The two cozied up on the bench seat of the red convertible, parked on a bluff that overlooked the glittering city below.
“Thanks for letting me drive her,” Raul said.
Maya grinned and reached out to pat the dashboard. “My baby’s a boy.”
Raul creased his brow in confusion. “And you named him ‘El Barco Rojo’?”
She chuckled. “No, no. That’s just a nickname. His real name, if you had been paying attention is—“
Maya shook her head, wondering why she still doubted that he listened. It was something to get used to. She leaned in and he put his arm around her.
“What would we have done if you hadn’t gotten him running by Halloween?” Raul asked.
“I could have borrowed my brother’s bicycle.”
“That wouldn’t have worked.”
“Because you would have made me ride the handlebars, and that would have wrecked the authenticity. In the actual fifties, no guy in a black leather jacket would be riding on his girlfriend’s handlebars.”
“If you say so.”
Raul turned off the stereo. “I’m usually sitting on the hood or the ground when I do this,” he said. “I always thought convertibles were pointless, but this is kind of amazing.” He turned to Maya. “Maybe it’s because I’m with—“
“Don’t say it.” Maya looked down at her hands. “It’s cheesy.”
“Coming up here at night and listening to music is great, but even better is when I turn it off and just listen. Some people think this spot is creepy, because of the monument stones, and the forest. But to me it’s the perfect escape. It’s always a little breezy up here, so it’s refreshing. Without the music, you can hear the crickets, the night birds, and the view. The city, the night sky.”
“There are other spots up here with the same view, same breeze. What makes this one the best?”
Raul shrugged. “It’s just special to me.”
Maya pulled away from him a bit and turned her head to look behind her. Raul had backed the car up until it was just under the shadow of the so-called “pale giant.” It wasn’t actually part of the monument stones. She’d seen the monument stones in the daylight on a field trip long ago, fifth grade probably. She wasn’t as interested in school back then and hadn’t paid much attention. She was also going through a phase where she was afraid of heights, and was more focused on staying as far away from the bluff’s edge as she could manage. They were also quite boring. They didn’t look any different from any old boulder, because they were supposedly just the leftover stumps of what were once imposing slabs that reached a few stories high.
She could see why some people were creeped out by the giant. At a certain angle in a certain light, she could just make out the bare outline of a humanoid figure in the stone, two arms reaching down to the ground, or perhaps propping the figure up from the ground, a bowed head, the uneven outline of shoulders. It was as if a giant that had been kneeling were trying to rise up from the earth. Unlike the tannish monument stones to which numerous legends were attributed, the giant was colored a pale bluish-white.
There were rumors that it was once just a stone, and that the vague figure appeared some decades past. The most plausible explanation, if that were the case, was that some joker had roughly chiseled in the figure.
Raul had asked her if the giant disturbed her. Maya was more disturbed at the thought that her mother must be scowling up at the bluff, knowing they were there somewhere. Her mother’s disapproval of her current boyfriend was no secret. But Raul knew that already. That’s why he had positioned the car to face a different part of the city. That’s why he had parked so close to the stone chaperone.
“I seriously thought about learning sculpture, so I could maybe work on Stony a little. Finish him up.”
“Hey, you’ve got Prospero, I’ve got Stony.”
“Like Tony. But he’s made out of stone. Stone-Tony. Stony. I’m not creative.”
Maya laughed out loud so suddenly, she snorted. She raised her eyebrows and glanced at Raul, who also burst out laughing. But then he glanced back almost reverently at the pale giant. He’d been talking about bringing her up to what he called Giant’s Overlook for weeks. She didn’t have to prompt him to tell her all about the place.
Raul had gone on the same field trip that Maya had as a kid, but it had a far greater impact on him. It was the first time he’d seen the pale giant, and it captivated him at once. But the teachers and guides didn’t say anything in particular about it, even when he asked. Dissatisfied, he went home and got his mother’s help to find out more information about the pale giant and the monument stones. Over the years, he added to that knowledge and continued to be surprised by how little there still was.
Some Native American tribes had legends of a race or tribe of “white giants.” They sometimes had fair hair or red hair, sometimes were cannibalistic, sometimes warred with other tribes. In the end, they were wiped out by heaven. It was thought by some that such a tribe may have lived in the area long ago, and that the monument stones were the remnants of those giants.
A different legend claimed that the monument stones were the stumps of what was once a circle of standing stones, much like the standing stones found in the Old World. The stories of who erected the stones varied. Some accounts claimed it was witches who tried to carry on occult practices in the New World. The witches fled during the time of the trials. The stones got knocked down one by one to be used in buildings and other structures around the town. When new leadership took over the town about a hundred years past, it was decided that the stumps should be protected as an historical monument (and tourist spot).
