Read the short story. And then, watch the short film.

A Biology professor encounters a cockroach on his chalkboard, struggling to get rid of it. Instead, he begins to communicate with the bug. He names the bug Cuca – short for Cucaracha in Spanish. The close alliance seems to improve until someone makes a terrible mistake.

I can still remember the moment I became a pacifist, an animal lover, and a defender of animal rights. From that moment on, I also turned into a better person.

Armed with a flyswatter, playing in the backyard, I squashed a butterfly with it. My big brother witnessed the act, became upset, and gave me a lecture I would never forget.

“That butterfly probably had a family to feed. Everybody loves butterflies. They’re harmless, beautiful creatures. The way they fly and the way they move bring happiness to everyone. All living creatures have a right to live. Even if it’s a cockroach, mosquito, or bee, you should respect their lives as much as possible. Only if an animal attacks you should you defend yourself. And only then, you have a valid excuse to kill an animal.”

My big brother was twelve years old, and I was seven. It remained in my mind forever. It affected me for the rest of my life. Since I received that lecture, I have never knowingly hurt any living animals. I didn’t like violence. I was never involved in a fight in my whole life. I was patient, and I reasoned with measured actions.

That lecture sure had an impact on me. I became a teacher, studied biology and zoology, and became an entomologist. I had many books on animal behavior. And I loved pets and all animals that crossed my path, even after my big brother got killed by a bear on a camping trip in Yosemite National Park.

When I was in sixth grade, it took me a week before I could decide to dissect a frog, I loved science class, but whenever they had to experiment with tiny insects, I couldn’t do it. Only when I went to college I began to overcome that phobia. Visits to the Zoo became more enjoyable the more I learned about animals. I supported PETA and regularly volunteered my time at the local animal shelter.

The first time I saw that cockroach on the blackboard was the first time I’d seen a roach in my house. My reaction wasn’t normal, like calling the exterminating company or running to the store to get a can of Raid or Combat. But I wasn’t too happy about it either. I knew how they propagate if you don’t take the proper steps. My house was clean and organized. I barely cooked at home. The kitchen was impeccably clean most of the time. I lived alone and hardly dated anyone. I was introverted and loved my solitude. I left the bug alone.

In the following weeks, I saw the cockroach a few more times, always on the blackboard. I hoped it was the same one, and the only one. I struggled to decide if I should get rid of it. I thought that if I saw more than one at the same time, I would take action. Not directly myself, but I would call an exterminating company and leave the house for a week.

My blackboard was always full of notes and writings. Every week, I would scribble all the highlights about the next test I’d give to my students. After a few weeks, I noticed that the roach was always at the center of a letter. Having all the time in the world, I decided to check what its favorite letters were.

The first two letters I noticed were h and i. I smiled and said “hi” in return.

The next day, the letters the roach ‘stepped on’ caused the biggest shock in my life, ‘f o o d’. After the surprise faded, I thought it was a coincidence until the next day when the cockroach stepped on the same four letters.

I thought it was so absurd. I needed more proof, much more.
Baffled and still in shock, I put some bread crumbs on the board next to the chalk holder.

All rationality and common sense disappeared after those ‘conversations’ with the cockroach. Curious but still doubtful, I erased all writings on the blackboard and left them clean for a few days.

The cockroach disappeared for the same period.

I knew cockroaches could survive a nuclear war or live without food for about thirty days and water for about a week. I assumed that my house, being so clean, my little friend would starve to death or move out of the house. Both outcomes would have caused great misery in my heart. And, of course, my heart wouldn’t allow the poor bug to die.

I couldn’t bear that guilt, and after a few days, I wrote on the board again. And right away, my little friend showed up, and we resumed our ‘correspondence.’

“Food,” wrote the hungry insect again in a few seconds.

With my eyes and mouth wide open, I ran to the kitchen to get bread crumbs.

After that, I stopped all experiments, and during dinner time, I gladly shared my food with “Cuca,” which was the name I gave to my new friend, which was short for ‘Cucaracha’ or cockroach in Spanish.

I knew cockroaches preferred dark places, so I closed all curtains and blinds in the morning. I started to give small chunks of food to my friend. And I also began to write a journal.

