Category Archives: novel

The Haunted Toy Store… Canto 24

Canto 24 – Girl Talk

Maria found herself limited to riding along in her own naked body as she and Esperanza labored to run back to the hacienda where Imelda lived.

“Do we have to run all the way?” Maria asked in her head.

“We do.  Time is short.  Imelda and your Yesenia are in grave trouble.  But your body is so much better than mine…”

“What do you mean?”

“In life I was a little bit of a gordita.”


“Little fat girl.  Not athletic like you.”


“You know some Spanish.  I can see it in your mind.”

“My mom and my real dad are both Spanish speakers.  But they got divorced when I was four.  And we found my stepdad, Stanley.  He only speaks English, so…”

“So, you got out of practice.”

Maria’s body was panting, wheezing, and gasping for air as it ran.  But that didn’t affect either voice in her head.

“And you were out of practice at running.  Let me control the breathing.”

“Okay.  But that might be against the rules.  Promise you won’t use it against me later?”

“We want the same thing,” she reminded Esperanza.

“We surely do.”

The body fell into the trained running style that Maria used in high school track and cross country.  The breathing became regular and easier by far.

“You are definitely good at running,” Esperanza noted.

They pulled up at the gate to the hacienda.

“¿Por qué corres, Esperanza?” asked the guard at the gate.  Maria knew instantly from Esperanza’s memory that the young man’s name was Juanito, even though he was a rust-colored skeleton dressed in gray ghost clothing that you could see through.

“¿Dónde está Imelda? Necesito hablarle.”

“Ella está en el segundo piso. En su dormitorio, creo.”

“Gracias, Juanito.”

They were instantly running again.  The hacienda would’ve been gorgeous in an expensive and colorful way, Maria thought, if only she weren’t seeing it in black, white, and gray.

Esperanza found Imelda’s bedroom door and banged on it with both fists.

Then the door was opened from the inside.


“Maria, you must not say things out loud using your actual voice!  You must tell it to me and let me speak it!”

“You are breaking the rules!” said Imelda in Yesenia’s voice coming out of Yesenia’s tear-stained face.

Maria was hardly listening to the scolding.  She was at once filled with joy at having found the girl she betrayed.   But at the same time she was jealous of how beautiful Yesenia’s naked form would obviously look to Rogelio.

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The Haunted Toy Store… Canto 23

Canto 23 – Confessional

Stan stumbled into the bedroom.  He wasn’t sure how he was going to explain it all to Bonita.  Especially since the Vodka was making it difficult to walk, let alone talk.

She was sprawled out on the top of the bedspread, it was still tucked in and made up with her usual attention to tight corners.  She was still dressed.  Her head, propped up against the pillows, was wide awake, and she had definitely been crying.

“Bone, honey, um…”  He stood at the foot of the bed, swaying and shifting his weight from one leg to the other.

“Stan, you’ve been drinking.”

“It’s Maria… um, ah… it ain’t actually… um, going well…”

“But you’ve been trying harder than before… I’ve seen it.  You two are working together instead of fighting.”

“Yeah, but, I have something to tell you…”

“Yeah… but, first… I have something I gotta tell you.”

“Oh, um… the doctor’s visit?”

“Yeah.  The report came back.”

“Oh, no!  You mean…?”

“Remission is over.  The cancer is back.”

Stan pressed the palm of his hand against his forehead.  How could he…  now?  Maria was…

“You gotta promise me about Maria.  She’s gonna need you more than ever now.”

“You know I will…”  The room was swirling a bit.  He sank to catch himself on the corner of the foot of her bed.  There was suddenly no way he could tell her now.  “How long do you have?”

“Days, weeks, months… not years.”

“You know they told us that before.  Then the chemo started doing its damn job.”

“Yeah, but not this time.  It’s spreading faster than ever this time.  Promise me you will love her like she’s your own daughter.”

“Don’t be so quick to give up.  We both still need you.”

“We don’t have any more options.  It’s still there in my lungs.  We can’t afford more treatment, and Doc Jimenez says it wouldn’t help if we could.”

