Copyright © 2011-2012 by Jose Mojica
All rights reserved. Published by Argument Null, LLC. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher.
CONGRATULATIONS, YOU ARE NO LONGER A MINORITY
The video on YouTube proved it: her parents were idiots. Now they were dead and Mimi was an orphan at fourteen.
She clicked the play button and watched the video in silence for the fifth time.
And this is why they’d made her go to bed early on her first night of summer vacation? So they could sneak out of the house dressed like circus performers and get killed on live TV? Really?
“It’s a shame,” Mrs. Sanders said. She was the social worker who’d brought Mimi to the Family Services building. “If it hadn’t been for that last part, I think they would have won the contest.”
The “last part” Mrs. Sanders was referring to was the huge explosion at the end of their act that had blown up half the TV studio and killed them in the process. What were they thinking? And what exactly did they expect would happen when they put a lit match to a giant hydrogen bubble? Mimi knew exactly what they hadn’t been thinking of. They hadn’t been thinking of her or of the fact that the whole thing would forever be preserved on the Internet for everyone at school to see. Thank you, Mom and Dad. Thank you for helping me fit in. As if things weren’t bad enough already.
“You know what you need to do,” Mrs. Sanders continued. Mimi looked at her skeptically. “You need to give your parents’ video a five-star rating and let it go. Only then will you be able to commence the grieving process.”
“I’m going to throw up.” Mimi clicked the play button again. Mrs. Sanders
looked away from the computer and began filling out forms. “It’s not them,” Mimi said. It was them. There was no question about it. What she meant was that it couldn’t have been them. Her parents were not performers. They never went anywhere. They were Cuban refugees who’d met by chance at sea while floating for freedom. Just when they’d nearly given up hope of reaching land their rafts miraculously collided and they held hands until they reached the Florida Keys. They vowed never to go anywhere outside of Florida again. All they did until last night was watch TV in their matching recliners, holding hands the same way they had in their little rafts. And now she was to believe they’d flown from Miami to New York City in the middle of the night to be on some late night show? “I bet they just went to breakfast without me,” Mimi said. “Did the police check Roberto’s? It’s a little Cuban place around the corner from our house. As you probably already know, we’re Cuban.”
“Are you?” Mrs. Sanders didn’t sound convinced.
Not this again, Mimi thought. No one ever believed her when she said she was Cuban. She didn’t look Cuban: blue eyes, blonde hair, pale skin. She didn’t speak Spanish, although she’d tried her best to learn it by watching the Spanish version of Sesame Street. And she couldn’t tell a fried banana from a fried plantain, which was fine by her because they were both gross. But not every Cuban person looked Cuban. Her parents didn’t.
Mrs. Sanders pulled out a bright orange piece of paper from a drawer and handed it to Mimi.
“What’s this?” Mimi asked. It was blank on both sides.
“I always find the best way to calm myself is to stare at something orange. Orange is a very soothing color.”
Mimi said nothing. She calmly crumpled the paper into a ball and placed it on top of the forms Mrs. Sanders was working on.
“My,” Mrs. Sanders said. “Someone’s not being very accepting of life’s circumstances.”
“Don’t you get it?” Mimi said. “I have no one. There’s no one left in my family. My parents had no brothers or sisters. My grandparents are dead. They died in the jungle saving a family of Caribbean dingoes from the evil developers who were
trying to fill the island with movie theaters. That’s why we never go to the movies.”
“That’s not exactly true,” Mrs. Sanders said. She moved the orange ball aside and continued working on the forms.
Mimi crossed her arms. “If you’re going to argue with me that there are no such things as Caribbean dingoes, I’ll just have you know—”
“Your grandfather’s alive,” Mrs. Sanders said.
“What did you say?”
“You really should work on your breathing.” Mrs. Sanders put down her pen. “Like this…” She focused on a spot on the office door and used her hands to demonstrate the flow of air. “Breathe in through your nose, then exhale slowly through your mouth. It’s not difficult and it will make you feel a lot better.” When she was done, she picked up her pen and continued working.
Mimi reached over and yanked the pen from Mrs. Sanders’ hand. Then she threw it at the door, roughly at the same spot Mrs. Sanders had been focusing on. “What. Exactly. Do you mean. My grandfather’s alive?”
“He’ll be here within the hour to pick you up.”
“Whatever!” Mimi said and looked back at the computer screen. “I’m done talking.” She clicked on the one star rating. Poor. “That’s what I think of commencing the grieving process.”
Mrs. Sanders opened her desk drawer and took out another pen.
“Even if he were alive, which he’s not,” Mimi continued. “I’d like to see him just waltz in from Cuba.” She tried to give the video less than a star but she couldn’t.
“Oh, he’s not coming from Cuba,” Mrs. Sanders said. “But close… Michigan. Your family is not of the Cuban persuasion.”
“That’s it. I’m leaving.” Mimi got up and picked up her suitcase. “Obviously someone here’s clueless about who someone is.”
Mrs. Sanders shook her head and smiled. “I have proof,” she said and patted a yellow folder next to her.
