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The Royal Trinity

YA fantasy

 

Dominick Domingo

 

 

 

Chapter 1

Seth Bauman knew the old adage: the truth will set you free. He found this to be true-for a while. But eventually the truth that had come to light, that collage of fragile secrets so achingly beautiful and eviscerating all at once-those dark things he'd wanted so badly to know and now could never unknow-would come to settle like unwelcome tenants in his own heart. Even now as he stood before the dilapidated two-story Victorian cottage that was the only home he'd ever known, his heart saw the future. The mitered gables of the cottage looked sharper than normal, shredding the sky like tissue paper. Shuttered windows glared down at him, dwarfing his already diminutive ten-year-old frame. Clouds moaned irritably, voicing Seth's trepidation. The L.A. skyline had been shrouded for weeks, ever since the storm had unleashed the bulk of its fury on Silver Lake. Though the storm had passed, the cloud cover remained, like a military presence in a war-torn country.

Seth crossed the lawn, the crunch of new-fallen maple leaves punctuating his reluctant journey. It wasn't fear that slowed his step. If Seth's ordeal had taught him anything at all, it was not to succumb to fear. What weighed on him was more akin to dread. Not a generalized anxiety or a vague apprehension; its object was very specific-a necessary task more easily avoided. If the clouds were lingering troops, the battle had been a liberation of sorts. The worst was over. And there was only one thing left to do.

One loose end to tie.

The porch groaned a splintery greeting. The door creaked open on rusted hinges.

Inside, the lazy drip, drip drip of the kitchen faucet was the only sign of life. There was no missing the steep, narrow staircase that confronted him at the door, connecting the tiny foyer to a dimly lit second story.

The first step rasped. So did the second. And the third, and the fourth as Seth's body compelled him forward against his will, past the skewed family photos and the cramped landing with its hand-polished railing, embroidered runner unfurling before him, expanding with the importance of his mission. Ten-year-old feet padding down the hall now, Van slip-ons on embroidered Paisley, carrying Seth where he knew not to go. Only trouble resulted when he ventured into Uncle Troy's room.

Only Seth was not spying this time, digging for clues. On the contrary, he was closing Pandora's box.

He found it stashed in the corner hutch where it had always been: the old photo album with its blunted corners and yellowed acetate. Pudgy fingers thumbing through tarnished acetate now, through indiscriminate memories, backward in time to that mysterious world that existed before he'd arrived in it. And there, the bleached-out spot from which he'd plucked the only photo he'd ever seen of his birth mother.

Seth drew the photo from his pocket, where it had been cradled next to his heart. He gazed at it one last time.

Her image in the photo was just as he remembered it-haunting, inscrutable, fragile and strong at the same time, staring across the ten years like they were nothing. Tiny cracks appeared where the photo had been bent-flecks of missing emulsion. But his mind filled them in, as though completing an anecdote eroded by time. Maria Alma was stern in appearance, dark almond eyes smoldering beneath arched brows. But there was kindness behind the strength. Under different circumstances, Seth's mother would have been there for him.

If only the world had allowed it.

Seth placed the photo in the bleached-out spot, squaring its corners. Acetate pressed firmly back into place, just like before. One would never know it had gone missing. Not that it mattered now-even Uncle Troy would agree it had all been worth it, that they were finally free from the silence of the past. But the photo belonged here in its proper place. After all, it was Uncle Troy's.

Seth closed the tattered cover, and with it, a chapter in his life. He sighed, restored the album to its place just so, and padded back down the narrow hall.

Five Years later...

Seth shifted the contents of his backpack, preparing for the grueling trek over Glendale Avenue Bridge. The nylon monstrosity was loaded down with books-most of them A.P. or college prep textbooks. The load was cumbersome to be sure, but he did not consider it a burden. Seth thrived in school, looked forward to college. Of course, things were a lot easier since the scholarship had fallen in his lap. If anything, he was overzealous in his studies-worked too hard. Just last night, he'd crammed until the wee hours.

Despite the lack of sleep, Seth had to keep his wits about him; the neighborhood was still shady. He kicked a pebble, watching it glance off one of countless antique lampposts punctuating the colossal concrete bridge. But all the while his peripheral vision was in overdrive, should unwelcome company appear.

Glendale Avenue Bridge unfurled before him, all buckled asphalt and gritty, sun-bleached concrete-its far end concealed beyond the apex. Below, the L.A. River trickled sluggishly through dense cattails and reeds, making its way to the ocean. The sound of its unhurried meandering rose up on some invisible draft, but the river itself remained out of view unless Seth posed himself at the concrete railing. Doing so had been a daily ritual back when he and Elena took the same route to Allesandro Elementary. It seemed like a lifetime ago the two of them had stood there, Seth just as captivated by the wind whipping through Elena's coal-black hair as he was by the magical kingdom below. Today, Seth did not so much as glance between the ornately carved concrete posts, burnished with the exhaust of incessant traffic.

Marshall High was considerably farther than Allesandro Elementary-a good mile-and-a-half from home. It's good exercise, Seth told himself. And soon enough he would have wheels. Just in time for summer.

The gurgling stream below mingled with the whoosh of passing traffic, a perverse mingling of nature and man. But suddenly a new sound assaulted the stillness of morning: the squeal of tire rubber on cement. Then came the screech of brakes. And a car door groaning open, five sets of rubber-soled heels hitting the ground. Without turning, Seth broke into a sprint. The jangling of chains sounded closer than normal, the rhythmic popping of switchblades. He hadn't gotten his usual head start. One of these days, his luck was going to run out.

Seth hurled his backpack over the gritty concrete railing, panting heavily. His body followed without pause. No time to think. Suddenly he found himself dangling from the lip of concrete, fingertips stripped bare from hanging suspended this way countless times before. No time to strategize. Bastards are closer than normal. Seth let go, dropped the three yards with precision into-dew-covered grass. He'd made it past the river, hopped the railing where the bridge plunged back into one of Silver Lake's quaint residential neighborhoods. A tiny strip of city-maintained park lined Riverside Drive, narrow Victorian cottages on either side.

Don't look back. Just keep going.

Sooner than anticipated, Seth heard the slosh as five sets of boots impacted the earth. But soon they were slipping, sliding haphazardly through muddy tracts he'd known to avoid. Between stabs of cold air, Seth smiled.

Breathe. Remember to breathe.

