The Finer Points of Wolf Punk Social Structures

by Carlos Luis Delgado

Earliest documented side-effects of the Paleo diet.

[Before I took time off the podcast to fly out and visit you in Jersey, you asked me a question that I couldn’t answer over the phone. Werewolves and Woodsmen aside, I still can’t say what I need to say. So, per Article II, Sub-clause 13 of Alex and Tony’s Sibling Re-connection Agreement, I wrote it out for you to read. Suck it, loser.]

I’m with my sister Alex and her new boyfriend Ron, chilling around a backyard bonfire behind his South Jersey starter home. Alex and I grew up in Northern Jersey–a PATH ride away from Manhattan and the rest of the world. Down here in Bon Jovi-ville, there’s green lawns everywhere, hardly any sidewalks, and random security trucks patrol the neighborhood like an old hound walking its territory. It’s everything we ever dreamed of affording as two broke city kids.

Alex declared her boyfriend Ron a “real-deal grill master” so tonight he’s manning the fire. It’s the perfect chance to load up on some backyard burgers before catching a red-eye flight back to L.A. Meat sweats be damned!

The steaks don’t even make it out of the fridge before it all goes sideways. Alex flicks her chin toward Ron who’s staring at the propane tank on the grill instead of turning it on–like you do when you’re getting ready to grill meat. He and my sister are a study in contrasts, which is a polite way of saying she’s super hot and he’s wearing white tube socks with sandals. No judgment, purely objective. Alex used to model athletic wear. Ron has a short ponytail with a receding hairline, like a high school physics teacher that actually cares about the job.

And now–shit–I stared at him too long. He comes over, fists on hips.

“I tell ya, I can’t remember if it’s click safety twice or thrice before hitting the ignition. The guy at Lowe’s said it was ‘easier than charcoal.’ Bah!”

I catch myself tuning out and immediately over-correct by plastering what must have looked like a maniacal grin across my face, and say, “Lowe’s can kiss my ass. It’s Home Depot or go fuck yourself.”

“What the hell are you saying, Tony?” asks Alex, carrying an aluminum tray packed with marinated t-bones. “Ron doesn’t talk like that. Jesus, the mouth on you!”

“Sorry, Ron,” I add, bigger, cheesier grin. The Gorgonzola of grins. “Can’t say I’ve worked a propane grill in recent memory.”

“Right,” he says, visibly confused. He isn’t meek, exactly. Gentle is a better word. “Maybe we can find a YouTube tutorial–team up on this problem? What do you think?”

I throw my hands up, black nail polish matching my sister’s, and say, “I defer to the grill master.”

“Hold on, babe,” says Alex, who’s wiping her hands on her “KILL THE COOK” apron. “Don’t let him weasel his way out.” She turns to me, eyes hurling daggers. “You can record and edit and advertise your spectral-shit podcast, but you can’t help figure out how to start a grill? Tony, you said you’d try.”

I clutch my stomach, trying to keep my emotional intestines from spilling out. But it’s no use. I suck my teeth at the grill. “Alright, you gassy bitch. Let’s light this candle.”


A few Heineken Zeros and a blistered thumb from jamming the wrong ‘ignite’ button for twenty minutes, and the stubborn propane grill was breathing blue flames and ready to cook some fucking meat. As I reach for the tongs on the table next to the grill, Ron hustles up to me like a kid with his first sparkler.

“No, no, no,” he says. “You are a guest in our home. Allow me to serve you.” Ron’s one of those touchy-feely guys who have to let you know he’s comfortable with himself, so you can be comfortable with yourself. How nice.

“Don’t mind him,” Alex says to Ron. “He’s not used to real-life heroes.”

“Excuse me?” I say.

“Lexie.” Ron blushes. “Please, I’m no–“

“Nope!” Alex cuts him off, eyes hard but mouth smiling. “You are owning this, mister.” She turns to me and her eyes shine beam. “Ron is a real-deal Forester.”

Alex had told me Ron worked with at-risk youths when first giving me the rundown about her new beau. Back in L.A., we’ve got Paranormal Services operating not totally in the open, but open enough that if you’re looking for spectral shit, you’ll find it. But most folks would rather ignore the ghouls, goblins, and geese that walk amongst us every day. (yes, geese are spectral. Hard confirm.)

So I say as much: “Recent statistics show that most monsters are actually runaways looking for safety and community within high-magic zones. And Alex says you’re a state-sponsored monster hunter… Is that right, Ron?”

“Quit being a prick,” snaps Alex.

“Language,” I fire back.

“No, he’s right, Lexie,” says Ron, looking downright dour. And here comes the cop-out, I think to myself. I’m trying to change things from within… We’re not all like them… 


“The Internet–” says Alex; you can hear the capital I in her voice. “–isn’t the end-all-be-all of facts, Tony. You don’t know what Ron does, what it’s like for him out there.”

An awkward silence joins the party and takes a nice hot dump on the moment. We sit there quietly, marinating in the aroma, until–

“I don’t feel comfortable with the direction of this conversation,” says Ron. He doesn’t shout, but Alex and I grow eerily still. His face softens and he continues, “I mean, I don’t mind talking about my work. But I don’t think it’s fair to clobber your brother just because he’s got a healthy sense of curiosity.” He leans to Alex and adds, “Your brother’s podcast is top ten on iTunes’s Paranormal chart. That’s nothing to blink at, Lexie.”

Alex looks down at me like I’m not a good foot taller than her. “I’m just tired of good people getting treated like crap. That’s all.” Her voice gets weirdly sincere.

I lean toward her and say, “Me too.” Her granite grimace cracks a hair and I feel the corners of my mouth start tugging into a smile when–

“Look at that! Just a little bit of communication goes so far,” says Ron.

I clap him on the back and say, “Couldn’t agree more. That’s why journalists like me are out here doing the important, unseen work. In order to communicate effectively, I believe, we need a certain level of context; understanding; information. Don’t you think?”

