Café Drago by Kate Maruyama
(photo credit: Jack Maruyama)
Whenever he couldn’t get out of bed with his six a.m. alarm, Milo reminded himself the bakers were already at work, and it’d be his ass if he didn’t get there and start setting up. He also told himself to stop being a pussy. By the time he arrived at Café Drago for a seven a.m. shift, the sun just coming up, the bakers were already in, having arrived at four. They were the kind of guys who worked their asses off and never complained. The kind of guys he’d like to live up to.
At the first snooze alarm, Milo slipped out of bed so as not to wake his sister, and crept through the living room past his sleeping obachan. She started calling him “the man of the house,” which really bothered him since it was only three months since his dad died. He’s only twenty for chrissake, but since he was earning a fraction of what his dad made and that fraction was keeping them afloat amidst his gram’s cancer treatment, he supposed she wasn’t wrong. They all worked. His sister Misa tutored primary school kids on Zoom on top of her junior year high school classes, and his Gram started a cottage industry, making masks which Misa sold on Instagram.
He grabbed one of Gram’s cotton masks—covered with sleepy Gudetama eggs—for traveling, and his N95 for work, and closed the door behind him. He took the stairs because after Dad, he wasn’t taking any chances with elevators.
Milo always got to the bus stop early, because if the bus was off by ten minutes, he missed it and ended up being late, which meant calling an Uber which might not seem like a lot, but the money spent was as good as losing an hour of work. Besides, it wasn’t super safe to be in a closed car with a stranger these days. It wasn’t like the bus was safe, but there was more breathing room and less feeling trapped. That morning, he headed out earlier than usual because it was pouring. Southern Californians moved slower in the rain, so there was no traffic this early, and the bus was much zippier than usual. He ended up at work a half an hour early for his shift.
If this were a regular dry morning, he’d wander around in the part of the city that hadn’t woken up yet. The local houseless residents would emerge from their tents and head out to whatever free bathrooms they could find. He’d watch bicycle guy circling the parking lot in slow, lazy figure eights and witness the occasional walk of shame. He’d chat with the Little Tokyo security guard, who always had hilarious stories from the night before. But this morning it was raining, and half an hour early meant getting soaked, glasses steamed from the combo of his mask and cold air. He couldn’t wait to get indoors. He let himself in with the key, only to find the quiet broken by shouting from the kitchen and a lower, heavier rumbling noise he couldn’t place. He headed back to see if he could help, his glasses re-steaming in the heat.
Morning at Café Drago was the smell of yeasty dough rising, the first batch of matcha toast baking, the sweetness of donuts rolled, cut out, and proofing, the faint bleach smell of floors washed down the night before, and freshly laundered aprons and towels stacked in the back.
Juan Pablo, the youngest of the bakers—maybe only seventeen—was standing outside the door of the kitchen, looking at whatever was causing the commotion. Milo hopped the counter and walked up behind him, peeking over his shoulder to where he saw Dionne, Hiro, and Ixchtel wrestling with something. Hiro was doing most of the hollering. He was the unspoken boss of the kitchen. “Hold on. No, more to the left!”
There was a rumbling, a bass guttural snarl of a large animal that vibrated so deeply Milo felt it through his scuzzy sneakers up to the back of his neck.
“Get the chain, the clip, the clip. Clip it!”
More struggling and straining. Something or some things scraped the tile floor, scratching like plastic hangers. Or claws.
“What the hell?” Milo said.
Juan Pablo, startled, shooed him away. Milo stood his ground long enough to catch a glimpse of a reptilian snout the size of a cow’s nose poke out between Hiro and Dionne. A forked tongue as long as his arm flicked between them before Juan Pablo shouldered him out of the way with a hip bump and grabbed his elbow, pulling him toward the door, shushing him.
Out front, Milo took off his glasses and wiped them on his shirt. “What was that?” It could have been the steam. Maybe they had a dog in there or something. A giant dog with a forked tongue.
They stood under the awning of the coffee shop which was hardly keeping them dry. It was raining the way only Los Angeles can in the winter. Water sheeted off the awning in an opaque wall in front of them and bounced off the sidewalk, hitting their ankles. Despite what he’d just seen, Milo’s fight or flight was edging toward beast and dry over this nonsense. If his shoes got wet, despite the bakery, they wouldn’t dry all day.
“You didn’t see anything.” Juan Pablo spoke slowly and clearly, like he was mimicking Hiro or something even though he was sporting some tiny-ass, weird hairs on his upper lip because he wasn’t old enough to shave.
