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.

Victoria Waddle

Under the Spell of the Inland Author’s Imagination: Nalo Hopkinson Taps the Speculative and the Supernatural

I’m not one for making New Year’s resolutions; not anymore that is. But in the last five years, as each year ends, I’ve picked out a few things that I’m curious about to see if, throughout the year, I can follow that curiosity wherever it takes me. This is a joyful experience, and I’m glad that authors have recently written books encouraging this practice. (A few good ones are: A Curious Mind by Brian Grazer and Charles Fishman, and Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.)

My journey on the road of inquiry took a turn backward at the end of 2015. I decided I would treat myself to audio versions of old myths and epics I’d read back in college English courses. I listened to “Gilgamesh,” an ancient Sumerian epic about grief and mortality; “Beowulf,” the old English epic about the Danes and their struggle with the monster Grendel; and “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” a short symbolic tale of a knight in King Arthur’s court. I don’t know why I am now drawn to humankind’s need to slay dragons, but the tales were all as fantastical as I remembered them.

Just as I finished the epics, I read “All Stories are the Same,” an article in The Atlantic which discusses the ongoing fictional battles between people and creatures. Author John Yorke concludes with, “In stories throughout the ages there is one motif that continually recurs–the journey into the woods to find the dark but life-giving secret within.”

When we become interested in something, it pops up everywhere. For Christmas, my son gave me a copy of The Book of Imaginary Beings, Jorge Luis Borges’s compendium of imaginary creatures. Of course, there are centaurs, dragons, elves, and angels. But Borges also includes more recent literary creatures from Kafka and C. S. Lewis. His description of H. G. Wells’s Eloi and Morlocks from The Time Machine, drove me to wonder: who, in the Inland Empire, is imagining such creatures now?

In venturing into the supernatural woods, I stumbled upon Nalo Hopkinson, a professor of creative writing at UC Riverside. Two of her stories appear in Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora, edited by Sheree R. Thomas (2000). “Greedy Choke Puppy” is the story of a soucouyant, a sort of Caribbean female vampire who removes her skin at night and changes into a ball of fire, searching for babies whose blood she can suck. “Ganger (Ball Lightning)” is the story of a couple who uses a technologically-enhanced second skin for fulfillment, but who find themselves fighting the life-threatening consequences.

In the more recent Unnatural Creatures: Stories Selected by Neil Gaiman (2013), Hopkinson’s story is “The Smile on the Face.” The title has its source in the limerick “The Lady of Niger,” lines of which are interspersed throughout the tale. In it, teenager Gilla is bored with a school reading assignment that includes the story of the laidly worm that ate St. Margaret. Gilla’s mum tells her that the story shows that St. Margaret was a hamadryad, a female spirit whose soul resides in a tree. Later, Gilla fearfully walks past a scary cherry tree in her yard while on the way to a party with her best friend. Gilla is ashamed of her blossoming body and large breasts. At the party, a particular boy openly ridicules her and becomes a true threat, but Gilla has swallowed the pit of a cherry from the tree in the yard. She discovers the powerful spirit of both dragon and tree within her.

Having enjoyed these stories, I bought Hopkinson’s most recent collection of short fiction Falling in Love with Hominids (2015). Of the three stories above, only “The Smile on the Face” is repeated. But the creatures of Hopkinson’s imagination abound. In the opening story “Easthound,” Millie believes that she has brought a pandemic to the world simply by misreading the word ‘eastbound’ and transforming the direction into a nightmare world where children hide from adults and fear growing up. As a character in “Message in a Bottle” says, “Human beings, we’re becoming increasingly post-human,” and the result is often terrifying. Other stories have teens who transform into human-water snakes, an elephant that appears in a living room, a child who is a magical granter of wishes. There’s a very different shaggy dog story in which fauna and flora commingle. Hopkinson reimagines Caliban and Ariel from Shakespeare’s “Tempest.” Her trees, tired of freezing weather, take flight. The story I most enjoyed for its sense of Mardi Gras magic about to collide with impending evil was “Ours is the Prettiest,” written as Hopkinson participated in a shared-world anthology, the Bordertown series.

In his introduction to Unnatural Creatures, Neil Gaiman writes, “I liked animals who existed in a more shadowy way even more than I liked the real ones. . . because they were impossible, because they might or might not exist, because simply thinking about them made the world a more magical place.” Hopkinson–who is local by way of Jamaica with a detour into Canada–takes us into the woods she inhabits with her shadowy creatures, making our world that more magical place.

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…

Two Stories by Nan Friedley

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.


The Last Encore

Venue: Back to the Grind

Characters: Master of Ceremonies, Sylvia Plath, John Berryman, Anne Sexton

Master of C: Welcome to Ghost Walk’s Dead Poets’ open mic night. This evening we are pleased to present three confessional poets who are making a special appearance, back from the dead, to share some of their most memorable work. Our first poet, Sylvia Plath, in a state of severe depression resorted to suicide by oven in 1963, welcome back to our world. Give it up for Sylvia.

(MC and audience applause, cheers)

Sylvia Plath:   Thank you so much for the warm welcome. I will be reading an excerpt from Lady Lazarus a poem that feels particularly relatable this evening.

Lady Lazarus


Is an art, like everything else

I do it exceptionally well


I do it so it feels like hell.

I do it so it feels real.

I guess you could say I’ve a call.


It’s easy enough to do it in a cell.

It’s easy enough to do it and stay put.

