Matthew Reed: Freelance writer and editor
In November 2018, I participated in National Novel Writing Month. The purpose is to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. I failed to do so. I capped out at 26,682 words. During that time, I also vlogged the process daily. That I completed every day of November. The novel, however, is incomplete and probably contains continuity errors. What follows is what I accomplished.

  


The granite man stood where it had stood for Ethan’s whole life. The ebb and flow of the crowds in Courthouse Square was a tide surging around a rock in the ocean. If the broad thoroughfare hadn’t been cut in half by the public park, the granite man on his concrete pedestal would have stood directly in the middle of the southbound lane. Ethan sat on one of the four little concrete benches that surrounded the statue. Somehow, the granite man was the only thing within about twelve blocks that wasn’t concrete. Ethan wondered how that happened.

Did the granite man use to have a granite pedestal? Did the benches use to be something other than concrete?

Ethan was tired of the concrete. It seemed like his world was filled with concrete. His apartment was in a concrete building. The here-and-there monuments to past city leaders were all concrete in the last few years and the ones that weren’t concrete were being reviewed by the city fathers for replacement. Even the trees in the city parks were some sort of sprayed concrete that could be molded to any shape to hide the surveillance cameras and wireless internet antennae.

But not the granite man. He was, for whatever reason, left alone. Ethan wondered how so many people could ignore the statue that was standing nearly in the exact center of the city. With the pedestal, the granite man was twelve feet tall. He stood, tricorn hat in hand by his thigh, with his hand half lifted, palm up, and his shoulders seeming to begin to slump. His periwig was in disarray and his coats were open to his undershirt. He looked like he had just got out of bed and was trying to get dressed when the sculptor carved him.

Ethan was drawn to the man’s face, however. He looked hungry, with sharp cheekbones and sunken cheeks. His nose reminded Ethan of some French-Canadians he’d met; they had distinctive, sharp noses that managed to also be broad, like an aristocrat married a boxer. The granite man always seemed resolute to Ethan. Even if the real man had been sculpted after an interrupted night’s sleep, he appeared ready to fight. His eyes were focused on some point along Mendocino Avenue and Ethan always imagined some mob with pitchforks and torches marching toward the granite man. Ultimately, the granite man seemed like a tired, disheveled man attempting to appeal to an angry mob.

Not that there were many mobs in town these days. And certainly none in Courthouse Square, where assembly of groups was regulated by permit. That’s not to say that gangs didn’t roam the plaza at night; the layers of spray paint attested to the vain efforts by law enforcement to permanently expel the forces of chaos. Prostitutes still leaned on the pedestal at the granite man’s feet, addicts still dropped needles under the concrete benches, and lost teens still gathered in small clumps to defend themselves against the darkness.

With dawn, however, the city made an effort to wipe out those reminders of how bad the situation was. Maintenance crews swept up the needles and scrubbed the spray paint. City police officers and county deputies appeared with coffee in one hand and their other hand resting on the butts of their sidearms. By the time the families and suited courthouse employees arrive, only the toughest paint remains from the night before.

Ethan has spent time on both sides, as both a lost teen and child in a family. Now, he studies at the junior college and eats lunch with the granite man. Lunches were generally a quiet affair. Ethan had found a Jewish deli a half block away that made the best Rueben sandwich. They were a Thursday staple. The rest of the time he munched on peanut butter and jam sandwiches and a dill pickle. The granite man never questioned why Ethan ate only two things for lunch during the week. Ethan was pretty sure he was more worried about the approaching hordes on Mendocino Avenue.

Chewing slowly, Ethan studied today’s plaza visitors. A group of Japanese tourists listened intently to an Anglo tour guide. A gaunt, grubby man wearing a woman’s dress pushing a stroller filled with garbage bags of clothes and a sleeping bag. A pair of dark-suited office workers laughed with a hot dog vendor. A family descended the courthouse’s steps, the blonde boy weeping loud while he clung to his father’s hand. The courthouse square’s people turned toward the boy’s wails as his mother tried to pull him from the man and the man tried to calm his son. The moment passed and everybody returned to their own worlds, even as the boy continued to cry for his dad while his mom held him.
Ethan watched the man walk with stiff shoulders in the opposite direction.

Sometimes those scenes happened. It was tough to watch the ones with the kids. Ethan had been there, done that. It was when prisoners tried to get rambunctious, however, that Ethan liked to lean back against the pedestal and watch. He found it funny that men and women who were shackled hand and foot thought they could run away or even fight the deputies who escorted them. All that tended to happen was they got their jumpsuits dirty and the guards were pissed off. But that was probably one reason why they were committing crimes in the first place. Not much in the way of brains.

But not the kids. Ethan didn’t want to think about the lonely nights at home, which were well before the lonely nights in this plaza or some other place in the concrete jungle he called home. He remembered happy childhood and he was reasonably happy now with his life, but there was a rough stretch in there that seemed to come out of nowhere. One day he was beating his father in Mario Kart and the next he was screaming for his dad on those same courthouse steps.

Ethan sighed. Life was a hard row to hoe, sometimes. So many things that can happen that are out of your control. It took him a few years to understand that he didn’t need to allow that to dictate his mental health. It got old being angry all the time. It got old being sad and hurt all the time. Sure, he lost some time in school because he was spending time with the addicts and the prostitutes, to say nothing of the granite man, but he’d done it and got over it. He loved hot showers too much and made it his life’s goal to afford to have a hot shower every day.

The cellphone in his pocket buzzed, reminding Ethan that lunch was over. It was time to go back to work so he could afford those hot showers.

Ethan patted the granite boot of the granite man.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, George. Same time? Same time.”

Ethan didn’t know the granite man’s name. There was not plaque or sign to tell people who the granite man was or why he deserved a statue in the middle of the city. Ethan thought he looked a bit like the paintings of George Washington, so he called him George. Looking up at the granite man, Ethan again tried to clear his throat of the ever-present rasp in his voice. He looked like he was clearing his throat in apology to the granite man, George. Ethan patted his foot again and headed across 4th Street to the Mucky Duck.

It was dim inside compared to the noon light outside. Ethan stopped for a moment to blink. A busser was wiping a table while Vic wiped the dark bar. The big screens were set to another soccer match somewhere in the world. He figured he would never pick up Vic’s using the term “football” for the sport nor would he call a field a “pitch.” He had picked up the older man’s old world expressions like “wanker,” “sot,” and “bloke.” It was partly expected by Vic that his employees learn something of proper English.

Which was funny to Ethan because Vic wasn’t English. He was Cornish.

Vic’s establishment was the closest thing to a public house that he was allowed to run in the U.S. He allowed families with children as long as the kids didn’t try to order anything from the bar, even water or soda. He made sure that he had a small kitchen where small dishes like fish and chips, bangers and mash, rarebit, or even Vic’s personal favorite, black pudding. To appease the city fathers, he shut down family hours after nine o’clock. Then he banged open the doors and let the night in.

There really wasn’t much to worry about from the denizens of the other side of the street coming in to make trouble. In the three years that Ethan had worked for Vic, the pimps, addicts, and dealers on the other side of the street in Courthouse Square didn’t seem to want to cross the street. After dark, the clientele of the two places was stark. Vic had a lot of middle class and well-kempt office workers and college students. The professionals were what the college kids would become, as if they were kids hanging out with their parents. In some cases, that was literally true.

Today, there wasn’t the same vibe. It was a sparse, mid-week lunch crowd. The office lunch hour was ending and the service industry lunches were beginning. Nobody really had the kind of midday break that would allow them to sit at a table, order from a menu, and wait to have food prepared. Some die-hard patrons called in their order, which Vic didn’t mind, but he liked to remind people that he didn’t have a big kitchen or a big menu or a big kitchen staff to make a lot of food in advance. He also made a point of cutting the prices on his menu options in half for law enforcement, firefighters, and EMTs.

Ethan tied an apron on and took up his station at the dishwasher. For entire time he’d worked for Vic, he had always split his time between washing dishes and bussing tables. It wasn’t the worst bussing job he’d ever had; the tips were surprisingly good because Vic almost never took his cut when he was bartending. Also, Ethan got a free beer at the end of his shifts. Vic was also very flexible with Ethan’s schedule for school. Ethan could also find a booth in back where he could crack open the textbooks when he needed to study for mid-terms or finals. Vic was clear when he hired Ethan.
“Ethan, you need that education,” he said. “That’s part of working your way up off the street.”

At that point, it had been a couple of years since Ethan had been “on” the street, but he let Vic have his perspective. He didn’t know much about Vic before he came to America, but from some of his stories, it sounded like he was from nineteenth century Sussex. Ethan never knew if he was hearing a true life lesson learned or a really long shaggy dog story. But that’s part of what made Vic’s schtick work.

“Sincerity, lad,” Vic said one day. “If you can fake it, you got it made.”

A pile of dirty dishes and a mountain of dirty pans greeted Ethan as he stepped into the kitchen behind the bar. Without a doubt, washing dishes in a commercial kitchen sucked. But there weren’t many paying intern jobs for lower division undergraduates with a declared History major. It was a bit of a stretch whether there would even be a job for Ethan after he was a graduate. It wasn’t until you got to postgraduate status that jobs in the field started to open and then those jobs tended to be teaching at community colleges or as a teaching assistant in a university. Somewhere along the line, there had to be a way to get paid for researching dusty, arcane facts. For now, Ethan was a dishwasher in a niche bar.
Another pan crusted with food banged into the already heady pile of pans.

“Alright, Ethan,” Geoff said. “Shake a leg. We had a rush while you were out.”

Ethan would have sworn in court under penalty of perjury that Geoff was a tweaker when they first met. To describe Geoff as scrawny would imply some sort of heft to his build. The man looked like he was all bone. He seemed to have some sort of grime shading his pallor and he struggled with body odor when he was stressed. His broad white smile, however, gave lie to his appearance as a drug addict. His dark eyes were clear of chemical influences and he was as good as they came, with a solid gold promise. Ethan had learned that Geoff had a bite, in addition to his bark, but he was a man who enjoyed working on a team and supporting his teammates.

So Ethan told him how much he respected him.

“Fuck off. I’m good here. Go mind the food,” he said.

Geoff chortled and disappeared around the other side of the kitchen.

Ethan disappeared himself, into an afternoon of washing dishes and listening to ‘80s pop music on Pandora. By the time he clocked out, the day crowd was long gone and the night was well under way. He threaded his way through the crowds that seemed to appear from the shadows. Courthouse Square was visible only in the pockets of light ballooning out from the street lamps. The granite man, George, was little more than a dark silhouette on an even darker background. A huddled lump of tattered clothes and sleeping bag snored on one of the concrete benches. Ethan paused his course home.

He remembered that George had watched over him while he slept on more than one occasion.

Ethan looked at the granite man.

“Keep him safe, George.”

A car approached the intersection where Mendocino Avenue ended. Its headlights briefly illuminated the granite man’s face before the car turned the corner. In that moment, George gravely turned his eyes toward Ethan and winked at him.
Ethan felt his stomach drop and he was breathless. He froze and then his feet began to walk again, very carefully. He wasn’t sure if he decided to walk or if his legs took it upon themselves to vacate the area of the granite man with as much decorum as possible. His arms, neck, and head felt frozen. By the time he’d reached the far end of Courthouse Square, Ethan was running. He wasn’t much of an athlete and running wasn’t in his life at all, but tonight he ran the better part of a half mile in five minutes. He saw his apartment and then he was in his apartment, throwing locks and wedging a dining chair under the door knob. Then he was in his bed, sheets and blankets wrapped around him, every light he could find in the small apartment turned on.

There was not way George had winked. Or blinked. There was no way George could move. He was a statue carved from a single piece of granite. It wasn’t even very pretty granite; it was grey and coarse with black streaks and splotches of quartz. George was a goddamned inanimate object that was used for target practice in pissing contests by fraternity pledges. Hell, Ethan had used him as a target with empty beer and whiskey bottles back in the day. He was a glorified rock.

And yet, here Ethan was, hiding under his covers like a little boy who heard a bump in a dark house. George had winked at him.

Or had he? After all, it could have been a trick of the light from the car as it swept across the granite man’s face. Maybe Ethan was getting sick. Or the government was using him for experiments. Whatever it was, there was a perfectly rational reason Ethan thought he saw a statue come alive for a brief instant. And there was always good old fashion madness. He was still young. It could be late onset schizophrenia. That sometimes could occur in a man’s late 20s, right?
Ethan breathed deep to relax and gagged on the smell of cat shit.
His cat had crapped in his bed again.

Not just on his bed, but under the sheets, at the foot of the bed.

Larry was fucking retarded, as far as Ethan was concerned.

And then Ethan felt the turds roll against his feet and he exploded out of the bed, not caring if even George was standing there. That stupid cat. That goddamned, stupid cat.

“Oh, my fucking god, Larry! Stop shitting in my bed!”

Ethan remembered the neighbors could hear through the thin walls.

The fact was that Larry was a gorgeous, loving animal. He was the only white tabby Ethan had seen and his blue eyes always made Ethan feel guilty about how he treated Larry. The cat really just wanted to be loved and, while Ethan loved him, he wasn’t into the non-stop cuddling that Larry offered. He reminded Ethan of his girlfriends.

Ethan wanked his sheets and blankets off the bed. The top flat sheet unfurled and a half-dozen cat turds flew across his bedroom. He ducked, cursing in a steady stream until the words intermingled and it sounded like he was speaking a foreign language. He was pretty sure one of the little stinky projectiles landed in his clean laundry behind him. Another seemed destined for a bookshelf. After than, Ethan wasn’t sure where he might have flung Larry’s poo. He’d have to walk carefully for a while.

The laundry was an issue. He didn’t have a washer and dryer in his apartment. He had to walk down the front stairs and down a narrow sidewalk between buildings to get to the laundry room. And then it wasn’t free. He had to pay for every load. Which meant that Larry was getting expensive from the point of view of his laundry quarters. And now he had to wash a load of clean clothes.

And it was dark. Generally, the complex where he lived was a good spot. It was populated by a group of college students, single working stiffs, and single parents. There were worse places to live. And even though the building itself was a bit long in the tooth, it felt cozy and safe to Ethan. It was his place. But at night, it was the same issue as the rest of city. From time to time, the addicts found the carports to shoot up or search for unlocked cars or sleep. The laundry room could also be a magnet for rough types. Ethan once walked in on a hooker servicing a client on one of the washing machines.
But there was no way he could stand the thought of shat-in laundry. He’d have to risk an encounter.

Not that he was really worried about his safety. It was a two-edged sword having his history. He knew a lot of homeless in the area, but that meant they also knew him. He really didn’t want to get caught up in a tedious conversation late at night in the laundry room. He just wanted to wash his sheets and go to bed. He didn’t have to be in class until afternoon, so he could even sleep in and have a morning at home, studying. Right now, he was churning through the assigned reading of Warren Zimmerman’s “First Great Triumph” and Vine Deloria’s “Custer Died for Your Sins.” They were actually great reads and Ethan found sitting down on the sofa with a cup of coffee and Larry was an incredible pleasure.

For now, though, he would use the unfortunate circumstances of the cat-shat sheets to read while waiting for his laundry. He briefly thought about the granite man appearing to wink, but the thought brought such a wave of cold horror that Ethan shuddered and immediately pushed it out of his mind. It was creepy enough at night that he didn’t need to imagine George the Granite Man clomping along the concrete sidewalk near the mailboxes, staring wearily at passersby and tenants.

Ethan abruptly laughed aloud.

