The Saturday Morning Post #25: The Rêves, Part 3

You can catch up with the first installment of this piece here, or last week’s chapters here. It started as somewhat of an experiment. It seems to be taking the form of a supernatural thriller, set above and below the streets of Los Angeles.

Delivery

Almost a week later, after Joshua and Simon have hopped the B Line to the A line, and then taken the circuitous route to get to JPL. They never wore their hunting uniforms when they came here, but rather dressed civilian and very plainly, generally in jeans and casual button-down shirts.

Although they wore their hair a little on the longish-side to suit their work personae, they would use product to flatten it and look more clean-cut here. After all, in order to get down to Ausmann’s office, they had to clear security above ground twice, and then clear it twice more below ground, before they could bring their latest capture to Ausmann and turn it over.

The old man held the trap in his hand, turning it over and over like a giant poker chip, demanding details of the capture. They told him about chasing the shadow, how they finally lured it in, and escaped the station. He listened patiently, then gave them a jaundiced look.

“Anything else, boys?” he asked.

“Um… not really?” Simon said, Joshua nodding in agreement.

“Really?” Ausmann insisted.

“Really. Well, not really, no, not anything important to report,” Joshua insisted, Simon nodding.

“Do you really think I’m an ignorant old asshole?” Ausmann asked, not waiting for an answer as he tapped the edge of his desk a couple of times and footage appeared on the display above his desk.

It was the Hollywood and Highland Station, upper level escalators and stairs, right as Joshua and Simon were hauling ass up, pursued by the faceless thing who almost made it before fading away on top. Ausmann let it play, then tapped his desk to pause it and waited.

The silence became uncomfortable until he finally grunted, “So?”

“So…?” Simon asked.

“Any idea what the fuck that was following you?” he demanded.

“What what was?” Joshua asked, tossing on his best innocent face.

“Oh, don’t play that shit with me, you little cunts. You weren’t running up those escalators for exercise.”

“Um, no… but we knew that the last bus to get us to our car was about to pull out,” Peter offered.

“You parked one block west and one block down on Orange, you lying little assholes. Want to try again?”

“What were we supposed to do?” Joshua demanded. “That was the first time we’d seen anything like that. It’s not in the catalog or on the list, and I sure as hell didn’t think we had the tools.”

“Me neither,” Simon added.

“Anyway, it felt like it was beyond our pay-grade.”

Ausmann just stared at them for a long moment, then broke out into laughter, making them both look even more nervous. Finally, he just smiled and said, “Oh my god, you little assholes are even more suited for government work than I ever thought.”

Joshua sensed Simon tensing up for a fight on the word “assholes” and instinctively held him back. “All rightie,” he finally said. “I’m upping your pay grade and your rank, from H3 to H4, which also means you’re getting better tools. But, here’s the deal. In addition to your normal retrieval missions, if you see one of those things again, then you’re going to trap it as well. Understand?”

“Um… what are ‘those things,’ exactly?” Simon asked.

“None of your goddamn business,” Ausmann snapped. “Other than the more of them you catch along with those other things, the sooner you’re going to help me achieve our goals.”

“And the sooner we’re unemployed?” Joshua offered timidly.

“Don’t be a snarky fucking asshole like you usually are, boy. Got it?”

Joshua braced his arm across Simon’s chest and shot him a sideways look. “Sorry, boss,” Joshua explained.

“He can be snarky fucking asshole at times,” Simon spat. “But it’s what makes him good at what he does, and why I fucking love him to death. We good?”

Joshua just stared at Simon in amazement and gratitude as Ausmann turned away and stared out of his office window, finally grunting. “It all depends, boys. On your next trip down, bring me what I’ve asked for. Then I’ll let you know whether ‘we good,’ or you gone. Got it?”

Simon nodded, then Joshua dragged him out before he could say anything more.

* * *

The Chanlers

When Preston woke up later, he noticed that he was being stared at. Then again, in his sleep he had reverted to his usual naked, human form. He couldn’t help it — that’s how most people had met and remembered him. Occupational hazard.

He looked up and realized that a very large crow was perched on the sphere that held up the cenotaph above the family tomb. He smiled at the crow who peered down at him intently.

“I know you’re not what you look like,” Preston said. “And you can obviously see me.”

The crow let out a caw and hopped to the ground but, on the way, transformed into a young human male, dressed simply. Preston didn’t recognize him, but realized that they were probably about the same height, although this kid was obviously really young, and definitely Hispanic.

He had jet-black hair that came into a twist in the middle of his forehead, very 1950s-style, a smile that turned up the left side of his face while squinting his right eye, and a general demeanor that just made Preston trust him.

“I’m Richard,” the kid said.

