It’s been a quiet week in Kitaree

October 16th, 2015 by Freshmaker No comments »

So –

It’s been a quiet week in Kitaree. Real quiet.

Tony’s disappearance had us all rattled. Seriously: Nate, Howie, ‘Nacio and I waited for hours at that stupid house. Howie and ‘Nacio went to work on the portion of the tree out on the lawn, all of the roots and a good length of trunk, but it was half-hearted. After the first half-hour, Howie made a call, I guess to the guys who handed out hard hats and assignments every morning.

Another half-hour after that, another team showed, this time with flashlights. The Asian guy was with them, the one from the antiques shop. The big boss. He stayed outside while the rest went in.

We… we just stood there, hands down our metaphorical pants. Howie and ‘Nacio chopped. Nate smoked. I tried to crack a joke to the boss, something about how losing a guy out of the gate meant we were all fired.

“No, I’ve got more work in mind for you.” I don’t know. He said it normally, but I could practically hear a musical sting.

They never found Tony. The guys spent a couple of hours in that house, I guess going room to room. Said he must’ve hit a back door and just done a runner. Why not? We were all transients, really, glorified day laborers on the state’s dime. Tony probably figured the work was bullshit and saw a way to get down the road.

I almost lit out after that. Who cares about homecomings, right? I lived without Kitaree for years, and I could do it again.

I didn’t. Nate did. He didn’t show up for our assignment the next morning.

So, like I said, quiet week. The remaining three of us got the rest of our time off, and next week we get to go straight to HQ (in this case, Christianson’s Antiques) instead of talking to some clipboard guy in a pickup.

I don’t know why, but it feels like y’all should wish me luck. Something’s coming.

Dear Evan: Be patient. Help me be patient.

October 12th, 2015 by Freshmaker No comments »

Dear Evan:

Evan keeps Austin weirdI’m sorry I’ve been so impatient lately. I’m sorry I snap at you more than I should. I’m sorry that some days the bad outweighs the good.

I wish I had a good excuse. I’ve looked for one: I’m stretched thin at work; I’m not writing almost at all; I’m not running as much as I should; I’m getting too little sleep.

Your fifth birthday is in two weeks and a day. This morning I read an article about an NFL player who may lose a foot to MRSA, a medically resistant staph infection. It boggles my mind to think that you had a MRSA infection under your chin at eight days old. That you went through surgery at such a young age, spent a month and a half in NICU.

It boggles my mind that that infant, so close to death, is the lanky, intelligent near-5-year-old who keeps up a running monologue of questions while trying to figure out the world.

All you want to do is learn. You want to know it all. And because I’m so tired, I snap at you instead of being your guide to the world. I am sorry.

Last night, during one of my failed attempts to get you to sleep, I tucked you into bed, kissed your cheek and then asked for your hand. When you offered it, I kissed your hand and told you that any time you needed reassurance, that kiss would be ready and waiting.

“Daddy loves me,” you whispered, eyes closed, holding your hand to your cheek. “Daddy loves me. Daddy loves me.”

I love you,


We lost a member of the Kitaree crew

October 9th, 2015 by Freshmaker No comments »

Happy Friday, all –

It’s been a busy week in Kitaree.

Busy enough that I’ll let slide your painting last week’s nightmare as melodrama, Chris. Sure, it was a dream, but it still hit me hard. There’s nothing wrong with expressing that.

As for the Bobby thing, I don’t want to talk about it yet, okay?

Especially not after what happened to Tony. Cree-pee.

Okay, so Tony’s one of the guys on my team that I mentioned last week. Antonio Ruilopez. He always went by Tony, though, and tried his hardest to completely ignore his… I don’t know, his national identity. His heritage. Nationality, I suppose, though I never really found out where he was from, originally. For all I know, it was Houston.

But man, every time Ignacio rattled off rapid-fire Spanish at Tony, he’d just stare back. Never once acknowledged whether he understood. He talked in this very accentless Midwestern network news anchor tone, you know?

