Excerpts from Trespassing Through The Visages

Select Excerpt


The Vactor brothers scouted some homes, stealthily shooting glances through windows and detecting occupants. It seemed that most if not all residents in the area had planned for their apartments to be occupied.

Not yet settled on the next move, they continued to sleep in the car.

This night was not easier. Even with the driver seat in the recline position, Billy had difficulty sleeping. In between empty dream states, he remembered...

Being seventeen. Living in Maple Grove, Minnesota. Sitting on the couch and skimming through notes in a three-ring binder. Louis at fifteen, eating spaghetti at the dining table. The kitchen, the dining room, and the living room essentially feel like one room.

“Louis,” their mom says. “We’re not starting until your dad wakes up.”

“If I know my dad, he’s never gonna wake up. Might as well start now.”

“That’s rude. Why don’t you take out the trash for now like I told you?”

“Mom!” He lets go of the fork, letting it fall into the noodles and make a clang against the plate. “I'm eating! I don't wanna think about garbage when I'm eating!”

“Can you take it out when you're done?”

“I was GOING to, but now it'll be much later!”

“Louis. Right when you finish.”

“But I took out the trash last month!”

“Ugh,” Billy says, slamming his binder shut and standing up. He sets the binder on the coffee table. “I'll take it out.”

Their mom smiles at him. The smile fades when she returns her gaze to Louis.

“There,” she says. “See that? He's been getting A's, but you've been dropping to C's. What's the problem?”

“Stop it, Margaret,” Louis says.

“That’s not how you address your mother!”

“You’re right about that,” Louis replies with conviction.

Billy removes the bag of trash from the can and pulls it out. Looking at the hook on the wall, he grabs the mail key. He walks toward the front door.

“Can you open the door for your brother?” his mom asks Louis.

“Yes. I can.” Louis simply continues to sit still.

“Come on. Get up and open the door for him.”

Louis sits still.

“Very funny, little literal boy,” she says. “Open it for him.”

Billy looks at the door, which is slightly open and slowly swinging inward. He reaches for the knob.

“I got it.”

His mom arches an eyebrow.

“Is someone outside?”

“I don’t see anyone.”

“Did either of you leave the door open? That’s how you let flies in.”

“Don’t,” Louis says. “Don’t talk about bugs while I’m eating.”

Billy makes his way through the doorway, using a free hand to close the door behind him.

“I’m just saying we need to keep the door closed,” he hears his mom say. “Wouldn’t want cockroaches getting in here.”

As he closes the door fully, Billy hears a plate shattering, and the yelling that follows confirms it is Louis’ doing.


“Louis, clean this shit up! You got sauce all over the floor!”

“All the better to feed your precious roaches you love talking about!”

Billy freezes for a moment. Part of him wants to go back inside and try to be the diplomat. But he is too hesitant to get in the middle of the argument. And with the bag full of trash in his hands, he has a job to do.

He walks down the stairs, dragging the bag behind him. When he arrives at the dumpsters, he sees that the gate to them is locked. Wringing both hands around the bag’s orifice, he swings the bag over the gate, letting it fly into a dumpster.

Billy then walks over to the mailboxes, unlocking the one for his family’s unit. He takes out four envelopes, which are all from colleges spamming future college students. One of the schools is Dry Heat University.

Shuffling through the mail, he stands still for a moment, not wanting to get in the middle of the ugly conflict upstairs. But he knows that he must return. He guesses that he has been outside long enough for the arguing to subside. With the envelopes in his hand, he closes the mailbox.

Billy walks back up the stairs. Reaching the top, he opens the door.

He drops the key and the envelopes when he sees what is going on at the dining table: Mom’s hands wringing around Louis' neck.

“Stop!” Billy yells, running over to the scene.

He tries pulling on his mom’s arm, but her hand slaps him across the face. He falls to the floor. Looking up, he sees his mom’s face, her eyes wide and her lips zipped tight in an expression resembling rage.