Stan started to cry.  The alcohol… and the bad news… both sets of bad news.   But mostly the alcohol…

“Promise me you’ll love her, and you’ll take care of her.”

 There was nothing more to say.  “You know I will.”

He gathered her limp and exhausted form up in his arms.  Drunkenly.  And they both wept together.

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The Joys of Editing Yourself


I am now in the final phase of publishing The Bicycle-Wheel Genius.  I am merely waiting for Amazon to object to whatever ridiculously minute formatting error I may still have going.  And I once again had to publish without benefit of a beta reader or an editor of any kind.  You learn things about yourself that you really don’t want to know.

What I have learned;

  • I can’t depend on my wife to be a beta reader and comment on my work.  She tried once and told me, “Your writing is like dog poop.  It is full of weird stuff, smells bad, and is impossible to get off your shoe once you step in it.”  To be honest, I ironed out that metaphor just a bit.  She was actually quibbling about my proofreading style and basically ignored all the content of the story.  That’s the way English teachers are about prose.
  • I can too easily fall into the habit of introducing characters on a fashion model runway.  The first time the character enters the narrative I tend to give a head to toe rundown of how they look, what they are wearing, and how they have done their hair.  I know better than that, but I still do it.
  • I… use… ellipsis… marks… toooo… much…!
  • My creative spellings tend to drive the spellchecker insane.  In this novel I had trouble over the spellings of blogwopping, interbwap, and dillywhacking.  To be fair two of those words are from the language of the Tellerons, a space-faring race of frog people who happen to ineptly invade the earth.  (Oh, and the other is a euphemism  used by young boys for something very private.  Don’t tell anybody about that one.)
  •  Time travel plots can be laboriously difficult to follow through mobius-strip-like  contortions of time, space, and history.
  • Sometimes my jokes are not funny.  Seriously… that can be a problem.
  • And my characters often act on weird impulses and do things for no rhyme or reason… or rhythm either for that matter… see what I mean about ellipsis marks?  Of course, one can always explain that that is exactly how people really are.  I myself never do that.  There is always a rhyme to be snatched from the ether in the very nick of time… randomly.
  • And at the end of the novel, when I am tying up the loose ends of the plot in a Gordian Knot, I have strings left over.  Maybe enough to knit a shirt with.  So I end up picking them up and starting another novel with them.
  • It is basically heck to be a divergent thinker.  You try to make a list of things, and by the time you get to number 9, you have forgotten what the list was about, and you even forgot to number things, so you have to go back to the first one and count.  Now what was I talking about?

Oh, yeah.  I edited the book all by myself.  And now it’s done.  Time to start a new novel and make all the same mistakes over again.

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The Haunted Toy Store… Canto 22

Canto 22 – The Puppets on the Wall

The puppets in the workshop were all hung up by the strings on the workshop wall.  There was a triple row of pegs to hang them from and they were basically all there.  All hanging from strings and all in their bare wooden forms without costumes or wigs.

Shandra woke up with a start.  She shook her wooden head awake.  Sawdust flew out of her ears.

“Mark!  Mark?  Are you here too?”

“Yeah.  To your left.”

Shandra turned her wooden head to see Mark smiling at her.

“You been awake for long?”

“No, Shandra.  You woke me up by calling my name.”

She would’ve smiled back at him, but her face was made of wood and was fixed in a frown.

Below them both and to the right they heard a female voice crying.  It was weeping softly.

“Who is that down there?”  Shandra roared.

“That’s the Gingerbread Witch you burned up on stage,” said the mouse puppet directly on Shandra’s right.

Shandra glared at the mouse.  It turned its little gray head away.

“So, what you cryin’ about down there, Wicked Witch?”  Shandra growled.

“You burned me,” replied a shaky little voice.

“But it weren’t real… was it?”

“Everything that happens on that stage is real.  Mr. Mephisto controls reality.  How you think we all got to be puppets?” said the mouse angrily.

