fiction


Cahuenga Pass, circa 1938CAHUENGA PASS

I dreamed there was no knife in my hand after I took the punch to the side of my head.

It was a nice dream while it lasted, but I came awake with a jump at the subconscious knuckle crunch of fist against temple, much in the same way people who are falling in their sleep jolt awake just before they impact whatever hard parcel upon which they are about to land.

Blinking the blur out of my eyes, the flood of relief I felt at the absence of the knife boiled entirely away in the instant I found myself still in the jail cell I’d been placed in after being booked for murdering the road-rager who’d thrown the blow.

Because there had been a knife in my hand. Funny thing, not only do I not remember how it got there, but I had initially planned on just accepting the slug. In a way, I totally deserved it.

I’d gotten off work. I was coming from Hollywood into the valley through the Cahuenga Pass where I’d been in a hurry to drop off a package for my boss at the FedEx near a curve in the road past Barham. I was in a rush to get home to my Encino apartmetn and cleaned up for a date later all the way back over on Melrose with none other than Elie Tolsen. I’d known Elie since high school, but back then crush be damned, I was a stoner fuck-up to whom such a princess wouldn’t give the time of day. Since then, I cleaned up nicely and got a promising job at Paramount. She’d filled out nicely and landed a co-starring roll on a popular TV cop show that just so happened to film at the same studio.

So there I was, FedEx package delivered and putting my car in reverse there on the driveway apron, trying to make every second count. Instead of backing out, heading east and turning around safely and sanely somewhere back in the direction from which I’d just come, I opted instead to back out across the clear eastbound lanes and arc into the space for left turns in the center of the street.

While I executed the obviously questionable maneuver perfectly, it surprised the driver of a car coming west around the bend who laid on the horn as he passed me, an alarm I fully deserved. After pulling into the lane I came up behind him stopped at a red light a couple blocks down. While the driver of the car was just glaring at me in his rearview mirror, it was the passenger who’d gone totally apoplectic with anger, turning fully in his seat full-throat yelling at me and flipping me off through the rear window. Seriously, there was spittle involved. Man overboard!

The irony is not only did the driver try to calm his friend down, but I also gave it my best attempt to placate the asshole. I mouthed sincerely that I was sorry and gestured as best I could to indicate I was certifiably the worst driver in the world who shouldn’t be allowed to walk the streets much less operate a motor vehicle upon them.

It didn’t translate to the guy riding shotgun. He just kept laying on with the fuckyous and the assholes and the middle fingers and the kickyerasses to the point where I had enough and returned fire. Then he gestured: let’s fucking go right fucking here, right fucking now.

Next thing, the light’s turning green, but he’s out of the car and moving towards me. Nothing about him was outwardly concerning — 5’10” maybe 175 pounds, no guns in his hands. But regardless of his lack of physical stature or weaponry, logic dictates that one should not stay frozen in a confined and hardly defensible space such as the interior of a vehicle as some stark and raving lunatic closes the distance. One should get out, the better to fight or to flee.

But for some strange reason, I stayed put — surprisingly calmly so. Ignoring the psycho as he arrived at the driver’s side window and instead looked straight ahead at the driver of the car who also remained behind his wheel but now in exasperation held his head in both hands.

I don’t remember what the fellow yelled and spit at me through the open window, neither is it important. What is important is that my failure to engage enraged him further enough to first slam his hand down on the roof of my car and then bitchslap at the side of my head, coming into contact with my left ear enough to cause an intense burning sensation.

Here’s the thing. I don’t take pain well. I don’t mean to say that I have a low threshold for it, it’s just that I woefully lack the ability to ignore whatever thing — be it animate, inanimate or in this case highly animated — that is the cause of that pain. I’ve destroyed chairs that I’ve stubbed toes on. I flushed a hamster down the toilet that bit me on the pinky. During my first year in junior high, I put a towering ninth grader in the hospital for suckering me into accepting a high five with a nail held between his middle and ring fingers. The school security guard had to pull me off him to stop me with hands full of his ears and hair from banging his head face first into the playground asphalt for the tenth time. It’s a byproduct overdrive impulse to inflict an equal or greater amount of damage to that which has been inflicted upon me.