Billy gets up and grabs a knife from the counter. He runs over and stabs her in the arms. And then, losing control of his actions, he shoves the blade into her throat. Louis looks shocked as their mother falls backward, her back sliding against the wall below the window.

Their father emerges from his room and walks in on the scene. He cups his mouth with both hands.

“What did you do?”

Billy drops the knife.

“She was hurting Louis.”

“It's true!” Louis says. “She got mad at me.”

“No, no, no.”

He reaches into his pocket.

“Dad, don’t,” Billy says as his father scrambles to turn on his flip phone.

His father’s fingers linger and hover over the numbers. Louis picks up the knife and pushes it through the father's throat.

“Leave Billy alone!” Louis cries.

Phone falling out of his hand, Benjamin Vactor’s body drops to the floor.

“Louis!” Billy yells. “What've you done?”

“I'm sorry,” Louis says, tears appearing in his eyes. “I didn't want him to take you away. Billy...” Louis sinks to his knees. “I don't wanna go to jail.”

Billy does not want to believe what has just happened. But he sees the evidence of death before him. He wants to tell someone about their mother trying to strangle Louis. But he knows that they would likely not be let off the hook regarding the fate of their father. He does not believe that Louis could survive on his own behind bars. A suggestion escapes Billy’s lips.

”We'll run.”


“Just you and me. Nobody else matters. We only trust each other.”



Louis is silent for a moment before responding.

“You’re right. Ben and Margaret, they’re not our parents. They’re gone. It’s just us.”

Billy turned to the seat beside him. He did a double-take when he noticed that Louis was gone. Billy looked at the backseats. Nothing.

He flinched when the door next to the front passenger seat swung open. It was Louis. He seated himself and closed the door.

“Where'd you go?” Billy asked.

“I had to take a shit.”

“Where did you go, Louis?”

“Don't worry about it.”

Though he did not press any further, Billy worried about it.


Ali, still dressed in her typical ensemble, parked her RV in the driveway of the one-story house. When she got out, she was greeted by her sister-in-law Mel, who shook her head with her arms crossed. But there was a hint of a smile.

“Now, I know you didn’t call ahead of time,” Mel said. “Charlie would’ve told me.”

“Heh,” Ali responded, opening her arms wide. Mel uncrossed her arms and hugged Ali. “How are you all holding up?”

“If what happened is still bothering Liam, he’s good at hiding it. Charlie’s still beating himself up over the whole thing, though.”

“Doesn’t surprise me. When we were kids, he felt so sorry when I stepped on a toy block he’d forgotten to clean up. You got anything to eat?”

“Did you not get anything on the way here?”

“Of course, I did. But I finished it. That was then, and this is now.”

Mel rolled her eyes.

“Come on.”

They went inside and entered the kitchen, where Mel’s brother-in-law Riccardo was cooking salmon and mashed potatoes.

“Oh wow,” he said. “Didn’t know you were coming over.”

“None of us did,” Mel explained. “Is the food almost ready? Ali’s hungry.”

“Oh. Well if Ali’s hungry, I guess I have to speed it up.” Riccardo chuckled. “Almost done. But you can try the fridge if you’d like. Just don’t eat my turkey sandwich. I’m saving that for lunch tomorrow.”

“Why does everyone think I’m trying to eat their lunches?”

When Ali sifted through the fridge, she was pleased to find a plum. She took a bite, revealing the red within. When there was nothing left but the core, she tossed it into the trash can and then took the pickle jar out of the fridge. There was only one pickle spear left, floating in the green liquid. She removed the lid, and then she noticed Mel’s sister Kara entering the room. Kara looked at Ali, and then at Mel.

“You didn’t tell me she was coming.”

“I didn’t know.” Mel shrugged.

“Food’s done!” Riccardo said. “Now let’s set up the table out back.”

“Okay if I finish this?” Ali asked, pointing at the pickle jar.

“All right, go ahead,” Riccardo said. “Just dump out the juice when you’re done. We found out Liam now has a habit of drinking it.”

