Jenna Putnam

Topanga Fire

Short Story — Some people are crazy enough to follow their dreams…

Brent L. Smith
Jul 17, 2020 · 10 min read

Idy wanted to call it OPERATION: STAR CRAWL. Valissa thought it sounded too menacing. Cal said nothing, his hand gripped firmly on the wheel, smirking under his dark shades.

“Our Vision is not one of menace…” Val preached as they roared down the California desert highway in the stolen mustard yellow ’69 Chevelle with the soft top down. “Not entirely anyway…” she continued, “Our goal, sister, is one of metacognition… mnemonic witchcraft… dissolving the māyā of dichotomy… we shall remind the People of what they already know.”

Val was always talking like that, but now it was more than ever. Like, they actually went through with it. Life is different — that is, mutates beautifully — when you no longer have dreams to dream, because you are the dream, and all you have is the road now. The road and your two best friends, lovers, kindred, whatever…screaming and ecstatic hair tossing to loud rock ’n’ roll (so loud the oncoming cars you play chicken with hear the shrill guitar distortion zoom by leaving those good, poor drivers terrified and crying and searching frantically to alert highway authorities that are never there).

Those Magickal 3 — The UnHoly Trinity — Valissa, Caleb, and Idy.

Cal liked to drive, he was good at it, you could tell as soon as he gripped the wheel. He was born into SoCal autopia. Tropical short shorts, no shirt, muscular and dark bronze, vampiric black hair — embodying an earthly boyishness TV could never replicate.

Val sat pretty, blonde and long-legged, slumped in cutoff denim and a bikini top in the passenger seat. L.A. native olive skin forever impervious to the desert UV, cruel snake fang necklace dangling over her sternum, naked toes licking 90mph wind.

Jenna Putnam

Idy was always in the back, handling their stolen cash and trinkets, or sharpening serrated Buck knives when she wasn’t sketching charcoal moths with red eyes in her diary. Her dirty blonde hair was blue today. “What color should it be tomorrow?” she piped to Val, tossing her faded black Ozzy shirt in the empty seat next to her as she flashed passing cars, hands wrapped in cigarette smoke, hot skin sticking to old vinyl upholstery.

They were growing more human than human. They had finally killed their phones. Like a dirty habit — a junky reflex — Val, Idy, and Cal’s hands kept reaching for phones that were no longer there — images of feminine hands busting LCD screens against jagged desert rock — smashing circuitry with pistol butts — dead machines tell no tales. Their hands kept reaching, finding nothing but each other. They held hands a lot out in that desert from which humanity had divorced itself — that desert which cultivates everything gross and unfamiliar to the human world they grew up in. There was nothing human out in that desert, only humanity’s aliened Other: Nature.

In their attempted communion with the elements, they had each other. One times three is three. Hand in hand. Together.

It was an odyssey a long time coming, though none of them ever thought it would. Val always talked of abandoning everything, stretching the road as far as they could, hunting the horizon, terrorizing the Betweenvilles of This Land — Destiny Manifested and all — and seeking Desert Truth. The vultures and the bones and the caves and the sand whispering what the Elders knew — coveted secrets of the earth.

Jenna Putnam

No more than an existential pipe dream. Just keep your nose down, kid, and stick to your midterms. All until Val finally dropped the match that put the whole shithouse up in flames.

One night, in a waking dream, trance, reverie… Baphomet came to her.

Valissa sprung out of a dead sleep, disarmed by the visitation, the alien presence in the childhood bedroom of her Pacific Palisades home. The glass of the panoramic windows that framed the midnight ocean crashing below faded slowly to black, like a dimmer switch, erasing the outside world.

Its visage materialized. The visitor. She gripped her covers. She could make out the silhouette of a towering satyr at the foot of her bed, oozing its hermaphroditic energy. In an instant nothing existed, only Val and the infamous archetype.

Baphomet spoke, booming in a monotonic godhead voice, “Your… civilization….”

The voice rattled her bones. At first, she recoiled in horror, terrified to move or speak. Everything dark and vacuous — the kind of deafening black found in caves. Not even the safe, familiar sound of the tide filled Val’s ears, the way it always had.