It’s the theatrical


Come back in broad day

To the same place, the same face, the same brute

Amused shout


‘a miracle’

That knocks me out

There is a charge


For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge

For the hearing of my heart

It really goes.


And there is a charge, a very large charge

For a word or touch

Or a bit of blood


Ash, ash

You poke and stir

Flesh, bone, there is nothing there—


Out of the ash

I rise with my red hair

And I eat men like air.


(MC and audience applause, cheers)


Master of C:   Thank you Sylvia. We sure do miss you. Wish you could have stayed with us to write more amazing poems. Our next poet, John Berryman, decided to end his life by jumping off the Washington Avenue bridge on the campus of University of Minnesota in 1972. Let’s welcome John to our stage to perform a poem from his Dream Song book.

(MC and audience applause. cheers)

John B:   Thanks for bringing me back for an encore reading this evening. I’ve chosen Dream Song 14:

Life, Friends, is Boring

Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so

After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,

We ourselves flash and yearn

and moreover, my mother told me as a boy

(repeatedly) ‘Ever to confess you’re bored

means you have no


Inner resources,’ I conclude now that I have no

inner resources, because I am heavy bored

people bore me

literature bores me with its plights and gripes

as bad as Achilles


Who loves people and valiant art, which bores me

And the tranquil hills, and gin, look like a dog

And somehow a dog

Has taken itself and its tail considerably away

Into mountains or sea or sky, leaving

behind me, wag


(MC and audience applause, cheers)


Master of C:   Thank you Mr. Berryman for your many Dream Songs we enjoyed through the years. It was so inspiring for you to lend voice to your words. Our final poet of the night is Anne Sexton. When life became too overwhelming for Anne, she locked herself in the garage with her car running to eventually die of carbon monoxide poisoning in 1974. We are so happy you have returned to join us for open mic night. Please welcome Anne Sexton.

(MC and audience applause, cheers)

Anne Sexton:   Thank you. It is so nice to see so many young people in the audience who are interested in poetry. Although it may not seem like it, writing was a source of comfort to me as I hope it is for you. I will be reading:

Waiting to Die

Since you ask, most days I cannot remember

I walk in my clothing, unmarked by that voyage

then the almost unnamable lust returns.


Even then I have nothing against life

I know well the grass blades you mention

the furniture you have placed under the sun.


But suicides have a special language.

They want to know which tools

They never ask why.


Twice I have so simply declared myself

have possessed the enemy, eaten the enemy

have taken on his craft, his magic.


In this way, heavy and thoughtful,

Warmer than oil or water

I have rested drooping at the mouth-hole.


I did not think of my body at needlepoint.

Even the cornea and the leftover urine were gone.


(MC and audience applause, cheers)


Master of C:   Thanks Anne for sharing your powerful poem with us. Perhaps your words will bring strength and courage to those in need. I want to thank all of our dead poets this evening for giving us a glimpse into their worlds. Let’s bring them back on stage one more time.

(MC and audience claps and cheers for encore, but no dead poets return to stage)

Master of C:   I’m afraid they are not coming back. They are lost to us now except on pages. Thanks for joining us tonight. Be safe going home.



Venue: Annex

Characters: Homeless Hank, Eloise the Librarian, College girl/News Anchor, Boyfriend/News Anchor

Props: shopping cart, garbage bags, cane, pillow, sleeping bag, two microphones

Hank:       I like to hang out in the library parking lot…park my portable home on wheels in the back. I’m a collector. Wandering around the city I’ve found some gems. You’d probably be surprised by what I have in my cart. I’m a people watcher too…especially like pretty young girls…ones with long hair and longer legs.

Eloise:       I’ve been watching him from my office window in the library. He leers at young girls, drools when he sees one he really likes. Disgusting…dirty letch. I wonder what’s in his cart…curious if he has anything valuable.

(young college age girl walks by)

Hank:       It’s my lucky day! She’s heading to my secret hideout. I’d like to keep her warm tonight. Maybe just talk about my collections. I could give her a gift.

(Hank follows the girl, pushing his cart)

Eloise:       There he goes. She’s not paying any attention to him… with those earbuds and texting, she doesn’t even hear him. I better tag along. I wonder what he’s up to. I’m a little slower these days. (walks with a limp using her cane)

(Girl waves to young man by Mission Inn service entrance)

College girl: Sorry I’m late. Couldn’t find a place to park.

Boyfriend:   That’s o.k. I just got off…big party in the Music Room.

(Girl and boyfriend hug and walk off together)

Hank:       I was so close. She would have been a lot of fun. Guess I’ll just call it a day.

(Hank gathers his grimy pillow and sleeping bag from his cart, curls up on the annex steps and goes to sleep)

(Eloise waits till she is sure Hank is asleep…beats Hank with her cane. She walks away with Hank’s cart, smiling)

Eloise:       Serves him right. Tomorrow there will be an article in the Press-Enterprise about a homeless man found beaten to death. The police will request information about a bloody cane next to the body. I won’t be calling any time soon. (crazy laugh)

Girl News

Anchor:   On December 21st, the longest day of the year, is National Homeless Person’s Memorial Day. It started in 1990 to remember those homeless who have died on the streets in our communities. Each night, over 51,000 homeless sleep on the streets of LA.

Boy News

Anchor:   There is no official tracking of the number of homeless deaths. In LA county when no relative comes forward to claim the body, the person is cremated. In 2012, all the remains were buried in one unmarked grave…1,756 forgotten souls.