“I don’t know where he got it from,” Mel said.

As the others made their way to the backyard, Ali finished the vegetable and then drank the juice from the jar. Then she noticed a moving shape in her peripheral vision.

“Aunt Ali!”

Ali started coughing through the final gulp. When she caught her breath, she spoke to Liam.

“You didn’t see that,” she said. “And don’t surprise people like that. I could’ve choked to death.”

“Sorry,” her nephew said. “Guess I have a habit.”

“It’s okay. Don’t sweat it on the pickle juice.”

“I meant surprising people by the fridge.”

“Oh.” Ali set the empty jar on the counter. “Right. Do you still think about that night?”

“Every day since then. I try not to. But then I wonder if I might remember something important. But I never remember anything new.”

“Any info you’ve given already is helpful enough. We know who these guys are, and they’re gonna be taken down. I promise. Okay?”


Ali grabbed what she assumed to be a cheese slice, but it was actually a flat square-shaped rock.

“What the heck? Is this some game that your generation is doing, replacing cheese with rocks?"

“I have no idea what's with that,” Liam said, sounding honest. “Grant bit into a rock he thought was cheese by accident. Long story short, the Tooth Fairy left five bucks under his pillow.”

“I've heard of the Rock playing the Tooth Fairy, but this is ridiculous.”

“You’re telling me. Grant tried haggling for ten, but the Tooth Fairy didn’t grant his wish. Get it? Because his name is Grant?”

“I sure hope you can get grants if you ever go to college. Where can I find your dad?”

“Over here. He’s been playing with us.”

Liam guided Ali to his cousin Grant’s room, where he and Charlie were playing a car racing video game. With his shoes in the corner of the room, Charlie was wearing his favorite blue plaid shirt, as well as his slightly faded black jeans. And, of course, the digital watch.

“Beat you again!” Grant announced, smiling with a noticeable gap in his teeth.

“Dang,” Charlie said. “You’re really good at this. You and your mom. Either it runs in the family, or I’m terrible at this.”

“Maybe both,” Grant replied with a snicker.

“All right, wise guy.”

“Dad,” Liam said.

Charlie turned his head and did a double take when he noticed Ali. She gave him an awkward wave, and then turned to examine a framed puzzle hanging on the wall next to her. It depicted a wolf in a snowy setting beneath a full moon.

“Nice work on this,” Ali said.

“Thanks,” Grant said. “It’s not really finished, though. If you look closer, there’s a piece that my grandma cut out from the cover of the original box. We couldn’t find the missing piece. Maybe the Puzzle Fairy took it.”

“Hm.” Ali focused in on the details and noticed the piece of wolf fur that, while fitting for the setting, was clearly different in texture. She turned to them with a smile. “I would never have noticed.”

“Why are you here?” Charlie asked.

“To tell you that the food’s ready.”

They all joined the rest of the family in the backyard. Riccardo gave his pre-meal spiel.

“Remember to chew thoroughly. Need I remind you that the lowest point of my bland bachelor life was when I almost choked to death on raw pork on Valentine’s Day?”

“No pork stew on the menu, then?” Ali quipped.

Riccardo pointed his tongs in Ali’s direction and clicked them.

“You joke, but I’ve cut pork out of my diet entirely. Not partially.”

“You used to be so partial to park,” Mel responded.

“Great salmon!” Grant said with his mouth full.

“Thanks, but chew, and don’t chat while you chow. I swear, I don’t know where you kids pick up these habits.”

After the meal and some conversation about Ali trying out for a hockey team and waiting to hear back, Ali brought Charlie aside to a corner of the backyard while the rest of the family continued to chat.

“Any idea when you’re all heading back home?” Ali asked.
“Well, since it's summer break, there's no rush. Kara and Riccardo understand. We really had to push to let them allow us to contribute. They’re too nice to us for their own good.”

“Do you think you'll feel ready to go back home anytime soon?”

