Miles Away

Miles was eleven when I met him. He was mildly autistic. It was hard to pinpoint his abnormalities. He appeared to be an average kid, maybe just a little mixed-up. It seemed like his mind was working faster than the way he could express his thoughts. He had a peculiar tic – his left eye blinked rapidly when he seemed impatient. His sister Gretchen was my girlfriend. We were both seventeen. I thought she was the most beautiful girl on this planet. 

Miles had been home-schooled; they said there was too much trouble at the public school, and that he had suffered at the hands of bullies for a long time. 

In time, Miles learned to like me because I treated him like a normal person. I thought he was a likable kid and nobody should treat him any differently.

His room was full of WWII memorabilia, all original stuff. He had boots, helmets, medals, diplomas, and other interesting things. He even had a first edition book written by Sigmund Freud. His grandfather emigrated to the United States to escape Nazi persecution. He also had several notebooks written in German. All of it was arranged in perfect order, everything in the room was his pride and joy. His grandpa had been an inventor.

Conversations with Miles were sometimes a little bit incoherent, but not when he was talking about dreams. That was his favorite subject. He appeared to be an expert in the matter. I never showed him indifference, regardless of how absurd his comments seemed. Gretchen and her dad avoided conversations with Miles about his dreams. They thought the dreams were interminable and boring.

I thought Miles’ brain was balancing his deficiencies with his proficiencies, the way it happens to blind persons when other senses get more acute, perhaps to compensate for their inability to see.

At first, I couldn’t decide whether he was handsome or not, but the more time I spent with him the more I realized he was a handsome kid. His face was mild and peaceful. 

The day I knew that I had gained Miles’ complete trust was when he showed me a helmet and mentioned that he wanted to share his dreams with me. 

“Randy, let me show you something,” he said, “Look, this is the coolest thing ever, I call it ‘the dream projector’, it helps me to travel in my dreams, and sometimes I can visit Grandpa.”

The thing was weird-looking. It was a gray helmet like the ones bicycle riders use. The frame wasn’t solid, it had gaps or slots, probably to avoid the head from sweating or to avoid the brain from getting too hot. Along the underside of the helmet, there were dozens of dull, hard rubber tips that looked like pencil erasers. It had copper wires and a few transistors.

Then, he continued, “This is my most precious treasure. I never use it for protection. I’ve been wearing it every night since Grandpa gave it to me.” after a short pause, that seemed more like a moment of hesitation he said, “look, I love my dad, I adore Gretchen, and you’re okay Randy, but my grandpa was something else.” as he said this, his eyes sparkled with pride and tears.

Afterward, when I asked Gretchen about the helmet, she said her grandfather built it himself and gave it to Miles just days before he died, and that Miles wouldn’t go to sleep without it, despite his dad’s insistence to not wear it in bed. It looked uncomfortable to use for several hours at a time, especially in bed.

“I like my other me better than myself,” he said while tapping his chest with his right open hand. “I’m happier with my inside me,” he said.

“What do you mean Miles? Is there another person inside of you?”

“Yes, he’s always there when I’m asleep. He is smart; his brains are good, he can think better.”

“Can you communicate with him? Does he talk to you?” I asked.

“Are you crazy? He is me! There’s no need to talk to me, we just think, that’s all. When I’m in there with him, we’re smart the same. I like him better than I like myself. Do you want to talk to him, Randy? You can borrow my helmet tonight if you want.”

“Is he inside your helmet?” I asked.

“No dummy, he’s in my dreams, ha, ha, inside my helmet, ha, ha. You’re a little retarded Randy. Sorry, I didn’t mean to insult you, Randy, you’re my best friend, sorry.”

“It’s all right, Miles I don’t feel insulted, you’re also my best friend. But tell me, Miles, how does your helmet work?”

“You just put it on your head before you fall asleep and you start dreaming,” he said.

“But I’ve never needed a helmet to dream, and I’ve dreamed all my life without one.”

“Yes, but with my helmet, you can talk to me in your dreams, you can have real dreams and you can also see my dreams.”

“Well, it sounds a little bit complicated, but I’ll give it a try. Are you going to be okay without it for one night? Gretchen told me you haven’t slept without it since your grandpa gave it to you. What if you change your mind and I have it at home with me.”

“It’s alright Randy, I can still have normal boring dreams without it. Sometimes I remove it in the middle of the night, sometimes, I’m boring myself.”

“Before I take it, just tell me how it works. Does it need a battery or a charger, do I need to connect it to an electrical receptacle?” I asked mockingly, which I immediately regretted.

“I don’t know how it works, my grandpa never gave me any instructions. He just made it and gave it to me and said, ‘dreams are its energy’”.

I didn’t know why I accepted to take it with me. Probably just to be polite to him, but I was somewhat curious.

I had to admit; the device looked a little medieval. Like you would expect a torture device to look, like an apparatus someone would use to reanimate Frankenstein.

When I went home, I placed the “dream projector” on the nightstand, next to my books. That night, I read a little bit until I got sleepy. After a while, as I reached for the lamp switch, I saw the helmet and grabbed it.

I put the helmet on in the dark. The blunt rubber tips inside the helmet rested on my thick hair. The tips felt like fingers, and when I moved my head it felt like I was giving myself a massage. The way it feels when you’re shampooing your hair. It didn’t feel bad at all.



*****

That night, I dreamed I was on the roof of a tall building and I was afraid to fall, I was paranoid. The roof was very small, a little bigger than my bed. I was lying on my back, grabbing the sides of the building with my extended arms. It was windy and I was exhausted from resisting my prolonged fears.

Within my dream, I knew I was dreaming. I wanted to end the dream and my suffering, but I couldn’t. When I accepted I wouldn’t be able to stop it, I decided to jump from the building. I thought it was my only escape. But I decided that instead of jumping to my death I was going to fly or glide and enjoy the ride.

I went straight down a hundred miles an hour. After I relaxed, my brain took control of the situation and turned my nightmare into a sweet, beautiful dream. I could see the entire city. I could see the sky, the clouds, and the horizon. I could fly above the treetops, I could go back up to the roof. I conquered my fears. I was happy.

When I woke up I didn’t open my eyes and didn’t move. I was lying in bed and I was sure that if I had been at the top of any building I would have jumped and I would have been able to fly.

A moment later, I thought it was ridiculous.

When I opened my eyes I had a hard time convincing myself that I’d been dreaming the entire time, including the time when I thought I was awake. Then, I removed the helmet from my head and I wondered if I could have had the same dream without the helmet.

I realized there were two of me inside my dream! There was me, acting my dream, and then the other me, watching me act. Or the physical me dreaming in my bed and my other me inside my dream, and I liked the other me, the one with the authority to control the dream. It seemed very clear.

“Did you wear it, did you dream?” Miles asked the next day.

“Yes Miles,” I said, as I gave the helmet back. “I wore it, but honestly, I wasn’t thinking about using it. I just put it on and fell asleep and had a normal dream.”

“A normal dream?”

“Well, yes, nothing different. It was vivid, it felt real and I enjoyed it because I could control it.”

“Did you like the other you better?”

“Yes Miles, I liked my other me better.”

“You see what I mean now, now we’re equal. I like my other me better and you like the other you better.”

“What? Wait a minute Miles, there’s only one of me. The conscious one when I’m awake and the unconscious one when I’m asleep, but we’re the same, there’s no need to separate me in two, (I felt a little stupid because I was contradicting myself) when I say that I like the other one better, I mean that I want to act like him in real life. I want to be unafraid and in control.”

“You have to admit it, Randy, you are feeling envy of the other you, but it’s amazing, isn’t it? Your first dream and you are already struggling with you and yourself.”

“No Miles, it wasn’t my first dream, I don’t envy me and I’m not struggling with myself. But let me tell you one thing, you are a lot smarter than most of us. And don’t believe anybody that tells you otherwise.”

I was confused. I thought the damn thing was useless, it couldn’t protect your head, much less your brains. I was glad for Miles, though. The helmet was his only toy, he loved it. 

As for me, I wasn’t attached to any material things. I wouldn’t run to save anything during an earthquake. I would just run with me and myself.

The following day, Miles came up with an unbelievable commentary.

“Hey Randy, I saw your dream. I’m glad you know how to fly now, from the treetops to the roof of a tall building in just a few seconds.”

“What? That’s impossible, who told you about it? Nobody knows, I never told anybody that’s not possible Miles, how could that be?”

“Randy, you shouldn’t be so surprised, it’s in my helmet. You knew that. Didn’t I tell you that I wanted to show you my dreams?”

It just blew my mind! How could that be possible? To know about that dream he had to be inside my head unless the dream was somehow recorded in the helmet, but that’s so out of this world, so science fiction. There had to be a better explanation. I needed more evidence.  

That was beyond normal comprehension. If the helmet could work like that, the world needed to know about it.

I was going too far ahead on my conclusions.

