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First pages


Cody French never thought about death until now. Graduating high school was as far as his imagination let him roam. With that behind him, his horizons were all stocking shelves at Bixby’s in Carmel, and messing with the junior college girls from Monterey, until he got the text: Underwater seismic activity at San Gregorio fault! Ghost Trees huge! 

Goomba! Get the hell over there and make surfing history,” his boss Albert said, shoving him out the door and slapping him on the butt like a coach. “One of us has to live.”

The blonde-haired, blue-eyed bro didn’t need to be told twice. Pulling on his wetsuit, he climbed into his orange surf truck made by Chevy and Hurley, with a four-fin, 10’2” board hanging over the tailgate. He’d be at Ghost Trees in eight minutes, and back before the lunch crowd—a big wave surfer, not just some quimby frube who couldn’t catch a killer wave to save his soul.

To the unenlightened, the place called Ghost Trees in Pebble Beach was all about golf courses and the superfluous beauty of sunbeams that spin fields of diamonds across the face of the sea.

The real Ghost Tree was nothing but a gnarly wooden remnant of a dead Cypress trunk marked No. 17 on the tourist map of the famous Seventeen Mile Drive. It sat across from No. 18, Pescadero Point, a quaint plot of manicured pathways and stone benches, where old ladies walked their dogs, and herded tourists snapped selfies.

The place belied a dangerous big wave break a hundred feet below; Ghost Trees, the surfers called it.

When Cody arrived, the sky was petal pink, the swells were big and black, and there was a pervasive white noise that soothed and terrified him as he looked at the gargantuan waves and troughs.

 “Mavericks,” he said. “How do they work?”

The jet-ski driver towed him half-a-mile out to where the aggros played, amped. Executing deep fades into the bowl, taking drops and grabbing cutbacks, bunny-hopping over shallow boils, and searching for that hangar-sized barrel of a lifetime, these guys were no slouchers. They were in peak condition, seeking peak experiences; the kind where everything else falls away.

“Dude,” the driver shouted, signaling his release of the tow line. Cody took his place in the lineup.

Meanwhile, in the spot called the boneyard, a pair of thirty-foot waves flooded into Stillwater Cove and pummeled the Beach Club; that gray-shingled hundred-year-old institution just above the seventeenth hole, so reminiscent of old-world East Coast sodalities, where rich, old, young, strong, weak, widowed, orphaned, lost, found, fearful, brave, knowing and unaware, populate the scene.

Straddling his board, Cody watched as guy after guy paddled up, took the drop, and tumbled. None of the four surfers before him rode out their wave. The first guy took an injury to the shoulder.

These were the biggest waves anyone had ever seen in California. Dudes were rushing down from Santa Cruz and up from Paso; every top surfer. Cody and the other locals could beat them out though. The pros got no early warning on these mavericks because an underground earthquake caused them, not a storm.

Two photographers with 1300mm lenses channel-paddled on long guns to catch the drama unfolding on this dangerous break that was only surfed for the last twenty years. A guy from Monterey’s On the Beach Surf Shop jetted over to help with water traffic control. 

Maybe I’ll make Surf Magazine, Cody thought.

A Coast Guard vessel showed up to tell the tow-surfers they were operating illegally. Someone always called to complain whenever there were jet skis in the Monterey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. Staying wide of the boulders that collared and wadded the West Coast’s heaviest wave, the patrol checked itself before the bombora that was Ghost Trees.

Transfixed by the ascending wall of doom, Cody positioned himself for the drop; epic, filmic, lethal as fuck. 

This is it, killer wave, homicidal

An immemoriam squeezed his finest nerve. Someone in a dream was dead.

This ain’t no dream. There’s only me. 

He was clucked. 

No way out but through it

“Akaw!” he shouted as he pushed off, trying to sound old school entering the backdoor to the wave of the world.

Fading into the bowl of this deadly right-hander, he got worked; wiped out into a fold. Now he was deep under water, tomb-stoned by a two-wave pin-down. Yanked up by its buoyancy, held down by its leash, the board stood straight up like a grave marker out of watery hell.

With all that ocean tonnage above him for two-times the count, the leg-rope snapped and the board split. Flailing cartwheels in the washing machine thirty feet below the level of air, his mind slowed to higher frames per second. 

