“They Usually Come Back”
Santa Teresa, California
S01 E04

Jetting through the dry Santa Teresa terrain, Alix is quickly learning that sheep run faster than people. Faster than Alix, at least. It’s a fact they’d typically ask Hana to check, but Hana isn’t around right now. In fact, Alix hasn’t seen Hana all day.

Alix is surrounded on all sides by vast, yellow hills met by green blotchy mountains. The dry grass crunches beneath their feet. Ahead, a sheep outpaces Alix by twenty feet at least. Alix can’t tell how long they’ve been running, but it feels like hours. For a while, Alix and the sheep were running in circles, but now they’re gunning directly towards the woods.

After crossing into the thick of trees, Alix has no advantage and loses sight of the sheep. Alix stumbles over a tree root and gives up completely. Winded as hell, they survey their surroundings. Through a tangle of foliage and vines, Alix can make out a sun-speckled swamp nearby, its algal surface bursting with green amongst the muddier colors. It’s ominously still and quiet, reinforcing the fact that the sheep is long gone. Alix catches their breath for a few minutes, hoping the sheep will come back, but it doesn’t.

Heading sullenly back towards the Airbnb, Alix hesitantly dials Hana, unsure how to break the news.

“What’s up?” Hana answers.

“Hey, where are you?” Alix stutters.

“I went into town for a few things. You sound worried.”

“Um,” Alix starts. “A sheep escaped. The fence — ”


“I accidentally let a sheep loose.”

“Okay,” Hana processes, keeping their cool. “Where is it now?”

“It’s gone. It ran into the woods. I couldn’t catch it.”

“How did it get out?”

“I don’t want to get into it.”

“Fine,” Hana says, worry manifesting in their voice. “You need to tell Dolly. Like, now.”

“I don’t know where she is.”

“Knock on her door. We’re probably going to get asked to leave. Seriously. How did the sheep get out?”

“I really don’t wanna talk about it. I’ll find Dolly.”

Alix ends the call and heads towards Dolly’s house, a chalk white barn with sharp geometric features and strangely placed windows. There’s a horrible bug on the welcome mat that looks like a gigantic, larval grasshopper. Alix swears the demon is making eye contact, surely a judgmental stare. Alix rings the plastic doorbell, and after 37 seconds Dolly answers the door.

“Hey, Dolly?”

“Hi, hello! Alix, right?”

“Yeah,” Alix says, face burning with guilt.

“Great. I was wondering when I’d get to meet you. Wanna come in?”

“Um,” Alix says. “This is weird, but there’s an emergency.”

“Oh, no. What’s going on?”

“A sheep got loose. I tried chasing it, but it escaped into the woods.”

“Oh, dear. I’ll have to text Lisa and Shane.”

Alix is silent.

“Our neighbors,” Dolly explains. “The sheep have escaped before.”

Alix’s anxiety is paralyzing.

“They usually come back. Come inside. Lemme show you around. Can I get you something to drink? Sparkling water?”


“I have prosecco in the fridge, too.”

Alix thinks. “That sounds great.”

“Yes, it does.”

Dolly moves through her house respectfully, pointing out various art and books, mostly of Islamic origin. Walls are lined with beautiful drawings and textiles with intricate patterns. Shelves house an assortment of glazed pottery with iridescent colors and decorative motifs Alix has never seen before and some figurative stone carvings that look somewhat cartoonish. Details from the Airbnb, like the dishes and glassware, the fruit bowl, and the carpets, reveal themselves to be part of a bigger whole that lives in Dolly’s home. Alix is reminded of going over to a friend’s house for the first time and learning where they come from.

In an upstairs hallway, Alix’s eyes graze a framed photograph of Dolly, smiling brightly, with her arm around the waist of a woman wearing an ornate fuchsia scarf, crows feet around her eyes and salt and pepper hair. Dolly passes it without commentary.

Dolly seems a little distracted by the time they get back to the kitchen, so the two sip their prosecco in silence. Dolly gazes out the window, facing a small hill backdropped by the bigger mountains. Alix and Hana’s house is barely visible, just a corner sticking out from behind the hill.

Finally feeling relaxed, Alix asks, “The sheep really come back?”

“They have before.”

“How do they know to?”

“They’re not like people. They don’t really have a choice.”

Alix takes a long, slow sip of prosecco. Dolly seems completely transfixed. Alix watches Dolly lift a hand to her face, as if to wipe away a tear.