“What, are you, like, the company henchman or something?” Milo asked.
“You like your job?” Juan Pablo answered.
The truth was, no, he didn’t. But he needed it and had nowhere else to go. So many shops and restaurants had closed quickly when the quarantine decimated their numbers, and their rent came due. He knew he was lucky to be at a shop and to be making any income when so many of his friends were out of work.
Pivot was a word thrown around like a cheery but aggressive command at the beginning. But the command pivot didn’t take into account when your life was upended because the primary breadwinner of the house had to continue to go to work in a grocery store that couldn’t catch up with safety protocol changes. And that primary breadwinner got sick. And even his insurance couldn’t save him when they flipped him to breathe, intubated him, and held a phone up to say goodbye when he was already, for the most part, gone. It didn’t carry the finer details of how to carry on when that breadwinner was the only man in your life and the only person who really got who you were.
Juan Pablo said one more time, “You like your job?”
“Yeah,” Milo said. He pointed to his glasses. “Not like I could see anything through these today anyway.”
“Take a walk, pretend you got here at seven like you’re supposed to.”
Juan Pablo shrugged and looked over his shoulder when Hiro yelled, “JP, the fuck are you?”
Juan Pablo shot Milo one last glance, shook his head, and slammed the door, locking it behind him.
Milo jogged through the Japanese Village, across Second Street, into the parking garage across the way. Nothing was open and it was the only place he could think to stay dry for half an hour. He lowered his mask long enough for his glasses to unsteam and opened his phone. He had no idea what he was doing with it because, what the fuck was that thing? He wasn’t sure, but there was a groan in the beast’s rumble he didn’t like. It sounded painful.
The problem was, once you saw something like that, you couldn’t stop thinking about it.
Milo hung about the parking garage for half an hour, showed up at the regular time, and Hiro was out front like nothing happened. Juan Pablo gave him a nose-nod hello, and Milo squished into the back room where he hung his coat. He could stay dry with an umbrella, but there was no cure for shoes in rain. He got close to the kitchen and a dry heat hit his ankles. It was as hot as a hairdryer but made no noise. It stopped and started again.
The animal or whatever was definitely breathing.
Café Drago had handled the pivot well. They still sold pastries like crazy and got tons of walk-up customers. Milo liked to think it was because the pastries were special, but honestly, they didn’t sell anything out of the ordinary. Donuts, mini gateaus, puddings, baked rolls, and breads. Putting matcha in recipes was nothing new in Los Angeles and was expected in Little Tokyo. But something about these pastries was just so damn good. The place had a reputation for a hundred years, which was a long time for a business to run, even in Little Tokyo. The fact that they were still open in these times, let alone thriving, was a miracle.
The doors opened and the line was already around the block. They had a table at the front entrance to give them a little distance from customers, and for the most part, it was possible. But there was always that guy, you know, the white guy who talks too soft so you have to lean in or is loud as fuck but still lowers his mask so you can hear him. Milo’s mask and glasses were a little protection, but these guys always made him panic.
Despite the rain, the café was hopping. From early-morning coffees to large-order pastry runs, folks lined up under the awning, the rain splattering on their umbrellas. At the end of the day, it was hard to convince people it was time to close the doors, but when they finally did, Milo realized that despite working the front table so close to the rain, his sneakers had dried, and the café was irresistibly toasty. He started to wonder how much of this–the toasty feet, the gorgeous baking, the good fortune beyond all the other businesses–was the thing in the kitchen.
Milo couldn’t get himself fired. There was no way around it. He didn’t bring up what he saw, not with Juan Pablo, not with anyone. But the thrill he’d felt when he first saw that thing in the kitchen pulled at him. He found himself bringing things back to the bake room more often, trying to catch a glimpse. Café Drago was tiny; how did they fit that thing in there? Where was it exactly? He kept his eye on the kitchen, and once in a while, he’d catch a baker kicking its tail back under the counter. Or they’d choose the moment Milo entered the kitchen to move a very large box or pot in a way that let him know they were cutting off his view of the thing. On the odd day, he caught glimpses of its shimmering brown-green hide here or there.
Months passed this way, and some days when he was worried about school, or getting Gram to chemo, or being late, or the crowd, he forgot about the thing altogether.