“I was just a runaway girl whose parents never looked for her.  Mr. Mephisto promised to find a foster home for me when my punishment as a puppet is done,” sobbed the witch puppet.  “Now, when he puts me back in my real body, I will probably be horribly burned all over my body.”

Shandra’s little wooden tummy immediately turned to ice… well, it felt like that anyway.

“I didn’t know…” Shandra started to say.  But then she got angry.  “Why didn’t you defend your little timid self, then?”

“I couldn’t.  You are so forceful and scary.”

“Wait a minute,” said Mark, “you are saying all the puppets here are being punished for something?”

“Yeah.  Running away from home is a sin that the Devil punishes.”

“I was a runaway too,” said the mouse.

“I ain’t no sinner,” growled Shandra.

Mr. Mephisto was suddenly there laughing.  “You burned poor little Dierdre here.  You put a hit out on Poppa Dark.  You are definitely a puppet for a reason, little girl.”

“I’m gonna run away from here,” declared Shandra.

“You can’t.  Your arms and legs only work on stage,” said Mephisto.

“You wouldn’t leave me here alone?” asked Mark meekly.

“No, of course not.  What did Mark do wrong, by the way, Devil Man?”

“He ran away from loving parents to be with you, an evil influence.”

“So, we are in Hell, then?”

“No.  More like purgatory.  But for a reason.  The angels in Hell are fallen angels, but still angels made by God.”

“Are you sending me to a home all burned?” whined the witch.

“You came here in 1925, Diedre.  You are 103 years old now.”

“But you control reality, Devil Man,” Shandra said.  “You could put her back as a child… and not all burned up, either.”

“That’s right.  I could.”  Mr. Mephisto grinned.

“So, why are we really here?” Shandra asked.

“Because God is a just god.  Some will earn redemption.  And some will get the punishment they deserve.”

“And what if we don’t believe in God?” Shandra growled.

“Well, whatever…  He definitely believes in you.  For good or ill.”

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The Haunted Toy Store… Canto 21

Canto 21 – The Burned House

“This is all that is left of the house that Momma and I were living in,” said the doll in Brittany’s arms.

It was a brick foundation full of burned wood and charcoal.  It was mostly black and smelled of ash and extinct wood fires.

“What good does it do to bring me here and show me this? 

“You will see when the Lonely One that was my momma shows up at midnight.  I will then be able to show you everything.”

“So, we’re waiting for a ghost?”

“No.  Momma is not a ghost.  She’s a Lonely One like me.”

Brittany did not trust the doll any longer.  She was feeling repeatedly tricked, repeatedly lied to, confused, and definitely kidnapped… yes, that was the word.  Taken without her consent, kidnapped.

The sun was long past set.  The witching hour was at hand.  And Brittany was shivering in the cold night air.

It was at that moment that a glowing ball of red light came down the street from the north.

“There she is,” the doll said.

The light moved to the burned-out ruins of the house.  As it approached the place where the front of the house had been, a sudden growth of red bricks, becoming a red brick wall with a red front door in it, and widened out into the red front of a modest two-story home.  An eerie red ghost of a house stood before the woman and the doll.  Brittany put the doll down, letting her stand on her own two porcelain feet.

“Let’s go in.”

“It’s only a ghost of a house.  There’s really a big hole there to fall into.”

“You are not in your former world.  The rules of this world are different.  We can go into this house and watch what happened there in the past.  You will see what I need you to see.”

Reluctantly, Brittany let the doll lead her towards the front door.  The doll opened the door and ushered Brittany inside.

The living room was typical of a home in the 1940’s and reminded Brittany very much of Great Aunt Tilda’s home when she was a child younger than Hannah.  But everything was lit in an eerie red light.

Brittany took in a sudden, sharp breath when she saw the ghostly image of the momma.  It looked like a duplicate of Brittany herself but dressed in 1940s fashion and with a grim expression on her face that Brittany hoped no one in her future life would see on her own face.

“She’s beautiful, isn’t she?” asked the doll.

“Did she really look like me?”

“No.  You look like her.  That’s why I chose you.”

“Can she see us and hear us?”

