“The impossible, rolling hills of East Los Angeles are not, in fact, hills, but actually the humps of great beasts hiding under the asphalt, patiently awaiting their return to the sun-baked Earth.” — Anonymous

One Friday in the middle of February, not long after the novelty of a new year loses its shimmer and shine, Maurice Jones faked being sick to stay home from school. Could you really blame him?

“You know, the thing about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches is that you gotta get the ratio just right. Papa taught me that word the other day, ‘ratio,’ it means like, how much of each ingredient there is. So like, there has to be just the right amount,” Maurice said as he pointed the knife emphatically before dipping it into an open jar of peanut butter. “He said it really seriously, like it was really important. I don’t know why it’s so important; it’s just a sandwich.” He spread the peanut buttery knife across a slice of whole wheat bread, then folded the slice onto itself before taking a bite. Maurice chewed and chewed and chewed and shrugged. Elmer, a stuffed pig the size of a Thanksgiving turkey with dark, plastic eyes the size of quarters, stared blankly at him. Awaiting a response and not getting one, the phlegmatic pre-teen sneezed, snarled, and sniffed.

“Yeah, it’s not that big a deal,” Maurice confessed to himself as he finished off the last of his sandwich and sat down on the couch next to Elmer. He sneezed again, with a mighty “AHTCHOO” that made his whole body tense up and swing forward.

“Oh, man. I think I’m actually getting sick or something. I should stay home from school.” Again, he stared at Elmer expectantly. The false swine stayed silent, keeping its eyes forward. “Really? Not even a chuckle? Tough crowd. AHTCHOO!!!” Maurice, as he was often inclined to do at the close of winter, had a very hard time keeping his nose from doing anything other than a very poor and even more unsanitary impression of a leaky faucet that just happened to be laced with explosive charges. He got up wordlessly from the couch to turn on the TV, like someone who was too emotionally exhausted to complain anymore about having lost the remote. One sharp hiss drawn out into oblivion later—

“—oday at a press conference in Georgia, President Trump declined to comment on the—alentine’s Day discount—bonobos and chimpanzees have more genetic similarities to Homo sapiens than any other primate…” Maurice sighed contentedly and sat back down next to Elmer.

“Finally, something worth watching,” Maurice sniffed, but the air seemed to get choked up in that tight, hard-to-reach space in between his cheeks and his throat and his nose, so he began to cough in staccatoed bursts. After a spell, he was breathing normally again, nice and quiet-like.

Amidst that germy, shameful silence, a soft moan creeped in through the window. It rang low and mournful, in sustained tones that drew long sweeping colors in the air. Maurice turned his ear toward the sound and followed the invisible trail to the window in the living room, the one that faced directly out to the house with the shuttered windows painted black across the street.

The streets were jammed with parked cars on either side, but somehow, whomever was driving the dark red pickup truck managed to find space enough to set themselves in all snug and cozy, right next to the house with the sable window dressing. In the back of the truck was a huge box covered with a tarp that must have been white at some point, but was now splattered with brown among a sea of faded cream. Maurice gazed at the box, and the din of the TV and all its animals sifted through his ears.

“Hey, I thought I said you couldn’t watch TV,” Maurice’s father (who we’ll hereon call Mr. Jones, just because “Maurice’s father” has a touch too many syllables), a tall, olive-skinned, bespectacled man not quite forty, said as he came through the front door and shut it behind him. As he set his things down on the couch, Maurice came away from the window, pointing at it.

“That guy with the truck who lives across the street has a big box in his truck!” Maurice said as he walked up to Mr. Jones, who took off his shoes to reveal white socks with red stripes.

“A big box? It’s probably a refrigerator.” Mr. Jones walked over to the window and looked out for half a moment before saying, “Yeah, it’s just a refrigerator. I thought I said you couldn’t watch TV.”

“No,” Maurice said, shaking his dark hair. “You said I couldn’t use the tablet, and I haven’t! See?” Maurice walked over to the kitchen sink and opened the cupboard underneath it. Reaching inside, he pulled out a slim, black tablet with a sticker depicting a cartoon rocket blazing a trail along the stars plastered on the back. Mr. Jones furrowed his brow. “I didn’t tell you where I hid the tablet.” he said, mostly to himself. Maurice shrugged. “I just knew where it was.”

Mr. Jones took a deep breath. “Yeah, alright. Did you take your medicine like I showed you?” He asked. Maurice nodded his head.

“Okay, good. Remember to take some after dinner.” Maurice went over to the couch and sat down before turning on the tablet. “Okay, Papa.” he said, not looking up from the screen as it brightened itself. As Mr. Jones walked to his bedroom and out of sight, Maurice looked over and out of the window, fixing his gaze on the box in the back of the truck across the street, ears all perked up.