Seth crossed the tiny park in seconds, making quick work of the sidewalk and dodging traffic on Riverside Drive. Morning commuters honked and cursed behind him as five figures attempted to do the same. But Seth was already bolting up the next set of stairs. Silver Lake was known for its long, meandering staircases connecting one neighborhood to another in the hilly parts of town. You stumbled into them like well-kept secrets-either that or they appeared and disappeared at will. Seth knew this one like the back of his hand-every grimy stair slathered in petrified chewing gum, every stroke of spray paint roiling together to form the sprawling mural that ran its length. As much as Seth despised the Mayans, he found this tag somehow fitting-the way rich hues complemented the lush greenery that also characterized the hills of Silver Lake. Maybe he could palate this one because it had been there longer than he or any of his pursuers. Not their work. The colorful images had been stenciled by their predecessors, long before the Mayans' war on the homeless and the escalation of their terrorism.

L.A.M.O., the tags read. L.A. Mayan Order. But the stylized letters were little more than a blur as Seth whizzed by. He huffed anxiously, praying a silent prayer he would make it to the top before being tackled to the ground and-

Don't think about it, Seth told himself. Keep going. His mind turned to splicing an alternate ending to the dark finale that had begun to play.

Heart beating wildly in his chest, Seth sprinted for the final stair. He thought about tossing his backpack into the bushes to lighten the load, but just couldn't give them the satisfaction of ransacking it. He was almost out of the woods when his feet decided not to cooperate. The stairs were slick with morning dew; Seth's chin met the top stair with a loud THWAK! It split immediately like a banana peel; he felt it-saw the crimson geyser that shot out half-a-second later.

The laughter was right behind him, in his ear.

Shit. This is really it this time. Seth's life did not pass before his eyes-only horrific images like a snuff film on scratched, grainy celluloid: switchblades, maniacal laughter, throat slit from ear to ear. Not how he'd planned to go out.

This is it. It's now or never.

Without looking, in one fluid motion, Seth scrambled to his feet and swung his backpack behind him with all his might. It met one of his adversaries, didn't matter which one, sent him careening backward into the others. This bought Seth enough time to recover a considerable lead, emerging onto Rowena Avenue and his only chance of escape.

The visibility would deter the Mayans' efforts, or so he hoped. The bridge had been too busy for anyone to care, the staircase isolated. But here in a well-lit residential area-Marshall High territory no less-surely they'd lose their zeal. Seth was a local hero-everyone knew him.

Unfortunately, this status held no water with the Mayans. If anything, it was a thorn in their side. They continued their pursuit, voracious as ever. In no time, they were gaining on him.

Seth dodged traffic on Rowena Avenue. Ahead of him stood a block lined with apartments. No time to think-the jangle of chains and the clatter of boots echoed off dated architecture in every direction. On a hunch, Seth bolted into one of the courtyards separating units. He leapt patio furniture, circumvented a tricycle, hopped a garden hose and-BAM-ran smack into the block wall at the back of the lot. No time to think. No head start this time.

Backpack first, slung over the terra-cotta brick, one leg and then the other. Seth hardly remembered choosing any of it-later it would seem like a dream-clearing the wall in a panic-a single heart-pounding dive. His hands did nothing to break the fall; instead his cheek met a pile of splintered moldings leaning against a trash pile in the adjacent alley. In a second he was on his feet again, bolting through dented barrels full of foul-smelling garbage. Only after several yards did the image register-that of bent, rusty, tetanus-infested finishing nails riddling the pile of rotted wood. And not a single one of them had pierced his skin. That could have been bad. Maybe someone up there was looking out for him.

Some invisible force compelled Seth onward like a string, the same force that had saved him so many times before-greater than momentum or even the will to live-more like destiny. Past the old Ford and the tattered clothesline, past the incinerator and the patchy overgrown lawn and the dilapidated picket fence, despite the stabbing air and the desperate pounding of his heart. Moments later the alleyway delivered Seth directly onto St. George Street at the front steps of Marshall High. Campus security were posted on either side of the entry checkpoint. Seth breathed. Just as he slowed to a casual jaunt, Student Resource Officer Dave Swafford cruised by in his patrol vehicle.

"Morning, Seth," he said with a wink.

"Morning, Mr. Swafford."

The officer pointed to his own chin, as if to alert Seth to the trickle of blood that was making its way down his throat.

Seth nodded. His first stop would be Nurse Lattimore's office.

Officer Swafford smiled and accelerated down Rowena Avenue. This was their daily ritual.

Seth handed his backpack over for inspection before entering Marshall's bustling corridors. Just before plunging into the madness he allowed himself, at last, to look back over his shoulder. He smiled victoriously.

* * *

Claaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaang! The lunch bell startled Seth from a sound sleep. He looked around self-consciously, wiped a puddle of drool from the makeshift grocery-bag cover of his poli-sci textbook and followed the herd into the congested hall.

Moments later, he was seated alone, picking at a Pizza Snack with as much nutritional value as a deep-fried brick.

Seth looked at Elena across the crowded patio, a silly grin plastered on his face. It was not the product of sleepiness. His eyes, so often sharp and determined, glazed over whenever Elena entered his periphery. Though he'd told himself all throughout elementary he did not like her, his heart had grown up along with the rest of him. His schoolboy crush had become more than infatuation. Sometimes it seemed like his very reason for being.

Elena's formerly chubby face had grown chiseled, almond-shaped eyes no longer wide-eyed and innocent but exotic and seductive. The bangs that were once chopped so severely across her brow were nowhere to be found-her hair was perfectly straight and all one length, cascading down the center of her back, past an impossibly slender waist, to the center of her heart-shaped derriere. Seth could watch her for the rest of time-such unearthly beauty spoke of perfection, proved the existence of God.

Sure, she'd changed since their ordeal. Grown superficial, in Seth's estimation. But he could overlook her momentary lapse in substance. Though unaware of being watched, Elena's mannerisms were affected. A toss of her coal-black hair, laughing now, coal black hair shimmering in soft morning light. It was mid-May, but still the sun fought to penetrate the sheath of spring haze that had blocked out the heavens for months.