“Is everything okay?” Alix asks.

Dolly clears her throat, and faces Alix again. “I’ve been here for 30 years. I look out of this window almost every day. At one point, I thought I knew every inch of the land by heart. But now I realize that things are always changing.”

“What’s different?”

“Sometimes nothing. Sometimes everything.”

“Swamp Thing’s Gotta Give”
Santa Teresa, California
S01 E05

Hana got up early again, and Alix isn’t sure where they are. They left their laptop open on the kitchen table but are nowhere in sight. Alix tries not to look at the screen, but ultimately caves. In its current state, Hana’s magnum opus is hardly more than a blinking cursor.

Alix wriggles into some flip-flops and steps out into the heavy morning fog. They say hello to the neighbor’s horses, check Dolly’s garden, and start counting the lizards that scurry in and out of the holes all over the ranch.

Once Alix counts twenty or thirty lizards, they typically join Dolly for coffee. Today, however, Alix decides to retrace their steps back to the woods, keeping a safe distance from the sheep pen. Alix’s memory of the sheep chase is cloudy, leading them to question whether they made up details like the swamp, if not the entire scene.

Trekking through the woods, Alix checks the weather on their phone. It’s 59 degrees and foggy, illustrated by a grey, gloomy backdrop not too dissimilar from the actual environment. They swipe left in the app to review their other saved cities: 62 degrees and sunny in New York, 59 degrees and mostly cloudy in Tokyo. They watch the grey clouds animate across the screen, wondering if they’ll ever get to see them in person. Shortly after Alix and Hana became friends, they swore to visit Japan together once they had found their respective successes. The milestone always felt a little less concrete to Alix. Alix swipes up to close the app, comes down from the clouds of Japan and lands back in the fog of Santa Teresa.

It turns out Alix hadn’t made up the swamp. They approach the edge of the slimy, green surface, a hint of water peeking through the layer of algae and duckweed. Driven by god knows what reason, they crouch down, digging their heels deep into the mud on the bank and gather up a handful of wet earth. They begin shaping the mud into figures meant to resemble the carvings from Dolly’s art collection. The mud sculpture keeps running through Alix’s fingers, but as it dries, its shape begins to hold.

As they reach for another helping of mud, a small dash of fuschia darts across the swamp’s surface, causing Alix to jump. They follow its movement as it grazes over some lily pads,and disappears behind a fallen tree.

Alix stands up, ready to run, but find that they’re ankles-deep in the mud. They yank themselves out foot by foot, and take a few soggy steps back from the swamp. They hope that Hana packed an extra pair of shoes.

They instinctively look behind them to find the fog slowly creeping into the woods. An unusually chilly breeze hits the back of their neck. Turning around again to face the source of the breeze, they find that the swamp is now sparkling in sunlight. The bright light washes everything out, and Alix feels that the spooky fuschia thing has moved on. The temperature in Santa Teresa goes up 5 degrees.

Alix considers investigating further, and crazy possibilities run through their head. Maybe the fuschia thing was trying to lead them to the missing sheep. Maybe it was leading them to more trouble. They take in the energy and vibe of their surroundings. Sensing neither a threat nor an invitation, Alix makes a safe, intuitive judgement to head back.

As they emerge from the woods, they notice a white bird at the edge of the property that seems to be frozen in mid-air, flapping its wings but stuck in one precise spot. They watch the bird for a moment, waiting for it to break from its stationary position, but it continues to flap its wings without moving up, down or forward. It seems strangely caught on something, like a kite on a string, but it doesn’t appear to be struggling.

Alix rubs their eyes, finally ready for coffee. They realize that they left their mud sculpture in the woods.

“Aesop and Frank”
Santa Teresa, California
S01 E03

“Why’d you bring these?” Alix asks, holding up a crayon.

“Just as a reference,” Hana responds, in full seriousness.

It had only taken a few hours for Alix and Hana to make the Airbnb their own. At first, Hana had made an attempt to neatly store their belongings in the cabinets, but after Alix’s arrival everyone’s stuff ended up all over the place. Most of it is spilled across the bed, along with Alix and Hana.

“Why’d you bring so many crystals?” Hana asks, eying six or seven colorful stones lined up on the windowsill.

“They’re for protecting us from the spirits.”

Hana pauses to process this information.

