Isla Vista

Headphones are the first thing to go in after letting the screen door crash close behind me. Back then they still had a cord attached to them to connect to your phone. My IPhone 4 was wrapped in a teal and yellow, zig-zag case that did absolutely nothing to protect the phone from- well anything. 

The 1975’s “Robbers” sounded in both ears and blurred out any other sound carrying over the staircase I walked down to the graveled street. I never bothered to lock the door back then, there were always roommates and friends coming and going. I decided to walk that day, leaving my mom’s old purple road bike in the bike stand behind the apartment building. I was slightly scared of the bike traffic on campus and knowing that I would be arriving at peak “rush hour” – when all classes seemed to end or start at once. 

The first thing you notice when your Vans hit the asphalt in the middle of the street is the smell. The smell of old liquor bottles, dying grass, and the gloss of ocean breeze that covers it all with the relaxed feeling of summer, despite it being October. I held my head high and let my eyelids flutter shut just for a second on the fifteen-minute walk to campus. My favorite part of the day. It’s still morning and still cool enough to enjoy the sun climbing your arms and shoulders without the stickiness of sweat. 

Skateboarders and bicyclists dart past me, all in the middle of the road. There are hardly any cars and if anyone decided to drive that was their problem, not ours. Most of the bicyclists have their hands off the handlebars, swaying at their sides, and their shoulders hunched. A few have skateboarders holding onto their seats while they stand, pedaling, while their skater friend just coasts. Every single one of them is young and casually dressed, with backpacks and their own sets of headphones, and headed in the same direction as me. 

“Settle Down” still by 1975 replaces “Robbers” and I look down at my shoes. At the intersection of Sabado and Camino Pescadero, I take the opportunity to raise my head and glance right. Against the shacks that can barely pass for apartment buildings, the front yards covered in poorly-crafted wooden tables, and lines of cars with not even an inch of breathing room in between them; there’s the cliffside. Beyond that, the ocean. I took out a single headphone and I can hear waves crashing. 

I put the headphone back in as I continue through the intersection. The 1975’s debut album continues to play. I wave to friendly faces that don’t belong to a name or a title, or if they do I can’t remember what it is. But I know they’re friendly. I see mouths moving, more cars attempting to navigate the narrow streets, more students biking, skating, and walking alone or in small parties towards and away from campus and I can’t help but smile at the fact that I can’t hear anything but “Heart Out”. 

I stop at the cafe with painted walls. Inside there are a few students already studying, determined – like me, to avoid human contact with shoulders hunched over a book or laptop, and headphones turned up high. 

When I take the headphones out right at the chorus of “Girls”, I feel like I’m stepping out of a gray mist where everything glimmered and moved slowly. The shrieking of the espresso maker and the college barista’s lips smacking after every word are startling wake-up calls. I shake the remnants of the marine layer out of my head. The fog was painting a love song evolving around this space and time in my head during my morning walk. I clear it completely when I order, “Can I get an asiago bagel with cream cheese and latte, please?”. 

© June 2022

A Hunter

*This is a fictional transcription and was inspired by recent world events.*

This is the transcription of an interview with one of the young men they call “Hunters”. We asked him how he got into this business and what makes tracking these young women so appealing to him. He has asked to remain anonymous.  


I have never been good at much. 

But when I was a kid, my momma would always ask me to help her find things. She was a forgetful woman. She would put her keys down by the computer, go make tea, and then panic ‘cause she had no idea where her keys were. She forgot where she left her purse, her favorite white tennis shoes, and even sometimes her second son- my baby brother. I wouldn’t do much but think about who my momma was as a person; her habits, the things she liked to eat, the places she’d rather be. I always knew where her things were and when I didn’t, it never took me long to find ‘em. 

So I guess that’s how I got here. I work at the grocery store. Still do, yeah. The one on Sixth, across the street from the shopping center with the bank and the nail salon. It used to have one of them Planned Parenthoods in there too, but that’s gone now, of course. ​​I mean the money is good but I don’t think no one is surviving off just this, you know? But it’s made me the richest man in my family, the richest person I know, you know? 

I guess you could say I kind of fell into it. One of my co-workers was around my age, married, and had a baby already. Her husband was in school, I think she once told me. She never wore make-up and always had her hair in a ponytail that sat right on the very top of her head. I remember all that, but you know for the life of me I cannot remember her name. Got her picture in one of my filin’ cabinets here too and still- I think it started with a “B” or somethin’. Yeah, I always keep the records of ‘em just as insurance I guess. I don’t know it seemed like a good idea when I started so I just kept filin’ them away. 