Miles probably saw all the provocative questions in my head because he gave me the thing back and said, “Here Randy, try again.”


*****

Gretchen wasn’t demanding or submissive. I knew she could be happy with me or without me. She had a strong character. She was also a little overweight. What some people might consider being on the verge of obesity I considered voluptuous.

Knowing that we were both virgins, I decided to do a little experiment with her in my dreams. 

Sometimes, when I did something repetitiously for hours during the day, I would dream about it. If I swam for hours, or if I watched a movie that impressed me in any way, I would dream about that.

In my dream, Gretchen and I would make love for the first time.  There was no need to take any precautions. No condoms or promises. Oh, and I wanted lots of foreplay.

I imagined the whole thing, including all my fantasies, and she would enjoy them too. We’d make love all night long. I’d take advantage of my experiment; after all, it would be just a dream.

I put the helmet on and I concentrated on my future dream until I fell asleep. 

I woke up with a big smile on my face. The dream I had with Gretchen was vivid and real. It was so real, when I woke up I still had an erection. My penis was still sore in the morning. I’m sure it hadn’t been a wet dream because my underwear and the bedsheets were clean and dry. 

***** 

The day after I gave the helmet back to Miles, he said . . . “Randy I saw what you did with Gretchen, you dirty man! I couldn’t believe it. I had to turn it off.”

I couldn’t find a rational reaction. I just said, “It was just a dream, Miles, don’t pay attention to it.”

I never imagined that Miles was going to be a witness to such a dream. It was not a PG13 dream, I felt ashamed. 

“I’m sorry you had to see such a horrible dream. Listen, Miles, can you try not to see my dreams in the future. I’m not an expert like you and I cannot control them, besides my dreams are too wild.”

“Don’t worry, I didn’t see the whole thing,” he said.

I realized I was in the middle of a complicated dilemma. Should I tell the entire world about this amazing invention? Should I get a patent and sell it for a hundred million dollars? 

No, of course not! The thing belonged only to Miles and I had nothing to do with it. Nevertheless, I knew the future of the helmet was in my hands. I could decide to be quiet or expose it to the world.

The potential was limitless, but I wasn’t concerned about its enormous value. I decided not to tell anyone, not even Gretchen. I needed to find its real potential, and make sure there were no risks involved.

“How do you turn it off?” I asked Miles, after a short pause. “You just tell yourself to wake up, as simple as that,” he answered.

“Please, Miles, don’t say anything to Gretchen about it, okay?”

“Why would I tell her? It was just a dream, right?”

“Yes, and completely unpremeditated.”

After that day, I asked Miles many questions regarding the helmet, without trying to be too fastidious. I didn’t want to lose his trust or his friendship. I asked him if I could read his grandfather’s notes and books. He accepted, but it was useless because half of it was written in German. Miles was the only expert on the matter. 

“One day I’ll be with my grandpa Dieter forever. He was my best friend. He showed me love, he was patient and caring. In the end, my grandpa was crazy like me. I know two crazy people can understand each other. After he died, he was in my dreams and I felt safe there with him, only there. The helmet was our connection; he gave it to me to visit him in my dreams.” I saw his eyes sparkle again.

“I still miss Grandpa, I miss his caressing hands, his hugs, and kisses. In his stories, I was always the hero, not like in this life, where most people are so cruel.” 

And then, he affirmed with conviction, “All things are better when I’m with Grandpa.”

Miles said the helmet transported him to another world, to another real world. Better than the one he lived in, and that he wanted to spend more time in his ‘dream world’. He believed that one day one world was going to cancel the other.

He said he wanted to erase bad memories from his past and add only good things to his future. It was hard to understand him. 

Could it be that his defective short-circuited brain was, in reality, a superior brain? 

All recent experiences had me excited. I tried to simulate my enthusiasm with false indifference. I told Miles that I wanted to experiment more. I asked him if we could alternate using the helmet, and I was glad he agreed. But I didn’t want anything to ruin our ‘partnership’. 

That night, I thought I would take a tour in hell. It sure was a drastic change from having sex with Gretchen. I figured that since I could control or manipulate my dreams if I didn’t like hell, I would turn it into heaven. I was a little hesitant about that choice, but I’ve always been stubborn. 

After I gathered some paintings from the masters depicting hell, I focused on them, then I put the helmet on and fell asleep.

In the morning, I woke up a little disappointed. No hell whatsoever. Probably hell didn’t exist or I couldn’t invent it in my dreams. Maybe I didn’t concentrate enough. 

All I dreamed about was Miles having lots of fun with a kite and an old man cheering him up until Miles fell on his knees. I was there next to the old man when he was comforting Miles after his fall. I saw Miles in my dreams for the first time, but I felt a little frustrated. I thought the dream was a failure, it proved nothing.

When I went back to Gretchen’s house I got another surprise when I saw Miles. He had some scrapes on his knees. I asked him right away what had happened to him, and he said he didn’t know. He said he woke up like that and that he probably fell from his bed, but I knew that was very unlikely. Could it be possible that he was in my dream and somehow . . . ? no, no way. Either way, I didn’t tell him about my dream.

The following day he told me about his dream.

“Randy, I saw you in my dreams! I was having a lot of fun with Grandpa. I was running and having fun with a kite, until . . .” then I interrupted him and finished his sentence,  “. . . until you fell and scraped your knees!”

“Yes, Randy, I was very happy with Grandpa. I knew I was inside a dream and I didn’t want to wake up. I wish I could stay there forever, but instead, I feel like it’s harder for me to connect with him. Like there’s more distance between us.”

*****

One day Gretchen told me she missed her period. Then she said that she probably just missed it, period. She said that she was curious and asked me to join her to the pharmacy to get a pregnancy test. Later, I heard her screaming in the bathroom.

“Positive? Positive! Positive?! It can’t be. Something’s wrong; somebody is playing a joke on me. No way. I’m a virgin! I have never even seen an erect penis in my life! Randy! You have to believe me. I need to get another pregnancy test, this was probably defective. Let’s get another one.”

On the way to the pharmacy, she kept going at it. I didn’t know whether she was mad at me for not believing or for believing. I never said a word. Gretchen, the always composed and undisturbed Gretchen was mad at me, at God, at the entire world. The second test was positive again. Then she took a different approach.

“The Divine Providence, Randy, that’s it, a divine mandate! God chose me!” she said with a sarcastic smile. “What are we going to do, Randy?  Well, not you, obviously it’s not your fault. What am I going to do? I can’t tell my dad, it can’t be possible, help me, Randy!”

“Well, if you’re pregnant, and that is beyond far-fetched, would you have the baby? Would you keep it?” I asked her, considering I was the only accusable prospect. After all, I did do it in my dream.

Then I thought about Miles’s scraped knees, did that happen in my dream or his dream? Was it possible for things to materialize from a dream to real life with the helmet?

“It makes no sense, why would I need an abortion if nobody has impregnated me? It’s impossible. But if I claim I’m innocent, I’ll be ridiculed. I need you to believe in me Randy, if I ever get pregnant it would be only by you.”

“Yes Gretchen, I believe you. But if you want, we can make it real.”

“Oh, Randy, don’t joke about it, not now.”

“Sorry, sorry. I tell you what Gretchen, let’s wait a week and then take the test again. Then, you’ll decide what to do, and of course, if it’s negative we’ll do nothing, or we’ll celebrate and . . .  oh, never mind.”

That night, I elaborated on a plan.

I thought that if I impregnated her in my dreams, perhaps I could undo it in my dreams too. It sounded absurd, but I wouldn’t lose a thing if I tried it.

After I gathered all the stuff I needed to provoke the required dream, a picture of a hospital with a doctor included, an operating room, and of course, Gretchen’s photo. Then, I focused on my intentions and put the helmet on. And after performing my relaxing ritual, I fell asleep. In my dreams, abortions are legal.


*****

A week later we got another pregnancy test. When Gretchen came out of the bathroom she said with a sigh of relief, “false alarm”. Of course, I was ready to show a false expression of surprise.

The instructions claimed ninety-nine percent accuracy. But it could be misleading. It could be less accurate if it’s done within the first days of a missed period. Anyway, I was glad for both of us. I could never know if I got her pregnant in my dreams, or if the abortion in my dream was a success. Or if it was all just a fluke and nothing ever happened at all.


*****

A few weeks later, Miles said he was going to miss me. I didn’t understand what he meant. 

“How can you miss me, if even in our dreams we are together?” 

“Yes, Randy, but it’s like a rubber band when it gets stretched to the limit, it could suddenly snap and push us even further apart.”

Sometimes, I just couldn’t understand him. Sometimes, he expressed himself like a philosopher, other times like a complete lunatic. But I always loved him either way.

*****



Then one day, Miles disappeared into thin air. Nobody ever saw him again. His dad filed a police report and they looked everywhere. The city offered a large reward. Nobody ever claimed it.

