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Strange California

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(c) Farhan Zaidi, https://www.instagram.com/fzaidi13/

Is the photo of the door in the rock at Big Sur real or Photoshopped? This is the question that will plague you about California: did I just see what I think I saw…? That couldn’t have possibly been real…

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Josie said she saw one under the rotting length of Manhattan Pier, trailing bright through the mussels and up the pilings, but Cassie said no, they only went to Big Sur. Lola promised they had called to her at our very own Black’s Beach—thrown up into the shallows from the underwater canyon—but Nicole said no way no way, it was only Santa Cruz. Didn’t we know about Santa Cruz? Vampires, she hissed and we pelted her with sand-crusted tar balls. Cassie came closest—somewhere near Big Sur—because she went and never came back. Josie, Lola, and Nic and me were all still looking, but Cassie never came back.

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I was tiny the first time I went to California — an “air force brat” coming back from Guam with her parents. I was tiny when we took in Disneyland, but I remember Small World, and I remember whirling on the teacups until I thought I would never walk straight again, the thin clouds in the sky like cotton candy as I went round and round and round. I was less tiny when I sank my feet into the Pacific, a boy holding my sweaty hand.

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Shadows lit by moonlight—that was all it was—but beyond the sound of my own feet hitting the wet sand, there were others. Swift and fleet, these shadowed bodies loped up the beach and I with them, and we ran so fast my heart was like a fist in my throat. I caught the eyes of one—impossible, glowing like lightning—but it looked at me, its mouth split in a wide, toothy grin. Not a mermaid. Not a fox. Something el—

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I haven’t written a lot about California — but “Salt in Her Hollows” takes you to Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur, and skims past Black’s Beach, too. “Salt in Her Hollows” concerns a surfer girl named Kit, a classic California beauty who wants to be seen for what she truly is, who wants to be understood beyond her blonde locks and blue eyes.

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I grabbed two cold beers and hip-bumped my girls before leaving them to join him. By that time, he’d turned his back to the fire, but I still found him, illuminated around the edges as if he were the sun in eclipse. I offered him the beer and he took it, giving me a swift smile in return. His silver-blue eyes lingered and I didn’t mind because the way I looked — all sand-scrubbed and salt-tossed — I knew he’d never see the actual me. They never did.

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california1“Salt in Her Hollows” is part of Strange California, an anthology that collects a good many stories that explore, you guessed it, the stranger aspects of California. Half Moon Bay, Tahoe, Anaheim, San Francisco, Big Sur, Hollywood. Jaym Gates and J. Daniel Batt have assembled twenty-six stories spanning the entire state — and well, beyond, because this is strange territory, and California spills beyond the lines drawn on a map. Galen Dara is crafting the cover art, and tentacle bear is totally along for the ride (click that link to join in the tentacle bear madness! Win totally rad tentacle bear gear! If you’re asking yourself “what the hell is tentacle bear”…you’d better click to find out!).

If you want to read my story, and twenty-five others from such authors as Nick Mamatas, Seanan McGuire, Christie Yant, James Van Pelt, Laura Blackwell, Nancy Holder, Tim Pratt, I hope you’ll come join the Kickstarter. There are some sweet rewards to be had, the biggest being the publication of the book! We’ve got thirteen lucky days to make it possible for us to share Strange California with you.

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“Did you know her?” I asked.

            He frowned, his focus on me alone, but then he shook his head. “Nah, dude.” He laughed, a startling sound in the night. “They’re just legends, right? Girls vanish all the time — it’s always a monster in the water, ain’t it?” He squeezed my thigh and slid his hand a little higher. “You are so goddamn beau—”  He broke off, startled, his board knocking into mine again.

            “What is it?”

            I hadn’t heard the sound and wondered if he had, but then— Something sleek and silver and glowing moved beneath our boards, and from the nearby rocks, that scream. Talon’s hand tightened on my leg, but he didn’t move it higher or pull me close.

            “What are you doing?” I asked. “What is that?” Together, we peered below our boards, the water brightening as if someone had turned on a dozen lamps.

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