So, this week’s gig was pretty simple: Cut a tree out of a house. I won’t say “fallen tree,” because the thing looked like the storm picked it up and threw it javelin-style right into this place. No damage to the roof at all, just swoosh in the front windows with the roots on the lawn.

The five of us get out there and are given axes — like, lumberjack old-school axes — because apparently there’s so much cutting going on that all the chainsaws are taken.

The rest of us were gearing up, but Nate just stood at the curb staring at the place. Took long enough that I walked over and asked what was going on.

“Damn thing crawled in there, man.”

I mean, come on, right? It’s a solid house. Lots of brick, three stories, not a lot of windows except around that front area. I guessed aloud that the tree got a lucky hit, and would’ve bounced right off otherwise.

“Naw, man.” He shook his head and then turned those baggy eyes on me. “Look at the ground. Fuckin’ thing dragged itself.”

I mean, yeah, there was a big old trench in the yard, but I’ve written about similar shit all over Kitaree. What’d you expect, with wind strong enough to pick up and move trees?

“Come on, man.” I motioned toward the front door. “Let’s get in there and get this thing done. Bet we can get half by lunch, and then I’ll buy.” I doubted that — this tree was huge — but food is usually a pretty good motivator.

“Fuck no. It’s dark in there.” And sure enough, he lit up a smoke and crossed his arms: No go.

I shrugged. His loss. I liked Nate, short as I’d known him, but inevitably getting fired was his own damn fault.

I gotta say, after I got a few steps into the place, I was ready to go back to where Nate was standing. The tree punched a nice hole through the front windows, but otherwise the place was dark. Creepy dark, for a sunny fall morning. This place had like no windows. I couldn’t even see to the end of the tree; it just stretched and faded in the dark.

“I’ll leave that shit to your young eyes,” Howie drawled, and stepped back outside to work on the roots. Ignacio just started chopping, right at the edge of the light. Tony looked at me, shrugged and headed into the back of the house. I watched him melt: A figure, a shadow, an outline and then nothing.

I should’ve gone back there too. I should’ve gone back with him. But y’all, I was afraid in that moment. I was dead certain that I’d walk back there and find Bobby grinning next to me in the blackness.

I’m not going to lie: It was nice to work my arms, the monotony of swing, impact, pull. I got into a zone. I lost time. And then Tony was calling for me.

“Help me out here.” His voice carried from the darkness. I jumped a little, but he didn’t sound hurt or scared or anything, so I turned.

It came again: “Help me out here.”

“Hold your damn horses.” I thought about leaving the ax, and then realized that was about the stupidest idea I’d had all day. Instead, I hefted it onto a shoulder and walked slowly along the fallen trunk.

Got so dark soon I couldn’t see, so I trailed my hand along the trunk as I walked. “Tony? Where the fuck are you, man?”

Again: “Help me out here.”

I stopped. He didn’t sound any closer, but he still didn’t sound worried at all. Just that flat anchorman affect floating through the black.

The tree touched me then. I swear it. I do. It took hold of my hand, I don’t know, a thin branch, the feel of dead leaves, and tried to hold me.

I ran. I ran for the front, surprised the hell out of ‘Nacio and then Howie. I ran until I hit full daylight and ran a bit more, until I was in the middle of the street. Nate looked at me and coughed a laugh.

The other guys came out, and when I explained what happened, they started calling for Tony. But they didn’t go back into the house.

He didn’t come out. He never came out.

I need

October 6th, 2015 by Freshmaker No comments »

I need to cut myself a break.

I need to take a deep breath and allow myself some peace.

I need to realize the book I’m querying might not be The One.

I need to stop being so rigid in my writing habits. I need to start working on new projects without waiting for everything to be just right.

I need to practice more with short fiction.

I need to be fine with the short fiction I am writing at this blog, and not look at it as a job.

I need to be okay with being middle-aged. Yes, missing a few days of running visibly shows. But getting back to running later visibly shows too. I need to have the patience for that.