“Poor old George. His feet must kill him, standing there all day.” he said.

Piling the dirty sheets on the top of the clean laundry and stuffing the whole deal into a stray laundry basket, Ethan balanced the Deloria book on top before heading out the door. He had a brief moment of panic, again, when he saw a dark silhouette standing under a patio light, but then his eyes adjusted to the relative darkness and he saw it was only Eduardo smoking a cigarette. Ethan barely spoke to the older man, but exchanged pleasant nods and smiles in passing. The language barrier was a strong one.

No homeless crazies attempted to rob him nor was there a walking statue in the laundry room. Ethan made sure he examined each sheet and article of clothing before throwing it in the washer. He didn’t have any desire to wash and dry a cat turd with his laundry. It had happened before. Two hours passed swiftly with Deloria’s intense dissection of Anglo/Native relationships over the centuries. Ethan couldn’t help but apply the historic patterns to his hometown. There was little pride in how white settlers had come and overrun the indigenous people two hundred years ago. While a rancheria hosted a casino twenty minutes north, the population and later histories of the area conveniently forgot who was here first.

Before going to bed, Ethan made the extra effort to change the litter in Larry’s box. It had been a while since Ethan had completely changed the litter and Larry only got into these behavioral outliers when his litter was not to his satisfaction. It didn’t stop Ethan from being pissed at the cat, but he also couldn’t help but sympathize with the animal. Larry couldn’t speak to tell Ethan he was hungry, sick, or needed his litter changed. Ethan admitted to himself that he wasn’t the best pet owner in the world. Larry’s shots were out of date and Ethan cussed at him more than the loving cat deserved.
Maybe he loves me more than I deserve, Ethan thought.

That night he dreamed of a brunette woman with big blue eyes and a buck-tooth smile that could light a whole room. She kept her eyeliner swept to points and her dresses printed with flowers and skulls. He was sure she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. As they cavorted through his dreamscape of forest meadows and mountain streams, a statue of an old fashioned man continued to block his paths. Just before he awoke, the statue winked.

Coffee was a sometimes sordid affair in Ethan’s life. Today was not one of those days. Today, Ethan had milk, sugar, and plenty of coffee. Granted, it was the cheap coffee in a plastic can rather than the whole bean craft roaster coffee that he really liked, but at this time in his life, coffee was coffee. It was a good day to have coffee. Larry rubbed against Ethan’s ankles, purring for attention or food. Ethan gave him plenty of both.

“I’m sorry I yelled at you, man. I get it. You’re just trying to tell me I’m an asshole,” he said.

Larry purred and squinted his eyes shut, head nestled under Ethan’s chin.

“Alright. Down you go. I gotta carry my coffee and book. I’ll meet you on the sofa.”

Larry didn’t believe him or didn’t understand him.

The windows in the livingroom were large and faced south and west. In the mornings, the light would begin to stream into Ethan’s apartment, warming it with startling efficiency. Dust motes swam in the light and Ethan was keenly aware of the dust that coated his rubber tree. The dieffenbachia next to it was likewise unattended, but neither plant cared. Every so often, Ethan pushed their tolerances too far and they wilted, but after a generous watering, they really only needed little bits of water regularly through the week to stay happy. They were much like Larry. All three of them were victims of Ethan’s neglect. Larry was the only one who could actually do something about it.

The morning passed far quicker than Ethan liked. Larry was curled up against his leg, the sun was warm, and the sofa was soft. He suspected that he had fallen asleep at some point while reading. But the lack of coffee in the previously full coffee pot gave lie to that conceit. He’d just lost track of time, sucked into a morning of cultural criticism. And that warmed Ethan more than the late morning sun. After all his time running from academics and living the hard life after dropping out of high school, he was making up for lost time. He loved the knowledge. Somehow, regular high school never had this feeling of seeing the universe open up. When he went back to finish his high school diploma, he hadn’t gone to a regular high school classroom; he was too old. But the teachers were also different in their approach to education. He felt more respected and he could actually have discussions with his teachers about difficult concepts.

Which reminded Ethan that he had better get a jump on getting ready for class. He loved that his teacher didn’t let the students off the hook with easy, cookie-cutter answers. He picked away at their arguments, made them prove their point on the fly. He remembered his times he had answered a question off the cuff, without preparing using the reading, and he remembered how embarrassed he felt when he got his answer dissected by the teacher. It was like fighting, but without blood or scars. It was thrilling to Ethan.

One of the other upsides to where he lived was that Ethan had a quick walk to the college. He was only about three blocks over and two block down and on the way was the best hole-in-the-wall deli Ethan had ever found. He was a regular customer and Paul, the owner, was familiar with his po’boy order. Ethan could comfortably eat his sandwich on the rest of the walk to class.  For having very little and barely making ends meet, he felt he had a pretty comfortable and lucky life.

His course across the four-lane street intersected with that of a tall, husky woman. Ethan wondered to himself what her black-dyed hair would smell like, if the clove cigarettes and rose water perfume was overbearing. Helena knew how to use make up and she used here skills to creatively use shades of blue and black. Ethan loved to chat with her just for the sake of making eye contact. He tried not to come on to her, but sometimes he felt he needed to remind her how beautiful she was when she critiqued her own curves. As talented as she was, Helena was also exceptionally critical of everything, inside and out.

Somehow, that never fazed Ethan and they managed an easy comradeship. Helena was an art major who liked to study history for influence and inspiration. They bonded over local history and coffee. Today was no exception. Helena carried an extra latte.

“Thank you, Helena,” he said. “I appreciate that.”

“Sure.”

“You finish the reading?”

“And then some. It’s a fun read.”

“Really? Because I almost fell asleep.”

“Was there wine involved?”

“Don’t blame the wine,” she said. “It’s not the boring writer.”

“Rough. Hey, what’d you get up to last night?”

“Um. Wine and reading,” she said. “Oh, hey! Do you know anything about a statue in Courthouse Square?”

Ethan was surprised.

“Yeah. George,” he said.

“George?”

“That’s just what I call him. He’s been there forever.”

“Well, I was the LeBaron Museum working on another class when I found an old article from the 1920s talking about a fascist rally in Courthouse Square.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. And there was a mention that the organizers set up the stage near the statue. But I couldn’t think of any statue there.”

“Are you kidding? He’s right smack dab in the middle of everything. How could you miss him?”

“I dunno. Maybe there’s another statue?”

Ethan snorted.

“No. I practically lived in Courthouse Square for a few years. George is the only one,” he said.

“Huh.” Helena sipped her coffee.

Ethan thought about it.

“Was there anything else about the statue? Like who he is?” he said.

“Not that I can think of. The article just referred to the statue as ‘the statue.’”

“That’s weird. Don’t newspapers try to put things like that into some context?”

“Maybe newspapers did things differently in the ‘20s.”

“Maybe,” he said. “Anyway, I’d love to read that article. Did you get a copy?”

“Of course. I’ll get it to you later. It’s at home.”

“Cool.”

The campus of the junior college was a gorgeous tree-lined property. Many of the older buildings were built of brick and some of those were partially coated in ivy. Ethan always felt like he was almost at a major university, like Harvard, Yale, or Oxford. The oak and chestnut trees were a century old in spots and they all begged for somebody to sit underneath them and read a book. The expansive lawns at the front of the campus facing along Mendocino Avenue were just the kind of open expanse where students could mingle in the sun or play Frisbee or even make out. It was the kind of place that advance scouts for motion pictures and television shows sought out.

Ethan’s class wasn’t in one of the old buildings, however. His class was in a more modern, but very tasteful edifice at the northern end of the campus. Here there was more concrete and steel and glass. It was the kind of building where a young Gordon Gecko might have started his finance career in the 1980s. It kind of looked like some of the German Bauhaus architecture Ethan had seen in class. Maybe it had originally been slated for the art department, Ethan thought. Or maybe the architects were just really into Bauhaus. What made the building less industrial than it could have been was the color. The rails and balconies were a striking red, as were the massive steel posts that angled into second story balconies.

The interior of the classroom, however, was pure timeless sterility off off-white paint over blown texture on gypsum board. The ceiling was all white drop tiles and the room was dominated by a white dry-erase board. Dave, the teacher, had made some vague attempts at decorating his room, but that generally consisted of the course schedule and Dave’s office hours. The classroom wasn’t really his in the same sense as a tenured instructor had “their” room. He was an adjunct instructor working on his Ph.D. There were a few reprints of notable historic photos, like the sailor kissing the nurse in Time Square after V-E Day or the Dorthea Lange photo of the Depression-era woman with her two children.

Ethan was prepared for class. He had completed the reading and made some simple notes to himself while he waited for class to start. But then he lost track of the discussion. Nearly a century ago, there had been a fascist movement in the city. There had been a fascist rally in Courthouse Square. He had no reason to doubt Helena. She was a strong reader and burgeoning researcher who loved the hunt for arcane facts as much as he did. That was what made her story so odd. She wouldn’t have overlooked a simple fact like George’s real name. She might not have remembered the exact name, but she would have seen that he had one.

He was also perplexed by how she didn’t seem to know there was a statue in Courthouse Square. They both had grown up here and knew as much of the layout of the sprawling burg as any city planner. Something as obvious to Ethan as the granite man shouldn’t be something that an observant woman like Helena would miss. Maybe she was imagining something more grandiose than George. After all, the granite man wasn’t the most regal looking character to bestow with enshrinement. Depending on the light, he could look more like somebody’s grumpy father who’s been woken up too early.

Maybe Helena  would like to take a walk down to Courthouse Square with him to see George. Ethan slid into a rabbit’s hole of what-ifs regarding his friend. She was beautiful and intelligent and he had thought about her in “that” way often. When she wasn’t trying, she could be breathtaking.

And then the door to the classroom banged open and students streamed out. Ethan looked around, disoriented. Helena was next to him. He had filled three pages in his notebook with notes. Where had the time gone?

Helena smiled and Ethan lost his voice.

“You wanna grab something to eat later? I have another class next, but we could meet after,” she said.

“Um. Uh. Yeah.”

“Dork.”

And then she was gone, out the door and down the mezzanine. He knew she would text or call to confirm he was available, but he was always available. Vic tried to give all his employees two days off together, but even on nights he worked, Ethan didn’t make plans. He had no one with whom to make plans. Helena knew that. They’d never crossed a certain line, but they were around each other often and made plans together on a regular basis. Ethan wasn’t surprised she asked him out. He just didn’t have his emotional shields up and was struck dumb by a beautiful woman.

Ethan suddenly was struck by the idea of researching the granite man. He’d always been sort of curious, but Helena’s little anecdote had been the pilot light for his curiosity. Who was the granite man? He’d been looking for a topic for his research paper. This could be it. After all, within that question was the outline of a solid essay. Who was the granite man? What was his significance? What did he do? Why was he turned into a statue? Why did the sculptor sculpt him the way he did? Somewhere close, there were answers to each and every question.

The library was the logical first stop. For Ethan, that meant three potential libraries to visit. He would hit the junior college library first, because it was closest. He would also visit the county library branch. And he also had the privilege of using the university library six miles away. The junior college and the university had a standing agreement that locals working on a declared major had access to the state university’s stacks. Many of the city fathers had attended the university and had donated vast personal collections of paper to the institution’s archives. Certainly, between the three libraries, there had to be the full story of George, the granite man.

Purpose filled Ethan and he felt high. He didn’t need anything else. It was the same feeling when he unlocked the seeming-mysterious principle of quadratic equations. It clicked. And while sobriety in its worst moments was infinitely more desirable that the alternative, Ethan still loved getting hit with euphoria. There was also the sense of hunting that brought Ethan a thrill. There was a mystery and he had stared at it his whole life without realizing what it was. Life at its core was a mystery to Ethan, so finding a mystery that had a beginning, middle, and end gave him no end of pleasure.

The library at the junior college was in two parts. The general stacks were located in the old brick-and-mortar building where it has existed since the college was established. The specialty research and fragile documents were in a restricted, climate-controlled basement across campus at the southern end. Researchers needed a specific research project and permission from the head librarian to access those documents; it was a white cotton glove kind of place where ink pens weren’t allowed. Ethan briefly fantasized about being allowed in, but settled for just finding a name in the general historic documents that were available to the public.

As soon as Ethan entered the library, he felt another surge of euphoria. He loved this place. The smell of dusty paper and ventilation, the muted sounds of pages being turned and patrons whispering questions to librarians, and the tap of keys on keyboards was another visceral experience for Ethan that continued to stoke his love of being around academia. This was such a better life. He could live in a library, if he could. Or he could create a library in his apartment. But it wouldn’t be the same as an old school library that enforced rules around being quiet. Ethan wanted to know if there was basement in the library with a ghost.

The library technician with whom Ethan spoke pointed toward the government papers stacks. It was where the city budgets, planning documents, and department reports were kept, with new documents added every day by the box load. Ethan took a wild guess and decided to look for facilities maintenance records. After all, the statue was located in a city park near a municipal court. City workers regularly scrubbed the statue free of graffiti or painted the pedestal when the graffiti became too permanent. At the very least, city employees would have to refer to the statue as something other than “the statue.” Right?

It turned out that the city officials did refer to the statue as something other than “the statue.” They referred to it as “city-maintained municipal memorial.” Ethan stared, agape. That was even worse than “the statue.” Did the granite man really have no name or history? That wasn’t possible. Everything has a paper trail. Even after two hundred years, nothing was absolutely gone. Sometimes a trail runs out, but that just means that the information wasn’t available, yet. Stuff always turned up in people’s trunks or file boxes. Or did the city refer to all their monuments as “city-maintained municipal memorials?” Ethan just had to keep looking.

The general research library kept city records for about fifty years before they were transferred to the special access collections. Which meant there was a lot of paper for Ethan to dig through. He was rummaging through the facilities department report to the city council when it occurred to Ethan to go ask the city what the granite man’s name was. That would save a lot of time and headache. Somebody in the department had to have the inside scoop on George. After all, the one upside of a bureaucracy was that everything got itemized and reported on in detail regarding how much it cost to keep.

Ethan’s phone vibrated in his pocket. It was Helena. Already? She was supposed to have class. He looked at the time. Well, she did have class over two hours ago. He’d fallen into another black hole of research and reading. He straightened his back, feeling it crack. Stretching his neck, it also protested with loud popping sounds. Apparently, he hunched when he read while standing up.

Helena’s call went to voicemail and Ethan slid another heavy, thick binder back onto the shelf. He waved at a different library tech on his way out. He wasn’t the only one on campus to spend hours of their day deep in the recesses of the library. He was pretty sure that he saw the same people at the same tables that he saw on his way in. In fact, it was impossible to say who was actually working on a project for class and who was just hiding from the world. Everybody was welcome.

Ethan dialed Helena when he got to the sidewalk.

“What’s up?”

“I got that article for you. Also found some other references to Courthouse Square that might have a clue about your statue.”

“He’s not my statue,” Ethan said. “I just used to sleep on the benches next to him.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. I’ll tell you all about it sometime.” Ethan paused. “Well, maybe not all of it.”

There was low purr on the other end.

“Oh, really? I sense some reticence there. Is there a sordid love story in there somewhere?”

Ethan snorted.

“Hardly. Where do you want to meet?”

“Downtown? You could show me this mysterious statue.”

“Uh. Sure. When?”

“Depends on where you are.”

“I’m still on campus, at the library.”

“Then how about two hours? That should give you time to get down there.”

“More than enough time. I’ll see you then.”

“Cool.”