“Preston,” Preston replied. “Nice to meet you. What brings you here?”

“A lot,” Richard explained. “You know how hard it is to get to Glendale from San Fernando via our usual methods?”

“You can do the crow thing,” Preston countered. “Why not just fly?”

“I kind of have a really big aversion to flying,” Richard said. “Don’t ask. I came here to make you change your mind.”

“About what?”

“I’d say running around with your pinga out in a cemetery, but none of the carne de prada around here can see that. What do you know about Anabel?”

“What about her?” Preston asks.

“Hm. Follow me,” Richard says, walking toward a nearby mausoleum. “How do you know her, anyway?”

“Um… we just met. You know. Like you do when you go to the same places. Hey, we just met, right?”

“True,” Richard replied, “But I was looking.”

“For me? Why?”

“Like I said. To talk you out of doing something stupid tonight in Universal City.”

“How do you know about that?” Preston demanded.

“I know a lot of things, Preston,” Richard replied. “Especially about Anabel.”

“Like what?”

Richard pointed at the mausoleum. “There. Notice anything?”

Preston studied it, not sure what Richard was getting at. Then again, Preston wasn’t really an expert in funerary architecture. But then it struck him — the building was actually huge, but there was only one name carved in the granite plinth that spanned the columns across its front.

Chanler

“Who are they?” Preston asked. “Like, Chandler the L.A. Times dude?”

“No,” Richard said. “Think Waldorf-Astoria, a bit removed.”

“Isn’t that a salad?” Preston asked. “No, wait. The Muppets, right?”

“You made it through life on your looks, didn’t you?” Richard muttered. “Anything else stand out?”

“Well… it’s big.”

“And water is wet. Big, one family, meaning…?”

“Rich as hell?”

“Yep. See any dates?” Richard pointed toward the cornerstone of the building because he was getting tired of Preston being so oblivious — although he wondered whether the boy wasn’t just acting to mess with him. Preston peered at the stone.

“Est. 1906,” he read. “So… really old, really rich. What about Anabel?”

“Okay, first of all,” Richard explained, “1906 was the first year that this place became a cemetery, meaning that the Chanlers were one of the first families to buy land in it. And look at this building. It was not expanded. This is the original, because it’s all one style. So, what does that tell you?”

“That you’re getting this information from someone else?”

“Oh, goddam right I did. That’s the first smart thing you’ve ever said today. What? Look at me. I’m a poor fucking immigrant Mexican kid who grew up with grape pickers and only got lucky because I could sing and some white asshole noticed, of course I don’t know about architecture, I was only seventeen when the plane…”

He spun away and silenced himself, confusing Preston even more. “What?” Preston asked.

“Yes, I got the information from someone else,” Richard explained calmly. “Now I’m giving it to you.” Look at the names on the vaults, and the dates, take your time, I’ll be over here.

“O… kay?” Preston replied as Richard just shrugged him off and wandered across the road to a section of more open plots. Suddenly, he was holding a guitar and started to play it, singing a song that Preston vaguely remembered hearing in some movie a long time ago.

But he did what Richard asked, looking at the vaults in the Mausoleum, which seemed to go in chronological order from top left, down each column in turn. They were stacked six high, with bronze plaques and flower vases mounted in the marble facing, and they were set four wide — two vaults, column, two more, column — before the main doors to the inner vaults.

These were crystal glass panes set in doors wrought from copper that had long since corroded to a deep green patina, three sets of two, each one with an elaborate doorknob on the left in the form of the face of a cherub, period keyhole in the door to the right. On the right side of the six sets of doors, there were another set of vaults, six by four.

So… forty-eight vaults along the front, but clearly more inside. Preston walked around the building to find that each side also contained the same number of vaults, although the only doors were on the front. The back of the building had sixty-six vaults, the extra eighteen taking up the space that would have been doors, but the names on the dates on the brass plaques stopped two rows from the top left and four columns down on the backside:

Justin David Chanler Gomez Jr.

Beloved Son, Brother, Husband, and Father

April 14, 1978 — September 23, 2013.

Preston came back to the front and peered in through the windows to see a lot more vaults inside. He still didn’t have a single clue what Richard had been trying to get him to figure out. If only he could go inside, it would be so much easier…

And then he metaphorically kicked himself. This was just a door, after all. It meant nothing to him. He passed through it and examined the arrangements inside.

Here, the internal vaults were obviously arranged around the seven feet of space each of the outer vaults intruded, and were set to create a sort of Greek cross open space of equal arms. Everything was centered around a rosette pattern set dead center, right under a domed skylight in which quartz glass depicted the signs of the Zodiac.

In the middle of that rosette, a bronze star with eight points, was an inscription:

In loving memory of Anabel Rose Catherine Chanler LeCard.