Mimi stopped before opening the door. “This is so stupid.” She set down her suitcase. “First you tell me my parents are dead. Those are not even my parents in the video, by the way. And now you tell me my grandfather’s alive and, oh yeah, that we’re not Cuban. That we’re from Michigan.” She turned to show Mrs. Sanders the tattoo on her lower back. “Do you see what I have on my back? It’s the Cuban flag.” She’d gotten it last year without her parents’ permission. “Read what it says under it: ‘Let my people go.’ My people. I even organized a couple of freedom marches at school.” To which, sadly, no one had come.
Mrs. Sanders said nothing.
It couldn’t be true and yet it explained why her parents had refused to teach her Spanish, telling her that it would just confuse her. They probably didn’t know a word of it. And why they kept pointing to the Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico whenever they tried showing her where they were from. Mimi stomped back to the desk. “I want to see this proof.”
Mrs. Sanders pulled out the top page in the yellow folder and offered it to Mimi without taking her eyes off her paperwork.
Mimi yanked the page away from her. It was a copy of her parents’ Michigan driver’s licenses. They looked younger but it was definitely them in the photos. Then she read the names. “Aha! It’s not them.” Mimi slammed the paper on top of the forms Mrs. Sanders was working on. “Their names are not Otis and Peggy Sue Miller.” Mimi smiled in relief. “Our last name is Agosto. Pepe and Margarita Agosto.”
Mrs. Sanders pulled out the second page from the yellow folder. “They changed their names and yours when they moved to Florida.” She handed the paper to Mimi.
Mimi looked at the copy of the name-change request forms. She saw one for her Dad, one for her Mom and one for… “Gertrude? They named me Gertrude? I’m going to kill them.”
There was a knock on the door.
IS THERE AN AWARD FOR CRAZIEST?
“Come in,” Mrs. Sanders said. She stood up and and smoothed out her navy suit.
The door opened and a man who could not possibly be Mimi’s grandfather stood at the threshold. His back was turned but she could see he was taller than her parents, over 6 feet tall, and skinny. He wore dark blue jeans, a red plaid shirt, and black cowboy boots. Her parents had been short, fat, and what this man would probably call, ‘city folk’. Mimi, being skinny and a normal height, had often wondered if she’d been adopted.
The man appeared to be apologizing to someone outside the office, someone Mimi couldn’t see. “Sorry I ran from you,” he said. “I thought you were a zombie.”
Mimi looked at Mrs. Sanders. “Did he say zombie?”
Mrs. Sanders ignored her. She straightened and offered her hand to Grandpa. “You must be Frank Miller. I’m Mrs. Sanders.”
The man turned and Mimi’s hopes that someone had made a mistake vanished. It was as if someone had put a gray wig and beard on her dad’s face.
Mimi cleared her throat. “Because it definitely sounded like he just mistook someone for a zombie,” she said. “But it couldn’t have been because why would anyone mistake someone else for a zombie?”
Grandpa walked in and shook Mrs. Sanders’ hand.
“And this fine example of pre-womanhood is…” Mrs. Sanders beckoned Mimi
to come closer but Mimi stayed planted at a safe distance. “Gertrude, your granddaughter.”
“My name is Mimi and I’m not going anywhere with him.” She crossed her arms. “He doesn’t look anything like my dad.”
Grandpa took one look at Mimi and smiled widely. He took a deep breath and said, “And you don’t look anything like your grandmother,” drying the corner of his eyes with his fingertip as he spoke.
Mimi said nothing.
“You’ll have to excuse her,” Mrs. Sanders said. She leaned closer to Grandpa and pretended to whisper, “Someone’s not being very accepting of life’s circumstances.”
Grandpa looked at Mrs. Sanders and frowned.
“Mr. Miller,” Mrs. Sanders continued. “If you would be so kind as to have a seat so we can get started.”
But Grandpa continued frowning. “I know you.”
“You were in a movie.”
Mrs. Sanders looked puzzled. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Wait, don’t tell me,” Grandpa said and began snapping his fingers. “It will come to me.”
“If you please,” Mrs. Sanders pointed at the seat in front of her desk. “We really should get started.”
But Grandpa continued thinking. “I’ve got it,” he said with a final snap. “You played the banker in Poor, Homeless Banshee Girl, 1990, directed by Roger Manfred III. I never forget an actor’s face. Occupational hazard.”
Mrs. Sanders looked down at her desk. “There are a lot of forms to sign.”
Grandpa continued, “When you told that little girl and her family that they’d have to keep living in a cardboard box because of a typo on their application, and that little banshee girl began to cry, I tell you, there was not a dry eye in the theater.
You don’t see that in a comedy much.”
There was no question about it, Mimi thought, her grandfather was without a doubt, completely and utterly insane.
“Mr. Miller, please!” Mrs. Sanders was no longer smiling. “I need to make a copy of your license.”
Grandpa nodded and reached into his back pocket. “The way they chased you guys out of town after the premiere… I’ve never seen anything like it, even in Flopsville.” He handed his license to Mrs. Sanders and sat down.
Mrs. Sanders’ took it and stomped out of the room, muttering. Grandpa sighed. “That was weird,” he said.
“Which part?” Mimi asked.
“It’s not just her,” Grandpa added. “It’s the office help too, and the cables. And the fresh paint. Did your birthmark change colors when you arrived by any chance?”
“The birthmark on your right hand…Don’t look at it now, wait until we’re safe.”
