by Pamela Ebel
Red Gentry pulled into the parking lot of the restaurant at 5:00 a.m. on the dot, smiling to note that he was, as always, the first one there. He parked in front of the building and revved the engine of his 1950 Indian Chief Black Hawk motorcycle. The sound vibrated the windows of the café, and the glass display case on the counter.
Gladys Clover lowered her head to hide a grin, as she straightened the plates in the case. Jorge Javier stepped away from a mix master the size of a small cement mixer, and peered around the door from the kitchen. He stared at the window, muttered ´Viejo loco´, crazy old man, and returned to the doughnut mixture he was preparing.
Red shut down the engine and climbed off the seventy-year-old motorcycle. A gift from his dad after his return from his final tour in Vietnam, Red had rebuilt the motorcycle with such success that it had led to his opening his own mechanical repair shop. If it had an engine and wheels Red Gentry could fix it. He could also build anything that included an engine and wheels.
It was late late October, a week from All Hallows Eve, and the weather had moderated to warm, fall days and plunging night time temperatures that created thick, Tule fog. It appeared out of nowhere to cover the roads like pea soup during the predawn hours. It was Indian summer in the San Joaquin Valley, the time of year Red loved best. As he watched the fog beginning to form in the field behind the building, he saw movement on the ground and what looked like red eyes glowing at him. The vision disappeared as Red started toward it. After another look, he shrugged and turned to entrance.
He thought of his dad as he stared at the neon sign blinking off and on in the window. Big Jack Gentry had brought his red haired son with him to the Bakersfield, California’s, landmark restaurant every Saturday morning from the time Red turned four until Red joined the Marines.
Purple neon letters bearing the name ´The Grape Vine Cafe´, surrounded by bright green grape leaves, hung in the window on one side of the door. The neon sign on the opposite side always made Red laugh.
Because some of the letters were burned out the sign reminded customers that “Fresh, Hot ……Nuts are served here!” The smell of grease frying made it obvious that fresh, hot doughnuts were served inside. When anyone asked owner Burl Carter why he didn’t replace the neon, he just shrugged and said, “Then people wouldn’t laugh.”
Red entered the dining room and smiled broadly at Gladys, who blushed and smiled back. He walked to the table he always sat at and watched as she brought him his coffee and a hot glazed doughnut.
“I see you are advertising the Annual Halloween/Dia de los Muertos party in ?Little Mexicali’. I guess Tank will have the usual crowd of Trick or Treaters and dancers. Are you going to it?”
“I hope to Red. I have to work Halloween Eve until 7:00. That will still give me time to get into my costume and go. What about you?”
“Well, if I don’t put in appearance Tank will be upset. I would be glad to pick you up and drive you over, but I promised him I would help set up the yard.”
“That’s alright. I would like to meet you there, though.”
“Then let’s consider it a date? Is that okay?”
Both had lost their spouses a few months apart. Since then, Red and Gladys had been dancing around a relationship for a long time. Jorge appeared from the kitchen with a tray of fresh jelly doughnuts and shook his head.
“If you don’t ask her out, someone else will take up her time Red. Like Bill Kern.” The cook set the tray down, looked at the two and then disappeared into the kitchen.
“Alright, I will see you on the 31st, Gladys, and we will call it a date!”
She was about respond when a horn honked as Tank Batson, Tyler Lewis, Ralph Owens and Chuck Castle pulled up in Tank’s new vehicle, the size of a small school bus.
Red and his four friends had played high school football together, and were known as Los Cinco Osos, the five bears. Tank’s vehicle offered a comfortable ride. The four men entered the café in a clatter of boots and wing tips, bolo ties, and Brooks Brothers suits. They exchanged banter with Gladys then joined Red at the table.
“I’m tellin’ you guys this article about Halloween really made me think. The writer says only the houses of rich people get haunted by ghosts and apparitions, like those over in Tejon Gardens! It makes me wonder why we don’t have any hauntings and ghosts around my neighborhood or downtown?”
Tank looked across the table at Tyler.