“Absolutely,” says Ron, eyes shining.

It’s not that I want an exclusive interview with a licensed Forester. Alex hurls a hunk of meat onto the grill but never takes her eyes off me. Ron, bless his heart, doesn’t seem any the wiser as he leaps to douse the minor grease fire sparking up from Alex’s meat assault. My sister, however, knows me better than anyone else.

So why is she getting so worked up? Can’t blame a dog for barking, just like you can’t blame a journalist for sniffing. It’s in our nature! 

After we eat, Ron sets down his glass of Apple-Pear Sparkling Cider and says the words I’d been itching to hear: “Anthony. I’m allowed one media guest per operation. I’ve never invited–ah, heck. I’m working a New Moon ritual out in the Pine Barrens tomorrow night. Strictly observational. Though in case things get too dangerous for the participants, I am authorized to intervene. I’d be honored if you’d join me as an official media representative. What do you say?”

Before Alex can put the kibosh on the whole thing, I shoot out a hand and Ron takes it into a surprisingly firm shake.

“Let’s get to work,” I say.

Alex sighs and I don’t even bother hiding my cheesy/maniacal grin the rest of the night. What did she have to be upset about? Last I checked, she was the one who wanted me to “get a feel” for her new boyfriend. 

I’m just doing my part.


I thought this would be a walk-in-the-park episode for Espooky P.D., my podcast. I mean, Loup Garou are pretty old hat at this point in the supernatural community. On paper, werewolves are totally different from Loup Garou. One’s a curse, the other’s a boon. Practically? They’re both humans who turn into wolves. No, the story was about something else, something bigger. But “what” was yet to be determined.

What I have determined so far is that Ron has absolutely no problem standing back and watching me step-stumble through the largest Atlantic coastal pine barren ecosystem. The name pine barren refers to the area’s sandy, acidic, nutrient-poor soil. Though that doesn’t mean it’s not capable of sustaining life. Only specific types of life, including orchids; carrion feeders; and carnivorous plants. But Ron leads me deep into the heart of the preserve, and it looks like we stepped into the Mesozoic Era: fields of shoulder-high undergrowth; majestic Red Woods piercing the early night sky; rivers that run as wide as grief itself; and wolves… Enough glowing yellow eyes stare out from the darkness to stir an old, primal fear in the back of my brain.

That kicks my bullshit sniffer into overdrive.

Sure, there’s plenty of journal-backed scientific explanations as to how/why two-hundred acres of the New Jersey Pine Barrens suddenly bloomed into Jurassic Park. The Barrens burn frequently enough to revive the pines despite the nutrient-poor soil and sometimes enough to support new strains of plant life. But Loup Garou? Power-of-friendship werewolves? I never bought it. Lycanthropy is a well-documented, scientifically backed affliction. Everything else is fugazi until proven otherwise. Maybe tonight I disprove the existence of Loup Garou altogether?

This is what I am thinking when we come across a thick, almost unbroken trail of blood.

“Poachers,” Ron says. And when he sees I’m not following: “Loup Garou poachers. This isn’t good.”

He calls it in on an encrypted work iPhone. HQ won’t have a response unit ready for at least an hour. They tell him to send me home and to follow the blood train with extreme caution. “Do not attempt to apprehend if hostages are present,” says HQ. 


“I mean it, Ron. Don’t go all Batman on me. You know they wouldn’t be out here without permits.”

“Copy. Over and out.” He stows his phone and adds: “I’m more of a Green Lantern guy.” And then to me, he says, “I won’t insult your intelligence, Anthony. You heard my boss. Armed yahoos. Possible hostages. HQ says I have to send you home.”

“And why do I get the feeling from your pissed-off tone that maybe you don’t agree with HQ so much?” I ask.

“Because I don’t,” he says. We high-five.

And then we’re stalking through the woods, following a grim trail of blood, snapped branches, paw prints bigger than my head, and ATV tracks. Ron sprints ahead while I do my best to keep up. He’s a totally different person out here, absolutely in tune with the forest. He’s running on the back of his hand, effortlessly bobbing and weaving through shrubbery and seemingly always finding sure footing despite countless roots and shoots hazarding the way. He stops suddenly to cock his head, sniffing the air like a god-damned basset hound.

It’s also clear he’s used to running with a fifty-pound pack strapped to his back. He told me back at the truck that he trains with heavier on his off days. I brought a fanny pack–but like a cargo one, with lots of extra pockets and–

Ron drops into a crouch. I do too. From one of his cargo pockets, he pulls a Bird Call, a magical artifact that looks like a crystal soccer whistle on a thin rope cord.

He raises it to his lips and peets out a complicated chain of chirps and, once finished, waits. Pale blue dots of light trickle out from all around us, coalescing into a luminescent face floating in mid-air before Ron. 

I peer over Ron’s shoulder and try not to gape as my sister’s new boyfriend barks out orders to a hive-mind of Light-Dot Fairies as if he were a Lord of the Winter Court of the Sidhe. The deal between mortal authorities and the High Lords of Fae (the supernatural world leaders on the other side of the magic portals) granted humans like Ron certain boons to aid them in their work. Ron’s Bird Call was one such boon.

A few moments later, a fist-sized cluster of dots returns and leads me and Ron through a short but winding path to the edge of a small clearing. At this point, the sun was already sinking into the top of the tree line, bruising the horizon purple-gold. Low in the sky, a fat, cheese-yellow, full moon grew larger and larger as the sky darkened.

And then we see them: the poachers, two of them. They wear balaclavas and camouflage jumpsuits, the kind wanna-be Blackwater mercenaries tend to prefer–you know, amateur shit.