Safe? What birthmark? She looked at her right hand. There was nothing there and if anything on her had changed colors she would’ve noticed. She needed to get out of here before someone made her go home with this lunatic. Mimi looked around the room for possible escape routes. There were none except the one door. The ceiling had removable tiles but the beams holding them in place looked flimsy even for her. But now that Grandpa mentioned it, she could smell fresh paint on the walls and there was a thick, round, black cable on the floor coming out of the wall and leading to Mrs. Sander’s desk. But so what?
Mrs. Sanders returned and handed the license back to Grandpa. Her tone was business-like. “Now, if you would be so kind as to sign the following.” She placed the forms in front of him.
“Say…” Grandpa put his license back in his wallet. “Did Manfred ever come out of that coma?” He grabbed the pen atop the stack of papers and began signing.
“I’ll have you know,” Mrs. Sanders said, sounding more and more unfriendly with each word, “that this living arrangement is only temporary.”
“Temporary?” Mimi said. “I can’t believe I have to go with him at all. Have you heard a word he’s said? He’s crazy, no offense.”
Grandpa continued looking at Mrs. Sanders. “Wasn’t your stage name Julia Simmons?”
Mrs. Sanders turned pale. She sat frozen for a few seconds and Mimi was pretty sure the lady was going to have a nervous breakdown. She was right. Suddenly, Mrs. Sanders began to mumble to herself. “I told them this would happen. I told them, but they never listen to me, do they?”
Mimi and Grandpa looked at each other. Grandpa shrugged. Mimi raised an eyebrow.
“That’s enough signing,” Mrs. Sanders said. She took the pen from Grandpa’s hand abruptly and put the papers back in the folder. “If you need anything, feel free to call.” She stood up and offered Grandpa a business card.
Mimi and Grandpa looked at the card as if it had leprosy.
“Take it already and go.” Mrs. Sanders pushed the card onto him.
Grandpa stood up slowly and took it. “Can I give you some advice?” he said. “You really shouldn’t let yourself get typecast.” He grabbed Mimi’s suitcase and in a more chipper tone said, “C’mon Mimi. We have a plane to catch.”
What choice did she have? Mimi looked at Mrs. Sanders who was now sitting down, elbows on the desk, banging her head against her fists. “Maybe you should look at something orange.” And then followed Grandpa outside.
NEXT STOP: NOWHERE
“Okay,” Mimi started. “Before you get all emotional with the whole, ‘I’m your grandfather,’ thing. You’re going to have to answer some questions.”
Grandpa turned and looked out the rear window. They were in a taxi headed…
“Wait, where are we going?” Mimi asked. She’d assumed they would stop by her house, but they’d just missed the exit.
“Too dangerous. The movers will get your stuff.” Grandpa looked at her. “Did you by any chance feel a strong sensation that something back there wasn’t quite right?”
“Hmm. Let me think. Do you mean the fact that my entire life was a lie?”
Grandpa looked out the back window again.
Mimi continued, “Or maybe you’re referring to the fact that the first thing I heard my grandpa say, a grandpa whom I thought was dead by the way, was the word ‘zombie’.”
Grandpa snapped his fingers. “Bingo!”
“Nope. I thought everything was peachy.”
“That’s too bad.” Grandpa reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out some folded sheets of yellow pad paper and a pen. The pages looked worn out and the ink on them faded. It was a list of some sort. He crossed out one of the items on it. Then he folded the papers back up, put them and the pen back in his front pocket, and sighed.
“What was that?” Mimi asked.
“Flopsville? What’s a Flopsville?”
“That’s where we’re going. Flopsville, Michigan.” “I’m going to live in a place called Flopsville?” Grandpa studied the cars left and right of them. “Why do you keep looking at the cars?” Mimi asked. “Ever heard of Tinseltown?”
Mimi shook her head.
“It’s the nickname for Hollywood.” Grandpa said.
“Okay, and what does that have to do with anything?” “Flopsville is kind of like Hollywood except without the tinsel.” “You mean the stuff they put on Christmas trees?”
“Exactly.” Grandpa turned towards her. “Like the stuff they put on Christmas trees, only picture someone taking the tree to the backyard to burn it the day after Christmas. Then picture that same person getting caught in the flames by accident, and dying a horrible death. Now, picture him coming back from the dead to sue the company that sold him the tree. If someone makes a movie out of it, you’re in Flopsville.”
“Hmm…” Mimi made eye contact with the driver through the rearview mirror and wondered if she could mouth the words, ‘call 911’ clearly enough for him to notice. She turned towards Grandpa. “Let’s go back to the part about the birthmark.” She put her right hand in front of him. “See. There’s nothing there.”
“Shhh!” Grandpa pushed her hand out of view, leaned back and slid down on the seat to hide. He signaled for Mimi to do the same.
Mimi did. “There’s still nothing here,” she whispered. “It’s on the other side,” Grandpa whispered back. Mimi turned her hand palm down. “No it isn’t.”
“Right there.” Grandpa pointed at the base of her thumb.
Mimi took a closer look. All she could see was a round, brown mole, about half the size of a pencil’s eraser, with a single blond hair sticking out of it. “That’s a mole,” she said.
Grandpa shook his head. “Not just.”
“You’re right. It’s an ugly mole.”
“It’s best to wait until we’re back in Flopsville.” Grandpa said and sat back up.
Mimi joined him. She tapped the mole a few times and shook it, just to see if it did anything. Other than making her thumb look like an exclamation mark the mole was stupid. “I don’t suppose the story of how you met Grandma is true either?”