“Your civilization…” the voice continued, “is based upon its inherited… symbolic… templates.”

Val sat up, surprised by her own courage and lucidity. The horned figure drew closer to her, standing stark naked, as unabashed as a marble statue. It continued, “By using them… you develop along the paths that… others desire.”

The visitation read like a scolding, a cosmic assassination. It kept saying “you.” But had Val done wrong? Was this entity here to drag her away to some awful perdition?

“You are glorious…” it rang again, “…and sanctified.”

In an instant she calmed — her breath fizzed outta her like a popped bicycle tire — realizing that “you” was addressing the species — humanity — not just Val. She was being given a message. Its intrinsic meaning slowly deciphered in the soup of her mind.

“You are glorious… and sanctified.”

The apparition dematerialized, vanishing as quickly as it had appeared, and spacetime resumed its normality. Her windows turned back to transparent glass. The sounds of the crashing ocean returned. For the first time Val felt connected — of the living.

After an eternity of more silence, solitude, nothing but the moon and the in-and-out flow of the tide….

She picked up her phone and dialed Idy. “It’s time,” she avowed.

Idy froze on the other end of the line, “You’re serious…. So soon?”

“You don’t understand. We’ve abused our human incarnation long enough,” Val was direct, unassailable — her command droning true like the trumpets of Jericho. Old Baphomet must’ve rubbed off. “Meet me out front. It’s time…”

Idy relented (something she only did with Val). “I don’t have to understand. I’m your Angel of Death, lover. I’ll be there. Let’s get the fuck outta dodge.”

Val hung up and got an immediate text from Cal: [is it time, love?]

Val: [sweet boy. my darling. so intuitive. ur sisters are coming for u xx]

The smell of sweet benzene soaked the walls and carpets of Val’s childhood Palisades home — void of her parents, who were ghosts anyway. Idy had appeared in the driveway like a banshee (a ghost you could count on). She stood there smiling with her tongue in her teeth — bare legs, Doc Martins, and a long black hoodie like a dress — holding two rusty gas cans. Like bandits in the dark they doused everything inside the sleepy, cliff-side home, trailing the last drops into the garage.

“This home is gallery to many masks,” Val proclaimed to the ӕther as they hopped into the family Mercedes SUV G550. Idy revved it in reverse, pulling it backward down that long driveway, winding it up like a slingshot. The raw ocean air chilled the blood and cooled any emotional spikes. Their hearts pulsed steady — beat… beat… beat — and their minds sharpened.

“It is time to exercise our tabula rasa. My sister, my lover,” Val leaned over and kissed Idy in the driver’s seat, tasting her lips sweet, before stepping out of the car. “I hereby cleanse this house. Liberation from its times of yore.”

Idy wedged a brick on the gas pedal — spastic RPMs, smoking rubber in place. Cracked nail polish hands dropped the shifter and POP! went the parking brake. The Mercedes screamed into the night, roaring back toward the garage, slamming into the exposed water heater and — BOOOOMMMMMM!!!!!!!!

It was the warm on their faces Val and Idy felt first, before the blast knocked them off their feet and on their backs. They laughed like hyenas once they caught their breath, getting back to their feet and darting like coyotes into the darkness, away from the growing fire that consumed Val’s home and began eating everything in its path.

They ran a few streets over through heavy brush. “Over here!” Val yelled. “This is Stevie’s house.”

Idy squealed, “No shit?!”

The fire was growing, illuminating the black street. Everything was golden in the eyes of the girls.

“What are we doing at Mother Nicks’ place anyway?” Idy asked.

“Stealing her Chevelle, of course,” Val chirped back. “Get going on the hot-wire, and toss me your switch.”

Idy flipped her blade, fiddled with the car door of the mustard yellow ’69 Chevelle, finally opening it. She chucked the blade over to Val who ran the front door of the Nicks estate.

The cliffs of the Palisades were burning all to hell and Idy’s bare legs were sticking out of the opened driver’s side door of the vintage whip as she worked the wires under the steering wheel.

