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Terrifying October Tales: An excerpt of "East Toward the Sun"

by Christine Casey Logsdon

Veronica Martin slid into the circular booth near the Caballero Room, waiting. She’d grown up in Santa Barbara, long before Jerry’s Bar opened in the 1960s. She had worked for the de la Guerra family, made the city thrive after the mission lands were seized, and known Thomas Hope on the broad dirt streets downtown.

Then she had met Juan, and life had changed.

Time meant little to creatures who traveled over it, and while she had once despised the events others blamed for Mexico’s losses and the changes in the land, she accepted them now. Gold, greed, and oil changed the face of the city—of the world.

She had learned to appreciate her place, in time and outside it, and the way she changed so little now, while others were born and grew old and died.

She wanted a drink, and looked for a waiter. A familiar woman hustled by in a black-and-white uniform.

“Sally!” Veronica called.

Plump and fast in her fifties, Sally had blonde hair with gray roots. “You never age,” she said when she stepped up to the booth. “Are you waiting for Juan?”

Veronica nodded. “Have you seen him?”

Sally shook her head. “Can I get you something while you wait?”

“Cosmopolitan. Thanks.”

Sally bustled off, dropping Veronica’s order at the bar. Veronica missed Juan’s quiet farmhouse that had rested on this exact spot a century ago. But she loved the atmosphere here: red-and-gold damask wallpaper and wood-panel wainscoting, maroon leather and brass buttons. The deep, pillowed booths that lined the walls looked suited for movies from the 1940s, and the restaurant reeked of fried food, old wood, and good memories. It drew people from all walks, all natures, all light and shadow.

Veronica fiddled with her purse, self-conscious in a booth for six, but Juan liked these opulent, half-circle tables. In exchange for his travel services, she obliged him in any way she could.

She waited for her drink and wished Juan would get here. She’d broken something in time. The creatures who traveled time were beyond her comprehension. Like any gods, she wouldn’t risk their wrath. Juan would know what to do.

She sipped her Cosmo, so strong she might have lit the vodka on fire. Jerry’s appeal lay in its old-fashioned flair, good greasy appetizers, and heavy pours of decent spirits— that, and the fact that Jerry’s foundations rested on some kind of soft spot in the fabric of the world.

Veronica raised her glass to toast the mounted cattle heads, silent sentinels above the door to the Caballero Room. They had hung in Juan’s home, before they had come here. What stories would they tell, if they could? Tales of the creatures who appeared and disappeared from Juan’s sitting room, whisked to other places and times? Now, with newer walls, guests read menus unaware, getting too drunk to drive, their excited teenagers taking control of car keys. Weddings, anniversaries, illicit affairs. Even regular patrons would glance up and gawk at the mounted cattle heads and the hundreds of photographs that covered the walls, trying to piece together a single mangled history from black and white and sepia.

Would those cattle busts share the magic tales?

Veronica frowned and sipped again at her drink. Probably they’d report how offended they’d been watching people eat steak for two hundred years.

She scooted around the booth so she could see the entrance, framed by Tiffany-styled lamps in the shape of tulips. It was the only public entrance, so Juan wouldn’t enter that way. No, Juan would slip in through a kitchen freezer, or conjure himself in the men’s room and step out with a flourish and she would feel her gut tighten and her knees weaken in unrequited, pointless desire. Juan had that effect on mortals, some pheromone that spanned the spaces between bodies.

“No deep-fried ravioli?”

She spilled her Cosmo. “Damn it, Juan!”

He slid into the booth beside her, shark’s smile and green eyes, skin as dark and smooth as the restaurant’s wood paneling.

“That’s me.” He took her Cosmo and sipped, made a face. “Disgusting. Waiter!” He snapped his fingers like some French aristocrat from the 1800s.

Veronica took her drink back, careful not to touch him. “Why has no one ever shot you?”

“Because I stay out of Florida,” he said with a flourish of his hand.