“No.  This is an echo of the past.  She has no idea that the two of us are here.”

Then there was the sound of small feet on the stairs.

“Here I come wearing…” began the doll, but trailing off into saying nothing.

Molly came skipping down the stairs wearing a lovely and extra-frilly dress.  She looked exactly like Hannah.

“No!” shouted the momma.  “You should not be wearing that dress!”

“B-b-but it’s a gift from Daddy.”

“It’s cursed.”

“It’s not.  His letter said it was a gift from the lady.”

“You mean the Italian lady?  The one he saved during a battle?”

“Yes… that one.”

“She had the dress to give him for you because her own daughter was killed in the war.”

“But…  It’s my beautiful blue dress.”

Brittany turned to the doll and whispered, “It looks red to me.”

“Everything in Momma’s world was red.  Mad red.”

“Take the dress off.  I should burn the thing.  It is the dress of a dead girl.”

  Molly began to cry.  Then she stormed back up the stairway apparently to take the dress off again.

“Your mother seems overly angry,” Brittany said to the doll.

“My Daddy was the one who really loved me,” said the doll.

Brittany silently bit her lower lip.

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The Haunted Toy Store… Canto 20

Canto 20 – Esperanza Blanca Guajardo

Maria had been met at the doorway by a young pink skeleton girl ­named Esperanza Blanca Guajardo.  She had been pulled into the very ghost body of the girl, her clothes magically dissolving, and the pink skeleton being pulled inside her naked body.  She walked then, not under her own power, but by steps taken by the ghost inside her.  The panties she had been wearing were on the floor behind her as she walked into a desolate black landscape where every feature she saw was nothing but a gray and white outline, including the simple ghost dress she was wearing.

“Where are you taking me?” she asked the ghost.  It felt weird to be walking nude through what seemed like the inside of a video game more than a real place.  The nearly invisible dress she wore felt like nothing.  It was slightly cold with no wind.

“This is the first time the angel ever let us try something like this.  Always before, Imelda simply dies at the quinceañera, being stabbed to death by the gringo.”

“What are you talking about?”

“The game… from the toy store.  You know about the game, or the skull wouldn’t have chosen you.  But never did he choose someone to play the game as me in all the times it was played in the past.”

“This is the game that Yesenia is playing?  With Rogelio?”

“Yes, Imelda and Steven play it with your friends as their game pieces.”

“What are the rules of this game?”

“Imelda’s story ended as a tragedy.  It was a story that none of .us could move on from when we died.  We must replay it over and over until somehow we get it right.”

“Oh, I don’t like the sound of that.  Why do you need living humans to play the game?”

“We, the Lonely Ones, can only play out the actions we took in life.  It is the reactions of the game pieces that are the only hope of changing the outcome.”

“And what happens to the game pieces if you don’t win the game?”

“We have played this game more than once a year for a hundred and sixty-nine years.  Always the game pieces are lost and their bodies disintegrate, and their souls become a part of the land of the dead.”

“Do the game pieces get to go home alive if you win the game?”

“Those that did not die in the game.  Si.”

“What happens, then, that we need to fix in order to win the game?”

“Well, Imelda was in love with Steven.  So much in love, in fact, that they made love one night, making Imelda’s poppa feel his honor could only be restored if he forced Steven to marry her.”

“So, how did that become an unhappy ending?”

“It is complicated.  You see, Javier was supposed to marry Imelda.  But he was not a nice young man.  He beat Imelda twice while they were supposedly courting.  Imelda wanted to tell her poppa how he had treated her.  But her poppa would’ve killed Javier and then been hanged for murder.  Imelda didn’t want that.”

“What was the plan, then?”

“Imelda was hoping Steven would show up at her quinceañera and run away with her.”

“And he never showed up?”

“Oh, no, much worse than that.”

“Then what?”

“Steven showed up covered in blood.  He had a huge knife with him.  And he was angry at Imelda.  He ran up to her and stabbed her in the heart.  As she died, Javier took the knife from Steven and cut his head off.”

“That is really terrible!  How do we stop that from happening again?”