Famous surfers drown here. I’m gonna be one. 

His thoughts turned dark. 

What if I’m just a Barney, out of my league?

It was time to release the pressure from his lungs; the weight of it all. It was time to open his mouth and take in the frigid sea; find out what’s on the other side. Cody had the thought of a lifetime. He’d remember it for however long he survived.

It’s sad not to live. It’s sad to not live.

The engineer on the coastguard vessel couldn’t believe Cody had a chance of surviving the hold down, but his eyes wouldn’t stop scanning the horizon-less surface. A moment before, it was the playground of young men, and also of “men in gray suits,” as the locals called the sharks here in one of the coldest, most infested, surf breaks in the world.

Cody got jolted hard; rammed from underneath. A bastard shark knocked the remaining bubbles of stale air from his pipes. He pressed his lips together. The last experience of his life was about to be death in the jaws of a monster. Again, he got shoved. This time he could feel himself ascending. He flailed his oxygen-deprived weakened noodles around the Noah and held on for life. 

Popping to the surface, he gulped for air, coughing, sputtering, and at last, breathing. 

Still entangled with the beast that brought him from the depths, he was about to get shredded into a car-sized blood stain. He’d seen foamies turn pink before. He braced for it, but nothing happened. 

As his brain defogged, he realized that his savior was one of those Pacific dolphins that shoot the waves alongside surfers. That’s what was supporting him from underneath. The prospect of stone-cold death turned into a near-death experience. 


For the small crowd of on-lookers, terror morphed into elation at the sight of Cody’s fist pumping the air. In unison they shifted their attention to the creature that brought him to the surface. His savior was, not a dolphin, but an old woman, and she appeared to be quite dead.

It took almost an hour for the personal water craft to wrangle the body and tow it to the Coast Guard boat. Paramedics pronounced Cody good to live for other days; saved by an anonymous old Jane Doe who died before she could wake, newly privy to the mystery beyond whatever mind may comprehend.


Three weeks before, in the middle of the night, Aimee James sat watching her thirteen-year-old son Daniel work the controller of his Sony Play Station 2, playing the video game he called Grand Theft Naughty. 

In the living room of their tiny furnished rental there were only three places to look when it was dark outside. There were the pine beams that crisscrossed above them, the soot-black maw of the sandstone fireplace that threatened to devour them, and the small-screen TV that sat on the burl-wood coffee table. For Daniel, since they couldn’t afford cable, that meant playing a lot of video games.

Her son sat on the cold living room floor with his back against the distressed leather sofa where she perched with her legs folded under her. His avatar wore a black hockey mask, and used an AK47, together with a chainsaw, to kill rival gang members and steal their blood-money.

In this game, a badass drug dealer offered to sell him “something good.” Here, in the on-screen world he could do anything he wanted, even buy drugs, without getting in trouble. He didn’t want to buy drugs though. He shot the drug dealer with an assault rifle, and watched, mesmerized, as stacks of cash floated toward him in slow-motion.

“What was that noise? That noise?” Daniel asked.

“It was just my cellphone.”

“Kind of late,” he said.

How can he hear a single chirp over all the guns and noises? Aimee thought.

Popping onto the screen next, was a shady character who suggested that he have sex with a hooker in a stolen car, strangle her, and then take the money back. For a second he wondered if that wouldn’t be cheating. Ignoring the guy, he continued along on his virtual killing spree. He used a cement truck to bury a bunch of construction workers in port-o-potties. The closer to the finish, the bloodier the mission.

“It’s past three. I’m going to bed,” Aimee said.

“You tired? You tired?” Daniel asked.

“I’d like to be tired,” she said. “Maybe if I read I can get tired.”

“That Cannery Row book?”

“I like it. It’s about people from around here.”

“Okay. Good night. I’m going to kill more perps. Kill more perps.”

“You should try to go to sleep. I know it’s hard to sleep in a new place, but tomorrow we’re meeting the doctor and her horse. She’s going to help you. She’s saving you. So, you know what you’ve gotta do, right?”

“Stay awake?”

Aimee’s brow furrowed.

“Yes, but not tonight. Stay awake tomorrow.”


An hour later, Aimee was glaring at the sliding glass door of her bedroom, from where Michael Mizol had just left. It opened onto a discrete patio encircled by a deer-fence where once there must have been a garden with flowers to protect; otherwise, it couldn’t have mattered if the black-tailed deer came and peered inside.