It was the saddest day of my life. And only I knew where he went. 

A day after his disappearance, I saw him in my dreams. He had finally decided not to come back. He said he was happier there, with his grandpa. He said that maybe he could use the helmet to come to visit us. 

But I had the helmet with me.

I told Gretchen exactly what had happened to Miles, but it was too hard to convince her. She would not believe me until I gave her instructions on how to use the helmet. 

I didn’t care if she saw all my dreams. All I cared about was for Gretchen to see how happy Miles was with his grandpa.

The following day, she grabbed a hammer and broke the helmet into a million fragments.


Edmundo Barraza

Visalia, Ca. Aug-22-2011

Brothers In Distress

The explosion was imminent. We didn’t know who or what would set it off. The decision was mutual and final. Everybody would later say absurd, too. I expected to be painless. I hated pain. Physical or mental.

We’re three brothers separated by six years each. We all were born in September. My brother Ralph was thirty, I was twenty-four and my little brother Anthony was eighteen. Our house was a gathering place for all kids from the neighborhood. I don’t remember having had any serious fights with my brothers. We were always very close to each other.

My dad had worked all his life for the Ford Motor Company. He was proud of it. At one point we had four Ford vehicles in our driveway. Three cars and a pickup truck. Anthony broke the tradition the day he came home in a brand new Honda Accord. My dad didn’t pretend to hide his disappointment. Dad didn’t let Anthony park his car near the house. At first, my brother thought dad was kidding.

My mom was a strict catholic, maybe on the verge of fanaticism. She wanted Ralph to be a priest, but that profession didn’t interest him at all. When she realized that her attempts would be futile, she continued her efforts with me. She insisted so much I almost accepted just to please her. I’m glad I didn’t. In the end, she succeeded with Anthony.

I’ve always found amazing how three brothers, raised by the same parents, in the same house, and the same environment could have so disparaging personalities, desires, and goals.

My brother Ralph had always been materialistic. He was ambitious, and a little vain too. Making money was his primary goal. He preferred the administrative side of all jobs. Being the boss was what he liked the most.

I always loved sports. I practiced baseball, soccer, and basketball. I considered the possibility of becoming a professional trainer or a doctor in sports medicine because the active life of most professional athletes lasted only a few short years.

My brother Anthony (thanks to my mom) became a priest. He had a true vocation for it. He had many virtues and qualities required for the priesthood. He was patient and understanding. His personality was passive and sedated. Anthony was gay, but I’m not implying a connection between priesthood and being gay.

We would do anything to help and protect each other.

We knew Anthony was gay since he was in middle school. My mom and dad knew about it too. We all accepted his sexual preference. “Accept” was not the right word, it wasn’t a matter of acceptance or rejection. It was  a matter of understanding. The subject never attracted any problems. He was never bullied or bothered by anyone. Maybe because he had two big brothers or maybe because he was quiet and smart and everybody enjoyed his company.

He never had the urge to come out of the closet. He never felt the need to disclose it or to hide it from anybody. To us, it was just a normal situation, no one was affected negatively by it.

We were born six years apart in September. Since Anthony was born, we celebrated our birthdays the same day. A single party for the three of us. 

One time, Ralph invited us to celebrate our birthday at his house. Just the three of us. We had enough tequila to last the whole week. Ralph explained to us that the mortgage on his fancy house was ‘upside down’. Meaning, he owed more than what the house was worth. It had negative equity. He had several active loans on it.

His wife Lauren had left him recently. They had a seven-year-old daughter. Everything was fine until he began to spend more time spending his money and not enough time making it. He loved expensive toys, cars, and boats. He used to take long vacations all over the world, sometimes without his family. Until he was broke and alone.

I saw it coming a long time ago. I knew he would have to file for bankruptcy and start all over. I didn’t know why he had to be so greedy.  Anthony always admired Ralph. He was his idol and his favorite person in the world.

After Ralph shared his economic situation with us, Anthony offered his help. “I could lend you . . .  no, I could give you ten thousand dollars, no, fifteen thousand dollars. I know I can get a loan for that much from my Church.” he said.

Ralph kissed him on the cheek.

“I love you, Anthony, you’re my favorite brother,” Ralph said, then he turned to me and said, “You’re my favorite brother too,” and he continued “but I’m beyond normal help, not even bankruptcy could save my ass.” He said this with a sad smile on his face. He took another sip of tequila, which was now drinking from the bottle.

“How bad is it?” I asked him.

“Bad,” he answered.

“Well, you can sell the house our parents left us, and you can also sell the shares my dad had with Ford. I’m sure Anthony wouldn’t mind,” I said. (Our parents had died in a dreadful car crash three years before.)

“I’m sorry, I already did. I don’t deserve to be your brother. I knew you wouldn’t mind because you’re not greedy like me. My problem is beyond solution. I’m facing real heavy shit. You see, I’ve been taking money from new clients to pay back old clients. And the bubble is about to burst. I’m talking about years of jail time. It’s not just because I’d lose my freedom. I’d be too ashamed to confront my friends and people that had trusted me. I’d rather die. I’m glad we’re together today, this is my farewell. I’m taking my life, no one can change my mind. It would be useless if you tried.”

Then, he opened a cabinet door where a handgun and a single bullet appeared on the bottom shelf.

He continued, “A few months ago I bought a life insurance policy for two million dollars. Lauren is the beneficiary, the only problem I have now is that she can collect it only if my death is accidental, but if I kill myself, she gets zero.”

To my amazement, neither Anthony nor I were shocked to hear about his abhorrent plans. I had the same strange feeling that I felt when I learned about the death of our parents. A vast emptiness inside my body. Like my soul wanted to disconnect from my body.


*****

On the day my dad celebrated twenty-five years of employment for the Ford Motor Co., they delivered a one-inch thick piece of beveled glass with the Ford logo. It seemed like it belonged in a car dealer’s showroom. I thought it was a large dining tabletop, but it turned out to be a front door.

When they installed it, it looked fancy and expensive, and I bet it was. My dad said jokingly, “Remember boys in case of an emergency, like an earthquake, a fire or something like that the first thing we’ll do is remove the door and put it in a safe place, after that, we can look for your mother.” I also remember that he used to clean it with a special cloth and glass cleaner every night, very ceremoniously.

Well, it lasted only two weeks because one day, we were kicking the soccer ball, practicing penalty kicks and using the garage door as our goal posts. Ralph was the goalie and I kicked the soccer ball very hard, I missed the huge garage door and hit my dad’s pride instead.

That afternoon, we waited for my dad sitting on the curve by the driveway. When he got home, we all stood up and Anthony said with the saddest face I’ve seen my whole life, “Dad, I broke your door.” He said this while hugging him around his waist and sobbing quietly. He was probably eight years old.

Then Ralph said, “No, dad, it was me. I’m sorry, I’ll pay for it as soon as I start working, I swear.” By then my dad was looking at me, knowing that it had been me the one who broke it.

As we stood in front of the house looking at the huge space where the door was supposed to be, my dad said,

“Don’t worry boys, it was just a door, a door is easily replaced. I want nothing bad to happen to you, because you are irreplaceable. You just showed me how much you care for each other and that makes me a happy father,” my dad proudly said. But we felt sad for him because we knew he wouldn’t last another twenty-five years of loyal work to get another door from Henry Ford.

Then we brought a piece of plywood from the garage and covered the space temporarily.

But to fill the space my dad had in his heart, I couldn’t find anything to say but, “I’m so sorry dad.”

I was very proud to belong to that family. I felt my brothers and I were indestructible. We were a powerful unit. I knew I would do anything for them, anything.



*****


Ralph grabbed the gun in one hand and the bullet in the other and said, “I have only one bullet. I just need to make it look like an accident, any suggestions?”

“Come on Ralph! Don’t joke about it, we can’t let you do that. There has to be another way out. We should put our minds to work and come out with a more reasonable plan. There must be another solution.” Anthony said firmly.

“I thought about other solutions, like running away like a coward to another city, another state or country. Disappear anywhere in the world and start all over, but I can’t do that. What I’ve done is punished with prison, and I know I wouldn’t last a week in jail. Even if I did, after many years of imprisonment, I wouldn’t be able to face my friends or my clients. I’d be too ashamed to look into my daughter’s eyes. I know I’m right when I say that I don’t deserve to be your brother. Please, don’t make it harder on me. My decision is final, I just couldn’t do it without letting you know first.”

“Well, if you do it; I’d do it too, I swear I would do it too. I’ve been thinking about it. I have strong motives. I’ll tell you what real suffering is.” Anthony said.

“I was deeply in love for the first time in my life, but in my case, it was wrong. I met a young boy, he was gay too, nothing shameful or illegal happened between us. We became good friends right away. He was sixteen years old. Some people say that priesthood is a refuge for repressed homosexuals and that we join the seminary to keep functioning in society and to hide our devious sexuality. My case is not like that at all, I love being a priest and I’d be a priest even if I weren’t gay. I was never trying to hide anything, and you know that. We fell in love and promised ourselves to wait until he turned eighteen. Celibacy and abstinence were tough choices for me, but for him, I could return to civilian life.” he paused and took a long sip of tequila, and continued.

