Julio X. Palomino

The March Featured Writer is Julio X. Palomino

Feel free to email Julio at:



by Julio X. Palomino

There were people eating hotdogs everywhere. Some of them sat in the picnic tables on the grassy knoll, and one thing they had in common was the expression of utter orgasmic pleasure on sunburnt faces.

Filthy tourists, John thought, bending over and holding his stomach with one arm. Perched over like that, he managed to lose his lunch all over his shoes, and when he looked up, the horrendous Hotdog Man was gone.

He waited to hear more from Bart, but nothing, and for that he was thankful. Every time he’d appear, John was reminded of when Bart decided to re-enter his life: It had been on a sidewalk when he had been walking his dog Marcy. Bart was wearing jeans, a white t-shirt, and sunglasses. From then on he followed John everywhere, or he’d usually be in the area. It was quite remarkable, to have him around at any given time. John supposed that was the great thing about Bart, he was there whenever he needed him or whenever something absurdly chaotic would happen.

There were children screaming everywhere, and as soon as he heard the clock tower strike three times he decided to go home, but something was not right. How could that fat man disappear like that? He looked around and panicked. Had he imagined the whole thing?

John grabbed his Stephen King paperback and stuffed it into his front pocket where he kept his keys. It was getting hotter by the minute. Middletown Park was never this busy—perhaps there was a festival. Usually John knew ahead of time so that he could avoid being imprisoned by the stupid tourists and the crazy evangelists with their stupid signs warning him that if he didn’t repent, he’d burn in hell for all eternity.

He had no time for such things; he was a retired man with no wife and kids, just his dog Marcy back home a few blocks down the road on Main Street. His stomach lurched again and he ran to the staircase past a group of ten or so teenagers smoking cigarettes. When he got there he found the iron railing and held on for dear life. He dry-heaved, some spittle fell to the ground, and a hand fell down on his shoulder.

Panicking, he thought it was the Hotdog Man himself!

“Are you okay, sir?” the young voice said.

John jumped and spun around. “Oh, yeah… I’m just feelin’ a little sick to mah stomach.”

It was a young boy wearing a red hat and black baggy shorts with a bunch of chains dangling on them. There was a cigarette smoldering at the corner of his mouth and his eyes were slits. “Hey man, you should like be careful and shit. You look pale… like you’re sick, man.”

John smiled awkwardly, nodding his head and waving a shaky hand at him. “No, I am fine, thank you…I will…uh,” he looked past the boy’s shoulders to see if the Hotdog Man was anywhere in sight. “I will get goin’ now.”

Nodding his head, the boy laughed and said, “Ha, okay man.”

As soon as John left he could see the teenagers laughing at him. Some nerve! How dare they laugh at the man who once was mayor of this wretched town!


Twenty years ago John Hunter was a well-established man. Having served in the Army during Vietnam, he had come back home for an effort of establishing a “normal” life. Then when he turned fifty-three he decided to run for office, and succeeded in becoming Middletown’s most remembered figure, but not in a good way. He was mayor for a good year before he finally had the breakdown, and it made all of Middletown uneasy, it made them feel less equipped to elect a worthy successor. How could they possibly differentiate a good candidate from a bad one, having known that electing a Vietnam veteran was risky? At least according to Victor Cummings who was elected after John, and the big six-foot-two Swede ruled with an iron fist.

That sonfabitch took my job. It’s his damned fault. I know that for sure, John thought angrily.

Another voice asked, Was it, Bart? Was it really his fault? Do you even remember what you did?

A brief image of a woman crying, an Asian woman with a gray silk dress and a sunhat, “Just leave me the hell alone will ya, you don’t know a thing, ya bastard.”

There was a woman… a woman you thought was that Vietnamese woman ya fell in love with in ‘Nam. Shit, I thought she looked just like her too! She was crying, ‘cause you kept trying to touch her.

John was shaking, and tried to ignore Bart’s antagonizing temptations. For a brief moment, John realized that these images may have been repressed memories. “Just leave me alone Bart, ya just leave me the hell alone.”