Sophomore year was nearly over. The blink of an eye, Seth thought. Just yesterday they'd stood in line for registration, trembling with anticipation at the thought of transitioning from the junior high world of mock-adolescent-angst to the very real world of adult drama that was Marshall High. Seth just knew they would face the challenge together-remain inseparable. He'd even allowed himself to imagine that they might one day be a couple. She would realize she, too, had been denying her feelings for him. He'd never allowed himself to forget that look on her face when he'd rescued her-when he'd been the only one who could rescue her-from the Mayans. The only one who knew how to navigate all those abandoned metro tunnels and sewer systems. The look had been more than gratitude. It had been full of pure, unadulterated admiration. And wasn't that just another word for love?

Somehow, things hadn't gone as Seth planned. Though they'd both been babes in the woods that day at orientation, their solidarity was short-lived. Elena had immersed herself immediately-firmly entrenched herself in high school culture. And now, here she sat at the stone tables reserved for seniors, surrounded by her new homegirls. They called each other 'bitches' and rarely separated themselves from the pack. They walked hip-to-hip, long manes swinging behind them, forcing the less popular kids against the lockers in their wake. At least two of the homegirls had dropped out during the course of the school year, one due to pregnancy.

Seth feared the same for Elena, had the distinct feeling that it was only a matter of time. She'd been with Ruben since a month into sophomore year. And they were serious. She'd managed to stay in school, even to maintain decent grades, while he'd dropped out to follow in his brother's footsteps.

"Someone got to keep the legacy alive," he'd convinced Elena. "The Mayans ain't the Mayans wit-out my bro. Plus, dem fools set up shop down river-bunch o' posers. L.A. Mayan Order is a Silver Lake gang-an institution. Our roots is here. That's why I gotta step up, you see? My bro's gon' be in the joint for a few more years-someone got to keep order on these streets-enforce Mayan rule!" From that point on their tags began appearing everywhere-on the L.A. Wash, on freeway overpasses, even on patrol vehicles: N.M.O. Apparently the legacy was the same, but the moniker had undergone a facelift. The acronym stood for New Mayan Order.

And the promise of a less-than-glamorous future did not deter Elena. A life on the lam had its own dark appeal. In Seth's estimation, Elena had never looked beyond the moment. The little girl he'd known and fought so hard to protect had been simple; that was her gift. But now the simplicity was tinged with denial. Now she had reason not to delve too deeply into the past, or to speculate about the future. The past was off-limits because it was full of pain-the future, because it promised more of the same.

The chasm between Seth and Elena had widened over time, the gradual shifting of tectonic plates deep in the earth. So slow as to be imperceptible, never an earthquake or even a tremor. And then one day Seth was standing on a precipice, hard-pressed to recognize the willowy stranger on a distant brink, worlds away.

Elena was laughing harder now, raising the back of her hand into the air. Her homegirls leaned in, inspecting what glimmered like stardust on her ring finger. Apparently Ruben's life of crime was paying off; this was no soda can pop-top or Cracker Jack prize. It was the real deal. No promise ring either, signaling to others that they were going steady; that had been the case for months. This was an engagement ring.

As much as Seth told himself it didn't bother him, he knew deep down he was still vested in her well-being. He'd never been very good at lying to himself. And as hard as he tried not to analyze, his understanding of human nature told him exactly what was going on with Elena: she'd never dealt with the trauma of her abduction ordeal. Oh, sure-there had been therapy. A band-aid. And then, back to the grind: pain stuffed away, demons in a closet. And they'd multiplied in darkness, leaving her easy prey for the likes of Ruben. One day they'd come knocking at the door, but for the moment her demons acted behind the scenes, silent puppeteers pulling invisible strings.

Part of Seth wished he'd done more to save Elena from her own demons. But he'd been instructed by Elena's family, on the therapist's advice, not to mention their ordeal. "Could trigger post-traumatic stress disorder," they said. To this day, he wasn't sure what she recalled and what she did not.

Seth often wished he were less perceptive-less in tune with the inner-workings of the human heart. He knew it was his artistic temperament that predisposed him to the truth, dissolved the filter most people used to sift through the unpleasantness. The inconvenient. For him, the blinders had been torn away early on-he'd long since been left to make sense of chaos-to formulate his own benevolent view of the universe.

As perceptive as he was, his eye proved less keen when turned inward. It was his art he'd used to cleanse the world. His very creations had redeemed him from a sense of futility. But he'd left them behind-abandoned them the way his own mother had abandoned him. Of course, it was under the guise of focusing on his studies, on growing up. Had he been as objective about himself as he was about Elena's demons, he would have recognized the abandonment of his art for what it was: self-destruction.

Abruptly, the lunch bell signaled the impending start of fifth period.

Elena stood, tossing her mane so it settled between slender shoulder blades. Her entourage did the same, in perfect sync, then began their march toward the three hundred hall in perfect formation. Normally the pack remained a unit until every last homegirl had been deposited at her fifth period class. But today Elena lagged behind. Her cell phone had rung, and she was speaking in hushed tones.

Go ahead, she waved them on. The Bitches hesitated. They traveled in a pack for good reason-they had enemies. Their numbers were protection. But Elena seemed unconcerned-perhaps due to the fact that she wore the ring of the most feared and respected gang-banger in Silver Lake. Reluctantly, the Bitches moved on.

Seeing this as an opportunity, Seth staked himself out in a small alcove just outside the three hundred hall. He watched covertly as Elena paced, speaking in Spanish, agitation coloring her voice. It was Ruben on the other end; Seth was sure of it.

"Estaba en la casa anoche ..." Elena sounded exasperated. And then, in English, "I told you. Doing homework..."

Ruben's voice could be heard from where Seth stood, harsh and percussive, its abrasiveness magnified by electronic distortion.

"I feel like a prisoner," Elena shot back. "Why you gotta be that way? You gotta trust me..." Again, the percussive reply, signal filtered by distance.

"I gotta go. I got class..." Elena snapped her phone shut, stuffing it resolutely into her purse as she prepared to continue on.

Seth made his move.

Just as Elena passed, he rounded the corner of the stucco building that had been his shelter.

"That's some bling you got there..."

Elena turned, startled. The halls were thinning; only a few remaining students hustled to beat the tardy bell.

"Oh, this?" Elena glanced at her own finger as the two continued walking. She sighed. "Yeah...Nice, huh?" It could have been her reserved nature that prevented her from divulging more. Seth waited, but all he got was a coy smile.

"I don't know what you see in him..." Seth blurted in lieu of receiving further details.

"I know, I know..." Elena scoffed. They'd had this conversation countless times. "I deserve better..."

"You do!" Seth concurred with a good-humored smile. But the smile dropped, revealing an insistence he could not mask.