“Back in Cuba. You won a machete-throwing contest. Chief Yuca rewarded you with two wives, his own daughters. But you turned them down because you were in love with Grandma. Does that ring a bell?”
“I like the Cuban me, but I didn’t think they had a tribal society.”
“Whatever!” Mimi folded her arms and looked out the window. At least if her parents had lied about Grandpa being dead, there was a good chance Grandma was still alive. And that maybe she was the sane one in the family. “Where’s Grandma?”
“I’m sorry, Mimi. Grandma’s dead. She died of natural causes three years ago. So, she won’t be coming back.”
“I’m done talking,” Mimi said. She turned her back towards Grandpa and stared out the window.
Grandpa sighed. “You’re upset. I understand. It’s tough losing your parents.” “I’m not upset because of them. I’m mad at them.”
“Your Grandma then.”
Mimi shook her head. “You want to know what I’m upset about? Fine. I’m upset because from the minute I met you, I haven’t understood a word you’ve said.”
Her eyes filled up with tears, making her even angrier. She sniffled.
“Here,” Grandpa said and offered her a tissue. “I picked them up at the airport.”
Mimi reached over and grabbed the tissue without turning. “At least, I’m going to a place where I don’t look different from the other kids.”
“Hmm” Grandpa patted her shoulder. “You’d better take the whole pack.”
OH LOOK, THERE’S A SALE ON SPANDEX
It was one in the afternoon when they arrived in Michigan. Grandpa’s truck was parked in the short-term parking lot at the Detroit airport. It was a rusty, old, blue truck which was being held together mostly by duct tape. Mimi put her suitcase behind the bench seat and climbed in. She was still feeling groggy from the plane ride. All her life she’d dreamt of flying somewhere exciting, somewhere like Spain where she’d imagined finding her ancestors, all of whom looked identical to her. Instead, the plane had felt like an old bus going to a place the opposite of exciting, and after a few minutes she’d fallen asleep and hadn’t woken up until the plane landed.
“I’ve got something for you,” Grandpa said. “It’s in the glove compartment.”
Mimi tried opening the glove compartment but it wouldn’t budge.
“Try kicking it,” Grandpa said.
“My pleasure.” She’d felt like kicking something hard ever since Mrs. Sanders had shown her the video of her parents’ act.
The glove compartment popped open. Inside among old papers, napkins, and receipts was a small square box, wrapped in red and gold Christmas paper. It was late May.
“Merry Christmas,” Grandpa said. He put the truck in reverse and pulled out of the parking lot. “I didn’t know when your birthday was and I’ve missed every Christmas since you were born.”
“Isn’t that a good question,” Mimi said. She put the present down between
them. “Why weren’t you there for the last 14 Christmases?”
“I’ve been asking myself the same thing. Aren’t you going to open it?”
Mimi rolled her eyes and picked the present back up. “This doesn’t mean we’re done talking,” she said and began unwrapping it. Inside was a jewelry box. She opened it. It contained a pair of silver earrings with small round blue stones.
“They’re nice,” Mimi said. And after a few seconds, “Thanks. Were they Grandma’s?”
“Yep, I’m pretty sure,” Grandpa said.
“Pretty sure?” She picked up one of the earrings to try it on. There was a loud pop of electricity and she dropped the earring back into the box. “It shocked me!”
“Now I’m not so sure,” Grandpa said.
Mimi sighed. She touched the earring with the tip of her finger a second time and this time all she felt was a tingle. She decided to leave them in the box for the time being.
They drove out of the airport and headed west. To Mimi it seemed they had gone an hour in one direction, turned left and driven a half hour, and then turned left again and driven another hour. She was expecting to be back at the airport anytime now, but instead they entered a place that had nothing but woods in sight. After passing a crossroad, Mimi saw an elaborate white sign with black letters that read, “Welcome to Thomsville,” except the Thom had been crossed out with red paint and the word ‘Flop’ had been scribbled on top.
“Everyone’s a critic these days,” Grandpa said.
Past that sign was another sign, a smaller one, the kind that people use to announce things like garage sales. It read, “Agents will be shot on sight.”
“I don’t feel so good,” Mimi said.
“We’re almost there.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.”
After a few miles of narrow winding roads they reached downtown.
The only place Mimi had been outside of Miami had been Disney World in
Orlando, Florida. Downtown Flopsville looked a lot like Main Street in the Magic Kingdom…if a virus had wiped out civilization. The place was deserted. The buildings were crumbling and their walls were filled with graffiti. Some of the graffiti was the usual “Jake loves Susie,” kind, but some of it didn’t make any sense. Mimi read, “I died three times here and I’m not coming back.” Another wall read, “Garlic sucks,” then under it, “Vamps suck,” and under that, “It’s Flopsville. We all suck.”
On every block there was a small movie theater. Mimi counted five of them, three on one side of the street and two on the other side in zigzag formation. All of them displayed the word “closed” on their marquees except for the one in the middle of town, The Dark Alley Theater, which had the word “open” on its marquee and the title of a movie she’d never heard of before: ‘Swampy XI’. Under the title was the phrase, “The one where he beats up Sasquatch.”