“When he told his mom about us, he thought she would approve. Instead, she moved her family to another city and reported me to our diocese. He committed suicide two weeks ago. I couldn’t even go to his funeral. I felt like I betrayed God, like my vocation wasn’t sincere anymore. I just wanted to die too. My decision is final too, and nobody can change it either, not even you two. What hurts me the most is that God will never absolve me because suicide is a transgression against the sanctity of life.”

The three of us were quietly sobbing, each one of us had a bottle of tequila, drinking, and sharing our problems and individual pain. I’m sure we couldn’t even have these suicidal thoughts if our parents were alive. But at that moment we were just three grown-up orphans.

It never crossed my mind that any of my brothers could ever consider committing suicide.

I thought that if you were serious about it you would keep it to yourself. That was something nobody would announce to the world. In any case, I thought I was the only one with a legitimate excuse, the only one with an obvious motive.


*****


I had relived the entire episode many times. It was hard to understand life and the many tricks it plays on you. I knew how a simple decision could alter your future. I knew how a minor modification in your routine can vary (and bury) your future. It was amazing how fate, or God or whatever could change your future. For instance, let’s say my father had a toothache the day he was supposed to have met my mom and he didn’t get out of the house that day because of the discomfort and pain. I wouldn’t have existed, right?

I had just returned home from San Francisco for the long Labor Day weekend. My friend Mike from my high school days called me to joined him to shoot some pool and of course, to have a few beers. We called a few more friends and met at a bar about thirty miles from home.

I should have declined the invitation.

When we got out of the bar, we were completely wasted. Someone suggested buying more beer before the liquor stores closed. I was driving on my own, Mike and the other two friends were with him. While driving on the freeway, from the other car, they offered me a beer. Mike and I matched our speed, got our cars close together, and I extended my arm to reach for the beer.

That’s the last thing I remember from the accident. How reckless and irrational you become with some alcohol in your blood. And I thought I was a mature person.

A week later, I regained consciousness and came out of a coma. Only to learn that my able body had turned into a useless piece of meat. Condemned to a wheelchair for the rest of my life. Mike and the other two guys died at the scene. As I said, I should have declined the invitation.

I broke up with my beautiful girlfriend while still in the hospital, right after she offered to give me a blowjob.

For months, I had entertained the possibility to commit suicide. The first thought came up in the hospital. I knew then, that I had to do it. I didn’t know what I was waiting for, probably for the right moment, although the right moment was at any time. I had no hope. I had no goals. Nothing I would achieve could bring happiness to my life. I was only half a man, a fake. I was destined to be an eternal failure.

Some people said I was lucky that I survived. Lucky?

My plans to become a professional soccer player, a coach, or a doctor vanished with a careless decision. No more sports, no social life, no regular job, no career. At least not at its full potential, as I would have wished. Oh, and I couldn’t have sex or kids of my own. What a pitiful life!

After Anthony exposed his motives for wishing to end his life he looked at me, like expecting me to burst out my reasons to kill myself, after all, I was in a wheelchair. I was the only one with obvious reasons. One time Ralph asked me if I had suicidal thoughts. Before I could answer, Anthony said that I shouldn’t consider it.  

We all had reasons.

I’m sure we all felt like the day I broke down my dad’s door. Three brothers eternally united. We just sealed a silent pact. A mutual consent to end our lives.

Life didn’t matter to us anymore. We were just three adult orphans with no real close ties to anybody, other than to ourselves.

Neither one of us were optimistic about a bright future anymore. Although I wasn’t sure about Ralph and Anthony. After all, they were complete, I mean they didn’t have any physical disabilities, but they were disappointed with their lives and sometimes that could be worse than any disability.

Their dilemma seemed less drastic than mine did. Their predicament appeared to be only temporary and mine was permanent, there was no solution to my problem. Acceptance was my only option, but I was too bitter for that.

I felt tempted to convince them to retract. Instead, I just kept quiet.

A sudden thought came to my mind. If I ended my life, I couldn’t regret it. I’d be dead already. But if I didn’t end it, things could improve. Maybe I could postpone it one day at a time until the desire to kill myself went away. For a moment, I wished my brothers would reconsider it. I could go either way, but I joined the majority, and once again, I kept quiet.

“So, how are we gonna do this?” Anthony asked, trying to sound as casual as possible. “We could get drunk out of our minds and burn the place down. Or better yet, we could turn the gas range on, and blow out the flames until we pass out from breathing the gas fumes, or someone can shoot the oven and . . .”

“Our baby brother’s always the one with the best ideas,” Ralph said, looking at me as he took another sip of tequila. “I was going to ask any of you to shoot me, but I know that’s not possible, you wouldn’t dare. Besides, I only have one bullet.”

“Well, if we do it with gas, we’ll need some masking tape to seal all doors and windows,” I said.

In a few seconds, Ralph showed up with two rolls.

“I know many people were commenting behind my back that Lauren was my trophy wife, and they were right. I bet she can find someone better than me before my body turns cold.” Ralph said as he sealed the front door. Anthony was handling the gas range; while I taped the living room windows. We were always an excellent team. Fast and efficient, happy to do our chores together, and to talk nonstop.

It felt weird, working so happily together while preparing for our deaths, it didn’t seem right. It must have been the effects of the alcohol, but I hadn’t been happier in a long time. I wished we could do that every week.

We sat back again in the kitchen and kept drinking. We needed to pass out before we got sick from the gas smell. Anthony had turned off all pilot flames from the stove and then opened all gas valves. The odor was powerful already. We were drunk for sure, Anthony appeared to be more intoxicated than we were. I felt like throwing up. I got the lighter out of my pocket and raised my arm and asked, “who wants to do the honors?”

“Not yet, we’re not drunk enough, and besides, I don’t think there’s enough gas in the air,” Ralph said.

We were sitting down, facing the gas range, Ralph raised his bottle of tequila inviting us to do the same, and we all took a big gulp.

“We can still back out,” Anthony said, swaying his body involuntarily and added, “No, no, let’s do it. I’ve always been curious about the other side. I’d be disappointed if God didn’t exist, but wait, if we kill ourselves, He won’t be receiving us with a welcoming party, but I guess it’s still all right. I also wanted to meet Satan.” my little brother was sure drunk.

The gun was on the countertop and the bullet with its beautiful shape, standing next to it. We still hadn’t discussed who or what would set off the explosion, or if we were just going to die from the fumes. I thought I could just fire a shot to the stove.

The feeling of vomiting invaded me once more, and I turned my wheelchair around doing a ‘wheelie’ and hurried to the bathroom. I was good at maneuvering my wheelchair even while drunk. I needed to throw up. From the hallway, I heard my brothers laughing behind me.

I barely made it to the toilet. I got off from my chair and hugged the toilet, the way you hug a good old friend, and vomited.

When I regained consciousness, it took me a few seconds to realize I wasn’t dreaming.

The first thing I saw when I opened my eyes was the toilet. I smelled an awful stink, my vomit. I climbed back to the wheelchair and hurried back to the kitchen. My mouth was dry, and so was my brain. I didn’t know what to expect.

I had no idea how long I had passed out. I was hoping to find my brothers still laughing, still talking, still breathing. Instead, they were lying motionless on the floor. Oh God, they were dead!

While vomiting in the bathroom with the door shut, I fell asleep while they were dying. Fuck! They were dead, and I was alive!

Slowly, I turned my head and looked for the gun. I took it and placed the bullet inside. Then I put the gun against my temple. Feeling the ridges of the trigger with my index finger, I began to pull it. Then I saw Ralph resurrecting on the floor. He sat up, looked around the kitchen and said,

“Oh shit, I know what happened. I forgot to pay the gas bill!”

The sun was up when Anthony woke up. We all agreed that this ‘mass suicide’ wasn’t supposed to happen.

Things got better.

The government came out with a bailout plan for crooked investment companies and saved Ralph’s ass. He could make some documents disappear, altered some numbers, and promised himself to be an honest investor for the rest of his life. We believed him.

Anthony moved to West Hollywood and found happiness in every single way.

I returned to school and later became a successful sportswriter.

We continued with our annual ritual. We still get together each September to celebrate our birthdays. And every year Anthony would repeat the same comment:

“Hey Ralph, have you paid your gas bill this time?”



Edmundo Barraza
Visalia, Ca. Nov-24-2011

A Girl From Orosi

GRACIELA

I was born seventeen years ago in Orosi, a tiny town in the middle of California.

My parents came from Durango, a northern state in Mexico, where they were farm workers. After they moved to the US, they kept working in the fields. My mom worked as hard as my dad. Sometimes, I joined them in the fields, but it wasn’t easy to keep up with them. I loved my parents more than anything in the world.