I had never been so happy.

One day, Cuca spelled “ugly” on the board.

“Me?” I asked.

“Yes,” Cuca replied.

Of course, I agreed. Obviously, every animal species thought the rest of the species were ugly. What could a gorilla think about a hyena? Or a chicken about a snake or a peacock about a crocodile? But it was a little different for humans. Many animals were beautiful to humans, like doves, eagles, Blue Jays, deer, and even elephants and whales. And, of course, butterflies too.

“What about pain?” I asked.

“?” Cuca answered.

“Can you feel pain?” I asked again.

“?” replied Cuca.

Okay. Cuca has never felt pain, I concluded. How fortunate.
Then, I had an idea. I went to get my magnifying glass. I thought about meeting Cuca up close and personal. When I returned, I opened the window to let some light in. It was a little after noontime. The sun shone on the board. It was perfectly bright to meet Cuca for the first time, face to face. When I put the magnifying glass near Cuca, smoke emerged from one of its wings. Cuca vanished in a fraction of a second.

“Ah!” I screamed and threw the magnifying glass to the floor.

“Oh no, what did I do?”

Cuca didn’t come back for an entire week. And when it did, it spelled “Pain.”

When I approached the board, Cuca reluctantly stayed. I brought some food, enough for an entire colony. I wished Cuca could get all its family and friends; I didn’t care if they caused the worse infestation ever. I was that sad. It took another week before all things went back to normal.

Cuca healed nicely. It only left a small black mark on its wing.

One afternoon, when I returned from school, I met the cleaning lady as she was exiting my house.

“Good afternoon, professor,” she greeted me. “I must tell you something; I killed a cockroach on your blackboard. You must call the exterminating company before an infestation invades your house.”

The End

*Just because a subject is serious doesn’t mean it doesn’t have plenty of absurdities.

-P. J. O’Rourke

Edmundo Barraza
Lancaster, Ca. Nov-25-2016

The Psychic

Read the short story, and then watch the short film.

Never before did I consider visiting a psychic or a palm reader, even though I’ve seen that place in the corner maybe hundreds of times. But I never had a reason to go. I wasn’t even curious, not even if I got a free consultation.

I know I am rational and mature, but admitting it shows immaturity. Believing in spirits, ghosts, the afterlife, or the hereafter was not my thing. But after that absolute life nightmare, I considered visiting that psychic place. I’ve seen the lady many times before, parking her fancy car in her driveway. Lovely looking lady in a typical businesslike dress, not like your regular gypsy. She never wore long flowery dresses like old hippies. No, she didn’t look like a witch either. And she seemed friendly too, always with a smile on her face.

After the accident, I became a widower and an orphan father. I was left alone and turned into a zombie. I thought there was no reason to continue living. Life was utterly meaningless. Suicide was often on my mind, but life had always been a precious treasure, so I hung on, waiting for, I don’t know what—waiting for them to come back—or waiting to see if I could form another family, maybe? But to consider that would be to betray their memory. No, nothing could fix me. Nothing seemed remotely possible. My happiness was cut short without a reason or an explanation. I need to communicate with my wife, or else I can’t go on living.

I didn’t know what I was expecting when I opened the door to her office.

“Good evening. How can I help you?” she said with a friendly smile.

“I don’t know if you can. I sincerely doubt it. But I need to give it at least a try. I find it hard to imagine ghosts dancing around your desk, and I’m suspicious about your abilities to connect people from different dimensions. In my mind, I always related your profession to frauds, scams, and charlatans. I’m sorry I’m being so blunt, but I needed to get it out. As a non-believer, could I influence your talents? And are you still willing to help me?”

“Wow, at this point, you could be one of my worse clients ever. You almost stepped over the line. You were a little bit disrespectful, not just blunt. You can leave anytime if you’re unsure about what you want to do. I wouldn’t feel offended; instead, I would be pleased. I don’t need to be a psychic to sense your sarcasm. Oh, and more thing, I haven’t seen any ghosts dancing around my desk either, but I’ve seen spirits sitting on the same chair you’re sitting on.” she replied.

“I’m sorry, you’re right. I forgot that I came to ask for a favor for a moment. The words I chose were a little rough. I’m sorry. The main thing is that I wanted to be honest and clear. Can you see spirits or ghosts?”