Slim as it may have been, any chance of me not going batshit at the eird slap was taken off the table when his fist came in full contact to my temple, the force of which drove me across onto the passenger seat, upon which sat my backpack and in which resided the buck knife with a folding four-inch locking blade that was a gift from the warehouse manager of a previous employer back when I hadn’t quite cleaned up so well.  The job was in a bad part south and east of downtown and the manager told me for very good reason that I should never ever be without a knife.

In the ensuing daze of ear-ringing semi-consciousness I won’t deny going through the complicated process of opening the appropriate pocket of the backpack, removing the knife from its leather case, and locking it open. It’s just that I sincerely don’t remember doing so. All I recall is that when I felt him grabbing at my shirt and pulling me back toward him, I came up more quickly than he expected. With my left arm I pinned his right arm against pillar of the car frame and kept pushing the forearm away from me at an unnatural angle until there was a very satisfying crack and and even more satisfying a scream. Then what may have been the butt of his left palm connected with my forehead and I saw a light show before my eyes during which I drove the knife in my right hand into and out of and into and out of his midsection.

I couldn’t tell you how many times, other than I didn’t stop until he slumped and fell away from my car onto his back in the number one westbound lane just in time to be run over by a passing FedEx truck. Whether he was dead before he hit the street, or was finished off under the tire treads, I don’t know.

All I knew when sirens sounded in the distance and grew louder with each passing second was that I had killed two things, a man and my date with Elie. I was far more upset about the latter.

Preface: Back in August my friend and fellow Metblogs contributor, David Markland (also the creator of the excellent Creepy LA website), told me he was aiming to pull some storytellers together for an event to take place around Halloween and wanted to know if I’d be interested in participating. I said absolutely in part because October seems very far away from August, giving me plenty of time to flesh out a spooky tale based on an actual historic horror I’d been longing to tell.

Fast forward to the day of the event — called the Haunted Speakeasy —  October 25, and there I am bemoaning a lost Sunday spent kicking my procrastinatory self between bits of cranking out a ragged version of the story so that I wouldn’t have to resort to either inexcusably flaking on David altogether or being forced to dust off the likes of past stuff such as the Haunted Griffith Park Picnic Table or the Carnivorous At-Large Tumor.

Basically after about six hours spent frustratingly pounding the keyboard and my forehead, and about an hour before showtime I printed out the piece, gave it a test read to see how far it ran past the five-minute limit David had imposed (Susan clocked it at just shy of 12 minutes, yikes), and then pedaled my ass over to the corner of Prospect and Rodney in Los Feliz where the Haunted Speakeasy was to take place. When my time came, I got up in front of the friendly and receptive crowd apologized for its unedited length and read it… rough draft, run-on sentences, typos and all. Its end was greeted with a nice measure of applause, probably attributable less to how good the story was and more to the deathless thing finally being done.

But I’ll leave that for you to decide if you wish to click to the other side of the jump where you’ll find my half-assed mixing of historical fact and odd fiction complete and untouched (but augmented with a few illustrations and images). Get comfy for I present to you:

Tales From The Archive: Playground Of The Devils!

(more…)

What is this about?

Two Lane University

The road between Scotty’s Castle and Highway 190 cuts through a canyon called Grapevine, which should provide a driver some clue that it’s not very speed friendly. Even if the name doesn’t give it away, the road does and quick. The sharp turns along the tight two-laner leaving Death Valley come fast and furious and Coit was betting he could use them to put some increased distance between the ranger in the powerful but lumbering SUV who’d clocked him well into triple digits as he blew past the station on the other side of Mesquite Spring, and given chase accordingly.

If Coit didn’t lose him he’ll have to stop and kill him, and he’d had enough killing for the day. All he wanted now more than more bloodshed was the Nevada border on the other side of the Amaragosa mountains and it looked like he’ just might get it, what with the truck and its flashing light bar dropping back and taking longer and longer to appear around bends Coit had jetted through in his far more nimble Audi. It was like driving on rails. The silenced .380 on the passenger seat barely moved. Neither did the body in the trunk.