“I don’t know.  But the rules of the game have never before allowed me to have a playing piece in the game.”

“So, it is up to the two of us?”

“Yes, and the game pieces that Imelda and Steven are using this time through the event.”

“Well, let’s go talk to Imelda and Yesenia, then.”

“Si.  I am her best friend, after all.”

“Imelda’s best friend, Esperanza Blanca Guajardo.  Am I right?”

“Si, and my name, in youir language, means Hope.”

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The Haunted Toy Store… Canto 19

Canto 19 – Rattling the Owl’s Cage

Stan was at the toy store early the next day, fuming enough that he didn’t know why there wasn’t a trail of smoke coming out of each of his ears as he made his way through the unlocked business door.

“Geist!  You need to explain some things!”

“Oh?  Did you make the mistake of cutting open the paper skull?”

The owlish man blinked his magnified eyes and gave Stan a grim smile.

“No, I didn’t.  But not because I believe any of that nonsense about demons and the Bones of the Lonelies.”

“Then why didn’t you do it?”

“Well, I need to know how it really works.  I am not going to risk there being some poisonous chemical or radioactive substances in the workings of the thing.”

“I don’t know what is inside the thing.  I do know the one that got opened in Colombia fifty years ago started a series of grisly killings that didn’t stop until at least five hundred people were dead.”

“I don’t want to hear more of the BS.  I want to know how it really works.  Somehow the thing can talk to me in my mind and Maria can’t hear it.  And then it talks to her, and I can’t hear what it says.  This is not the way the universe works.   I want to know how the science works.  And who programmed the damned thing.”

“Well, at least you understand that the thing is damned.  I can’t tell you scientifically how the thing works.  I do not know.  There is science behind it somehow, but growing up I was a barn owl and lived in a tree.“

“What good are you to this place if you don’t know anything at all about how things work?”

“Has she asked it how to get her boyfriend back?”

“She was talking to it again when I left.”

“It will be guiding her, then, on how to get to the Bones of the Lonelies.  It will require a sacrifice of her, possibly asking her to give up her life.”

“What?  You mean it might kill her?”

“Oh, that is what most often happens in these scenarios.  Is she guilty of any mortal sins?”

“She admitted that she brought Yesenia here so she could steal her boyfriend.”

“Yeah, that kind of betrayal probably requires the death penalty.”

“What?  How could that happen?”

“Well, the skull opens a portal to the land of the dead.  A spirit from the other side will come to the doorway used as a portal and take possession of the body.  Considering where she would be going, to the Bones of the Lonelies, she will be taken nude to the other side, leaving some blood-spattered clothing, probably underwear, at the spot of the exchange.  There she will relive an event in the life of a lonely one.  And if the story she is reliving involves death, then the human body will become a sacrifice to the story, and she will die.  Most of the bodies from this practice have decomposed completely in the present because they died so far in the past.”

Stan blanched.  He had to get home to Maria and the skull to stop her before…


When he got home, the door to Maria’s bedroom was wide open, which it never was in his prior experience of it.  In fact, it was usually not only closed but locked.

Just inside the doorway was a discarded pair of pink panties.  And there was blood.

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The Haunted Toy Store… Canto 18

Canto 18 – Talking to the Dead

Stan took Maria to the study and made her bring the decorative skull thing.

“It’s time we look for the miniature radio receiver,” Stan said.

“So, how will you do that?” Maria asked.

“With an exactor knife.”

“But, if you cut into it, you are doing what the owl guy said you can’t do.”

“Surely you don’t really believe in demons and curses?”

“I believe in Science, like you.  But I also worry about things we might not know enough things about.”

Stan smiled at her.  Typical teenager with some knowledge, but lots of superstition and ignorance on the other side of the teeter-totter of the mind.

He looked at the thing Maria had put into his right hand as his left hand picked up the razor knife.  It was a beautiful piece of work.  Shaped like a skull, it was decorated with flowers and vines in bright, looping lines.  Someone had taken great pains to make this object worthy of its religious purpose.  And even if you didn’t respect the dogma and arbitrary rules of religion, Stan did have to acknowledge that somebody in the world cared a lot more about it all than he did.