Sitting up, she brushed a stack of twenty-dollar bills into the battered bureau. With the faded red and gold acanthus-leaf comforter failing to comfort her, she shivered. 

She jumped at the buzzing of her cell phone. It was a SnapChat from Michael; one of those messages you have only seconds to read before it disappears. He refused to use Messenger or text, saying: “Never write anything down if you don’t want the whole world to read it.”

The Snap Chat was a picture of him with the steering wheel of his car superimposed around his head. He wore a Tesla logo like a Triton wreath. He typed: “Enjoy the tip (smiley face with tongue). You earned it.” 

A burning sensation crawled over her. She couldn’t breathe.

Earned it? Tip? 

Her eyes watered. 

He said he wanted me to have cash in case of emergency. He called it pocket change. 

She looked at her phone to see the message again, but it was gone. She tried to open the application to respond, but she didn’t have a comeback anyhow. 

It was pocket change. It was a tip.

She buried her face in her hands. 

How could I be so stupid?

It was against her better judgment to accept anything from him, especially after he ghosted her last year and then reappeared last night. Still, she hadn’t said No. She’d said Thank you. 

Proof! I’m a bawd! 

The thing was, she really missed him, and she was happy when he called, even though it was late. 

Look what he thinks of me now! 

She’d been hard-pressed financially since the day her house got sealed off with barricade tape, foreclosed on with all its contents, save for a few boxes and an oil painting she squeezed into the J40 the night before. 

The lawyers got their pound of flesh, didn’t they?

She wanted his company, not his money. 


The word kept popping into her head from somewhere. 

Steinbeck! He called his madam with a heart of gold a bawd. 

A warm buzzing sensation spread over her as she put her hand on her chest and envisioned a literal heart of gold. Her habit of insinuating herself into whatever book she was reading was half envisioning a different world and half longing to make one. 

Michael had left her at the hour of the pearl. That’s what Steinbeck called the hour of dawn just before the sun broke. 

Daniel’s dog was panting in the hallway. Aimee crawled out from under the less-than-comforting comforter and let Puppy into her room.

“Come on!” she said, patting the bed for the dog. Puppy wouldn’t budge. She’d been trained not to get onto beds. Aimee reached down and lifted the fifteen-pound terrier mutt onto the duvet. She got herself under the cover again and dug her fingers into Puppy’s soft coat. “You have a heart of gold, don’t you girl?”

Aimee shoved her foot against a box that had been on the bed since fleeing to the agrestic cottage a month before. So much clutter would have bothered her once, but now she found it served her well. It was insulating. At least she wasn’t spending all night sleeping in a chair with the lights blaring. 

That’s a step toward normal. Not bad. I’m ready to be that. 

Breaking away from Aimee’s petting, Puppy explored the top of the bed covered with a satiny blanket, pre-shredded in places, and cardboard boxes filled with pleasant-smelling old papers and better-smelling old books. Her nose worked double-time.

“Puppy, what are you doing? Stop!”

Aimee lunged across the bed and rescued a slobbery book from the jaws of the gentle dog. “Bad dog,” she said, then froze. 

“Wait. You’re not a bad dog.” 

She pulled Puppy to her chest and buried her face in the dog’s fur.

“You’re the best dog in the whole world.” 

Puppy jumped off the bed and scratched at the slider.

“Do you have to go? You just want to bark at raccoons, don’t you?”

Puppy cocked her head. Aimee let the dog outside and watched her trot off into the darkness. She wondered what really lurked outside that deer-fence that kept her close. Beyond its flimsy barrier, the property sloped in all directions, shrouded by giant trees, dead and alive. Were there predators that would harm an innocent creature just trying to be brave outside of its element? 


Michael entered her life before the maelstrom that was the sudden death of her ex-husband, and the trial of her son for killing him; but, he flew out of San Francisco on business before the trial was over, and stayed away. Maybe that was because he saw it was becoming an auto da fé, and he didn’t want to be associated with the damned. 

They put trash out, or creep out to fish. 

Back under the red and gold acanthus-leaf duvet that could be something from a bed in the Palace of Versailles, she thought about how it was, coming here to this beautiful but lonely place with her boy who’d survived so much.