Daydreams were a normal daily occurrence for John. His nightmares were a different issue, and usually he wouldn’t be able to remember them. What he did remember faded until it no longer seemed to have taken place. Take Marcy as an example, the poor pup was probably lying in a gutter somewhere, and the only person who had any recollection of the dog was Bart. On the walk home, John’s mind meandered to the darker corners of his memories, and to the dimly lit ones at the end of a seemingly endless corridor.

Where’s Marcy, John, did ya forget about the poor pup already? I haven’t and I worry about that poor dog. Do you think it disappeared? Ya know she ain’t been home, right? 

The sidewalk swam in and out of focus, like the acid trips he enjoyed back in Woodstock.
John stopped walking for a minute and couldn’t seem to remember having a dog and then he felt faint. “I’m getting dizzy, you sonfabitch. Why don’t ya leave me alone?”

Take it in, chum, and ride it out my good ol’ friend.

The image of an M16 suddenly appeared in his mind, and he felt heaviness on his shoulders, as if the gun was strapped onto his back. John knew what Bart was trying to do; he was trying to help him remember, and as soon as it took over, a daydream flooded in, blurring his vision. Bart was pulling a blanket over his eyes, and all John could see was darkness…


The rain is falling down hard. Ahead of him, Bart and Sergeant Clark converse in quiet. John loves to marvel at the starry night sky, and even though Vietnam offered little beauty to him, the glistening stars gave some comfort. From the distance he can hear the muffled sounds of gunfire, with the occasional explosions. He is stuck in a beautiful nightmare.

The dirt path narrows and they form in single-file, with the Sergeant up front.

“Get down! I think I see something. Remember, men, ya see sumfin come up, ya blast it!”

John bends low on his knees, as they ease their way down the path—their boots soaking in mud—and the Sergeant lifts a fist in the air. The soldiers freeze. The man behind John is shaking and whimpering, John turns his head to shush the boy up. Bart peeks over his shoulder, his eyes locking with John’s. The look reminds John of the time he first met him in high school. John frowns, remembering how many of the girls loved that very same look. Bart’sslightly curved eyebrows, the black hair, the brilliant smile, and his broad shoulders, these attributes were all the girls needed back then.

“Come on, chum, get closer… Ya wanna smoke?” Bart whispers.

John shakes his head vigorously. He is afraid, and the last thing he needs is a cigarette.

The sergeant turns and yells, “Get down!”

The explosion kills the sergeant immediately, and his limbs go flying all over the place. John’s ears are ringing so badly that the cries from the other soldiers are muffled to an echo. His face contorts with pain as he places both hands over his ears. He is crying now and despite the fact that his face is covered in mud, he sees that Bart has been injured from the attack. His arm has been obliterated, and he’s lying on his back screaming.

He’s screaming John’s name.

As John crawls over to his friend, he sees all of the blood pumping out of the stub protruding from Bart’s left shoulder. “Oh no, oh fuck… don’t you die on me.”

Bart takes his helmet off with his other hand, “Take my helmet,”

“Why, Bart? Come on, I’m gunna get ya home now, come on—”

“Stop, take it… There’s a note there for my wife and my son… Please John, do anything you can to survive.”

John winces, and looks down at his legs. He’s been shot in the legs twice.

“Take my helmet, chum. Remember what I said, do anything to stay alive!” Bart bellows, and soon after he closes his eyes.


“Please don’t!” John screamed loudly, “It isn’t my fault!”

John, did you ever give the note to my wife? Ya chum. Ya know I am not the kind of person to hold a grudge, but that sure does piss me off. You made a promise to me.

John whimpered and shouted, “Shut up!”

Bart was silenced, but John knew it was only momentary. He rounded a corner, he was now on Second Street, and at the opposite corner sat Jack’s Market. He would make a pit stop to grab a six pack of Millers and a bottle Jack Daniels whiskey. John walked slowly, minding his steps, and nearly toppled over when he almost missed grabbing hold to the stop sign. The crosswalk stretched out and in his mind’s eye, the road loomed like a black ocean. With his wrinkly left hand gripping the stop sign, John sighed. I am never going to make it.

Oh don’t feel so glum chum, you can make it. Just pretend the Hotdog Man is right behind ya, maybe he is… maybe he isn’t. Besides, what can go wrong? Bart said, and was laughing by the sound of it. His sarcasm was not as charming as it had been in the past. At one point of John’s miserably lonesome life, Bart’s comments were welcomed, because jokes were scarce during the war.

