Gonz, you’re takin’ this Halloween stuff too far—”

Customer (Out of breath.): “Pump #4 is completely covered in spiders!”

Gonzo: “Sorry ma’am, just pull up to Pump #3.”

Customer: “No way!”

(Customer drives off.)

Axel: “I saw a can of kill spray somewhere…”

(Gonzo shakes his head.)

Axel (Sprays can.): “What?”

Axel: “You see, nothing happened.”

Gonzo: “Bravo Ax. Let’s clean up ‘n get outta here…”

Axel: “What’s up with you? C’mon let’s hear it.”

Gonzo: “How ‘bout this, you mop, I tell.”

Axel: “Ok, ok…better be good.”

Gonzo (Cleans counter.): “My great-grandfather was Native American. His name was Spider, known as

“Spider Who Keeps Watch” after it happened.

(Axel looks at Gonzo.)

Gonzo: “It was Halloween night.”

Gonzo: “Spider and his friend snuck out their boarding school. They ran far away so nobody would tell them not to speak their Native Paiute (pie-oot) language or tell them to go back to bed. They went to Mt. Rubidoux. Now, Spider really wanted to impress the girl so he told her something in Paiute.”

FLASHBACK MT. RUBIDOUX 1930, act out or tell by Gonzo.

(Spider, short hair, and Woman (same as Ghost Woman) long black hair.)

Gonzo or Spider: “Last week I ditched school, found a door…”

Gonzo or Woman: “What’s inside?”

(A customer screams at gas pump.)

(Gonzo and Axel run outside.)

Axel: “Holy moly bro, check out this black fog!”

Gonzo (Sarcastic.): “Fantastic.”

Customer: “Help! Dead something at pump #2.”

Axel clears throat: “Ma’am…it’s nothing but a bag of smelly sandwich.”

Axel: Full of spiders!

(Axel swats.)

(Customer screams, drives away.)

(Axel kicks bag away. Axel, Gonzo go back inside.)

Gonzo: “Now where was I…So Spider and his girl dug out rocks and wild plants and found a slab of wood (scraping sounds). They ripped off the wood and found a chain (chain sounds). The chain led to a door in the mountain. They put their ears to the door and listened. Nothing.”

(“Ding-dong” gas station door, customer leaving. Gonzo rolls his eyes. Axel laughs.)

Gonzo: “Anyway, they smashed a rock to open the lock and the door opened. Out came black fog and a sound that squeaked and cried the most horrifying sounds, worse than the screech of an animal that knows it’s gonna die. It smelled like wine. It opened to the tunnels under these buildings—”

Axel (Looks under his feet.): “Tunnels?”

Gonzo: “Yep. Then a fuzzy arm, part man, part beast, pulled his friend inside. On instinct, Spider spoke Paiute, “Uweka,” which means, “Go to sleep.” Good thing ‘cause the thing spit his girl back out, but not before taking her soul. Spider slammed the door snapping off the creature’s fuzzy arm.”

Axel’s (Jaw drops.): “Gonz…dude…”

Gonzo: “Yeah. Spider turned the creature’s leg into a staff and vowed to guard the opening. Thereafter he was known as “Spider Who Keeps Watch.””

Axel: “Dang, grotesque-ulous!”

(Gonzo nods.)

Axel: “Ok soooo…that explains why I can’t kill spiders because…”

Gonzo: “Oh it doesn’t, I’m just superstitious.”

(Big fake fuzzy spiders on strings lower from ceiling bouncing up and down, piñata style, tickling people’s heads. Fog.)

Part III—Beast Unleashed


(Two teens surrounded by piles of books and magazines.)

Henry (Opens book.): “Alright, a hundred dollars!”

Aunt Selena (Cleaning gear.): “Goes in the jar!”

Henry: “We know Aunt Selena.”

(Aunt Selena walks away.)

Becky: “Grandpa loved creepy stories.”

Henry (Shakes another book, money falls out. Puts in jar.): “He did, look, beasts and banshees…psychic mind powers…”

Henry: “Ghosts and auras…”

Henry: “All this time I saw grandpa reading, I never knew what.”

Henry: “Look! Another hundred bucks!”

Aunt Julia (Cleaning gear.): “You know, maybe we can use a little to buy your Halloween costumes…You are trick-or-treating tonight right?”

Becky: “Really mom? We’re fifteen and sixteen years old.”