Whenever something horrible happened in one of the structures that were built with the recovered stones, the more superstitiously inclined would say it was because the stones were never meant to be used for mundane and secular purposes.
Maya was enthralled. She hadn’t heard any of the stories that Raul was telling. But there were so many stories, and no indication of which one was true. That’s why she didn’t like studying myths and legends. There was too much uncertainty.
“Too bad we can’t just ask him what his story is,” Maya said, turning back to gaze at the giant. As she said it, she thought she saw a flicker of movement in the stone. She gasped, but Raul assured her it was a trick of the light. “Stony” did that to him all the time. To that day, Raul had not gotten used to it and was sometimes startled.
Maya was still peering at the stone, trying not to blink, when Raul cleared his throat.
“Do you think your mom would like me better if I made an honest woman out of you?” he asked.
Maya turned back to him just as he produced a garish yellow plastic ring, topped with an oversized gem made of sugar crystal that was dyed the most vibrant and unnatural green she had ever seen. Green…that meant it was apple-flavored. Her favorite.
Maya realized with slight panic that she didn’t know what his favorite flavor of candy was. She beamed and gazed into his eyes.
“She’d be horrified,” she said as she offered up her ring finger. Something flickered at the corner of her eye. She whipped her head to the left. There stood Stony. Still as stone.
“Quit it,” Raul said, “or I might get jealous.”
Maya turned her face to him again. She leaned closer to him. “Jealousy is gross.”
Raul brought his face closer to hers. “Only if it gets out of hand.”
Maya closed her eyes as she tipped her head and leaned in to kiss him, and she saw nothing else after that.
Maya couldn’t sleep that night. Sleeplessness wasn’t just for worrywarts and insomniacs. It was also for those who had just had an incomprehensibly great time and were still jazzed and didn’t know what to think about. She had felt something like this before, but this time was different. The other boys she had dated had all seemed like birds that might fly away if she didn’t cage them. She didn’t want to cage them, but she didn’t know how else to keep them around. So they eventually flew away.
She knew it was probably because she was going for the wrong type, but she couldn’t help being somewhat superficial. She wasn’t that way with family or with friends. She knew what real love felt like, what it was. But with boys, she couldn’t help wanting what she thought she should want. She couldn’t help feeling as if the rest of her life were at stake. Her friends told her that she was too young to think of every boy as a potential future husband. She was a different Maya, a fake Maya, she thought, when she was with boys she liked than when she was with other people. But with Raul, the two Mayas merged.
It would probably end at some point. She hoped they could be friends when it did.
These were the kinds of thoughts that raced through her head. Maya tried to calm them. She tried to close her eyes and breathe deeply. It was Friday night and she had nowhere to be the next morning, but she had a quiz in calculus class Monday morning, and she didn’t want the weekend to ruin her sleep schedule.
She wasn’t sure how long she lay there, before she gave up on easing into sleep. She knew of one thing that always seemed to work. If she reached for a novel she was dying to read, she would get two sentences in before a deep and powerful drowsiness overcame her. It never failed. She should have just tried it in the first place, but reading had been the last thing on her mind when she first got home. She didn’t want to turn on her desk lamp. She would get under the covers, little-kid style, with a flashlight (well, book light).
She turned to her night stand to reach for one book among the perpetual pile. The moon was almost full, and it shown through the window and the blinds. Maya frowned at an unfamiliar shadow that was blocking the silhouette of her favorite tree. Before she could wonder what it was, the shadow moved.
Maya gasped and sat up in bed.
The shadow was a shapeless mound, but as she watched, breathless and motionless, the mound seemed to rise and transform. Out of its side, two long thin shapes emerged. Arms. From its top, a small round shape emerged. A head.
Maya started screaming for her parents.
They found her clutching her bedcovers to her chest only moments later. It was enough time for the shadow to reach out and scrape its fingers over her window.
Maya’s heart was beating so fast, she had to breathe just as fast to keep up with it. She told her parents there was someone outside of her window, but grabbed her father’s shoulder with the unexpected strength of the desperate, to keep him from going to the window to inspect it. She had called them so they would have numbers, not so her father could get pulled out of the window by some psycho.