She will be forever missed, but never forgotten, that is our family’s promise.

August 1, 1893 — February 3, 1926.

Well, shit, Preston thought. She’d died on his birthday. Well, not the year, but the day. And she was a hell of a lot older than he’d ever thought, in more ways than one. And, somehow, more important to all these rich bitches than anyone else?

He ran back out of the mausoleum and to Richard.

“Dude, February 3. She died on my birthday!”

“So did I, pendejo,” Richard replied. “Anything else?”

It hit Preston in a flash, and he truly felt like a dumbfuck. “Wait… LeCard? We’re related? But… how? She’s too old to be my mother, and nobody ever mentioned anyone with that name in the family. What the fuck is going on?

“Simple, amigo. Nunca confundir casarse con cazar. En sólo una manera se puede crear familia.

“What the hell does that mean?”

“Figure out who she married and why.”

“Yeah, well… shit, what time is it?”

“Five o’clock.” Richard explained, adding, “In the evening.”

“That doesn’t give me much time,” Preston replies.

“Really, dude? You and I have all the time in the world. Unfortunately, so does she.”

“But what does she want?” Preston demands. “You haven’t told me that.”

Richard shrugs. “I’m only here to put you on the path,” he says. “Not to drag you down it.”

“Oh, fuck you — ” Preston yells, but Richard has vanished before the F even begins.

* * *

Arming up

After spending most of the day pointedly ignoring potential danger, then most of the afternoon after a quick drive over to Malibu for a fabulous lunch, Joshua and Simon had spent the hours between mid-afternoon and evening just holding and fucking each other left, right, and sideways and, as they had begun the day, ignoring the clear and present danger.

Then, well after nightfall they stared into each other’s eyes, trembled in fear, then got up, got hold of themselves, and armored up in their steampunk regalia.

Although tonight’s target was also the closest to home they ever had — in fact, they were just going to walk two blocks to the NoHo Metro station and catch that train one stop south to Universal City. But despite being the closet mission, it was also the scariest, given what had happened at Hollywood and Highland.

Not to mention what Ausmann might do if they fucked this one up which, honestly, was not beyond possibility. They discussed it on the way down the elevator from their condo, both of them finally saying basically the same thing at the same time.

“We need insurance,” they said, then added, “Jinx,” and linked pinkies.

“Well, we do,” Joshua insisted. “But what?”

“Too late to worry about it now, isn’t it?” Simon replied.

“I don’t need insurance,” Joshua said. “I’ve got you.”

“Ditto,” Simon answered as the elevator doors opened in the lobby. Their appearance startled a neighbor, an older man carrying two plastic grocery bags. Simon tipped his hat to him. “Good evening,” he said as they passed and the old man dashed into the waiting car.

One thing that Joshua and Simon had agreed on long before they set out on tonight’s hunt: Since they weren’t exactly sure what Ausmann was doing to the entities they were bringing to him — and they had always seemed to be sentient entities for as long as they’d been hunting — they would give this victim the chance to argue for their freedom. Or at least explain things.

Why not? It was only fair. Right?

They passed under the three metal arches at the NoHo Metro station and down the escalator to the bank of ticket dispensers on the first landing, but skipped them since they’d loaded their TAP cards to the gills long ago, then passed their way through the turnstiles and across the short path to the second set of escalators that took them down to the platform.

As usual, there was a “dead” train on the right-hand side of the platform, and another one waiting on the left. Experienced riders could tell by the sound whether it was still waiting or about to go by the simple sound of the air conditioning. If it was going, so was the train, so time to run. If not, then there was no hurry.

This one was humming, so they hopped onto the closest car. Within a few seconds came the ding and the doors closing warning, and then the train started to pull out of the station. As usual, it took its time pulling through the crossover that would put it on the right-hand set of tracks, but once it was clear of the intricate rails and tunnels south of the station, the driver put the pedal to the floor.

This was a short hop — actually very walkable aboveground — and in about three minutes, they pulled into the Universal City Station, where they got off of the train and headed to their usual station on a bench near the middle of the platform.

At this hour, the place was nearly deserted, but not completely enough. They still had a bit of a wait.

Down the platform, Brenda was camped out on a bench, dressed in her own costume, as a homeless woman, rocking back and forth and pretending to talk to herself — although she was really talking to Rita in a sort of coded style they had pre-determined. To any outsiders, she would sound insane. To Rita, she made total sense.

Of course, every single Metro employee, cop, and driver had been informed about her presence and appearance, so that she would not be molested or arrested.

“They’re here!” she announced, trying to sound paranoid. “Right down the platform, I can see them, looking at them right now — ” She was staring at empty tracks on the other side.