Her mission was to help him recover from the curves that life had thrown him; the traumatic death of his father, and his own conviction of manslaughter for patricide. She’d read everything about Asperger’s Syndrome, but even the experts didn’t agree. She had to follow her own instincts. Daniel didn’t put out a lot of spoor. She was a tracker in a desolate landscape. 

Nothing ever happens now except endings.

Pulling the bureau drawer open, she sifted the stack of twenties that Michael left. The extra money meant that she could take Daniel on the recommended outings.

Michael’s ATM must be five hundred.

He never gave his all, no matter what; time, money, or love. He always held back at least thirty-three and a third percent. A corporate attorney who billed a grand an hour, setting antes and stacking decks was his game. 

It must have given him a thrill to see me take that. 

She couldn’t figure any other reason he drove two hours from San Francisco to be with her. 

I’m not exciting, I’m not convenient, and now I’m not even free.

Freedom had been her unwavering focus for the past year and she received a miracle. Her son wasn’t locked up for the murder of his father. He was with her, starting over in a new place where they wouldn’t be scrutinized under a microscope by scientists or with a magnifying glass by snoops. She was aware that his Asperger’s Syndrome made people believe that he was capable of murder. They said he lacked empathy and was obsessed with violence. 

It would be better if nobody knew anything about him, except Dr. Peletier, of course. She’s going to be our savior.

Endings and beginnings.

Aimee and Daniel moved from San Francisco to the dilapidated cottage in the Del Monte Forest. They had to be close to the equestrian center and its new psychiatrist in residence. 

They hitched a U-Haul to their vintage J40 jeep and moved two hours south to the most beautiful place on earth.

Aimee was certain that in this new place she would connect with other people who loved the natural beauty of California’s Central Coast. She felt ready to be alive again. According to a GoToQuiz, she had a big empathetic heart and an authenticity that almost guaranteed making new friends. 

Dreaming. That’s what can happen.

Holding the dog-slobbered book in one hand, Aimee blotted her somewhat bovine eyes that Michael called her big browns, even though they weren’t. She opened the green cloth-bound volume of O. Henry to page forty-seven. 

In New York City in the early 1900s a young woman was carrying a typewriter, looking for a room to rent; but, she couldn’t afford the twelve-dollar room or even the eight dollar room. She had to rent the attic. With little money, she was slowly starving to death. 

Maybe this isn’t a good story to go to sleep with. 

Aimee tugged at the bedspread. She read on, shut the book, then opened it again, skipping ahead. 

Rescued by an ambulance doctor! 

She was glad the woman hadn’t died, but felt sorry, thinking that such romantic rescues are, in reality, totally absurd. 

Why does a woman have to be rescued, anyhow?

It was a tiring question.

She went to sleep.


Daniel was shredding people with a lawnmower, in his video game, but his thumbs were sore, so he saved his position to a memory chip, and switched off the Play Station.

Moving from their apartment in San Francisco, to this crappy cabin a hundred miles away, was keeping him out of jail, and he knew it. The judge told him that he was lucky to be doing time with horses instead of other violent offenders. He wondered if the Columbine Kids and the Newtown Kid had to have horse therapy. 

Get to. he reminded himself.

Get to. He repeated in a whisper. 

I get to have horse therapy.

When the game was off, and the ambient sound was returned, he heard a noise coming from outside. 

Clowns, he thought. Why’d it have to be clowns? 

It was illegal to be outside dressed like a clown in some places, but evil clowns had been spotted in some woods, somewhere. He steeled himself to take care of what he had to. 

When he was very little, a birthday party clown made a balloon animal for him. An older kid called him weird and told him the clown was John Wayne Gacy. He eventually found out who Gacy was and grew up believing that a murderer wearing face paint had made him a pink giraffe.

An hour earlier, Daniel thought he saw someone moving in the back yard, but he couldn’t stop playing Grand Theft long enough to go see. Now he knew someone was out there.

He stepped into the darkness with his pulse racing. The thickness of the trees wouldn’t let the moonlight reach him. He struggled to focus on anything. He couldn’t see, but he could hear sharply.

They’re trying to get me, he thought. 

There was a sound coming at him, and it was inhuman. 