All three went to the window. They didn’t see anyone in the yard. They turned on all the outdoor lights. A couple of neighbors who were up noticed and came over. They hadn’t seen anything, but they helped circle the property. With the lights and several people now walking around outside, Maya felt safe enough to check outside her window. There were bits of what looked like dingy chalk dust, only coarser, stuck to her window, probably from when the guy—or thing—was scraping at the window. It had looked man-shaped. She found no footsteps in the patch of dirt where there had once been a hedge. She’d asked her father if he could remove it since it attracted too many bugs that ended up flying into her room. But there was something that didn’t belong. A pile of dingy white dirt. It had been packed down and there were familiar shapes scrawled in the dirt.
She leaned down and recognized letters and numbers written in a specific sequence: K29825.
Maya rushed inside and into the garage where she had parked Prospero. She hesitated, turning on the garage lights and shining a flashlight into the corners and under the two cars parked in there just in case. She checked both her license plates. They looked undisturbed. She shined her flashlight inside the cab. When she was convinced there was no one inside, she got her keys and slid onto the front bench seat, where only hours earlier, she’d been cuddling with Raul.
She turned around in the seat, as she had done then, and looked behind her. Now she saw only the garage door. But hours earlier, there was a shape behind the car. And minutes ago, there was a shape at her window…
Maya unplugged from the internet and all connected activities at a certain time each night, a self-imposed ban to encourage discipline and discourage procrastination. Most nights the ban was easy to follow. It was tiring even chatting with just one person sometimes. That night, she’d had to summon a great deal of will power to not break her rule for Raul. But she had managed to resist.
Now, she brought up the image she had snapped of the alphanumeric scrawled in the white dust, and sent it to Raul. She hoped it had been him, playing a misguided prank, thinking she might find it cute. Maybe he’d heard her screaming, realized he had miscalculated, and run away. Maybe he’d had time to calm down and they could straighten things out once he heard from her. The thought made her angry but also hopeful. She preferred being angry with her boyfriend’s stupid prank than having a stalker outside her window.
She jerked slightly when her phone chimed. The sound was so sweet in the daylight. But sitting in her car, alone, in the dead of night, even knowing there were people walking around outside, the chime triggered a burst of anxiety in her chest. It was Raul’s chime. So it was either Raul saying the creeper at the window was him, and asking her to call off the troops. Or it was Raul saying he had no idea what she was talking about.
She braced herself. But when she read his reply, she didn’t feel fear or relief.
“Not me. But think I know who. Coming over.”
Maya insisted that Raul wait till daylight to come over. Her mother might not allow him in the house at that hour. Her mother was on the neighborhood watch. It was Halloween and a Friday, so there were a lot more volunteers out patrolling than was typical. She alerted them to watch for a suspicious figure in the neighborhood. The local police had a website for reporting suspicious activity. Maya’s mom started filling out a report. Her father turned on the living room television. There were a few hours of dark left, but it seemed the family of night owls had decided to just stay up. So Maya would be safe enough.
She waited for his reply, wondering if he would say who he thought had left that message. But he only replied with one word.
“Door stays open.” Maya’s mother raised her brows and stared pointedly at Raul as he sat a respectful distance from her daughter. But then she handed him a plate full of scrambled eggs doused in salsa with a couple of honey-buttered biscuits beside them.
They were in Maya’s bedroom. Maya peered at his breakfast and shook her head when he offered her some.
“I wonder what she would make me if she didn’t hate me,” he said.
“She doesn’t hate you. She just doesn’t trust you.” Maya shifted her gaze to meet his own.
Raul swallowed his eggs and set the plate aside.
“I can understand that,” he said. “I’m not sure if I can trust myself when it comes to some things.”
Maya was sitting at her desk before her computer. She glanced at the open door. She leaned in to Raul.
“So who do you think was at my window last night?”
Raul held out his hands. “There’s always a chance I’m wrong. I kind of hope I’m not, because I think my answer is a lot less scary than a guy trying to get through your window.”
He asked if he could use her computer and he plugged in a search.
“Last night, when I was telling you about Giant’s Overlook, I didn’t tell you everything I knew about those monument stones. Especially about the one I call Stony.” He shook his head. “It must have been the car, and maybe us, all dressed up like we were from the fifties. Maybe it woke him.”
Maya frowned and drew a breath as she looked at the screen he pulled up. It was a scan of an article from a local newspaper. It was dated summer of 1953. The article reported the disappearance of a local teen and posted his picture with a number to call if he should be found.
According to Raul, that wasn’t what happened. Mike Riley didn’t run off. He wasn’t abducted. He died. In what was an accident, but an accident that happened under circumstances certain to make those who were involved appear guilty of foul play. It took years for Raul to put the scenario together.