A lot of the shops were boarded. One of them looked as if it had been burned down a long time ago and no one had bothered to fix it. Of the few stores that were open, one was having a sale on spandex, multiple colors. The sign read, “Guaranteed not to rip. Full moon this weekend. Don’t be caught naked.”
“What does that mean?” Mimi said.
“The sign. Full moon. Don’t get caught naked? What exactly does that mean?”
“Calm down, it’s very simple…” Grandpa slowed down and parked the truck in front of the Dark Alley Theater. “Every day or so the moon gets a little bigger,” he said. “This weekend, the moon is going to be really big. They call that the full moon. But then it will get small again.”
“I’m not talking about the moon. I want to know why there’s a chance people will get caught naked during it.”
“Ah!” Grandpa nodded. “On the way here I kept thinking that perhaps I haven’t been very clear about how things work in Flopsville and I think maybe I should take another shot at it and try to explain it as best I can.”
“Thank you. Finally.” Mimi turned to listen.
“So, I’ve come up with a series of haikus that might shed some light on the
“Haikus?” Mimi’s jaw popped open. “Here’s the first one:
They’re back from the dead Making bad movies they went Welcome to Flopsville.”
Mimi was unable to speak. “I’ve got another one:
Monsters they exist Scary scary but friendly Welcome to Flopsville…
The second line needs a little work.”
“Are you kidding me?” Mimi folded her arms.
“Well, I haven’t written in a while and even then, poetry was never my strong point.” Grandpa opened the door and stepped out of the car. “Why don’t we get something to eat?”
“Here?” The place looked so desolate that it made her shiver. But losing Grandpa would be worse so she climbed out of the truck and followed him.
I SAID I WANTED MY MOM NOT MY MUM
Mimi saw right away where the Dark Alley Theater had gotten its name. It had gotten it from the alley next to it into which Grandpa was walking. Even though it was only 3:00 in the afternoon, the alley was dark and filled with fog. So thick was the fog that Mimi wasn’t sure how far it went or whether it went anywhere at all. It was paved in cobblestone and whenever Grandpa took a step with his boots a sound similar to horse’s hooves echoed throughout. But the most unusual thing about the dark alley was the smell. She’d been expecting the scents of dampness, decay, and bodily substances, most of them emanating from a big brown dumpster near the entrance. Instead what she smelled were… french fries.
As they walked past the dumpster a voice whispered, “I wouldn’t go in there if I were you.”
Mimi gasped and looked down. She saw an old man, older than Grandpa, sitting between the dumpster and the wall. He was holding an empty liquor bottle in one hand and was using newspapers as blankets. In the other hand he held what looked to be a textbook of some sort. His irises were so faded that his eyes were nearly all white.
The man let go of the bottle, leaned forward and took hold of one of Mimi’s pant legs. Mimi tried to yank herself loose. The man spoke again, only this time his voice sounded deep and strong, like a radio announcer’s voice. “On a day like today, fourteen years to the day to be exact,” he began, “Little Tommy went swimming at Camp Murky Pond without his inflatable ducky. A giant squid poisoned him, a ten-foot eel electrocuted him, a mutant swordfish lacerated his jugular, and a goldfish nibbled on his big toe. The toe got infected and he died of
blood poisoning. Now Little Tommy is a little upset and he wants revenge. He’s coming back tonight to fish you out of this world.” He lowered his voice and at an incredibly fast speed he added, “This film has not yet been rated.”
“Ben,” Grandpa said. “If you let go of my granddaughter, I’ll buy you a cup of coffee.”
“Another granddaughter?” Ben let go of Mimi. “Sorry about that.”
“Another granddaughter?” Mimi asked. “What does he mean another granddaughter?”
“This time, I’m sure,” Grandpa said to Ben.
Ben put a bookmark in his textbook, which Mimi could see was titled, ‘Principles of Contract Law, 2nd Edition’, and tucked it behind the dumpster along with his newspapers. “I still wouldn’t go in there,” he said. “Mum is in a really bad mood.”
Grandpa helped him up and the two of them began walking deeper into the alley.
“Whoa, wait a second,” Mimi said as she caught up. “What do you mean this time you’re sure?”
It looked like there was nothing at the end of the alley except an old red-brick wall that was close to crumbling but then Grandpa got shorter and Mimi realized that there were steps leading down. At the end of the steps was a wooden door with a glass window that read, “Dark Alley Diner.”
“He’s not going to be happy to see me,” Ben said. “Threw me out ten minutes ago.”
Grandpa opened the door and they entered.
The Dark Alley Diner looked like any other diner. It was basically a square room, with tables in the center, booths on the right, bar and grill on the left, and bathrooms in the back. The stools around the bar were ripped with their yellow stuffing hanging out. The only difference between this diner and other diners she’d been in were the decorations. The windows on the right, above the booths, were not real. They were painted and if you looked at all five of them in order, from left to right, you’d notice that they formed a scene of a mob carrying torches and
various weapons towards a castle atop a hill. The torches had little lights that would flicker on and off making them look real.
On the back wall, between the men’s and women’s bathrooms, were the words, “Cryptids vs. Slayers,” painted in glow-in-the-dark purple at the top. On the cryptid side were autographed framed photos of different monsters: Dracula, the Mummy, the Wolf Man, the guy who was badly burned and had a glove with knives for fingers. On the slayer side were pictures of monster hunters. There was a black and white picture of a man wearing an old Sherlock Holmes coat holding a cross, and a color picture of a girl wearing a cheerleading outfit, holding a wooden stake in one hand and a pompon in the other. Mimi was sure she’d seen her face before, but she wasn’t sure where. She hadn’t been allowed to watch many movies at the theater and never scary movies.