The staff started trusting Milo with the drinks menu, more kitchen prep, and managing the waiters on a shift. They gave him a few days off when Gram died. Milo loved her, but there wasn’t much of her left by the time she went. He was surprised at how completely her leaving this plane knocked the wind out of him. He didn’t know what to do with the grief, it just sat in his stomach like a stone. It was a smaller echo of the rock of grief losing his father had placed there. For a while, everything in the day was hard to see. Orders were hard to hear. And the coffee orders from hipsters and maskholes leaning too close, getting in his face, were getting more difficult to tolerate. School became all-consuming, and he muddled through the rest of the spring. It was only him and Misa now.
One night, Hiro had to run out early while Milo was cleaning up the front. He handed him the keys and said, “You got this, right? Lock up?”
Hiro said, “I’m stuck, have to get the sitter home and Dom is still out with her girls. Listen. I shouldn’t even have to tell you this, I feel like you know it, but stay out of the bake room, okay?”
“I mean it. The kitchen’s off limits.”
“And give that counter an extra wipe. It’s slimed a bit.” When they let their rags go too long during the day, they picked up bits of flour and got slimy, leaving a residue on the counter. Stainless steel was kind of a misnomer.
And like that, Hiro was gone. Milo was alone in the café for the first time. He did what he was told. He got the cleanser and a clean rag and wiped the counter again. There was a spot or two on the glass case in front of the baked goods, the trays laid out with fresh paper ready for tomorrow’s offerings. He poured clean water through the espresso machine, blowing the brown, dirty water out into a carafe. He blew steam out of the milk steamer and scrubbed the nub.
Underneath, an answering pffffft . . .
He turned it off. Turned it on again.
Pfffffftttt . . .
Pfffttt. A rumble and a shuffle came from the bake room.
Milo needed this job.
But it was the moan that got him back there. An exasperated, animalistic groan from something so massive the floor vibrated when it hit the ground. A harrumph of sorts followed by another moan. He’d just take a quick look. Make sure it was okay. The beast. Because that’s normal.
Milo hopped over the counter into the back of the shop, past the woodblock kneading tables and stacks of cardboard boxes and cups, past the bins holding flour and sugar and yeast, past the stacked cans of condensed milk and fry oil. He had to tread carefully because the mats were propped up, drying from their hosing down, and the floor was still slippery from the evening mop up. He poked his head into the bake room, empty and tidied. It was always spotless. Hiro ran a tight ship.
Milo scuffled slowly, keeping his back to the wall. He’d only seen pieces of the thing; he didn’t want it jumping out or anything. Once he stepped fully into the room, the location of the breathing became apparent. It let out an unhealthy wheeze. There was a hitch when it breathed in and a relief when it breathed out that would worry any pet owner.
Milo crouched down and saw, beneath the flip out counter next to the oven, the saddest dragon in the world. Dragon! It startled him back to sitting. Dragon was an absurd word, really, but that’s what came to him. His heart beat a bit faster.
It was the size of a large sow, like the one he saw at the L.A. County Fair two years back with his dad. It lay on its side, its wide-barrel body a dark green-brown. Its belly was a dirty white, ridged like an alligator’s. Its snout was wide and broad, more like a pit bull’s, its nostrils widely set, lizard distance. Its mouth was open. Its grayish forked tongue hung out sideways. Once it noticed Milo, it raised its head and blinked its enormous yellow eyes, crusted with black ooze around the edges. Milo righted himself and crouch-walked toward it, keeping his head low and his hand out like with a new dog. It stared at him and blinked again. It wore a jerry-rigged harness fashioned out of men’s leather belts across its chest, around its arms, and running up to a collar attached to the wall by a length of thick chain.
It reached out its head. Milo almost retracted his hand when he saw its needle teeth, but it smiled in the same way a dog smiles. He inched forward. It nudged his hand with its nose.
“You’re a mess, little yajū.” He saw someone had written on the collar in silver sharpie, Maurice. “Maurice?”
It licked its chops with its forked tongue and heaved to its feet, its nails clicking once they hit the floor. Milo felt the sheer weight of it and the enormity with which it took up space and sound in the room. It garumphed and sat, waiting, its tail coiled around its side. It already looked better than when he found it, but again, that cough. Something was wrong.
Milo ducked into the larger kitchen and ran some warm water onto a rag. He wiped Maurice’s eyes. The goo was disgusting, but its breath smelled like life and warm bread. It watched him, then closed its eyes. Milo stepped out again to rinse the goop off with warm water. Maurice closed its eyes, anticipating Milo’s touch.
Its eyes cleared, Milo sat back for a moment and looked at its green-gold irises, mottled in pockets of color like an opal or variegated granite.