Mike was being threatened by a group of boys who thought that he was making a move on one of their girlfriends. They were all out at the bluff. They drove him to the edge of the bluff. He backed away from them. He fell to his death. The rest of the boys were ready to run for it, but one of them looked over the bluff, and saw that the body wasn’t too far down. They could get to it. They set a lookout. It wasn’t necessary. Word had gotten around that it wouldn’t be a good idea to go to hang out at the bluff that night. They buried Mike’s body right there at the edge of the forest. They dug all night and they dug deep.
So many people and cars came and went in those days that the surface earth would get disturbed and mar any evidence of the grave. Mike was reported missing the next day, and a search was conducted. The boys were questioned. Many knew of the feud between them and the missing boy. But they supported each others’ stories, and got their girlfriends to do the same. A woman came forward who claimed to have seen Mike Riley talking to a vagrant near the highway. The vagrant was identified as someone who had a criminal past. So all suspicion fell on him, but he was never found. That woman, it was said, had the infamy of being the last person to see Mike Riley alive.
Then one day, a year after the day he vanished, the pale giant stone appeared overnight. Only those who were there that night would know it, but the giant appeared in the spot where Mike Riley’s remains were buried.
“I think what’s happened over the years is that he’s been trying to reach out,” Raul said, “and people feel that, and it creeps them out, and they never go back. But I felt that and instead of feeling weird or scared, I felt drawn to it for some reason. So I kept going back, and the more I did, the more he reached out to me. He’d show me, in my dreams. But only the dreams I had when I fell asleep up there. Down here…nothing.”
Maya inhaled deeply. “Have you told anyone else about this?”
“I don’t think my dreams can count as evidence.” Raul raised his brows. “You don’t think I’m crazy?”
“You might be wrong, or you might be imagining things. That doesn’t make you crazy. All it would take is digging under stone to find out. There could be a logical explanation for the giant too. Maybe one of the perpetrators put it up, to stop people from digging up the boy’s remains.”
“How? And when? You think a bunch of scared, reckless guys could come up with that kind of plan and pull it off? And why would they do that anyway? It would draw attention to the spot. A lot of people knew that something was going down there that night.”
Raul leaned in and spoke in as low a voice as he could muster. “Maya, you know what I’m trying to tell you. That giant isn’t just a monument. I don’t know what it is. I’ve asked questions and read stuff. I’ve got solid answers, just notions. Maybe something in the earth there, where the monument stones are, maybe it took Mike’s body and his bones, and made a remnant of him, like how heaven made a remnant of the white giants when it struck them down. Maybe his ghost is anchored there to that stone, until someone gets him some justice. And maybe last night he was able to wake, to walk around.”
Maya lowered her head.
Raul cleared his throat. “Are you—are you processing? Or are you trying to figure out how to get me out of your house without making a scene?”
“Suspension of disbelief.”
“It’s what you do when you go see a movie with magic or starships or other impossible stuff. If I suspend disbelief for just a sec, then I would ask why?” She looked up at him. “Why did he wake last night? And why did he come to me and not you?”
She knew the answer before Raul spoke it, but she needed to hear it aloud, and from him.
Some months after meeting Maya, but before they started dating, Raul began to have dreams of a red convertible. All that time, he had thought that the giant was only projecting impressions to him. He didn’t know that he was also sending information to the giant. He didn’t know he was communicating with the giant. That must have been when the giant became aware of Prospero. That restored car had so many new parts that some might have said it wasn’t the same car that Mike Riley once owned. The car that he too saved up to buy, with some help from a proud dad. Just as Maya had saved up.
Maya frowned. “But that isn’t even the original license plate. How would he know?”
“Maybe he loved his car as much as you love yours.”
Maya leaned back in her chair.
“I wonder if he’s trying to tell us something,” Raul said, “about the car.”
“What, like there might be some evidence of what happened to him in it? There’s no way. We tore it apart and built it back up again. And I’m not letting him get torn apart again.” She sighed reluctantly. “Not just on the basis of your dreams and my real-life lurker.”
“Where did all the parts go? The old ones?”
Maya shook her head. “Raul, if I stop suspending disbelief right now, then I would say that you were right about your dreams not being good enough proof. Even if they’re true, and we go up to the Overlook, and we were strong enough to knock down the giant, and we dug up the unmarked grave of Mike Riley and found his bones, we’d have to explain what led us there. And honestly, I’m more freaked out about that guy at my window, because it could have just been unrelated, and there could still be a stalker out there. Even if it is who you think it is, that’s still scary. Do you know if he’s dangerous?”
Raul sat back and folded his hands in his lap. “We could get someone to analyze that dust that he wrote your license plate number in. I bet it matches the stuff that the giant is made of.”
