Nicholas Tana is a writer, director, producer, and musician. He is the creator of the graphic novel Hell 's Kitty, which spawned a web series, a feature film, and an award-winning, sold-out musical at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. Tana has also written a dark prequel to Snow White for Disney Publishing and has authored numerous children’s books, including Monsters Are Afraid of Babies and The Little Lion That Listened.

Tana directed the Amazon Award-winning documentary Sticky: A (Self) Love Story, available on Amazon, and is currently directing We Are Animals, a documentary on animal rights with appearances by Moby and Alison Pill.

Tana’s sci-fi noir graphic novel eJunky is scheduled to be published in early 2023 by Scout Comics, featuring an alternative cover design by Darick Robertson (The Boys).


 by Nicholas Tana


People don’t realize you can die more than once. But the way your story ends determines how you are remembered. If you’re remembered. And in Hollywood, that’s all that matters.

I was on my way to my grandfather’s home in Old Topanga Canyon. This was a big deal to me since my grandfather never let anyone visit him there. He used to joke with me about how it was haunted and that it was no place for “a young lady.” This, of course, only made me want to see it all the more since I’m a horror writer.

Zipping along the winding roads of Mulholland Drive in my Mini Cooper, I thought about how crazy it was that I would finally, after all these years, get to see my grandfather’s infamous place. I wonder what finally changed his mind about me visiting?

His home once belonged to Gary Hinman, one of the Manson family victims. According to my research, Gary was quite a character: Zen Buddhist devotee, musician, piano teacher, and apparently a drug dealer with a mescaline factory in his basement. That was before Manson chopped off Gary’s ear with a sword. One of Manson’s followers then stitched him up with dental floss, but it was to no avail since another follower then brutally stabbed him to death.

And all of this happened in my grandfather’s home. No wonder he thought it was haunted.

My grandfather was obsessed with the macabre, I later learned. It had everything to do with the death of his friend Sal, otherwise known as The Switchblade Kid. Unfortunately, Sal had no switchblade on him when Lionel Ray Williams jumped him and stabbed him furiously in the parking lot of his Hollywood apartment. Poor Sal Mineo Jr. had been making a comeback, too, after being in the San Francisco hit stage production of P.S. Your Cat is Dead. But, I didn’t know any of this yet. As far as I knew, Uncle Sal had died in a car accident.

As I approached the steps leading up to Grandfather’s door, I thought I saw something stare back at me from behind the window: a faint flicker, a shadowy figure. I reached into my pocket and squeezed the keys between my fingers. As a slender woman in my late twenties, people tend to underestimate me: seven years of karate after an attempted assault by someone who lived in my dorm taught me to be alert and that anything could be used as a weapon. 

I went to knock on the front door, found it slightly ajar, and decided to cautiously enter.

Once inside, I knew something was terribly wrong. It stank of rotten garbage and rosemary as if he was trying to exorcise the trash.

“Grandpa, it’s me,” I called into the hallway.

Suddenly, my grandfather appeared in his bathrobe, startling me. He kept rubbing his hands together, looking around the room, almost shark-like.

“Are you all right?” I asked.

“Yes, follow me,” he said, in a hurried tone.

He led me through the narrow, dimly lit hallway into the kitchen. It was filthy: the sink full of dirty dishes, the garbage overflowing. I noticed the burning rosemary on the counter.

Grisly black and white photos lay scattered on the tiny wooden table. Scanning through the photos, I saw a dead woman, her smile extended where her mouth had been sliced; her corpse sawed in half. Then there was Marilyn Monroe, face down, nude on her bed, telephone in hand, empty bottles of pills littered around the room. The other person was impossible to recognize, a man lying across the bed, face half blown off, his body naked, his feet on the floor, a shotgun next to him.
“What are you doing with these? And who’s this?” I asked, gesturing to the picture of the dead man.

“George Reeves. Superman,” he said, his voice growling. “He’s one of these famous, unsolved deaths.”