Ethan passed out of the world of academia and back into the dreary, smelly world of Santa Rosa. There were still pockets of the old city, but more of the old buildings were being replaced by the post-post-post-modern aesthetic. And it had been an ongoing process for decades. There was a small town warmth that Ethan experienced when he was small, that even existed when life was not warm or cozy. Now, there was a cold weariness in the community. Even the widening of the freeway to relieve a long-established  traffic bottleneck couldn’t stir any kind of community excitement. It seemed like people were more isolated from each other.

Ethan took a circuitous route through one of the older neighborhoods near his apartment. The houses, many of which had been subdivided into offices or apartments, were built at the turn of the 20th century. Their gingerbread siding and gabled roofs seemed complemented by the maple and sycamore trees that lined streets designed for carriages. Some of the house were little better than tenements, while others were meticulously maintained. This was Ethan’s kind of neighborhood. This was where he would want to live if he could afford to buy a house like these.

And then he was hurrying south across College Avenue and Santa Rosa’s character shifted from the old stately neighborhoods to a patchwork architectural styles, most of it comprised of stucco or concrete. It was a lot of shades of greys and browns. Here or there a particularly well-lit store window display provided shots of color, but in many ways they accented the drab and slightly worn edifices of the city. There was a character to the city with which Ethan was familiar, but it was a familiarity similar to that of a family member. It wasn’t about love or hate. You just were stuck together. Some families split ways, but Ethan thought that a lot of them were just together by default.

There was something else, though, that kept the city as more than just a place to live for him. It happened during the weekly Farmer’s Market and street fair. A couple of blocks were closed to vehicle traffic. Instead, tables and booths appeared for purveyors of sundry products. There were farmers with seasonal crops, most of which were fragrant and one of the most visceral experiences to eat that Ethan ever had. There were portable roasting pits for massive turkey legs or stone hearth ovens for pizza. Gardeners brought fresh-cut flowers. Artists and performers filled in the gaps at intersections or wandered along the sidewalk. It was the best night out anywhere, Ethan thought.

It was the perfect date event.

Thinking of dates, he remembered that tonight there was no Farmer’s Market and so his meeting Helena didn’t constitute a “date,” per se. He didn’t even want to think any further about it or his breath might stop. He wanted her in his life and he would take the highest road possible to stay safe for her. They just were and it was fragile enough, as far as he was concerned.

Helena was just crossing the street when Ethan saw her. He slowed his pace a bit so he could watch her just a moment longer before he had to pretend that he didn’t feel attracted to her. She would probably think he was a pervert or desperate if she actually figured out what he thought. He tried to keep it neutral, but there were times when he had to allow himself to feel the truth. Just for a minute. And then he paid close attention to his body language and words in conversation with her. He wasn’t confident they would survive anything else.

All the same, he thought he was going to lose it when she smiled when she saw him.

“Hey, you. You actually came out of your cave,” she said.

“It’s not a cave. I happen to like it,” he said. “It ain’t much, but it’s my space.”

“I know, but you still need to get out more.”

“I got a lot of classwork. And I like having a roof over my head. Like, I really like it.”

“So do I, but I also like fresh air,” she said. “Anyway, here’re the articles. Copies, actually.”

“Hey, cool! There’s even a photo.”

“Yeah. It shows the statue pretty clear, but I don’t remember seeing a statue like that in Courthouse Square.”

Sure enough, there was George amid a sea of white faces. Amongst the very normal-looking people were the distinctive pointed hoods of the Ku Klux Klan. The granite man looked the same, though it almost looked to Ethan like he was slightly less slouched, like he was less tired.

Ethan blinked. That was absurd. There was no way that could accurate. It was just a trick of the angle of the camera. Or maybe it was a distortion of the image because of the camera lens. Shaking his head, he looked up and into Helena’s eyes. Right then he was ready to declare his undying love.

And then he smiled.

“Let’s go meet George.”

“Who?”

“George. It’s what I call the statue. It’s a long story.”

They were fifty yards away when Helena gasped and shrieked.

“It’s him!”

“Yeppers.”

“Oh, shit! How did I never pay attention to him? He’s big!”

“He does kind of stand out.”

“Who is he?”

“Beats me. I’ve spent a lot of time here and I don’t know who he is. At some point, I saw a picture of George Washington and I thought this guy looked like him.”

“Is there a plaque or some sign to say who he is?”

“Nope. Not that ever seen. He gets tagged by gang bangers or street artists almost every night and the city keeps coming out to scrub him off, but that’s about as much care as he gets. He’s just here.”

“What’s he supposed to be doing?”

“No idea. Maybe he’s wondering why he can’t get a cab.”

Helena laughed.

“Ain’t that the truth.”

“Do you think Dave would go in for a research essay about George?”

“I think it’s a great idea, but you’d have to ask him.” Helena cocked her head. “Hey, maybe he has an idea about who George is. I mean, that is what he’s working on.”

“What do you mean?”

“His dissertation. It’s about the symbolism of early Twentieth Century monuments in Northern California.”

“How do you know that? He almost never talks about his Ph.D. work.”

“He told me.”

Ethan felt his stomach begin to slowly slide into his feet as he thought about Helena having a different kind of relationship with their teacher. It was a clichéd and insecure thought, but nevertheless he felt it. It was a small thing in the overall picture of things, but he felt is was one more small thing that was unattractive about him. It was another reason to stay quiet.

“Uh, huh. Cool. So he might have an idea of at least what this dude is supposed to represent?”

“You could ask him.”

“I might, at that.”

The worst part of spending time with Helena was when they fell into easy quiet moments. Then he was overwhelmed with an emotional neediness to be close to her. Those were another one of those double-edge swords in his life. He spent most of his time focusing on the present, keeping an even emotional keel, staying balanced. It was work when he was alone. Being around Helena, he found he struggled to keep the nattering nabobs of emotional negativity quiet. He was both euphoric and distraught; empowered and abject. It was a type of insanity with which Ethan was far too familiar. He wished to whatever god may exist that he never felt it again.

“Um, hey. Listen. I gotta get home and get back to the books.”

Ethan thought he saw a sag in Helena’s shoulders. And he prayed he was right.

“Oh. Yeah. Sure. Me, too.”

Ethan felt the pull to try to stick around with her, but also the black fear that seemed to empty his soul. There was no other way to describe the feeling. He was terrified of how much he was attracted to Helena. She was one of the most beautiful women he’d ever seen and he wanted to stay away from her even as he found ways to be around her. By the time he had hustled two or three blocks, he felt the panic ease. It was a beautiful day. The sky was a vibrant blue that he wanted to fall into.

Or perhaps he wanted to fly into the blue. Life seemed to be lining up. He was friends with an incredible woman, he had a cat, he slept in a bed, and now he had an honest-to-god historical mystery to unravel. As he passed a barbecue joint, the smell of wood smoke and roasting meat was a siren song. Ethan inhaled deeply as he walked, feeling high. Even the sight of a slender swarthy man with noticeably elvish ears could kill his buzz on life.

After all, if he was an elf, he was incredibly well-dressed.

Or maybe he was just cosplaying Brad Pitt from Interview with the Vampire. Because it would be incredibly unlikely that he was an actual elf. They were fantasy creatures who lived in the forest. They didn’t exist.

And statues don’t wink or change their posture, Ethan thought.

“Can I help you,” he said.

The elf-looking dude smiled.

“I’m sorry. I was looking for Eduardo.”

“Eduardo? Oh! Yeah. Wrong apartment. He’s downstairs across the sidewalk.” Ethan pointed.

“Ah! Yes. I completely misunderstood him when he gave me directions. Thank you very much.” The elf nodded. “I’m sorry for the intrusion.”

“No worries. Have a good day.”

Ethan watched the elf-looking man descend the stairs and head for Eduardo’s apartment. The stranger sure did look like what a modern-day, urban elf could look like. His hair was long and very well maintained. The clothes looked like a lot of silk and high quality denim. Even his features seemed elven, with pronounced cheekbones and aquiline nose.  But he didn’t have a pale complexion. He was dark tanned. If anything, Ethan thought he looked a bit like the granite man with pointed ears. He also looked vaguely Native American, like the old photos from the 1880s. If the stranger was wearing the frock of a Plains Indian, he wouldn’t have looked out of place. Ethan was tempted to find a bow and arrow for the man to see if he could shoot straight.

Ethan shrugged and slipped into his apartment. Just to be careful, he threw the deadbolt and locked the window that faced the deck. The elf-looking dude might be an accountant with a birth defect, but Ethan had spent too much time with people who looked like the greatest person anybody could date who were actually sociopaths without personal boundaries.

The light faded as Ethan sat and read, Larry ensconced once more next to him. The world disappeared and time lapsed until his stomach growled and clenched painfully. He looked at Larry, who was asleep, twisted upside down with his front paws in the air.

“You’re useless. Why didn’t you tell me it was time to eat?”

Larry raised his head and stared Ethan in the eye.

“Why the fuck are you depending on me? I don’t have thumbs.”

Ethan jerked his head upright from where it had sagged down into the sofa. Larry jerked awake from Ethan’s sudden motion, twisting himself back into the semblance of a cat, then fled down the hall like there were dogs chasing him.

“Weird ass cat. Now he’s talking to me in my dreams.”

Ethan stretched and blinked at the dark room. He turned on a light as his stomach growled again.

“Yeah, yeah. I hear ya. It’s time to eat.”

It was more than time to eat. The sun had fully set and the stars glimmered here and there where they were bright enough to challenge the ambient light of the city. The clear day had turned into a clear night. It was still cool outside after dark, but not cold enough to force people to stay indoors. Ethan could hear the traffic on Mendocino Avenue. Some of the traffic passed in front of his apartment complex as drivers thought they could avoid traffic jams by using the side streets. It probably didn’t do much good, unless you had a destination down one of those streets.

There was little in the pantry to eat right away. There was a bag of lentils and a couple quarts of vegetable broth in shelf-stable containers from Thanksgiving. There was a half of an onion and a part of a bag of baby carrots in the refrigerator door as well as a bunch of not-too-floppy celery. Ethan had made food with less. If there was still bay leaf and a couple cloves of garlic, he could make a reasonably tasty lentil soup. And wonder of wonders, there were also some intact black peppercorns in the grinder and a tablespoon or so of kosher salt in the box.

Ethan was going to eat like a king tonight.



Ramon loved tacos. He’d travelled around the world ten times and still he searched for the best tacos in any city or town that boasted even a mildly Spanish name. He’d had all the other variants of “bread folded around ingredients” of other cultures, but tacos always took first place in his gastronomic soul. And it didn’t have to be any particular filling in the taco. Beans, rice, cheese. Anything else was a bonus, though he had to admit that if a tacqueria had lengua, or cow tongue, he ordered that without a second’s hesitation.

Pizza was a close second, but he was much more picky with his pizza. He preferred the California way, which was to say a slightly thicker crust that wasn’t crispy or bready. In fact, he noticed that there was a touch of doughiness in California pizzas. Chicago-style was okay and New York had some pizzerias that lived up to the area’s vaunted reputation, but again, Ramon had to have it just right. Because there was one thing that he agreed with the champions of the other styles; it all came down to the crust. A good crust practically didn’t need anything else, though it wouldn’t be a pizza then.

Like tacos, there was an incredible variety that could be made from only three or four ingredients. Two pizzerias could make identical-looking pizzas with sauce, cheese, and pepperoni and they could be completely different animals.
That was one reason why Ramon loved cooking shows, especially the competitions. The variety of one dish in a set amount of time was staggering. He was fortunate that he lived alone without neighbors so nobody could hear him cackling at the television like some Alzheimer’s-addled patient in a retirement home. As it was, he was just an addled elf in an expansive McMansion. The televisions were never on when he did have guests, so nobody saw that every single one was tuned to a cooking show or channel. Even his watchlist on YouTube was populated with lifestyle channels focused on food or cooking.

The irony was that Ramon couldn’t cook well. He could dress a deer and roast it on an open fire to dripping perfection, but he couldn’t build a rue to save him. He knew a dozen herbs, nuts, seeds, and roots that could perform whatever medical need he had, but he just couldn’t figure how to use basil, rosemary, or oregano. His kitchen gleamed like an ad in Architectural Digest because he almost never used his kitchen. He could boil water. There was an outdoor kitchen with a roasting pit and cold smoke house. That, in contrast, looked like an army was fed from it three times a day. He didn’t use any seasoning except for the salt needed for drying and curing meat. There was a room for that, too.

So say that Ramon ate a lot of meat , in addition to eating out, was an understatement. Since it was the only thing that he could cook with any consistent success meant he cooked it often. Jerky was a staple in his diet. Which was a little weird for an elf, he was told. But his mother was a big meat eater, too, as was dad to a lesser degree. Maybe it was because they didn’t have a lot of money and hunting was the best way of putting food on the table. The legality of the kills was never brought up.

Tonight he had a six-pack of tacos from a tacqueria that was squeezed between two larger, more modern buildings. While the business looked like a stack of hallways and the interior was barely large enough to have two customers stand in, their seasoning in their beans was excellent. He’d chosen to splurge on diced jalapeno and habanero peppers. It was so good.

Ramon tossed the empty bag on the floor. He’d throw it in the garbage later. He kept his Jeep as tidy as his house, though he was far from OCD about it. He just kept a high standard. The car was detailed professionally every two weeks like clockwork. It was polished inside and out. He also kept an air freshener with a “new car” scent. The vehicle was clean enough that he was occasionally asked if it was a new car. It was ten years old.

He was the same age when the Americans came and claimed his people’s land. For a few years, they’d been allowed to live on their land like prisoners in fences. And then the Americans closed the military fort and told his people they would have to walk to a new place with other people like them. They weren’t like his people, after all. They were from different cultures and some were even the long-time adversaries of his people.

But that was after the walk. Ramon had been seventeen years old and filled with the vigor of a young man. He made the walk across California, but he watch as others died on the trail from the strain. He watched his grandmother stop walking, take a breath, and collapse in the dirt. He tried to go to her, but the Americans pushed him forward with the others. He remembered the hate burning in his stomach as he deliberately stared at one of the white men in the eye. He didn’t remember being beaten; strangers had to tell him the rest of the story in small anecdotes because nobody knew the whole story.

Somebody did say there were others who had escaped and gone home. His father was gone, perhaps to go home. His mother was broken. Her face bore cuts and bruises that bore witness to her own mistreatment, as did the blood drying on her thighs when she was rolled from the back of a wagon. His world wasn’t the same after that. Then it was years of anger, hunger, sickness, desperation, and despair. And that was without his own personal Hell of being an elf on a reservation.

The genetics of elves generally breed true, generation to generation. Children still inherited their parents ethnic traits, but these were simply added variation to the overall dominant heritage of elvishness. Children being children, anybody outside the very narrow window of “normal” that they see gets questioned and, often, ridiculed. Ramon was ridiculed and bullied, primarily on the basis of his ears, to the point that he once tried to cut off the tips. There was still a scar slashing across the top of his ear. And then he was harassed for weeks by other children until the wound healed and the bandages were removed.

So it was that by the time the Americans came to take his home, he didn’t consider it home. It was where he slept. His mother apparently felt the same way when she slipped off the new reservation and disappeared into the surrounding forest. His father was allegedly going back to the coast, but Ramon never saw him again to ask him. All he had was being different in a people that was already marked for derision by the conquering Americans.