“What do you eat?”
There was a bin in the corner with some old bones in it, leg of lamb and goat chewed clean. Maybe that was it. When Milo looked at the bin, Maurice’s head bowed, and he sighed.
This was no way for anything to live.
Milo reached for its collar and followed the link of chain to the wall where it was clipped. Maurice hopped to its feet like an eager dog, bouncing on its toes. He was a bit worried it would jump on him with those claws, lick him with that forked tongue. But Maurice waited until Milo moved, then followed.
It was a bit of a trick getting the animal out. Milo had to hop the counter and hand himself the chain leash underneath or Maurice would take the counter with it. He turned off the lights in the shop and locked up. They were just going for a walk. The dragon waited outside the door as he locked it, sniffing the air, nose pointed, eyes closed, like someone sipping delicious tea. Its nostrils opened and closed with each bob of its head. Milo hoped he didn’t run into Chuy, the security guard. Chuy had his rotations, and they’d shoot the shit when he missed the bus and had to wait for another.
Los Angeles was entering the hot, brown part of the summer. The night had cooled but was no longer getting to the point where a sweatshirt was needed. No more marine layer. In the Before, this was the season of outdoor festivals, music, food, crowded sidewalks after closing as folks poured out of Wolf & Crane, the air thick with weed. But now, no one was out.
Milo had no idea what he was doing, standing there holding a ridiculously large chain with a dragon attached. He told himself was just getting the dragon some fresh air. Maybe he could do this on nights he closed. Give the thing something to look forward to. The moment he started walking toward First Street, Maurice did an about face and dragged Milo back toward Second. Past the Sanrio store, past Japangeles. They slowed at a tree where a miniature of this year’s tanabata floated in bright yellows and pinks, waiting for the following week’s festival. The breeze made the streamers of the tanabata dance, distracting Milo enough that the tug on his arm, when the dragon banged a sudden right, made him yelp in surprise. Once Maurice heard the yell, it stopped and waited until Milo caught up, bouncing on its feet like an impatient dog—c’mon, c’mon!
“Where you taking me?” he asked. It dragged him across the street. The truth was, he didn’t care. He had a lightness in his stomach he hadn’t felt in a long time. The idea of possibility had somehow entered Milo’s head in such a surprising way that he realized it had been missing. He had always known he had to finish school, keep this job, but the idea of next steps eluded him. Out with Maurice in the cooling July night, a slight breeze in the air, something stirred in his stomach. A want to move forward, beyond. Into a life.
Milo followed Maurice across Second Street, and they stepped into the JACCC plaza, a wide red brick courtyard that ran between the Aratani Theater and the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center. It was deserted. Maurice skipped around in circles at the end of its chain, jerking Milo’s arm this way and that. The dragon was elated to be outside. It skipped right up to him and stopped, bobbing, waiting. Milo laid the chain down. He had no idea what he was setting loose in Little Tokyo, but it felt right. The dragon jumped up and down, catching more air than seemed possible for a beast of that size and density. Maurice landed with a ground-shaking thud. It tore straight across the courtyard, the chain clanking along behind it like a second tail.
Well, that’s it, I guess. I’m gonna have to find a new job. As soon as Maurice got to the other side of the plaza, it skidded to a halt before the stairs and came bounding back toward him. Garumph, garumph, garumph. Milo’s stomach quailed, terrified the great beast would jump on him, when it turned heel and headed away again. It made three circles around the square, panting and coughing when it got back to the sculpture of two ugly concrete blobs on raised steps in front of the theater. It bounded up the stairs and stood on its hind legs sniffing the air. It blinked and tilted its nose skyward. And then, the noise was indescribable. Somewhere between a howl and a Horn of Gondor, something between a rumble and a roar, like all those things combined, but bigger. The sound resonated in Milo’s chest, through the air and the concrete sculpture.
Then Maurice stopped and cocked its head. Milo turned to listen. In the distance, a faint answering cry. Was it coming from uptown? Sounds bounced off the buildings funny here. Definitely from uptown, to the west.
Two, no, three answering cries echoed through the night air. Maurice stopped and looked at Milo. It nudged its chain toward him, beckoning him with its nose. It took a moment to register, but then it became clear. They were going on a walk.