“If it were just me, then maybe. But Mel and I... We have Liam. He was a real game-changer when he came into this world.”

“Like when the first Nintendo came out.”

“Huh? Sure, I guess. I mean, no doubt about that. Odd analogy, though.” Charlie looked back at the table, where Liam and Grant were laughing about something. “Man. Having a kid really forces you to keep your guard up. I don't want anything to happen to him... What really brings you here, Ali?”

”Well, Mom and Dad's moving day is coming up. And they said they wanted help moving their stuff. I said I could help, and they were wondering if you could, too.”

Charlie faced Ali again.

“My help?”

“They do have a lot of stuff.”

“True. They still have that piano?”

“Why the hell wouldn't they?”

“Yeah, you're gonna need my help. When's the moving day?”

“Couple days.”

“That's sooner than I thought. Wasn't it gonna be next week?”

“I thought so. But they got their dates mixed up.”

“Kinda weird you didn’t mention it when we were eating.”

“Mom and Dad always told me not to talk with my mouth full. I was being polite just this once. Plus, it’s kind of a huge ask to unload in front of everyone, before asking you privately. Didn’t wanna make it awkward.”

“You couldn't have let me know sooner?”

“Hey, you know how Mom and Dad are. I found out pretty much right before taking this trip. And I did drive here, didn't I? So, I'm saving you some of the work.”

“But you couldn't have called first?”

Ali smiled and shrugged.

“Wasn't sure you'd agree unless I came here. And I really don't wanna do this by myself.”

“So, we'd have to leave soon?”

“Pretty much.”

Charlie sighed. He took a long blink, and then answered.

“All right. Let me talk to Liam and Mel.”

Charlie returned to the table. Liam and Grant were now absent, but all the adults were still seated.

“What's up?” Mel asked.

“Hey, so, Ali says that Janet and Marty are having their moving day in a couple days, and they'll need my help.”

“Why so short notice?”

“You know them. Ali would be driving me there and back. Is that okay with you?”

“I mean, I guess. Your parents really need help, right? They’ve got a lot of stuff.”

“Right. I just don’t want you thinking...”

“Charlie, come on. How long have we known each other?”

Charlie smiled.

“All right. Where's Liam?”

“Grant’s room,” Kara answered.

“Playing video games again, of course,” Riccardo said.


Charlie walked over to Grant's room and knocked on the door.

“Come in,” Grant said.

“How you guys doing?” Charlie asked.

“Pretty good,” Grant said, playing as a character in a medieval fantasy game Charlie did not recognize. “We finally finished a sidequest.”

“Great. Can you pause for a sec?”

They paused the game. Charlie had his mouth open for a moment, thinking that the words would just come out naturally. But his gaze shifted to the desk in the corner by the window. On top of it was a 3D metal puzzle kit of a hamburger-shaped ship from their favorite space franchise. Grant had given it to Liam as a gift a few days earlier. Grant had said that 3D puzzles were not really his thing. But knowing Liam’s tastes in movies, he thought his cousin might appreciate it.

“Wanna work on this kit, Liam?” Charlie asked. “I have a great feeling about it.”

Liam looked at Grant.

“Go ahead,” Grant said. “I’ll be catching up on Nessie’s Sleeplessness Listening Podcast. They’re talking about another new horror novel.”

“Quite a mouthful for a podcast name,” Charlie said.

Taking the kit to the more spacious den, Charlie and Liam followed the kit instructions. Charlie decided that it would benefit them to use tweezers and nose-needle pliers to bend the ship pieces into shape once they were removed from the metal sheets. For a little while, there was only talk about the instructions. But then Liam broke the ice.

“How long are you gonna be gone?”

Charlie glanced at his digital watch, then forgot the time on it as soon as he looked away. Returning his gaze to the kit pieces, Charlie exhaled through his nose. He did not even feel the need to ask Liam how he figured it out.

“Aunt Ali told me Grandma and Grandpa need help moving some stuff into their new house. I have to leave tonight if we're gonna make it, but I'd be back by the end of the week.” He made eye contact with his son. “Would you be okay with that?”

