California Dark

My grandfather taught me that if ever I was caught between the empty lot next to our house and an attacking bear, I was to face the bear.  I’d watched the discovery channel, so I knew I would not be able to outrun, out-swim or out-climb the bear, but there was a chance I would survive if he simply wasn’t hungry.  So I agreed with him, thinking my grandpa would be proud of my knowledge. He was not.


He said I had given the right answer, but not the right explanation.I was to face the bear because if I ran into the empty lot, the hive of flesh eating faeries that lived there would kill me.   I didn’t think it was a very funny joke, and being very young, I told him so. Grandpa Peter said it wasn’t a joke. He said evil that cannot be seen cannot be fought, and unseelie fairies could not be witnessed by the naked eye unless the person in question had undergone a journey, such as up a river, a rope or a mountain range. Effort was key and it had to be done with my eyes closed. Had I taken such a journey?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I pointed to the rope my siblings and I had hung from the lonely tree in the lot.  I’d climbed that before, I said, though only once, and not with my eyes closed.  Why? he asked. It was a tall rope, I explained, and if my eyes were closed, I might let go too early on the way down, and I was afraid I’d twist my ankle on the smooth rocks that lined the ground around it.  Then I couldn’t play basketball anymore.

Again, I’d given him the right answer, but not the right explanation.  I was not afraid of being deprived of basketball, he said, I was afraid of seeing the evil I knew was in there.  I was not ready for that fight, and I knew it.  I had no weapons that could cut across the dimensional space between their existence and ours.  I was at their mercy, but as I was young, and still ripe with foul tasting hope and innocence, they had not killed me yet.  But they would one day, when I was spent and they were hungry, if I walked in that lot.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

So if it came to hand to hand combat, I was to face the bear, because it was a corporeal being that could bleed and be killed by conventional weapons.  Did I understand?

I was seven.

I ran away from him.

I remember watching from my bedroom window as my father confronted grandpa on his third lap around the empty lot.  There was loud yelling, especially after my father snatched away the walking stick instrument my grandfather had been using to scan the yard, snapped it over his knee and chucked it from the property.

That was the last time I saw Grandma Peter Bloom.

I had nightmares for three weeks after this conversation.  My dreams were tormented by a monster I took to calling the tunnel bear, because it could fit into nearly any crack or crevice, no matter how small, and rise up to destroy me at any and all moments.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


That bear was not the only boogieman I faced as a child, but I avoided the lot from that point on. Maybe I felt the evil.  I climbed the rope only once more, when I was lonely and drunk, and I certainly saw it…

Book coming soon!  This project will be a combination of written word and photography and will cover the exploits of a young man named Peter Bloom as he confronts the horrors he never knew existed in his families past.