They headed back through the village, up Second Street, and Milo worried about the people they might see. Late night wanderers, Uber drivers. He worried he’d somehow be in trouble for walking his dragon on a chain. There was no one abroad but a few houseless folk, sleeping in piles or tents. Maurice stopped in front of one tent and Milo yanked on the chain, suddenly worried. Maurice crouched, bent its head, and exhaled. That baking bread smell filled the air, and they moved on. Every time they came to an encampment, or an individual sitting on the street, it did the same, again and again.
They passed a familiar hedge that surrounded the toney, tableclothed, popular restaurant, Blackbird. The restaurant had closed the day of lockdown and hadn’t figured out a sustainable way to stay open. Milo’s friend who waited tables there had been out of work for months. The chain jerked as Maurice crouched outside the hedge. It waggled its behind like a cat and fortunately Milo had the brains to let go as it leapt through the bushes with a rustle, the chain clanking behind. Milo resolved to remove the chain entirely; it was likely to do more damage than not.
“I don’t think you should go in there.” He called after it, his voice sounding small and stupid. He stood, bereft on the sidewalk, listening for something. Anything. There was a call as Maurice let out a quieter version of the noise he’d made at the plaza. There was a sad, low howl beyond. If the restaurant was closed, who was taking care of their dragon? Milo laughed at the ridiculousness of this thought, when Maurice poked its head through the hedge and motioned Milo in with a nod. He crouched down and unlatched Maurice’s chain saying, “This is trespassing, you know.” Why not go in? It’s not like there was anyone to avoid. He pushed through a space where the bushes grew sparse.
There, in the moonlight, the tables and chairs had been put up for the evening months ago. They were laden with leaves and garbage, likely blown in on a Santa Ana–windy day. In the center of the patio was a long grill. Something heavy scuffled inside, clunking against its walls. The dragon—Milo knew that’s what it was—lowed to Maurice. Maurice stood next to the grill, waiting. Milo called out, “Hello?” just in case, but his voice only hung in the empty air.
He searched the front of the grill which had stainless steel panels all the way around it. Claws scuffed on the opposite side of the grill, and Milo made his way along until he found a handle, but of course, it was locked. From inside came an alluring odor of charred meat with the same all-body draw that Maurice’s breath held.
“Man, you’re gonna make me. Ugh! Dragon.” He didn’t call it stupid, that was the wrong word. He walked the circumference of the patio, looking in the host stand, the busboy station, for some sort of key for the grill. It quickly became clear this was going to involve a little destruction of property. He looked under a table, briefly considering the table’s metal legs when he saw the long metal rod used to adjust the overhead heat lamps. He threaded it through the handle, wedged it against the ground, a simple pry, and the handle popped off. The door drifted open. Dented of course. He felt bad. Restaurants were hurting, and fixing this, no matter how small the cost, was a cost. But then he saw a yellow snout covered in blackened grime poke its way out the door, followed by a longer body, front legs pulling it along like its back legs didn’t work. The back legs flomphed to the ground and stretched out, one at a time. There was simply no room for this dragon to maneuver in the small space. It got to its feet and shook. This one had no harness or chain to contend with, but it looked a sicklier color than Maurice. Milo was proud at first that Café Drago had the better treated dragon, but thought better of it.
Did someone come by to feed it? Or did they just leave it there?
Its eyes were green with orange flecks. Maurice nosed the sad little dragon and breathed on it the same way he’d breathed into the tents they’d passed. The dragon brightened and Maurice bounded toward the hedge where they’d come in. The yellow dragon followed.
By the time Milo scooched his way out of the hedge, Maurice and its new friend were headed up Second, up to Broadway. He jogged to catch up, and the three of them banged a left and started down toward Sixth Street.
After freeing the dragons at Clifton’s Cafeteria, the book dragon at the Last Bookstore, and a baby dragon at Howlin’ Ray’s, they headed up Hill Street, took a right, and passed the homeless encampment on the bridge. The dragons stopped at the tents in the encampment and breathed into them.
One by one, people came out of their tents, a bit flustered, blinking in the night. They didn’t talk. One woman in her thirties crouched down and looked Maurice in the eyes, smiled, and rubbed its head. An older guy stretched and his bones cracked and lengthened. The time these folks spent with the dragons expanded them somehow, added a sort of glow, a shine. No matter the person’s age or background, they stood taller with a fullness about them. Milo wondered if they felt the same possibility Maurice had breathed into him.
Whatever he did next, when he finished his degree, Milo would find a way to help his city. It would need all kinds of help after this year.