I need to be okay.

Kitaree, where even dreams are disturbing

October 2nd, 2015 by Freshmaker No comments »

Hi, all –

It’s been a busy week in Kitaree.

I’m not gonna lie: Getting lost last week threw me. I know this town, you know? It’s not that big, and I spent a lot of my life here once upon a time. Yeah, the place is a mess right now, but… these were clean, lived-in streets with names I’d never seen before.

I’m doubting myself, though. It’s been more than a few years. It’s entirely possible some rogue town council went on a renaming spree. And it’s possible I don’t remember how the streets are laid out as well as I thought.


Let’s talk about something a bit more grounded in reality, no? I started the new gig this week. I’m not going to lie, there’s something nice about rolling out of bed and into my grungiest clothes instead of picking out the perfect cufflinks and getting my hair just right. Nobody cares when you’re rocking a hard hat and neon yellow safety vest, you know?

The downside is that I’m essentially a day laborer. I wander down to the courthouse square (yes, I still walk it, and no, I haven’t gotten lost again) and wait with a bunch of other guys for a team lead or foreman or whatever they’re called. The cleanup work’s been going on a while, but apparently these guys blow in and out of town all the time, so there’s always a need.

My team’s five guys: Ignacio, a scrappy little guy who constantly talks about food; Howie, a big bald burly kid with a red nose who probably should be in community college somewhere; Tony, whose real name is Antonio but seems desperate to leave his heritage behind; Nate, a tall, thin African-American who rarely talks; and yours truly. Nate keeps to himself, but the rest of us fell pretty easily into a joking camaraderie over the course of the week. I mean, it’s manual labor — emphasis on the labor — so there’s a lot of time we’re just cutting fallen trees into manageable hunks instead of sharing our hopes and fears, but we get along.

Good thing, too. Looks like unless someone moseys on down the road, we unskilled guys are going to be together for a while.

So, happy happy joy joy this week, right? Mostly. But it can’t be Kitaree without things getting weird, I guess.

I have to think this part was a dream, because… well, it just has to be, okay?

It’s quiet around here at night. Even at the edge of the forest, where you’d expect all sorts of animal and tree noises — hell, where I *remember* all sorts of animal and tree noises from my wayward youth — it’s quiet. Creepy quiet. So quiet I actually sleep more lightly than I did in the city with all its noise.

A couple of nights ago, it was so quiet that I could hear something rustling around outside my trailer. Someone, I knew, even half-asleep, because the noises had a purpose. Someone was outside my trailer, and I was pretty sure they were trying to get in.

So I grabbed my sword.

What, you don’t have a sword at your bedside? Here’s the thing: Neither do I. It must have been a dream. Must have.

I opened the door, sword in hand — god does that sound cool, in retrospect — and sure enough, there was a shape, a naked man shape, in the darkness outside my trailer. And he also had a sword, as you do.

Swordfighting always looks so cool in the movies, but this was more like a bar fight, more grappling and shoving and punching than swords connecting. The occasional clang-clang, sure, but really we were wrestling there in the darkness.

I got the guy, knocked him onto his back. He was down. I could tell he was down. But I was angry and panting and fired up, and… Well. I kissed him. Hard. And he kissed me.

And when I pulled away for a moment, it was Bobby. My Bobby. He was looking and me, and grinning, a mischievous wicked slash of white in the moonlight, and said, “See you soon.”

That was it. Darkness, and then I woke up. No sword, but I was naked and covered in dirt. So.

Oh, one more thing:

It can’t have been Bobby. I killed Bobby.

Dear Sonya: What a wonderful world

September 27th, 2015 by Freshmaker No comments »

Dear Sonya –

A few days ago, you mentioned sending out Iz Kamakawiwo’ole’s Somewhere Over the Rainbow to your friends. I sure needed it.