“Gringo, if you cut me, you will regret it for the rest of your shortened life,” said the skull clearly and in English.

“What?  Maria, could you tell where that voice came from?”

“What voice?”

“You didn’t hear a voice?”

“Maria, I have a separate conversation to hold with you, Chica.  But I have to threaten the stooge right now.  Let me settle with him first.”  Stan knew the voice was meant for both of them to hear that time.

“Okay, stupid one.  There is a demon sealed into this paper skull.  If you cut through the magical designs that hold it within, it will come out and possess you.  You will kill pretty little Maria first, horribly with lots of blood, pain, and screaming.  And then you will kill your wife even more horribly.  And immediately call the police to confess your crime, not so you can pay for your crime, but to bring the police here to kill as many as you can, and then the demon will escape by possessing the cop who kills you.”

“Why is there a demon imprisoned inside of you?”

“He is bound there to provide the power I must use to perform the functions I have at Aunt Phillia’s.  The things I must do for Maria to accomplish what she must accomplish among the Bones of the Lonelies.”

“Stan, maybe you should give the thing to me,” said Maria.

Stan was quietly thinking about any possible explanation that didn’t involve real demons to counter what the thing said, but he didn’t dispute it out loud.  He put the thing in Maria’s hands.

“Maria, you know that Rogelio and Yesenia are both in the land of the dead though they are both still alive at this point.”

“Yes, I know…”  She had tears in her eyes as she said it.

“There is a possibility that they will both die there and become permanent residents.  You must now be honest about why you took Yesenia to the toy store to begin with.”

“I, uh… what do you mean?”

“You need to tell the Gringo Stan why you took Yesenia to the toy store.”

Maria looked at Stan.  Stricken is the only possible word for how she looked. 

“If you don’t admit it, you cannot go there and try to retrieve either of them.”

“I… I wanted her boyfriend to like me instead of her.”

“And what did you think would happen at the toy store when you took her there?”

She was ghostly pale.  “I knew from the stories that something might happen to her that would separate her from Rogelio.

“And you got what you wanted.  Why, then, did you take Rogelio there?”

She looked at Stan again.  “I felt guilty.  I had to…”

“You had to rescue her,” said Stan.

Her face crumbled and she was bawling.

“I can help you do that,” said the skull.  “You will have to put your own life on the line to do it.”

Stan reached over to Maria and took hold of her shoulder.  He pulled her to himself.  She cried against his chest as he held her.

“Maria, it shows me you are a good person that you wanted to fix this.”  Stan stroked the hair on the back of her head.

“You don’t hate me?” she sobbed.

“Of course not.  You are my daughter now.  No more question about that.”

The skull was laughing softly and creepily.

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The Haunted Toy Store… Canto 17

Canto 17 – The Balcony Scene

Rogelio found himself looking up at the second-floor balcony of the Zuniga Inn.

“So, you wanna climb up there?” he asked Steven.

“I have now done it countless times in more than a century of practicing this moment over and over again.”

“So, I won’t die if we fall headfirst on our stupid head?”

“You can’t actually die in this reality unless another living human kills you here.”

“And that’s what we’re gonna do to Yesenia when we get up there?”  Rogelio felt a bit panicky over having no control over his own body.

“Not here.  Not now.  I told you I would give you the reasons for why we have to kill her.  But those reasons don’t apply to this moment.”

Steven took control of Rogelio’s arms and legs.  He began to shinny up one of the columns that supported the balcony on the second floor.  Then like a monkey he swung his legs up over the edge of the balcony railing.  It was all solid wood, but Rogelio still felt as if it could fall apart at any moment and they would plummet headfirst to the ground.  But he found himself standing on both legs outside the first room on the second floor. 

“What if the balcony door is locked?” Rogelio asked.

“It’s not.  These balcony doors don’t even have locks.”