When they crossed Cesar Chavez, Milo looked up at the growing dawn behind the twin gold dragons emblazoned over the Chinatown gates and realized these little broad-chested dragons garumphing along with him had nothing to do with them. In his heart, in the feel of his feet on the pavement, the way the dragons walking with him gleamed in the dawn colors of the chaparral, he knew these beasts were local.
Once through the gates, they took a left on College and marched up the hill. Milo paused for a moment, looking back at what only four years before was a view of City Hall, now obliterated by a market-rate boxy housing complex built on a tiny slip of land between the 110 and Figueroa. They trudged on. They walked up Stadium Way through a small neighborhood and into Elysian Park. The sun was up now, and a slight mist hung on the grass from a predawn reclaimed watering. Maurice and the dragons were moving fast now, chortling and dancing in their steps. Even the sickliest of them, the yellow dragon they found under the grill at Blackbird, had a spring to it.
Milo crossed the grass with them, past the picnic tables and the restroom, and stopped just shy of the hill. Maurice tilted its head, as did the others, and Milo braced himself as he saw their chests swell. The bellowing call that had gone through his entire body in the JACCC Plaza not two hours before was fivefold now. It quaked the ground beneath them and echoed through the park. When the cry stopped, other sounds were brought into relief. The birds squawking in the trees, squirrels chittering, a sprinkler in a hidden corner of the park, the sound of the 5 freeway over the next hill.
But then, from the trees up the hill, came what sounded like the answer of what sounded like a hundred dragons. The five Maurice rescued danced in circles, thrilled by the sound. Stones in the hill started to move. Only they weren’t stones. A good two dozen dragons were making their way down the hill, across the field toward them.
They were dragons as they should be, shiny with health, their color rich in greens and light browns. Their chests were broad, their forelegs thick with muscles. The stark difference between them and the rescued dragons brought a lump to Milo’s throat. It reminded him of Gram before and after. Anyone before and after.
The dragons approached the rescues and greeted them, nosing their sides, their necks, breathing into their faces. The rescues circled the hill dragons and joined them as they turned toward the hills. They moved as a cohesive pack. Only Maurice stayed, watching them disappear into the brush as quickly as they’d appeared. Milo squinted, trying to see what was camouflage, what was rock, what was dragon. Only the rustling of the bushes and low trees remained.
There was a shove on his leg. Maurice was next to him suddenly, staring.
“What? I mean, you’re welcome.”
Maurice bobbed on his feet, a question still there. Milo realized how stupid the harness looked in this natural habitat.
“Oh. Okay.” He crouched and unbuckled it in sections. One buckle under his armpit was harder to find. Maurice winced and gasped. Milo’s stomach turned when he saw there was a miserable sore where the belt had rubbed it raw.
“Oh, man, I’m sorry; I didn’t know.” Could he have rescued it that rainy day when he first saw it? Could the dragon have cured his grandmother with its magic breath? Could it have saved his dad?
Milo shoved his fingers under the belt, pulling it away from the dragon’s skin carefully as he unbuckled. That last buckle came free, and the harness dropped to the ground. There was relief in Maurice’s eyes.
Milo rubbed the dragon’s head, which felt absurd the moment he did. But the dragon smiled and nudged his nose into Milo’s chest, knocking him over. The dragon bowed its head and breathed into Milo’s face. Milo took that moment, that breath. There was nothing he could do about what came before. About his gram. About his dad. But now, now was different.
The dragon looked at him, blinking its giant, warm golden eyes, waiting. Milo felt a pull in his chest when he said, “Bye, I guess.”
Maurice turned to go. Milo watched it spring off to join its kind in the hills.
He sat for a moment and looked around the park. He got up and dusted off his pants. He picked up the belts on the off chance someone would find them and know. All of them bunched together, they were heavier than he’d thought.
He’d start looking for a new job tomorrow. Maybe the L.A. Food Bank was hiring. For now, he turned to walk back the way he had come, breathing in the morning air. Ready.
Kate Maruyama’s novel Harrowgate was published by 47 North and her novella Family Solstice is out now from Omnium Gatherum Media. Her short work has appeared in Asimov’s SF, Entropy, Duende, and the Magnolia Review among other journals as well as in numerous anthologies including Winter Horror Days, Accolades, and December Tales out now from Curious Blue Press. She’s a member of the SFWA and the HWA, where she is on the Diverse Works Inclusion Committee. She was a juror for the Bram Stoker Awards and twice for the Shirley Jackson awards and is the curator of THE HORROR a column for Cultural Daily. She writes, teaches, cooks, and eats in Los Angeles.