Aunt Julia (Aunt Julia shrugs, walks away.): “Okay, okay. Excuse me, adults.”

Becky (Shakes head.): “Man! All I’m finding are cutout articles. Laaame.”

Henry: “Where? Let me see.”

(Becky shows pile of articles.)

Henry: “Wow you found a lot!”

Becky (Reading.): “Paranormal Catacomb Catastrophe,” “Spiderman Leaves Mt. Rubidoux,” “Electrician’s Ghost Woman.”

Henry: “What! Electrician? That’s grandpa!”

Becky: “Right? Look his photo!”

Henry, Becky (Reading.): “…electrician was on a job to repair the facility’s light fixtures…”

Becky: “Incredible grandpa…”

Henry (Murmuring reading.): “It says he saw a ghost. She spoke to him…”

Becky: “She? What did Miss Ghostie say?”

Henry: “Doesn’t say.”

Becky: “Oh. Woah! A journal!”

Henry: “Is there a date matching this article?”

Becky: “OMG, yes! Right here…“I encountered a ghost woman with long hair. She said, “Akewu.”””

Henry: “What’s that ‘sposed to mean?”

Becky (Shrugs.): “Do you think grandpa was trying to solve something?”

Henry: “Think so…look, a drawing.”

Becky (Whispers.): “…A map.”

Henry: “Know it?”

Becky (Excited whisper.): “It’s close, we can walk.”

(Becky, Henry smile.)


(Becky, Henry find the spot, dig, hit a chain. They pull chain and find a door in the mountain. They scrape away dirt and find a locked handle. They raise hammer to knock it open.)

(Spider, a Native American man with a fuzzy staff appears.)

Spider: “Spider Who Keeps Watch warns you of this place.”

Henry: “We aren’t doing anything wrong. We just want to help our grandfather.”

Spider: “Your grandfather wouldn’t like you to be here. Not safe.”

Becky: “He left clues, I’m sure he wants us to figure his mystery out.”

Spider: “Many have died. Great danger. Leave now.”

Henry: “But, we have to help him solve his mystery.”

Spider: “I have warned you three times.”

(Spider disappears.)

(Becky, Henry smash the lock with hammer.)

Becky: “Smell the wine?”

Henry (Nods.): “Like the journal says…And it says to say the ghost woman’s word: Akewu.”

(A foul sounding rustle and screech emits.)

(A long fuzzy man/beast arm protrudes. Black fog emits.)

Becky: “I don’t like this. Quick say the word again!”

Henry: “Akewu!”

(A man deformed with many grotesque spider features creeps out around audience.)

Henry: “Akewu! Akewu!”

Becky (Takes off shoe.): “EeeEeee! There’re spiders crawling in my shoes!”

(Ghost woman with long hair walks out around audience.)

(Spider Who Keeps Watch appears.)

Spider: “The word is Uweka. You say it backwards.”

Becky (Looks at Henry.): “Why would grandpa write it backwards?”

Spider: “Perhaps he was protecting what he did not understand.”

Henry: “What’s “Uweka”?”

Spider: ““Uweka” means “Go to sleep.””

Becky: “And Akewu?”

Spider: ““Akewu” means “Wake up.””

(Becky and Henry look at each other.)

(More Ghouls escape through door, circle audience.)

(Sound of spiders scurrying. Throw fake spiders. Fog fills room.)

Two Stories by Andrew Ivey

Still Hungry for More Thrills & Chills?

We will continue to run a new story each day this week. These stories were written at an Inlandia workshop for those wanting to write for Ghost Walk.


A Doll’s Dominion

The Eckright women were said to have a nasty habit of fatal mortality in their early forties. The routine curse was one, folklore had it, offered by the devil to some not-too-long-term thinking Eckright man who gave the devil the lives of his daughters at the expense of one of the largest agricultural fortunes of Southern California. But, this was only folklore, and though folklore may be dissected and disputed the sickness which wove its way across the Eckright family tapestry was very real.

It was always such a shame too. Little girls who were remarked upon as “sweet hearts” and “pretty little things” grew into women of astounding, paralyzing beauty. But suddenly, as if on a soulless, supernatural schedule; they would fall bed-ridden. Sometimes, but not always, the sickness was made even more untimely by the recent birth of a child.

