28 Oct

Some Seasonal Advice

So it’s approaching midnight on the eve of Halloween and you’ve got a million things going: you’re sewing the arms on to a new voodoo doll; you’re ironing your best black cape; you’re making pentagrams out of sticks; and you’re gathering together your vials of hensbane and dragon’s teeth.

And that’s when you realize you have no eye of newt!

We’ve all been there. You meant to go newt-hunting earlier in the day, but you were just so busy; any number of things may have happened. Maybe your deformed assistant ate your to-do list. Maybe your crystal ball broke. Maybe your sister called asking for the liver of a blaspheming jew. Whatever the case, you forgot all about the eye of newt.

As we all know, newts are a pain in the ass to find. The forests have been picked over by deformed assistants, Witchcraft Depot doesn’t sell them, and the small mom and pop places that you used to rely on are all going out of business. So what can you do?

Well, it turns out there’s an easy solution. All you need is a toad, a drop of bat’s blood, and some corn starch. You simply take the toad (for best results, use one of those really tiny toads that are the size of your thumb), blend it, and add one drop of bat’s blood. This can get pretty messy in a Cuisinart, so we recommend an immersion blender or a good ‘ol mortar and pestle if you’ve still got one stashed somewhere in the house.

Once your toad is liquified, add the bat’s blood and then fold in enough corn starch to thicken it. The goal is to get the mixture thick enough so that you can roll it into a little ball the size of a newt’s eye. The dark spirits can’t tell the difference. Seriously. I once made a potion that called for three parts eye of newt to one part mugwort. When I discovered we were out of newt eyes, I freaked out. Broke a whole set of new wine glasses with my shrieking. But my friend Sandy told me about the toad and corn starch trick and wouldn’t you know it? I sank three sailboats with my potion.

09 Oct

Spoiler Alert: The Man by the Side of the Road

“Spoiler Alert” is a serialized short story, coming in 13 parts every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. “The Man by the Side of the Road” is part thirteen. It’s best if you know the end first, so go to part one if you haven’t read it yet.

Of course, that wasn’t going to happen. It couldn’t. So I told him he needed to take this trip alone.


I didn’t answer for fear I’d say the wrong thing. If David didn’t take that burning bus north, would I never meet the pregnant, kiss-blowing love of my life? How fragile were these things?

David grabbed my hand — a gesture almost too tender to take. “Oh, no. He told you, didn’t he? Something happens on your next bus trip?”

David’s voice trembled a little, his sympathy towards me palpable. And when I looked in his watery eyes, it felt like I was looking at my own son. I had to give him some hope. So I lied. “Yeah. You need to stay away from me.”

He held my gaze for a long time. A little too long. I thought maybe he saw through me. But then he offered me one last gulp of his water bottle. “I guess I couldn’t break you out of prison after all.”

Buses were leaving for Belize with surprising regularity. We bought separate tickets north. Mine left ten minutes after his.

“You know,” David said, just before embarking, “the old man was a liar.”

“You mean Abuelo?” I thought he might be referring to his own father.

“Yeah. He told you some version of the future. But there’s a good chance it was a lie.”

“I doubt it, but yeah, it’s possible.”

That’s when he patted me on the back. “Doubt is a wonderful thing,” he said. And I saw him no more.

Later, after the explosion and the black plume of smoke, and an hour or two spent on the side of the road, the flavored ice man made another pass. He was dressed in a ridiculous blue jumpsuit with a matching bandana over his mouth and a large, straw sombrero, so I didn’t get a good look at him. But he was about David’s size, and though he said nothing to me, his shouts of “Helados! Helados!” as he walked down the roadside sounded familiar.

He couldn’t have been David, of course. It’s nearly impossible. I know in my gut that David’s gone.

But I hope I’m wrong.

07 Oct

Spoiler Alert: The Hands

“Spoiler Alert” is a serialized short story, coming in 13 parts every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. “The Hands” is part twelve. It’s best if you know the end first, so go to part one if you haven’t read it yet.

The grand-daughters were fussing over David when I appeared, but they immediately turned their attention to me, gasping and chirping in Spanish.

“What? What did I do?” I asked.

“You closed the door,” David said. He looked like he had a hangover. “Apparently, you just locked their grandfather inside.”

The women rattled the door and said “aye” a lot. Did they know what I’d left behind? “We’ve got to get them out of here, David.”

“You gave him my gun, didn’t you?”

If someone told you you’d break a man out of a Salvadorian prison . . . .

“Let’s go.” David stood up and put a hand to his forehead.

“What about the women?”

“Don’t worry, they’ll follow us to the door. They’ll feel it necessary to see us out.”

He was right. They did follow us to the door. Back through that labyrinthine house we went until we were uttering our awkward goodbyes at the doorway. That’s when we heard the gunshot.

They must have known we were to blame for it. Hell, they may even have known it was coming. But that didn’t make their cries any quieter or any less passionate.

“We can’t stay and help them,” David said.

“I know.”

It felt shitty to leave them there, sobbing on each other’s shoulders, the awful work of cleaning out a bloodstained room left looming over them. But where there’s a death like Abuelo’s, there would be police, and we weren’t in Guatemala yet.

“I think I understand a little more, David. I think I understand how you feel. It’s this sort of helplessness, isn’t it?”

He didn’t answer immediately. In fact, he didn’t speak much for the next hour or so. He only gave the occasional directions — “Let’s go left here,” or “This way.” But when we finally hitched a ride on a camioneta headed north, he spoke up. “I wasn’t helpless, you know. I just believed I was.”

It felt reassuring to be in the back of that truck, nodding at each other once again.

“If the old man told me lies, that means there’s hope.” He clasped his hands together as though in prayer. They were my own hands, in a sense. I’d seen them from the unique perspective of their owner.

He smiled. “When we get to Jutiapa, let’s catch a bus to Belize.”