But, the main thing you need to know is we weren’t friends. We worked a couple of shifts together and she was nice and all, but we kept it pretty surface level. 

Anyways, they made that state law here. If you knew someone getting an abortion, call your local authorities, and collect a reward. Simple. A lot of folks were talking about it when it first came up. This was three years ago now. All over the social media. I’m not on Twitter or nothin’, just Instagram and that’s for work, and I don’t care for politics, but I still heard about it. Some people were mad, but I think most of the folks around here were grateful. You know, make the sluts and whores pay for their intended crimes. Save the kids. 

So my little brother calls me up and tells me one of his friends just made one hundred bucks by calling in this girl he slept with and thought was knocked up since she was acting funny and ghosting him a bit. And so I ask, well, was she knocked up, and how did his friend know if she was going to try to kill it? My brother says that the cops didn’t even ask, they just processed her, and a week later his boy got a check in the mail. Now Imma thinkin’ that’s the easiest 100 bucks I’ve ever heard of. But that’s it. I didn’t think I would ever know how to spot a pregnant woman, especially one that isn’t gonna keep the baby, you know? Like how could you ever tell? 

Anyways, I was sitting on the patio table outside where the truck come in the morning. Just mindin’ my business, eatin’ my second tuna sandwich, and there goes my young co-worker with a bag of hot Cheetos in hand. I remember she had the bag sandwiched between her middle finger and her thumb. Her thumb and pointer finger were all stained with Cheeto spice dust. I don’t know how anyone eats that shit, man. Burn a hole in your ass downright. She must’ve not seen me cause she was talking on the phone and her eyes were red and wet. She held the phone away from her face and an angry male voice was barely comin’ out the other side. Something about “how this happened”, “they were so careful”, and they can’t do another one so soon”. She was crying for sure. But then the voice asked if she was alone and she whirled around and saw me there. I took a bite of my sandwich so she’d look away. She took the man off speaker phone and practically ran back inside. 

I may have never been good at much. But I’m not dumb. I figured I had a good idea of what she was talking about and the man on the phone was her husband. But see I’m not like my brother or those goons he messes around with. I gotta know all the facts before I do nothin’. So for about a month, I hang around, pick up extra shifts, and even ask her to have lunch with me one day. That was a shit idea cause then the meat guys just kept making jokes, sometimes in English sometimes in that Spanish, about how I had a new crush. I even eavesdropped on her and the big woman, who is always a cashier, she done nothin’ else- damn what is her name? Well, anyways I watch. I wait. I listen. I’m just waiting for one word. 

It’s different now. You can’t just wait for that one word anymore. The girls have gotten a little smarter. Using code words and slang to hide the sin they plan to commit. They even got underground organizations to help you travel outside this grand old state, where folks are a bit less scared of Hell and God’s retaliation. It’s crazy. But I could go on about that, you and I both know what’s wrong and what’s right, so that will be the end of it. 

What was I saying? Oh, yeah, you really gotta pay attention. You gotta watch. Wait. Listen. And I got time. 

Well, I finally hear that one magic word late one night while she and the big girl are cashing out the registers for the night. They don’t think I’m there, but if anyone saw I’d just say I forgot my hoodie, and it’s the only one I got and that ain’t a full lie. 

I don’t call. I march my ass straight to the local police station. I tell them what I know. A smallish woman with hairy arms takes notes while a balding man listens to what I gotta say. And he is really listenin’. He asks for her address. I don’t know that, but c’mon this was my first time. I was an amateur. I tell him where we work and at that time I did know her name. He smiles, shakes my hand, and is about to dismiss me. But like I said I need to know all the facts. What happens to my young co-worker, whose name must start with a “B”? He scratches the back of his head and then talks like he is readin’ something out of a pamphlet from the DMV. I call the authorities, I get paid, that’s what’s important. The girls get filed into the system, and sent to classes, pay a pretty hefty fine, and then get put on house arrest until the babes are brought to term. 

I shrug and leave. One week later I get my check. The same week I don’t see my young co-worker at work anymore. A year later, I hear from the big woman that miss ponytail is waitressing at the Italian place by the elementary school and she had a baby boy. You know thank God for that, I guess. After that, I guess, I wasn’t particularly looking, well maybe I was. But it almost became a hobby to just watch, wait, and listen. Waiting for that magic word to pop up. I’m not complaining about the extra cash either.

