Wednesday, July 7, 2021



I hear footsteps behind me, so I turn around thinking I'll face Van Stein and instead I’m looking at two of the mannequins from the thrift shop display window, dragging after me.

“This isn’t happening!” I holler.

Suddenly there are two more zombies on the next street corner, arms outstretched, blood dripping from their horribly contorted mouths.

I cut down a dark alley called 17th Place and practically collide with Van Stein.

“Mannequin zombies!” I holler.

We both look toward the street and see four zombies staggering toward us.

“Shit!” yells Van Stein.  “Why did you lead them to me!”

We sprint down the alley, turn left onto K Street, double back over Chester for refuge at the Padre.

The bar adjacent to the lobby is in full swing so we feel secure… 

...until we discover it is occupied by the Basque aliens we encountered at Wool Growers, all talking in a language that bears no resemblance to any other on earth. 

Worn down, Padre bar
This misshapen multitude grows quiet when they notice us gawking at them and we simultaneously realize they would happily sacrifice us to the  mannequin zombies in a nanosecond.

“This doesn’t feel like refuge,” I say to Van Stein.

And then it hits me—bang!—the Basques won’t gift us to the mannequin zombies—because this is an alien abduction waiting station. And we are the daily catch!

Van Stein must be thinking the same, because he eases himself gently out the bar with a few back-steps.  

“Don’t turn your back on them,” he whispers.

We ease ourselves all the way to the elevator, back up into it and press the door close button.

It won’t budge.

“It’s like a Bakersfield red light,” I hiss.

And then the zombie mannequins are revolving into view and staggering toward us!

“Sonofabitch!” Van Stein hollers.  “We’re trapped!” 

But the door closes and we ascend, hop out at the fifth floor, key into our rooms and grab our bags.

“We can’t go back through the lobby,” I say.  “There must be another way out.”

“Let’s take the stairs up a few floors,” says Van Stein.

Between the seventh and eighth floors we encounter a little girl, giggling.

“It’s one of the ghosts!” hollers Van Stein.

“Nonsense,” I say, and then, “are you lost, little girl?”

She continues to giggle and waves me in, as if she wants to tell me a secret.

“Don’t go there,” Van Stein cautions.

“Oh, c’mon.”

The little girl puts her lips up to my ear.  “BOO!”

It’s as if a gun has been detonated. 

My head practically explodes. And my hearing is gone.

Van Stein, ashen-faced, is hollering about something, but I can’t hear him, can only see his highly animated form and though I’m not a lip-reader, I can actually make out what he’s saying:  Spar-ta-cus!

I turn around and come face-to-face with a ghostly gray figure with doughy features, a dome of a forehead topped with frizzy, receding hair.  

Its mouth opens and an ethereal voice booms:   


I point to Van Stein.  “Ask him.  I don’t believe in ghosts.  At least I didn’t until now.”  

I cannot even hear my own voice, but Spartacus seems to understand, for he turns to Van Stein, who is dripping spittle, mouth agog. 

My hearing returns in time for Spartacus to howl: 


“Who?” asks Van Stein.


“Do you have a message for them?” asks Van Stein, who professes to ask the same of monsters in his dreams. 

“I have a message for you!” the apparition howls.  “GET THE F--- OUT OF MY HOTEL!”

“We’re trying,” I say helpfully.  “What’s the quickest route out of here?”

Spartacus points to the end of the corridor, a window, from which we see the Fox Theater’s clock tower in the distance.

“Is he suggesting suicide?” I ask Van Stein.

“GO!” booms Spartacus.

We don’t need to be told a third time.  

We’re off, down the corridor, with Spartacus in pursuit and behind him four mannequin zombies, a bunch of Basque aliens, a mob of Oildale rednecks and assorted Lords of Bakersfield.

Jumping from seven floors up does not seem a bad alternative. 

Fortunately, a relic of an outdoor fire escape hangs outside the window, which, unfortunately, is locked.

Van Stein, closer to the window than I, stands frozen with fear.

“For f---’s sake,” I holler.  

“Break it!” 

He shatters the window with his wooden paint box and out we climb, scampering down the rickety stairway, dropping our belongings to the ground.

I don’t even take time to look up, but hit the ground running, a sprint to the car.

We jump in, lock the doors and I press the start button.

It doesn’t start.

“Check your key!” screams Van Stein.

I check the pocket of my blue jeans.  “It’s not here!”

“What now?” says the artist, a hint of resignation in his voice.

“We are going to be molested by the Lords then dismembered by aliens and rednecks and then eaten by zombies, slowly.”

Accepting our fate, we sit quietly, this still and silent night, near a traffic light at the intersection still signaling red.

The engine turns over, seemingly by itself.

I gear into drive, hit the gas.  

My rearview mirror soon reflects one of the world’s finest images...

I rub my aching head… and feel the root of an antler bursting through my scalp.