“And is that rare around here?”
“I don’t know.”
“What if someone is playing a really nasty trick on you because they know you’re—I’m just going to say it—obsessed with the pale giant?”
“That’s a scary thought. But I don’t think I have those kinds of enemies.”
Maya stared at her computer screen, but she wasn’t looking at it, or reading the other articles that Raul had brought up about Mike Riley. She was trying to take in everything Raul had said. She was trying to remain calm.
Because she could envision a different scenario than the one he presented. She pictured Raul at her window. Scratching at her window with the white dust. Packing it down and using his finger to mark out her license plate. Taking an old story about a missing boy and merging it with the pale giant monument that local legend say suddenly appeared at about the same time.
“There is one thing I can show you,” Raul said. “You might say it’s not proof. You might even say that I did it somehow. But it’s all I have.” He pulled out his phone. “After you told me not to come over till morning, I couldn’t sleep, so I went up to the Overlook.” He took a deep breath as he brought up a photo. He showed it to her.
Maya brought her hand up to her mouth.
“Are you doing homework?” Maya’s mother asked as she took the picnic supplies out of the trunk.
Maya was busy snapping pictures of the pale giant monument. Her mother had never been to the spot, had never seen what the giant looked like just the day before. Less than a day before. So she wasn’t alarmed.
Raul’s revelations had overwhelmed Maya. He seemed to believe them. He wanted to present her with proof and recruit her help to investigate the clue that was left under her window. He wanted her to go back up to the Overlook and trying sleeping together under the pale giant (“just actual sleeping,” he had joked). He wanted to find out if she too would dream about Mike Riley.
Maya had told him she needed to think and to rest, if she could, since she hadn’t gotten any sleep the night before. She also told him that she wanted to look into what he’d told her for herself. That she wanted to visit the Overlook without him. She did want to be honest with him. But she also wanted to gauge his reaction. Because a fear had begun to creep into her mind and heart the longer they spoke.
He had been so eager when he was telling her about the origins of the pale giant. His knee bobbing, his face turning a shade red, as if he was embarrassed to admit he believed what he was saying. His eyes entreating, searching for someone to share the burden of what he knew. So she expected a burst of emotion. She just didn’t know which emotion. But he surprised her.
He sighed and looked down at his hands. He didn’t look at her when he nodded, as if resigned.
A few hours later, Maya was driving her mom’s car up to Giant’s Overlook, with her mom in it. She wanted to see it before someone else did. She wondered if anyone would even notice.
What had the day before been a great bluish-white slab of stone with just the hint of a rough human shape hidden within it, now was more well-defined. There was a faceless head emerging from a thick neck that arched away from the main slab. The arms too were more prominent, as if someone had chiseled away the rock in which they had been held. Raul had mentioned trying to learn sculpture. Maybe he had. There were a lot of things they didn’t know about each other. She hoped that someone in the art department of the local college would be able to tell if the stone of the slab had been chiseled with human tools. But even if it had been, that didn’t prove that Raul was the one who did it.
When she was satisfied with the number of pictures she had taken, she turned to her mom, who had laid out the blanket beside one of the other stones. Her mother remarked on the gorgeous view.
“Raul brought you here, didn’t he?”
Maya said nothing.
“Is this your way of showing me I’m wrong about him?”
Maya threw an arm over her mother’s shoulder and kissed her on the cheek. “Remain skeptical, Mom.”
“He is a pretty good guy, isn’t he?”
I hope so, Maya thought.
There were other cars parked nearby. Other people having picnics and enjoying similar views. Strangely, no one had cried out and pointed to the pale giant. Maybe it wasn’t so strange. The stone wasn’t special to most people.
“I think I’ll take a nap before lunch, if that’s okay,” Maya said.
Her mom raised the paperback she’d been holding. It was one she’d been talking about wanting to read for months.
Maya glanced back at the pale giant. She glanced at the base of the stone slab and frowned. If Raul was right, this was no place for her to have brought her mother on a bonding picnic. Her mom already knew she had ulterior motives. She just wasn’t completely right about what those motives were.
Maya lay down on the luxury picnic blanket beside her mom. She set the alarm on her phone. She rolled her hoodie into a pillow and propped her head up on it, finding a flap to cover her eyes from the late morning sun.
She didn’t know what kind of dreams to hope for. But she knew what she should be hoping for. As she closed her eyes, she held one thought in her mind. Her target, come what may. She spoke the word to herself again and again.
Copyright © 2017. Story by Nila L. Patel. Artwork: “El Barco Rojo” by Sanjay Patel.