"He protects me," Elena said simply, looking straight ahead.

Seth wished she'd said anything but that. He used to be her protector.

"I wouldn't expect you to understand..." Elena tossed her hair, eyes fixed on something far, far away.

"Try me..."

"This life can be tough-" Elena paused in her mind, but kept up her gait. "You know?" At last, her eyes drifted in Seth's direction, guard lowering just a fraction.

"The girl I used to know was full of courage."

Elena's eyes told Seth not to bother-that he was trying to rouse something in her that was dead.

He was not about to give up.

"Elena," he began, fighting the impulse to reach out and touch her arm, stroke her hair, do anything to bridge the Grand Canyon between them.

Just then her phone rang, startling them both.

"I gotta go," she said, fear returning to her eyes. She peeled off toward the girl's restroom, where she would continue her cell phone argument with Ruben.

Seth shook his head.

* * *

The pebble skidded across weathered concrete, glanced off a corroded sprinkler head, and redirected its course. At last it ground to a halt, spinning small circles.

Seth kicked it again, harder this time.

He'd kept it going all the way from Marshall High, down Saint George Street, and nearly the entire length of Hyperion Boulevard. When he got to the pet store, he gave the thing one last flick-forceful enough to bank it off a streetlamp and shoot it straight into the rain gutter across the street.

Seth entered Wet Nose Pet Emporium to the jangle of tin dog food cans that was the door chime.

"Afternoon, Seth," Mr. Wilkerson greeted him from behind the service counter that ran the length of the store.

The old man, shrunken with age, resembled the wrinkly pugs and Shar-Peis he cared for. His eyes, magnified by thick-framed coke-bottle lenses, were lined with wisdom and humor.

"Howya doin,' Mr. Wilkerson?" Seth slumped his backpack on the Formica countertop and joined the old man behind the register.

"Bit slow today..." The man smiled, deep creases appearing in the corners of his eyes.

He says that everyday, Seth mused, smiling back.

Seth did not know his grandparents on either side; Mr. Wilkerson was the closest thing he would ever know to a grandfather. The man would often place a hand on Seth's shoulder, teaching him obscure facts about the Indian Ringneck Parakeet or the incorrigible Plecostomus. No matter how esoteric or mundane the information, his gravelly voice always sounded as though he were sharing a secret. Even if he repeated himself, shared a fact for the fiftieth time, Seth would nod and smile.

Today was like all the others. There was no clock to punch; the old man trusted Seth. He stashed his bag beneath the counter and began doing what he did everyday-feeding the fish. Truth be told, business had been so slow that Mr. Wilkerson could have done it himself five times over. But saving the task for Seth justified paying for afternoon help.

Uncle Troy would have preferred that Seth focus on his studies rather than work afternoons. But Seth had insisted on going halves on the used car they'd picked out. It would be his in a month and a half-just in time for summer vacation.

Seth approached a tank full of guppies. He found the ritual of feeding them meditative. Tending to the animals in the store gave him a sense of purpose; it was easy to care for them. Perhaps the feeling was pronounced due to all the disappointment humans had to offer. Sure, some of them had redeemed themselves. But it was hard to undo an emotional imprint. He had good reason to protect his heart. Humans had always let him down.

And then there was Elena, who would not let him love her.

Seth sprinkled a moderate handful of fish food into a tank full of guppies, watched it settle unevenly into murky water. The particles were gobbled up in a flash, the school's collective intelligence fragmenting mindlessly, yielding to survival of the fittest. One guppy alone seemed disinterested, remained unmoving in a corner of the tank. Seth moved in closer, crouched down to its level.

"Can you see me?" Seth asked through the glass.

The little guy did seem to be looking right at him. Pensively, even. But then again, he could have been fixated on his own reflection. Seth wondered: if he could see the macrocosmic world beyond the tank, was at all aware of its existence, how did it look through all that molded glass?

 

Chapter 2

The Southern California sun beat down relentlessly on Marshall High, turning the asphalt to putty. Ruben Medina dug his heel in, displacing a pocket of viscous tar. The spring haze had finally burned off, unleashing the sun's full, scorching fury. It glanced off the buckled asphalt, rising in tendril-waves that obscured whatever lay beyond, like a mirage. The haze had loomed over Silver Lake for what seemed an eternity; the sun was clearly making up for lost time. And if it was this hot in May, the neighborhood had little to look forward to.

It would only get hotter as summer rolled around.

"You can fry an egg on a manhole cover," Juan Artiga offered dumbly. "Heard that on TV once..."

Ruben did not respond. Just continued pressing the heel of his boot into the pavement of Marshall's visitor parking lot. He and his homies had been loitering for a good hour, pacing back and forth in shifts, seating themselves intermittently on the blazing hood of Juan's 1991 Mercedes-Benz. This was their daily routine. They could just as easily have shown up right at three to pick Elena up, but preferred the ritual of camping out an hour or two in advance, blaring their music and intimidating passersby. Arms folded, their five sets of eyes would fix on a subject-some kid excused from seventh period on work release, and follow him in silence from one side of the parking lot to the other, unflinching. For effect, Ruben would often pick up a nearby prop-a fallen branch, a tire iron, the Club from Juan's steering wheel, and tap it rhythmically against his shin.

Today the subject of choice was Seth Bauman.

Three o'clock had rolled around and hordes of students poured onto Saint George Street like a glacier. Their numbers were too great for Ruben and his thugs to intimidate each and every one; by instinct, the group concentrated their efforts on those who'd separated from the pack. As Seth crossed the parking lot diagonally, he could feel their five sets of eyes burning a hole in his left side. Unable to resist-must have been a survival instinct of some kind that made him do it-Seth turned his head the tiniest bit for a visual clue. Ruben's eyes locked into his, more intensely than the others.'

Ten years of history fueled the smoldering gaze-a decade of offenses, real and imagined. There was the time in kindergarten Seth had seen Ruben cry, before he'd established the title 'Class Bully.' In fact, this was the root of it all: in Ruben's mind, Seth had ammunition. Then there was the time a few years later Ruben had made an off-color comment about Seth's birth mother and Seth had somehow found the courage to connect a fist with Ruben's unsuspecting gut. Snaring Elena was a conquest for Ruben, and Seth knew it-the ultimate payback for Seth's role in putting Carlos behind bars. Not only had rescuing Elena from the Mayans incarcerated his big bro, it had made Seth a local hero.