Between them walks a teenage boy, though he could have been anywhere from sixteen to twenty. Beside him walked a moose-sized gray wolf–a Dire Wolf. Both walk on long leather leads. The leads seem mostly a power move, however, as the cartoonishly large assault rifles each man (and they were men) carried served as a stronger deterrent against running than any leather leash could ever hope to match. 

“What the actual fuck?” I ask. “What are they doing that kid? Is that a Dire Wolf?”

Ron, slowly and evenly, says, “Some Wolfjäger believe that there’s no finer pelt than that of a Loup Garou. One who is loved by wolves, not like our cursed cousins. So they kidnap young wolves on their way to perform their first transformation…and hunt them once turned.”

“No. That’s murder. That’s actual murder.”

Ron looks me in the eyes and–with the same certainty as if announcing that the sun will rise tomorrow–says, “Attempted murder.”


Wolf Punks, like many other punks, draw members to their community from all over society. They also draw minorities, at-risk youth, and folks struggling with mental health issues. For whatever reason [and please god, let it not be the “The Power of Friendship”], the magical creatures that slip into our world from the Faerie realm are drawn to those who would otherwise qualify for a psychiatric service animal. They bond. Form relationships. A perfect example is the Loup Garou. Humans who turn the pelt of their deceased wolf companions into masks. These masks then grant those humans the ability to turn into wolves while under the light of a full moon. Mind you, the only reason this works is because the dying wolf loves its human enough to bequeath its power. In practice, I’ve never seen it. But in theory, it’s sort of beautiful.

So, all that being said, I can’t begin to fathom the rage that kid must be experiencing. To be rendered powerless by these boobs. Turned to sport on such an important night–your first change!

Ron gives my wrist a reinforcing squeeze. Then he hands me the Bird Call, takes out his phone, and, as quietly as he can, reports what he’s seen to HQ. I watch with absolute focus as Ron then shows me how to use the Bird Call to put an invisible tracer on the poachers in the form of a sprite hovering over their camo bucket hats. The group is moving forward cautiously. The teenage Wolf Punk trudges along hunched, defeated. So does the giant wolf slinking beside him. I swallow my anger, throat tight.

Ron has another conversation with the dispatcher that I can’t quite make out. When he’s done, he pockets the phone and looks at me. For the briefest of moments, under the moonlight, I wonder how I could have ever thought of this man as meek.

Then he pulls out a mask of a wolf’s head.

“This,” he said, “belonged to Hopper. He was a stubborn old bastard with fur the color of pale gray river stone. By the time I’d met him, he was scarred from a lifetime of battles and hunts. When I was sixteen, I found my way to the Barrens all the way from Pittsburgh. Hitchhiked most of the way. By the time I’d arrived, I was half-starved, fully exhausted, and ready to lay down and die. And out of the night, Hopper appeared and carried me like a cub to his den. Just like that.”

I open my mouth as if to say something and hesitate. “I didn’t know.”

He pats the mask. “How could you? We just met. Well, the point is–once I put this on, a lot is going to happen very fast. So fast I’m afraid that kid is going to get confused in the uproar. I can tell from her scent that the Dire Wolf is beyond reason, only instincts. I can’t guarantee she won’t lash out at me in the chaos. I can instruct the sprites to guide the boy, but I won’t be able to give additional instruction once I’ve shifted.”

He can’t bear to ask me, the weenie. I smile. “But if someone were off in the sidelines, with the Bird Call, they could help make sure the sprites stayed on the hostage while you focus on the poachers and the other wolf.”

He nods. “Anthony. That kid is in serious trouble. Time is not on our side. We have to commit all the way. Understand?”

I don’t like Hunter S. Thompson, but a larger-than-I’m-comfortable-with part of me wants nothing more than to knock back half a bottle of Jameson, smash said bottle, and insert myself into the middle of this story. I want to start shit so there will be shit. I want to hurt the people who made that kid hurt. That’s why it’s very, very good that I’m not the one with the magic wolf mask. Anyways, I turn to Ron and say, “So what’s the play?”

He points to the crystal whistle in my hand. “You think you can command a swarm of little folk with little to no training?”

“Ron, I’m ranked diamond on Korean Starcraft II servers. Not U.S. Korean. I feel pretty good about my real-time strategy skills.”

Ron smiles. Then: “I need you to keep a sprite over each poacher’s head while keeping the rest of the little folk organized into lifelines leading back toward this clearing. You’ll probably also want to instruct some of the sprites to mark this area. I won’t need them to tell where the poachers are, but it’ll help the Loup Garou tell apart friend from foe. Once I take the poachers and the Dire down, I’ll put down the kid too and that’ll be that. Easy peasy.”

I nod in agreement at first, before I realize what I’d just heard: “Hold up. Put down the kid? What do you mean ‘put down the kid?’ I thought we were rescuing the kid.”

His face goes green and guilty. “We are. But remember we were out here as part of an outreach assignment. We don’t have an existing relationship with him. He’ll probably wolf out the first chance he gets, and experienced or not, I can’t take on poachers, a fully grown Dire, and a newly turned Loup Garou. I’d just be knocking him out. I’ve done this plenty of times!”

I let him keep sputtering his way through at least three more justifications because I’m evil. But of course, he’s not. “Okay, okay. I hear what you’re saying. But hear me out, what if we don’t assault the at-risk youth?”

“This is standard operating procedure.”

“And this procedure is standardly stupid, Ron. Operationally, it’s racist and homophobic.”

“What? No! I’m not–”

“I’m fucking with you, Ron.”

Ron’s face twists between pissed and relieved. Finally, he sighs. “You’re not wrong. I’m open to ideas.”

“What if you alpha-wolf the poachers and the Dire while I wrangle the teen wolf?”

“Anthony, that kid has undergone a severely traumatic sequence of experiences. I’m not sure a team of highly-trained psychologists could ‘wrangle’ him right now.”