“Ya damn asshole. It ain’t like the old days where people were good to ya, and meat wasn’t as revolting as before.”

Were you always a vegan, chum?

John thought for a moment, and dismissed it. “Leave me alone, you old bastard, I am gunna get me something to drink.”

He felt like he was being watched, and when he turned around the Hotdog Man was there.

John nearly tripped over his own boots again. He was standing right there, right behind him! He was wearing a sweat-stained tank-top with the remnants of mustard dripping down his greasy chin! His breathing sounded like a deflating balloon. When he smiled his fangs were exposed. He had a mouthful of them. But they weren’t regular vampire ones you saw at the movies, shining bright like dentist work, his mouth looked like an ear of corn. Maybe it was the hotdogs he had eaten earlier, or maybe John was having another episode, but the truth was that the Hotdog Man was there, standing over John and grinning like a monster.

“Get away from me! Git!” John screamed as he walked backwards across the road. John was shielding his eyes from the sun with one hand and noticed something peculiar: every time he placed his hand over his eyebrows, the Hotdog Man faded out. But John disregarded this apparent impossibility and decided to turn around. With all of the strength he still had, he ran despite his old age. Luckily, the corner store’s door was open and when John ran inside, Jack was there sitting with his feet up over the counter reading a dirty magazine.

Startled, Jack dropped the magazine and it fell to the floor inside-up, the naked blondie smiling for all to see. “Jesus, what the hell is going on ‘round here?”

Fighting for air, John bent over with his left hand on a rack of baseball cards and with the other pointed in the opposite direction. Behind him, a loud Toyota blasting Mexican music drove past.

“What the hell are ya saying, old man?” Jack, who was from Shooter’s Bay, wore a plaid jacket and a white t-shirt with these words: Tennessee’s Finest Badass

The truck turned right, passed Jack’s Market, and disappeared down Rodeo Drive. “He… is coming… after… me!”

Squinting, Jack lowered the brim of his white baseball cap and said, “I don’t see anybody, old man, you want me to go check and see what’s up?”

On the television set a female reporter stood in front of a Shell station, she spoke loudly into her microphone. “The robber, who was wearing a green helmet, has been caught on tape. Please, if any of you recognize this man, report him to the authorities immediately. Make sure your houses are locked up, and keep an extra eye out for this dangerous man. Again, he is about six-feet-tall, and apparently, he usually wears white tank tops.”

A sketch appeared on the right side of the screen, and it was a perfect replica of the Hotdog Man’s face, but John knew he hadn’t been wearing a helmet. So why was he wearing one in the surveillance video?

John turned around to take a hesitant look outside. The Hotdog Man had vanished once again and there was no way to prove that he had ever been there in the first place, except that John was not a superstitious man, he knew what he saw and was trained to believe what his eyes told him. “He was right fucking there, I am telling ya!” He coughed and added, “But I don’t fucking see him anymore, can you believe this shit?!”

Jack’s arms flew up. “Say, fella…Look I don’t got anything. I swear to it sir, I am broke!”

“Look,” John tried to calm him down with his hands, “calm yourself sonny, I am just an old man. Don’t you remember I was a mayor of this place?”

“I didn’t live here when you were…I’m only fucking thirty-five mister, please don’t shoot, just take what you want!”

Scratching his head with confusion, John sighed. “Put your fucking arms down sonny, I am not the bad guy here.”

Oh chum, you are just so hilarious sometimes, Bart chimed in.

John left the store with haste. Why was Jack so afraid of me? Goddammit, I am an old man for Christ’s sakes.

Do you remember where you live, old man? For once, instead of looking at the floor as you walk, why don’t you look up and enjoy the view, huh? See there? Down the road a ways, the green one with mold and shit growing all over it, that is your house.

John smiled, knowing he was almost home, and then he saw a dim white figure standing just in front of his rusted fenced entrance. The Hotdog Man reappeared.

But then he was gone!

John shook his head vigorously and sped up his walk. When he arrived, his shaky hands nearly dropped his house keys. The small old one opened the small gate, and the bigger one opened the house. He had been able to memorize this even though he no longer trusted his own memory. It was the important things that he could remember, and the less important memories that he could not. According to Bart, it was all up to interpretation.