Then, folks started coming to me, asking me to find some runaway, someone who went underground to get it “taken care of”, or parents knowing that their kid is thinking about it, but don’t have the heart to report it themselves. Those are the easiest, obviously. Now they’re saying the checks might be for more, which would be great. But I’m not gettin’ my hopes up, can’t trust the government you know? So for now it’s just a side-hustle, I guess you’d call it. 

You know, now that I’m thinkin’ about it, I don’t really remember any of their names. But like I said I’ve never been good at much. 

© June 2022

The Coaxing Cauldron: Part Two.

Lydia Goodswell first came into The Coaxing Cauldron when she was four years old – alone. 

She was lost. While holding the calf of her dad’s pant leg as he continued a never-ending conversation outside the coffee house she caught the brown sugar butter smell of the candy shop. She waddled her way past the bookstore and the small alley to land at the shop’s stained glass door. With sweaty, mini palms she pushed the door open and with a twinkle dropped into the lives of Pathos, Ethos, and Logos. 

After watching a frantic Mr. Goodswell sprint up and down the block screaming, Ethos calmly stepped outside the shop holding his little Lydia nibbling a chocolate, guava turtle. Ethos offered  Mr. Goodswell a piece of boysenberry taffy to ensure the single father that he, in fact, was not the world’s worst parent. 

Since then, Mr. Goodswell made a point to come into The Coaxing Cauldron two-three times a week, no matter what was on the weekly agenda. In the last twelve years he has proudly tried every chocolate, licorice, taffy, and hard candy the Greek siblings have offered. This includes the failure of candied deviled eggs Pathos experimented with last Easter.  His daughter, on the other hand, stuck with chocolate, she never fell for the distracting rainbows of lemon drops or berry rhubarb lollipops. Mr. Goodswell has never been a rich man and his financial status fluctuates on an almost monthly basis. He always pays in cash and when he came up short in the past, Ethos always managed to hand the treats to Lydia directly and shoo the father and daughter out the door before Logos could see. 

Lydia had grown into a well-mannered, but shy girl who enjoyed playing “Minecraft” more than seeing the latest movie or scrolling through Instagram. Her love for The Coaxing Cauldron, Pathos’ chocolates, and Ethos’ motherly advice never seemed to waver. As she steadily grew into a teenager she made sure to stop at the candy shop before submitting a length book report to hear Logos’ critiques, before agreeing to trick-o-treating with her fellow soccer players, and when she needed help convincing her father to allow her to get a job and help with the family finances. An argument she would have lost if Pathos hadn’t told her to remind her father of her dream to be a video game designer and how work experience at GameStop could be essential to the start of her career. 

Now she stood in the doorway with a bloody knife in her shaking right hand. Ethos, Logos, and Pathos could only gape at her for a moment before she stepped forward, holding the knife as far away from her body as possible; “Please.” 

Instinctively, Ethos and Pathos took a step back. Logos remained fixed in his position. After a pause, he stepped toward the terrified girl and wrapped his hand around her pale knuckles and the knife. 

“Let go, Miss Goodswell”.

Lydia releases the knife cautiously into Logos’ hands as if it were a bomb. As soon as she releases it, she falls into Logos’ chest. Her hot tears dampen his suit as she wraps her arms around his waist. Logos spreads his arms wide, so he won’t touch the girl. His lips form a immaculate line across his face. He glances at Ethos, raises an eyebrow, and quickly looks down at Lydia, signaling his desire to be relieved as the “comforter”. Ethos takes a breath before running over and taking Lydia into her arms. Logos straightens his suit with his free hand. Logos looks around before announcing, “It looks like we will be closed today. We seem to have a situation”. He waves the bloodied knife in front of his siblings. 

Pathos shakes his head, “No, we only close Thursdays. Today is Wednesday”.

“How observant of you dear brother. But clearly, we can’t open with a potential murderer in our midst. We can hopefully open midday. If not-”

“If not, we deliver chocolates and almost no-good candies to the Food Bank at the university”, Ethos interrupts. She holds Lydia close to her chest, who hasn’t uttered a word since her first plea for help. Ethos hisses at her brother “And there is no murderer here. Who you say, murderer?”.

Pathos rubs the back of his wide neck before he heads back to his kitchen. He speaks calm instructions to his brother and sister, “bring her to office. People see through windows. I bring cauldrons”.  