The trend continued down the generations; until finally one of the more-long-term-thinking Eckright women had the foresight to make a new tradition. A woman of keen intellect and a compassion more heavenly than worldly, she purchased a doll from some shop in downtown Riverside. The name and nature of the shop were forgotten to her shortly after, when the illness wrecked her bones and ravaged her mind; but the sentiment of the doll was not.

The doll, “Angie” was to stand watch over the Eckright’s when the family curse took them, to not leave their side so that as they went from one world to the next; it would be as if all generations of the family were in the room with them, so that they would not make the journey of life and death alone.

Angie herself was a rather inconspicuous-though-elegant doll. Soft, rounded porcelain features, blue eyes which almost captured the color of a soul, blonde hair that sometimes was curled and brushed. She didn’t wear a mourning dress, a custom that was absolutely forbidden when one very sad husband attempted to bring Angie to his wife’s funeral. Angie was a family treasure, to be honored and cared for. Although, no one could blame the poor man for his misunderstanding. The Eckright women, after all, always managed to pick themselves good and loyal husbands.

It was Rachel Eckright who broke that tradition.

Arthur Kraddick was a man bereft of a moral compass. He came from another wealthy family, another of the clans who lived on hills and considered themselves local aristocracy, but was as quick to spend money as he was to make it. He was a liar, a thief, and rumor had it…a murderer. But; what could local folklore do to dissuade a woman whose family was known for making a deal with the devil when the man she loved was only considered a mere murderer?

No. Arthur Kraddick had swindled one brother out of their father’s will; sent his mother to an insane asylum and sent his sister to an early death. What was breaking the heart of a wonderful, though naïve, young woman? And indeed, he would not have conned her long. What are twenty years, two children and a façade of lovingness to one who is constantly playing a long game in their mind? Arthur Kraddick was scornful of his children; whose naming he left to Rachel, and only provided his wife the basic affections she needed to convince herself that his love had any semblance of truth.

But he had a calendar. One in the drawer of his desk. Not a traditional kind but one of a series of tally marks and numbers which he would use to attempt a prediction of Rachel’s succumbing to an illness.

When she finally fell, bedridden and alone, Arthur already had budgeted the final years of his life according to the massive fortune he would inherent. He intended to spend every penny, to live out his long; final days in an opulence that would make Julius Caesar blush. His hated children would receive nothing but his blood in their veins.

However, something unheard of happened, an occurrence that had not once happened in the better part of a century. Rachel began to recover. The symptoms of her recovery were slight, not enough to embrace hope but enough to be suspicious of its arrival.

Arthur, however, could not wait.

Rachel always asked that a cup of water be placed on her nightstand, in case she woke up thirsty. Usually the duty of a trusted maid that loved Rachel as an older sister, Arthur brought his wife her nightly drink; shortly after he fired each member of the household staff in preparation for his seizure of the property.

One reluctant sip was enough to close her throat.

In her final moments, terrified, she pointed at her husband, who was cruel enough to laugh.

“You foolish little girl,” he chided, “There’s no one here to witness your accusation.”

What Arthur did not know was that she wasn’t pointing at him. Behind him, through her darkening vision, she perceived something monstrous in a white dress. Arthur’s body faded into a darkening mist, lifted off the floor by some large, lumbering white shadow. His feet kicked beneath him wildly as Rachel died. The last thing she heard was Arthur’s terrified screaming, and the last things she saw were glowing blue eyes.

When the staff returned, bringing police in anticipation of a struggle, they found the couple dead. Rachel was smiling, beautiful as ever as the angels embraced her. Arthur’s face had a look of frozen horror, a gaze that looked upward from the floor as if staring at a demon.

Angie sat on the shelf, her soft porcelain hands covered in blood.


You Never Hear About Them Anymore

You never hear about werewolves anymore.

In the old days, in Europe, everyone was afraid of them. Some evil man or woman would go out into those black forests and they would meet a man. Only the man was tall…and dark…more of a stretched, slender shadow whose form only vaguely suggested being a man. In the flickering light of a dying fire (one doesn’t partake in such a transaction without fire) the shadow would also seem something far older, far greater than a man.

After you made the deal, you supposedly lost your soul…but then, anyone who would want what you got from that deal wouldn’t have had much of a soul to begin with.