When Evan was tiny, not long home from NICU, he would wake often in the night, so I’d take him from the bassinet in my bed to the living room. I’d hold him on the couch and listen to Pandora’s lullaby station until he fell back asleep.

One of the more frequent songs there was, of course, Iz’s take on Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World. It worked like magic. Evan would lie still, quiet his crying, listen to the ukulele and near-whispered lyrics. Sometimes I’d play the song on repeat until he slept.

The song has magic. Iz was a huge man, beset by medical problems and (by some accounts) depression. Whether over his size or the pressures of performing, I don’t know, but I can believe Iz was low. The first part of the song, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, is a search for solace. He is (and we are) looking for that one place we’ll finally find happiness.

And then comes What a Wonderful World, whisper-sung almost with exhaustion, but a satisfied exhaustion, an acceptance that the dreamworld of the first half doesn’t exist, but that this one isn’t so bad.

Ev grew, and while neither of us sleeps well, we left Somewhere behind.

Maybe two months ago, we were in a store when the song came on, and both of us stopped. Just… stopped. I watched Ev: He was still, his eyes far away, responding instinctively to a song he hadn’t heard in years.

It calmed him, just as your reminder of the song calms me now. I’m never going to find anyplace better, but maybe this isn’t so bad after all.

Thank you,


Like my letters? I wrote a whole bunch of them to the boy: Dear Evan.

And of course there’s weirdness afoot in the letters to Kitaree.

Kitaree: A new job, but some weirdness

September 25th, 2015 by Freshmaker No comments »

Hey, y’all –

It’s been a busy week in Kitaree.

A weird one, too. For me specifically, I guess, but… yeah, I had something very weird happen. First, though, I know you’re wondering about that job interview.

So like I said, the great state of Texas is contracting out the work of rebuilding Kitaree after this past spring’s storms tore the place apart. Why not, you know? I’ve actually been a little excited about the prospect of some good honest manual labor. Plus, summer is ending, so I figure it won’t be blazingly hot out.

Besides, who better to help out than the returned prodigal, you know?

Anyway, it was a nice morning, so I walked to the downtown square from the little trailer I’m renting out in the boonies. Kitaree’s not big, so it was an easy walk, even with the streets torn up. I mentioned some of the old haunts last week, but with Kitaree practically being rebuilt from the ground up, some new places are moving in. Mostly small Texas town stuff –some new B&Bs; at least two sort of “everything” stores, The Squared Circle and Farrah’s Finds, selling basically whatever salvage they found when folks fled; oddly enough, an upscale type bar called Mac’s. The Harvesters’ Hall still squats, ugly as ever, a block off the square. Thing’s basically a brick cube, hardly any windows, so it weathered the storm just fine.

Oh, I think I mentioned another new store last week, too: Christianson’s Antiques. That was new to me, but apparently it opened before everything went to hell.

That’s where the interview was, which I guess isn’t as odd as it seems. We’ve got a premium on usable space around here right now, you know? So that’s where I met Mr. Neko.

Darcel, if you still have a celeb crush on Will Yun Lee, you’d have been all over this guy. Plus I think he owned the place, so, you know, rich? Dressed rich: black suit, black tie. I’ll admit, I was intimidated.

It helped that Deputy Once — arggh, again, *Helen* — was there at the start. She works at the shop now. I think she runs it for this guy. It’s an odd situation, but maybe he just bought up a bunch of cheap real estate after the storm? I didn’t ask.

So, Helen made introductions, and we were off. Honestly, it wasn’t anything exciting. Dude would ask questions, and then just stare while I answered. And after. And until I got uncomfortable. And then he’d ask something else. Lather rinse repeat, creepily.

I got the job. Dude told me right then and there, which was refreshing. The corporate world is so much sitting around and waiting, you know? Not here. Boom. You start next week. Thanks for coming.

I promised weirdness, so here it is: I got lost on the way home.

Stop laughing. Yeah, it’s been a few years (oof, or more) since I left Kitaree, and pretty much the entire town is under construction, but still… streets are streets, right? Except when they go *different* places.