In the back office, Lydia sits with her hands pressed underneath her thighs. Her left leg bounces without rhythm. She looks up at Logos’ harsh features bent to meet her eye level. His eyes doubt her, but his words ask for an explanation.

She takes another labored breath, which is stopped shorter than she would have liked. She gulps in an effort to catch the lost air and is unsuccessful. Pathos hands Lydia a chocolate on a small napkin and a glass of macadamia and cashew milk he made himself. With the napkin and glass to hold onto, she finds her voice and begins with “I didn’t mean to. You know I didn’t mean to”.

Logos kneels in front of Lydia and interrupts her by holding up a palm; “We know. We know. Please just tell us everything you know in the order that it happened. The more we know the better we can help you”. Pathos and Ethos stand behind Logos with their arms crossed, except for the hair and the height difference, the three siblings could be triplets. 

Lydia nods and takes a sip of her milk. “There were noises- thuds- coming from the kitchen in the apartment and you know our place isn’t that big so it woke me up. But when I came out of my room the noises got louder, something shattered, and there was yelling. Dad was scared. There were other men. They were hurting him or threatening him. I ran out to the kitchen-”, Lydia pauses. Her leg bounces more rapidly, still without a pattern. She digs her right fingers into her left palm. She stops when she sees the blood under her right fingernails, unsure if its her own or the man’s. The tears resurface, she lifts her chin, hoping they’ll just pool instead of flow onto her cheeks. 

“I had to help Dad,” Lydia continues. She drops her head and lets the back of her hands rest against her thighs. Her saliva won’t cooperate. Every time she tries to swallow or salivate her mouth turns up drier than before like she just ate a bag of movie theater popcorn. “I ran for the dish rack and I grabbed the knife. Someone grabbed me from behind, they lifted me, but I already had the knife. I didn’t even see Dad. I just stabbed the arm that was grabbing me. He dropped me. I could hear dad, ‘Run Lydia! Run!’, so I ran. I felt something reach for my leg, but I skipped or something”.

Logos tilts his head to the side; “They didn’t chase you? How did you get rid of them?”

Lydia’s guilt and sadness are suddenly replaced again with fear. “I don’t know. I ran out of the building and came straight here. I didn’t know where else to go”. She pauses as the realization dawns on her. Quietly, almost to herself, she whispers, “I didn’t even look back”.

Logos turns back towards his siblings with his raised eyebrow. He remains knelt on the ground. “They will be here soon enough. Lydia is a witness. Ethos take her to the townhouse. Pathos and I will stay”. Pathos nods and heads back to the kitchen.

Ethos bends down to help the traumatized teenager, she addresses Logos. “They have Mr. Goodswell. We must help him”. Logos stands to follow his brother without looking back, “Yes, unless they’ve already killed him. Take the back door, E”. Lydia’s tears return and run silently down her cheek. No hope of pooling this time.



The two words don’t translate when used in the same sentence. She lets little Ethos steer her to the back door as instructed. Ethos seems unconcerned. She simply rolls her eyes in response to Logos, “Take the back door, he says. Tells me like I’m a child or an idiot”.  

To be continued. 

© June 2022

The Coaxing Cauldron: Part One.

The smell of sugar encompasses incoming customers as soon as the short twinkle rings to announce their arrival. 

I say “customers” because no one has ever left the “Coaxing Cauldron” with empty hands. When I say “sugar” I don’t mean that sour-rubber-candy smell that reminds you of a day-old stomachache. I mean that brown butter sugar intoxicating aroma that reminds you of the holidays or the early morning baking hours of your local donut shop. And that “twinkle”, not a typical bell with a single, chimed knock to announce the presence of a stranger, but a light series of small chimes that dance in a continuous melody that keeps going even after you’ve hit the last row of colored licorice in the back of the store. Next to the licorice wall is a glass panel, opening to a small kitchen where a man entirely too big for the space makes chocolate caramel cauldrons that will sell out before noon. 

Pathos, with his bald head and bulging biceps dressed in a simple, tan henley and brown apron, stirs the melting caramel in a saucepan over low heat. The chocolate cauldron shells lay frozen on the marble counter directly in front of him. The mammoth of a man has two rules in his kitchen: 

  1. Always create in small batches. Nothing truly special has ever been made in mass quantities.
  2. No candy thermometers. 