“You mean Christopher Reeve?” I asked.

“No, George, the original Superman,” he said. “He was found with a shotgun wound to his head; it was ruled a suicide. I know better though.”

“What do you mean, you know better?”

“You’ll find out, soon enough. Now that you’ve seen the images, keep them in your mind’s eye, picture them. It’s very important that you do this for it to work,” he said.

“For what to work?” I asked, increasingly concerned for his sanity.

“Listen, what I’m about to tell you will seem impossible. You’ll think I’m crazy if you don’t already. But, I assure you, it’s real. And I’ll prove it.” He delivered his words slowly, as if to stress his sanity, despite my growing doubts. “Those photos. I took them,” he said.

“That’s ridiculous! You weren’t there. You don’t know Marilyn Monroe or this George Reeves guy,” I insisted, smiling even, feeling like this was one of my grandfather’s elaborate jokes, like the time he dressed up as Santa Claus and I caught him pretending to climb up the chimney.         

“It’s true. I took them all, so help me God,” he said.
“You don’t even believe in God,” I pointed out.

“You’re right. But, I do believe in ghosts,” he said. “And now they’re haunting me. They want me to go back and reverse what I did,” he said.

“Who? What do they want you to reverse?” I asked.
“Them,” he said, pointing to the photos on the table. “Look!”

He pulled other photos from his pocket. Photos of the same people, only alive. Taken moments before their death.
“How did you get these?” I asked.
“I took them,” he said.

For a few seconds, I studied him, wondering if I had never really known my grandfather at all. My stomach tightened, and I could feel my heart racing.
“You…oh God, no. Do you think you murdered them?” I asked, horrified.
“No. On the contrary: I saved them.”
“I don’t understand.”
“In my basement, there’s a closet. Inside, there’s a portal. It will take you back in time. To the moment before their deaths,” he said.
“How?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I just know it works. If you picture where you want to go, it will take you there. Only, it doesn’t work with good places or happy moments in time.”
“Impossible,” I said.
“What is life but impossible?” he said.
I stared, silently, mouth agape.

“The first time I discovered how it works, I was drunk and thinking about Sal. That was back in 1976. Long before you were born. Back when Sal’s death was still legendary.”

“What do you mean? He died in a car crash,” I said.

“No, not the first time,” my grandfather said.

“I had been staring at a newspaper clipping of him, right on that very same table, wishing I could go back in time, to stop the man who killed him, when I heard noises coming from the basement. I went to check it out, and, well, that’s when it happened.”

“That’s when what happened?”

“That’s when I traveled through time. Back to the moment before Sal was murdered.”
“That’s insane!”
“Yes, and if I hadn’t experienced it for myself, I’m sure I would feel the same way. Only, it’s true. It happened. And I saved Sal.”
“Sal’s alive?”
“Not exactly,” said another voice. I looked up to see Sal, staring at me, only it wasn’t Sal in the flesh. It was his ghost: pale and colorless, like a projection from a black and white movie, his body bloodied and full of stab wounds.

Screaming, I ran for the front door. As I did, a mutilated woman from one of the photos appeared right before me, blocking my path to freedom. She was smiling, blood dripping from the corners of her mouth, head tilted, eyes unblinking, staring as if peering into my very soul. I felt an arm on my shoulder and turned to see the man with the shotgun blast to the face, half of it a bloody pulp. I backed away, bumping into the wall.

Then, Marilyn Monroe appeared.

“Fear is stupid. So are regrets,” she said in her sultry, inimitable voice. I was surrounded. I pulled the keys from my pocket, striking at each of them. They all just laughed, mockingly, and disappeared.
“It’s okay,” my grandfather said, hugging me.
“What’s happening?” I asked.
He led me back into the kitchen, sitting me down at one of the chairs, the grotesque photos before me spread out on the table.

