Published in AFTERMATH: STORIES OF SECRETS AND CONSEQUENCES
Naar is a homeless teen known to all his friends by his nickname Mummy. When his buddy Bugs gets the keys to a Malibu mansion belonging to a family who'll be out of the country for the summer, the two get to spend a couple nights in unbelievable luxury. But as Malibu fire season jumps into full swing, the boys are evacuated from their dream squatter location, and secrets are revealed that will change the boys' relationship forever.
Excerpt (opening scene):
She was on fire again. Walking through a crowded city street, skin melting, the fierce firestorm creating small wind tunnels that blew through the hair of the women and children that quietly passed her by. She smiled at me. She always smiled at me. Only this time, the fire soon melted her lips downward into a frown. Her tears kept the fire from moving up her face and into her eyes. She crept closer, arms extended, charring the ground she walked on. I knew I couldn’t touch her, so I didn’t even try. I just watched her burn until the heat grew uncomfortable, and I woke up. I kicked the sheets off of me. I took a moment to make sense of my surroundings. Since my thirteenth birthday, it had become a ritual that the first few moments of every day were spent recalling the previous night and the circumstances that led to wherever I was. This morning, the coolness of the sleeping bag on the floor of the windowless utility room reminded me that I was still in the Malibu house. I was too claustrophobic to actually sleep inside the sleeping bag. Instead, I slept on top of it, blanketed only by a pair of light blue Egyptian cotton sheets. The sheets were soft and warm. They reminded me of my mother. Which is probably why I dreamt about her. During the hot summer months, when she appeared in my dreams, she was always on fire. In each dream, it was nice seeing her again, even if the condition I saw her in wasn’t all that pleasant. It was too dark to see what time it was on the small clock hanging on the back wall of my makeshift bedroom. But I knew it was close to daybreak. I always woke close to daybreak. We had been in this Malibu house for almost a week now, and I hadn’t missed one sunrise. I got up, felt around for a pair of shorts, and then pulled them up over my boxers. I smelled fire. I often smelled fire after dreaming of my mother. Just outside my room was a giant game room. Bugs was playing a solo game of pool. “Mummy, my boy. You’re up early,” he said. “I like to watch the sunrise.” “You were making a lot of noise in there,” Bugs said. The eight-ball rolled awkwardly to the corner of the table, stopping just short of its intended pocket. I tapped the ball into the pocket with my index finger. “I guess I was dreaming.” “Was she hot?” Bugs tossed his cue stick onto the table. “I guess.” I’d never really liked Bugs’s smile. His teeth were deceptively straight, and his top lip formed a fleshy point just above his front teeth. It was odd. Bugs plopped down on an antique couch that looked sorely out of place with all the modern game room furniture. He rubbed his hand along the furniture’s fabric making designs on its surface. “Weird looking couch,” I said. He kicked his feet up. “It’s called a récamier. It’s French.” “How do you know that?” “My grandmother used to have one like this. She got it in France.” I looked out the window. “You going to be around for a while?” I asked. “Yeah. Why?” “I’ll cook breakfast when I get back.” “Sounds good, but do me a favor…” Bugs sprung from the couch and picked up a rack for a new game. “Don’t make so much food. I hate seeing all that shit go to waste.” Outside, the glow of the eastern sky betrayed the summer heat with its icy blue color. Waves were quietly rolling in, careful not to wake the residents asleep in their houses on the sand. Small birds chased waves into the ocean only to retreat when the waves turned back against them. The sand was cold but refreshing. I sat in my usual spot, a relatively uneventful area that afforded me a picturesque view of the sun as it inched above the South Bay cities.