“I can feel their presence, and I can see them sometimes. I don’t mind if you don’t believe me. That doesn’t change the fact that I can see them sometimes. But let’s change the subject. I don’t need to convince you to believe.” she said.

“Is business good?”

“Yes, lately, spirits have been running rampant and unrestrained. If you trust me, you’ll soon find out what I mean. Why do you ask if business is good?” she responded.

“Well, good psychics should always be busy.”

“Why don’t we get to the point? What brings you here?” she asked.

“I need to communicate with my wife. We were involved in a car crash. My wife and daughter died, and it was my entire fault. I don’t want to be on this earth anymore without them. My guilt is so big it’s eating my soul. You see, I was driving the car, and at the same time, I was trying to give the bottle of milk to my daughter, but I couldn’t reach it, so I removed my seat belt for a second. The vehicle went off the road, and I was ejected and passed out while the car overturned several times. I never saw them alive again. I need to ask my wife for her forgiveness. I also want to join them wherever they are.

“Do you believe in God?” she asked.

“Not really, but I used to be a believer, but things changed, and I became a materialistic cynic. Now I would feel like a hypocrite if I prayed.”

“Some things are easier to believe if you’re spiritual. The nonphysical part of a person sometimes manifests as an apparition after their death. A spirit can survive physical death or separation of body and spirit. Sometimes, when the body ceases to exist, and nothing can hold a person’s soul, character, and emotions, it wanders, seeking a body that doesn’t exist anymore. I think your family is alive and well.” she said.

“Do you mean . . .?”

“Yes, I’m sorry. You can leave now. There’s no need to open the door; you can just cross it.”

And as the man crossed the door, a couple of tears fell from the medium’s eyes.

The End

Edmundo Barraza
Lancaster, Ca. 12-27-2016

Anchor Baby

If Jesus had been born near San Diego and his parents were Mexican.

Jose was an excellent craftsman. He made spinning tops, caps and balls, puppets, and other wooden toys by hand. The quality of the toys didn’t match the low selling price. The toys were a good percentage of his profits, but still, Pancho was an essential part of the business. Pancho was his partner, best friend, and a crucial element of his show. Also, Pancho was an alcoholic. The donkey carried a sign hanging from its neck that said, “Pancho,” and all the tourists at the beach loved to see him drink beer. 

The donkey had been loyal to Jose for years; he carried the merchandise, entertained the crowds, and got paid with beers. Most days, it appeared that Pancho was too willing to go to work, but Jose knew that, in reality, Pancho had a hangover, and all he had in mind was to go to the beach and get drunk again. The happy appearance of Pancho was misleading; Jose knew he was exploiting Pancho even though the donkey had a constant smile on his face, but his addiction provoked the smile.

Jose’s wife was in the last days of her pregnancy, and for the previous two weeks, she couldn’t join him and stayed home. They made a decent living in Tijuana. Their modest house had barely the essentials for a happy living. Jose wasn’t too proud of their way of living or the options and examples he would give to his future child. Jose and his wife had talked seriously about improving their child’s chances for the future. And the decision was final: the child would be born in the United States.

Most people in Mexico blamed the US for their eternal misery. The graffiti on the poorest slums from Tijuana to Central America and beyond proclaimed: “Yankees go home,” in contrast, signs near San Diego showed immigrant parents with a girl in ponytails running and crossing the freeways. Making a racist allusion to illegal aliens crossing the border.

Indeed, the US had been robbing them of all their natural resources, including silver, gold, oil, lumber, and even cheap labor. They were taking all the stuff the country produced and leaving them with increasing debt. 

Mexico had survived centuries of Spanish pillaging and exploitation. Now Spain had been replaced by the US. 

In most cases, the only solution they could find was to flee to the US. The US had nothing to recriminate. All of it was just a vicious circle initiated by a greedy villain. Talking about poetic justice.

Jose and Pancho had been a permanent fixture at the beach, and tourists had taken thousands of pictures and videos of Pancho and his drinking habits for many years at the Mexico-USA border on the beach. They were never bothered by immigration officers while going back and forth the borderline, temporarily invading the US side a few hundred yards. 