I mean, whole town’s maybe a couple of miles across in each direction, just a glorified clearing carved out of the Ashton National Forest Preserve. The trailer I’m renting is right at the treeline, so really I could’ve just walked in a straight line and then followed the edge of town.

Still, once I got a few blocks from the downtown square, I lost track of where I was. With the streets shut down in places, I was sort of zig-zagging, and I took a couple of shortcuts between the buildings, and then they all started to look unfamiliar. And the street names, too: Locust? Anoura? Apophis? I’d have remembered those, and no way are the streets in decent enough shape to merit being renamed already.

It’s a weird feeling, panicking in bright daylight, in a town so small I could eventually just hit the edge and circle around. But it was quiet except for the hum of cicadas, and nobody else was out, and the sky was… it was too bright for mid-evening. It felt *wrong*.

The cicadas, too. That buzzing rattled me like a dentist’s drill. It and the sun and the heat had me light-headed. The air felt *thin*. Sweat soaked my nice dress shirt.

I ran. I did. I ran to the next block, and the next. I should’ve stopped and made sure I was headed toward the edge of town, but I’ll be honest: I just took off and let my feet take me where they would. I just wanted as far away from that buzzing as I could get.

At some point, the bigger houses gave way to smaller houses, and then to tumbledown lots and what could generously be called shacks, and I realized I knew where I was. I wasn’t anywhere near where I needed to be, but I knew how to get there. My heart slowed to a steady pound. I was okay. I was safe.

So. Weird, right? Now I don’t know. Maybe it was just being back in Kitaree, considering everything that happened before I left.

Anyway. Off to sleep. Next week I start the new gig. Wish me luck!

It’s been a busy week in Kitaree

September 18th, 2015 by Freshmaker No comments »

Hi, friends –

It’s been a busy week in Kitaree.

The town’s still rebuilding from this spring’s freak storms. There’s a constant hum over Kitaree, a buzz of power tools and construction equipment that sometimes goes late into the night. It’s comforting, almost, and almost makes up for the lack of cricket song.

Some folks complain that the hum lasts all night, keeps them from sleeping, but it’s got to happen. The storm blew trees from the Ashton forest preserve as far in as the downtown square. Dragged them through the streets, too, judging by the odd marks. Don’t believe a certain Web site (which shall remain nameless) that claims those are drag marks, that the trees somehow crawled through the streets. People saw — or mis-saw? misunderstood what they saw? — a lot of weird things in the dark and the wind.

Still, those damn trees tore up the streets. The town’s been rebuilding almost from the ground up. You’d barely recognize it anymore. Sorry to say, Jules, that the Yellow Rose burned down a few days after the storm. You’ll need to find somewhere else to stay next trip down.

I think you were right, Jennie, about Sheriff Frederickson and his deputy. (Former deputy, now! She quit after the storm and is running some antiques shop on the downtown square.) I caught both of them at Ruby’s Diner. They weren’t together, but they were making eyes like nobody’s business. Deputy Once — ugh, sorry, just Helen now — got her order to go and got out of there before I saw them actually say anything. Pretty sad. Chev looked so sad, I figured he’d go after her, but he sat and nursed a coffee for a while before cashing out and hopping into his nice new Sheriffmobile.

Ruby’s is fine, by the way, but the courthouse is all sorts of messed up. The storm dragged all of the trees here, like the courthouse was the middle of the tornado or the… I don’t know, whatever’s the opposite of the eye of a storm. It’s been months, and guys are still cutting branches free of the windows. They were shoved in there really good, like the trees were trying to get inside out of the wind.

That’s good news for underemployed folks like yours truly, by the way. The state’s contracting out all sorts of cleanup work, so I’m going in for an interview today. Yeah, it’s grunt work, hardly making use of my college education, but a paycheck’s a paycheck at this point. And hey, Kitaree needs me.

I’ll write more later. Keep your fingers crossed!