Once out of California the road straightened out into a speed demon’s paradise across the flats of Bonnie Clair and the Sarcobatus to Highway 95 where a right would take Coit to Beatty and a left would send him to Reno.

Where more killing awaited.

What is this about?

Encounter

The craft hovered in front of where he’d stopped for the red light at the intersection of  Belltower and Freedman. It was its pulsing light sequence that Zac first spotted much higher up in the sky, and to him it seemed helicopter…ish, but as it swooped downward in a steep waterpark slide-like arc toward him he realized he’d fallen victim to an optical illusion. It hadn’t started off way out there in the referenceless ink black, but instead only a couple hundred feet up.

Brightly lit, it was maybe a foot long and oddly rectangular shaped, which didn’t seem very efficient for flying, but Zac just shrugged What the hell did he know about efficient? And besides that the transluscent surface seemed almost fluid making the thing look like a flying see-through shoebox made of glowing water.

Zac cracked the window of his truck a bit to check if he could hear any type of gas-powered whirring that might give the object away as radio-controlled no doubt by some prankster sequestered nearby — most likely with a  video camera set up  to capture the YouTube-ready footage. But, aside from a decidedly unfamiliar humming, there was no other sound.

Zac was about to get out to see if he could manage a closer look without triggering some sort of Gamma Blamma deathraygun, but the machine rose up twenty feet and hovered there before he could even move his hand to the door handle, almost as if it could read his mind or anticipate his actions. When Zac relaxed and stayed put it descended again to its previous position, prompting an intrigued “Whoa!” from him.

Next came a series of tones and bleeps and clicks, faint at first and punctuated by changes in the ship’s color scheme. As it repeated and grew in volume, Zac figured it was trying to communicate but he had no idea what it was trying to say much less who was saying it.

Zach thought it probably wouldn’t be many more refrains until the little creature inside retreived some  hightech version of a clipboard and added one more checkmark to the Unresponsive Human column before zooming off tofind its next test subject, and sure enough midway through the note sequence it abruptly cut off.

Instead of flying off however, it dropped again until it was almost level with the hood of the truck and slowly proceeded forward and right onto Freedman, where once across the crosswalk it hovered again.

Zac didn’t get it right away, so the tiny ship backed up to the truck’s grill again and then mad the slow right turn again.

“You want me to follow?” Zac asked incredulously.

The ship glowed a bright green, and Zac took a look around the empty intersection wondering what he was getting himself into. Then he turned right, pulling in behind it. When it proceeded forward, he took a deep breath and followed.

What is this about?

Countdown

“At least tell me who wants me dead!” Halloray yelled. “Do me that meaningless favor so at least I’ll know who to haunt.”

“OK,” Derek said smugly. “I can give you that much,” turning and walking toward the hotel room door.

“It was Manesian. All along.”

And then the building shuddered and groaned. And then it was a miracle. A goddammed pope on a rope hallelujah brothers and sisters, blessed be thy name made to order miracle.

Four floors up in the abandoned Ambassador Hotel, roped and duct-taped to a secretary’s chair and staring at the ass of the evil freak who was walking away, maniacally laughing and leaving Halloray there to die in the demolition that was set to take place in, oh three minutes, he didn’t believe his eyes when the floor of the suite gave way beneath the goon and his ass and laughter suddenly turned to screaming and Derek was gone in a cloud of dust, shortly thereafter the screaming was cut short by a slam and a crack and became a strangled and very wet gurgle and gasping for a few moments before silence resumed. The hotel groaned again.

“Shoulda watched your step, you dead fuck!”

And Halloray laughed while blinking in dumbfounded amazement at his good fortune before realizing the clock was still ticking and inspite of that momentary bit of luck he was still taped to a fucking chair in a room of a long-dead landmark that was about to go boom.

He struggled against the bonds at his ankles, wrists and waist. They all held firm. He screamed in aggravation and did the only thing left he could do.