“You know,” Alix continues, now fully in Hana’s spotlight, “like the spirits that could potentially be locked on this property. C’mon. You can’t tell me you know for sure what is and isn’t lurking underneath all this.”

Hana finally responds, “Soil, dirt, probably some rocks. Worms.”

“Hey, I’m just looking out for both of us…” Alix says, unearthing a massive citrine and pyrite crystal from their luggage.

Hana’s eyes widen. “They let you fly with that?”

“Yeah. Spiritual safety is important business.”

Hana reaches into Alix’s pile of stuff and pulls out a bag of marshmallows and a flimsy volume of scary stories written for children, featuring grotesque black and white illustrations of decaying horses and an emaciated woman with spiders crawling out of a hole in her cheek. You know what we’re talking about.

A packet of hot sauce falls out from between the book’s pages. They both stare at the hot sauce packet, now lying suspiciously still on the bed sheets in front of them.

“Was that a bookmark?” Hana asks.

“That’s just some hot sauce.”

Hana laughs.

Alix sighs, picking up the hot sauce packet and fishing a bottle of damascan rose facial serum out of Hana’s toiletry case. Holding one in each hand, Alix puppets the hot sauce packet and serum bottle, giving each a toy soldier-like swagger.

Hana opens their mouth to say something clever, but Alix interrupts in a lower voice than usual, pretending to be the hot sauce packet.

“Oh. Hey, Aesop.”

Alix switches to another voice, goofier and airier, meant to come from the facial serum bottle.

“Hey, Frank. What’s up?”

“Just wondering what’s over that mountain,” Frank says, motioning towards a nearby pillow.

“Are you asking me on a hike?” Aesop asks.

Alix looks up from the puppets, making eye contact with Hana.

“Why’d you stop?” Hana asks.

“You’re the screenwriter,” Alix says. “Help me out.”

Hana takes a deep breath.

“Okay,” they start. “So, it’s definitely not a hike.”

“Oh yeah?” Alix asks, getting excited.

“They’re stranded in a desert. They have been for days. And that’s not a mountain. It’s a sand dune. Maybe the last sand dune they’ll ever cross, if they even make it that far.”

Alix turns serious and walks the hot sauce packet and serum bottle closer to the pillow/sand dune.

“Aesop sees a well at the top of the sand dune,” Hana continues.

“C’mon,” Alix makes Aesop say. “I think I can see a well up there. We just have to go a little further.”

“Okay,” Alix says in Frank’s voice.

Alix walks Frank and Aesop to the top of the pillow, and then looks to Hana for the next plot point. Hana closes their eyes.

“It was a mirage, wasn’t it?” Alix asks. “Yeah,” Hana confirms, sadly.

Alix looks down at Frank and Aesop, letting Hana’s sadness wash over them.

“Wait, no, it can’t be a mirage,” Hana blurts, anticipating Alix’s disappointment. “One of them would’ve known it wasn’t there already. They wouldn’t have — ”

“No,” Alix cuts Hana off. “Frank knew it wasn’t there. They just went along with Aesop because they love them.”

“Oh. Well… I guess this is where it ends.” Hana says. “For Aesop at least. Frank the hot sauce packet can survive the heat, obviously. They’ve been hot all their life. But the facial serum was never tested in such extreme environmental conditions.”

They’re both quiet.

“Sorry,” Hana concludes.

Alix thinks for a second.

“I know what to do,” they say in Frank’s voice.

Alix tears open the bag of marshmallows and spills them onto the bed. They move the hot sauce packet towards the pile of marshmallows. Frank picks up the marshmallows, one by one, and begins to stack them in a circle. Hana watches in silence, masking their excitement.

After a couple minutes of watching the hot sauce packet stack marshmallows, Hana realizes what Frank is building: an igloo, just big enough for one 0.9 ounce facial serum bottle.

Frank finishes stacking the marshmallows, turns to Aesop, and says,

“Okay. Go cool off before it melts. I’ll look for water.”

Alix and Hana are quiet, digesting the happy ending.

“Wow,” Hana smiles.

Alix’s face lights up. “You’re so romantic that you forgot that when ice melts it turns into water.”

“Oh yeah,” Alix laughs. “Oh well.”

They’re both quiet again, and calm, gazing at each other. Hana’s eyes start to wander around the room.

“Look,” Hana gasps, pointing to the window. “You can see the sheep from here.”

Alix saw the sheep earlier. Their eyes are still locked on Hana.

“Cute, right?”