Daniel grabbed a rotten paint brush from a forsaken project and willed himself toward the noise. Pinned by fear, the sound of his own breathing terrified him. 

It’s always the same. Kill or be killed. 

He broke the splintered paint brush, and its dull wood became a shank in his hand. With fear and will bundled together, he lunged at the moving shape. He felt the stick penetrate. He pried it. There was no give. Silence returned to the darkness. 

Puppy, with her dangerous wanderlust, came crawling back under the deer-fence, and emerged from the forest that’s hardly ever seen by human eyes, none worse for the wear. 

“Come on Puppy. On Puppy,” She trotted to her boy. “Good Puppy—good Puppy.”

She followed him into the house, and to his bedroom. The little black dog stayed at heel.

“You sleep there.” Daniel pointed to a pillow on the floor. Stepping onto it, she turned three circles and plopped herself down. He knew that if he yelled in his sleep she would come and lick his hand until he stopped.


The next morning, Daniel was sitting at the kitchen counter watching his mother stir three spoons of instant coffee into a mug of hot water.

“Was Michael here last night? Last night?” he asked.

“What makes you wonder that?” she asked.

“Smells like Michael. Like Michael.”

“Yes. He was. I needed to talk to him.”

“Does he want to marry you? Marry you?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think so.”

“Good. I hate how he talks to you,” Daniel said.

“How is that?” she asked.

“He always says something he doesn’t mean, and then you’re dumb if you don’t know he doesn’t mean it. If you don’t know he doesn’t mean it.”

“You mean sarcasm? I don’t like sarcasm either.”

When Daniel was in the first grade, he asked his teacher if they were going outside for recess on a rainy day. She said they would go outside in the rain in their pajamas and roast marshmallows by a campfire.

Daniel got put in time-out several times that day and had to skip his snack for being disruptive. It turned out the teacher punished him for being a smart-aleck, because he kept asking about the marshmallows, and pajamas, and campfire.

“Come to think of it, I hate sarcasm,” his mother said.

“It’s not funny. Not funny. Jokes are funny. Riddles are funny. You know what’s black and white and red all over?”

“A newspaper?”


“A sunburned zebra?”

“Nope. Nope.”

She sipped her instant coffee and glanced out the window. Her eyes fell on a thing. 

Oh. My. God. 

She was looking at the fresh entrails of a dead raccoon. 

Black and white and red all over.


Dr. Bridgette Peletier strained her eyes down the dusty road from where she expected her youthful subject to appear. She was champing at the bit to assess him in person for the first time and begin working with him as the equine therapist studying Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in children on the autism spectrum.

That’s what the court had ordered for this adolescent boy, but she had more planned. Within this ten-acre clearing surrounded by a dark boscage, more than one future would be determined.

It’s a true crime story and I’m going to write it. That’s all there is, she thought. 

She held her thumb to the iPhone, while she ground her Hermès riding boot into the dust, until a flower-crown filter appeared on the screen. She puffed out her lips and pressed the white circle to take a SnapChat photo of herself. For a second she felt like a girl—not serious, professional or important; and, like a girl, self-conscious.

Thank God it doesn’t last! 

She wouldn’t want that picture swirling around the internet. She was going to build a stunning reputation for herself, here, by the golf links of Poppy Hills, Spy Glass, and the hallowed Cypress Point. From inside this rawboned white fence that served to organize the in-and-outs of The Pebble Beach Stable, an outré era compound where Secretariat himself once visited but was upstaged by the simultaneous appearance of Clint Eastwood and Arnold Palmer—she will rise.

Waiting is a bitch, she thought. 

She waited within the skeletal arms of the equestrian center, currycombing the thinning coat of a piebald mare. Califia was the creature that would ostensibly spare the boy’s life and give her the life she dreamed of. 

She received the horse as a gift for her sixteenth birthday instead of the white Beemer she was promised. The Canadian psychiatrist, ersatz equine therapist, chose this yin place with its handful of hippodrome has-beens amongst the rust-coated oil-drums that marked barrel races never to be run—for her coming out.

Hearing the death rattle of a four-stroke diesel, she looked up. In every direction the skyline was cut with jagged pines towering in eerie presage. She saw the mom, Aimee James, steering her rickety blue Toyota J40 Bandeirante made in Brazil, while twisting her Ash-Brown No. 5 hair into a messy bun.