That night, Maurice heard the wailing again, first in his dreams, then in the crispness of the waking world. He got up out of bed, and in the kitchen, the microwave clock said 12:37 with bright green numbers all boxed in by the dark. The window, that window had its curtains shut earlier that day by Mr. Jones, but there was a sliver of light coming in from the streetlamp from outside. Maurice looked out that long thin line into the world, and the world seamlessly welcomed his gaze.

The truck itself was gone, or at least nowhere Maurice could see it, maybe further up the street.

He could see the neighbor through his opened garage door. He was tall, but not exactly skinny; underneath the striped sweater he was wearing stretched a distended belly that seemed to sway from side to side as he walked up, beer in hand, to the taped-up box now sitting on the floor of his garage. It was only a little shorter than him, maybe six feet tall, and the wind whipped around its fluttery sides. The neighbor stood in place, taking staccato sips from his brown glass bottle full of brown glass water, then looked over at Maurice’s window, returning his gaze for the briefest possible instant.

“Shit!” Maurice hissed, diving under the window. He waited a moment, then two, then four, then peeked out the very bottom. He could see the neighbor was in the process of closing his garage door, and once that big piece of windowed wood was all the way down, he padlocked it on the lower right side. Maurice went back to bed, but he couldn’t sleep. He just stared with open eyes and open ears up at the ceiling of his bedroom, peeling away at layers and layers of dark.


On the following Monday, Maurice went back to school, in spite of his best efforts.

“And then I saw the guy in his garage, and he had the box in there, but I think he saw me! I don’t think I heard the noise for the rest of the night.” Maurice explained to his friends Roy and Jennifer during recess. God, remember recess?

They sat criss-cross applesauce under the enormous oak tree at the edge of the grassy field. Their school staggered the recess times according to grade; Maurice and company were in the last block of the day with the fifth and sixth graders. Most everyone stuck to the jungle gym or basketball courts, but some stragglers always made their way into the boonies beyond, almost up to the fenced border the school shared with the aging, graffiti-covered Catholic church next door. Exploring every inch of the playground, getting to know all its nooks and crannies was the closest thing to exploring most of them ever knew.

“What if it’s Bigfoot?” Roy postulated, and Jennifer rolled her eyes. “No, stupid,” she said, drawing a rocket in the dirt with a sharp stick. “Bigfoot lives in Colorado.”

“I don’t think it’s Bigfoot; the box wasn’t big enough. Isn’t Bigfoot s’posed to be like, really, really tall?” Maurice wondered aloud, furrowing his brow, scratching his head, thinking his brains out. Roy shrugged. “Yeah, I guess,” he said, suddenly standing and stretching. “It’s prob’ly just a refrigerator.”

“That’s what Pa—my dad said, but I don’t think it’s a refrigerator; I heard it moaning,” Maurice contested. Jennifer shrugged and said, “Maybe you heard it coming from something else. Maybe it was someone’s dog?”

“It didn’t sound like a dog, it sounded like…something. I don’t know.” Maurice stood and walked over to the tree to peel off some bark. Roy went to the opposite side and leaned his back up against the trunk.

“I think you’re full of shit, Bambi, you didn’t hear anything.” Roy said, scratching at his freckled cheeks, kicking vainly at the grass. Maurice immediately swung around the other side so he was face to face with Roy. “I’m not lying,” he said, then pointed his finger right at Roy’s nose, “and don’t call me Bambi again, or I’ll kick the crap outta you.” Roy made a “what the heck?” face and moved aside, away from Maurice as Jennifer came around to see what they were doing.

“Hey, calm down! Roy, don’t be an ass, I’m sure he actually heard something.” Jennifer’s sharp tones rung through their ears, right down to their drums.

“I’ll prove I’m not lying!” Maurice declared to his friends, who stared at him expectantly. “I’ll, uh, take a picture of whatever’s in the box!” Roy shook his head.

“Okay, dude. Whatever.”


On Friday night, Mr. Jones made spaghetti carbonara for dinner, and finished eating before his son did.

“Listen, what would you think about going to see Dr. Lewis again?” he asked as he took his plate up to the sink. Maurice twirled his fork in the spaghetti and kept twirling it until he twirled up as many noodles as he could and brought the hefty thing up to his mouth before saying, “No.” Mr. Jones turned back and sat down at the table.

“It would be good for you, buddy. You’ve been having trouble sleeping lately, right? I heard you get up the other night.” A solar flare drew its abominably sharp finger across Maurice’s chest, so he chewed, and he swallowed, and the pasta made him feel brave enough to say, “I didn’t get up last night.” Mr. Jones shook his head.

“I’m not mad, you don’t need to lie. I’ve been having trouble sleeping too.” Maurice looked up at his father, right into his eyes.

“Do you hear it too?” he asked. Mr. Jones furrowed his brow.

“Hear what?” Maurice pointed at the window, and heard nothing. The silence ratta-tat-tatted against his eardrums, and he felt sick and alone. Mr. Jones shook his head again.