And according to Ruben's logic, Seth would pay for it. Though Seth never saw their faces-the Mayans who terrorized him on his way to and from school often wore ski masks or bandanas disguising their identity-there was no mistaking Juan's Mercedes and its familiar rattle as it negotiated the buckled asphalt of Glendale Avenue Bridge.

Today, as he passed the group of delinquents in the parking lot, Seth did as he always did. He smiled, mimed a tip of the hat, and continued on toward Hyperion Ave.

Ruben stewed.

* * *

A tiny, battery-operated TV projected flickering bluish light on papered walls. Its volume was turned down, rendering the four o'clock news little more than static-filled ambience.

The Victorian cottage was in disrepair. More accurately, it was missing a roof. In place of shingles, great plastic tarps hung rustling in the breeze as Troy and Cheryll Bauman framed a third story from what had been the attic. In Silver Lake, adding on to a narrow single lot most often meant building up. It was no different for the Baumans. Of course, Cheryll had questioned the wisdom of adding on rather than simply selling the relic and buying elsewhere.

"You don't wanna have the nicest house on a crappy block; you want the crappiest house on a nice block. Any realtor will tell you that."

"Honey, I know what I'm doing...." Troy descended the ladder on which he was standing, realizing the conversation was going to require the bulk of his attention.

"Tell me that when it comes time to sell." Cheryll was unconvinced.

Troy's confidence did not waver. "In five years, this entire neighborhood will be gentrified. Trust me..."

"I could see the neighborhood going either way." Cheryll was not finished playing devil's advocate. "I hate to be the one to tell you, but the gangs have not moved on..."

To illustrate her point, Cheryll turned up the volume on the television. The news story in progress was exposing the very social issue of local street gangs.

"The Mayans are as strong as ever," a blurry, pixilated ex-gang member was saying, thuggish voice distorted electronically. Across the bottom of the screen flashed the words 'identity obscured for subject's protection.'

"I've seen it all," the man continued, 'We're not talking the old school stuff-drive-bys, retaliation, more drive-bys-we're talkin' twisted stuff..." The man's fragmented image was replaced by stock footage of a homeless man being beaten severely in the L.A. Wash. Cheryll turned away in disgust.

"See?"

An invisible draft moved through the room, an exhalation, and the plastic tarps hugged the wooden frame of the Bauman home.

"Neighborhoods come and go," Troy assured her. "I can predict these things...This one's is turning around. I learned more than how to fold a paperclip in there, you know." Troy was referring to his own time behind bars. Carlos hadn't been the only one put away. But at least the stint had put Troy on the straight and narrow. He'd studied hard and gotten his contractor's license the moment he'd been paroled.

"Analyzing property values is one o' the tricks o' the trade...And with the Modernization Project comin' up, this neighborhood's gonna take off!"

"I hope you're right..." Cheryll conceded. But her eyes were remote. "Still, I can't help feeling it's like bringing a baby into a hostile world...the Mayans still rule these streets-just under a different name..."

Troy stepped from the bottom rung of the ladder onto dust-coated hardwood planks. He set himself squarely before his wife and took her by the shoulders.

"I want to tell you a story."

The house was breathing again-tarps rustling everywhere.

"Way back during the hostage crisis in Iran, my parents had this same discussion. But it was no house they was building. They was thinkin' about startin' a family. My ma felt just like you do-like it's the end o' the friggin' world. Everything had come to a head. She said she just couldn't bring herself to do it-to bring an innocent life into such chaos. She swears that was the night I was conceived."

Cheryll smiled with her eyes. "And I for one am glad you were..."

"Point is, someone up there knew better. I wouldn't be here if they'd waited for the right moment. It always seems like the end of the world if you choose to see it that way. But life goes on, like it or not. Life is in the imperfection."

Cheryll smiled. "And you, my love, are full of life. It's no wonder I love you so much."

And then, eyes filling up like teacups: "I am proud of you, you know."

Her reassurance meant everything to Troy, and it showed in his piercing blue eyes.

"I'm glad." He smiled. "Now hand me those brads."

Cheryll obliged. "How did I become your assistant anyway?"

"You're the strongest workhorse I know. Besides, we gotta get this thing done before the Vasquez job kicks in come July... that's gonna keep me busy for months."

Cheryll grabbed a box of nails and passed them to Troy as he started up the ladder.

"Glad to help," she quipped. "Cuz I, for one, am tired o' livin' with no roof!"

The Vasquez job was the biggest commission that could have come Troy's way since opening Bauman Construction. Vasquez Property Development had been the major developer in the area for generations, and handled most of the government contracts. When the L.A. River Modernization Project had come along, naturally it went to Vasquez. Every local contractor had bid on the job, clamored to be involved in some capacity. Bauman Construction had landed a small portion of the job-the Visitor's Center, restrooms, and a few freestanding pavilions. Nothing to scoff at. "A gig like this puts you in a whole new category," he had told Cheryll. "It's called playing with the big boys."

Cheryll was glad Troy had ambitions. It meant their plans were compatible. Eventually, before her eggs dried up, she would get the family she so pined for. Being the legal guardian of Troy's nephew had its rewards, but something inside of her still tugged. She wanted her own offspring. And she just knew Seth would make a great big brother.

Downstairs, the front door squeaked open and Seth edged his way into the cramped foyer between cardboard boxes. The contents of the attic had been displaced for weeks, obstructing their daily lives in most inconvenient ways. But today, an obstruction Seth hadn't noticed before put itself in his path. He let his backpack slide to the floor and approached a misshapen, partially opened box.

Atop its haphazard contents lay an eleven-by-seventeen wedding portrait of Uncle Troy and Cheryll. Seth lifted it closer for inspection. The ceremony was only two years previous, but to Seth those two years were a lifetime. The difference between thirteen and fifteen was gargantuan. And though they'd only recently married, Seth could scarcely recall a time when Cheryll had not been part of their lives. For the majority of his short life, Seth had rejected her overtures, telling himself she was not his real mom. But once he'd learned the grim truth about his birth mother-that she would not be coming back-he'd decided to embrace Cheryll. He was glad she'd married Uncle Troy. Glad to have a family, however unconventional.

When Seth reached to restore the photo to its place on the heap, his attention was drawn to what lay directly beneath: that old, yellowed photo album. Apparently, Troy and Cheryll had cleared out at least a section of their bedroom; the album was normally stashed away covertly in the corner hutch. Seth's hand reached out for the album instinctively, involuntarily. But for some reason he resisted the impulse and drew it back.