Certainly, no one American had as much to be responsible for as that idiotic law-and-order nut sent by the Indian Affairs office to oversee their obliteration. The local people already had it bad, but when Mister Herodotus Wright heard rumors that there creatures who appeared to be human, but were actually fey, he made it a holy mission to find Ramon’s true people. When Indians began to appear with their heads shaved to expose their ears, Ramon knew it was time to risk the guards and disappear.

The night he left was the last time he saw his mother alive. Soldiers came to round up the people and herd them toward the superintendent’s house. Wright stood in front of his house on a wagon so he could be seen. As the crowd gathered, he raised his arms.

“Quiet, my friends! Peace!” He waved his arms. “Friends! You may have heard that I am seeking the truth behind ungodly rumors. You may have even met with me. You have told me of creatures that live among you that pass as human, yet they are not.”

The gathered crowd stared at Wright, motionless and faces blank. They had no reason to hear his words.

“Hear me! These creatures are unholy spawn of darkness. They are born apart from God and disallowed from His grace. They are the product of Bavarian licentiousness. While your souls may be salvaged by accepting our Lord Jesus, these creatures cannot. They can only be purified by the sword and by fire.”

This was the first time anyone accused Ramon being a product of Bavarian anything. He didn’t even know where Bavaria was.

“I can see that you don’t believe me,” said Wright. “That is why I will show you!”

Wright gestured and two soldiers appeared, pushing their way through the crowd. Coming after them were four more soldiers carrying and limp body. Each soldier held a limb, but the naked figure didn’t struggle. His or her head hung down, hair dragging in the dirt. As they got closer, Ramon could see it was clearly a woman. She had very clearly been brutalized, probably not for the first time. He was shocked when they threw her in the back of the wagon and Wright grabbed her hair to show her face, with her distinctive ears.

"Mom?"

Ramon was actually having a hard time recognizing her. Her face was deformed from the swelling and bruising. She was oblivious to anything.

Wright screamed.

“Behold! A fey witch!”

He dropped her head. There an audible thud as her head hit the bottom of the wagon. Wright turned back to the crowd.
“The Scripture tells us that a witch must not be suffered to live. Indeed, should a witch be found, she should be stoned to death! I tell you, that is how this must be done. And should do likewise. Do not let them endanger your soul any more than it already is!”

Wright leaped from the wagon and grabbed a paving stone from the back of the wagon. Ramon suspected since then that the man carried stones around just in case he found a witch; there wasn’t anything paved in miles of the place. It was all mud or dirt. Wright raised the stone above his head with both hands. With a scream, he slammed the stone into Ramon’s mother’s head.

And then he did it a second, third, and fourth time. Ramon still woke to the sound of his mother’s head breaking or that fucking animal screaming as he beat his mother to death.

He got out of the Jeep and walked down Fourth Street to Courthouse Square. He wondered why it was the two humans had been studying the granite statue. There was nothing to connect the monument to anything in the youngsters’ lives. No plaque or other marker denoted its importance. Even those who were tasked with caring for the monument were unaware of its purpose or history. It was just a piece of granite.

At some point since the last time Ramon visited the statue, the pedestal had been replaced. It originally had been polished marble, as had the granite. Now, the pedestal was a drab concrete and the previously smooth and polished granite was now worn and rough. Even the granite man seemed weary as he continued his vigilance of the southbound lane of Mendocino Avenue.

Ramon ambled across the dark plaza. Humans had designated the spot as home to their court of justice. It was a terrible hypocrisy, he thought. A symbol of justice that rarely enforced true justice, only the façade of justice created by blind adherence to the law. Yet even their own laws differentiated between rich and poor in its execution, regardless of what human political leaders claimed. And their law definitely made no allowance for his people, for the elves. Even this public area that was dedicated to justice was more used by the bigots and fascists than it was by champions of honorable justice. In fact, the current denizens of the park were a sad lot. A reeking misshapen shadow lurched past Ramon, mumbling and stumbling through the shadows. He could see through the cloak that the night lay on the young man that he was barely out of adolescence, but already bore the lines of care imparted by life to the homeless.

A clump of shrubs shivered along the path. Ramon walked quietly toward the motion. He heard heavy breathing and soft gasps that betrayed the two lovers. One voice sounded considerably older than the other. The young-sounding voice of the woman didn’t sound in peril, so he didn’t intrude. He considered how circumstances could drive people into each other’s embrace who might otherwise avoid each other. He didn’t know what the two humans coupling in the bushes looked like, but he knew others who had taken what opportunity for care they could in the arms of unlikely partners.

Ramon could see another couple sit on a bench at the feet of the granite man. They were both young, one of them wearing the leather and wool jacket of his school. They sat close to each other and kissed, slowly escalating their passion as only awkward and inexperienced adolescents could be. On the opposite side, a man in tattered coats sat to smoke a joint. A car slowed to make a safe turn at the intersection, briefly illuminating the man and the front of the statue. Ramon could only see part of the statue’s face, but what he could see appeared twisted in anger.
The spell was fading. The granite man was waking.

Ramon walked back toward the statue, leaving the couple in the bushes to their passions. He was as silent as any ghost. The stoner and the teenagers sensed his approach before they saw him; they froze in mid-motion, then quickly rose and left, the couple holding hands, to find a more congenial atmosphere. It was an odd trait Ramon had discovered about his heritage. He could make people leave an area or avoid him when he didn’t want to be around others. He suspected it had something to do with the myths of elves appearing and disappearing in the woods at will. There was no skill involved ultimately; people just didn’t go where the elves went. So it was that Ramon could stand in front of the statue alone for a conversation.

The granite man’s face was restored to its usual weary mien. Ramon examined him closely.

“You’re looking old. What happened to that nice pedestal the humans gave you?”

The granite man didn’t respond.

“You also look tired. Your feet must be killing you.”

No response.

“It’s okay. You don’t have to respond. But if you could listen.”

There was a faint sound like pebbles falling on gravel.

“Okay. I know the spell is wearing off. I can see it, even if the humans can’t. We’ll get this fixed.”

Silence.

“We both know that this city is at risk if you aren’t here. We don’t want that.”

The sound of pebbles on gravel came again and the granite man’s face seemed to shift into an expression far more resolute than it had carried in years.

“No, we can’t let it go. We have to restore you, even if the humans don’t know what you are or why you’re in the middle of their city.”

Pebbles on gravel.

“You’re stubborn. Why am I arguing with you? You know what we have to do.”

More pebbles.

“You really want to take the chance that it’s actually not okay? You’re the only thing that keeps these people safe.”

Pebbles.

“I know. I can see that. They’re like people anywhere else. Even nonhumans,” Ramon said. “Look, I gotta go check something out. There was a couple of kids who were really interested in you. I need to make sure they stay out of this business.”

The sound of gravel intensified, sounding like a small avalanche.

“No, I won’t hurt them,” Ramon said. “Wait. Why do you care? They’re just human.”

Gravel. Then the gravel changed to something resembling a voice.

“He is my friend.”

Then the pebbles on gravel went silent and the granite man was still. Ramon was shocked. Things were progressing faster than he’d been aware of if the granite man could now actually speak. He needed to understand these curious humans and find out how much they knew. The boy seemed important to the granite man, for some reason, and Ramon wanted to know why. There was still time to find him and watch him. Ramon could still sense the young man’s emotions and ardor for the female. He’d follow that path.

It was another peculiarity Ramon had come to grips with. He couldn’t really feel what humans felt or smell their emotions, but that was a fine distinction. He was just aware of what humans can be aware of, but at a more keen level. Walk into the locker room of adolescents and there’s a peculiar smell beyond sweat. It’s almost a taste. He’d met many human parents who were reminded of that smell. It wasn’t even a smell, but a reaction somewhere in the back of the brain. And each human had their own specific essence.

Since the young man Ramon was tracking was not a true adolescent anymore, the trail was more refined. But Ramon still had his trail. The city had changed a bit over the years, but the boy lived in the old section and Ramon knew those streets well. He knew where he could cut through yards and where he needed to stay on the path. He caught sight of the young man two blocks from his abode. Ramon found a name on a mailbox, then waited for his target.

The kid still stank of pheromones and high ardor when he came up the steps to the apartment’s deck.

“Can I help you?” He said.

“Yeah. Hi. I’m looking for Eduardo.”

“Oh. Right. Wrong apartment. He’s downstairs and across the sidewalk.”

“Sorry. Thanks for the help.”

Ramon made sure to make a show of knocking on the door of the apartment. An older Hispanic gentleman answered. Ramon spoke Spanish well enough to make the young human believe that he knew Eduardo. Eduardo, however, didn’t know him. The human didn’t know that, but all Ramon needed was for him to think he was acquaintances with Eduardo. In reality, he acted apologetically and said he must have gotten the address wrong, gosh it was remarkable that there would be another Eduardo who just happened to live at the wrong place, and boy, he was really sorry for disturbing him and he really had to go. Please have a good evening.

Then he was backtracking toward his Jeep, still parked blocks away. He smiled and nodded respectfully to a knot of gangbangers walking the opposite direction. They turned to watch him, he heard their steps stop behind him, but he didn’t care. If they followed him, Ramon could seemingly disappear when he was only six feet away. He didn’t have to. They probably had more pressing business, like buying drugs, looking tough, or finding a hooker. Though that was less likely at this end of town than on Santa Rosa Avenue a mile south. Maybe they just wanted to get home for their mom’s zucchini casserole.

Or it could be they’re all married with families and the wife was making risotto and cornbread. Ramon was not one to judge appearances. After all, he’d been through a trauma or two because of his own appearance. The long hair helped with his most obvious attributes, but he hated not being able to tie his hair back during the summer when it was hot, unless he was alone. Which he now was, in the middle of the night. But he resisted the temptation. Until he was actually home, he wasn’t alone. There was always somebody around the next corner or a vagrant that he failed to see next to a dumpster. It was tedious, but he really wanted to survive to see his next birthday. In his experience, humans were not as accepting of difference as the movies made them out to be.

The Jeep was waiting where he left it, unmolested. That was another trick that helped him stay unobtrusive. Keep your vehicle clean, registration current, and full coverage insurance paid. Don’t drive a flashy car. Jeeps were practical and comfortable. Sometimes, he ran into Jeep enthusiasts and had to run the gauntlet of relative nerd knowledge, but they never saw him, only his car. Literally, people would barely look up as they inspected every detail of the ten-year-old Jeep Grand Cherokee. Inevitably, they would see an errant food wrapper and laugh at some irony he was supposed to share. It was rare, though. He essentially drove an invisible car.

And it was time to drive the invisible car to an innocuous motel to get some sleep so he could spend the day being unremarkable in remarkable times.



Vic was in a mood.

“Where have you been, boyo? I needed you an hour ago!”

“I’m fifteen minutes early, Vic.”

“So? Whether you’re early or late for your job, you’re a valuable asset that is sorely missed when I have need for you.”
“Okay. What exactly did you need me for?”

“Dishes! Have you seen the kitchen?”

“No, Vic. I just got here.”

“Yeah. So you did. Now get in there and clean it up!”

It didn’t happen often, but every so often Vic acted as if he could time and space and other people could read his mind. He became exasperated when people did exactly what he expected them to do and had fired people for choosing the wrong time to have a human lapse of judgement or hand-eye coordination. Even just sighing in the wrong tone of voice could get a person an Old World dressing down by Vic. Ethan had experienced more than one of them. As far as he could tell, it tended to happen after Vic paid his quarterly estimated taxes after a particularly poor business quarter. He accepted it because, for now, this was the best situation he was going to find.

The thing with dishes was to keep moving. Don’t take too long doing any one thing. As long as the plates, pots, and pans kept coming in dirty, he sent them back clean. Ethan tried to find a rhythm early to the work. His preference was listening to “Uptown Funk” by Marc Ronson and Bruno Mars. It was a little out of date now, but it had an irresistible beat. It was all about turning off the thinking and just move. The pans could get cumbersome, but he was prepared. Cheer powdered laundry detergent in a sink of scalding water was an effective grease cutter. OxyClean might be the more glamorous name, but that was a matter of six-to-one, half-dozen-to-the-other.

And then a beefy hand was thumping on his shoulder. Vic nodded his head at the door.

“Lunch time.”

“Thanks, Vic. See you later.”

Ethan had lost track of time and it was later than usual for his lunch break. The pile of dishes was considerably reduced. He knew that it would be more a pile of pans when he got back. But no matter. He waved at the cook, who pointed at a plate with a sandwich and a pile of fries. It was just a normal workday, so it was peanut butter and jam with some of Vic’s patented French fries. Ethan used to think that Vic was joking about them being patented and then he saw Vic’s certificate of pending patent from the United State Patent Office. It wasn’t actually patented, but it was close enough. And they were very good, especially with malt vinegar. That was something else that Vic had taught him to appreciate. Before working for Vic, Ethan thought vinegar was just distilled white vinegar.

As he sat down at the back of the pub, he glanced out the back window. For a moment, he thought he saw the nicely dressed man from the other week. As big as Santa Rosa was, it was still a town where a lot of people could cross paths serendipitously. All the same, Ethan felt his skin crawl when he saw him.

There wasn’t anything about the man that seemed sinister, unless you counted his slightly throwback look. Except for not having shoulder pads in his sport coat, the dude could have been from the early 1990s. Ethan wondered if he was wearing Cavaricci jeans, too. They kind of looked like the expensive fashion jeans. With the silk shirt and linen jacket, he was looking good, but not memorable. Just like he wanted to be a 90s version Sonny Crockett from Miami Vice. And he certainly looked like he cared for his hair; it was as groomed as long hair could get for a man without getting a perm.

Ethan shifted his gaze to wave a fly out of his face and when he looked for the man again, he was gone. He shrugged and set to eating lunch. That’s when he realized the place was empty. The fans were still going to circulate the air, the cook was scrubbing down the kitchen, and Vic was fastidiously wiping down the bar, which were all common tasks. But there was nobody else in the building. The front door was open and Ethan could see onto the sidewalk from his table; a thick surge of fog, tinged yellow by the street lights, flowed by. He was aware that he had raised a French fry halfway to his mouth, but had not finished taking the bite.

He was waiting for a werewolf to howl.

The scene unfolding in Ethan’s head was far more exotic and atmospheric than what it was in real life. What was actually happening was an extreme lack of business on a day that Vic was already frayed. Ethan wondered where all the dishes were coming from if business was this slow.

And then darkness filled the door.

The shadow was immense and the illuminated fog gave a vague outline to the figure. A wave of heat slapped Ethan in the face. Vic looked up from the bar, alarmed, and then he relaxed. Ethan glanced back and forth between them, still leaning out of the booth with a fry half-way to his mouth. He felt like an idiot, but he also felt any movement on his part would bring their attention toward him. And he really didn’t want that right now. Whoever this new guy was, he didn’t feel like a cuddly personality.

There was the sound of bacon hitting a hot iron skillet. Ethan was wondering who was cooking breakfast when Vic nodded and waved the shadow into the pub.

“Come on, then. You’re causing a stir.”

More bacon began frying.

“If you don’t mind, could you speak proper English?”

Bacon frying.

And then it came to Ethan that’s what the creature sounded like speaking. The sound shifted, sounding less like meat frying and more like a voice. As the figure stepped into the Mucky Duck, it swung the door closed. The shadows became more distinct and a tall, statuesque woman threaded her way through the tables toward Vic. The heat also changed its character into a warmth in Ethan’s body that he thought he was done with. The feeling was intense and he was ready to kneel at her feet for the remainder of his days, if she would only acknowledge him.