He reached over and slowly, silently pulled open the balcony door.  Quietly, he entered the room.  It was a simple, sparsely furnished room in a Spanish inn.  The bed was occupied by two skeletons, a large, blue male one and a smaller pink one that looked like it could be Imelda’s mother.

“Don’t say anything with your mouth.  You’ll wake them,” said Steven.

“Are they both asleep?” Rogelio asked nervously in his head only.

Then the male snored loudly enough to remove all doubt.  The female moaned at the noise, but merely poked her husband and rolled over.

Steven quietly moved them out of the room and closed the door after them.

“So, I was supposed to expect you to sneak into Momma and Poppa’s room?” said Yesenia/Imelda on the next balcony.

Steven grinned sheepishly.  Rogelio noticed that the moonlight made the ghost nightgown she was wearing more visible, but you could still see through it to Yesenia’s beautiful naked body underneath.

“Why don’t you try this room instead?”

The two balcony railings were separated by only about three feet of empty space.  Getting up on the railing, it was easy for Steven/Rogelio to step across the gap.

“Gringo, I am surprised that you actually did this.  I thought it was just talking.”

“I was talking… to a pretty girl whom I may have fallen in love with at first sight.”  Steven was laying it on thick, but Rogelio also knew he was deeply in love with Imelda.

Imelda blushed using Yesenia’s face.

“Come into my room where Momma won’t hear you.  If she finds out, she will make Poppa kill you.”

Steven let Imelda take him by the hand and pull him into the bedroom.

“Is what I think is about to happen really going to happen?” Rogelio asked Steven.

“It depends on what you mean by really happen?” he answered by thought alone.

“Have you ever made love to a woman?”

“Only one time in my whole life, but I have relived it more times than I can count on all the fingers in Dallas.”

“And you are going to relive it again now?”

“Yeah… so?”

“In my body?  And Imelda in Yesenia’s body?”

“And you are a virgin… huh?”

Then Rogelio saw Imelda pulling them toward the bed.  And he began to remember how beautiful Yesenia was in real life.  He was about to become a man in the world of the ghosts and skeletons.


“You will come to my quinceañera, Steven?”

“I will.  And we will run away together?”

“I will go anywhere with you.  I love you, Steven.”

At that moment, a loud banging at the door frightened them both.

“Imelda!  LET ME IN!  I will kill him!”

“It is my padre!  He will kill us both!  Get out now!”

 Steven scrambled out of the bed and grabbed at his clothing.  The ghost materials all slipped through his fingers except for his floppy cowboy hat.  He was out over the balcony rail in mere moments.  Completely naked… with a hat on his head.

Several splinters pierced his hands, forearms, and thighs as he shinnied down the support column. “You come back here, gringo!  You will marry my daughter now, or you will die a horrible death!” 

The angry shadow loomed over the street, huge and terrible.  It shook a black skeletal fist at Rogelio and Steven as they ran down the street naked, not wearing even ghost clothing.  Rogelio’s heart hammered hard enough for two people as they barefooted their way down the dirt street.

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The Haunted Toy Store… Canto 16

Canto 16 – The First Adventure on Strings

The marionette that was now Shandra and the marionette that was actually Mark were both standing on a stage made for marionettes.  It was small, but ornate, with a woodland scene draped behind them.

“You are now Hansel and Gretel,” said Mr. Mephisto.

Shandra looked up at the puppeteer holding her control stick above her, and the female puppeteer holding the control stick for Mark.  “And who are these dummies that seem to think they gonna make us do stuff with them strings they got attached to us?”

“Oh, they aren’t there to control the two of you.  Trog and Trogina are the real puppets.  They will just hold the strings to convince the audience that you two are puppets.”

“So, we can move and do whatever we want?” Shandra put her marionette hands on her hips and frowned at Mephisto while Trog moved the correct strings to fake that he was doing the controlling.

“You can go anywhere on stage as long as you are attached to the strings.  If you mention something that you need in the story, it will appear on stage as if by the magic of a Troglet handing it to you or changing the scenery like a good stage manager.”

“And what if we say something that’s not on the script?” asked Mark, his voice sounding nervous with apparent stage fright.