My goals were much different than what they could ever have dreamed.

I knew the world was too big to remain in that little town for the rest of my life. I wasn’t planning to have a boyfriend because I didn’t want to be attached to Orosi for too long. Also, I wasn’t in a hurry to ruin my life.

I wanted to go to high school in a bigger city, so I convinced my mom to let me go to Visalia.

I also wanted to be the best in my track and field team. That was the only way to get a scholarship. My dad enrolled me on a soccer team when I was eight years old. That could also get me out of there too. I didn’t hate my life, I just disliked my options. I loved my family and friends but the lack of opportunities in the area made my future bleak and narrow, so narrow, I felt claustrophobic.  

It took twenty minutes to get to Visalia. The bus came every hour. Even though Orosi High School was only a few blocks from where I lived, I attended Redwood High School in Visalia.

People said I was pretty, they also said I had a nice pair of legs, but in my opinion my legs were a bit muscular. A few boys kept chasing me, but I wasn’t interested.

Sometimes dogs chased me too, but I ran faster than them. One of them almost bit my rear end, but just before he caught me I turned around and screamed at him with all the force in my lungs. I scared him so much, he skidded ten feet while trying to pull back. It was funny.

I enjoyed riding the bus. I loved feeling the air in my hair while I did my homework. I organized my thoughts on the bus. I dreamed all my dreams and saw my future riding the bus. Sometimes, I felt romantic, and I daydreamed that I was on a streetcar in San Francisco, where I met my Romeo, and . . . oh well.  

One of my dreams was to move to L.A. or even better to New York, but I didn’t want it just to be a dream.

HECTOR

I had to do it. I was fifty feet above the ground, it looked really scary but I knew I had to do it.

The judge gave me twelve years. I’d be thirty-five when I get my release. On top of that, I’d be deported to Mexico after doing my time. I was contemplating the only way out, my only escape. It didn’t seem easy. There was a palm tree, taller than the building. I needed to make a long jump and if I didn’t grab that tree after I jumped, an awful death awaited me, but if I stayed and didn’t jump, I could spend a long and sorrowful time behind those bars.

***

I was seven years old when my parents came illegally to this country. My dad found a job as a gardener, while my mom started taking care of kids from the neighborhood.

At school, I was always in trouble, I was a bully in every grade. I was taller than the rest of the kids; even the teachers were afraid of me. When I was twelve years old, I started touching girls every chance I got. I lifted their skirts or grabbed their breasts. Most of them didn’t complain, they were probably afraid I’d become more aggressive. By the time I turned thirteen I was masturbating several times a day.

Around that time, I had constant thoughts about naked girls. Sex was always on my mind. At fourteen, I had sex for the first time with a sixteen-year-old girl. The older I got the more sex I wanted. 

When I was sixteen I raped my eighteen-year-old cousin. She didn’t say a thing to anybody because, I guess, she enjoyed it too. I raped one of my aunts too. After that, I had sex with her whenever I wanted, even though she was married.  

Some of my victims didn’t get too upset about it, others just disappeared from my sight. I knew there was something wrong with me, but since I wasn’t getting in trouble, I kept doing it. But I was never violent. Well, not yet anyway. 

If any of them were insistent enough, I would stop. But it was weird how some of them switched their attitude in the middle of it, from hating it to loving it. It might seem hard to believe but some of them returned for more. If the first time they didn’t have an orgasm because I was too fast or too rough, they would get a second or a third chance. 

People could say what they want, but I knew some of the girls I raped enjoyed it too. I shouldn’t glorify rapists, but two of my victims mentioned that being raped had been one of their sexual fantasies.

When I was first accused of rape, the judge cleared me of all charges for lack of evidence. The girl didn’t have any bruises and there were no witnesses. 

And then, the waitress in the Mexican restaurant. The place was deserted. I forced her into the bathroom and I ignored her cries and kept insisting until the cops showed up. That time, the judge gave me a six-month sentence, a restraining order, and three years probation. I was twenty years old by then.

For a while, I behaved properly and stayed out of trouble. I was almost done with the probation period when a young lady moved near my house. I was tempted to sin with that woman in the most horrendous way. She was married and had a child. After spying on her for a week I figured her entire routine. The time she left home, the time she came back and the time her husband left for work. She was so hot, I had to do it.

She lived in an apartment building, behind her unit was a small patio with a six-foot fence. Across the driveway, two workers were fixing another apartment.

The worst mistake I made was not covering my face. But when I was horny my brains didn’t function at all. I should have known she could identify me since I lived so close.

One morning, as soon as her husband left, I made my move. 

The fence was easy to jump and the sliding door was unlocked. She was sleeping topless, the sheets were on the floor. She looked beautiful in her black panties. The baby slept in a crib across the room.

I’ve never been so excited. I had an immediate erection. I had the pants on my knees in a second. I covered her mouth and removed her panties at the same time, but the moment I touched her, she woke up and kicked me in the chest extremely hard. I wasn’t ready for that reaction. I was still in shock when I fell on my back, her screams were deafening, the kid started to cry and I panicked. I wasn’t expecting such a commotion. I got up and ran out to the patio and shut the door behind me. The workers saw me jumping the fence but they didn’t say a thing. 

What a pathetic pussy I turned out to be, running out like a coward. Later, in my prison cell, while I re-enacted my failed attempt. I was convinced I would had to strangle her just for five minutes of pleasure.

That afternoon, when I came back to my house the cops were waiting for me in an unmarked car. There was no need to resist or to claim innocence.

The judge sent me to a county jail, where I was told I’d be transferred a few days later to state prison. My temporary jail was on the top floor of a four-story-high building. 

From the roof of that building, I was contemplating the two choices I had. My freedom or my death. I knew I could never find a better chance to escape than at that moment. It was getting dark and the rest of the inmates had gone back to their cells. The guards had gone too. They probably thought that an escape from there would have been impossible.

There were two palm trees next to the building, I aimed for the skinny one.

I began to run from the far end of the basketball court. I picked up speed in the middle of it because I had to jump over a four-foot metal railing. While flying in the air, I thought I’d taken a stupid decision. I was fifty feet above the ground when my heart stopped beating . . .

After my body hit the tree I couldn’t breathe for a few seconds. I remained immobile for an instant.  

I could see the freeway down below. I was holding to the dark side of the tree. I caught my breath and started to climb down. Except for a solid pain in my chest and a few scratches, I was okay. As soon as I touched the ground I got rid of my shirt. On the back, it read:  “Property of The Tulare County Jail.” Well, I’m not your property any more fuckers! 

I walked away from the bright street lights and headed for the St. John’s River, where the homeless people gathered under the bridge. I could spend the night with them, and probably get a change of clothes. Maybe they could offer me a drink that I was sure I highly deserved for my daring ‘impossible’ escape.

GRACIELA

I enjoyed watching from the bus the hustle and bustle of people on their way to work. I knew most of them worked in the fields, most of them came from Mexico, and most of them seemed happy. Not much to do in a town where even the bus ride seemed exciting. But the real source of joy for me was hiking in the Sequoia Mountains.

There was a tree near Avenue 336. They trimmed it every year to avoid the branches to make contact with the electrical wires. Because the branches carried water and if they touched the cables they would cause an electrical outage. It looked like the tree was afraid of the wires, and it grew away from them. The tree was ugly and beautiful at the same time. 

Out-of-town people always complained about the smells around the area, the cows, the manure, fertilizers, recycled irrigating water, even the city dump. I always defended my city and denied it all. But I knew they were right.    

At school, I got along with everybody. My favorite teacher was Miss Nunez, my Art class teacher. I considered her my friend, she was patient and caring.

Life was slow and peaceful. A little boring is what I meant to say. I was born here, and I had no choice over that, but I just didn’t want to die there.  

I had big plans for my future. I wanted to have at least two different careers; I wanted to be a writer and maybe a doctor of medicine or something like that. I knew it wasn’t that hard, I just knew it.

To go back home I had to take two buses, one from school to the edge of town and another one that went straight to Orosi on road 63. After waiting for ten minutes at the bus stop, I decided to get a soda from the liquor store across the street. On my way back, I watched with resignation the bus passing by. I hated to wait for another hour for the next one.

I was tempted to hitch a ride, but I didn’t like the idea ’cause there were a lot of weirdos in town. One time I got a ride from an old man. He seemed to be a decent family man, but when he offered me a hundred dollars in exchange for a ‘good time,’ I got out of his car at the first stop sign.

HECTOR

I planned to hit the road as soon as possible, I needed to go to another state. Nevada was my first choice. Hitchhiking or taking the Greyhound bus in Visalia was out of the question. I needed a car to go north to Fresno or south to Bakersfield. Visalia was going to be a hot spot for the next few days. 