“Come on Tanker, what do we need with ghosts and haunted houses? Hell, there is enough of our own people in the city cemetery to fill the whole town with ghosts and witches, but who’s got time for that? And I live in Tejon Gardens and have never been haunted in my house! That’s why we pay for private security guards and gates!”
Tank worked with his father on the family sheep ranch, had married a local Mexican American girl and lived in the area known as ?Little Mexicali’.
Ralph ran a dry goods store that specialized in western gear, and lived in the old part of town. Chuck and Tyler had opted for law school, then returned to Bakersfield to work in the same firm and lived in the new, expensive, gated subdivision of Tejon Gardens.
Red, who lived outside the city limits on the small apple orchard his father had left him, watched his friends’ debate the merits of sightings of supernatural occurrences with amusement. Finally, he spoke.
“So, let me get this straight. Tank, you’re upset because only rich people get haunted. And Tyler, you don’t get haunted, even though you’re rich because of gates and private security guards?”
“Red don’t be ridiculous. First, Chuck and I are not rich, even though we live in Tejon Gardens and…”
“Wait a minute, Tyler.” Chuck looked around at the group. “You make it sound like we aren’t well off. I work hard for what I have. And those security guards keep us safe from everyone, including anything that would haunt us!”
Gladys came to the table and started to refill the coffee cups.
“Well boys it doesn’t matter if you got a little money or a lot of money. Because every year before Halloween and Dia de los Muertos the spirits send messengers to determine who has been good during the year. The messengers have many forms but the most important is Los Espiritu Perro, the Dog Spirit. If you see him, it means you get to live another year. I see him every year.”
She smiled and walked off.
Jorge brought out two more trays of doughnuts and gave them to Gladys. Then he walked over to the table where the five friends still argued about the virtue of being haunted.
“Please listen to me. Los Espiritu Perro can be very dangerous if you get too close. You get to live another year only if you see him and survive. Be very careful. He is big and can kill a man in a couple of bites.”
With that Jorge made the sign of the cross and disappeared back to the kitchen
After another thirty minutes on “Day of the Dead” issues Los Cinco Osos parted ways. Red returned to the orchard and checked in with Carmella Chavez who managed the produce business office.
“Carmella, what do you know about dog messengers for Dia de los Muertos?”
Her eyes grew large and she whispered as she looked around the room.
“The Spirit Dog roams our streets even now because it is only days from Halloween and the Day of the Dead, your All Saints Day. You must be careful Mr. Red.”
“I’m going to be working in my shop. I don’t want to be disturbed unless it’s an emergency. Have a good day.”
He parked the motorcycle in the garage next to the 1969 Trans Am he had rebuilt and headed to the workshop. Unlocking the door Red heard a sound and looked to see the Tule Fog spreading across the orchard. Seeing or hearing nothing further he turned and walked through the shop door.
“Los Espiritu Perro Appears in Local Streets of Bakersfield!”
There were numerous interviews with people all over old town and the newer subdivisions describing sightings of a huge dog figure appearing in the moonlit foothills right behind homes, and gliding above the ground down the streets.
Carmella Chavez related her experience.
“It was at least four feet tall and five feet long. It had bright red eyes that glowed and a giant mouth full of white teeth. And it had a deep growl.”
Gladys said the apparition had appeared on her lawn.
“It was like looking at the Hound of the Baskervilles.”
Tyler and Chuck were unnerved because the hound had been sighted in Tejon Gardens, having gotten through the gate and eluded their private security guards. Tank, on the other hand, insisted that the failure of the Spirit Dog to appear in “Little Mexicali” proved his point about poor people getting overlooked by the haunted world.
“Hell, Tank, how can any ghost, ghoul, dog or anything else get to your house with those three dead cars you have piled up in your yard? And that is not taking into account those two washing machines and the two canoes.” Chuck finished ticking off objects on both hands.
“Well, I’m working on all of those things. It’s a good side business. The city says it’s okay!”
“Well, I wouldn’t get too discouraged Tank. All Hallows’ Eve isn’t for three more days. That leaves plenty of time for the Ghost Dog to pay you a visit.” Red finished his coffee and stood up. “I’ve got to go. I’ll see you on Thursday and help you set up for the party.”