“Oh, we are not using a script, Hansel, my boy.  You will just make up the story as you go.  You do basically know the story of Hansel and Gretel, right?”

“I gotta story to tell alright,” said Shandra, frowning even harder with her string-attached eyebrows.

“Good girl.  That’s what we do here.  Improv.  And it all works out in the end one way or another.”

The theater was in a library on Webb Chapel Road.  When Mr. Mephisto pulled back the curtains you could see the shelves of books, and the wooden chairs lined up in front of the puppet theater, and the space right down front that quickly filled up with snotty little brats that were younger than Shandra and Mark by a bit.  Shandra grinned evilly.

Mr. Mephisto came over the speaker and said, “The Kids on Strings now present their version of Hansel and Gretel.”

“ Well, Hansel, we are kicked outta our home by an evil stepfather and have to find a way to feed our own selves.”

“Um, yeah, Gretel…” Mark answered tentatively.

“So, you know that old witch that has the house made of gingerbread and candy?  The one who eats kids like us?”

“Uh, well… yes.”

“Let’s go eat her damn house.  I like gingerbread, and I’m really very hungry.”

“Well, yeah.  But what if the witch catches us?”

“You know how this story goes.  We kill her evil backside… and her frontside too.”

The kids in the audience all laughed.  The adults, however, were looking rather frowny.

The scenery changed.  The Troglet dropped in the gingerbread witch house, which was actually made of cardboard and papier mache.  Shandra winked at the crowd, smiled even bigger, and proceeded to chew the scenery to pieces with her wooden teeth.

Mark helped her make the house-eating scene look real as he greedily chewed up the witch’s house beside Shandra.

“Oh, no!  Look out for the witch!” cried several kids in the audience.  The witch puppet showed up on stage armed with what appeared to be a magic wand.

Shandra grinned at the witch as she said aloud, “Troglet, where is that goddam oven we get to bake her in?”

The oven appeared as if by magic, stage right.

The witch puppet seemed to be looking at Shandra imploringly, fear featured prominently in her bulging, round eyes.

Shandra boldly strode over to the witch, hoisted the villain over her puppet head, and gave Mark a sharp command.  “Open that danged oven, so I can throw this witch in there!”

“Oh, no!” cried the witch, having already dropped her wand.

Shandra marched over and threw the puppet witch into what appeared to be a real fire.  The witch broke free of her strings and started to crisp in the oven’s hot flames. 

Immediately Shandra formed a new plan.  She reached down and picked up the witch’s wand.  She pointed it at the oven.

“I don’t want no gingerbread witch.  I want to turn the witch into a statue of pure gold.  Not puppet-show gold, but real, honest-to-god gold.”

The oven disappeared in a puff of smoke, leaving behind a golden statue of the witch.  And, as the spotlight caused the golden statue to glitter, it appeared to be real gold.

The kids all laughed.  The adults mostly applauded.

“That is real gold over there,” said Shandra, grinning at the crowd.  “And I wanna use it to hire a hit man.”

“To kill somebody for real?” asked a black man in the back of the audience.

“Yes.  You, any of you, know Poppa Dark?”

“The con man that maybe killed his stepdaughter?”

“That would be the one.  Guilty as sin.  He killed poor lovely Shandra and deserves to die.  The statue, whatever the gold is worth, goes to anybody who can successfully make him dead.”

“Boy howdy, I don’t know about this!” said a white parent, grabbing her two kids from the front row.

“That is definitely not how the story goes,” someone else said.

“Won’t you all come back for our next show?” Shandra said with a grin.  “It will be called How Poppa Dark Got What’s Coming to Him.”

The part of the library where the puppet show was located quickly emptied, and Mr. Mephisto drew the curtains closed.

Then the old devil man was standing in front of Shandra and Mark with a smile on his face.

“So, now you gonna punish us kids?”

“No, Shandra.  That was perfect, just as it was.”

“You mean we didn’t mess up your evil little plans?”

“Of course not.  That was precisely the introduction we needed in this case.  Somebody will be getting the message soon.”

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