If they caught me, I’d be facing at least twenty years. That’s too long for attempted rape. I didn’t even want to think about it. All I knew is that I was too horny, and that next day I had to find some pussy, that’s for sure.

There were about a dozen people under the bridge. An old pickup truck was parked at the edge of the road, finding the owner was my main priority. With a twenty-dollar in hand, I told them I needed a ride to the liquor store to get some booze. A guy stood up and said, “I’ll take you buddy, but you drive. I’m a little fucked up already.”

Around midnight, we made another trip to the liquor store, when we came back I kept the keys, it wasn’t too complicated. I just needed to wait for them to fall asleep.

GRACIELA

Frustrated, I decided to ask for a ride. Right away, a young guy in a pickup truck pulled over and I asked him if he could take me to Orosi, and he said, “Yeah, get in, I’m going that way.”

I knew immediately that I had made a big mistake when he put a screwdriver against my ribs and said, “We’re going for a ride, and you better enjoy it.”

Damn! It’s unbelievable how fast things could change. 

I thought if I got out there alive I was never going to make another stupid mistake like that. I was scared to death, but I was determined to survive whatever was coming my way. I also knew that whatever his intentions were, I would do anything to avoid getting raped or killed. 

As the truck gained speed, I saw my chances fading away. 

There was an old gas station at the corner of Avenue 328. After that, there was nothing but an empty road for the next ten miles. If we went past that gas station my chances to escape would be minimal. 

I planned to provoke an accident. I could die too, but I had to risk it. I was in great danger anyway. So, I went for it with lightning speed.

First, I pushed the button to unlock his seat belt and grabbed the hand that held the screwdriver, and then I turned the wheel toward the gas station. Then, I hoped for the best. 

The entire action must have taken all but three seconds.

When I opened my eyes, the windshield was broken and the driver’s seat was empty. My astonishment increased when I saw him all twisted and mangled next to the gas pump. He couldn’t be alive. We crashed into another vehicle, but nobody else got hurt. I came out unscathed, unharmed, and very happy to be alive.

GRACIELA

Frustrated, I decided to ask for a ride. Right away, a young guy in a pickup truck pulled over and I asked him if he could take me to Orosi, and he said, “Yeah, get in, I’m going that way.”          

“There’s a lot of crime in the area, you shouldn’t be asking for rides, it’s not safe,” he said, as I entered the vehicle.

“Yes, I know, but I don’t want to be waiting for the bus for another hour, it’s boring,” I replied. 

He appeared to be in his early twenties; his hair was tangled, disheveled and a little dirty, he probably had just gotten out of work or out of bed.

“Well, we can have a little fun before I take you home,” he said.

“No, I need to pick up my little brother from school and I need to do my homework,” I said, but he kept driving.

“No, no, I said we’re going to have some fun. I’m not giving you any options,” he said, as he pulled a screwdriver, and pushed it against my ribs.

I couldn’t see a stop sign or a stoplight anywhere near so I could jump out of the vehicle as I did with the old man. We were about twelve miles from Orosi. And not a soul in sight.

“No, I want to get out, please stop,” I said, as we approached a dairy farm. It would have been useless to scream, the area was deserted. After he passed the farm, he made a right turn on a dirt road. Then he stopped the truck behind several trees. 

He pulled me out of the truck by the hair. And as he held the screwdriver in his right hand, he added, “I said we’re going to have some fun,” then he pushed me to the ground, still pulling my hair. As I lay there, he climbed over me, and said,  “My name’s Hector, what’s yours, baby?”

I needed to escape and the only way to do that was an out-of-body experience. So, I transported my body to another area, to a place I loved . . . I found myself hiking up along the stream in the Sequoia Mountains, where I was admiring the centuries-old beautiful trees . . . ouch! I just felt a stinging pain at the center of my body . . .  now, I’m walking in the middle of the shallow river, looking up, to where the trees connect to the sky. It appears that all trees point to heaven, the place where I should be.

When I returned, I checked my intentionally abandoned body. I found it complete, and except for a little blood on my private parts and some pain, I was ‘unharmed’. 

As I reached the main road I began to think about Miss Nunez, because I needed to ask her for a favor. I’d heard about a pill you take the following day after having sex, to avoid pregnancy. She’s my favorite teacher, but she’s my friend too. She might help me get it.

             GRACIELA                               

Frustrated, I decided to ask for a ride. Right away, a young guy in a pickup truck pulled over and I asked him if he could take me to Orosi, and he said,

“Yeah, get in, I’m going that way.”                                          

“Hi, how you doing, my name’s Hector, what’s yours?” he asked.

“I’m doing fine, my name’s Graciela.” he looked a little dirty but he seemed to be a decent person. 

“I’m from out of town, just passing by, but I can stay if you show me around. You know, we can have a good time,” he said.

I had a strange feeling about that. “No, thanks, but I have to go home, now if you stop at the next light I’ll be fine,” I answered trying to sound casual, but I was very nervous indeed.

“I don’t think so,” he replied, “I said we’re going to have a good time, and we will,” he was doing fifty miles an hour.  

There was a stoplight up ahead, and I was hoping it would turn red by the time we got there so I could jump out. But the damn light remained green for an eternity. Then, all I saw ahead of us was a desolated road. I knew I was in deep trouble. And I didn’t deserve any of it.

“Okay, Graciela, today’s your lucky day, we’re going to have sex. You can enjoy or you can suffer, it’s up to you. I would recommend you to enjoy it, but if you don’t, makes no difference to me,” he said, while slowly getting his hand between my legs.

My body began to tremble. I was mad at myself, I wished it was tomorrow already, so I could forget about today. How can I be so dumb? My fists were tight and my knuckles white, I felt so helpless and vulnerable. 

“You don’t look like a bad guy, just pull over and let me out please, I beg you,” I said while trying to hold my tears.

He turned on a dirt road and went to a shed behind an abandoned house. Then, he dragged me to the shed and told me to take off my clothes threatening me with a screwdriver in his right hand.

I suddenly remembered about a rape case I heard on the news. The victim faked enjoying the whole episode, and when the rapist finished, he gave her his phone number so she could call him any time for more sex. But she called the cops instead and they got him. I considered doing the same thing, but I couldn’t give him that kind of satisfaction.

I thought I would ignore him instead. I would just remain immobile down there on the ground like a log. I wouldn’t show any emotions. I just didn’t want to get hurt or killed.

I was on my back, naked. He was holding me between his legs. That’s not how I had envisioned losing my virginity. After he finished, he turned me around and did it again, then again and again. Then he rolled me over like a sack of potatoes and said, “You bitch, say something. Scream, hit me, cry or do something you stupid bitch!” then he said, “You deserve to die.”  

He lifted the screwdriver with both hands above his head and in a blink of an eye and with tremendous force, he inserted the screwdriver on my chest. The last sound I heard was,‘thump’. 

I felt my soul escaping my body. I could see myself lying there with the screwdriver on my chest. I could see only the handle protruding from my breast. I thought about my mom, about my dad, and my unfulfilled dreams and my future. It was all cut off abruptly and without a warning. It all belonged to the past now.

How could you do that, God? I only asked you for a little favor, “I don’t want to die in this miserable town,” It was a simple favor, easy for you to concede. Why did you allow this horrible ending, why?

 

       GRACIELA

Frustrated, I decided to ask for a ride. Right away, a middle-aged man in a pickup truck pulled over. Oh shit, it’s my dad! I’m in real trouble now.

“Graciela, what are you doing asking for a ride? I can’t believe it. Don’t you know how dangerous that is?” he said in a very alarming voice.

“It’s not dangerous dad; it’s daytime, there’s a lot of people around,” I replied, trying to minimize the gravity of the situation.

“No, Graciela, I’d die if something bad happened to you. You have to promise me you’ll never do it again.”

“Yes, Dad, I promise,” I responded sincerely. And as I got in the truck I kissed him on the cheek. “I promise you, Dad,” I repeated and kissed him again.

Edmundo Barraza 

Visalia Ca. 11-17-2010.   

CUCA

A JOURNAL

(Watch the short film at the end of the story/post.)

I could still remember the moment I became a pacifist, an animal lover, and a defender of animal rights. From that moment on, I also turned into a better person.

That day, while playing in the backyard and armed with a flyswatter I squashed a butterfly with it. My big brother witnessed the act, became upset, and sad, and then he gave me a lecture I would never forget.

“That butterfly probably had a family; it probably had babies that needed to be fed. Everybody loves butterflies, they’re beautiful to see, and they’re tender creatures. The way they fly and the way they move, it brings happiness to everyone. All living creatures have a right to live. Even if it is a cockroach or a mosquito, or a bee, you should respect their lives. Only if you’re attacked by an animal you should defend yourself, only then you have a valid excuse to kill an animal.”

My big brother was twelve-years-old, I was seven. It remained in my mind forever. It affected me for the rest of my life. Since I received that lecture, I never, knowingly, hurt any living animals. I avoided violence and I never participated in a fight in my whole life. I was patient and I reasoned with measured actions. 

