Excerpt

SlateI am a star.

His legs had been killing him for the last half hour. Crusty yellow corns were buried deep within his foot soles like large, oozing whiteheads, and his dirty tennis shoes hadn’t been replaced in over three years. His bottle of water had spilled a mile or so back, and he was already starting to feel lightheaded. He stopped for a moment and dry heaved, glancing to his left and right to make sure no other more experienced hikers were bearing witness to his incompetence.

The trail was not clearly marked, and the parking lot in which he had carefully tied his bike up to a large, silver post had not been easy to find. He had done his Internet research the night before, but he was still uncertain if he had made all the turns to get to where he needed to go. He was confident but prepared for disappointment.

It was a Saturday. The wind had picked up in the last few minutes, and the temperature was suspiciously cold, especially in a city that he had been told never changed seasons. His sweatshirt, awkwardly tied across his waist for the first two miles of the trip, now was pulled over his white t-shirt, slowly but surely keeping him warm. The clouds were descending closer to the ground, and he half expected to see a tangible stairway that would lead him up to the stars.

I am a star.

A random woman would pass him here and there, usually with her loud and shrill mutt nearby. Two men had also passed him, dog less, and he assumed that they were gay, or, at least, experimenting. For the most part, he had been met with angelic silence on the large, intimidating mountain that separated the bustle of the main city from the maligned hole of misery known as the San Fernando Valley. He had been able to focus on that one simple truth, the truth that had sent him cross-country, alone and afraid, but up to the challenge of a new chapter in his life.

He walked for another twenty minutes until he realized that there was just one more hill to climb. This one would be the steepest of them all. Halfway up he started grabbing onto the occasional sad shrub of greenery just to keep himself from plummeting to his death. The pain in his feet had become unbearable, almost as if the ground he was walking on was not dirt but molten rock. He almost threw up, for real this time, but managed to keep the half-digested eggs and spinach from breakfast as far down as possible.

With just a few minutes left of tireless ascension, a new challenge presented itself, and he had to keep from laughing. At first, he thought another hiker was above him kicking rocks in his face. It wasn’t until he caught a fragment of the cloud’s anger with his right hand that he realized what was happening. It was hailing.

He tried not to think about the long walk back to his bike. He tried to concentrate on his goal, only his goal. Little cuts and bruises started to aggravate his temper, but he kept cool and calm. Finally, he was at the top of the mountain.

He cheered for himself, and then immediately started searching for the sign. He looked out in every direction and only saw blobs of gray. He sighed and sat down on the dirt, which just minutes ago had felt like the smooth consistency of hardened chocolate, but now felt like a large pool of chunky peanut butter.

He sat for a while. He closed his eyes and tried to clear his head. He wasn’t going to leave the top of this mountain until his goal was met.

By the time the hail stopped, the top of his head was in pain. He was able to stick his tongue out and catch drops of what looked like red dye on the tip. It wasn’t until he brushed the palm of his hand on his forehead that he realized he was bleeding.

But not even the gruesome sight of blood could stop his mission. Finally, after much patience, the clouds started to subside. The air was colder now, and he was certain that he would spend much of his hike back to the bike in darkness. But he knew his time was now.

He looked out. He didn’t see it. He turned to his left. There was nothing.

He turned around.

And there it was.

Nathan LeMille stopped breathing.

The last bit of the day’s sunshine was shooting through one of the large black clouds to reveal the nine letters, almost as if this moment had been preordained for decades by God himself.

H.O.L.L.Y.W.O.O.D.

His eyes welled up with tears. He started jumping up and down as if he had won the lottery.

Nathan had resided in Los Angeles for three whole weeks, but for the first time, it was starting to feel real.

He was here. And it was finally time to fucking shine.

I am a star.

I am a superstar.

On his way down the mountain, he slipped on a bed of rocks.

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