“Roger,” Rita’s voice came back. “What are they doing?”

“Sitting. Sitting, just sitting, pretending they ain’t doing nothing. You see them? You see?”

“Yes,” Rita replied. “We have them on camera. We’ll let you know if they do anything.”

“Amen!” Brenda called out in their pre-arranged code for “Copy that” before she went back to her fake homeless shtick of rocking back and forth and humming “Sweet Chariot.”

Truth to tell, she was enjoying this. She had minored in drama in college, mostly because her advisor in the Urban Planning program had, well, advised her that anyone majoring in a field like that really should have some exposure to the arts, because it was a bigger part of any career than any of them would ever think.

Surprisingly, she really took to doing musicals, and her favorite roles had been as Evillene in The Wiz and Mama in Raisin!, and she had gotten rave reviews.

Still, she always resented the fact that she had been rejected out-of-hand for the role of another Mama, the prison matron Mama Morton, in the production of Chicago her senior year with the lame excuse of, “Honey, this show is set in the 1920s. Ain’t gonna be no black woman in that position then.”

Four years later, Queen Latifah won a fucking Oscar for playing the same part in the movie, and Brenda decided to give up even trying to act ever again.

Now, she felt like she was playing the role of her life. No one would appreciate her for it, although she had a feeling that it would damn near change the world.

She waited, getting occasional reports from Rita, and then Rita’s assistant who eventually took over because, obviously, bitch couldn’t be bothered to stay so late as a salaried employee. The reports mostly amounted to, “Subjects still in place, nothing happening Stand by.”

She found herself quietly humming her character’s signature song from The Wiz; “Don’t nobody bring me no bad news,” and then felt a hint of regret at playing a character that she knew that every Black person watching the show would get, but very few white people would.

She also had no idea how much later it was because she wasn’t sure whether she’d dozed off, but then heard the voice in her ear. “Action on the platform. Action on the platform.”

“Well, shit…” she thought as she turned her attention to look to her right.

* * *

Image © 2017 Jon Bastian. Content, © 2017, 2020, Jon Bastian. All rights reserved. This content cannot be copied in any form or format without express written permission of the copyright holder.

The Saturday Morning Post #24: The Rêves, Part 2

The first installment of this piece appeared last week, and it started as somewhat of an experiment. It seems to be taking the form of a supernatural thriller, set above and below the streets of Los Angeles.

The Hunt

ONE COMING UP YOUR SIDE NOW HEAD TO FOOT

Joshua sees the text flash up on the surface of his watch and taps out a quick reply. Although the watch face is small, the predictive text and shortcuts are amazing, so he answers Simon quickly.

WHEN I GO BE RIGHT BEHIND ME?

As Simon’s response in the affirmative comes back, Joshua let his eyes drift up without moving his head. A shadow is just now coming around the column and it continues down the platform, growing in length and then shrinking as it moves toward the next column. There’s nothing casting the shadow because the shadow is all that’s going by.

Joshua abruptly sits up, dropping his coat onto the bench but picking up his cane. Simon is right behind him, tapping away at the gauntlet on his arm. They follow the shadow, slowly at first but then picking up speed.

Although they try to be as silent as possible, several columns down the shadow suddenly snakes up the tile and then stops, appearing like nothing more than, well, a shadow on a column. Joshua and Simon catch up to it and stop, looking at it.

“What kind do you think it is?” Joshua asks.

“Hard to say,” Simon replies. “You know none of them like to appear as themselves.”

“Makes it tricky,” Joshua agrees, pulling something out of his pocket.

“You sure you want to try that first?” Simon asks.

“Ironic, since you’re the one who always wants to start with the high tech.”

“Our subjects aren’t usually so… two-dimensional,” Simon calls back, betraying the joke with the smile that Joshua fell in love with.

“Cute,” Joshua replies before raising his hand to hold something up before the shadow. It’s a round mirror, about four inches in diameter. He dances it around for a bit, raised slightly above his head and angles down. Nothing happens for a few seconds. Five. Ten. Twenty. But then…

The shadow suddenly darts from the column and right toward the mirror, condensing and growing darker as it approaches, and then going into the mirror, looking like a cone of black silk being sucked sideways down a drain. There’s a strange sound with it, although neither Joshua nor Simon can say exactly what it resembles. It sounds like an ocean distant in space, or applause distant in time; a long, quiet moan that could be pleasure or pain, or both; and a banging rattle that grew uncomfortably louder, like a train going over a trestle bridge or a rockslide.

And then the shadow and the sound are gone and Joshua immediately slams a metal cover over the mirror, giving it a couple of twists to secure it and then putting the whole thing into a black velvet bag and pulling the drawstring tight.