The individual in question would then proceed to go about their days: uninterrupted and largely uneventful. It was their nights that changed, when they gave themselves up and underwent the change in order to carry out their crimes. Ghastly crimes too, the sort that would make even the strongest modern detective vomit at the mention. Europe’s history is full of ‘em; tailors who murdered children, cannibals who lived on the sides of roads and ate travelers alive; packs of wolves that went uninterrupted into cities to steal babies from their cribs.

Then the scares sort of stopped.

You don’t hear about werewolves anymore.

But you see the posters. You know, the ones that are just outside grocery stores? “Missing Since,” “Please Help,” “Call with any information.” You stop and you wonder to yourself how so many people could be missing for so long, how they never found them or where they could possibly go. Enough to fill a board that big, at least one hundred faces from your own towns.

There aren’t many forests out here, sure. Bu there are mountains, desert, whole tracts of land on the fringe of your city that nobody bothers to even check. Certainly there is no concern about fires, plenty of things burn out here. And then there are the industrial districts, the abandoned parts of town full offices which are only inhabited for 25% of the year before they are inevitably given back to the emptiness which so tightly cling to them.

And then, living in a city has made you far too arrogant, you’ve thrown caution out the window almost entirely. Your buildings, walls, don’t mean anything when someone can just break them. You wander home alone at night simply because there are streetlamps now. A street lamp might do you some good if you only had to worry about seeing. They don’t stop someone…something, from lunging out behind an alley, from the water drains or bike trails. And like I say, there are mountains all around us. Technically, each of you lives on the edge of civilization; though the term is just as meaningless now as it was to the Europeans, all those hundreds of years ago.

The reason you don’t hear about werewolves anymore isn’t because they’re less scary.

It’s because we’re scarier now than ever before.

Together Forever by Michelle Gonzalez

Still Hungry for More Thrills & Chills?

We will continue to run a new story each day this week. These stories were written at an Inlandia workshop for those wanting to write for Ghost Walk.


My name is Beatrice. I don’t remember much about when I was born, but I remember when my life changed. It was not the day that my sister Emily was born, although I always cared for her. She always had the sweetest smile as a baby. Even when she followed me everywhere, I did not mind. It also was not the day my father left us. My mother and I were used to taking care of the household. You can say my life changed when my mother moved us here to Riverside. I remember the city was growing and the Mission Inn was fairly new.

Not long after we arrived, I met Jack. We were both twenty-one and the eldest child of our respective families. Most of the time, we enjoyed this, but it came with responsibilities like working to help support the family. Neither one of us went to college, but for the most part we did not mind. We both enjoyed being outdoors.

We spent most of our time together. My sister and mother constantly complained, saying Jack was a bad influence, but this was not the case. They did not know that I was often the bad influence on him. I do believe, however, that my sister just wanted a bit more of my time.

One evening, we decided to walk by the Mission Inn. It was right here, where the Chinese Pagoda stands (points to pagoda) that the event happened. Jack and I were holding hands and then I saw someone in the distance. He appeared to be ill and my first instinct was to ask if he needed help, but Jack warned me not to. Against his judgment, I decided to approach the stranger. As I got closer, I noticed something was not right. Before I could turn and run away, he grabbed a hold of my arm. He then bit down with what felt like all his force. Before I knew it, Jack was by my side. He hit the stranger and with one blow knocked him down to the ground.

I began to feel strange. I knew that something wasn’t right and that I was somehow changing. I was beginning to feel an uncontrollable hunger for meat. I could see the look in Jack’s eyes. There was complete fear in them, but there was also still undying love.

I tried to tell him to run, but he would not. Instead, he took me to his home. He promised me that he would take care of me. Every day he would bring me something to eat, so I would no longer feel the hunger. As long as it was fresh, I did not mind what it was.

The people in the city began to talk. Since I had disappeared, they began to suspect the worst. They accused Jack, but since there was never any proof, he was eventually cleared of any suspicion of a hideous crime. We were the only ones that knew the truth. Years passed and they began to wonder why Jack never married or even went on a date. Most of his time was spent with me behind closed doors that kept us safe. This went on for many years until one day he just vanished. No one will ever know what happened to his body.

Maggie by Melodie Rae Gunn

Still Hungry for More Thrills & Chills?

We will continue to run a new story each day this week. These stories were written at an Inlandia workshop for those wanting to write for Ghost Walk.