Behind the bar someone had placed a prop of a life-sized mummy holding a remote control and watching TV, currently playing a soap.
Other than the three of them the place was deserted.
Grandpa sat in one of the stools near the mummy, and Mimi sat next to him. Ben, however, walked all the way to the far end of the counter.
“Now, Mum,” Ben said. “Before you get upset, I’ll just have you know this was Frank’s idea.”
The mummy prop stood up slowly and limped with its arms stretched out towards Ben.
“Whoa!” Mimi got up to her feet. “That thing is alive?” The mummy kept walking towards Ben.
“I told you he was in a bad mood,” Ben said. “Tell him, Frank.”
The mummy stopped momentarily and looked at Grandpa.
“I told him I’d buy him a cup of coffee,” Grandpa said.
“Grandpa,” Mimi said as calmly as possible. He turned to look at her. “May I have a word with you please? Like now. Over there.”
Grandpa nodded and the two of them walked over to the front door. The
reason she was disturbed was because even though her brain was telling her it couldn’t possibly be real, her eyes were like, ‘oh yeah, this coming from the brain who kept telling us we were Cuban after looking at ourselves in the mirror for fourteen years.’ It felt amazingly real. The bandages looked old and faded. The mouth and fingers were severely decayed, more like post-decayed, with bones showing on several fingertips, and the lips and tongue gone. It was also wearing an apron.
“What’s the matter?” Grandpa asked.
“Nothing,” Mimi said. “That’s just a man dressed up as a mummy, right?”
“Oh, sorry,” Grandpa said. “I didn’t introduce you…” Grandpa began to walk back. “Mum this is my—”
Mimi grabbed the back of his shirt and pulled him back.
“Okay, let’s review, shall we?” Mimi said. She turned her back towards the mummy. “Can you repeat the second haiku?”
“I didn’t think you were a big fan of that one.” “Humor me.”
“Monsters they exist—”
“Stop right there,” Mimi said. She glanced back at the mummy. The mummy flashed its two remaining black teeth at Mimi. Mimi turned away from it. “I keep playing in my head the things you’ve said so far: the word zombie, the thing about Grandma not coming back…” Mimi heard moaning and limping. “Then there’s the graffiti about vampires, and the sale on spandex and I’m getting this really bad feeling, like right here in my stomach. But I mean that’s crazy, right?” The groaning and moaning seemed to be getting louder. “But maybe, maybe…stay with me here…maybe it’s just that people here are obsessed with scary movies and they dress up like their favorite characters. It makes sense because you said Flopsville was a movie town. Right?” Mimi glanced back and saw the mummy standing right behind her. She yelped and jumped behind Grandpa.
“Mum, this is Mimi, my granddaughter,” Grandpa said. “Mimi, this is Mum. He owns the diner.”
Mimi gave Mum a little wave. “Nice costume,” she said.
“She’s new here,” Grandpa answered.
“Of course, I’m sure this time,” Grandpa said. He leaned in closer and whispered, “She’s got the mark.”
Grandpa and Mum looked at Mimi as if they were expecting her to do something. “What?” she asked.
“He wants to see it,” Grandpa answered.
“The birthmark,” Grandpa said.
“That makes two of us,” Mimi said and thrust her right hand in front of Mum. “MMMMmm”
“No, it’s not a mole,” Grandpa protested.
“What did I tell you?” Mimi said and pulled her hand back. “Thank you. At least the mummy agrees with me.”
“Can I get my coffee now?” Ben asked from the bar.
Mum moaned and limped back behind the counter.
Mimi pulled Grandpa’s shirt again. “You and me. Booths. Now.”
“Mum, could we get a couple of burgers and fries, and some cokes?” Grandpa said as he was being yanked to one of the booths on the right.
When they were seated Mimi said, “You are going to tell me about this mole. And I mean now.”
Grandpa nodded but signaled for Mimi to keep it down. “Only six people know about the mark and Ben’s not one of them.”
“I’m waiting,” Mimi said.
“Okay, I’ve been thinking about the best way to explain it. So here it goes—”
“No. No more Haikus. I’m warning you.”
Grandpa closed his mouth. “Hmm, now I have to think of something else… Okay, I’ve got it.”
THE MOLE OF THE BEAST
Mimi saw Mum limping with a cup full of coffee, his arms outstretched and stiff. When he reached Ben he let go of the cup in mid air. Ben must have been used to this procedure because he managed to catch it before it hit the counter, but not without spilling a great deal of it. “Thanks, Mum. Nice and hot.” Ben said, wincing and drying his hands on his pant legs.
It was going to be hard to concentrate with a mummy walking around.
“I suppose I should start at the beginning,” Grandpa said.
Mum limped towards the kitchen.
“Yes, start at the beginning and try to keep the crazy talk to a minimum,” Mimi said.