The red flags started going up in his mind and he very slowly eased himself as far back into the booth as he could. The kind of ardor he was feeling always led to bad choices and poor decision-making. He looked at his phone for the time. The screen was blank and the device was unresponsive. He had barely eaten his sandwich and only taken one fry from the pile, but he lost all hunger. He wanted to crawl under the table, which he did. He felt more scared than when he thought he saw George, the granite man, wink at him.

Ethan could hear their voices in conversation. They sounded calm and genial, like they knew each other. The ebb and flow of their tone sounded like questions and answers, but also like two old companions getting caught up on missing time. He wasn’t about to stick his head out far enough from the table to listen. He really wanted to go home and crawl under the covers. He felt like he was in a very strange, but also very familiar, world. He didn’t want to have anything to do with it. In his experience, it was a world of users and abusers, even when people weren’t taking mood altering chemicals.
Footsteps approached his table. The heat in Ethan intensified and his body began to physically respond to her presence. Ethan saw her legs. She was wearing form-hugging jeans and black, open-toe wedges. Her toenails were painted purple. He wanted to lick her toes. She just stood there, while Ethan cowered under the table, tight against the wall, his body involuntarily shuddering and climaxing. He clenched his teeth and eyes, tears and snot running down his face as he sobbed in silence.

And then she walked away. Ethan heard the front door open and close. He finally gasped for air and sobbed loud.

“Ethan?”

Vic hurried across the floor and crouched next to the table.

“Ethan. It’s okay. She’s left, boyo.”

Ethan opened his eyes, but continued to heave and shudder.

“Okay. Relax. Try to breathe,” said Vic. “She does that from time to time. She won’t hurt you. Sometimes men react to her.”

Ethan took a shaky breath.

“You call this react? Fuck you, Vic. What is she?”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“Fuck you. It does.” Anger swelled in Ethan. He uncurled and crawled out of the table. Vic sat on a nearby chair. “That didn’t feel accidental, Vic. She knew I was there. She stood there.”

“Yeah.”

Ethan was aware of his disheveled nature. It wasn’t the first time he’d been left in this state. Last time, he’d felt like it had been his fault. Now, he was incredibly angry.

“I’m going home, Vic. I need a shower,” he said. “Before I come back to work, I want to know who she was and why you seem to know her.”

Vic shook his head.

“I’m sorry, Ethan. I really am,” he said. “But I can’t. There wasn’t any way for me to know how she would effect you.”
“Really? You seem to know her, though.”

“Aye. I do. But I can’t tell you anything else.” Vic slapped his knees. “I tell you what. Go home and take that shower. Make it good and hot, too. Then have yourself a nap. Get some sleep. I’m willing to bet cash money that you’ll be better after.”

Ethan squinted at Vic. The pub owner never wagered unless he was certain. He was a cautious bettor and was often right.

“Okay. You want a wager? The rest of the may wages for the day. I take the rest of the day off and if I’m still freaked, I still get paid. If I feel better, I lose the hours without pay.”

Vic nodded. “Done.”

The walk home was one of the more uncomfortable walks Ethan had had to take. Before leaving the Mucky Duck, he’d gone into the bathroom to clean up a little. There was no way he was going to walk home with his underwear in the state they were in, so he took them off and stuffed them in a plastic shopping bag. He’d “go commando” until he got home. It brought back bad memories of another time he’d had to change his underwear; that time he’d just thrown the soiled garment away. This time, he was too poor to throw away his clothes because of a little semen.

He was still pissed. He was pissed at Vic for not telling him who or what that woman was and he was pissed at the woman for making him do what he did. He had to take Vic’s assurances that the shadowy sex lady wasn’t going to be outside waiting for him. Even if she was, he gave some consideration to fighting her, though that was unlikely to be successful given how her presence was a giant fist of sensuality and sexual attacks. He was afraid, like the old fear, but he was angry this time. It wasn’t his fault.

Then something happened. As he put distance between himself and the Mucky Duck, the intensity began to fade and the memory became more of an imagined thought. Ethan stopped and looked back at Vic’s pub. What the hell was going on? It wasn’t just that he was coming down off the adrenaline high, but almost as if he was leaving a bubble. Then he turned his gaze toward the granite man.

George was still there, in exactly the same position. For once, the pedestal wasn’t tagged with graffiti. But Ethan remembered that night clearly once more. The granite man had winked. The granite man was alive. Somehow. And that dude the other night who looked like an elf might just have been a real elf.

Ethan turned and bolted for home. He ran as hard as he should have the night the granite man winked at him. He ran as if demons chased him for his soul. He sprinted across traffic, deaf to honking cars. Blocks of buildings seemed to flash through his awareness. The stairs to his apartment blurred under his feet. He never remembered unlocking the front door, opening it, closing it, and relocking it. He did remember the panicked vomiting in the hall and the vicious dry heaves in the bathroom.

Larry yowled in the second bedroom, scared and hiding in a corner, much as Ethan had been hiding earlier.
“It’s okay, Larry,” Ethan said, but the words were barely out of his mouth before he was heaving again into the toilet.
There was no way he was going to process this any time soon. He was trying really hard to deny that shit had just got really weird, but he was failing as fast as the thoughts of denial formed. He was too used to trying to deal with the world and with people in a direct, undramatic method to not directly face his new reality. There was a living statue, elves really existed, monsters were real, and somehow his boss, Vic, wasn’t fazed by that, as if he just had these things happen all the time.

Who was Vic?

More importantly, who was the granite man? Shit started to get really weird after his relatively minor feat of life. It was now awfully important to Ethan that he know who George really was.

And who was the elf? Ethan was now certain it was not coincidence that he’d been on his deck that night. Well, maybe it was a coincidence. Maybe there were just elves hanging out and he’d never noticed. On the other hand, the dude didn’t exactly look like Ethan expected elves to look. He thought of Celeborn or Legolas when he thought of elves. This guy looked like a half-brother of both Bruce Lee and Lou Diamond Phillips. And that half-brother took wardrobe hints from Don Johnson.

The vomiting eased finally and Ethan leaned against the bathtub while sitting on the floor. He stared at the puddle of vomit on the carpet in the hall. He stared at the deadbolt on the front door. He wasn’t one hundred percent certain, but he thought he had locked the deadbolt. His eyes focused slightly past the front door to the window beyond that faced onto the deck.

It was open.

Ethan crawled toward the living room, contorting himself to avoid his own vomit, unaware that his front was already coated. He carefully rose to his feet behind the front door and tried to gauge how far away the string for the blinds was. Then he realized that the living room lamps were on. He slid back to the floor and started to low crawl across the room to turn off the lights. When did he turn on the lights?

Larry slinked out of the hall and stared at Ethan.

Somebody pounded on the front door. Ethan jerked himself back against a wall, shaking.

“Ethan?”

It was Helena.

“Ethan? Are you okay?”

Maybe it was just something that sounded like Helena.

“Ethan?”

Helena rattled the doorknob, trying to get in.

“Ethan, it’s okay. It’s me. It’s Helena,” she said. “You called me.”

“I didn’t call you!”

“You did. I couldn’t understand what you said, but I heard you puking. Are you okay? What’s going on? Please let me in.”

“How do I know it’s you?”

“What the fuck, dude? Are you high? Let me in. I feel stupid yelling at a door.”

Ethan carefully unlocked the door and stepped back. The door opened and Helena peeked around the edge. It certainly looked like Helena, in addition to sounding like her. He closed his eyes and tried to take a deep breath. Helena gasped when she saw him.

“Dude! What happened?”

Ethan shook his head and started shaking. Vic definitely lost this bet. The reality had started to fade, but now it was back with a vengeance. Helena carefully closed the door and took Ethan’s hand. She guided him back toward the bathroom.
“Go in there and get a shower,” she said.

“The front door. The windows.”

“It’s okay. I’ll take care of them. You get in the shower, Ethan. Run the hot water until it’s gone.”

Ethan stood there, still shaking. He felt like any movement would break him. He also felt cold. Helena looked at him for a moment; he watched her face shift away from the usual wry expression to direct and serious. He’d never seen her look so focused.

She pushed him into the bathroom and lifted his shirt over his head. The motion broke through his inertia and he kicked off his shoes. Helena turned her back to turn on the shower as he finished getting undressed. She was matter of fact as she stepped away to let him pass into the shower. Their closeness should have triggered an immediate response from Ethan, but he just wanted to get warm again. As soon as she was assured that Ethan was ensconced in the shower, Helena drew the shower curtain.

“I’ll go close up the apartment. Is there anything you want to eat?”

Ethan huddled under the water, his skin already red from the heat. He shook his head. He didn’t care that he was naked in front of Helena. There was nothing romantic about it. He felt like a mess and, apparently, looked like it. The heat felt good, but his still felt cold in his gut.

And then she was climbing through the shower curtain with him. He only vaguely registered her nakedness. Helena grabbed the shampoo and gently pushed his head into the water. Methodically, she washed him, head to toe. There was no eroticism or sensuality in the act. He was a dog that rolled in mud and he needed a bath. That was it. Ethan was deeply grateful to her for her objectiveness. He needed that right now. He nodded his head at her.

“Thank you. It’s okay. You don’t need to stay.”

“Alright. Take as long as you need.”

Helena slipped back out of the shower. As she left, Ethan became not just aware of her close nakedness, but also a series of parallel scars on her upper arm. There were other, more random and smaller scars. Then he recognized stretch marks on her lower abdomen with a long scar across it. As young as she was, Helena had her own story that Ethan didn’t know.
He stood in the shower until the water ran cold, as Helena had told him. When the water temperature began to fade, he shut off the water and exited the shower to find a clean, folded towel waiting on the toilet seat. He vigorously rubbed himself dry and then wrapped the towel around his waist. He peeked through the bathroom door before exiting. The carpet in the hall showed signs of having been mostly cleaned up. There were still small spatters on the wall that were evidently his responsibility. Ethan slipped into his room and shut the door to dress. From his room, he could hear Helena banging cabinet doors and occasionally her profanity.

When he left his room, far more dressed than the last time Helena had seen him, Ethan watched her for a moment. Her hair was slightly damp from the shower, but she made an effort to keep too much of the water from hitting her. She was wearing a floral sun dress with black leggings. Complementary-colored leg warmers topped her brown hiking boots. Her wide belt accentuated the curves that Ethan had always admired and had now seen. He remembered the brief incidental contact he’d made with her skin and breasts; there was a faint stirring of a response, but nothing like the heart-skipping awe he’d felt before he’d been violated by a creature of passion and lust. He wondered if he would ever feel the same again.

“Uh. Hi,” he said. “What are you doing?”

“Trying to find something to make for dinner.”

“It’s okay. I’m not hungry.”

“You will be. I don’t know what happened, but I know I’ve felt like you look on more than one occasion. You’re going to crash from exhaustion soon and you need a bite to eat.”

“What do you mean?”

Helena stopped and gave him that new, direct gaze he’d seen in the shower.

“Were you assaulted, Ethan?”

“Not exactly.”

“What happened? You talk. I’ll cook. If I can find food. What do you eat?”

“Most of the time, I eat out. Or a lot of sandwiches.”

“You don’t have bread.”

“Yeah. I was going to hit the store after work.”

“Weren’t you supposed to work?”

“I was at work when…”

Helena stopped again.

“Are you serious? Did Vic see?”

“Oh, yeah. He tried to tell me that I would feel better and barely remember a thing after I got home.”

“What? Really?”

“Yeah.” Ethan took a deep breath. “And George is alive.”

It was the only thing that he could think of to divert the conversation from the sex monster. It was the only way he could refer to her, even though it wasn’t really accurate. It worked.

“George? You mean the statue?”

Ethan nodded and sank into the sofa. Larry appeared and jumped into Ethan’s lap. He immediately began to purr.

“So, I was at Vic’s, working. I went to lunch and while I was eating this…thing came in. Vic told it to speak English and it turned into a woman.”

“Wait. George the statue turned into a woman?” Helena sat on the other end of the sofa, watching Ethan.

“No. He was where he was supposed to be. But he winked at me a couple of weeks ago.”

“So who’s the woman?”

“I dunno. Vic seemed pretty friendly, like they’d known each other.”

“So what happened?”

“I don’t know. All I remember was this…feeling. Like something reached inside me and turned on a switch I didn’t want turned on.”

“Okay.”

Ethan paused.

“Helena, it was like something was sucking my soul and it turned me on. And the more turned on I got, the more I felt like I was being sucked dry. I was hiding under a table. She never saw me. I think. And I never got a good look at her, but it was as if she…it was eating my lust.”

“Uh, huh.”

“I…uh…”

“What?”

“Orgasmed.”

“You orgasmed?”

“I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to give her any of it, but it’s like I couldn’t turn my body off.” Ethan clenched himself against a building sob. Not here. Not in front of Helena. She saw his reaction.

“Ethan, relax. Just breathe.”

He nodded.

“What did Vic say?”

“He said she did that to people once in a while. He didn’t sound surprised that it happened, but he did seem like he knew it didn’t feel good,” he said. “And there’s an elf.”

Helena blinked.

“What elf?”

“Lou Diamond Phillips.”

“Lou Diamond who?”

“Lou Diamond Phillips. From Young Guns?”

Helena shook her head.

“Um. So there’s a dude who looks like Lou… like an actor from the 1980s. But he’s an elf.”

“Like Will Ferrell elf?”

“No. Think of Orlando Bloom in Lord of the Rings. Only as a Mexican.”

“A Mexican elf?”

“Or Indian. Feathers, not spots.”

“What’s he want?”

“I dunno. He’s just around. He was on my deck the night I showed you George.”

“Alright,” she said. “A statue winked at you, an Indian elf is stalking you, and you were raped by a succubus? Is that about it?”

“What did you call her?”

“A succubus. They’re sex faeries.”

“Sex faerie?”

“Well, actually she’s a sex demon.”

“Sex demon.”

“Yeah.”

They sat quietly as Ethan absently pet Larry and Helena stared at the floor. It wasn’t often in either of their lives that sex demons were discussed and they had nothing to say. In normal circumstances, it was likely that Helena would have made a bawdy joke, but tonight she saw the aftermath of contact with a succubus. And that was when she wasn’t trying to influence Ethan.

“I think she ate my French fries,” he said.

That was such an apparent non sequitur that after a brief pause to let the statement sink in, they burst into laughter. On Ethan’s part, it was a slow build to near hysterics as his emotional pressure valve opened. And then it was hysterics. He was crying again, then laughing at the absurdity of how he must look, and he could feel himself losing control. Helena saw it and became serious. She slid across the sofa and put her arms around his shoulders.

“Okay, Ethan. Don’t forget to breathe,” she said. “We’ll forget food for now, since you don’t have any. But I’m taking the couch.”

Ethan could only nod as he tried to calm himself. He could smell her perfume and the hint of clove cigarettes. It broke through his panic and he took a deep breath, inhaling her scent.

“There are extra blankets in the spare room. I don’t know if there are any pillows,” he said.

“It’s okay. I’ll manage,” she said. “Go to bed. And turn off your alarm.”

Ethan lay in bed, staring at the ceiling. He could hear Helena rummaging through his apartment. He was too tired to worry about the box of Playboy magazines in the closet in the other room. Having her come to his aid was far more comforting than he really was comfortable considering. He was incredibly attracted to her, but he really didn’t want to be a stray puppy to be cared for. And then he realized how stupid he was being. She thought he needed help and she came to help. At the end of the day, what more can anyone really ask of a friend?