But the following day, they had planned to go further into USA territory.

Maria was ready to give birth. She wasn’t too cheerful. Her first baby was going to be an American child. She was proud of her race, brown skin, and Aztec roots. She even imagined that by giving birth in America, her child would be a white boy or a blond girl, just like that automatically by crossing an invisible border, even if the other side used to be part of Mexico. Jose and Maria had decided it was the best for the child. Their child would have access to better education, medical care, job opportunities, and everything else. He could be a professional athlete, an astronaut, or even the President of the United States. Yes, it was the best for the child.

Maria was riding the donkey; it had all kinds of trinkets hanging from its neck, not cheap, but inexpensive wooden toys that mainly appealed to poor kids on the Mexican side. Cheap meant low quality, but these toys were good quality, so they were ‘inexpensive.’ Pancho was having a hard time carrying the extra weight. He was sweating off a hangover from the day before, and he was anxious to have his first beer of the day. But Jose was making fewer stops than usual. They hadn’t walked a mile on the US side when an Immigration Officer stopped them and asked for their papers. Then, another officer showed up and said that it was okay, that Jose and Pancho were allowed to come and go just a couple miles into US territory, and that Pancho had been entertaining tourists from both sides for years. So, they left them alone.

And they continued their trip.

They didn’t plan on giving any shows or trying to sell anything; their only goal was to get to a community hospital in Chula Vista. But along the way, they made a few stops to avoid suspicions. 

The first stop was unplanned. Pancho decided to stop with a group of teenagers. He needed a beer. The kids were drinking beer from red plastic cups because drinking alcohol was not allowed on California beaches. Jose couldn’t understand how Pancho noticed the teens were drinking beer. Pancho came to a standstill in front of them and stubbornly refused to continue. He deserved a break, thought Jose. 

Maria dismounted the thirsty alcoholic donkey. Pancho looked a little pathetic, but soon, with some luck, he would change that look into a smile. The teens couldn’t believe Jose when he told them the truth; the donkey had a terrible hangover. Ultimately, they had a lot of fun with Pancho; they even bought some puppets and spinning tops. Pancho drank five beers, and before they left, Pancho brayed rather noisily. He was happy again. The teens rioted when a naive girl asked Jose if she could kiss his ass. Maria didn’t like that. 

And they continued their journey.

All along the beach were showers, restrooms, and other facilities, including lifeguard posts and free public parking spaces. The ocean water, the wind, and the sunshine were the same, but somehow the American side seemed more serene, pure, and less polluted. How can that be possible? 

Pancho had decided to be in charge of the rest stops and breaks they would take. This time, he took refuge in the shade next to a restroom. And while Maria used the facilities, Jose fed Pancho and gave him some water.

They weren’t dirty or messy but seemed odd and out of place. Maria wore a long dress, a headscarf, and a straw hat. Nobody could deny she was beautiful. Jose was wearing a pair of white loose cotton pants, a white guayabera, and brown sandals. He was handsome too. They neither looked like tourists nor natives. 

Before Maria exited the restroom, a lady blabbered in a fastidious tone, aiming her venom at her waiting husband just outside the door, “I can’t believe it! These Mexicans are invading us. It seems like the borderline is getting closer to San Diego; I can’t even use the restroom without tripping with one of them! Oh, my God, we need to move to Canada!” “Yes!” answered her husband, “And look at this, they’re even bringing their burros!” They kept complaining as they walked away. Maria came out of the restroom sad and confused.

“I don’t know what happened, Jose, I didn’t do anything, but that lady was so offended by my presence. I don’t understand why,” Maria said, exiting the restroom.

“It’s okay Maria, don’t worry, you’re not to blame. Some people are just intolerant of other races. Please, darling, don’t be upset. Just ignore them,” Jose said as he helped her climb up Pancho. 

Jose couldn’t understand it either since all American tourists they encountered in Tijuana were highly polite and gracious; they were always very respectful and well-mannered. They’d never seen such mean people before. 

And they continued their trek.