Because he was Juan, a waiter sprinted over.

“Martini,” Juan said. “Dirty, three olives, don’t skimp on the gin. Off with you.” He made a shooing motion.

The waiter nodded and ran.

Veronica flattened her lips, resisting a sneer. “Just back from a Pride parade?”

“What?” Juan looked down at his hand. “Too limp? Gay-adjacent? Is that what you mean?”

“You seem more flamboyant than usual.”

He tugged at his shirtsleeves, his perfectly tailored suit jacket.

“Will you please turn off that sparkle?” Veronia said.

“No.” He grinned.

His drink arrived, and Veronica ordered deep-fried ravioli before the waiter disappeared.

“Thank you for coming,” she said.

Juan shrugged. “I saw your ad, had nothing else to do. It’s been a while.”

“I need your help, Juan. Another Jerry’s, before 1997.”

“Why ‘when’? I’ve never known you to care about the ‘when’.”

Sally arrived with the ravioli; she must have stolen someone else’s order. “Here you are, Juan.” Her cheeks were flushed.

Juan rubbed his hands together. “Right here. All of it, right here. Veronica has no taste, she hates these things.”

Sally didn’t even look at Veronica. “Can I get you anything else, Juan? A drink? Anything at all?”

“I’m good for now, thanks.” Juan ignored her and dug in. “Oh, my bits of stuffed, doughy heaven.”

Veronica tightened her resolve against her desire for him. Like a desire to know God, it would never be satisfied or understood, so she grit her teeth and examined photographs on the wall behind his head.

Juan dipped a ravioli in sauce. “Why 1997?”

“Something happened.”

He chewed and swallowed. “A lot of things happened. Mars landing and Hale-Bopp. Chad’s independence and Hong Kong’s repossession. Sheep cloning and an incredibly rude reference to Dolly Parton’s breasts, if you want my opinion.”

She shook her head. “No, I mean—something didn’t happen. Can’t you see the change, Juan?”

He blinked, fork frozen over another ravioli. “Change? Nothing changes.”

“So you’ve said. But I traveled not long ago. When I returned to Jerry’s, Princess Diana was alive. Is alive, now. Today, in 2019. And England has a king. Your kind has always said that time was immutable, a structure like this building. But things are different.”

Juan closed his eyes and she watched his lips move, his brows drawn together in concentration. His head jerked up and he scanned the room—for what, Veronica couldn’t guess.

“Mother Teresa,” he said. “Dios mios, Agnes. Father Bergoglio...” His eyes pierced her with accusation. “How did a gringa like you change the course of the Catholic church?”

“Can you fix it?” Veronica’s fingers itched for a rosary she no longer carried: a talisman against this being and all he represented.

“I don’t know what to fix, or how.”

Her head began to swirl from too much vodka. The room began to spin. She pressed her palms flat against the cold glass that covered the tablecloth. “Something’s wrong. Juan, I...” She reached for his hand, and when she touched his skin, fire shot up her fingers.

He clutched her before she could pull away. “Warn a man next time.”

Veronica felt a different pain chase up her abused nerves, calming the burn in her arm but not the rest of her. “You’re m-making it worse.”

Juan frowned. “Something’s wrong.”

“I s-s-said t-that.”

He stood, grabbed Veronica around the ribs, and cut a path across the room. “Don’t show your face,” he said. Her body felt rag-doll limp, held together by knocking bones whose knots were loose. She was coming apart at the core. “What’s... wh—”

“Someone is trying to tear apart your soul.”

“N-not the drink?” Her arm flopped forward as he walked. What spectacle must they be making? But there was no pregnant silence, no shocked stillness around them, just the clank of cutlery and glasses and ice, and the noise of voices and music and people.

Her knees buckled. Her head lolled forward, chin to chest. The zipper of her sweater cut into the skin of her neck. “I c—c...”

“Sorry. Sorry,” he said, soothing where he’d been harsh before. “Someone in the pictures, I can’t find them. We have to go.”

