30 Sep

Spoiler Alert: The Abuelo

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

“Wow, that’s weird.”

David put his palms to his eyes and started rubbing them. He looked like he was trying to push them into his head.

“What do you think it means?” I asked.

He slung his backpack over his shoulder and faced the Zapatero residence. “There’s only one way to find out.”

I watched him go, wondering whether I’d be hearing a gun shot soon. But as he approached the front door, he looked back at me and shouted, “What are you doing?”

I shrugged.

He motioned for me to follow him, so I jumped up and jogged toward the house. “You’re supposed to come with me.” It was an interesting choice of words (supposed to?) but I decided not to comment on them.

The woman/girl opened the door, saw me standing there, and began to close it again.

“Wait!” David shouted. “Yo soy Alan.”

She eyed us both and yelled something in Spanish. An older woman rounded a corner and came to stand by the first. I guessed they were mother and daughter.

David spoke with them. I couldn’t understand shit.

The women nodded and led us through a labyrinthine house — down one hall, through a kitchen, down another hall, out a door to a courtyard, and finally through another door to a solitary room.

Inside, an old man was lying on a bed, watching telenovelas on a small TV set that sat atop a dresser. He didn’t acknowledge us when we entered.

“Is that him?” I whispered.


The women spoke quietly, addressing the man as abuelo.

He caught sight of David and smiled. “Alan?”

I’m sure he had some form of dementia. He looked disoriented. But his English was pretty good, and when David nodded, the old guy seemed to brighten up a bit. “This must be your son,” he said. I chuckled.

David glared at me.

The old man wagged a shaky finger at David. “I told him, like you asked. I told him.” Then he looked at me. “Don’t worry, the door’s been broken for years.”

Of course, I had no idea what he was talking about, but I smiled and nodded anyway. I might have said thanks, which was kind of weird now that I think about it.

The old guy extended a feeble arm and held it there for David to take. “Alan, my friend. It’s good to see you.”

“It’s good to see you,” David said. He was crying.

28 Sep

Spoiler Alert: The Accomplice

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

“I have a feeling this involves killing.”

“No, no. Don’t worry about that. I just want to talk to the guy, find out why he ruined my life.”

“And maybe show him that gun you stole earlier?”

“Maybe. But look, you came down here to, uh, disassociate from your past, right?” He waited for my nod. “Well I came down here to disassociate from my future. Don’t you see, we’re two sides of the same coin, you and me.”


“So to speak.”

All at once, I felt really tired. I’d barely slept the previous night. Dreaming of mice navigating mazes made for fitful rest. As David regarded me with his best rendition of puppy eyes, I suddenly remembered how, in my dream, I was told to go through the maze also. I thought there’d be a human-sized version of it, but there wasn’t. I had to toe-walk like a ballerina through the mouse-sized maze.

“Look, it’s easy. I just need you to go to the door and ask for Don Zapatero.”

“Don Zapatero?”

He coached me on the pronunciation a little. “Not ‘dawn,’ not ‘done.’ D-o-n. Don. Rhymes with bone.”

The plan was for me to simply determine that a Don Zapatero lived in the house. “Once you find out he lives there, just tell them anything, like you’re selling life insurance. They’ll tell you to go away.”

“That’s all I have to do?”

“Yep. That’s it. Just be sure that you’re absolutely clear on whether he is in the house. They’ll probably even speak English.”

The task seemed innocent enough. So I agreed to it.

Unfortunately, they didn’t speak English. I knocked on the door and a young woman answered. She was somewhere between 15 and 25, I’d guess, but I have a hard time pinpointing the ages of Central Americans. When I asked for Don Zapatero, she invited me in the house and then left me standing just inside the doorway despite my cries of “No, wait. I’m selling life insurance.”

I contemplated leaving since I didn’t want to face the actual Don Zapatero, but when she returned a minute later, there was no old man in tow, thank God. She said something to me in Spanish. I just shook my head.

“Jour name iss Alan?” She spoke slowly.

“Me? No, I’m Joe. Just your average Joe.” I laughed.

She didn’t. “Joe?”

I nodded enthusiastically, thrilled that I’d communicated effectively for once. But then she left again.

And when she returned, she was speaking more Spanish and showing me the door.

“Well?” David asked.

“Well, he’s there, I think. But they kicked me out when I told them my name wasn’t Alan.”

David’s face went white. “What did you just say?”

“She asked me if my name was Alan, and when . . .”

“Holy shit!”

“What? What’s wrong?”

“Alan was my father’s name.”

25 Sep

Spoiler Alert: The Banana Truck

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

“You just mean the prison thing?” I asked.

He wouldn’t elaborate. “Trust me. This isn’t something you want to know.” Not an encouraging thought, to say the least.

Now, besides the fact that I was growing attached to the poor bastard, the sheer strength of my curiosity drove me to tag along with him. I had to know what predetermined fate we shared.