Maria was still sobbing quietly when a short, skinny guy appeared jogging next to them and suddenly stopped and asked Jose in Spanish if he could ride his donkey for a little bit. Such a request was common to hear from kids, but since Jose couldn’t find a reason to refuse, he agreed. And while Jose and Maria sat on the sand to rest, the little guy went up and down the beach, riding Pancho full of joy. Even Pancho appeared to be having fun. They looked a little comical too.

When they came back, the man sat next to them. And while still laughing, he mentioned that he started riding donkeys when he was five years old, back in a little town in Oaxaca, where he was from. It turned out he was a jockey. He said he would run a race at the Del Mar racetrack the following day. He said he missed Mexico and felt lonely and nostalgic most of the time. Jose told him their story, why they had crossed the border, and their intentions to give the baby a better future. 

After Jose finished their story, the short man offered them three hundred dollars to help with the medical bills, which Jose accepted with sincere modesty. 

Even though Jose had all their life savings, he was worried he didn’t have enough money for the hospital. Now, Jose was glad nobody would call him a freeloader or a leech. Even Pancho disliked burdens.

And they continued their expedition. 

They were near their destination. Maria’s contractions were getting intense and persistent. She told Jose it was time. While she rested next to a lifeguard’s tower, Jose went to get a taxicab. 

To the right, the waves were crashing violently against the rocks. To the left, and as long as you could see, the high tide kept delivering surfers to the beach. One of them saw Maria trying to stretch and relax, but nothing seemed remotely relaxing on the sand, not even a towel. The surfer offered his surfing board for her to lie down on. Other young people brought more surfing boards and built two walls around her. Then the lifeguard brought a stretcher and some sheets. Maria couldn’t wait to be taken to the hospital.

The beach sure looked like paradise. The place where the ocean waters were embracing and caressing this beautiful planet was a perfect place to deliver a baby.

The lifeguard and the surfers were good enough to deliver the baby. The healthy boy didn’t need any doctors or nurses or emergency rooms. Many surfers were offering their arms to hold the smiling baby. 

When Jose returned, as he held the baby and kissed Maria, the crowd went wild with cheers.

And, of course, they named the baby Jesus.

And thirty-three years later, Jesus would have to experience his own journey.

The End


U.S. Copyright Office — Submitted / Pending

Edmundo Barraza

 Lancaster, Ca. 02-20-2016  

A Day in My Life

The barber was almost done with my haircut when I heard the beginning of a song on a tiny radio. First, a single beat of a drum along with the piano, followed by the guitar and then the vibrating organ. The first sound grabbed my complete attention with its beautiful melody. 

I couldn’t understand a word. The lyrics were in English. Before I heard this song, I had listened to the Beatles and Elvis: great music, but nothing quite like this. The song went straight to my heart. At that moment, I would’ve given anything to be able to understand the lyrics. 

Until then, my young mind had refused to accept other kinds of music. For me, only rock existed. My mind blocked everything else. My inability to understand the lyrics wasn’t an inconvenience for me to enjoy it.    

I was fourteen years old, living in Mexico in the summer of 1966. In those days, I didn’t have a friend who liked rock and roll as much as I did. 

By the time the barber finished, the song wasn’t over yet. I stood there paralyzed. I looked at myself in the mirror, wishing for the music never to end. Then, I noticed the barber staring at me. I was sure he was thinking. ‘what’s wrong with this stupid kid?’

But he was right. I was a stupid kid because if I could run to my house fast enough, I could listen to the rest of the song and catch the title. I was three blocks away from home. And I ran. I didn’t see the cracked sidewalks, the unpaved roads, my friends playing soccer on the street, the grocery store, or the butcher shop. I didn’t hear the birds singing, the dogs barking, or any noise. I was still listening to the most beautiful song I had ever heard.

We used to live on the second floor of a two-story house. I was up there in a flash. When I went to my room, I could still listen to about a minute of it. The humble authoritative angry voice, the sweet, sad harmonica drilling the core of my soul. And the part where the organ cried full of joy or pain. It induced my first mental orgasm. 

They said the name of the song and who played it. I knew that very instant that I had to buy it immediately.

I went to ask my three sisters for money. The first one, to no avail. She was the stingy one. The second one, the pious one, I asked her for church money for the next day. And the third one, the one that loved me the most, I told her the truth, and she gave me the rest.