“Score one for me,” he announces to Simon proudly. Simon gives Joshua a quick kiss that makes his heart flutter and his knees weak.

“Then let’s get out of here fast,” Simon whispers to him. They hurry to the center of the platform, grab their coats to put them on right-way around, and then go to the escalator which, thankfully, is toward the center of the platform where they are.

“Good thing they don’t like escalators,” Joshua tells Simon as they’re halfway up.

“But they have no problem with stairs,” Simon whispers back, gesturing subtly. Jason glances past him to see a figure walking up the adjacent stairs. He’s moving very slowly and deliberately, but he is moving.

He looks normal enough, mostly. Hard to focus on, for some reason, especially when you notice that he doesn’t have a face. He has a head and all the other extremities, but on the front of the skull there’s… nothing. It’s just a flesh-tone void, or maybe not even that. It’s the blurriest part of him. When most people see him, right after they get to the face they suddenly lose interest. Not so Joshua and Simon, who’d trained themselves to never look away.

“So you want to take this one with us?” Joshua asks under his breath.

“No!” Simon snaps back. “I want to make sure this one doesn’t take us.”

“What’s the plan?” Joshua asks just as they reach the top of the escalator.

“Run!” Simon suddenly shouts, taking off, Joshua in hot pursuit. They run to the next escalator, Joshua cursing to himself that this station was built so damn deep. They step onto the bottom step and hesitate for a moment, then look to their left.

The faceless man is there on the steps beside them, looking their way, if a creature with no face can be said to be looking at anything. He moves at his same deliberate pace, but this escalator, being taller and steeper, also seems to be moving more slowly.

Simon and Joshua sprint up the rest of the way, the faceless man plodding along. At last, the couple makes it to the top of the station, looking back just in time to see the faceless man make the top of the stairs and walk toward them. Simon grabs Joshua’s arm and they back out through the opening and onto the sidewalk. The faceless man continues relentlessly onward toward them, then reaches the opening and, as he walks through it, fades away and vanishes.

Simon and Joshua both let out a huge sigh.

“You knew that was going to happen, right?” Joshua finally asks him.

“Um… I hoped it was going to,” Simon replied.

“Let’s get the hell out of here,” Joshua utters quietly. Simon nods and takes his hand and they walk down to Orange and across the boulevard to the south side where they had actually managed to find a parking spot. Then again, one in the morning on a Tuesday night that was no longer Tuesday was probably a good time to find that sort of thing in this neighborhood.

They’re home within fifteen minutes and nude and all over each other within fifteen minutes after that, Simon really only letting Joshua pause long enough to refill the dogs’ kibble and stow their little mirror trap in the vault under their bedroom floor. Of course, Joshua kneeling on the floor to open and close that vault just gives Simon ideas. The second Joshua secures the vault door, Simon launches the surprise attack from behind.

As usual, Joshua surrenders immediately.

* * *

Enter Preston

Preston LeCard is doing his best at the moment to give a Glendale housewife the impression of being a rather large and nervous skunk running through her backyard, but she isn’t buying it. He had just almost made it through the Mission Road loop and was about to cross Cathedral Drive and go into the cemetery proper. And now this crazy bitch was in his way, wielding a broom.

Preston debated turning around and stomping his feet, hoping that she knew this bit of skunk lore, but as he started to turn she took a swing at him. Well, that just wouldn’t do. But what could he do? The Rêves tried to never draw attention to themselves, and he couldn’t exactly change disguises now. He regretted having not gone for something that could run faster or jump higher, but one of his fatal flaws was always trying his best to be cute, and in the quite literal sense of appearance rather than behavior.

His behavior was far from cute, but when you’re really cute everyone will let you get away with that. Well, everyone had let Preston get away with it, which was why he is trying to convince a Glendale Housewife that he is a rather large and nervous skunk.

“Of course,” Preston thinks. “It’s the nervous bit. Not confident enough. Let’s try angry skunk.”

He turns and bares his teeth at her, hissing, and is rewarded for his efforts by a broom in the face.

“What the fuck?” he tries to cry out, but skunks don’t exactly have the vocal cords for that, so it just turns his hiss into sort of the gobble of an angry old man who speaks a language no one else knows. This gets him the broom again.

Instinctively, Preston pulls away and he can’t control it as he abandons the skunk effort and shoots the woman the impression of being a very large and hostile coyote. He snarls at her, slowly approaching, yellow eyes giving the effect of glowing in the early morning sun.

He must be doing something right, because the woman abruptly faints and he quickly hops the fence, crosses the front yard, then bounds over Cathedral Drive and into the cemetery itself. He doesn’t stop until he’s well-hidden behind a large and ornate monument, at which point he abandons the coyote disguise altogether and blends back into his true appearance, or as true as he can bother to muster it nowadays.