“He’ll be even more traumatized if you attack him! Look, I’m no expert. I know that. But when Alex and I were kids, we were the only ones who could calm each other down after bad stuff happened. I’m not saying that makes me a trauma-informed specialist, but fuck–why am I the one saying we NOT assault the hostage!”

His face turned to stone. “And what if he turns? What if he hurt himself in the process? What if he hurts you?”

“Then turn back into a human and do your job, dude. I don’t know. Isn’t that why we’re here?”

He’s about to argue but decides against it. “No time,” he sighs. “We do it your way. Don’t be a hero.”

“You first.”

Ron peets the Bird Call once more, summoning his swarm of luminescent fairy sprites. He hands me back the whistle and instructs the sprites to follow my orders. Frankly, even I could have kept tabs on the poachers without the supernatural tracking beacons. They were louder than a tailgate party and probably just as drunk. They’ve barely moved at all. As if they’re not sure what to do next. “Is this a bachelor party or something?” I ask Ron.

“Owning a Loup pelt is seen as a sign of power and status amongst some of the older mortal families,” he says, his voice deepening with every word. “Every fool with a trust fund and a pea-shooter thinks they’ve got the stones to hunt one of us. Make the sprites visible to the kid.”

I do, whispering the command into the whistle which transmits the orders to every sprite bound to the Bird Call. Like Ron had promised, a lot happened very fast.

“Good,” says Ron, sliding his scarred wolf’s head mask over his face. “Start guiding him back here. I’m going.”

When Ron put on his mask, he didn’t howl or writhe in pain. His human skin didn’t tear around bulging, furry wolf flesh. When Ron looked up at the fat, yellow moon hanging low in the night sky, a pale-blue spectral wolf shimmered into existence around him, and, just like that, stood a fucking massive wolf. I mean, big as a fucking elephant. (Asian, not African.)

By the time I stopped shivering, Ron was already loping for the poachers and I ran to catch up. They’re crouched behind a pair of trees, trying to lay down suppressive fire on the horrifying mega-wolf that’s ravaging their little hunting party. The Dire Wolf, mercifully, joined Ron on his rampage. The boy is huddled beside the poacher who has the other end of his leash around his wrist. He’s shaking like a rattle on the end of a snake, waiting. 

Within the space of two breaths, Ron pounces on the second poacher and pins him flat against the forest floor under an impossibly large paw. The poacher doesn’t twitch or groan or anything and I try to care, but I can’t. 

Then I freeze; I want to see how the boy reacts. 

He doesn’t. He just crouches there in a ball, trembling over his handler. The poacher weakly reaches up to him. The leash is looped around the poacher’s wrist, the boy’s neck. Slowly, Ron closes in behind the teen, a towering shadow with two golden orbs glowing like a pair of headlights in the night. He presses his football-sized nose against the boy’s shoulder and, instinctively, the boy reaches up and pets Ron’s snout. 

The poacher’s hand finally drops. He’s out. It suddenly occurs to me that the boy must think Ron killed the poacher. Did he? How much worse did we just make this?

Ron’s already leading Dire Wolf to the clearing. He’ll get there in minutes. All I need to do is keep the boy distracted so he doesn’t wolf out–

Aaaand, a deep, furious howl pierces the night air. 

“Well, shit.”


I want to make it very clear that not every nerd is some out-of-shape pillow lord. I happen to pride myself on my average athleticism. But running a ten-minute mile does not make sprinting through moderately dense woods while also trying to command a swarm of fairies a good idea. After my fourth stumble, I take a knee and go full commander. The little folk can keep up with the Wolf Punk, and there’s enough of them to breadcrumb me right to him.

It’s the right call. In minutes, the sprites lead me to a secluded clearing. I creep up to the edge, shoes off, focusing on not snapping even the smallest of twigs beneath my feet. The scene before me is straight out of the founding of Rome. The Dire Wolf–about half the size of Ron but still absurdly huge–stands facing off with the Wolf Punk, fur raised and growling like a pair of angry lawnmowers. Huge and beautiful and horrifying. 

Then, the boy and the wolf become one.


Even before I entered the clearing, I could hear Ron’s voice calling out “Stop! It’s too much for you!”

I’m running at the newly turned Loup Garou. No thoughts, just vibes. Ron is still somewhere on the edge of my vision, still shouting for the boy to stop. 

It doesn’t occur to me just how bad of an idea this is until the Loup Garou turns on me. 

You’ve gotta understand something about primal fears. They’re not about logic or sense or reason. My sister and I grew up in a part of Jersey where if you didn’t keep your head on a swivel or stick to the safe streets, you were liable to get robbed, jumped, or worse. Sure, that makes for a generally jumpy and paranoid adult, but back then, as a teen, I wasn’t ever scared of being out. Not really. There were rules. And if you followed the rules, you were pretty much safe. 

There’s no rules for magic wolves. The only rule, if that, is: stay the fuck away from magic wolves.

The moment those massive, golden eyes focused on me, the fear that cut through me was beyond anything my prefrontal cortex could ever hope to process. 

As far as my body was concerned, I was facing death itself.

Then, the Loup Garou–those loved by the wolves–leaped at me.

Everything went black.


When I woke up, Ron was busy dressing the wounds on a beaten-up but mostly okay-looking young adult. He breaks away for a moment to hand me a bottle of water, smiling but still cautious. He reminds me of Samwise.

“Welcome back,” he says merrily. “You took quite the tumble. Hit your head pretty hard on the ground. But now that you’re up, we can start heading back toward the truck. You feeling up to a little walk or would you rather ride?”

I look over at the Wolf Punk. He seems sad, sitting off to the side, but his eyes are locked on Ron, measuring, weighing. “Did I miss something?” I ask, rubbing at a swollen lump just above my right eyebrow.

Ron glances over at the kid and then back at me. “He’s a little sore after losing to me.”