Maybe it had something to do with moving on, leaving the past where it belonged-behind him. When he'd closed that album five years earlier after restoring the photo to the bleached-out spot where he'd found it, he knew he was at peace. The photo of his birth mother had been the impetus for it all, the very reason for the adventure his psyche created. But through it all, he'd truly laid his abandonment issues to rest. He no longer blamed his mother for leaving. He understood. And he and Uncle Troy had never been closer. The veil of mystery had been lifted, the shroud of silence that left him to wonder why his mother had left in the first place, had robbed him of the opportunity to truly understand her pain. He now knew why she did what she had done. He'd learned compassion.

With all the discovery came a byproduct Seth could not have predicted. He knew now that adults hide things from children for their own protection, making them appear stilted, closed-off. But there was a world of pain and joy and opinions and experience of which children had no inkling. There was much more to adults than Seth had previously suspected. They were human. The bond between Uncle Troy and his brother Leif, Seth's own father, had been intense. And especially after Leif's death, the bond Troy had shared with Maria, Seth's mother, had been equally intense.

Though the silence of the past had been shattered, it was still rarely discussed. Seth was not sure what he'd expected. Maybe on some level he'd fantasized that they'd sit around the campfire making s'mores and telling stories about his mother. The stories would be funny, and poignant, and tinged with melancholy. Most of all, they'd be matter-of-fact, free-flowing. But the reality was quite different. Once the cover of that album had fallen shut, the past remained as veiled in mystery as it had ever been.

"Seth?" Cheryll called from upstairs. "You home?"

"Yup." Seth slung his backpack over his shoulder once more and began the steep climb to the second story and the newly expanded attic with its plastic tarp ceiling.

Before he'd advanced two steps into Uncle Troy and Cheryll's room, an enormous shape appeared from the dusty corner behind the door, sliding into his path with an irritable groan.

"Look what I found!" Cheryll enthused, appearing beside the monstrosity. It was an antique wooden chest as familiar to Seth as the back of his hand, but vague as a childhood memory. Without hesitation Cheryll threw open its heavy lid, forcing the rusty hinges into submission. Seth immediately recognized what lay inside:

Everything he had ever drawn.

Correction: everything he had every committed to paper and not crumpled or thrown away. He had not touched a pencil for a few years now, for any creative pursuit anyway. Maybe a number two pencil to solve an equation longhand in fifth period Algebra. But he had not so much as doodled on the corner of a notebook or scrawled a superfluous curlicue when writing down a phone number. Even his handwriting was practical, efficient, like that used by architects and draftsmen.

"I love this one..." Cheryll had plucked the first drawing in the heap, held it up for Seth to see. The rendering was that of a human-animal hybrid. The creature depicted appeared wise and compassionate-pensive and mischievous and mysterious all at once. His wiry frame was unmistakably human, but the sinewy legs transitioned into an even layer of matted hair, and finally, cloven hooves. The bare cranium sprouted great regal horns. They were neither ram horns nor deer horns nor bison nor antelope. They were faun horns.

"We really should have some of these framed," Cheryll said to Uncle Troy, who was still perched on the ladder. When his eyes found Seth's, they twinkled with more than pride. What they exuded was the acknowledgment of a shared secret-of the existence of an entire world of magic.

"Toss 'em," Seth lanced apathetically. He really was not out to hurt anyone's feelings; after all, Cheryll had painstakingly preserved each drawing, long after Seth had forgotten about it and left it to collect dust beneath his bed. The words just came out of him.

"I can't even look at those," he spat. "That was ages ago..." It's not that he had so improved that the pieces were a reminder of a more naive period in his artistic development. It was the opposite; his skills had since languished. What threatened him was the inner world they represented-something he no longer indulged. It seemed silly and childlike. Maybe Elena's tough exterior was rubbing off. Maybe he was kicking the dog, having been faced with Elena's detachment earlier in the week. In learning not to care about her, he was learning not to care about a lot of things.

"Toss 'em?" Cheryll's jaw hung unhinged. "You've got to be kidding... Never!"

"Fine. Do what you want." Seth disappeared into the sawdust-coated hallway and shuffled toward his room.

Cheryll and Troy shared exasperated smirks. The mutual understanding was that teenagers are a pain in the ass. Clearly Seth was 'too cool' now.

What they didn't understand was that it was much, much bigger than that.

* * *

That night Seth lay in bed, deep in slumber. But something awakened him suddenly-could have been the dull rustling of plastic tarps in the breeze. The sound was comforting somehow, the draft itself invisible but forceful enough to set the world in motion-the tarps, the gently swaying boughs of the elm trees beyond. Stars glowed in warm clusters between crooked branches, the plastic sheath diffusing them like a gossamer canopy.

All at once the wind swept up, as though animated by some human emotion, and tore a section of plastic from the newly-framed window. The tarp flapped wildly, taunting Seth with its stubborn persistence. The gentle breeze had been a hypnotic lullaby; this was a hostile gesture on nature's part.

Seth rose from his bed with a sigh, grabbing the roll of duct tape he kept handy for this very purpose. He would remedy the problem once and for all. When he arrived at the window, however, he froze. He'd no sooner reached out to clutch the offending corner of the tarp when the full moon caught his attention-enormous, almost within reach, and bathed in the fiery warmth of a hidden sun. The shimmering orange disc hung suspended just above the treetops, as if their very limbs were elevating it to the heavens.

Seth was transfixed.

The impression was poetic, no doubt. But more than that, it was beyond familiar. Seth just couldn't place it. Couldn't identify the corner of his soul at which it tugged. He returned to sleep, the image emblazoned on his mind.

* * *

Elena Gomez was talking smack with her homegirls. Whenever Ruben had business downriver, she would hang with them on the front retaining wall of Marshall High after school let out. They would smoke cigarettes, and it was overlooked by administration. Some of the parents would glare at them as they came and went to pick up their children, but the girls ate it up. It was on these days that Elena was free to walk home at a leisurely pace, rather than jumping into Juan's Mercedes like a captive.

Elena took a long hit off the Marlboro she'd been sharing with Maura. Through the smoke that curled from her nostrils, something caught her attention.

"I'm gonna hit it," she said, smashing the exhausted butt into grimy cement and hopping from the wall.

"Chill, Bitch," Maura tried to dissuade her. "We're right behind you..."