Grandpa leaned closer and lowered his voice. “When you were born,” he said, “a nurse at the hospital noticed your birthmark. After everyone except for a handful of us had left the room, she came back and told us that she believed it to be one of the great ones. She was pretty sure she’d seen it in one of the two books of birthmarks, most likely Definitely Not A Mole: Volume I. She said she always wanted a birthmark like yours because of the way it makes your thumb look like an exclamation mark. Perfect when talking, if you want to stress your point.”
“So what happened?” Mimi saw Mum limping back with two glasses of Coke. Every time he took a step some of the liquid spilled.
“The only copies of the books that remained had been the ones donated to the high school library by Mr. Maelstrum, the collector, and were very restricted. He was so protective of them that he made himself principal of the school just to
keep an eye on them. But the nurse said she knew Mrs. D., the librarian, and that she would go see her after work and tell us what she found out the next day.”
Mum was about to drop the drinks a few feet above the table when Grandpa reached up and caught them just in time. Mum turned and walked away.
“She must have found out something terrible,” Grandpa continued. “Something that scared the bee-jee-bees out of your parents because by the time your grandma and I made it to the hospital the next day, they were gone. Their apartment was completely empty. It was like a scene from Tiny Tim Got Tinier.”
“Wait,” Mimi said and pushed her Coke aside. “They left town, changed their names, lied to me all their lives because of a mole?”
Grandpa sipped some of his cola. “Well, if it’s in the book, it’s definitely not a mole. That’s why the book is called that.”
“So what does it mean, then? Did you talk to the nurse?”
“Your parents never told you?”
“Does it look like I know anything here?”
“The nurse was found dead in the woods the next day. Animal accident. But that’s what the police say when a werewolf turns you into its dinner.”
“See, that’s part of that crazy talk I didn’t want to hear,” Mimi said. She reached up just in time to hold on to a food tray that Mum was about to drop on her head. With Grandpa’s help she lowered it to the table and Mum returned behind the counter to continue watching his soap. “What about the book? Did you find anything in the mole book?”
Grandpa shook his head. He brought his plate closer. “That’s the weird part…”
“Oh, this next part is the weird part? I see. Go on.”
“The books hadn’t been at the library at all that weekend. Apparently they’d been on loan to a researcher at the chemical plant. And the plant…” Grandpa chewed on one of the fries. “Had an accident that night.”
“Another accident?” Mimi was too tense to eat but the food smelled great and her stomach began to growl.
“An explosion.” Grandpa paused. “The researcher was killed and the only copies of the book were gone. Mr. Maelstrum was found dead at the school the next morning.”
Mimi grabbed the hamburger and bit into it. Mum was a good cook, but the image of Mum’s decayed hands touching the hamburger meat was not the image she wanted right now. She glanced at her mole. It wasn’t a birthmark, was it? She wasn’t special. “I’ll tell you what we’re going to do,” Mimi said. “We’re going to forget all about this mole and we’re going to get the heck out of this town. Far away from here. Not back to Florida. Somewhere nice. Somewhere called Pleasantville, or Mellowville.” She bit into a fry. “You know what makes me mad? All those times I was sure there were monsters in my closet and my parents said there weren’t. They didn’t mean there were no monsters. They just meant they weren’t in my closet. They were all here.” Mimi sipped her Coke.
“I can’t leave your step-grandmother behind.” Grandpa shrugged. “She’s been living in Flopsville for over 300 years.”
Mimi spat out her drink. “There are so many things wrong with that statement.”
“But don’t worry.” Grandpa dried his face with a napkin. “I’ve got the answer right here.” He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out the list Mimi had seen earlier: four sheets of paper, covered in writing, front and back. “For the last fourteen years I’ve been compiling a list of questions to ask you to help us determine the meaning of your mark.”
“Look, I don’t mean to be skeptical. I mean, I realize now that there are a lot of things I don’t know.” And she nodded in the direction of Mum for emphasis. “But don’t you think I would know if this thing did anything? Don’t you think that if I could have somehow used my powers to help mankind, or even to get people at school to like me, that I would have done it?”
“We don’t have to cover all of them today, just the top 3.” “Fine!” Mimi rolled her eyes and sat back. “Shoot.”
“Just relax and take your time,” Grandpa said.
Mimi motioned for him to get on with it.
“First question. Do you think you might be the Antichrist?”
“There’s got to be a Denny’s around here.” Mimi pushed her food aside and got up.
“Because if you are, you could still live with us, but we may need some counseling…”
Mimi hurried towards the door. She had to find a way out of this town.
“An innocent werewolf is going to die if we don’t figure it out…” was the last Mimi heard as she slammed the door behind her.
LOSE WEIGHT BY NOT EATING PEOPLE
“What do you mean an innocent…whatever you said, might die if we don’t figure it out?” Mimi said after five minutes of driving in silence. She’d agreed to go home with Grandpa if he agreed not to ask her again if she was hell spawn.
“Someone close to your step-grandma and me.”
They entered a forrest and the road became narrower and windier. “So I have a step-grandma.”
“Her name is Tally. You’ll meet her after dark. I’m sure you two are going to be best friends right away.”
“Please tell me the reason I’ll meet her after dark is because she’s at work, and not because she’s some creature of darkness.”
“Oh look,” Grandpa said. “We’re almost home.” He pointed at a street sign that read “Madame Bosco.” The sign was shaped like a hand pointing to the right. Grandpa slowed down and followed the sign.
“What I don’t get is why no one knows about this town?”