“Did you hurt him?” I ask, failing to dull the edge in my voice. “I thought we talked about this, Ron.”

“We did. And that conversation was about my disabling a human. What transpired between me and Singer–” He points his chin at the recently rescued Wolf Punk. “–is outside the bounds of our agreement and, frankly, none of your business. I hope you understand.”

“I don’t,” I say sourly. “But he seems fine. Is he fine, Ron?”

“I can hear you,” says Singer. Petting a mask in the shape of a wolf’s head much younger and less scarred than Ron’s. “And yes, I’m fine.”

Ron doesn’t look at me. “There’s a custom amongst the Loup. When youths turn for the first time, it’s usually in the presence of an older wolf. It’s common for young wolves to lose themselves in grief and pain. Sometimes, they can’t find their way back. We must guide the lost back to themselves.”

“That’s some real Obi-Wan Kenobi shit to say.” I shrug. “But old Obi-Wan. Alec Guinness Obi-Wan.”

He nods. “Thank you.”

“So, what now?”

He considers this and checks his first aid kit as if it’s helping him think. Then–with a little sigh–he pads back over to Singer. He makes space for Ron and continues to look like his suffering from a terminal case of embarrassment as my sister’s new boyfriend patches him up. It isn’t long before the subject of propane grills comes up. Singer smiles for the first time since I’d met him as Ron goes on about the clerk from Lowe’s and his assurances. But Singer’s mirth is short-lived, and he once more returns to studying Ron with a predator’s eye: cold, calculating, waiting.

“Don’t feel bad,” Ron says to Singer. “I had my butt handed to me on a silver platter the first time I turned. And the second. Oh, the third one too–that’s right. I was a real stubborn kid, you know? But, I hope one day you’ll be able to look back on this and laugh.”

Then, he laughed.


The Forester response team is not the TV SWAT team I’d hoped for. Instead, It’s a white van with two very nice Dominican med-techs who offer me coffee and a blanket before tending to the Singer. I take a moment to call my producer and explain how I blew what may have been our greatest episode ever by not remembering to record anything.

“We’ll get a post with your brother-in-law. Let’s leave the kid alone,” they say. Moss is good people. Period.

The support team may very well have been trained psychologists for how well they handled the Singer. They’ve set up a campfire with fresh pelts laid out for laying and prepackaged meals that look mostly of meat and gravy. They set out bandages and disinfectants making no effort at all to touch the Wolf Punk. If I didn’t know any better, it almost seemed like the med-techs were animal handlers socializing themselves with a new dog.

Before I could delve deeper into the possibly messed up implications of that line of thought, the Singer waves over the med-techs who slowly pad over with their first aid kits ready.

Ron steps up beside me and clears his throat. “So how do you want to handle explaining all of this to Alex? For my part, I intend to be as transparent as necessary. I haven’t held back anything about myself or my work from her, except for whatever I don’t share with anyone but my therapist. I know I put you in danger, Anthony. I’m truly sorry for that, but when it comes to my work, I just– I don’t know. I stop thinking.”

“No thoughts. Just vibes.”

He chuckles. “Yeah. Exactly.”

“Let me do the talking,” I say. “Alex and I don’t hold back from each other either, except for the stuff we do. But there’s nothing about tonight that I’d want to hold back. In fact, I think there’s a lot she’d be proud of.”

At this point, Ron specifically requested that I not edit out his reaction to my comment which included bursting into tears, tackling me to the ground in a hug, and asking me for permission to propose to my sister.

So why am I not telling you all of this in person, sis?

Because part of our agreement when we first started talking again was that if I felt it necessary, I could write something instead of telling you to your face because sometimes I get overwhelmed. Well, I assure you, Alex, this is one of those times. 

I like him. You two should get married or whatever.                                                     


Healing Me Softly 5/21/2023

Thank you for buying a mask! You won’t regret your purchase.*

As promised, here is the story of how the mask you’re holding came to exist.

The year is 1986 and a thirty-two year old woman named Esperanza becomes the first person in her family to successfully immigrate to the U.S. (Specifically Brooklyn. Also, that’s my mom. Woo!)

Esperanza soon finds a job at an apparel factory in Newark, New Jersey–specializing in the medium-to-high-end women’s fashion found mostly in Macy’s or Bloomingdale’s. This factory also happens to be a sweat shop.

Growing up, my mom would always bring home left over fabrics to use in her own garment projects. She’d hang her pattern sketches on strings hanging across the living room. Two old-school, black iron Singer sewing machines sat in the corner like a pair of rottweilers waiting for their master’s command. And mannequins lazed about, wearing the half-finished outfits my mother seemed to always be working on, but never finishing. She’d also make clothes for us, but also gear like packs, sacks, and blankets.

We cut to 2001. 9/11 happens. The U.S. starts revving up the engines of war. Soldiers can’t go out in the desert with their standard green camouflage uniforms. Nope. They’re going to need new uniforms designed to blend in with all the patches of sand-colored camouflage that naturally exist in nature, because that’s totally how camouflage works. (Eyes roll so hard I start crying blood.)

Around 2005, the U.S. Army contracts Esperanza’s factory to start producing uniforms. One thing you gotta understand about my mom is that she’s a craftswoman first. She’s never shared her views on the Middle Eastern conflicts post 9/11, and I’ve never asked, but what I do know for certain is that–to her–a pattern is a pattern and fabric is fabric. Her job is to put it all together. Sticking to her business-as-usual attitude, that meant she also started bringing home left over U.S. Army fabric.

Over the course of five years, she turned hundreds of yards of “reclaimed” fabric into bags, blankets, jackets, pants, belts, satchels, hats, mats–anything else she could think of. I spent a good portion of my early twenties figuring out how to move an entire closet’s worth of U.S. Army-grade bomber jackets. One is more than enough for a lifetime. Five? Who do you even try to sell those to? (I managed to sell them all and regret not keeping at least one)

“The bottle was empty, but I pretended like it wasn’t. Did I pull it off?”