"I'm gonna walk home alone," Elena shot back, shaking her head. "I gotta think..."

Maura looked worried; they never let one of their own go it alone. Their enemies were not from Marshall High; whenever one of them was jumped it was by some chola from Emerson High across town. They were always on the prowl. But Elena was already booking it toward Hyperion.

Half a block later, out of view of the others, Elena caught up with Seth. It was he who had caught her eye.

"Hey," she said softly, before he'd noticed her.

"Hey," he said, hardly turning. But a contented smile crept across his face. Their pace synchronized.

"I'm sorry about the other day," Elena began. "I just-I had to take that call. We were in the middle of something..."

Seth bit his lip. He wasn't going to say it this time-that she deserved better. He was beginning to sound like a broken record. Besides, as long as she was coming around, he knew not to drive her away by pushing too hard. He'd just let her talk.

"It may seem like we fight a lot," she said at last. "But he really does care about me. We're good together."

Seth could feel more than see that Elena was looking at him as she strolled. "Walk home together? For old time's sake?"

Seth turned. It couldn't hurt to share a smile. Elena smiled back, tossed her hair. But it was a different hair toss than the one she shared with the Bitches. This one was for him.

The two could have walked home any way they chose. But something compelled them, without discussing it, to take Glendale Avenue Bridge-their old route from Allesandro Elementary. The slow, steady climb to its apex was all too familiar-every crack and divot and rusty splotch. Though their conversation was stilted, there was a familiar comfort in just being together.

Before they knew it they'd reached the apex, stood gazing out over the stone railing next to an antique lamppost. The L.A. Wash moved sluggishly below, flanked by concrete. The stagnant water was more choked with algae than Seth remembered, the graffiti as incessant as ever. Recent Mayan tags obliterated older ones, marking the eras like sediments in an archaeological dig. But as always, the Goddess remained untouched, memorializing the tragedy that marked Seth's entrance into the world. Directly beneath her watchful gaze he and Elena had named tadpoles, counted dragonflies, and raced frogs. This is what they would not speak about.

"My parents are in trouble..." Elena lamented instead, her eyes far, far away. "Their house painting business is failing."

Seth said nothing-wondered if this was some sort of rationale for the company she was keeping, for the life of crime that was Ruben's sole ambition.

"They've worked so hard, Seth." Here, she looked at him, and for the first time in a long time, Seth saw that the old Elena was still there.

"They came to this country with nothing. And they've done so well for themselves. But they're about to lose it all...and Papi's getting up there. I don't know what they're gonna do..."

Seth saw that she was genuinely concerned, that on top of everything else, she was burdened with anxiety no highschooler should bear.

"My uncle says the housing market's getting better around here," Seth assured her. "I'm sure things will change for them..."

"I hope so..." Her eyes remained fixed on some distant horizon. But ever so slowly, the anxiety was replaced with familiar contentment. Maybe it was just being there with Seth that did the trick; maybe it was the wind that moved through her hair, gently stirring locks of it like spun silk. Seth noted the way each strand danced about her face independently, animated by a common force.

"I've missed this..." he heard himself say.

She turned to face him. Surprisingly, rather than changing the subject, she smiled.

"Me, too..."

Without another word, the two turned, souls soaring in unison over the landscape below, taking it all in, expanding in the memory of something so vast and yet so familiar. Every scent that wafted from below brought with it an indefinable memory-the sunbaked concrete, the summery moss, the olfactory sweetness of wildflowers persisting in cement. The glint of every leaf trembling on the breeze rang strangely familiar, evoking no particular moment but a million indefinable ones-a sense of being there in that place called childhood, when the world was simpler. The moment expanded around them, devouring past and future, until time meant nothing. It could have been an eternity that they stood there together, or mere seconds. However long it was, the world disappeared. Her worries, his regrets, all the things that kept them apart. And yet somehow, Seth knew reality would come marching back. He would keep it at bay as long as possible.

In his reverie he was kissing her, right there on the bridge. Her full lips met his, wanted him as much as he wanted her. His fingers were in her hair, on the small of her back, pressing her tiny frame into his. Her ribcage was one with his, hearts beating as one. She pulled him to her, would have pulled herself into him if she could. It felt right being together in this way. Their long history, the shared magic of childhood-only fueled their connection, made it stronger. And the kiss was a promise. A promise that the bond would never be broken.

Suddenly, a wave of shouting and mayhem rose up from below, startling Seth back into the present. It was not coming from the wash, but from the park on Riverside Drive at the base of the bridge. As expected, the world had marched in, destroying the expansiveness of the moment.

"We'd better get home," Elena said regretfully.

Seth nodded. He knew they had no choice but to descend the far side of Glendale Avenue Bridge and return to the Silver Lake that was. To the new order.

But when they arrived, nothing about it was familiar. A restless crowd had gathered on Riverside Drive, where Glendale Avenue spilled out into a section of the park. The street had been barricaded for several blocks.

Without warning the two were swept up in a sea of protesters. They'd appeared from nowhere, or could Seth have been so taken by his glimpse of the old Elena that he'd failed to hear their cries? In a single breath the two were enveloped, consumed, torn from one another as if by riptides moving in opposite directions. The crowd was hostile, shouting and thrusting makeshift signs in the air.

"Relocation before Beautification!" they cried in unison.

"Relocation before Beautification!"

"Relocation before Beautification!"

Their collective voice was hypnotically repetitive.

"True beauty is humane!" A man with a bullhorn proclaimed.

Seth quickly lost sight of Elena, and with her any sense of up or down or right or left. He searched for his bearings; in doing so he caught a glimpse of what had started the commotion-what it was they were so vehemently protesting. A press conference was in precarious progress on a platform just above the writhing mass. Flanked by city officials and representatives of Vasquez Development, the mayor himself had unveiled his plans for the L.A. River Modernization Project. The Media were converged on the front lines, a forest of microphones clustered about the periphery of the stage. An enormous artist's rendering stood mounted on a wooden easel, depicting the future of the graffiti-strewn flood channel. In glaring contrast to the current state of affairs, the rendering revealed a utopian paradise, a vision of the future so idealized and sublime it seemed all but impossible. Instead of concrete slabs, sloping banks were capped with verdant grasses, the islands so meticulously landscaped they resembled Japanese Zen gardens. In the illustration, the channel had been widened, chain link and barbed wire extracted to allow access. There were bike paths and footpaths winding between neatly groomed knolls, park benches and geese and puffy, idyllic clouds scattered behind L.A.'s distinctive skyline.