Pathos cautiously pours the caramel with a wooden spoon into each small, chocolate, cauldron shell. He takes his time pouring the hot caramel into each chocolate shell and then hastening his movements in between cauldrons to avoid a drip. He doesn’t look up at the twinkling ringing through the shop and into his kitchen. Instead, he focuses on ensuring each pour of caramel finishes with a perfect swirl. 

Ethos raises her voice slightly to wish her brother “Good morning” and silently announce the presence of bagels and coffee. Pathos continues his caramel swirling without pausing to respond. After dropping breakfast off at the cashier’s counter, Ethos walks straight to the back office, where she strips off her raincoat to reveal a long-sleeved pink, Planned Parenthood, shirt which she has paired with thrifted black denim and a used pair of black Converse. She ties up her waved black hair into a low-hanging bun. It takes but seconds for the fly-away hairs to escape and hug her cheeks. Ethos opens the small black safe underneath the desk and takes out a bundle of wrapped cash and coins for the day. 

At the cashier counter, Ethos steps up on a small stool where she will likely stand for the next nine hours. Her blue eyes just barely peek above the irresponsibly large, gold cash register with an irritating number of knobs, keys, and pullers. Methodically, she recounts every dollar and coin three times. As she drops in the last penny of her third round of counting, another lengthy twinkle announces the arrival of her second brother. 

“Good morning E, I wish you would wear literally anything else to work”, Logos greets his sister with a raised eyebrow and a practiced and perfected posh English accent. He is the same height as his brother, Pathos. But his figure is slender and his face is more pointed. 

“It is pink, no? Pink, happy. Pink, girly. Pink, candy. No problem here,” Ethos gestures and pulls the bottom of her shirt out and away from her to give her brother and herself a better look. She offers a quick nod in approval, releases the bottom of the shirt, and shrugs. She hands Logos his steaming reusable mug; “And you don’t have to talk like that. There will be no customer for another hour at least.”

Logos takes the plain slate-gray mug and begins to loosen his burgundy scarf. “Still, we must try to not be political. We don’t want anyone coming in to feel offended and I am definitely not prepared to be, as they say, ‘canceled’. And you know very well that I can’t speak like anything but this”. 

Pathos has finished his chocolates and comes out of the kitchen onto the main floor of the candy shop with a clean, white, warm towel in his burnt and calloused hands. He dries each finger so not a single drop of moisture is left. 

“Logos’ Greek only comes out when he says ‘Moussaka’ or ‘Soutzoukakia’. He can’t help himself then”, Pathos comments in a deep, rhythmic voice to compliment his size. Pathos tosses the towel on the cashier counter and picks up his own reusable mug with its cork base and cream-painted top. In his hands, the mug looks fit for a child. He takes a quick sip before gesturing towards his sister, “Thank you, little E. Tomorrow you wear the ‘Save The Rainforest You Bitches’ shirt. Logos likes more”.

Logos sighs and rips off his scarf. He shakes his head along with black curls, which barely move from their designated position; “And now we come back to the conversation about employee uniforms- as always”.

Pathos and Ethos smile at each other. Ethos hugs the counter with her body, laying across the marble with her forearms tucked underneath. “No brother, you only come back to uniforms. Pathos wears same thing every day. And we in Berkeley. It is fine”. 

Pathos’ eyebrows cinch together. “This not true. Sometimes I wear brown henley or off-white henley”.

Ethos remains in her “L” figure position and tilts her head to look up at the henley Pathos is currently wearing. “Is this not off-white?”, she asks without sarcasm. 

“This is obviously cream. How do you not see this?”

The twinkling melody begins its serenade a third time to announce a new visitor. 

Logos rolls his eyes at his siblings’ verbal tennis match and turns around to greet the first and extremely early patron of the day. “Good morning. I’m sorry, but we’re not open for another-”

Logos’ throat dries, catching the rest of his sentence. Logos, Pathos, and Ethos all turn towards the labored breathing coming from the doorway. Each set of blue eyes widen in recognition at the hunched teenager’s body facing them. 

Sixteen-year-old, Lydia Goodswell, stands in the doorway with wet hair, her thermal’s sleeves pushed up to her elbows, and her right fist enclosed around a small knife with blood dripping from the tip. Small splatters of blood mix in with her freckles that have littered her nose since she was an infant. 

Her voice shakes and quakes, “I think I need- help-  and- maybe- a chocolate caramel cauldron- please”.

To be continued. 

© June 2022