“After I saved Sal, I returned and, to my surprise, Sal returned, too—as a ghost, to haunt me. Despite my efforts, he died years later, in a car accident. Only his death was not as memorable. Oh, how the ordinary is so easily forgotten while tragedy too much remembered,” he said, staring off in the distance, his eyes unfocused as he reminisced.
“I must be losing my mind,” I said, starting to hyperventilate.
“Take a deep breath,” he said, “and just listen to me. I tried to go back to save Sal a second time, but I discovered that I couldn’t. The portal only works when there’s a murder. So, I experimented with other instances of tragic deaths. More famous than Sal’s. Hoping to make some difference,” he explained.

“You went back to visit them?” I asked, pointing to the photos on the table, my hand shaking, my voice cracking.

He nodded, swallowing hard. “And now I need you to go back in time, too.”

“Oh hell no,” I said.

“I’m dying,” he said.


“It’s true. Cancer. I didn’t want to say anything to anyone. But now I don’t have much time. And I need you to help me fix things; put them the way they were before I went back.”
“Why would I do that?” I asked.

“You need to go back and stop me from saving them,” he said. “I can’t go back, because it won’t let me. I think because it would mean me facing myself. And time travel, well, it doesn’t seem to work like that,” he said.

“So, you want me to go back in time and stop you from saving them? You want me to let those murders happen?” I repeated, making sure I understood him.

“Please, you need to help me, before it’s too late,” he pleaded.

“Why does it matter so much?” I asked.

“Because I’ve been haunted since 1976 by the ghosts of those I tried to save. They all ended up dying, somehow, afterward. Whether by car accident, or plane crash, or some way, but in dying, their deaths weren’t a mystery; not quite as legendary.”

“If you saved them, how come their ghosts look murdered?” I asked, trying to make sense of it all.

“Every death leaves its ghosts behind. These are the lost spirits of the murdered victims, doomed to be forgotten shadows. Unless we help them,” he said.

He took me by the arm into the dark basement. We stopped in front of the closet door when I noticed the gun: an old Smith & Wesson revolver, resting atop the boiler. He saw me looking and handed it to me.
“Here. Don’t hesitate to use it! I know it’s old, but it works. I tested it myself. A 1920s revolver found by someone in the forties or fifties or even sixties won’t be so shockingly anachronistic,” he said.
“Why do I need this?” I asked, holding up the gun.
“In case something goes wrong. You’re dealing with murderers after all,” he said.
“You want me to stop you from saving Sal in 1976. But, if I somehow travel back to a year before I was born, you won’t recognize me, will you?” I asked.
“Probably not,” he said. “Which will make it more difficult. I likely won’t make it easy for you. It doesn’t matter; you’ve got to stop me,” he said.
“Stop you how?” I asked.

“Any way you can,” he said, staring at me, studying me, making sure it was sinking in. “If I run away, through the portals, you’ll have to follow me and, if you must, finish me off. Just be sure to drag me back through the portal. Don’t leave me there.”

“What if I can’t get you back in the portal?” I asked.

“That would be a disaster that might alter time in ways we don’t want to know about,” he said.

Then he opened the door.

A few slow deliberate steps into a blinding light caused me to blink wildly. When I could see clearly, I was staring at a woman, tied with rope to a chair, inside some basement, but it was not my grandfather’s basement.

The woman was gagged and crying, and twisting in her chair, her body naked. Then I saw my grandfather, looking younger than ever, tiptoeing in a shadowy corner, past a boiler, just out of view. He snapped a picture of the woman. After taking the picture, he tucked his camera under his arm and pulled a pistol from his pocket. I didn’t wait to see what he would do.

That’s when I knew this was no dream; it was real. Instinctively, I drew my gun and pointed it at him. He spotted me and ran. I chased him, gun in hand.