Doesn't look so bad, Seth thought. What could they be protesting?

The present grittiness of the outdated wash appealed to Seth's as-yet unidentified sense of aesthetics, his flair for the authentic. But the ever-so-slightly-too-perfect vision displayed above had its own alluring charm.

"This area has been neglected for decades," a man's amplified voice rang out over the mayhem. "It's time to beautify our corner of Los Angeles!"

The man was handsome, clad in a double-breasted pinstriped suit, wavy hair silver at the temples and combed neatly into place. He appeared to be of Latin descent, leading Seth to presume the man was his uncle's future employer, Caesar Vasquez himself.

"You call displacing an entire community beautification?" a man cried out from the throng. A margin of police officers restrained the protesters a safe distance from the proceedings. The mayor smiled and took the microphone from Vasquez.

"After the conclusion of the press conference with our devoted media organizations, citizens will be given a chance to approach the mic and voice their questions and concerns in a civilized manner." For a moment, there was a lull in the clamor. The mayor pointed to a newscaster from one of the major networks.

"Mr. Mayor," she began, "the Modernization Project is meant to 'beautify' an area Mr. Vasquez a moment ago referred to as 'neglected.' Surely you are aware that it is also home to a great many of our homeless. Opponents of the development have said that the guise of 'beautification' is being used to justify the displacement of thousands of homeless currently populating the L.A. River. What would you say to those critics?"

The mayor cleared his throat, buying time to measure his words.

"The modernization project has been in development for ten years, with careful consideration given to its potential impact in all areas. As production approaches, we are meeting regularly with community outreach and charity organizations, human rights organizations, shelters and halfway houses to discuss alternative solutions for relocation of the considerable homeless colonies along the L.A. Wash."

The woman jumped in without hesitation. "Some would say those efforts are nothing more than PR. What specific alternatives are we talking about here?" The reporter was in attack mode.

The mayor paused once more to choose his words with diplomacy. A protester took the opportunity to fill the gap with rhetoric.

"Socio-economic cleansing!!" he cried.

"Heil Hitler!" another man chimed in.

"Heil Hitler! the crowd repeated.

"Heil Hitler!"

"Heil Hitler!"

Seth gulped. His uncle's involvement would surely put them in a much better position financially. But at what cost? Sure, Seth had become a local hero. But that could be undone at any moment.

All at once, the agitated crowd recommenced its march. Seth was carried along like flotsam on the tide. At last, he spotted Elena through a break in the crowd. She'd maneuvered through the volatile horde, stood surveying it from the fringes. Her face was wracked with anxiety.

"Elena!" Seth shouted. But his voice was drowned out by the cacophony of angry voices. Seth turned sideways, narrowing his mass, and began edging through the crowd.

"Elena!" he called again, drawing nearer to the clearing. Just a few more steps and...

As Seth broke from the crowd, a violent force intercepted him. Someone or some thing barreled from the periphery of his vision, completely unexpected. A single crushing blow sent him reeling, face-forward, into the pavement. A swift kick to the ribs, and then another, propelled him in corkscrew fashion away from the crowd to-God-knew-where. A narrow alley? In his state of delirium, all that registered were flashes of sky and then brick, then sky, and more brick. And of course, excruciating pain.

"Chill!" a voice commanded. At last Seth came to rest, world spinning around him, clouds above churning in nauseating cycles. At least whoever it was had stopped kicking him. Before he'd had time to catch his breath, he was seized about the neck and lurched to his knees.

A burly arm cut off his airway from behind and the ring of metal announced the cold blade that was pressed to his throat seconds later. Heart beating wildly now. Seth held his breath-not so much to prevent the blade from piercing his skin but because breathing proved excruciating, each inhalation a dagger of pain. Every last rib had been fractured; he was sure of it.

"Stay away from my woman," rasped a familiar voice. Seth's head was jerked back by the scalp, further exposing his throat. The words were hot and concentrated in his ear. "You got that, mestizo?"

Seth dared not move. As much as he wanted to hurl some heroic or defiant remark, he could do nothing but stare into the clouds stealing slow, steady breaths. In the periphery of his vision, dark figures stirred. Fellow Mayans. Some wore bandanas to mask their identity.

Seth's head was yanked further back-so far he thought his neck would snap-the cold blade pressed tighter against his flesh. "I said, you got that, coconut? Now, we ain't gonna tell you again..."

With that the blade was released, Seth's body flung in one fluid motion to the pavement at the feet of the Mayans. A few more swift kicks to the ribcage and they were gone. Their anonymous figures infiltrated the crowd and disappeared.

Seth gazed into the clouds between a dumpster and a fire escape. Slowly, slowly, his breath returned, sending oxygen to his brain. And with it, the world slowed its spinning, settling into something familiar. The horizon was askew, Seth's equilibrium not what it should have been, but even sideways he recognized what he was seeing through a break in the crowd: Juan's Mercedes pulled up to the curb. Elena had been abducted, gazed regretfully through the passenger window as the Mayans piled into the remaining seats. The car peeled away and was gone.

 

 

The Royal Trinity Copyright 2017. Dominick Domingo. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.   

 

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Author bio

In 1991, Dominick Domingo graduated with distinction from Art Center College of Design. As an Illustrator, he spent the 90's visually developing and painting production backgrounds for Lion King, Pocahontas, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Tarzan, Little Match Girl, and One by One. During this time he also illustrated books for Young Readers for Penguin, Random House, Lowell House, Disney Publishing, Hyperion Books, and Harcourt.

In the new millennium, Dominick redefined himself as a live-action filmmaker. His films have been well-received, garnering such accolades as 'Best Short Film- Palm Springs International Hispanic Film Festival,' and 'Best Director- Long Beach Q Film Festival.' Having sold two screenplays, Dominick decided to capitalize on a growing writing resume. At forty, (call it an acute awareness of his own mortality) he went on to pen a collection of Narrative Nonfiction essays titled "Jesus Shoes," which he has been performing in Spoken Word events around Los Angeles. Two selections from the collection have recently been included in anthologies.

The Nameless Prince represents Dominick's foray into Young Adult urban fantasy. He would be very happy to retire from illustration as a full-time author. He currently lives in Silver Lake, California, surrounded by hipsters.

TTB titles: The Nameless Prince
The Royal Trinity

Author web site.

 

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