He fucking went beserk. Flailing his body and screaming, he managed to tip the chair over into a roll with enough momentum that he went end over end until he crashed into the wall below the windows.

Of course, in one of those sick tumbles he crushed his nose against the hardwood floor and felt a pain that could only be a separated shoulder, but none of that mattered. It was all adrenaline and getting out alive or dying trying.

And sure enough, the fit helped. Wiggling against the tape, he found a little slack around his right wrist. He exploited it.

From far off outside, he heard the conservancy protesters chanting in a final effort to rant and rail against the destruction of the historic place where Hollywood once lived and Bobby Kennedy had died.

And then his wrist was free.

“Fuck yeah!” he yelled. Blood poured down from his ruined nose.

Reaching over he tore through the tape around his left wrist. Then the rope around his waist. In a few more seconds, his ankles were free and he was standing.

He let out a sigh, but it was cut short by the intense pain in his left shoulder. Then there was the matter of the voice on a public address system, perhaps not quite as far away as the protesters. Or maybe just louder. His heart stopped at the news.

“All personnel must achieve minimum safe distance immediately. Clear the area now. Attention. Attention. The area must be cleared of all personnel. If you have not yet done so, go to the designated minimum safe distance zone without delay. Ignition sequence commencing in 90 seconds. Repeat, 90 seconds starting now. 90. 89. 88. 87…”

The countdown continued and Halloray got a move one. Cutting short his relief he ran first to the nearest wall and slammed his shoulder against it. And again. He almost passed out from the agony. On the third try, there was something of a loud soggy THWOP! And suddenly his arm had some range of motion. Turning, he jogged over to the edge of the hole that had flushed his captor away.

Twelve feet below there he lay. Looking completely fine except for the huge pool of blood and the piece of copper pipe that had run itself through his neck.

“83. 82. 81…”

“A fucking answered prayer,” Halloray muttered and spat down on the corpse. He would’ve shot it had he had a gun.

The floor of the gutted and weakened hotel shimmied and groaned beneath him and he jumped and scrambled back just in time to avoid another chunk of floor giving way beneath him. They don’t have to blow this place up, it’s falling down fine on its own, he thought.

“71. 70. 69. 68…”

(more…)

What is this about?

Peace

Then the dog charged. Shooting toward us from out the gloom of the porch and down the steps into the afternoon sunlight, the beast was a huge, sleek, jet-black weapon of destruction that ripped off hellacious barks as it broke the fragile distance that had previously been between us.

In the blinding flashes of its monsterous teeth I saw my horrible, bloody death — and I froze. All except my bladder, which seemed to somehow recognize my paralysis and powerfully expel its contents like ballast down the front of my pants in some sort of “I’m outta here!” attempt to lighten its load and escape on its own.

With the dog was a second away from launching into us over the meaningless short fence that bordered the front yard, some sort of override took control of my motor functions and attempted to have me make a break for it. Then things got really weird when I saw Wayne. Was he running? No. Peeing himself? No. Afraid? Not in the least. Instead, he was just sitting there on his bike, relaxed even. Worst yet, he was smiling. Fucking smiling!

Over the din of the barking and as calm as you please, all he said was, “Check it out,” at which point my legs gave way and I tumbled off my bike. Curling into a duck and cover position on the sidewalk all I could do was whimper and await the nightmarish sensation of the jaws of that four-legged holocaust riping me apart.

It never came. But the barking did give way to the sound of its jaws snapping as its barks switched to determined growls. Then came the sound of fabric tearing and a bike falling and being dragged. It had Wayne! I screamed. I couldn’t look.

In a few moments the tearing sounds ceased. The growling soon gave way to barks again, and I could hear the big dog jumping up and down and stamping its feet on the ground and whipping something back and forth that it had clamped in its massive jaws.

Wayne’s head, no doubt.

This continued, no less angry and so close that I felt the dog’s breath propelled against my back with each bark. Surely, I thought, the dobie has finished with Sal and must now be standing over me first announcing to the neighborhood its intention to eat this other stupid little paperboy who, like the first, wasn’t even decent or sporting enough to run away and be chased to his doom — but at least he didn’t go smiling into the jaws of death.

