When the characters in “Challenges Of Zona” sleep, it is common that they travel to the Otherwhen.   The Otherwhen is a place of dreams, unreality and, often, a refuge for those who are between life and death.  It is also a perilous place where beings who are real, half-real and unreal try, sometimes desperately, to assert their power and the legitimacy of their very existence by creating, influencing or destroying the real beings who are there by chance, magick and choice.

One of the beings stranded there is a writer, a semi-existent personality named Ray Candlemaker who contributes to a non-existent men’s magazine called BayPloy.   In order to make himself Real, he will attempt to interview somnolent spirits of real people travelling to the Otherwhen in unconsciousness, or in rare cases, souls caught there between lives.  Here, Vito at last consents to an interview.

RAY : Thanks very much for giving me this interview, Mr.Valero.

VITO: Sure, sure.   Most days I’m bored outta my skull, so this is fine.   I mean, how many times can a man watch “The Mark Of Zorro,” anyway?

RAY: Nice apartment you have here.

VITO: It’s just the old one I had after my divorce.  I was there for years.  I like it better than the  place I was in when I got killed.  I just could never keep up with all the work of a house all by myself, so I kind of let it go to pot, which is not good.

RAY: Ah – so, you were married once?

VITO: Yes.

RAY:  Do you mind talking about it?

VITO: Yes.

RAY: Ah ….

VITO: Next question.

RAY: So, uh, when did you become … an enchanter?  Was it a youthful ambition of yours, you read a lot of mystical books?  Did you have a role model?  Or was there some mystical event?

VITO: Well … sort of.  I was fifteen, and I jacked this car —

RAY: Sorry – you stole a car?

VITO: Yep.  I was kind of a wild kid.   We had a lot of wise guys in the neighborhood, and —

RAY:  Sorry – where was this?

VITO: A small East Coast city.  All I’ll say.  Hope you don’t mind.

RAY: No, that’s fine.  Please, go on.  You were saying that there was a … gang presence?

VITO: It was what it was.  When you couldn’t count on the city to pick up the trash or keep old ladies from getting mugged, the Family was there.  They had their own rules, and you lived by them and you were all right. You didn’t?  Well, mistakes had consequences, not like the courts, y’know?  At least that was how we thought then.  That was it, that was family.   `Course anyone who wasn’t family was fair game, so I spot this new Packard on Third Street, and I knew it wasn’t one of ours.   And see, I knew a guy that had a chop shop and would give me a good cut, so I boosted it, drove it across the bridge and then realized I wasn’t alone.

RAY: Someone was in the car with you?

VITO: Oh, yeah, definitely. Jesus, scared the shit out of me. I’m driving along, and this voice from the back seat says, “Keep on driving, son – you’re going in the right direction.”

RAY: And did you?

VITO: I drove that thing clean out of town and onto the Interstate. All the time I keep trying to look behind me, scared that I’m gonna get my head blown off or something, but I could never get a good look, even in the mirror, for some reason.   Hours we keep driving west on the highway.  He finally directs me to a rest stop and we get out – it’s this old, raggedy Mexican guy.

RAY: Was he armed?

VITO: No, and I just wanted to rabbit right there, the whole thing was so weird.  Seriously, this five-foot-four,  67-year-old Mexican guy just looks up at me and grins.  And I can’t fucking move. He says, “You want to get a burger?”

RAY: What did you do?

VITO: We went and got a burger.   He was … how to put this?  He was just so easy to be with.  He talked about girls, he talked about cars and music and how polishing – this is gonna sound weird unless you know what it really means – he talked about shining shoes and polishing a car.  How it gets you thinking right, and puts your priorities in order.  And he gave me a nickel and told me to call my mother and tell her I was okay.

RAY: Did you call your mother?

VITO: You’re not Italian, are you?  Of course I called Ma and I found myself saying I was going to California and I was gonna get a job and I would write and call.  I had no idea in the world why she didn’t scream at me a blue streak and reach through the phone line and strangle me. The whole thing was completely out of the ordinary.   And so, we got back in the car and drove west, and .. well, that was Carlos.

RAY:  Was Carlos your mentor?

VITO: Yep.  He’s the guy who taught me the sax, taught me jazz and enchantment and everything.  He was just this little, funny fella that never bothered anybody and played like Lester Young.  He was in a couple of jazz combos, as well as a pretty popular mariachi band.   He was never a big name, but he knew some big people.  Always just under the radar, unless you were one of the people who played.

RAY: Did you ever play in the mariachi band?

VITO: I’m a real ham-and-egger on a trumpet, but sometimes, yeah, when Santos or Caesar was sick, they had me fill in.  I looked pretty good in the suit, if I say so myself.

RAY: So, how long did you study with him?

VITO: `Til he died.  Was killed.  Whatever. That was in … oh … `63?

RAY: Was killed?

VITO: I’ll tell you that another time, okay?  It’s not too pleasant a memory.

RAY: Okay, so … you say Carlos knew famous people.  Did you?

VITO: I can drop names, but other than entertainment value, what’s the point?  Being famous doesn’t make you good or important.  That’s one of the things that’s so fucked up about people, especially Americans.  You’d think because some teenager can make a pop song sound good through autotune, he’s as good as cured cancer.  That’s bullshit.  Some of the most pathetic people I’ve ever known were famous.  Hugely famous. And utter failures as human beings.

RAY: Nonetheless, it does sound like you lived a pretty colorful life.  The women you’ve known.

VITO: I’ve always been a horny bastard.  Carlos taught me how to push that energy where I wanted to, and make it a more positive part of me, but yeah, I still got laid a lot when I was young.

RAY:  (consulting notes)  Brigitte Bardot?

VITO: Eh.  It was one night.  What can I say?  In the early seventies she went through a lot of musicians.

RAY:  But … surely one of the world’s most beautiful women.

VITO: Oh, she was gorgeous to look at.   Oh, yeah, definitely she had that. In the sack she was fine, but really, sometimes I couldn’t tell if it was me or just herself she was in bed with. And then, afterwards, she opens her mouth – and it was all over.

RAY: What exactly does that mean?

VITO: Look, I even speak French – one of the things that she liked about me. But I just couldn’t have a conversation with her about anything important. Sorry, maybe it was just my impression, but that broad was dumb in any language.  And racist.  Not as bad then as she is now, but man, it was just that little tinge of ugly that made sure I wasn’t ever gonna call her again.

RAY: Anyone else?  Movie starlets, rock stars?  Beautiful heiresses?
VITO:  Let me tell you about beautiful women, okay?  There’s a saying, “handsome is as handsome does.”  Perfect example: There was this little white trash gal from Texas who cleaned houses for a living.  When she was fifteen she got caught in a fire and got about thirty percent of her body covered in really bad scars, including her face. Some guys actually, like, start away when they see her for the first time.  Me?  All I could see was these huge, huge brown eyes and long, gorgeous chestnut hair and an aura you’d give your left nut to be next to.  And then she started to talk, and smile and … she was the most feminine, vulnerable, charming, sweet and funny woman – she was also amazingly sexy … just so giving and took pleasure in every touch.  You want to talk about class?  You want to talk about somebody who just loved people for their own sake?  I loved that girl. She was  … well, anyway, she wouldn’t ever be on a magazine cover, but she was just one of the most beautiful … Okay, I’m done talking about that.

RAY: I see. Well …

VITO: In fact, I’m done for now. Come back tomorrow, okay:?  See ya then.