The day dawned clear and cold. Ramon could see frost on the grass and vehicles outside his motel room. It was a comfortable inside, at least. The coffee wasn’t the best, but it was hot and was enough of a jolt to jumpstart his energy. He’d get breakfast at the diner attached to the motel and take advantage of the discount for customers of the motel. It would likely be heavy and a bit too greasy, but he appreciated a diner with proper runny fried eggs and dry toast. Indeed, his go to meal when he wasn’t at home was biscuits and gravy with a side of eggs fried easy.
And coffee. He like diner coffee, as opposed to motel room coffee.

Of course, he could always get coffee from Vic. The man had a genuine knack. It probably came from two centuries worth of experience and practice. It was never obvious, but Ramon knew that Vic kept a ready supply of hot coffee at the Mucky Duck. He never knew where Vic kept the coffee pot, but it was somewhere easy to access, but unobtrusive. It seemed like a bar would be a great place to sell coffee. Vic’s patrons could come back in the morning to fight their hangovers and then stay for a few rounds.

It was interesting that the young man worked for Vic. After he’d followed the kid from the granite statue and then made contact, Ramon had floated around the area to keep an eye on him. He didn’t seem unusual. There was nothing about him that separated him from other humans, except for his proclivity to be interested in the best kept secret in Santa Rosa, possibly even Northern California. Certainly, it was interesting how he reacted to Gail. Usually, she had her stuff under tight control; from the way the kid ran home after her visit to the Mucky Duck, it was obvious he was one of the rare people who could be affected by her, regardless of her self-control.

She only fed when she wanted to feed. There was a good chance that if she had focused on him, his flesh would have melted, as sensitive as he was.

So what the hell was going on in this town? The constraints holding the granite man in check were loosening and now Gail was in town. Ramon wouldn’t be surprised if an old Druid from the ancient stories clawed his way out of a forgotten grave. It would be par for the course. He didn’t count that he, an elf, was lurking around corners and back alleys. After all, he was used to existing in the shadows and not being counted by anyone.

The air was brisk and mildly chapped his face on the way to the diner. He had to wait longer than he expected for a table in a mostly empty dining room. But the waitress was a cute blonde with good, curvy hips, so he was content to wait and watch her work. When she finally led him to his table, he gave her his best Dennis Quaid smile and ordered his breakfast. He also managed to find out what time she was done with work and if she was single. She seemed into him, so he’d try his luck[MR5]  with a little love while he was in town.

Breakfast was indeed heavy and greasy, but the eggs were perfect and the gravy was not too salty. The waitress was receptive to his flirtations and flirted in response. He learned her name, Jasmine, just so he wouldn’t be the dude who forgets her name the next day. It would take a week.

Smiling, Ramon ambled across the parking lot toward his car. Leaning against the rear of the Jeep was Gail. He narrowed his eyes as he approached. As much as she was beautiful, she was also deadly. But then all demons were deadly, it was just the manner in which they killed. Today, she had taken her favorite form of a slightly fleshy redheaded woman. She kept herself from being perfectly attractive with the addition of a modest “muffin top” bulge at her waist and a touch of rosacea. If anything, she looked like a youngish middle aged woman who’s looks were just moving from maiden to matron. Ramon did take a moment to appreciate how she filled out her jeans.

“Gail.”

She nodded.

“Ramon. You still have your penchant for white girls, I see.”

“Maybe white girls just like me,” he said. “What’s going on? You don’t often come to the sticks.”

She smiled. It was fleeting.

“I’d hardly say Santa Rosa is the sticks.”

“It’s not L.A.”

“True. But I do like to get out.”

“I noticed what happened at Vic’s when you got out.”

Gail made a sour face.

“I’m sorry for that kid,” she said. “It’s been an age since any human was sensitive enough to pick up on me, let alone give me his sexual energy without consent.”

“That kid has a special friend.”

“You mean Vic? I’m not worried about Vic,” she said.

“Not Vic,” he said.

“Then who?”

“The statue.”

Gail pursed her lips.

“Is that possible?”

“It’s possible. It means the spell is weakening.”

“Well, fuck me.” She gnawed on a fingernail.

“As long as you don’t suck the life out of me, anytime.”

Gail looked up and then laughed.

“Thanks, but I’m not hungry.”

“I thought demons were always hungry.”

“Succubus.”

“Potato, potato.”

“I’m nicer.”

“Sometimes,” he said. “Why are you here? It’s not like we keep a club with meetings.”

“Vic asked me to run you down.”

“Why you? And what does he want?”

“He has some information for you,” she said. “Actually, he wants you to make nice with the kid, Ethan. Either introduce yourself properly or disappear. He said he knows you’ve been lurking around, following him.”

“Hmph. I’m not one for making friends with humans.”

“You’re not one for making friends with anyone,” she said. “Are you still rattling around that ridiculous house?”

“Yeah.”

“You ever learn to cook?”

Ramon said nothing, but the pugnacious set of his jaw was enough for Gail.

“Thought so.” She pushed herself off his Jeep. “I’m done here. I’m just passing along a message.”

“Again, why you?”

“Because you’re a lusty fellow, Ramon,” she said. “And Vic knows I can smell you.”

“Of course you can.” He shook his head. “Alright. I’ll go have a talk with Vic. And I’ll keep out of sight of. . .What’s his name again?”

“Ethan.”

“Okay. I’ll keep out of sight of Ethan.”

Gail smiled.

“Good, elf. I’ll let you be so you can go bang that waitress.”

“Shut up. I actually was going somewhere.”

“Where?”

“None of your business.”

“Nope. It’s not my business,” she said. “I’m just a nosy bitch.” The succubus walked away, throwing just enough hip into her steps to make watching her interesting. A couple entering the diner passed Gail and they both turned to watch for a moment. Apparently, she was letting just enough of her power slip through her control to amuse herself with creating low-grade arousal in people who were near her. Ramon thought it was pretty funny. It was likely she’d run into a human who was just a bit more aggressive in their interest than others. Those were the ones she liked to feed on.

Ramon considered for a moment how far from human he felt now. He could casually consider that a sex demon was wandering around, feeding on the sexual energy and souls of people, and it was only mildly interesting. When he was younger, when he thought he was just a weird-looking human, he would have been horrified. But now, the humans were little better than trees in a forest.

That thought gave him pause. If humans were like trees, did that make him a dendrophiliac?

The interior of the Jeep was cold and Ramon turned on the heater. Which immediately caused the windows to fog even more. Fortunately, he wasn’t in any hurry. Vic didn’t usually get in to the Mucky Duck until the late morning and that was an item on Ramon’s “to do” list that was new anyway. He was more interested in Ethan’s girlfriend. She was running down information on the statue and she was bound to find somebody’s errant journal or an overly organized newspaper archives supervisor. He supposed that he could just introduce himself to them both and cut to the chase, but that went against his natural impulse. He liked to stay to the shadows and just outside the corner of the eye. Walking up to somebody with hand outreached and meeting eyes was tantamount to BASE jumping into an active volcano.

As he pulled into the street, he noted that Gail hadn’t gone very far before finding herself the focus of a pair of men’s attention. She looked like she was holding her own. They weren’t friends, but the world was already empty enough of creatures like her and himself. There were others, but Ramon had spent a lot of years trying to find real information about his heritage with little tangible results. The people he’d found were singles here and there, like Gail. He’d never met another succubus since her, but they were quite the source of myths. Elves, as he found through a lot of discouraging effort, were much the same way. For all the literature about them, it was all essentially fan fiction of the original myths.

Ramon had never found a Silvanesti, Qualinesti, or Loth Lorien. The closest he’d come were hints that maybe, possibly, elves originated in the Black Forest region of Europe, in modern Germany, or in the upper reaches of Norway and Sweden. Certainly, the elves in Lord of the Rings were based on those Scandinavian creatures. There were a lot of myths that pre-date the coming of writing to those areas, oral histories speckled with seeming fantastic elements. Apparently, as savage as humans have been over the millennia, elves never figured out how to write a book.

And that was a thread that Ramon had found repeated in the parts of the world he’d visited. He went to where the stories were, but couldn’t find others like himself. He’d met other elves from time to time, but not where he expected them to be. And now he was witnessing the slow unraveling of another barely remembered myth, an event that could have serious consequences to the people of the region. While he barely knew anything about the man in granite, it still seemed like more information that what he knew about elves.

Ethan parked on the street where he could see Ethan’s apartment. After the boy’s brush with Gail, he knew the girl had come to offer her support. Ramon was betting that she was still there this morning. He could wait here and follow her when she left, staying to her peripheral vision.
Ramon sighed.

Fine.

He got out and strode down the street. If Vic wanted him out of the shadows, he’d make sure those kids saw him coming. The door opened before he got to the top of the stairs.

“Who the fuck are you,” Ethan said.

Ramon held up his hands in what he hoped was a universal sign of peaceful intentions.

“Listen. Vic said he wants me to introduce myself. So here I am. Can I come inside?”

“Vic?”

“Yeah.”

Ethan blinked. He stood still, blocking the door. Ramon grimaced.

“Okay. Let’s try this again,” Ramon said. “My name is Ramon Esquivil.”

“You’re Mexican?”

“Um. Not exactly. Can I come in, please? This isn’t a discussion we should be having in the open.”

“Alright.” Ethan stepped back slowly. Ramon was moderately impressed with the kid’s housekeeping skills. The worn carpet was vacuumed, the kitchen showed only a couple of dirty dishes on the counter, and the plants were green and vibrant. The apartment, as ratty as it looked on the outside, was well-kept and quite comfortable. Ethan had even made the attempt to coordinate the thrift store lamps with the garage sale coffee table and estate sale sofa. There was a definite color palette in the living room, with shades of green turning the faded nondescript brown of the carpet into an asset. This was a guy after Ramon’s own heart.

“Nice place.”

“Why are you following me?”

“Why are you interested in the statue?”

“The statue? You mean George?”

“George?”

“Yeah. The granite man. In Courthouse Square.”

“Uh. Yeah. That statue.”

“One question first,” Ethan said.

“What?”

“Are those ears for real? Or do you just like to cosplay?”

Ramon sighed.

“Let’s sit down, shall we?”

Ethan pulled a kitchen chair into the living room and sat at the opposite end of the sofa. As he did, Larry trotted out of the bedroom and jumped into his lap. For a second, Ethan was sure that the cat was casting a disapproving glance at Ramon. The elf raised an eyebrow in return.

Sitting down, Ramon leaned forward on his knees.

“Yes. I’m actually an elf. I’ve lived for a really long time and I have pointy ears. That’s about the sum total of what I know about elves. We don’t live in houses in trees and we don’t talk to animals.”

At that point, Larry sneezed and looked at Ramon. Ramon tried to pretend that he didn’t see the cat, but his eyes flicked down and widened slightly. He seemed to go as still as the granite man. Then he looked up.

“That’s a remarkable cat you have there.”

“Why?”

Ramon paused.

“No real reason,” he said. “You just don’t see white tabbies all that often.”

“Uh, huh.”

“Nevermind the cat. There’s some things going on that you seem to have stumbled into.”

“Really? I didn’t notice.”

Ramon narrowed his eyes. He hated sarcasm directed at himself.

“Where’s your girlfriend? She hiding in the bedroom?”

“Who? I don’t have a girlfriend.”

“Ethan, I know she’s here. She came over last night after you ran into Gail.”

“Who?”

“The succubus. She went into the Mucky Duck while you were there and you had a bad reaction to her.”

“Her name is Gail?”

“Yeah. She’s from L.A.”

“Why does that not surprise me? Look, if you’re following me because you think I’m pushing in on your sex demon lady friend…”

“Shut up and answer the question. I don’t like humans, I don’t like talking to humans, and I’d rather not have to say this all twice. Now, if she’s here, please call her out. I won’t hurt either of you. I’m not a monster.”

“You’re not human.”

Ramon closed his eyes and leaned back in the uncomfortable chair. Christ, humans were obstinate.

“Seriously,” Ramon said. “Would you be less freaked out by me being an elf if I looked more like Orlando Bloom? Do you have a problem that I look for like Tonto than the Lone Ranger?”

“Fuck. You think I’m racist?”

“I think you’re suddenly in the middle of a situation involving people you think should look one way, but instead I, an elf, look like this. So, yes. I think you’re racist.”

“And you need to clean the litter box with more regularity,” said a small voice.

The room fell silent. Ramon could hear a drip from a leaking faucet. Ethan looked even more white than his pale complexion. They sat completely motionless, trying to process what they had just heard.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” said Larry. “Jesus, you’re an elf. You might not speak to animals, asshole, but they goddamn well speak to you.”

Ramon felt queasy. He could only imagine what was going through the human’s mind as he sat there with a talking cat on his lap. Finally, the tabby raised his head and look between the two men.

“Yeah, shit’s getting weird. I’m trying to nap. Stop staring at me.” Larry lowered his head and closed his eyes. He was done giving out fucks.

Ramon continued to stare at Larry.

“So, I think you figured out that the statue in Courthouse Square is not your usual statue.”

Ethan, too, was only looking at Larry.

“I never had a statue wink at me before.”

That broke through Ramon’s awareness.

“It what?”

“Winked. A few weeks ago, I guess. It was after work.”

“Okay. Things have been going downhill longer than I was aware. What do you know?”

“Nothing. Just that George has been there a long time, but nobody seems to know who he is. There’s no plaque or anything.”

“Yeah, well, that’s kind of his thing. Or rather, it’s kind of a point somebody else was trying to make.”

“Which is?”

“That everybody would see him, but nobody would remember him. You might as well call him ‘the forgotten man’ instead of the ‘granite man.’”

“I call him George.”

“Why George?”

“Because he kind of looks like George Washington in the right light.”

Ramon took a deep breath. With a glance at Larry, he stood up. He felt nervous. Agitated. He was also shocked that Larry the cat had spoken. That was something straight out of the myths. The occasional elf he’d met had been emphatic that talking to animals was just a story that humans made up to make elves even more supernatural. It was like if humans started living nine hundred years, like in their Old Testament.

“You’re pacing.”

“Yeah?”

“Elves pace.”

“Elves do everything humans do. We just have funny ears and live a long time.” Ramon stopped his pacing. “So, about that girlfriend of yours. Does she know about the statue? And Gail?”

“She’s not my girlfriend. And yes, she knows.”

“Good lord, man. Why haven’t you tapped that? She’s beautiful.”

“We’re just friends.”

Ramon snorted in derision. As far as he could tell, only he and Gail had no issue with passionless sex. It was a thing to do, like using a toilet. It was an urge to be satisfied. Granted, Gail had to be careful for other reasons, such as eating her partner’s soul. Maybe it came from outliving other creatures. He briefly wondered what Vic’s views on casual sex were, as old as he was. He probably only liked women in bustles or some such archaic nonsense.

“Is she here? Yes or no.”

“No,” said Ethan. “She left to go eat something. She was going to bring back breakfast.”

“Do you have to work today?”

“I was supposed to. But I’m not sure I want to go back.”

“Because Vic is on casual speaking terms with a sex demon?”

“Something like that.”

“You’re an ass, Ethan.”

“Sorry, but you don’t get to judge. Ramon,” Ethan said. “I work my ass off to escape the figurative demons and here comes a literal demon who uses me as an incidental sex toy.”

“She didn’t. She actually regrets what happened.”

“Bullshit. Succubi are demons. Demons don’t have souls.”

“What does that have to do with regret?”

“You can only regret what you know is wrong. The only way you can tell right and wrong is with a soul.”