Esperanza on the above picture.

Here’s where I get a little poetic. For years, my mom has taken fabrics and sewed them into uniforms meant to cloth soldiers on their way to kill other soldiers–she took that fabric and also clothed her family and loved ones. I’m not saying it evens things out, but damn it, that has to mean something, right?


For reasons that exist within my personal backstory (feel free to ask me about it over coffee), my family and I lost contact for a little over ten years. I wasn’t sure I’d ever talk to them again, let alone see them. Then COVID happened.

I like to think of COVID as many things. A pandemic; the illness that finally struck down my tough-as-nails grandmother (I still don’t think she’s actually dead. I didn’t see a body. Show me the body); a marketing department’s wet dream; and a reset button. A social and emotional reset button.

For me, it was like the universe powered my reality off and on again. And, by the time I’d realized it, I was talking to my mom again. A little bit at first–a text here, a selfie there, just to assuage her anxieties about COVID. After one call, she asks me if I wanted any masks made from the “Army cloth.” (Which is what she calls the reclaimed materials.)

At the time I was working part time at a restaurant doing deliveries-only. I was broke, terrified, and drunk most of the time. Some extra-thick “Army cloth” masks seemed just the thing to help me feel even a milligram safer.

Here’s something you need to understand about Esperanza. She is the physical manifestation of the word overkill. She blasts mosquitoes with bazookas. Fuck a fly swatter. That’s her. So, when I say “yes” to her mask offer, two days later I get a FedEx box big enough to fit a microwave STUFFED with masks.

More to last me a lifetime.

Well, years pass and we get to the here and now (hello!). The economy is worse than 2008, I think, though the news keep assuring everyone “There’s no such thing as inflation” and “Buy now! Sell later!” In my case, I get laid off in January from a 2+ year position, and then get laid off again four months later after only working for two weeks.

I’m on the phone with my mom, telling her all this, and out of nowhere she says, “Dude, just sell the frigging masks.” (she says this but in Spanish). I blink at my phone and ask if she’s sure, and she doubles down. So, I say, “Okay.”

War on the outside, fab on the inside.

With every purchase of a mask, you get a link to this story AND a link to a FREE fantasy short story inspired by everything in this post.

If you would like to support the author (me), please feel free to drop a donation via Venmo. (Suggested donation $5)

Enjoy! Link to extra fantasy story here.

*Please note: if you do purchase the only cursed mask in my inventory, that’s really more on fate than me.

Sound of Kiki

by Carlos Luis Delgado

What does a Studio Ghibli classic about a young witch in the big city and an Academy Award-winning film about a sober rock drummer losing his hearing have in common? More than you’d think. 

Kiki’s Delivery Service and Sound of Metal both use the Japanese 4-Act structure—also known as Kishōtenketsu—to tell their stories. In this post, I’ll break down this structure and how it’s used by both films.

Thank you to my friend and talented comedian/podcaster Anna Valenzuela for pointing out this connection to me (check her out at @Annavisfun on Twitter). 

Grab a broom and turn up your speakers to eleven. We’re going for a Metal AF ride.

But first, what is Kishōtenketsu?


Kishōtenketsu is a four-act narrative structure developed from Korean, Chinese, and Japanese traditions, originating in Chinese poetry. Beyond poetry and storytelling, this structure is used in arguments, articles, and music. It’s also known as the plot without conflict

The word Kishōtenketsu itself comprises the names of the four different acts within the structure. Let’s break it down:

Ki, or Introduction: Like most plot structures, this act introduces the story’s characters and settings. 

Shō, or Development: This act builds upon the characters and settings introduced in the first act. The goal isn’t to drive the plot forward but to flesh out our understanding of the world and the story’s themes.

Ten, or Twist/Change: This ain’t your M. Night Shyamalan money maker. Instead of a shocking twist, the Ten is closer to a change or shift in the story. It’s often unexpected (including POV shifts and time-skips) and is usually unrelated to the elements introduced in the first two acts.

Ketsu, or Conclusion: Get ready to go Fullmetal because this is where we do a little alchemy. Ketsu takes everything in the first three acts and synthesizes them into a conclusion. Note, the goal of this act is to successfully combine the various elements from the different acts of the story into a finale. So it’s not necessarily a resolution, but it is a conclusion.

Here’s a quick example attributed to Japanese poet, Sanyō Rai:

Ki – Daughters of Itoya, in the Honmachi of Osaka.

Shō – The elder daughter is sixteen, and the younger one is fourteen.

Ten – Throughout history, daimyōs killed the enemy with bows and arrows.

Ketsu – The daughters of Itoya kill with their eyes.

In the Ki, we’re introduced to the Itoya sisters and where they live—Osaka. In the Shō, we learn a little more about them. One’s sixteen and the other’s fourteen. Ten twists or shifts the narrative by delivering a quick history lesson. Daimyōs killed their enemies with bows and arrows. Sick. The Ketsu pulls some alchemy and synthesizes a finale. These sisters kill with their eyes. What does that even mean? Do they shoot arrows from their eyes? Or are they just really good at staring people down with icy glares? I prefer the former.

This ends our introduction. Now, let’s shift. 


Kiki’s Delivery Service is a 1989 Studio Ghibli film directed by Hayao Miyazaki. The IMDB synopsis reads:

A young witch, on her mandatory year of independent life, finds fitting into a new community difficult while she supports herself by running an air courier service.

There’s not much more to the story than that. If you haven’t seen the movie, I highly recommend it. On to the breakdown:

Ki – In the first act, we’re introduced to the Kiki-verse. Kiki is from a small village and flies off on her broomstick to a big coastal city for her witch training. She meets a friendly woman who runs a bakery. The woman lets Kiki stay in a spare room.