This annex was built in 2 phases….1913 and 1926. It 1st served as a girls’ dorm for the staff of this hotel. Later..a boys’ dorm was added to the back. That bridge goes straight across to a stair case that goes down to the kitchen, where they would start their day. Our story is about a young girl, just 17 years old…named Maggie. . .

It was Halloween and Maggie was one of the few staff still working. She was orphaned at a young age & had to start working early in life. Since she didn’t really have any family or friends to spend the holidays with…she was always willing to work so others could have the night off ..and..of course… so she could make a little extra money.

It was just past midnight & she was heading to her room. She always dreaded walking across that small, dark, bridge to her room. Tonight …there was a thick cloud cover it was much darker than usual. And maybe….just maybe..since it was All Hallows’ Eve …her imagination was working a little harder than normal.

There is a large cross just before the bridge….and for some reason…she always imagined someone …or something…crouched upon it…ready to jump. She diverted her eyes and hurried towards the gate. The gate closed behind her with a resounding click. She started across the bridge…and felt as if someone had followed her… and was right behind her. Terrified…she paused. The hairs on her neck stood up. She took a deep breath and whipped around and started to say ‘Who’s there?!’ and her question fell short….

She was greeted by darkness….and dead silence.

She had a bad habit of biting her nails when she was nervous….and tonight…she looked like a wild, animal caught in a trap…. As if it were chewing upon its own flesh to free itself from the steel jaws.

She picked up her pace and made her way across the rest of the bridge and went straight to her room!

She was glad to find Beth there. They had become best friends and confidants in the last year since they started working together. Beth had taught her a lot about her job…

Maggie started to get ready for bed and thought she heard humming. She paused to listen ….and it stopped. She chided herself…

Beth: Oh Maggie.. you are really letting your imagination get the best of you tonight.. Stop this nonsense!

She continued getting ready for bed and suddenly there was a loud noise…like something falling to the floor. Beth woke up …and rolled over…

Beth: Maggie…are you OK? What was that?

Maggie with a strained voice said: It wasn’t me Beth.. I don’t know what that was!

Beth sat up ..wide awake now & reached for some matches. Electricity was still very limited in places…and their rooms were always dark. Beth lit her candle and together, they started looking for the source of the noise. They found a book on the floor by the chair and nightstand. It was Beth’s from earlier. She thought maybe she might have set it too close to the edge of the table earlier….as she was quite tired when she had retired for bed. They both let out a strained laugh and went back to what they were doing.

Maggie: Beth..I thought I heard someone humming when I came in. Is there anyone else in the dorms tonight?

Beth: I don’t think so…but maybe ….

Maggie: OK. I swear…ever since that boy, Mark, told me about seeing strange apparitions in the catacombs and that some guests had been mysteriously pushed down the stairs near the honeymoon suite…I think I jump at just about everything these days!

Beth: Oh Maggie…they are just silly stories the boys made up to scare us!

Maggie: I guess so. But even tonight…as I crossed the bridge…I swear it felt as if someone had followed me and when I turned around…there was no one there.

Beth: Wow…that is odd. But I’m sure it’s just your imagination.

Maggie shrugged: Yeah…probably….

Maggie finished getting ready for bed and Beth was almost asleep when Maggie thought she heard humming again.

Maggie whispering: Beth…do you hear that?

Beth in a half sleepy voice: Hmmm..what?

Maggie: The humming…I hear it again.

Beth: Mmmm…maybe there is someone here then….

Maggie: I’m going to go look & see if I can find anyone else…

Beth: OK….and she instantly fell back asleep as Maggie went out to look.

The next morning….Beth awoke and Maggie was not there. She figured since they were so short handed…that maybe she had already started work. Although it was unlike her to just leave without saying something….

She got ready and headed down to start her day. She asked several of the other staff members if they had seen Maggie yet. No one had. Beth went to the security office to ask.. they hadn’t seen her and she hadn’t clocked in either.

No one had seen or heard from Maggie since she got off work the night before.

Beth thought it odd that Maggie would just go off without saying anything. She had no friends or family out here in Riverside. So where would she go??

Beth went about her day and hoped maybe Maggie would be back in their room later. When Beth ended her shift…she went straight to their room. No sign of Maggie…or that she had even been there at all.

No one knows what became of little Maggie….

And sometimes….to this day…people report hearing what they think is a young girl humming…

Just up there…where the girls’ dorms used to be…