Liam did not answer right away.

“Will you be safe?” he finally asked.

“Yeah. I'd be safe. You wouldn't need to worry about anything happening to me.”

“You promise?”

“Yeah,” Charlie said without hesitation. “I promise.”


By the time their session ended, Charlie’s fingertips were sore. The ship was only three fourths of the way complete. Charlie wished that they could have completed it, but he could tell that Liam lost some interest after he broke the news.

Later that night, when it was time for Ali and Charlie to depart, they said their goodbyes to the rest. Charlie put on his gold wheat hiking boots for the trip. His son gave him a hug, and then gave one to Ali. Charlie overheard his son’s whisper to her.

“Please bring him back safe.”

“I will,” Ali whispered.

Mel walked up to Charlie. They said nothing but a kiss, which was everything that needed to be said. As they exchanged one last long look before the departure, Charlie put on his dark gray newsboy cap. He then followed Ali into the RV, and they drove off.


Far from Earth, on the arm of another spiral galaxy, there was a planet: Paw. Around it orbited five moons, unexplored by the inhabitants below. On the planet itself, there were civilizations comparable in modernity to those of early 21st century Earth. The same types of environments found on Earth could be found on Paw, though the oceans themselves were seldom explored by surface dwellers, as the waters were inhabited by amphibious people known as the Krowkivors. They kept their distance from the surface dwellers known as the Zuffners, and the Zuffners returned the favor. Whenever Zuffners traveled on watercrafts, they stayed on top of the water, not going deep enough to disturb the Krowkivors.

The Zuffners themselves were like humans in terms of their physiology. However, their bodies were covered in multi-colored fuzz. From far away, an outsider might mistake the fuzz of a Zuffner's hands or face for their actual skin, or even body paint. One could even mistake them for human-sized puppets.

In one of these Zuffner houses, in a desert town called Murky, there was a boy named Witner Spadaraci. The fuzz on him was primarily aquamarine, but with purple spots. He also had poofy orange hair on top of his head. He lived peacefully with his parents, who gave him more changes of clothes than he needed even at such a young age. But then, at age five, the boy lost all memories of the first five years of his life. His parents were concerned, but they did not love him any less. Even at a young age, he understood that he could be open with them.

At age six, he still used a night light, because he had told them that he feared the dark.

“Sometimes I see a face in the dark,” he told them, his hands gripped on the edge of his blanket. His parents stood beside the bed. “I guess I imagine it. But I don’t know why I imagine it.”

“Is it a face you recognize?” his mother, Zamorp Spadreeka, asked. She was primarily purple, with green triangles, as well as wavy navy blue hair on top of her head.

“No,” Witner responded. “I don’t remember seeing that face before. It doesn’t look like anything from this world. And I haven’t seen it in a movie.”

”What does it look like?” his father, Linzoll Qitaraci, asked. He was primarily green, with yellow trapezoids, as well as spiky pink hair.

“I don’t remember any colors,” Witner said. “Just shapes. A pointy chin and sharp teeth. And sometimes there’s a floating face. It smiles, but with no teeth. Or eyes.”

“Are they the same face?” his dad asked.

“I can’t tell. Sometimes they feel the same, and sometimes they feel like two. But both of them scare me.”

“Do they ever say anything?” his mom asked.

“No. And I feel like I can’t ask them what they want. I can’t talk to them.”

“You can always talk to us,” his dad assured him.

“I know. Just wish I could say more. But I don’t know anything.”

“We’ll be here if you need us,” his mom said. “And the light will always be there. Even when you switch it off.”

“What do you mean?”

“There is a light that you see. But there’s also a light that you feel. It’s a fire you control inside of you. Inner energy that gives you the power to get through the day. And even at the end of the day, it is still alive in the night.”

From that point forward, Witner continued to use the night light. Gradually, though, he got used to the idea of turning it off. Eventually, he did so.