Remembering Doug Bastianelli, five years on

September 16th, 2015 by Freshmaker No comments »

Five years, Doug.

This is supposed to be where you look down on me from the Great Big Pub in the Sky and smile wisely and see I’ve done well, right? I think that’s how this works.

So why isn’t it working? Five years. Tara’s off in Australia, giving Realtors the kind of speeches you get to deliver through a little ear-microphone. Jenny Calligan is beautiful as ever, but I only see her through Facebook photos. Stacey left Chicago for Colorado, and again, Facebook is keeping us in contact, but she seems to be doing well. Joe is a divorce lawyer somewhere; somehow I got on his e-mail newsletter list. Hell, even the Dark Horse got sold to new folks.

Ev’s doing great. I call him Evvie Doug pretty much all the time, which I know would get out of you one of those loud, head-thrown-back guffaws. He’s incredibly intelligent, incredibly verbose. Plays with Lego all the time. Creates his own mighty machines. I wish you’d had a chance to play with him. I just know you’d be down on the floor in his toy area, laughing while he showed off his creations.

I got lost somewhere in there. I go to work, I come home 12 hours later, I play with the boy, I maybe have 30 minutes to myself after bedtime, and then I fall asleep. I don’t have friends. I don’t have a bar that I can walk to, that I can use as a launching point for our adventures.

Maybe that’s okay. Maybe I had my time, and now I can just let go and be a wallet and a chauffeur and work on your namesake instead of myself.

I don’t know. It’s lonely, you know? I miss your friendship, and your perspective, and your laugh.

The time I pissed off Wes Craven

August 31st, 2015 by Freshmaker No comments »

I was terribly saddened to read this morning that movie director Wes Craven passed. He was, and remains, one of my most memorable interviews.

When I mention having been an entertainment journalist, the usual cocktail-party response is, “Who have you met?” Meaning famous. Meaning gossip.

I tend not to remember many of the bigger names until much later: Oh yeah, I spent a good long time talking the environment with Midnight Oil and palled around backstage with Bjork and the Sugarcubes and was overwhelmed by the beautiful man Douglas Adams.

I have never forgotten and will never forget Wes Craven.

I interviewed Mr. Craven for Scream, the movie that would change the genre, catapult its cast to stardom, spawn sequels and now a TV series, et cetera et cetera et cetera. Then, though, it was a very clever horror movie that the paper’s lead movie reviewer Michael H. Price and I loved (both of us being horror fans) but worried would resonate.

So much did Price and I think Scream might slip past audiences that during my one-on-one interview with Mr. Craven, I asked the director why he’d cast has-beens.

Remember, Drew Barrymore had not yet discovered the second act of her career. Scream would do that. Neve Campbell was one of the more forgettable parts of the TV series Party of Five. Scream would make her a star.

Matthew Lillard? Skeet Ulrich? Jamie Kennedy? Unknowns — at least, mostly unknowns — before Scream.

Mr. Craven spluttered over the word: “Has-beens? HAS-BEENS? Is Drew Barrymore a has-been?”

Well, yes.

“Is Neve Campbell a has-been?”

She was an untested quantity on film whose television career was for the moment over.

Craven may have felt personally attacked. His monster success, A Nightmare on Elm Street, was 12 years past. His resume since had been notable really only to fans of the genre.

I don’t remember what I said. Placating things. Soothing noises. I’m sure I backed off. It wasn’t worth a fight. Mr. Craven calmed down. We resumed a pleasant discussion — I was a horror fan, after all, and so we changed topics and discussed the rapid-fire references to other horror films.

But that’s my cocktail story: Once upon a time, I pissed off Wes Craven.

Now he’s gone, and I want to say this: Wes Craven was never a has-been. Even in the lean years mentioned above, he directed New Nightmare (God, one of my all-time favorites, and a precursor to Scream’s self-aware feel), The Serpent and the Rainbow, The People Under the Stairs. He was vital and active and twisting horror, pushing it to new heights.

Never a has-been.