Val stuck the blade into the oak of the massive door. Ravenously she carved half a heart, down to the bottom. Then back up to the top. She stuck the door again, manically carving the other half of the heart, down to the bottom. She kissed it and ran back to Idy.

“Got it!” Idy shouted. The Chevelle roared. Val jumped through the rolled-down passenger window. The girls tore out of the driveway in reverse and screeched off, up PCH. They crossed Temescal Canyon and headed for Cal’s house.

Jenna Putnam

They reached his driveway, skidding to a halt. Idy left the car running and they both hopped out the windows. The fire had followed them, eating its way into Topanga Canyon.

Val could already hear the yelling from inside the house. Cal’s mother screamed at him as he threw as much stuff into a duffle bag as he could. Val and Idy rushed into the bedroom, and the tension peaked.

“¡¿Estas son tus putas?!” the mother screamed, pointing at the two girls.

“Mom, stop it! Just let me go! You don’t understand — ” Cal pleaded.

“¡Nada de esto le pertenece a ti!” she ripped Cal’s bag out of his hands, throwing his stuff all over the room, trashing everything.

“Mom, stop it! Why are you doing that?! Don’t do that!” Cal pleaded, on the verge of tears.

“¡Mocoso Malcriado!” she screamed as she slapped Cal’s baby face.

Enraged, Idy pulled out her snub-nosed, stainless steel .38 (that her mother left for her in the will), cocked back the hammer, and pointed it dead at La Madre’s face.

“NO!!” Val screamed. She slapped Idy’s hand down, and, in one quick motion, grabbed the gun from her and pistol-whipped Cal’s mother in the face, knocking her out cold.

Val turned back to Idy, “We. Don’t. Kill.”

They rushed outside to the idling Chevelle. Cal saw the fires coming for his home and every home around it. He shuttered. “I dreamt this.”

They piled into the Chevelle and Idy drove them up to a highpoint on a bluff where the fire and the distant carnage was reduced to mere fireplace ambiance. Val and Idy slid into the backseat with Cal. They relaxed for an instant. Val took Idy’s blade and motioned for Idy to give Val her hand. Val took Idy by the wrist and cut deep across her palm.

“Fuck,” Idy winced.

Val then handed the blade to Idy. Idy took Cal by the hand and sliced. Cal moaned in pain. He took the blade from Idy. He looked deep into Val’s eyes and she smiled as he cut into her palm.

They joined their slashed hands, squeezing the blood and pain into harmony.

Val preached, “Melissa now gives birth to Valissa, Mother… Chris now gives birth to Caleb, Son… Edie now gives birth to Idy, Holy Spirit. These three epithets, these new holy names, make up the Triumvirate — we are the Trinity. And I love you both.”

“We shall unlearn all,” Cal meditated.

Idy’s eyes began to well up. Cal’s childhood home was about to burn away into ash — like Val’s — and soon Idy’s, purging it and her of past transgressions, karma, and negative patterns. (The Bank had already gotten to it months earlier, with her mother found drowned in the bathtub the day the repo men came to evict them. Idy was in class at the time. Soggy pills and empty booze bottles surrounded the claw-foot tub. Her mother died a delinquent. Idy was left homeless.) It was fire that was in her eyes now. “We did it,” Idy cried, grateful and loving, a rare moment for her. They hugged.

They each kissed the other on the lips. “Peace be with you,” they repeated.

After giving birth to the Great Fire of Topanga — flames devouring the road behind them — they burned rubber tires across the highway snake, disappearing east into the California desert. Ad infinitum. The open road — King Lizard — unhinged its jaws and swallowed them whole.

Jenna Putnam

Narrated by Jasmine Poulton

“Sundays” Journal

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Brent L. Smith

Written by

Writer 💀 Fiction/Nonfiction

“Sundays” Journal

Poetry as transcribed by those a part of the “Sundays” community of L.A.

Brent L. Smith

Written by

Writer 💀 Fiction/Nonfiction

“Sundays” Journal

Poetry as transcribed by those a part of the “Sundays” community of L.A.

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