Kiki feels homesick. She’s definitely not in Kansas anymore.

Shō – To make a living, Kiki starts a delivery service. Through her service, she meets lots of new people. Some of them are chill, some of them not very chill. One of them is flyboy Tombo. He crushes on Kiki as hard as he crushes on all things aviation.

Kiki starts to doubt whether a witch can make it in a big city.

Ten – Tombo gets tickets to ride a giant dirigible that’s visiting their city. He’s essentially the Kiki-verse’s Wright brother (or maybe Da Vinci). He loves flying so much, he’s even building his own bike-powered airplane. Unfortunately, when he finally gets to the event, the dirigible ends up accidentally drifting across town with Tombo dangling underneath for dear life. But help is on the way.

Tombo’s in trouble, and Kiki comes to the rescue.

Ketsu – Kiki has been accepted as a part of the city. She’s good friends with Tombo. Her delivery service is giving Fedex a run for its money, and she’s found a sense of fulfillment in her life.

All is well in the Kiki-verse.

If you’ve seen the movie, you may have noticed that I left something out. At the end of Act II (Shō), Kiki becomes depressed and discovers she has lost her powers (ability to fly). This carries us into Act III (Ten), where Kiki’s arc focuses on her journey of self-discovery with Ursula, the artist. Kiki leaves Ursula with an understanding that her powers will probably return when she finds a reason for them to return. That reason comes in the form of rescuing Tombo.

Okay. Now grab your drum sticks. It’s time to get Metal AF.

Sound of Metal is a 2019 film directed by Darius Marder. The IMDB synopsis reads:

A heavy-metal drummer’s life is thrown into freefall when he begins to lose his hearing.

Like Kiki’s Delivery Service, this synopsis encompasses most of the movie’s content. Let’s jump into the breakdown.

Ki – In the first act, we’re introduced to Ruben. He performs in an experimental metal duo with his singer-girlfriend Lou. They live in an RV and tour the United States performing gigs. Suddenly, Ruben begins to lose his hearing. While cochlear implants may help, Ruben can’t afford them.

Ruben feels distraught over his hearing loss but continues to perform.

Shō – To stay sober and learn how to live with his disability, Ruben joins a rural shelter for Deaf recovering addicts run by a sobriety Jedi named Joe. Joe tries to teach Ruben the ways of stillness (serenity). While at the shelter, Ruben meets lots of new people, all of them super chill (seriously, there’s no “villain” in this story). Having settled into his new life, Joe invites Ruben to stay on as an employee of the shelter.

Ruben starts to doubt whether he can get his old life back.

Ten – Lou is living her best life in Paris. She’s got a new hairdo, is playing shows as a solo project, and has even reconnected with her (unconfirmed emotionally abusive but definitely gives emotionally abusive vibes) father. Things seem to look bright for Lou. But here comes Ruben.

Lou’s settling into her new life. Ruben shows up unexpectedly.

Ketsu – Ruben has accepted that his relationship with Lou is over. While Ruben was desperately trying to get back to his past, Lou has moved on to her future. Sitting alone in a park, Ruben removes his cochlear processors and sits in silence. He’s finally found a moment of stillness.

A bittersweet symphony for Ruben.

As with Kiki’s Delivery Service, there’s also a part I left out of this breakdown. That being Ruben’s cochlear implant surgery, which comes during Act III (Ten). Thematically, it feels like a reversal of Kiki’s loss of flight. Ruben regains his hearing but is disappointed by the distorted, metallic quality of the sound. Ruben’s surgery leads to his expulsion from the shelter—since it’s founded on the belief that Deafness is not a handicap—and this sets him on his journey to reunite with Lou in Paris.


In Western media, plot commonly revolves around conflict. Two characters/ideologies enter the story—only one leaves. Yet, Kishōtenketsu shows us that plot doesn’t necessarily hinge on conflict.

That’s not to say there isn’t conflict in either film. On the contrary, conflict exists at the scene level for both. In Kiki’s case, she faces off against crows, a prickly artist in the woods, and a runaway dirigible. For Ruben, he has to negotiate with buyers for his RV, navigate the world of medical billing, and face off against his girlfriend’s terminally-French father.

But neither of the film’s plots are built around conflict. There’s no wicked witch out to ruin Kiki’s life in the big city. No bitter delivery man set on bringing Kiki down because he’s worried about the competition. There’s no rival band looking to take advantage of Ruben’s sudden hearing loss. The only person stopping Ruben from moving forward in his life is Ruben.

The three-act plot is inherently confrontational. It relies on one thing winning out over another; this isn’t a judgment. Some of the best stories are built on this structure (shoutout to the epic fantasies). But Kishōtenketsu tells different stories. These are stories that focus on understanding as opposed to victory.

That’s why Kiki’s Delivery Service and Sound of Metal are, at their core, trying to tell the same story. Kiki needs to slow down to find her purpose. Ruben needs to embrace the silence to find stillness. And they find it.

I’m willing to bet director Darius Marder is a fan of Miyazaki. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this:

Who’s delivery service?

PS—I write these articles for free, with no ads, because I want a way to get all of my readers under one roof. So if you like this, please subscribe. You’ll also get updates to your inbox about my fiction and any other cool things I’m up to. No spam and no selling of your data. I’m nice like that.

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Magna’s Solution

Welcome To The Clover Kingdom

Black Clover is an ongoing battle-Shonen manga/anime by Tabata Yuki and chronicles the adventures of a Chibi-Chad named Asta, a young peasant born without any magical power in a world where magic is everything.

Shonen Jump has serialized Black Clover since February 2015, which is around the time I sorely needed a new anime to fill the void that Naruto’s finale and Bleach’s demise left behind. I’d managed to catch up to One Piece in a month-long binge, leaving me desperate for anything about big dreams and the power of friendship.