On Thursday evening, October 31, at 6:00 everyone was gathering on Tank’s front lawn, where the dead cars were filled with costumed Calaveras and images of La Catrina. The two washing machines had been put to good use, filled with ice and cerveza, tequila, and other adult beverages in one and soft drinks in the other. The Mariachi Band played traditional Mexican music and all were dancing in their costumes.
“I know you will get a visit Tank. I hear the dog is an equal opportunity haunter.” Tyler slapped his friend on the back as the others laughed.
The Osos stood by the beer washer drinking Dos Eques and looking at the crowd enjoying the party. Red saw Gladys approaching and pulled a Bud Light out of the washing machine.
“Oh! You have my favorite beer. How great.”
“I don’t remember buying Bud.”
Tank looked at the beer, then at Gladys and then at Red.
“I decided since the lady provides us with the best coffee in town that I should provide her with her favorite drink.”
He and Gladys exchanged smiles and clinked beer bottles.
“Oh, Red, I meant to say something as soon as I saw you. The parking lights are on in the Trans Am.”
“I have been having some kind of a wiring issue. Thanks Gladys. I’ll walk down the block and turn them off. Be back shortly.”
Red ambled toward his car as the music turned to a Spanish version of ‘Louie, Louie’ and everyone was up and moving. He checked the street to be sure there was no one near and chuckled as he opened the trunk to play his final Halloween joke on his friends and towns people.
To his surprise and dismay, Red’s carefully constructed Los Espiritu Perro lie in pieces on the floor. Its wheels were flat; the motor that Red had built to carry the dog figure through the streets was disassembled and the large body and head were missing the black fur he had applied so carefully and the control box was missing. He turned to scan the perimeter to find the culprit who had ruined his creation but saw no one.
Suddenly he heard yelling and saw one of Tank’s granddaughters pointing to the back yard.
“Papi, Papi, look! Los Espiritu Perro!”
Taking one more look at his destroyed creation, Red ran back to Tank’s house and joined the crowd that peered at the small foot hill that abutted the back yard. At the top stood a huge, furry apparition, four feet tall with a long tail and glowing red eyes. He looked down on the group staring up and growled low and long. Then Tule fog appeared and the Perro disappeared.
From the front yard came more yelling and the crowd backed up as the Hound glided down the street toward them, surrounded in Tule fog. It stopped, howled loudly and bared its large, white teeth and fangs. It growled again and its red eyes glowed as it scanned the group. When it spotted Red it nodded, grinned at him and giving one more growl disappeared into the fog.
Everyone stood in silence staring at the street. Then the band started playing and everyone began to dance, having decided that it was part of the show. Everyone, except the Osos.
“Did you plan this so you could claim poor people get haunted too?”
Tyler glared at Tank as he straightened his owl mask. Chuck and Ralph continued to look at the fog still drifting down the street where the beast had fled. Tank was hopping up and down.
“It was here, Red. La Espiritu Perro. The Ghost Dog came here. Everyone saw it! A haunting. I finally have a haunting in a poor part of town.”
“Yeah Hank. I saw it. I don’t think you are poor anymore.”
While his friends continued to argue whether the apparition had been real or not, Red walked up to Gladys.
“Would you like to come over to my house for a Halloween drink and a quiet visit?”
Gladys smiled brightly.
“I would love to.”
When they reached Red’s car, he took one more look around the street.
“Tell me truthfully, Red, did you create a Ghost Dog as a joke on your friends? I know you could build something like that with your eyes closed.”
He took one quick look at the mechanical dog lying in pieces in the trunk and closed the lid hard and smiled.
“Sometimes a little mystery is a good thing on Halloween.”
They laughed, got in the car and pulled away from the curb. As the Trans Am accelerated the lid to the trunk rose a foot. Two bright red eyes peered out of thick black fur and white teeth grinned as a long, low growl escaped. The Tule fog rose, engulfing the car and the Hound of Bakersfield.
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