Something compelled me to chase after my younger grandfather as if urged on by some invisible hand. Everything appeared so familiar, having a sort of déjà vu quality. I was nearly upon my grandfather when he ducked into a shed, and there was that familiar blast of light. Into the light, he vanished. I took a deep breath and followed.
When the light faded, I was standing in an open closet and looking at George Reeves, the man from the shotgun wound photo. George was alive, but he was on the bed, naked, confused, and scared. Before him stood my grandfather, pistol now holstered in his back pocket, his camera tucked under his arm.
“Please, stop!” my grandfather pleaded.
“Who are you? How’d you get in here?” George asked.
“You need to leave,” I shouted, pointing the gun at my grandfather and chasing him away. My grandfather ran through the portal.

I could hear men’s voices coming. Someone kicked open the door and pointed a shotgun barrel. I didn’t wait to see what happened next, for I already knew. I leaped into the closet.

There was the familiar blinding light.
This time, when I opened my eyes again, I saw that I was in another bedroom closet, its door slightly ajar. No sooner had I started to adjust to the light than I felt a pistol pressed against my ribs, and a voice whispered into my ear.
“Don’t move!” said my grandfather.
At that moment, Marilyn appeared from the bathroom. She collapsed on the bed, naked, with a bottle of pills in hand. Several men stood over her, watching.
“She was murdered!” I mumbled. “They made her do it!”
“I know. That’s why I must stop them,” he said.
“I can’t let you do that,” I said.
My grandfather tried to wrestle the gun from me, but I had made sure to angle the barrel toward his stomach.
Then there was another blinding light. When I opened my eyes, I was staring out at a parking lot. My grandfather was there, frozen, staring at his friend, Sal. Only Sal didn’t see him; he stood across the other side of the parking lot, arguing with another man. I could see that the other man had a knife. I watched my grandfather raise his gun and point it at the man. He started walking toward him.
I didn’t hesitate. I tackled my grandfather to try to take control of his weapon, dropping my own gun in the process.
“Who are you?” my grandfather asked.
“I’m from the future. Your future. And I’m trying to stop you from making a big mistake,” I said.
“But, that man is going to kill Sal,” my grandfather said.
He shoved me and I fell into a karate stance. Then I kicked him. My young grandfather fell backward against the door and I charged him, wrestling for his gun. In the distance, we heard screaming, and I knew Sal was being murdered.
“You ruined everything!” shouted my grandfather, pulling free of my grip. The man stabbing Sal ran away.

My grandfather pointed his gun at me now. I chopped at it with my hand, shoving it back toward him. As he recovered and tried to wrench the gun back around, I lurched forward and grabbed it.

I heard a bang and felt my grandfather’s warm blood spill against my stomach as I shoved him through the portal. He stared at me, unblinking, his face full of shock, the color draining from it quickly; his eyes losing their familiar energy.
“I’m sorry,” I said as my eyes welled with tears. And there was that familiar bright blast of light.

The next thing I knew, I was back in my grandfather’s dark, dank basement.

The house was quiet. I looked around but my grandfather was gone, and so was his blood.

I crept up the stairs and into the kitchen.

My grandfather, once more his familiar older self, sat at the table with his head collapsed forward, the photos all around him. I recognized them all now.

“Grandpa, I did it,” I said.

As I got closer, I could see my grandfather wasn’t breathing. In his hand, was a photo of him and Sal, before Sal’s death. Two friends, smiling, side by side.

I looked up to find the ghostly apparitions of Marilyn Monroe, George Reeves, The Black Dahlia Elizabeth Short, Sal Mineo Jr., and my grandfather, staring at me and smiling. They would no longer be forgotten shadows. In their tragic deaths, they would live on forever.

I watched the ghostly apparitions start to fade away, and I realized that this was the last time I would ever see my grandfather. The way the other spirits huddled around him, inviting him to join them in the beyond, made it obvious that he was no longer to be haunted.

Not anymore, now that he was a part of them. Not anymore, after his attempt to save them, and his ultimate sacrifice. Though my grandfather’s name would go unknown to the world, for me, he would always be a Hollywood legend.