The glorious subject who would change everything, was seated next to a black dog. 

There he goes, she thought.

Daniel James was given a chance to change his fate. A month earlier he was headed to the San Francisco jail, convicted of voluntary manslaughter in the death of his father. The prosecutor compared him to the Newtown Killer, whose own father said that his son would have killed him in a heartbeat. 

Too weird. Too rare, she thought. 

This kid fixated on death every day of his life, according to court documents—several times a day, by his own admission. In the best of light, he was regarded as a precocious misfit or an idiot savant; but, he listened to the horror-rap music of the Insane Clown Posse and Trip B and played the disturbing video games from the franchise known as Grand Theft Auto.

One of the devil’s own prototypes.

Her thoughts flowed in Hunter Thompson prose as she fastened the royal blue standing wraps and left the horse to go meet the kid in the dirt parking lot. Damp cinder-block fragrance mixed with ocean-breeze, pine scent, and horse-related perfumery charged the dusty air. A ceiling of high fog diffused the light and washed away the shadows. 

Finally, the beginning.

Dr. Peletier’s classically wheat-colored shoulder length hair was pulled into a black velvet bow at the base of her neck. Her English-khaki jodhpurs smoothed as she rose to meet her marked down quarry. With each step she saw Daniel’s chin-length dark hair lift in the breeze. Her heart fluttered at seeing the lanky teen with the awkward gait, closed smile, small brown eyes, and one deep asymmetric dimple on his left cheek.

He was everything she hoped for. Her thoughts shifted from Thompson to Tennyson. 

Ours but to do or die, Daniel.

Daniel James was to be the subject of her research project entitled: Equine Therapy Treatment with Asperger’s Syndrome and PTSD in a Juvenile Offender. She’d been languishing in the hinterlands of research for ten years. If she didn’t find success soon, she’d be relegated to the status of a never-was. With the right subject, though, she could break into the tight world of publication.

Screw the academics.

Fortunately for her, James showed up like Dahl’s golden ticket in a candy wrapper. An admirer alerted her about the young Asperger’s killer during his trial and pointed out what he could mean for her career. Now she would be making her mark using this single horse and this troubled autistic.

“You must be Daniel,” she said.

Aimee James extended her hand. “Hi. I’m the mom.” 

Dr. Peletier looked at the outstretched hand. 

“Ah-ah. No shaking hands. That’s sensory invasive.” 

How does the mom of an Asperger’s child not know that? she wondered.

“It’s nice to finally meet you anyhow,” Aimee said, as she dropped her hand to her side. Dr. Peletier looked at the small dog at Daniel’s feet, and the book in the mom’s hand.

“Look at you. You brought your friend and your reading,” she said. 

A bodice ripper? she thought. 

The doctor smirked at the library book Aimee held, with its 1970s-style illustration of a swashbuckler in a white shirt slashed to the navel. It could have been Fabio. 

“You won’t be doing much reading here Mrs. James. I prefer you not be on the grounds for our sessions.”

“Oh. Okay.” The mom looked surprised. “Call me Aimee at least.”

“Okay Aimee. Feel free to go read your book now. I’ve got Daniel.”

“This is Daniel’s book,” she said, looking at the tome in her hand. “Or at least, I hope he’ll read it. I picked it out for him at the library.”

“You picked that for Daniel?” Dr. Peletier laughed.

“You don’t think it could be wrong do you?”

Dr. Peletier looked closer and saw that it was Treasure Island. “Ah. That’s supposed to be a pirate. Long John Silver or someone.”

“Not exactly Mr. D’Arcy is he?” Aimee said, searching for a connection.

What’s her game? the doctor thought.

“Oh, right. The misjudged noblesse,” she said.

“Isn’t every woman in love with him?” Aimee asked.

This woman believes it’s all about her, the doc thought.

“Fun, isn’t it?” the doc said.

“Hey, did you know that according to our guidebook Robert Louis Stevenson wrote part of Treasure Island here in Pebble Beach?” Aimee said.

“Really? A+ in literature,” Dr. Peletier said, turning away.

“Daniel, I’m Dr. Peletier. You and I are going to get to know each other really well between now and New Year’s.”

Daniel looked to his mother.

“If we can’t make that happen you won’t be able to stay here. If you can’t stay here you’ll have to go back to San Francisco to jail, then prison when you turn eighteen.”