“Really? Are you that reductive? Gail’s got standards.” Ramon paused. “And she wasn’t that hungry.”

“So, what does any of this have to do with me?”

“Nothing,” Ramon said. “You keep being in the wrong spot at the wrong time. Vic seems to be looking out for you, so maybe you can avoid some of the stuff that might be coming up.”

“What’s Vic got to do with the statue and you and what’s her name?”

“Gail. You should probably ask Vic. He might tell you. All I can tell you with any certainty is that he is much older than he looks. And the Mucky Duck isn’t exactly a pub.”

“It’s not?”

“Well, it is. People drink there and eat there and you wash dishes there, so everything that’s important to a pub being a pub is real. But there’s also more.”

“Like what?”

“Ask Vic.” Ramon opened the front door. “I’m tired of this back and forth. There’s more. Just understand that if you want to find out who the statue is, you’re likely going to find more weird shit. Just keep that in mind.”

And then Ramon was gone with a quiet click of the front door.



There was no doubt in Peter’s mind that there was a lot of really old spellwork that was unraveling. He shied away from the word “magic” because of the detritus of centuries of mythology and popular culture. Even when the superstition got things right, it was always couched in terms of sparkling lights and fireballs. Tolkien was closest, with his descriptions of magic being much subtler in practice, but there was also a lot of woo-woo fiction. As it was the best that Peter could actually describe what he did was cooking, and the sense of a spell was like an odor.

Right now, there was an awful odor coming from the statue as the cooking went bad. And Peter was out of ketchup.
He made a face at the tortured metaphor. Really, the work done to create the granite man was delicate, intricate, and from a “cook book” that was barely more than a myth. There weren’t a whole lot of people who would even be able to recognize the magic, and less who would be able to do anything about it. As it was, Peter was considered by others to be one of the people who could do something about the granite man unravelling and he was clueless. Also, it was questionable whether the handful of people who did consider him able to fix the situation were actually competent enough to render that judgment.

If those same people saw him now, they’d probably reconsider their assessment of him, too. He looked less like a profound and wise mage and more like somebody’s dad out for a walk on the beach. He had pulled the hood of his sweatshirt up to ward off the damp breeze from the water. He also had a padded flannel jacket on top of that. He was still cold; denim was a pretty poor insulator against North Coast breezes. He could feel the sand working its way into his shoes and through his socks. He hated the feeling of sand between his toes, but he didn’t have any better shoes for the trip.

The dunes at MacKerricher State Park were protected natural resources, as well as the middens that were hidden just on the other side of some of the larger dunes. They were the remains of trash heaps created by the seasonal settling of the area by groups of Northern Pomo and Coast Yuki. Some of the middens were dozens of feet across, attesting to how long people had been using the area prior to Americans arriving. It wasn’t hard to find see the broken shells and animal bones. While the piles were all now flat, it was still easy to see them in the sand, like big white patches. Occasionally, universities would bring archaeology classes to the park for field work.

They tended to be far more attentive to what they expected to see, rather than seeing what was out of place. Though it really was more an odor.

Peter was tracking down one particularly faint odor of magic. It was European magic and distinct from the local variety. The New World was surprisingly supple and refined in its practice. Europeans seemed like they just wanted to club everything and everyone over the head, both in the mundane world and in more arcane ways. Whatever was out here, it was part of what was going on with the statue in Santa Rosa. He guessed it was buried. Hopefully, it wasn’t buried too far down.

The sand was dry and loose, which was a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it was easy to push to the side. On the other hand, it fell back into the hole Peter was trying to dig. Truth be told, he wasn’t being to careful of the midden nearby. The truly sacred spots were a half mile down the coast, near Lake Cleone. Here, it was the trash heap of centuries. And it was deep, as far as he could tell. But he found what he was looking for, right where it had been left so many years before.

He pried the flat, mostly circular, stone out of the sand and swept sand back into the hole. It was about a foot across and smooth, like a river rock. It was definitely not native to the greywacke bedrock that made up the coast. It had been brought into the area. Flipping it over, Peter saw the Old World runes ground into the face. It still had the right feel to it, but the not-quite-an-odor was beginning to sour, turning Peter’s stomach. This was part of the problem, but he needed to find out how to read the inscription. The runic alphabet had a number of variations across Europe and that meant it was gibberish until the right translation was used.

Peter began to walk slowly away as he kept his head down. He occasionally lifted his head as if in thought, but it was really to survey his surroundings. He was alone. He could slip the rock into his backpack and nobody would be the wiser. He was even hidden from the distant houses that lined Highway 1. Granted, even if somebody was watching him through a telescope, they didn’t know the value of the midden heaps to the park or the value of the flat stone to Peter. They would just see an older man picking up a rock.

There was another old man who had picked up a rock, many years ago. He had raved about the unholy creatures that lived among them. He had decried women as witches and men as warlocks. Peter suspected it was more to hide his guilt over his own lusty thoughts than those women actually being witches. Regardless, Peter had watched him drown, burn, and stone people to death. Not as a judge oversees a sentence, but as the executioner. The juries in what passed as trials then were too afraid of him for the verdict to go any other way than guilty.

The rock that found its way to that man’s hand inevitably was washed in blood. Peter was certain that every single one of those rocks was kept as a keepsake. Herodotus Wright was that kind of guy.

Peter had seen the aftermath of “missionary” expeditions led by Wright. The survivors were almost worse off than the dead. He was never in charge of anything for very long, but always managed to be reassigned or simply hidden away in other bureaus’ warren of halls. At least until he drove the other worker bees mad with his religiosity. Even the fanatic at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania couldn’t stand Wright.

Peter trudged through the sand toward the parking lot. He hated sand. He’d spent way too much time in and around sand. He preferred the snows of the north. He always had. At one time, in one part of the world, he’d been synonymous with snow. Where others had fled the mountain blizzards, he’d reveled in the violence of nature. He was pretty comfortable, most of the time, in snow. The Americas don’t have the fjords like Scandinavia, but the coasts of the far north were just as frozen.

Or they had been. Now, the sea didn’t freeze like it used to. And winter lacked her usual bite.
And now Peter was down south at the edge of a temperate rain forest where, even in the midst of summer, the air was thick with moisture and the mildew was an active member of the animal kingdom. There were more people than where he usually spent his time, but all the same he felt far more alien than when he ran into the occasional native caribou hunter. He was giving some thought to Antarctica as a new vacation spot. Or at least Tierra del Fuego. He wasn’t completely off his rocker.

The parking lot was empty. It was located at a curve in the street, so Peter was able to see any coming traffic in both directions easily. There was nobody coming or going. In the distance, on the abandoned log haul road, Peter could see a couple power walking. Beyond them was the main parking lot for the park. There were more cars there, but it was a weekday and the holiday crowds hadn’t invaded , yet. If people only knew the energy that had been built by the native residents over the course of millennia, maybe the parking lot and lake trail wouldn’t be so haphazardly used.

Peter set the stone on the seat beside him and started the truck. It was coated in a layer of grime from the drive down. He wanted to get it washed so he looked less like a pot grower just coming into town from the hills. Not that that was an actual problem, but he liked to pay attention to his appearance. When he parked in front of his motel room, he actually blended in more than he knew.

The room was sufficient for what he needed and it was clean, but it was a little long in the tooth. The wallpaper was relatively fresh, but Peter could still see the anchor bolts in the wall from previous room configurations. The fiberglass shower was cracked and patched; Peter had to be careful how he stood in the shower so he didn’t cut his feet. The shower curtain was mounted too high to truly keep the water from splashing onto the floor. The original mounting location was a cancer of vinyl wall patch. The baseboards were gouged and the carpet was a different color in the closet than it was in the rest of the room.

But the bed was clean and he elected to have the room serviced when he was out. Peter kept nothing in the room, so he wasn’t worried about the housekeeper stealing anything. He left a tip, however, for whoever cleaned the room. It was somebody with an inherited potential for brujería, given what he smelled in the air when he came back every night. There was a time when people like that knew what they were and others could tell what they were, but in a day and age when “magic” was a story to tell kids, this person was probably unhappy and surrounded by personal conflict. Such was the life of an unfulfilled brujo or bruja; others are unconsciously aware of the power, but can’t actually discern what makes that person different.

Peter had met more than a few people sensitive to that kind of thing and they had a tendency to be addicts, homeless, or both. Interpersonal relationships were rocky and steady employment was a joke. He didn’t know the details about the particular housekeeper making his bed every day, but he was sure they needed help. So he left a twenty dollar bill on the table as a tip when he was away. He didn’t need to know them to know twenty dollars would help.
Peter pulled out a personal phone book and started dialing numbers into his phone.




There was a warmth to the detritus of the forest that was unmatched by a feather bed. Even in the depths of winter, all you had to do was dig down a couple of feet and you would find a warm, moist bower. Add to that the vibrancy of God’s natural world, cycling through the death and creating life, it was all the bed that Herodotus really needed. He’d slept in white silk sheets. He would take the occasional bug and a little dirt. After all, God created the insect and the dirt, so how can it be bad?

Herodotus, or Harry as the other “houseless” liked to call him, reveled in the great expanse of God’s creation. He needed no clothes, but that which God provided. He needed no food, but that which God supplied. The vastness of the wilderness was a great pantry and wardrobe, all together. The chaos was in God’s plan and in His plan was perfection. Only where man sought to bring order to the chaos was God’s plan absent. Even there, God had a plan and a Will to execute it. Herodotus was His tool for the execution of His plan. In some cases, he had been a tool of violence and excision. Other days, he was a clarion herald sounding a call for His plan.

That second part, the clarion in the wilds, had actually caused more conflict in his life than the violence ever had. Though, to be fair, when he had killed, his victims weren’t actually people. And who could actually argue against killing an animal? Or some monstrous aberration of God’s creation? There were creatures in the world who had been twisted and malformed from their original plan by the Great Adversary. It was his holy duty to obliterate these unholy animals from creation. Many were the monsters who fell by his own hand.

Herodotus moved through the brush with practiced ease. He didn’t know how anybody could not learn to move with stealth through a forest, but even the homeless who spent weeks of their lives here sounded like elephants tramping through the forest. Occasionally, he found a couple taking care of each other, in the way of sin. Sometimes, there were more than two. They never heard him approach their location and they never saw him as he watched them. Inevitably, one of them would go off by himself or herself to make water and they would never hear him follow. Those people never returned to their companions.

He never paid attention to the differences between whose blood he spilled. They were defiling God’s holy plan, bringing chaos to His order. Elf or fornicator, it made little difference. What difference there was lay in one of those creatures could be redeemed by His judgement; the other creature was of pure darkness and irredeemable. In each case, he made sure to spill their blood in sacrifice to His glory. Then he left them to feed creation in the great cycle set by God.
Herodotus Wright was never actually connected to any death, but his rumored reputation was enough to make the homeless leery of having any contact with him. It was a different time. Once upon a time, he was sought out by the powerful and elite. They handed him every stone, every sword or bayonet, and every bullet. They lit the candles for his rituals and even brought sacrifices when he could not find them.

And then modernity swept the globe. Where once he could hunt faerie and elf ad nauseam, the forests began to be thinned and destroyed by men who sought to harness the power of steam. The inhabitants of those forests fled into the teeming mass of humanity in stinking cities. Hunting them became more difficult, which only incensed him further.
One day, he stopped into a book shop to find a different translation of Scripture. On a shelf, he saw an unassuming book called The Hobbit. On a whim, he bought it and read it over the course of two three non-stop days. When he turned the final page, he exploded. These creatures, elves and their ilk, were being described as beings of light and wisdom, with refined culture. Herodotus ripped the book apart, shrieking imprecations at the author. Then he flew down the streets, back to the book shop, and set the store ablaze with its own books.

Ever since, he has journeyed the world, speaking with Godly leaders and people, trying to warn them of what was coming, what was already amongst them. Elves, dwarves, and the others were not harmless creatures. They were distortions of God’s proper creation. Sometimes he was met with skepticism, other times he was embraced.

Today, he was slipping through the trees on his way to one who embraced him. Not all the homeless in the area were sinners. There were some who saw what iniquity roamed the world and desired to help cleanse creation of that blight. This particular man was troubled deep in his soul and had heard Herodotus’ warnings. He had taken on with Herodotus in a holy mission of fire and deliverance. He had even cast aside his vices of drug use and fornication. That last part especially concerned Herodotus when it came to this man. The man’s partners tended to be a bit on the young side for even some of the most debauched libertines Herodotus had met.

Fortunately, he was now on the path to salvation and holy redemption, as was Herodotus. He hoped to see the man’s fulfillment of a promise to bring others to Herodotus, though there were whispers that Herodotus was becoming known as “Preacher Harry.” It troubled Herodotus little that he was gaining a reputation. If it drew people to him and aided him in his quest, then it is all part of God’s glorious plan. And the castoffs of society would become the righteous fire that would sanitize the world of the profane and heretical.

Kenny was little better than an animal, rutting in the woods, when Herodotus found him. He’d laid himself under a tree while he stared blankly at a branch. When Herodotus began to speak of the dangers of mind altering drugs and pleasures of the body, Kenny underwent a dramatic transformation. As Herodotus spoke, Kenny’s eyes widened and his mouth fell further open. He reached toward the branch, obviously thinking that the tree was speaking to him. Herodotus didn’t make the effort to correct him. What was to him if Kenny thought the Word of God came from him or a tree? As it was, the moment passed and Kenny’s eyes refocused. He sat up and began brushing the dirt and fir needles from himself.
Then he threw himself into the river.

It wasn’t the cleanest river in the world; there were rivers with far more pollution, but this river still had a sheen of diesel from the fishing boats docked downriver. But all the same, Kenny stripped his clothes off, vigorously rubbing each article in the water in a laughable farce of scrubbing them, before hanging them from branches that leaned out over the water. Then Kenny rubbed himself down, doing his best to clean his long, lank hair and body. When he emerged from the river, he was far from clean, but at least the loose filth had been sloughed off. He burrowed into a framed backpack and pulled out a large knife. With a quick check of the knife’s edge, he began cutting his hair, short and close to the scalp.

Once his hair was cut, he returned to the river and again threw himself into the water, rubbing off the loose hair from his newly shorn head. Once he was done, he emerged, dripping, and fell to his knee in front of Herodotus. From that day, Kenny was Herodotus’ man and word began to spread that Pastor Harry had a disciple.




The dreams were terrible. She came to him in his dreams now. At first, he felt the pull of desire. The lust was a torrent. And then the fire came and the heat seared him. Even as he burned, his desire for the demon grew until he erupted and the fire consumed him.

Ethan dreamed of the succubus twice, sometimes three time, per night. He knew he dreamed other dreams, but he couldn’t remember them with as much vividness as the terrors brought by the succubus. In each instance, his surroundings changed, but still she would appear and he would lay himself down before her, in street or meadow. Even as he was repelled by her, by his lack of choice, his body betrayed him. Each time he dreamed of her, he awoke from the dreams sweaty and sticky. Each time, the nausea of shame swirled in his gut. Sleep was becoming less and less refreshing each night.

The Mucky Duck looked more empty than Ethan had ever seen it. There wasn’t even a kitchen crew. Vic sat at a table, feet crossed in front of him, quietly smoking a pipe.

Vic was smoking a pipe?

It was the first time that Ethan had ever seen the man smoke anything. It was also one of the rare times he wasn’t wiping a table or washing bar glass. He stared at a blank screen, which gave Ethan almost as much of a start as seeing Vic smoke a pipe. He closed the door behind him and slowly walked across the room. Vic glanced at him.