Juan strode with her into the ladies’ room and pushed her into an open stall.

“It’s time,” he said.

Finally, she felt a familiar twist inside her cells that said nature was shifting, and God blinked.

The terrible ripping sensation was gone.

They stood in the salon of an old Spanish ranch house. Bright afternoon sun spilled through windows that opened from the central courtyard.

She pushed herself away from Juan’s supporting arm. “What happened?”

“I told you,” he said. “Your soul was being torn apart.” He went to a side table and handed her a glass of water.

She felt the weight of the crystal glass, the deeply etched designs sharp against her skin. She gulped the water. Her hand shook.

Juan rounded on her, and she felt nothing of her usual attraction. But she did feel the fear.

“1997. Why do you want to go to 1997?”

She looked around the room to avoid looking at him. There were no lamps, no computers, no cameras or wireless routers. “When are we?”

“1851, and we’re staying here until you tell me what you did.” He stared at her and waited. A clock ticked, loud from some other room. She heard the occasional cluck of a chicken, but other than that—nothing. Just Juan’s breaths.

“My face hasn’t aged in a long time. Staying in one place is uncomfortable, so I went backward to Los Angeles, for years. When they re-opened the Harvey Room at Union Station, I took a job as a server and waited until someone like you arrived. They returned me to Jerry’s in my time, my home, but some things were wrong, like I said.”

He huffed. “Five royal offspring of Diana. No Brexit. A different pope. No Saint Teresa. No Syrian war.”

Veronica stuck her hands into the pockets of her jeans, felt the foreboding chill of time. She hadn’t known so many things were wrong.

“What did you do in Los Angeles?”

“I was a costume designer in Hollywood. I used a lot of cocaine. I wasn’t conspicuous.”

He snapped his fingers. “More.”

“Plastic,” she said. “American Express cards. Gold.”

He made a reaching motion with his hand. “Another.”

“The AOL CDs that were everywhere. People used them as coasters. Made clothes and art from them.”


“The sound of a dial-up computer. Horses on studio lots, the sound of iron shoes on concrete.”

He beckoned with his fingers, demanding more, so she gave it.

“Cocaine. Common as cigarettes in my circles. Some hotels, a housekeeper couldn’t clean a coffee table without first wiping the powder away. The Internet. CNN. News coming faster. Flashbulbs. Tabloid magazines in supermarkets. Paparazzi.”

He snapped his fingers and pointed at her. “Let’s find suitable clothes. It’s time to travel.”

In the hallway, they passed the family’s altar, tucked in an alcove, and Veronica stopped.

A small bowl beneath the Lady of Guadalupe held rosaries with beads of rough-polished robles wood threaded on twine.

“You should take one,” Juan said. “A saint is no longer a saint, and a Jesuit isn’t the bishop of Rome.”

She dropped the rosary around her neck, crossed herself again, and turned up the hall.

“I’m sorry,” he said as he took the lead.

“For what?” They climbed stairs, and she watched his body stride through hard slashes of sun and shadow, all but disappearing between the bright beams.

He entered a bedroom and turned to look at her. “Everything bad that has happened and will happen to you.” He surveyed her clothes. “Your shoes are fine, but the rest must go. You look like a man.”

She touched the crude crucifix under her shirt, went to the wardrobe, and selected a dress she might have worn in her youth, cream-colored with neat embroidery and a wide leather belt. When she was done, Juan held out his hand.

She took it, and again God blinked.

***How does it end for Veronica and Juan? Not well! Read the full story in Hurricanes & Swan Songs, available in our bookstore.

Christine Casey Logsdon earned her degree in English Literature from UCSB in 1991, and owns and manages a technical consulting company. She has lived in Santa Barbara with her husband and extended family for decades, and edits both fiction and nonfiction. Christine writes fiction of all lengths, and is currently editing her contemporary Southern novel and a dramatic suspense novel.

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