Initially, my go-to anime vloggers declared the Black Clover anime nearly unwatchable due to Asta’s constant screaming. After watching the first episode, I seriously worried about the vocal health of Asta’s voice actor but continued watching. There was something about the two twin protagonists, Asta and Yuno, competing for the same goal right from the start that felt warmly familiar (reminiscent of Gon and Killua’s dynamic from Hunter x Hunter) and the magic system was fun and flexible. I was in.

As Asta sets off on his adventure to become the Wizard King (Fantasy Hokage), he meets one of his first senpai (junior mentors), the fiery delinquent Magna Swing, a fellow peasant and member of the Black Bulls magic knight squad. He’s set up as a likable but average-strength character whose initial role was that of Asta’s personal Uber (flying on brooms requires magic and Asta has none) and goes on to have a couple of badass moments as the heroes face off against each arc’s big bad. All in all, pretty standard character progression for a battle-Shonen anime.

Rate Me Five Stars Please!

And then these lunatics show up.

Freudian Power Trio

The introduction of the Spade Kingdom and the Dark Triad initiated one of my favorite anime tropes: the time skip. Our beloved squad of delinquents, the Black Bulls, go off to train so they can hope to face off against the Spade Kingdom Arc’s big bads: Vanica, Dante, and Zenon. These are all extremely powerful mages whose strength is on par with devils, the supernatural villains pulling the strings behind the scenes, and they themselves are possessed by three of the highest-ranking devils from the underworld. To power scale this properly, it took a post-time skip Asta and a full power captain Yami, the ultimate Sigma Chad and my personal hero, to take down Dante (pictured above, center).

Tis But A Flesh Wound

What’s important to note here is that prior to Dante’s appearance, all of the Black Bulls embarked on some sort of training, including Magna, to face off against these antagonists. Despite being a peasant with low mana, Magna was able to tap into a power that was considered beyond his reach. Was it by breaking through his limits or conveniently powering up to the level of the story’s protagonists?


Magna felt the need to get stronger at all costs in order to keep up with his personal rival, Luck Volta, and to avoid being a burden to the rest of the Black Bulls (classic anime motivation). He was willing to do anything to get stronger, even study. It was revealed to readers in a flashback that Magna began his magical education by begging the Black Bull’s resident leather daddy, Zora, for tutelage during the time skip.

Magna’s first lesson was that that the world wasn’t fair. Monsters existed and he, a peasant, could never hope to overpower these walking demigods with brute force alone. Instead, he’d have to innovate. And innovate he does!

He Worked Hard For The Mana

Black Clover writer Tabata Yuki created a fluid, fun, and functional solution for Magna’s problem. Instead of getting a Deus-Ex Powerup, Magna, through the magic of studying and hard work, learned to layer small little magical runes, which only those with low mana would ever think to do, over the course of months, to create a single-use spell designed specifically to counter one of the Dark Triad. What was the spell? Soul Chain Deathmatch aka Magical Socialism. Magna’s spell forced Dante to split his magic evenly with Magna, leveling the playing field for the remainder of the fight. The level of satisfaction that I got from seeing Magna, former magical Uber driver, pound the arc’s big bad, the one that pushed Asta and Yami beyond their limits, a villain that embodies the magical inequality of the Black Clover world was, muah! Chef’s kiss.

In order to understand the gravity of this creative choice, we’re going to need to revisit a classic character from one of the most popular anime in history, Tien Shinhan from Dragon Ball.

I Wish This Was A Wolf Fang Fist

Why Tien Sucks

Within the Dragon Ball universe, Tien is a character that spends most of his time training in the mountains. He has his own dojo and was a self-declared rival to Goku. Humble beginnings. What happened?

Tien didn’t always suck. In Dragon Ball, he was pretty dope, actually. Tien and Goku were caught in between their respective masters’ personal squabbles, the Crane school versus the Turtle school. This pitted Tien against Goku as his fated rival. Tien was the first character to introduce flying to the series, just like Magna, and served as a vehicle to establish the scope of the world. He went from cold-hearted assassin to trusted ally and reliable member of Goku’s crew, classic enemies to friends.

But Dragon Ball Z changed everything.

So You Had A Bad Day

It was clear that, based on Tien’s lack of screen time or powerups, Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama had no further character development planned for Tien Shinhan. It is completely unreasonable to expect Tien to take on any of the Dragon Ball Z arc villains because there was no effort put to make it even possible. Tien learned, in a very real way, that he was not the hero of his story.

The Magical 1%

On an episode of the Writing Excuses Podcast, writer Max Gladstone talks about worldbuilding and how many genre settings seem to revolve around whatever gifted, magical, or otherwise special sort of people heroes and villains happen to be–aka The Magical 1%. Another example is the Jedi order, for instance. Consider, then, the plight of the “regular” people, like Han Solo or Tien Shinhan. It can be scary existing in a world where you’re not one of the seven people in the universe who has a destiny or demigod-level strength. The world suddenly becomes a horror setting where beings of boundless power go around erasing people and blowing up mountains over personal squabbles.

How does a writer work within these tropes in ways that make stories better, that serve their existing characters? The solution is to get creative.

Powerless Doesn’t Mean Helpless

Keeping your plot promises, pushing your magic systems, and including story arcs for your side characters are all ways to strengthen your world-building. Really, you’re treating your world-building as a character, expanding the depth of your world as the story progresses. This steady development allows the space for your side characters to grow enough to even impact the main plot.

Most people consider Samwise the everyman of the Lord of The Rings, the character we could all relate to. He was a gardener with a crush on a local gal who got swept up in some bigtime trouble. What if Samwise, through the course of the story, worked on mastering ancient Elven magic that was fueled by the power of empathy and loyalty? Magic powerful enough to sock Sauron in the fiery face and put him down for good? It could have lead to a moment like this:

Glass Jaw Says What?