“Of course they do. How else do they explain scary movies, special effects?” He snorted. “Really!”
“That’s exactly how. Not that I’ve ever seen any. My parents didn’t let me. But yeah, no one thinks they are actual monsters acting.“
“Maybe in the big budget movies, but how do they explain cryptids in low budget films?”
“Cryptid Americans. PC term for monster.”
“So that’s what you’re saying. That monsters, sorry, cryptids, are real and they make low-budget movies?” The road became a dirt-road.
“At least, they used to… Here we are.” Grandpa pulled up a gravel driveway next to a two-story farm house. It was the only house Mimi had seen for miles. It was an old blue house, with a picket fence that might have been white at some point but was now mostly gray and falling apart, and a backyard that was bigger than any land in Florida that wasn’t state-protected.
Grandpa stopped the truck and climbed out. Mimi grabbed her box of earrings and did the same. She walked up to the fence and peered at the backyard. It was the only piece of land around them that wasn’t covered in trees. “Who’s Madame Bosco?” Mimi asked.
“That’s incredible, Mimi,” Grandpa said. “How did you do that? I never mentioned Madame Bosco. Do you feel her presence or was it more of a whisper in your ear? Did the birthmark tingle or change colors before the name came to you?”
Mimi cleared her throat and pointed at a white wooden shed in the backyard with a neon sign in cursive letters above it that read, “Madame Bosco.”
“Oh right,” Grandpa said, his enthusiasm deflating. “That’s not so incredible, then. But it’s still pretty good. Most people can’t make out the cursive letters when they aren’t lit. Did the birthmark tingle…never mind.”
“Is my step-grandmother Madame Bosco?”
“Tally? No.” Grandpa stood next to Mimi and studied the sign. “Some day, when you’re ready, I’ll tell you who Madame Bosco was. Until then, it’s best if you try to forget the name.” He sighed. “Did you know that people used to come from all over to get an audience with her? They thought she was a fortune teller.” He shook his head. “She never gave up hope that I’d find you though. There are some days that I miss her so much…”
“Was Grandma Madame Bosco?”
“Yes.” Grandpa dried the corners of his eyes and began carrying Mimi’s
suitcase towards the house.
The trees covered much of the sunlight and whenever even the slightest wind blew Mimi could hear what sounded like a ghostly voice whispering, “Mimi… Run… Get out…” Bah! Who cared. All she wanted to do was lock herself in her new room and figure out what she was going to do next. She wasn’t staying here long. At least school was over. She couldn’t imagine having to start a new school on top of everything else.
Grandpa opened the front door and Mimi immediately felt a swoosh of air rush past her in the direction of the house. “What was that?”
“What was what?”
“Never mind,” she said and followed Grandpa inside.
It took a few seconds for Mimi’s eyes to adjust to the darkness. The only light source being the already faded sunlight trickling in through the back windows and a small one to the left. The house was old and blue inside too. The floors were hardwood and creaked whenever Mimi took the smallest step. Mimi tried flipping the light switch near the door, but nothing happened. Then she noticed that on every table were candles, lots of them in holders and candelabra. If they had been scented candles, Mimi couldn’t tell because inside the air smelled dry and old. She was standing in the living room and straight ahead was a small dining room, and then after that the kitchen.
On the right side of the room were strings of colored beads that served as a door between the living room and another room. The beads sparkled even with the little light in the room. To the left was a stairway and next to the stairs was a bookcase filled with books and framed photographs.
Mimi walked closer to the photos. One in the center was black and white, with a couple, probably her grandparents looking young and standing in front of this house back when it must have been new. Grandma had a baby in her arms that had to be her dad. Mimi brought the picture closer to the light and her heart began to beat faster. Whatever doubts she’d had that she was now standing at her Grandparent’s house were erased with one look at Grandma. It was like looking at herself in the mirror. Same straight hair, same blue eyes, same skinny as a noodle body. It was like someone had asked Mimi to dress in old clothes for one of those
“Something wrong?” Grandpa asked.
Mimi shrugged. “I don’t recognize anyone in these pictures.”
She set the picture of her grandparents down and picked up another one. Her parents were in it, looking young, and thin, and happy. They were standing in what appeared to be a movie studio with her grandparents and another couple. Grandma was wearing a turban and big hoop earrings. A young man with a chiseled face and a stocky body had his arm around a beautiful young woman with short black hair and an even shorter black dress. Behind them all was a tall man with a scared face and a patch over his right eye.
“That’s Director Nevil Gnash. Your grandma’s cousin.” Grandpa pointed at the man with the scared face. “When it comes to making flops, he’s the best in the business.”
“Who’s the other couple?” Mimi asked referring to the handsome man with his arm around the young woman. Like her parents, they looked happy and in love.
“Mimi, I can’t help you figure out your powers if you’re not willing to make an effort. Now, think. Concentrate. Place your hand on the picture and will the names of the people to come to you.”
“Never mind,” Mimi said. She put the picture back in the bookcase. “I don’t want to know.”
“Oh, don’t give up yet, try it. Just their names. Leave their souls in the picture.”
Mimi rolled her eyes and put her hand on the picture. “There. Are you happy?”
“Did you feel anything?”
“Yes… I felt stupid.”
“I’ll give you a hint… The lady is Tally, your step-grandmother. And the man is William, the werewolf who ate you as a baby.”