“There’s nothing across the street, buddy, not except for a house and some cars.” Maurice suddenly threw his fork down at the plate with a clatter.

“Hey!” Mr. Jones suddenly yelled, daggers in his voice, finger pointed to make a solid dark line across the air. “Don’t get all pissed at me for no reason. There’s nothing out there, it’s just your imagination.” Maurice got up from the table and started to stomp away to his bedroom, where he sat on the floor with a hard lump in his throat. A few moments later, Mr. Jones came up to the doorway and edged his way inside, slowly sitting down on the floor next to Maurice.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, soft and low. Maurice sniffed and swallowed, but the hard lump in his throat was apparently glued to the bottom of his tongue. He knew it wouldn’t come out easy, that’s for sure.

“They c…they called me ‘Bambi’ at school again,” the boy admitted. Mr. Jones pinched the bridge of his nose, eyes closed. After a short breath, he opened them again.

“Who was it? Was it Roy?” Mr. Jones said in the most exasperated of tones. Maurice shrugged. Mr. Jones shrugged back. “What does that mean?” he asked. “Yes or no?”

“Yes. But he didn’t believe me, either! I really heard something crying, like it was in pain! I—”

“Buddy, listen to me. If that kid Roy says anything like that to you again, you just tell a teacher and—” Before Mr. Jones could finish his thought, Maurice went over to his bed and lied face down in a starfish-shaped pillow. Mr. Jones stood up and hesitated for a moment before leaving the bedroom and shutting the door behind him.


Much later in the evening, after the sun went down and the moon punched its timecard, Maurice tiptoed out of his bedroom and into the hallway. Turning out an ear toward the door of his father’s bedroom, he heard light snoring, and carried on with his mission.

After retrieving the tablet from behind the TV, he looked up a video on lock picking and began to educate himself. As the video’s soft glow carved a hefty piece out of the dark, that soft wail whistled through his ears again, spurring him on.

When he thought he was ready, he dug through the Everything drawer in the kitchen and found an old padlock he could practice on. It took a little while for him to get it right, but an hour or so later, he felt confident enough to do it for realsies, out in the cold, dark, real world.

The bright green letters on the microwave read 2:20 when he zipped up his winter jacket and clutched the newborn paperclip lockpicks in his olive fist. He made sure he had his phone and that it was ready to take a picture. The door opened and shut, nice and quiet-like.

The street was a lifeless thing, but the light from the moon made it glitter. Maurice made his way across the street, keeping his eyes peeled and his ears open. When he got to the padlocked garage door, a heat began to rise in his chest, and as he picked the lock, it seemed to him his hands weren’t his own, but felt rather as if something were guiding him. After a minute or two, the padlock came off, and with shivery fingers, he pulled up the garage door.

The severed head of an elk mounted on the wall near the ceiling of the garage stared blankly at Maurice. The cage’s tarp was crumpled up in the corner next to a small, white bucket, and so Maurice saw the box wasn’t a box at all, but a cage, with bars that ran up and down and side to side. Inside was a unicorn, no doubt about it. Her silver pelt had an unearthly, ethereal sheen to it, and the eyes, a vibrant violet, glowed so bright against the dark it made Maurice dizzy. A low, inquisitive hum charged the air around him, making all the oxygen molecules vibrate in place.

There was a door to the cage, and the door had a latch; the latch didn’t have a lock, but you could only open it from the outside. As Maurice slowly made his way closer to the cage in awe, the unicorn lowered her head toward the latch, and he got the hint. It came undone easily under his fingers, and he backed away as the unicorn slowly walked out of her cage.

She seemed to grow taller and more muscular as she left her prison, and by the time she was finished sprouting, she wouldn’t have been able to fit inside at all. She shook her mane in the unrestrained air, and ribbons of light shimmied through off her like a living dust cloud, illuminating the street. Maurice was so enraptured by the affair that he hardly noticed the staggery footsteps coming closer and closer to the door in the garage leading to and from the house itself. You know, that door.

That door swung open, and the neighbor entered, reeking of whiskey. His eyes darted from the unicorn to Maurice to the open garage door, then back to Maurice.

“You greasy little spook!” the neighbor snarled as he began to charge at Maurice with outstretched, strangly arms, but the unicorn, faster than men have any right to know, appeared in front of him, and drove her horn directly into his chest. Blood gushed onto her pelt, and when she effortlessly tossed his limp carcass out onto the street, errant flecks of red spattered Maurice’s face.

The neighbor’s body struck a green Roadster and its alarm went off, screaming bloody murder. As the car horn shouted at the top of its lungs, the unicorn lowered her head to Maurice slowly, pointing her painted horn at his chest. Maurice reached out with an air of adagio and gently pressed his open palm up against her face. She leaned into his fingers as Mr. Jones, suddenly awakened, looked out from the window across the street, and saw the blood-streaked face of his son staring back at him.