I clutched myself up even tighter, straining until every muscle shook, still waiting the feel of its teeth in my flesh.

Nothing.

My legs started to fall asleep and my neck was cramping.

Still nothing.

At that point, the barking lessened both in repetition and volume.

I unclinched a little, but barely. Then a little more beneath the growls and occasional bark. Finally I lifted my head to the point where I could peek out and witness the carnage. But instead of a blood-soaked death scene, there was Wayne still sitting there on his bike. Still smiling. Only now he was looking down at me, shaking his head, and pointing.

I craned my head to look over my shoulder. Less than two feet away from me, but still on its side of that tiny little fence, there it stood, towering over me. In its jaws was a familiar looking shred of canvas.

“I think the dog killed your newspaper bag,” Wayne said. I checked the dog again, still whipping its head back and forth and scooted away from it before standing up and taking stock of things.

“What happen –?” I gasped.

“When you dove, your bike fell next to the fence. He grabbed it.” He said.

“But why didn’t it…”

“Jump over the fence? Because it’s trained not to. Stays on its property. Protects its turf. His name is Peace.”

“Peace,” I echoed.

What is this about?

Miracle On The 101

Daniel’d been pushing the little hatchback southbound on the Hollywood Freeway just about as fast as she would go. So focused was he on getting to Jess’ apartment, when he finally picked up the police car’s lights flashing red and blue behind him he honestly didn’t know if they’d been tailing him for a few seconds or a few miles.

His foot leapt off the gas pedal and he hit the right turn signal and began picking his way through the traffic flow and across the lanes, coming to a stop on a little island between the lanes and the The Vermont offramp. He dutifully turned off the engine, rolled down his window and placed both hands on the steering wheel.

Watching the officers get out of their car, he wondered exactly how drunk he was. The beers and shots he’d glumly put away that night at the Casa Vega’s bar pretty much left little doubt, but the more important question was whether or not it would be obvious to the officers. In hindsight, perhaps it hadn’t been such a good idea to act on the irrational impulse that the only way to salvage the mess he made was to go across town to her at midnight — especially if he instead wound up in jail with a DUI hung around his neck.

“Just great!” he yelled.

“Excuse me?” asked the officer who’d arrived beside the car, shining a flashlight at him.

‘I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t mean anything. It’s just been a helluva night that looks like it’s just gotten worse.”

“I’ll need to see your license, registration and proof of insurance, please.”

“Yes sir. My wallet’s in my back pocket. and my registration is in the glove box.”

“That’s fine.”

He moved slowly in retrieving them.

“Do you know why we stopped you?”

“No sir.”

“Well, you had been doing 85 mph for the first mile we were behind you, but you got up to 90 for the next one.”

“Yes sir,” he said, handing everything through the window to the officer who shined his light on the license.

“Mr. Stice, the speed limit is 65. Might I ask why you’re in such a hurry?”

And that’s when Daniel burst into tears so outrageously he surprised both the cop and himself.

“My girlfriend and I had a fight,” he said through the sobs. “And if I don’t get over there and try to straighten things out I’m pretty sure we’re finished!”

The way the cop initially recoiled from the raw emotion you’d think Daniel was contagious, but he quickly recovered and shot a wide-eyed look at his partner, who just shrugged in return.

“All right now,” he said to Daniel who’d dropped his head onto the steering wheel. “Just calm down. I’m going to run a check on your license and vehicle and then I’ll be back. So hang tight.”

“Yes sir,” Daniel whimpered, a little embarrassed by the display but also more than a little pleased by the diversion it created. And a minute later the officer returned, handing it all back to Daniel — everything but a ticket to sign.

“We’re going to cut you a break and let you off with a warning tonight, Mr. Stice, on the condition that you don’t exceed the speed limit the rest of the way to your girlfriend’s house. Okay?”

Daniel’s heart leapt, but outwardly he still played the griever, sniffling and wiping the tears from his eyes. “Thank you so much, officer!”

“All right then. Drive safe — and I hope things work out.”

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