At school, it took me a week before I could decide to dissect a frog. I loved science class, but whenever we had to experiment with small insects I just couldn’t do it. I began to overcome that phobia until much later. Visits to the Zoo became more enjoyable the more I learned about animals. I supported PETA and regularly volunteered my time at the local animal shelter.

But that lecture sure had an impact on me. I became a teacher, studied biology, zoology, and became an entomologist. I read many books on animal behavior and loved all animals that crossed my path, even after my big brother got killed by a bear on a camping trip at Yosemite National Park.

*****

The first time I saw that cockroach on the blackboard was the first time I’d seen a roach in my house. My immediate reaction was not normal, like calling the exterminating company, or like running to the store to get a can of Raid or Combat or even a Roach Motel. But I wasn’t too happy about it either. I knew how they propagate if you don’t take the proper steps. My house was clean and organized. I barely cooked at home. The kitchen was impeccably clean most of the time. I lived alone and hardly dated anyone. I was introverted and I loved my solitude. So I left the bug alone.

In the following days, I saw the cockroach a few more times, always on the blackboard. I hoped it was the same one, and the only one. I struggled to decide if I should get rid of it. I thought that if I saw more than one at the same time I would take action. Not directly myself, but I would call an exterminating company and leave the house for a week. I would order the company to fumigate the house and remove all evidence afterward.

My blackboard was always full of notes and writings. Every week, I would scribble all the highlights of the next test I’d give to my students. After a few days, I noticed that the roach was always at the center of a letter. Having all the time in the world, I decided to find out what its favorite letters were. The first two letters I noticed were h and i. I smiled and said “hi” in return.

The next day, the roach ‘wrote’ . . .  “f o o d”, and it caused a terrible sense of stupor on me. I thought that was too much of a coincidence. At first, I didn’t do anything about it, until the next day when the cockroach stepped on the same four letters.

I thought it was so absurd. Bizarre was also a word that came to my mind.

Baffled, and still in shock, I put some bread crumbs on the board next to the chalk holder. 

All rationality and common sense decreased after a few more ‘conversations’ with the cockroach. Curious, but still in doubt, I erased all writings on the blackboard and left it clean for a few days. 

The cockroach disappeared for the same period. 

I knew that cockroaches could survive a nuclear war, or that they could live without food for around thirty days, and without water for about a week. I assumed that my house, being so clean, my little friend would starve to death or move out of the house. Both outcomes would have caused misery in my heart. I couldn’t allow the poor bug to die, I couldn’t bear that guilt. After a few days, I wrote on the board again, right away my little friend showed up and we resumed our ‘correspondence’.

“Food”, wrote again the starving insect in a minute.

I hurried to the kitchen to get some breadcrumbs.

After that, I stopped all experiments and during dinner time I would gladly share my food with “Cuca”, that was the name I gave to my new friend, which was short for ‘cucaracha’, or cockroach in Spanish.

I knew that cockroaches preferred dark places, and for that reason, I began to close all curtains and blinds in the morning. I started to give small chunks of rotting food to my friend. And I also began to write a journal. I had never been so happy.

One day, Cuca spelled “ugly” on the board. 

“Me?” I asked. 

“Yes,” Cuca replied.

Of course, I agreed. It was obvious to think that all animal species thought the rest of the species were ugly. What a gorilla could think about a hyena, or a chicken about a snake, or a peacock about a crocodile? But it was a little different for humans. To humans, a lot of animals were beautiful. Doves, eagles, blue Jays, deer, even elephants, and whales. And of course, butterflies too.

“What about pain?” I asked. 

“?” Cuca answered. 

“Can you feel pain?” I asked again. 

“?” replied Cuca.

Okay, Cuca has never felt pain. How fortunate, I concluded.

Then, I had an idea. I went to get my magnifying glass. I thought about meeting Cuca up close and personal. When I returned I opened the window to let some light in. It was a little after noontime. The sun shone on the board, it was perfectly bright to meet Cuca for the first time, face to face. When I put the magnifying glass near Cuca, smoke emerged from one of its wings. Cuca vanished in a fraction of a second. I opened my eyes as big as it was possible, I also opened my mouth. “Ah!” I screamed and threw the magnifying glass to the floor breaking it into a million pieces. “Oh no, what did I do?” I hit my head and pulled my hair with both hands. 

Cuca didn’t come back for an entire week. And when it did, it spelled “pain”.

When I approached the board Cuca reluctantly stayed. I offered excessive amounts of food, enough for an entire colony. I wished Cuca could bring all its family and friends; I didn’t care if they caused the worst infestation ever. I was feeling so sad. It took another week before all things went back to normal. Cuca healed nicely, it only left a small black mark on its wing.

One afternoon, when I returned from school I met the cleaning lady as she was exiting my house.

“Good afternoon professor,” she greeted me. “I need to tell you something; I just killed a cockroach on your blackboard. I think you need to call the exterminating company before an infestation invades your house.”

*Just because a subject is serious doesn’t mean it doesn’t have plenty of absurdities.

 -P. J. O’Rourke 

Edmundo Barraza

Lancaster, Ca. Nov-25-2016

The Corpse Is Alive

A five-minute movie

1- This is the basic story for a short film entitled “The Corpse is Alive”

2- We made the film to participate in ‘The Germ’ Film Project in Fresno, Ca.

3- The rules were:  a) Horror film. b) Luck had to be involved. 3) Under five minutes.

4- We shot the film in two days in the middle of July.

5- This was our first attempt at making movies.

6- It has won thirteen nominations from different Film Festivals around the world.

7- Enrique Martin-Valdepeña and I (Edmundo Barraza) finished this project by the end of 2015.

The story begins with a conversation between father and son as we watch a blurry funeral procession. Then, we see a person with a shovel in the dark as he jumps over a cemetery wall. The conversation is taking place off screen. (O.S.)

“You know what dad, regardless of all the arguments we’d had, you’re still my role model. You’re brave . . . you’re fearless . . .”

“Wait a minute, what do you need? It sounds like you’re ready to ask for something.”

“No dad, I don’t need a reason to say something nice to you, I’m just glad you’re a good father. Some of my friends don’t have a father and that must be tough.”

“Well, if I’m a good father it’s because you’re a good son. You make my job easier.”

“What I really wanted to know is if you’re afraid of anything. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you scared.”

“I fear a few things, but my biggest fear is to be buried alive. I have nightmares about it. So, when I die, I want you to make sure that I’m really dead. I also want you to leave two things in my coffin, my cell phone and my gun . . . just in case.”

“That’s a weird request, but logical.” after a pause, “Oh, I almost forgot. Can I use your car tonight?”

“I knew it! I knew it!

DAY ONE

The dead awakens.

What’s this?

This must be a joke.

What the hell?! It looks like a coffin.

Damn!  It is a coffin! This can’t be possible. 

(Starts banging on the coffin’s lid) 

Damn! I knew it, they buried me alive. Help! Help! Somebody, get me out of here! I’m alive! I’m alive!

Was I such a bad person to deserve this punishment?

Wait a minute! Where’s the phone?

What the fuck . . .  no signal? AHHH!!! . . .  

What about the gun?! Where’s the gun? 

(Finds it on his side, tucked against his rib cage. While checking if it’s loaded, he accidentally discharges the only bullet in the chamber)

AHHH!!!

DAY TWO

Desperation increases

I don’t understand. I should have been dead already.

What did I do? Do I deserve to die twice?

Could it be that your worse fear turns out to be your eternal damnation? 

Damn, I must have been a real bad person.

I hope this is the way everyone dies. 

Maybe this is just Purgatory.

DAY THREE

The misery continues

Damn, I’m thirsty. I can resist a week without food, but this thirst is killing me.

But if I had water that would only prolong my misery.

How long have I been here?

What did I die of, anyway? 

I wonder if my son put another bullet somewhere in my pants. 

(Looks for it, but instead, he finds an envelope full of money in his back pocket) 

What the fuck is this? No bullets?

Money! Money! Money! What the fuck do I need money for? I want another bullet!

Fucking money is not good here!

Then with his eyes wide open, astonished and scared . . .  he hears a faint sound coming from up above, and another . . . and another, sounding each time closer and clearer. Until finally, his son lifts the coffin’s lid and dad rushes out of the grave.

“Somebody . . .  Somebody up there?” 

“Help”

“Please, please, please! Come get me! 

“Help! I’m alive, I’m alive down here! 

“Is that you, fucking Satan, coming for me?”


“Dad?” You’re alive! How could it be? It can’t be possible!”

“Of course I’m alive why did you bury me alive? Didn’t I tell you to make sure?”

“I’m sorry dad. I was sure about it, aren’t you glad I was wrong?”

“How long have I been here?”

“Three days.”

“How did you know I was alive?”

“I didn’t, I came back for the money I was saving to buy a car. My mom made a mistake, you’re wearing my pants!”