It comforts him to return here every day and sit next to the cenotaph dedicated to the family LeCard. It’s red marble, about twenty-five feet tall, and sits on a large red marble sphere. Preston’s grandfather was the first LeCard buried under it, but was not the last.

The marble is still polished enough that he can see his face in it, so he takes a moment to adjust himself to optimal cuteness. It’s not much of a shift, but enough, from his real self to his ideal self. He couldn’t explain it if he tried. It was just a feeling, really, and then the way he looked would change, at least as he saw it. It probably was nothing more than a little adjustment in attitude, but Preston had always believed that what you thought was what you saw, and not the other way around.

He isn’t very tall — probably 5’7” on a good day — but he is perfectly proportioned without being overly muscled. His torso is a rectangle, his ass is round, and his legs are strong. There’s something animalistic in his face even when he isn’t trying to pass himself off as one, but it’s in a good way. He has a wide, smiling face with a lupine nose, and eyes that are almond both in shape and color. His hair is a russet chestnut, a little shaggy without being long. Although his chest and stomach are naturally hairy, he’s been waxing them since he was 19. He’s been a sex worker since he was 17. Now, at 23, he’s considered an old pro.

Well, he was an old pro, Preston thinks. He also reminds himself that he hasn’t been planning to retire. There’s no reason to. He still has his looks — and he’s admiring them in the reflection when a familiar voice calls out.

“Hey, Pres! Put something on. Nobody wants to see that!”

“Hello, Anabel,” Preston calls back without looking. “Nobody can see me like this anyway.”

“I can,” Anabel retorts. With a huff, Preston comes around from the monument in a black t-shirt and blue jeans, although still bare-footed. As usual, Anabel wears a long blue evening gown and matching elbow gloves, her jet black hair streams down her back in a highlighted waterfall, one tress in front covering half of her right eye, which only emphasizes her thin face, alabaster skin, and glossy red lips. Her eyes are jade green and intense between dark black lashes, above sharp, high cheekbones, and below carefully penciled brows, set off by a pale dusty rose eyeshadow that serves as a quiet echo of her lips.

Her shoes match her lipstick, and Preston always marvels when he sees how well they actually work with her ocean blue dress instead of against it.

Things never seem to go so well between the two of them, though, despite running into each other all the time — Anabel’s family crypt is a neighbor to the LeCards.

“Don’t get all dressed up on account of me,” she tells him, her irony as wet as those lips. “We do require your assistance, however.”

“We?” Preston repeats. Anabel always seems to think of him as part of some imaginary royal first person while Preston never does. Especially because whenever she brings up “we,” trouble follows. “What is it this time?” he asks her, trying to sound as weary and wary as possible.

“They’ve been kidnapping us, for a start,” Anabel intones, this time entirely sincere.

“Fuck…” Preston mutters as he sinks to sit on top of the nearest tombstone. “Details?”

“We only know what they look like, but haven’t been able to follow them anywhere. They’re… I forget the term, but grown men who dress up in costumes — ”

“Super heroes?” Preston offers.

“No,” she corrects him. “Not professionals, they do it for fun.”

“Cosplayers,” Preston replies confidently.

“Mmmm… I don’t think so. Or… it’s very specialized. When they look like they broke out of a Jules Verne — ”

“Steampunk.”

“That’s it. These two tall, skinny, white, nerdy steampunks have been doing it.”

“Kidnapping… um… us?” Preston asks.

“Yes,” Anabel answers. “But that should make it easy to find them, right? The costumes?”

“Oh, sure,” Preston replies, trying not to grin. “That should make it easy to find… about two hundred of them, downtown, on a Saturday night.”

“It’s all we have to go on,” she shoots back in frustration.

“Who did they get this time?” Preston asks.

“Elizabeth,” Anabel replies. Seeing his expression, she adds, “Short?”

“Never heard of her,” Preston insists.

“Before your time,” she tells him.

“Isn’t everything?” he shoots back. “So… you know who got kidnapped, not who did it or where they’ve taken her. Wait… you said ‘kidnapping us,’ didn’t you? As in… she’s not the first.”

“You catch on fast,” she teases in her best film noir bad girl voice. “She’s the third.”

“And what do they want?”

“We have no idea.”

“Ransom…?”

“No one’s asked.”

“Really…?” Preston muses, finally sighing and turning to Anabel, seeing that she hasn’t gotten it yet. “No ransom, no demands. That’s not a kidnapping.”

“Then what is it?” she demands.

“Probably a serial killing,” Preston explains dryly.

“That would actually be better,” Anabel insists. “More of a chance of escaping.”