“He’s terrified of that,” Aimee said.

The sound of her voice convinced the doctor that she was the one who was terrified.

“It sounds harsh Daniel, but it’s a good sentence. You’re very lucky the judge gave it to you. We can make this work, can’t we?”

Daniel didn’t answer. One hand clenched and unclenched.

“Of course we can,” the mom said.

Dr. Peletier wondered just how dangerous this silly looking youth in color block zip-off shorts was. He killed his father, after all.

Would he kill me? Would he kill my horse?

“I explained it to him,” Aimee said. “I explained that he has to make friends with your horse. I explained everything.”

“That must have been quite a feat,” the doctor said. Aimee’s face fell.

Daniel shuffled his feet in the powdery dust.

“Feet,” he said. “Feet.”

“Daniel, are you going to trust me?” the doctor asked.

“Trust is a hard thing for him after all he’s been through. You know all about it I think,” the mom said.

“Daniel, can you learn to trust me?” the doctor asked again.

“Can I?” Daniel said in a loud voice. “Or will I? Will I?”

“Okay then,” Dr. Peletier said, pressing her palms together.

She started toward the corral and motioned for Daniel to follow. Seeing Puppy at Daniel’s heel, she turned back.

“You’ll have to leave the dog with your mother.”

“Can’t do that. Can’t do that.”

Dr. Peletier took a light-weight lead from a hitching post and slipped it around the dog’s neck.

“Noooo!” Daniel wailed in a high voice. “Noooo!”

He grabbed the rope from around the dog’s neck and threw it to the ground.

“What’s the matter?” the doctor asked.

Daniel started yelling in a high sing-song voice.

“What’s the matter are you scared? What’s the matter, what’s the matter…”

Daniel puts his two hands inches from the doctor’s eyes and clapped.

The doctor flinched.

He kept on singing. “…tell me are you fearless?”

Bridgette Peletier’s body shuddered as she brushed her face with both hands.

Aimee scooped the dog up.

“I’m sorry. He didn’t mean to scare you. Those are song lyrics. He does that to me too.”

“Well he shouldn’t,” the doctor said, smoothing her pony tail.

“Don’t do that again,” she said, glaring at Daniel.

“No noose!” he yells. “No noose!”

“There’s no noose,” his mom said. “See, it’s a leash.”

“It’s just to keep the dog out of the way,” Dr. Peletier said, picking it up off the ground.

“We never put a leash on Puppy,” Aimee said. “It’s a trigger.”

She took a few steps back until she could feel the fence behind her.

“I think I know what a trigger is,” Dr. Peletier said to the mom.

“I’m sure you do,” Aimee said.

“Was that actually a song you were singing, Daniel?”

“Without music life would be a mistake—a mistake,” he said, quoting Nietzsche. “That’s an ICP rap—That’s an ICP rap.”

“Ah. The Insane Clown Posse I’ve heard so much about,” she said. “Okay then. We need to move on. Let’s get started with the horse.”


About me

Beri is the author of numerous works of fiction. A DC intern, she was a grad student in film at San Francisco State, where she earned her MA in Broadcasting and Electronic Communications while working for A.C. Nielsen. Later, she completed her MSW from USC, becoming a child and family therapist at The Village Project in Seaside. She is also a certified Domestic Violence Counselor. Recently, she wrote and directed the play Christmas Ghosts of 1944, about a lonely veteran and his caregivers. 

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
In this place of extraordinary beauty, I observe every strata of humanity, and notice a great deal of commonality. I like to imagine normal scenarios playing out in the extreme, and want to explore how handily we misjudge not only situations, but each other. Human nature is the greatest mystery.    
Q. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
The hardest part was making sure none of the characters were only caricatures of people. I wanted the reader to have sympathy or connection with each, no matter how heinous their actions. The ultimate challenge was compelling the reader to feel somehow responsible for the unfolding, if just a bit.
Q. Tell us about the cover and the inspiration for it.
The photo came from the rap artist Trip B who features in the book as the horror-core idol of Daniel, the wannabe Juggalo with Asperger’s Syndrome. Pictured is a towering Cypress tree just catching the last rays of sunset on its gnarled branches, dead and alive. It’s hideous and beautiful, no?  

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