I'm working on a new series of children's horror books called California Dreadfuls. It brings together California history, mythology, and cultures into a fantasy/horror setting for middle-grade readers. The first book is finished and I'm aiming to get the first four out in front of the world this fall! If you have the time and a few dollars to spare, please consider throwing some support my way!
The Kickstarter for California Dreadfuls is right here!
After about 20 minutes of walking on this new path, we start to hear something new. Off in the distance, somewhere behind the fog, I can hear the sound of crashing waves. It’s a comforting sound, too. Even though I live in San Francisco and I see the ocean every day, I don’t always hear it. I may smell it just about every day when the wind is right, and I really smell the depths of the ocean when I walk by Fishermen’s Warf, but I’m often above the ocean, with a view of buildings set against the Pacific way down below. Being so close to it and having the waves be the loudest noises around us is a very rare occurrence for me. For just a moment, I stop being worried about where this joke is taking us and I start imagining sitting above the ocean with the fog just clearing enough for a good, rich sunset.
We walk silently for a good long while, and I become aware of a cliff off to our left. The trees have cleared somewhat and I can see part of the way up a huge hill to our right. There are scattered groves of trees on it and the tall golden grass that California is known for.
Suddenly, we walk into a small patch of trees. The trees aren’t like the trees that we’ve been walking through all afternoon. Instead of tall pines and redwoods and wind-blow cypress, they’re skinny white trees that I haven’t seen before. The bark is white and papery, kind of like the eucalyptus that I’m used to seeing, but also more firm.
“What are these trees?” I say to Ji. “Something about them is totally out of place.”
“Yes,” says Ji. “I noticed that, too. I don’t think that they exactly belong on the west coast of California. At least, they’re not anywhere else where I’ve been. We’re almost where we need to be, and it’s not going to be sundown for a couple of hours. Do you mind if we rest here for a while?”
I shake my head. “No, that’s a good idea. Let’s have a drink and sit down for a few minutes. How much further is it?”
“Not much. We need to be able to see these trees from where we’re going.”
My mind is racing with a million questions, but I decide not to ask any of them. Ji is a joker when he wants to be. He hasn’t given me any sign at all that he’s joking, but I know that at any minute, he could turn around and change his whole attitude. And then, next thing you know, we’ll be at his parents’ campsite. So I don’t ask all of those burning questions that my mind is just begging to ask.
Ji pulls out a couple of canteens from his pack and we sit and look at this grove of strange, out of place trees. The one in front of me has a name carved into it: Matthew Summers. Then, I notice that another one right next to it has a name: Martha Reynolds. I point this out to Ji.
“Look at the one you’re sitting on, Martin Ramirez. And over there is Jane Robinson. I noticed that, too. I figure that one day, a class took a field trip here and they each picked their favorite tree. Carved their names.”
Then I notice something else. At the bottom of the tree that says Matthew Summer, there is something else written. I have to move some dead leaves out of the way to make out what it is. “It says, ‘1974.’ Do the others have the same thing written?”
Ji and I crawl around pushing brush out of the way with our hands and calling out what it is that we see at the bases of the trees.
“This one says 1980.”
“I’ve got a 2001.”
“Here’s the oldest one yet, 1962!”
“1959, over here! Look, they get older the deeper you go.”
We spend more time looking at the names and years than we spent resting. We are pretty deep into the grove of trees when Ji says, “Horatio James here has 1897 written on the bottom of his tree. That’s before the quake!”
We look at each other. We look past Horatio Alder’s tree and see how much deeper the grove goes. “How far back do you think it goes?” I ask.
“What do you think they mean?” Ji ask.
Suddenly, it is as if the sky gets darker, the fog gets denser, and I get the feeling that a thousand ants are crawling up my back. “Have you noticed that we haven’t heard one bird sing since we came into these trees? Not a bug or a rustle?”
“It’s like,” Ji said slowly, “a graveyard.”
I look at him and make a quick laugh, hoping he would laugh, but he is pale.
“It’s not a graveyard, Ji! People don’t get buried under trees. It’s some kind of a prank or some art project or something.”
“No, An. Maybe not graves, but markers. Like the markers on that cut redwood back on the trail. A record of something.”
“Let’s get back to our stuff!” I almost yell this. Then, as if we have planned it, we both start running through the woods. Mixed in with our footsteps, we hear our breathing, and somewhere in both of our heads, we feel like someone is chasing us. When we get to our packs, we don’t even slow down. We just reach our arms out and catch them and keep on running down the path to the other side of the woods. With that dreadful feeling of being chased still ringing in our minds.