Upon entering, he heard footsteps inside, and when he opened the door he yelled, “Get outta here if you’re in there!” John slammed the heavy door shut behind him.

Most of his home was covered in dust, and the living room on his right was so old that there were springs jutting out of one of the cushions. The flowery embroidery had once been a delicate reminder of how much his mother loved him; she had bought the sofa for him decades ago. The kitchen was connected to the living room, and with the incoming light feeding in from the windows, that ran across the wall adjacent to his Van Gogh reproductions, made almost the entire first floor look mossy green. The windows were dirtier than they had ever been, and around the edges green mold had stained the glass—mostly due to heavy rain Middletown would receive during winter. John had spent most of his life in this house, lonely and waiting for the days to pass murderously over and over. Glancing momentarily at the bookshelf near the old television set, he marveled at the collection of books he had gathered, and they all sat there collecting dust until the day of his death. Surely they would be given away or perhaps sold, but those books meant nothing while he was alive. Nothing truly mattered as long he was alive.

You sure do know how to make yourself feel better, chum.

John tossed the paperback carelessly on the sofa. While it sailed through the air the pages turned and his bookmark flew, discarded in the midst of his messy living room. John walked down the long green corridor, looking down as his feet shuffled through the dust mites and the cobwebs forming from wall to wall. Those cobwebs stuck to his legs like the embrace of a lover, a feeling he could hardly recall and could only imagine. The only lover he ever had was a woman in Vietnam, and that story was better off untold and forgotten. As John made his way down the corridor he suddenly remembered his dream: the one with the long corridor and the man at the end of it, who was presumably his long-time friend, Bart.

John’s eyes widened when he heard the sound of feet stomping on wood at the end. “Who’s there?” he bellowed without looking up.

Why don’t you look up, old chum, and see? Bart suggested.

“I won’t. I can’t.” John shook his head and started feeling dizzy. The world swam in and out of focus again and when he toppled over, the dresser with the long oval mirror stopped his fall. With one hand he held himself steady; he was trembling like a lost puppy. He was trying to remember if he ever had a dog, and wasn’t able to recall the name. Was it Marky? No, that wasn’t it. John tried to remember other things, and suddenly, he was unsure of everything including himself.

Chum, try to remember why you couldn’t give the note back to my wife and my son. Can’t remember, can ya? Shit, I don’t even think you ever had a puppy old chum. I don’t think you ever owned one at all. Why don’t you look up for once and see for yourself? Look! I am only trying to help. The distant sound of popping; Bart was chewing bubble gum again.

“Stop it! Where the hell are ya? Why can’t I see ya?”

A shadow sluggishly materialized at the end of the corridor; there was another mirror there and John wouldn’t dare to look up. His fear consumed him, and he couldn’t quite remember anything at all. Alongside the fear of mirrors, he was afraid that he was being watched by the Hotdog Man.

Then the voice of the Hotdog Man spoke up, abysmally, “You old fart.” The fat bastard burped, swallowed, and laughed. “Why don’t you look up?”

The temptation was rising, all of these people in his house! Beckoning him to do the most absurd thing in the world! To look at himself in the mirror and see what he hadn’t seen for most of his life. John fell into temptation then, and upon realization, his fear exploded inside of him burning his internal organs like fire, and when he did look at his own reflection he screamed. He screamed at the man who stared at him with such horror. His left arm felt numb, and his vision diminished. He saw a single figure in the mirror, the Hotdog Man himself, except he was standing all alone.

The helmet fell off of his head when he tumbled down like deadweight. John came down on his left arm. There was a rancid taste in his mouth, and it smelled an awful lot like mustard. With one shaky hand he felt what was dribbling down the corner of his mouth, and with his middle finger he wiped it off and saw what it was. It was mustard, and in it were tiny specs of what could have come from a hotdog bun. His hand fell on to the dusty floorboards and before he closed his eyes for the last time, two shadows loomed over his fat, dying body.


Julio X. Palomino was born in Miami, Florida, from Cuban and Guatemalan parents. At age 8 he moved to Washington, where he began writing by the age of 12. He graduated from Western Washington University with a Bachelor's Degree in English and currently lives in Everett, Washington state.