“You really miss a joke sometimes, don’t you?”

“No, darlin’. I catch ‘em and throw ‘em back.” She raises her left eyebrow to top off her gun moll impression.

“You know those routines don’t work on me,” Preston tells her.

“I’m not working you,” she insists. “As if any of that matters anymore.”

“Don’t remind me, sunshine,” he replies in his best Bogart — which isn’t that good, since he barely knows who Bogart was and has only met him twice despite them sort of being neighbors. “But speaking of working,” he continues, “What exactly is it you need me to help with if you don’t know who took them, you don’t know why, and you have no idea where they are?”

“We need you to… be taken by them,” she finally explains reluctantly. Preston just stares at Anabel for a long moment. Then…

“Are you fucking kidding me?” he explodes. “So then I vanish and you have no idea where I went?”

“That’s just the point, Pres,” she tells him as calmly as possible. “We can’t do anything to catch or follow the two kidnappers, we can only scare them. But one of us will always know where you are, and we can follow you.”

“You’re sure of that?”

“You know how it works,” she insists. “If you don’t let us down, we won’t let you down.”

He thinks about it a moment. Then, “You said two tall, skinny, white nerdy guys?”

“That’s the description.”

“Hm. They do sound hot.”

“Stop it,” she tells him, playfully swatting at his shoulder. “You know that kind of thing is really frowned upon among us.”

“It’s the 21st century, Anabel.”

“Not the gay thing, okay? You know damn well what I’m talking about.”

“You forgot to throw that joke back,” he smiles at her.

“You can’t catch it if it’s not funny,” she replies. “So, yes or no?”

“All right,” he finally tells her. “Yes. When?”

“Tonight, after the last train, Universal City Station.”

“The Valley?”

“We’re in the Valley now.”

“Glendale… really doesn’t count. You can see downtown!”

“Whatever.”

“Hey, if you don’t know who they are, how do you know — ”

“We know their habits,” she interrupts him. “They’ve been doing a different station every weeknight, moving northwest. Universal is next.”

“Couldn’t even have made it just one stop earlier and hit Hollywood, could they?”

“They already did and you missed them. But you’re more likely to get your big break right next to an actual studio,” she winks at him.

“Then… see you tonight?”

“See you then,” she replies. “You let them get you, and I’ve got your back.” She gives him a little wave as she turns and walks away in a fading shimmer of blue beneath a black streak, buoyed on tiny stilts of red. Preston turns to the marble monument and looks down at the letters etched deep into it in a serif font: “LE CARD.”

It was weird to be looking at a grave with his own name on it like that. Granted, it wasn’t as unsettling to Preston now as it had once been, and he really didn’t mind spending time here. In fact, he’d gotten so comfortable that he lied down on the red marble slab that marked the newest grave and, despite the sun and distant city sounds, he fell dead asleep. And in all that time he slept, nobody saw him there.

* * *

Brenda Mason

Brenda Mason hadn’t really paid a lot of attention to the first two reports from Metro staff and had barely reviewed the cam footage. After all, two tall white guys dressed up like they survived an explosion in a Victorian KMart were nothing unusual in L.A. But the third report piqued her curiosity, and then the fourth really got her attention.

For one thing, they always showed up the same approximate time each week, on one of the last trains into the station. As she finally took the time to watch all of the footage, she saw that their approach was always the same. Disguise themselves as homeless, fall asleep back to back and facing opposite directions, and then at some point suddenly get up and chase… something.

It was the “something” part she couldn’t figure out, because there wasn’t anything visible on the footage. And yet, every time, the two of them pursued it, and if they were both just pretending, they were damn good actors, because their focus was so strong that Brenda could always tell in her mind exactly where their prey was supposed to be and how it was moving even though, again, they were running after thin air.

Hell, their acting was so good that she even imagined she did see some fleeting shadow darting ahead of them a couple of times, but she was experienced enough with the equipment to know that those were probably just artefacts.

But then she came to the Hollywood and Highland footage, which had been reported a couple of nights early but which she hadn’t gotten to until Thursday morning. The usual thing, at first, and they seem to “catch” something rather quickly, then start to leave, heading up the escalator.

And then, they’re not alone. Brenda hadn’t noticed anyone else on the platform, although he could have just been out of range. But this person is walking up the stairs between the escalators, and the two Victorian-looking dudes notice him and start to move faster. Something is clearly freaking them out.

Brenda keeps watching. The figure wears a long, hooded coat, moving away from the camera and up the steps, walking at a constant pace even as the other two start to try to race up the moving stairs.

She switches cameras at the upper landing, where the two men run for the next escalator of three. This is when the other figure steps off of the stairs and walks casually toward the next set and Brenda finally gets a good look at its face.