“How are you, boyo?”

“Boyo is a Welsh phrase, Vic,” Ethan said. “You’re supposed to be Cornish.”

Vic smiled.

“So it is. And so I am,” he said. “I must be slipping.”

Vic stood up and walked to Ethan.

“I think you deserve to know some things. Probably more than some things,” he said.

“Like what things, Vic? Like who that woman was? And like who Ramon is?” Ethan said.

“Ramon? You met him?” Vic was bemused. “He’s alright. He’s as paranoid and unhappy as any other elf, but he still has a bit of the old character in him.”

“What character?”

“The elvish character. The stories get parts of it more right in places than others, but the elves really did have a developed society. And then they didn’t. Now, they’re scattered through the human population like third-class citizens. They’re resident aliens in their own woods and fields and mountains.”

“I’m not following.” Ethan felt the room spinning.

“It’s a long story,” Vic said. “But, as badly as any immigrant is treated, they’re treated worse by everyone.”

“So elves are real?”

“Very much so. And they were run off their land by white humans first, then the rest of the humans close after.”

“So, what’s all this got to do with me?”

Vic snorted.

“Nothing. Not a damn thing,” he said. “You just happened to see a snapshot of the rest of reality.”

“So, does this have to do with the statue?”

“You mean Robert?”

“Robert? He looks more like a George to me.”

Vic laughed.

“That he does,” he said. “But let’s go meet introduce you to him proper.”

Vic guided Ethan toward the door. They paused long enough for Vic to lock the door, and then strode across Courthouse Square.

Vic started chuckling.

“George, indeed,” he said. “Because he looks like George Washington, I wager.”

Ethan was startled.

“Yeah. How’d you guess?”

“Because he bloody well does look like George Washington.”

They stopped at the statue, and looked up at the granite man.

“You said his name was Robert?”

Vic nodded.
“Robert Bruce Smyth.”

There was a sound like gravel sliding. Vic smiled at the statue.

“Yeah, I know. It’s been a long time since you heard your name,” he said.

Ethan cocked his head.

“You mean, like Robert the Bruce?”

“A distant relative. Bruce was his mother’s maiden name.”

Ethan heard the sound of pebbles on gravel. He looked around.

“Why do I hear rocks falling?”

Vic turned serious.

“That’s not rocks falling. That’s Robert,” he said. “That’s him speaking. It takes a bit to understand him sometimes, but I’m sure you’ll pick up the knack.”

Ethan was astounded.

“He talks?”

“Occasionally. It takes a lot of effort on his part.”

“And he can wink?”

Vic sighed.

“He’s not supposed to. He’s not supposed to change,” he said. “But, for whatever reason, he’s been getting a bit of a slump in his posture recently.”

The sound of pebbles turned to a sound of larger rocks on gravel. Vic raised his eyebrows and looked at the statue that Ethan now knew as Robert.

“I imagine you are tired, after standing there all these years,” he said. “But that’s not really the point, Robert. You’re not supposed to do anything. That was the deal. That was the nature of the spell.”

“Spell? What spell?” Ethan felt disoriented again.

“There’s a reason Robert’s here, Ethan. He’s not just a statue to memorialize some pretentious rich bloke.”

“Why is he here?”

“He’s here to keep the city safe. And I’m here to keep him safe.”

“You? So, who are you?”

“It’s a long story. I’ll tell you when we get inside. For right now, you need to know that Robert here made a deal many years ago to protect this city.”

“From who?”

“The dead,” said Robert. His voice was strained and harsh, like boulders grinding against each other.

Ethan shrank back from the statue. He felt blood rush from his head and the world seemed to spin. Vic looked startled as well, then looked sad.

“I’m sorry, Robert,” he said. “I really am.”

Ethan looked at Vic.

“Why are you sorry?”

“Because, boyo, if the spell has broken enough for Robert to speak, then he’s in great pain. He’s hurting.”

“Why? How can he hurt? He’s a rock.”

“No, Ethan. He’s a man. You would  hurt, too, if your blood and bones were filled with stone.”

“What?”

“He can still feel, Ethan. Well, now he can.”

“That’s horrible.”

“Yep. And it was Robert’s choice.”

“Who is he?”

There was the sound of pebbles on gravel again.

Vic nodded.

“Okay,” he said. “Come on, Ethan. Let’s go get a bite to eat and I’ll tell you what I can of Robert Smyth.” Vic looked up at Robert and patted him on the foot, much as Ethan had weeks earlier. “Good night, Robert.” He walked away. After a moment, Ethan nodded up at the granite man.

“Good night, Robert.”

There was the sound of pebbles and gravel. Vic laughed and turned back.

“He says you can call him George,” he said.

Ethan blinked, eyes wide. He looked back at Robert and waved in an awkward fashion.

There was the sound of gravel as the young man fled after Vic.

Inside the Mucky Duck, Ethan found two places at a table set and waiting with bangers and chips. There was still nobody in the kitchen, but he could tell that the French fries were fresh out of the fryer and the sausages were steaming. Vic gestured toward the food.

“As you can see, there’s a bit about me that you don’t know,” he said. “Sit down and enjoy yourself. I’ll pull us both a pint.”
The beer he poured was crisp and malty. It wasn’t the classic English bitter that Vic often favored. This tasted more fruity, like a Belgian ale. Vic rarely poured Belgians for himself, but kept a couple on tap for customers whose tastes favored the more sweet brew. Ethan was confused.

“You hate Belgian beer, Vic,” he said.

Vic nodded.

“It’s not normally my preferred beer. But then, this isn’t my preferred conversation topic.”

Like magic, Ethan suddenly felt famished. The smell of the beer and the food struck him like a physical blow. Vic chuckled as he watched Ethan set to with a gusto.

“Here’s the basics,” he said. “Robert keeps the dead from claiming this city. As long as he stands there, he’s making sure five thousand years of human habitation don’t return from the dead.”

“You mean, like ghosts?”

Vic shrugged.

“Sort of. A lot of them, yes, they would appear to you as ghosts. Some of the more recently dead would look fine.”

“Zombies?”

“Those, too. With varying degrees of mindlessness.”

“So, a statue is keeping dead people away?”

“Not really,” Vic said. “Robert is more like a door stop. Or even a dead bolt.”

They paused. Ethan slowly lowered his fork.
“Dead bolt?”
Vic smiled ruefully.

“No pun intended,” he said. “But many years ago, Robert accepted the role. He’s like a watchman. And I watch him.”

“What do you do? Throw haggis at the drug dealers?”

“Funny. No. I fling dirty bar towels at the hookers.”

Ethan giggled. When did he ever giggle?

“Ethan,” Vic said. “This building is more than just a bar.”

“What is it?”

“It’s kind of an arsenal. As back up for Robert, if he ever needs it.”

Ethan stopped eating.

“Arsenal?”

Vic nodded.

“Gail was here the other night to let me know…some information.”

“About?”

“Not for you to know, boyo,” Vic said. “There’s trouble brewing, sure enough. But you’re not part of this.”

“Then why did George…er, Robert…wink at me? What about Ramon coming to my house?”

“Ramon is kind of like my informer in the area. Every so often, he swings through town to check on things and give me an update.”

“So you knew he was following me?”

Vic shook his head.

“Not at first,” he said. “Apparently, that first night, after you showed Robert to Helena, Ramon got curious about who you were. Most people overlook Robert.”

“How? He’s twelve feet tall.”

“It’s like suggestion. They don’t see him because they’re told not to see him.”

“Like a Jedi mind trick?”

“Not really, but we’ll accept that for now.” Vic sipped his beer and made a face. “How can people drink this stuff?”

“It’s good, Vic,” Ethan said. “You’re just stuck in your ways.”

“I am at that,” Vic said. He laughed. “After all these years, you would think I would be a bit more flexible in my thinking.”

“So, how many years?”

“Eh?”

“How many years have you been here? How long has Robert been standing there?”

“Long enough to know the friars.”

“What friars?”

“The Spanish. You do know that Sonoma County was part of old New Spain, right?”

“I guess.”

“Sonoma was part of a line of missions. It starts in San Diego. You’ve probably heard of more than a few of the cities that grew up out of those early days.”

“Wait a second. Are you telling me you knew Junipero Serra?” Ethan was again astounded. He lowered his voice to a whisper. “Are you immortal, Vic?”

“I don’t know, yet,” Vic said. “And no, I never met Junipero Serra. I don’t think he ever made it up this far himself.”

Ethan stared at his dinner. Only moments before, he’d been starving. Now, the food looked a bit too greasy and his beer tasted a bit too heavy in his mouth. Vic noticed his young friend’s silence.

“There’s something else, Ethan,” he said. “It’s not really related to Robert, but it’s very related to you.”

Ethan raised his eyes to Vic. The older man had none of the geniality he normally expressed. Ethan realized that the attitude was a mask.

“Have you ever wondered why you’ve struggled all these years? The issues with personal relationships, the addictions, difficulty holding a job?” Vic seemed intense to Ethan. Ethan waited for him to blink.

“What do you mean, difficulty holding a job?” Ethan said. “I’ve held this job for years.”

Vic nodded.

“Only because I know what’s going on with you,” he said. “There’s a reason you reacted to Gail the way you did. There’s a reason you see Robert and can hear him. There’s probably a laundry list of other things that I don’t know about, but it’s all related. It’s all connected.”

“To what?”

“You’re sensitive.”

“I’m sensitive?”

Vic nodded again.

“In another time and place, you would have been appreciated for what you are and you would have been apprenticed to a witch or shaman,” he said.

“What are you saying? I’m a wizard? Some kind of magician?”

Vic snorted.

“Not exactly,” he said. “At least, not the way you see on the telly or at the movies. There really are people who are naturally attuned to the world around them. When they don’t get to work with their natural sensitivities, it tends to go poorly for them. More than one of those poor bastards sleeping out there in the bushes is like that.”

“I don’t understand,” Ethan said.

“You will. One day. Maybe.”

“Maybe?”

“Just because you can pick up on…I don’t know…let’s call them ‘vibes’ for now,” Vic said. “Just because you pick up on people’s vibes and, now, being aware of it, doesn’t mean anything. You have to study that stuff. And practice.”

“Practice?”

“You ever thought about yoga? Or tai chi?”

“Um, no. I’m not really a woo-woo kind of person.”

Vic pointed at him.

“Exactly,” he said. “You think of it as woo-woo. But really, your shitty life is because you disregard your own basic nature. Go hug a fucking tree, Ethan. You’ll actually feel better.”

Ethan laughed. Vic loved to grouse about the hipster “tree huggers” that came in looking for trendy beers made with watermelon or star anise or peanut butter. Now, he was telling Ethan to be one of them.

“I’ll make sure to grow a beard and wear a man bun,” Ethan said.

“Like hell you will. I like you too much to throw you out on the street headfirst.” Vic waved at Ethan’s plate. “Eat. Your food’s getting cold.”

Actually, it looked like Ethan’s food was still piping hot. Even from the pieces that had his bite marks, there was steam rising into the air, wafting mouth-watering hints of savory fulfillment to Ethan’s nose. His appetite returned with a vengeance and he started eating with passion again. Vic nodded, as if he expected Ethan’s reaction to his mild suggestion.

Ethan looked up at Vic as he ate.

“I still see her, Vic,” he said.

“Who?”

“That woman.”

“Gail? She’s alright. A little stand-offish.”

“Every time I go to sleep, I dream about her,” Ethan said.

“She’s not exactly the woman you really want to be having dreams about,” Vic said.

“I can’t help it,” Ethan said, around a mouth full of food. “I dream and she’s there. But she’s on fire and she burns me.” He swallowed his food. “To ash.”

“To ash?”

“Yeah. And then I wake up. When I try to go back to sleep, she’s back.”

Vic grimaced.

“And you react to her the same way?”

“Every time. I do laundry twice a night.”

Vic grunted.

“Anything else?”

“Like what?”

“Anything.”

Ethan paused eating.

“Yeah,” he said. “I’m not afraid of her. Not at first.”

“No?”

“No,” Ethan said, shaking his head. “I want her. Like, really want her. Even when I’m burning up, I want it and her.”
“Hmmm.”

“Hmmm?” Ethan shoved a French fry in his mouth. It was still crisp and hot. As he chewed, he started thinking about the food. He’d been talking to Vic for a while now. The fries should be getting soft and tepid. The grease should be congealing. It wasn’t.

“Vic?”

“Yeah?”

“Why’s the food still hot? I know what comes out of your kitchen.”

Vic shrugged.

“Vic?”

“Yeah, boyo?”

“Are you…doing something?”

“I don’t know what you mean, Ethan,” Vic said. “But, now that you’ve spent so much time talking, your food’s cold.”

And like that, the steam and fragrance filling Ethan’s nose was suddenly gone. The fries were starchy and soft. The sausage was sticky with grease. Ethan looked up at Vic. Vic shrugged.

“That’ll teach you to keep your mind on the business of eating,” he said. Now that we’re done with that, there’s something I need to ask you and you need to answer.”

Ethan felt the bottom of his stomach fall into his feet.

“Okay.”

“How much more do you want to know? Do you want to know the whole story?”

Ethan’s flicked his gaze at the door, wondering if he could just go to bed and wake up with a different life.

“I get the feeling that knowing the whole store means something for me, if I say yes,” Ethan said.

Vic nodded.

“Maybe,” he said. “You seem extra sensitive to things. It might help you work through your life if you had a better idea of what’s going on around you.”

“But?”

“But, it means keeping secrets. A lot of them. And doing things you might not like.”

“Like what?”

“My first hunch is you probably need to get to know Gail better,” Vic said. “Much better.”

Ethan stared at Vic.

“So, what’s your answer?”




The call came in the night.

Herodotus rose from blackness to wide awake in a blink. He stared up at the trees, trying to understand how he could see the trees in the overcast night. They seemed lit from beneath, with the trees disappearing into the dark. There was no color, just shades of dark and light. Then the light shifted and Herodotus could see it originated in one direction. He could see the light streaming from the south. He needed to see what it was, to go toward it, to follow it to its source. He looked over to where Brother Kenny was sleeping. He didn’t look as if the light was bothering him.
Herodotus rose to his feet and kicked Kenny.

“Come, brother!” He cried. “Come! We are being called!”

With that, Pastor Harry swept up his meager possessions into his backpack and strode south. Kenny gaped at him, but then hurried to pack his own belongings and follow. Pastor Harry seemed to walk through the woods just fine in the dark, but Kenny was crashing through branches and tripping on the underbrush. He lost sight of Pastor Harry’s shadow and then lost all orientation. He could see nothing around himself, but he could smell and feel the woods. The darkness pressed into him, pinning him in place.

The visions began. Images of twisted faces and seductive fire pulled at him. His skin crawled with gooseflesh and he thought he would lose control of his bladder.

Then Pastor Harry returned as if from an afternoon stroll along the beach. He grabbed Kenny’s arm and pulled the man back to his feet. Kenny didn’t know he had fallen.

“Come, Brother Kenny,” Pastor Harry said. “We are called.”

This time, when Herodotus started walking, he guided Kenny.

“Follow the light, Kenny,” he said.

“What light?”

“You can’t see the light? There! To the south!”

“No, Pastor Harry. I can’t.”

“Then follow me, brother,” Pastor Harry said. “Follow me and believe in the Lord!”
​ 

Ethan

Ramon

Ethan

Ramon

Peter

Herodotus

Ethan

Herodotus

Copyright Matthew Reed 2018