(As credits roll, we see father and son hugging and walking side by side as they head for the cemetery’s gate)

“Next time I die, I want to be cremated son.”

“You got it dad, whatever you say.” 

“How come I didn’t run out of air?”

“They let me bury you next to the storm drain.”

 “Let’s go get a beer.”

“But you look like a zombie, dad.”

“I don’t care, I’m thirsty.”

THE END

Edmundo Barraza

Lancaster, Ca.  Jun-20-2015

YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZceqIF1X09IL7_kcON7Q9g

VIMEO Channel: https://vimeo.com/accomplishedignorant

IMDb: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm9216447/?ref_=pro_nm_visitcons

Spirit in the Sky

At school, bullies were never welcome in our presence, and all the students knew it. We were always chasing bad kids. But now that I think about it, we were probably the bullies.

If we were doing sixty the train was probably doing fifty-five. The highway was parallel to the tracks but we were gaining speed because we needed to reach the curve up ahead to cross to the other side before the long train arrived at the crossing. It seemed like we were going to beat it. We were getting closer. At that point, we had a better chance if I accelerated than if I’d try to use the brakes or chicken out. I pushed the pedal, but the engine took a second to receive the gas. That second could be critical.

My brother Ralph was always daring me to do stuff like that and I was stupid enough to listen to him. On the other hand, Anthony was always eager for a chance to reach another adrenaline high. Their screams and cheers increased as if trying to neutralize the infernal engine noise. But nothing could eliminate the extremely loud train whistle.

We were just three teens trying to have some fun. I was the youngest at sixteen.

*****

I was sleeping on the couch when I heard someone knocking at the door. I didn’t want to get up, but whoever was at the door was annoyingly persistent. I managed to force myself from the couch. When I opened nobody was on the other side. I was pissed but happy at the same time because I could go back to sleep. The moment I sat down they knocked again. This time I hurried to the door but again, nobody was there. Then, I stood alert and ready to jump and catch the funny guy who was interrupting my dreams. Even if it was one of my brothers, I would kick his sorry ass.

That’s when I noticed they were knocking on another door. The closet door in front of the couch across the room. What the hell

I wasn’t mad anymore. That was a cool joke after all. I bet it was my younger brother Anthony. Ralph wasn’t so inventive as to pull such a smart prank. But I still wanted to kick somebody’s ass.

I was smiling when I opened the closet door, but nobody was there either. What the hell? I clearly heard someone knocking from the inside. How could they do that? Then I noticed a note taped to the shelf. It said, “You need to go to the cemetery. We’ll meet you there.” it was signed by Ralph and Anthony. 

My brothers and I had always been close. We rarely spent an entire day apart.

At school, bullies were never welcome in our presence, and all the students knew it. We were always chasing bad kids. But now that I think about it, we were probably the bullies.

My brothers knew how much I loved cemeteries. When we were kids, I begged them to join me to the cemetery every year on the Day of the Dead, even though we didn’t have anyone to visit. The first time we smoked weed, we were there. I remember it was a foggy night and just before midnight Ralph said, “Shh, did you guys hear that?” We turned around and a second later we fled like mad ghosts, laughing hysterically.

When Grandma died, at the end of the funeral ceremony Anthony secretly gave Ralph and me a thumbs-up sign. We knew what he meant, from then on we would have a valid excuse to go to the cemetery. We could now visit Grandma more often than when she was alive. 

It was almost dark when I arrived at the cemetery. We always liked the mausoleum with the black marble surface. It had four thick Roman columns and a statue of a child angel. I went straight to that tomb, but they weren’t there. I kept looking for them until I found two mounds of fresh dirt, obviously belonging to two recent arrivals. My brothers were there, but they looked transparent and foggy. That’s when I remembered what had happened. We didn’t make it to the other side of the railroad crossing. 

The shock and pain had been so great, it blocked my memory and erased the reality of the accident. 

At least temporarily.

“I miss you brother,” Anthony said to me right away. “We were supposed to be together all our lives. We said we’ll never be apart. We even made a pact remember? We said, ‘we’ll kill the first one who dies’. But now, we can’t be with you anymore. Hey, but you can come with us. You have to brother, we can’t leave without you.”

Ralph was sobbing softly. “We didn’t make it bro. Well, you did, but not us. We don’t know what’s going on, but I think we’ll soon have to leave this place. I’m sure we’re not in limbo, not even in purgatory.”

“What’s the solution, how can I join you, do I have to commit . . . ?” I replied, but I had to stop before I pronounced that ominous word.

I knew my life would be miserable without them. I also knew that if I miss this chance I would regret it for the rest of my life.

“I think we should dig another hole for you, next to our graves. Then, you can lie down at the bottom while we fill it back,” said Anthony. Ralph got on his knees and started digging with both hands. Soon, finding no better solution, we were all on our knees digging the soft dirt.

I wasn’t so sure that was a bright idea, but I didn’t complain because I felt responsible for their deaths, and I knew I couldn’t continue living with so much guilt.

As we kept digging, Ralph started to tell a story. 

“I had been waiting for that moment for a long time. I have had that condom for at least three weeks. When she finally said yes, I felt so lucky. Most of my friends had done it months before I did. I was about to lose my virginity, and I had never been so nervous in my life. She didn’t want me to see her naked, so the room was completely dark. When I was trying to put the condom on, I dropped it and I couldn’t find it. I looked for it in the dark, under the bed and all around. When I started to panic, I noticed I had it on one of my fingers.” 

All three of us laughed until we had tears in our eyes, even though we had heard that story many times before.

Then, Anthony told a story I had never heard before.

“When I saw that heart pendant at the mall, I knew that was the perfect gift for Mom. I took Dad’s wristwatch the day before Mother’s Day and sold it to buy Mom’s pendant. I remember the following night I couldn’t sleep at all, thinking about what to steal to buy Dad’s watch back.”

Just before I began my tale, the silhouette of a man appeared. He had a flashlight in one hand and a shovel in the other. He said, “What the hell are you doing? You grave robbers, sons of bitches!”

Not even a second had passed when I felt the shovel hitting the side of my head. I fell on my back semiconscious, but I could see the gravedigger trying to hit my brothers too. Swinging the shovel left and right in vain and saying, “What the hell?” Until he realized that my brothers were the spirits of the two young men he had recently buried. And he ran away faster than the train that killed my brothers.

The following day there were three mounds of fresh dirt next to each other.

But we weren’t there anymore.

Edmundo Barraza

Visalia, CA. Nov-14-2012

Method Actor

The main actor was a little precocious, even for a three-year-old kid. He required naps in between takes. He also demanded milk and cookies during breaks. His real name was Lucius Night, which was perfect for the role. There was no need to change it.

We started shooting on Halloween Day. It was his first movie. The title was a little bit grandiose: “Apocalyptic Moons”. The film was supposed to be one-location-two actors-no budget kind of deal, nevertheless, the aspirations were high. 

The main actor was a little precocious, even for a three-year-old kid. He required naps in between takes. He also demanded milk and cookies during breaks. His real name was Lucius Night, which was perfect for the role. There was no need to change it.

The post-apocalyptical barren land mentioned in the script couldn’t be found in the area, even though we were in the middle of the desert. The absence of adequate transportation for the cast and crew was an impediment. 

Lucius’ mom offered her house, and the front yard was used instead. The post-production team, along with the special effects department would be working overtime. —and for free also— Luckily, the old camera from the 90s came with a zoom. Now, we could turn the miniature Godzilla into a monster bigger than the Statue of Liberty. The trick was to experiment with new tricks. Sometimes, dumb ideas look good on film (or digital.)

Halloween decorations were set. A huge inflatable menacing cat was the main attraction. It moved its head sideways. The dark pessimistic story also mentioned humongous spiders devouring humans. If only we could find a little spider.

The scene called for Lucius’ immense abilities as a ninja warrior to save Katana Luna —his one-year-old little sister— from the ferocious cat and its deadly claws. The director told Lucius to ignore previous instructions. Instead, this time he should look at the camera. He had to imagine the camera was the enemy and that he was attacking a powerful enemy. The camera was placed on top of a two-step ladder. No funds were available for a tripod.

Katana Luna was at the mercy of the monstrous feline only a few feet away. The cat seemed to be enjoying the moment. It took its time in an intentional way, knowing that its future meal had no escape. The cat prolonged the suffering by moving in slow motion towards the victim. Inch by inch, the cat approached Katana. At that precise instant, nobody had any idea how Katana could be saved. 

Out of the blue, Lucius Night appeared in a close-up with a sword in hand attacking . . . the camera?

Brando had never been this good.

Of course, the movie was never finished.

The budget was so low; we couldn’t get a replacement camera.

*Especial thanks to my grand kids Lucius Night and Katana Luna for volunteering their talents.

Edmundo Barraza

Lancaster, Ca.

Jan-30-2018