I got the record. People used to call them 45s because they used to turn forty-five revolutions per minute (RPM). I played it all afternoon. I even marked the record and counted how many turns it made in a minute. They were right; forty-five times per minute, about 280 times. I played that song dozens of times that day, loving it, even more every time I played it. At that moment, I promised myself I would learn English before I died.

Anybody could get bored after listening to the same song a few times in a row, but not me, not with that song. That night I didn’t even watch TV. I had dinner, then I took a shower and went back to my room to listen to “my song” a few more times before falling asleep. 

It was probably past midnight when the sound of music woke me up. I stood up and turned the light on, then turned the record player off and returned to sleep. But the music woke me up again. This time, it was the radio, but it was playing the same song. And once again, I turned it off.

The same thing happened once again. Pissed off and scared, I disconnected the cable from the plug and the radio. I pulled it from the wall, removed the batteries, and put it under the bed. That should do it. 

The next time it happened, I was out of my mind. I didn’t want to open my eyes. I thought Satan was playing tricks on me under my bed. I gathered all my courage and went under the bed. I was having terrifying thoughts. I imagined Lucifer grabbing my arms and dragging me to hell. But no, the only thing down there was my record player. Still shaking, I threw it to the cement floor downstairs, where it broke into a million pieces.

In the morning, my mom was poking my ribs and saying, “Wake up, son, we have to go to church.”

I opened my eyes and saw my record player in one piece with my new record still on it, unbroken and ready to be played. 

But first, I had to go to church and pray. 

And I begged God to allow me to enjoy music again without receiving any punishment in my dreams.

The End

© US Copyright Office / Submitted / Pending

“Like A Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan. Duration: 6:31

2004 Best Song of all time. Rolling Stone Magazine.


Visalia, CA. 06-04-2012

Method Actor

The main actor was a little precocious, even for a three-year-old kid. He required naps in between takes. He also demanded milk and cookies during breaks. His real name was Lucius Night, which was perfect for the role. There was no need to change it.

We started shooting on Halloween Day. It was his first movie. The title was a little bit grandiose: “Apocalyptic Moons.” The film was supposed to be a one-location-two actors-no-budget kind of deal. Nevertheless, the aspirations were high. 

The main actor was a little precocious, even for a three-year-old kid. He required naps in between takes. He also demanded milk and cookies during breaks. His real name was Lucius Night, which was perfect for the role. There was no need to change it.

The post-apocalyptical barren land mentioned in the script couldn’t be found in the area, even though we were in the middle of the desert. The absence of adequate transportation for the cast and crew was an impediment. 

Lucius’ mom offered her house, and the front yard was used instead. The post-production team and the special effects department would be working overtime. —and for free also— Luckily, the old camera from the 90s came with a zoom. Now, we could turn the miniature Godzilla into a monster bigger than the Statue of Liberty. The trick was to experiment with new tricks. Sometimes, dumb ideas look good on film (or digital.)

Halloween decorations were set. A huge inflatable menacing cat was the main attraction. It moved its head sideways. The dark, pessimistic story also mentions humongous spiders devouring humans. If only we could find a little spider.

The scene called for Lucius’ immense abilities as a ninja warrior to save Katana Luna —his one-year-old little sister— from the ferocious cat and its deadly claws. The director told Lucius to ignore previous instructions. Instead, this time he should look at the camera. He had to imagine the camera was the enemy and that he was attacking a powerful enemy. The camera was placed on top of a two-step ladder. No funds were available for a tripod.

Katana Luna was at the mercy of the monstrous feline only a few feet away. The cat seemed to be enjoying the moment. It intentionally took its time, knowing its future meal had no escape. The cat prolonged the suffering by moving in slow motion toward the victim. Inch by inch, the cat approached Katana. At that precise instant, nobody knew how Katana could be saved. 

Out of the blue, Lucius Night appeared in a close-up with a sword in hand attacking . . . the camera?

Brando had never been this good.

Of course, the movie was never finished.

The budget was so low; we couldn’t get a replacement camera.

The End

*Especial thanks to my grandkids Lucius Night and Katana Luna for volunteering their talents.

Edmundo Barraza

Lancaster, Ca. Jan-30-2018