Well, not its face, its… she’s not sure what. He could be wearing a mask, except that there’s something strange about it. A mask would appear solid, even if of a uniform color. And, in any case, there’d probably be eyes visible, or at least eye holes.

She saw nothing. And, more importantly, the “mask” didn’t appear to be at all solid or uniform. The best she could describe it was like the hood was full of smoke which occasionally wafted around the hood to obscure its edges even though it didn’t appear to be smoke at all.

That’s when she noticed the “hands” for the first time, as well. Wispy and not really tangible, just roughly the size and shape of hands at the end of the sleeves. The figure continued up the stairs.

She switched to the next camera, looking down the last flight that came up to the street as the two men bounded to the escalator. The figure continued its pursuit, seeming to catch up with the men faster than he should.

The duo steps off of the escalator at the top, turning to look back down. The taller one grabs the shorter one’s arm and they back out onto the covered forecourt that joins the sidewalk. The figure reaches the top of the stairs and then suddenly fades away to nothing, gone.

Brenda can’t hear how the two men react, but she mutters under her breath. “Well fuck me goddamn sideways.”

She debates for a moment, then calls her supervisor.

“Rita,” she says. “Bren. I’ve got something I think you need to see… No, as soon as possible. It’s… okay, let me put it this way. You all are going to want to see this shit… Great. See you in five.”

* * *

Image © 2018 Jon Bastian. Content, © 2017, 2020, Jon Bastian. All rights reserved. This content cannot be copied in any form or format without express written permission of the copyright holder.

Training

As the rail transit system in Los Angeles continues to expand and improve, it provides more and more options for getting around this sprawl of a city without a car.

I find hopping on the subway, riding to a random destination, and then just walking around a couple of miles exploring to be ridiculously relaxing and strangely liberating. Once I’ve gone down the escalators and through the turnstiles, I’m suddenly not bound to where I parked anymore. I also get a much more intimate view of the city by walking through it instead of blasting past it in my private urban pod. Not to mention that it’s a great way to exercise.

The city is full of people, too, and one of the things I love most about LA is that when I get on the train I know that it’s going to be full of people who are as diverse as humanity itself is on the entire planet. Pick any random subway car at rush hour, and you can probably find people on it with backgrounds from six continents (sorry, no penguins!), and at least half a dozen whose first language isn’t English. I also see people of all ages, and lots of families traveling together.

What have I never seen on an LA Metro subway? A fight. Now, that may just be because I’m not a regular commuter so I haven’t had enough exposure, but people on LA subways seem remarkably polite to each other. Well, except for the dipshits who have their headphone volume so loud they might as well be carrying a boombox, but at least most of them actually seem to have musical taste, and it’s their ears, not mine.

I’m not sure why I find the experience so relaxing, though, considering that it consists of long stretches of sitting (or standing) on a moving vehicle interspersed with some heavy-duty pedestrian activity. Today, for example, if Google Maps is accurate, I did about three miles. And, since I always seem to forget to bring my headphones, I’m not distracting myself with music. I just distract myself by annoying all of you by over-posting about my experiences to social media!

Okay. I suppose the real reason it’s so relaxing is that it helps to quiet down the circus in my head — and as those unfortunate enough to have gotten into close proximity with that party know, it’s not just the Big Top in there. It’s all Three Rings, the whole goddamn Midway, and a ridiculous Sideshow thrown in for fun. But no clowns. No clowns. I hate clowns!

What I do love are trains and treks and discovering things about my own hometown that I wouldn’t have seen if I hadn’t taken the time to look. Today, a friend of mine pointed out in response to one of my photos (Hi, Charlie!) that we Angelenos don’t realize how lucky we are to live in a place that people actually save up and pay a lot of money to visit. Now, I’ve worked in or on the edges of The Industry for my entire adult life, so I know how little Hollywood actually has to do with the entertainment business. But you don’t see hordes of tourists in Burbank (well, except at Warner Bros.) for a reason. And for all its cheesy wonder, Hollywood Boulevard is kind of interesting if you just take it for what it is: as fake as the teeth and tits on most actors, male or female, but still nice to look at.

Incidentally, I’m 99.9% sure that I was conceived one summer day in an apartment building half a block north of that boulevard and right next to Grauman’s Chinese Theater. I’m that sure because I’m also sure that my parents weren’t that adventurous, so it wasn’t in the theater or in the back of a Ford or something.

I think. Which just reminds me that if I had ever had kids, at least one of them would probably have been conceived in a car. Except, oh, right… can’t conceive with that combination. At least not without making the news.

But I do digress. Wherever you live, take a moment to discover your town — native or adopted — like you’re a tourist. You might be surprised at what you see.