Part of that fate was to ride in the back of a banana truck. David quickly befriended a few vendors at a fruit stand, who were quite impressed with his Spanish. I stood there looking dumb while he arranged a ride for us on a camioneta headed for Ahuachapan, which was apparently closer to Guatemala. Good enough for me.

On the bumpy ride, David asked why I’d come to Central America.

“You’re clearly not a Spanish-speaker,” he remarked.

“Nope. That’s part of the reason I’m here, though.” It had happened to me once before on a trip to Quebec with my wife, I explained. “There were parts of town where they actually didn’t speak any English — or at least pretended not to, I’m not sure. My wife found it aggravating, but I found it completely liberating.”

David raised an eyebrow. “Liberating?”

“Yeah. It kind of lifts you out of yourself, you know what I’m saying?” I’m not gonna say that ignorance is bliss, but sometimes it’s nice to maintain illusions. And ignorance allows that. “When you don’t understand anything, you can believe that people are mostly friendly to each other and to you. You can assume that communication is sincere, that people mean what they say because why wouldn’t they?

“You can believe in benevolence and kind-heartedness and good intentions.”

“You and your wife were having problems, weren’t you?”

For a second, I was speechless. You’ll understand if I was quick to theorize that David was somewhat clairvoyant himself. I mean, who knew? Maybe the old man had touched him on the way out of the hospital room and transferred some magic ability. “How did you know that?”

He smiled at me, no doubt amused by the stunned expression on my face. “I’ve been there, remember?”

The Canadian girl. Leaving him. Right.

“So you came here because of her?” he asked.

I sighed. I didn’t like to think about it. The less I thought about it, the less likely it was that my wife had actually moved out. The less likely it was that she had told me she’d met someone else and that they “hadn’t done anything yet,” but that she felt a connection to him that she’d never felt with me. And so I’d been wandering Central America with a certain disregard for my own safety, getting lost, staying out late, drinking alcoholic beverages with names I couldn’t pronounce, trying exotic new foods. Because when you’re sick on parasites and the owner of the hotel you’re staying at is speaking gibberish, you can believe not only in her patient benevolence and concern (she doesn’t care about your vomiting in her carpeted room or your scaring off other tourists); you can also believe that your problems back home are relatively small and that they’re working themselves out right now. “Ignorance is comfortable. That’s what it is.”

David nodded at me, a silent affirmation. That’s how I saw it. Of course, the truck was so bumpy that it kind of looked like he was nodding all the time. And I’m sure I looked the same way to him. So for the next five minutes, we were content to just nod back and forth at each other. I think we both realized we shared something now. We were both men who’d been dumped. No doubt we both told ourselves we were men who’d been wronged by women, but the truth was we were both men who’d fucked it up ourselves.

And yet, it eased our self-loathing to have found a fellow failure. That’s my theory. ‘Cause at that moment, I felt like I had a brother.

That must have been why he felt comfortable enough to say what he said next.

“You’ve never killed a man, have you?” He looked at me like always, with those expectant eyes.

“No. Of course not.”

“Yeah, me neither.”

More nodding at each other.

“I tracked down that bastard who told me my personal prophecies.”

I coughed. This was big news. What the hell was I supposed to say?

“He’s in Ahuachapan. And I need your help.”

23 Sep

Spoiler Alert: The Communion

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

David told me all of this in the dark of pre-dawn as we hid in a recessed doorway near the city’s outdoor market. As early as 4:30, people started setting up their stands, giving us more and more cover. “The crazier the scenario, the more likely it is that I’ve been told about it,” he explained.

“Like this one?” I asked. “You’ll huddle in a doorway near an outdoor market in downtown Sonsonate, hiding from the police and waiting for . . . What are we waiting for?”

“A truck of some sort, the kind with a flat bed and high walls.”


“Several reasons, really. But mostly because I avoid buses at all costs.”

At the risk of sounding like a five year-old, I was about to ask why again, but then I remembered the prophecy of David’s death. That and I noticed the humorless expression on his face. He took this stuff seriously. For me, it was just some fascinating oddity, like the bearded lady or the boy with elfin ears. For him, it was more sinister.

“It’s not that I know exactly what will happen to me all the time. You see, the old man didn’t relay every experience of my life, just a few hundred highlights or so. I’ve never bothered counting. Hell, I’ve never bothered trying to recall them at all.” He took a deep breath, as though he were about to confess to grave crime. “But I do recall them, typically right before or right after they happen.”

“It must ruin the surprise a little.” When you don’t know what to say, state the obvious.

He paused and looked me in the eye, a smile barely discernible on his face. “Yeah, I guess. But not all surprise is eliminated. I mean, if I told you that you would someday be in a Costa Rican hostal talking to a beautiful Canadian girl about a documentary you both saw on mutations in frogs, that experience wouldn’t be less special once it happened. And honestly, various facets of the experience remain a surprise. For instance, I had no idea who the beautiful Canadian girl would be. I had no idea how we’d meet. I had no idea how beautiful she’d be. I simply knew that when I was in San Jose, chances were good that I’d meet that Canadian girl I was told about.