The first night without it switched on was nerve-wracking. He thought he heard a sound coming from within his room. But after jumping out of his bed and scanning his surroundings, he knew that there was nothing there. This continued each night, albeit in smaller increments. Eventually, he managed to sleep satisfactorily. The sleep was never completely peaceful, but it felt good enough for him. He reasoned that whatever presence he feared was probably in his head.

He did not yet know just how correct he was.


“How did I get my name?” he asked another day when they were watching the television in the living room.

“Your great-grandpa,” his mom began, “who was my own grandpa, was the inspiration behind your first name. He was also named Witner.”

“And your last name,” his dad began, “is a combination between our last names. Spadreeka from your mom, and Qitaraci from me. We took out a few letters and combined them.”

“Wow. Could it have been…Qitareeka?”

“We did consider that.”

“What about…Reekaraci?”

“That’s a new one,” his mom said.

“Am I only allowed to have the name you gave me?”

“Well,” his dad began, “early in life, it’s a reminder of where you came from. But when you’re grown up, you can choose a new name if you’d like.”

“You begin life honoring your family with a familiar name,” his mom explained. “But as you grow older, the honor can come entirely from how you act and how you treat others. Your roots grow and hold you up, to help you let the light out from within. That’s how Zuffners have done it for a long time.”

“I wonder who I’ll be when I grow up,” Witner said.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” his dad asked.

He looked at the television screen again, mesmerized by Stick in the Mug, the 3D animated children’s movie about people who competed by collecting coffee mugs.

“I want to make movies when I grow up!”

“Oh wow!” his dad said. “A filmmaker?”

“That's a big dream,” his mom said. “Do you know how movies get made?”

He shook his head. “How?”

“There are these veggies called potatoes.”

“Yuck! I don't want veggies.”

“Lucky for you, these are bad veggies.”

“But all the veggies are bad veggies!”

His parents chuckled.

“Here’s what we mean,” his mom continued. “People would get really sick from eating them. They're poisonous. Well, to us, anyway.”

“Zuffner stomachs can't handle them,” his dad explained. “But instead of eating them, people use them to make movies.”


“An alchemist once experimented with them. Potion here and there, and a potato grew roots long and stable enough to form a tripod, with the potato at the top. And then a beam of light shot out of the potato, capturing pictures of what was in front of it.”

“Roots? Light? Just like what you were saying!”

“Exactly,” his mom said. “Anyway, this alchemist back in the day figured out how to peel the pictures out of the potato, and then combine them into moving pictures.”

“How come it works that way?”

His parents looked at each other. His dad shrugged, and then his mom looked back at him.

“Must be magic.”

Amazed, Witner looked at the screen again, viewing the moving characters with a new perspective.

“Magic,” he repeated.


What was displayed on the television was not always magical, however. At age nine, as Witner crawled around the living room to emulate an animal, he noticed his parents watching the news. He did not really pay attention to what was going on in the world, but he could tell that his parents were concerned.

One day, he was down in the basement, looking for an inflatable sphere so he could play catch with his parents.

And then he heard a big boom, deflating whatever peace was within him. Outside, cars crashed into each other, and into buildings. For a little while, the world dizzied him.

When the cacophony settled down, he came out of the basement, Witner walked slowly toward the living room. Smoke had been moving through an open window, but now it was dissipating.

“Mom?” he called out, shaking with each step. “Dad?”

There, he saw his parents Linzoll and Zamorp lying on the floor. Their eyes were closed, but they did not look asleep; there was no sound of breath. On some level, Witner did not recognize them, and he did not wish to recognize this moment as reality. Frozen in place for a moment that felt like forever, he struggled to look away.

“No.” Tears welled up in his eyes. “No.” He dropped down to his knees and surrendered to the gnawing sorrow.

For a long moment, he looked at the corpses. He wanted to tell himself that his parents no longer dwelled within them, but their shells were still all too painful a sight to look at. They were so empty, and so was he. An empty child, all alone.

Home was gone.