“It’s like watching the film version of a novel you read ten years ago. It doesn’t take the emotion out of it. You may know that the killer is waiting behind the parked car, but you don’t disengage from the movie altogether, do you?”

It wasn’t a rhetorical question. David doesn’t ask rhetorical questions, I found out. In the pregnant pauses following his inquiries, I eventually caught on, but never quick enough. On this occasion, I was pondering his odd choice of analogy. The killer behind the parked car? Then I noticed his expectant stare. “N-no,” I stuttered.

“Sure, when you’re told you’ll marry that Canadian girl, it takes some of the anticipation away. But she’s no less marry-able. She’s no less beautiful and captivating. Really, I’d say that it’s hard to dilute the high points of life by predicting them.”

He extracted a water bottle from his backpack, opened the cap, and sniffed its contents. He offered me the bottle after he took a swig himself, allowing me a brief moment to believe that he didn’t have it so bad.

Then he went on.

“It’s the tragedies that you don’t want to know about.” He took another gulp. “Know what the worst thing about tragedy is?”

It took me a second. “No.”

“Inevitability.” He let that word reverberate a little before moving on. “You don’t want to know that one day, on the banks of the Reventazon River, you’ll witness a young girl drown trying to save her dog and that her brother will also drown trying to save her.

“You don’t want to know that you’ll be trapped in the jungle one night because of flash flooding. Nor do you want to know that you’ll get into a car accident your senior year in high school and that one of your friends, the one sitting in the middle without a seat belt, will go flying through the windshield. Even though he’ll survive, you don’t want to know these things ahead of time. It just amplifies your helplessness.”

If I’d been envious of him up to this point, I no longer was.

“And trust me. You certainly don’t want to know that seven years after you marry the Canadian girl you met in San Jose, she’ll leave you. ‘Cause then every hour you spend with her is tainted by the dread that it’s finite, that it will end. And when things aren’t going really well between the two of you, you’ll tend to get a little touchy, you’ll tend to take it out on everyone around you without ever being able to explain that one day, some asshole came into your life and told you this all would happen.”

He offered me some more water, which felt to me like a sort of ritual communion between us. I drank. “So you don’t tell most people about this?”


I returned his bottle. “Then why are you telling me?”

“Because,” he said. “I was told about you.” He drank.

21 Sep

Spoiler Alert: The Future

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

“The future’s a crazy place,” the stranger said. “You’ll die in a bus accident in Central America. In fact, you’ll do a lot of stuff in Central America. You’ll go bungee-jumping in the Costa Rican city of La Fortuna. You’ll date a woman who will inform you after three dates and a heavy petting session that she has two kids. You’ll even be an interim news correspondent for news radio in the aftermath of a minor massacre in Honduras.”

The man got out a cigarette and put it in his mouth. He didn’t light it, but what a thing to do, you know? I mean, the kid’s dad was dying of lung cancer.

He proceeded to enumerate countless far-fetched scenarios in which, he claimed, David would someday find himself. These ranged from the inconsequential (“You’ll accidentally brush your teeth with a tube of your roommate’s Ben-Gay your junior year in college”) to the milestones of David’s life (“You’ll lose your virginity at the age of 20 on the 7th-hole green at the Whispering Pines Golf Course one night in May”).

Were it not for the cigarette dangling menacingly from the man’s mouth, David said, he might have even been amused. The guy relayed his detailed vignettes with the sort of charm and charisma that often accompanies grandparents’ retellings of their most oft-told memories.

The unlit cigarette bobbed up and down as the man spoke. And though David’s dominant emotion at the time was a sort of bile-filled disgust, he felt something else that took him years to pinpoint. “A tinge of fondness,” he confessed to me, “that’s what it was.”

But it didn’t last long.

The stranger stood and put on his hat (Don’t all villains have a hat? It keeps them perpetually in the dark), and said, “Your foster parents will be good to you.”

Need I say this was a shock?

The man nodded at David and headed for the door.

David spoke for the first and only time. “What do you mean?”

“Son, your father will die tomorrow at precisely 2:01 in the afternoon. You won’t be here to say goodbye.” And in the predictable silence that ensued as David wrestled with whether or not to believe the guy, the stranger followed with another doozy. “And your mother will commit suicide three months from now by driving her car off a cliff.”

Three months later, his mom did indeed die in a car accident. And yes, a cliff was involved. It was never verified that she intended to die, but, of course, David was convinced. He’d been convinced for some time.

The day after the strange man appeared in his father’s hospital room, delivering personalized prophecies, David tried to get out of school early, first by lying to the school’s authorities and then by telling the truth. Finally, when the teachers’ looks turned from scolding to pitying, he simply ran away from them. He made it to the hospital at 2:04.