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Today's Story by Caitlin Myer

That very first day at ballet class, I knew I’d found home. I guess that was really when I found religion.

Serialization Sunday – Hoodoo: Chapter 3

Every Sunday, Fiction365 presents a new chapter in a previously unpublished novel.  Our first serialized novel, the taut thriller City of Human Remains, can be found in full here

Our current novel, Hoodoo, tells a story of visionaries, heretics and lunatics in Utah, centered on the life of Alice Lott, a twelve-year-old girl  who believes that God wants her to have an affair with her junior high school counselor. 

Find earlier chapters in Hoodoo here.

Chapter 3

Elder Tanner explained to us on the way to church that the ward was just made up of our neighbors, kind of like a parish in other churches; but our real neighbors yelled at each other in the middle of the night and Mr. Sparrow, two trailers down, tipped over the trailer that his new wife had locked herself in, and it just barely missed crashing into ours. I hoped the people in the ward weren’t like that. It looked just like a regular church with a steeple when we got there, but modern, and Elder McCall said it was built in ’75, so it was almost brand new. It smelled clean and holy inside, my feet sunk into the carpet, and a pretty lady with big glasses and hoop earrings came gliding toward us to welcome us to the meeting. Around her I could see into a big room with wooden pews, and people standing around talking and laughing, but quieter than I was used to.

Everyone at church turned out to be as nice as the Elders, and things seemed to happen fast after that. The ladies from the ward – the Relief Society – brought over tuna casserole and macaroni and cheese and jell-o salads, and old clothes, too, and MaryEllen and me both got shiny black Mary Janes. We showed them off for Jim, and I did a little dance to show how great those pretty black shoes were, and Jim clapped along and hooted and stamped his feet and when I ran out of steam he said our lives were going to be different now, and maybe I could get some dancing lessons soon. I hugged him so hard he nearly choked. One of the men in the bishopric, Brother Decker, got Jim a job selling TVs in his store – the Pahrump Hometown Center down on Frontage – and what do you know, he was really good at it. Elder Tanner said that Jim had Found his Calling and he could sell a television to anyone. Things were really looking up when we hit another snag. The Elders got to the part in our lessons about what they called the Word of Wisdom. It just so happened that not only was drinking out, but cigarettes and coffee were against the rules, too. Mom just about went through the roof.

“How the hell am I going to make it through those fucking AA meetings now?” she asked, her voice real high and quivery.

Elder McCall turned red out to the tips of his ears, and we had to get them out of there so we could get Mom settled down. Jim was right there for her again though, running hot baths to help her sweat it out and peeling stick after stick of gum. Working at the coffeeshop was out of the question now, having to pour coffee for other people and smelling it all the time, and all the customers smoking and blowing those sweet clouds her way. Jim was making enough selling TVs for her to quit, but nothing really did the trick until Sister Page, the lady with the big glasses, brought over some valium with her scalloped potatoes. She introduced Mom to the doctor she got it from, and Mom was just fine from then on out. Sister Page taught Mom how to make casseroles topped with potato chips or corn flakes, and french-fried onions, and creamed peas and carrots, and banana bread, and jell-o salad with mayonnaise and grated carrots as a side dish, or with whipped cream and strawberries as dessert.

Whenever I think of those days, I remember the smell of Sister Page’s special Tuna Surprise.

We all got baptized on the same day, except MaryEllen, who wasn’t old enough. Elder McCall said that anything you do before you’re eight years old doesn’t count as a sin, so you don’t have any to wash away before that, but I wasn’t convinced. If MaryEllen biting me on the butt so hard she left teeth marks wasn’t a sin, I didn’t know what was. We all dressed in white, and Elder Tanner got down into this little swimming pool to dunk us one at a time. Jim went first, and when he got out and dried off with the towel the Bishop handed him, I could see he was crying. Mom was next, then Denny, Mike, and I was last. The water was ice cold, and I shivered stepping in. There was a special grip I had to do with Elder Tanner so I could pinch my nose shut with one hand and hold on to his left hand with the other, while he held his right hand up behind my head for the prayer. I bent at the knees while he laid me back into the water, then back up, the water rushing off me, falling heavy into the pool, and I gulped in a breath, about to go up the stairs at the other side when I saw a quiet commotion going on with Elder Tanner and the Bishop. The Bishop shook his head and Elder Tanner beckoned at me, so I swished back over to him.

“We’re going to have to do you over again,” he whispered, “your braid floated up to the surface, so you weren’t completely immersed.”

I could’ve died of embarrassment, but I did the grip again, and this time after the prayer, I could feel Elder Tanner grab onto my braid before laying me back. It felt like I was under there for long time, the water plunking and echoing around me, and I opened my eyes in the blue underwater world to see my white baptism dress floating around my legs, my bare feet dark against the white tile, a squiggly Elder Tanner up above.


It was nothing but up for Jim in those days, the rest of us just caught up and pulled along in his jet stream. He started to fill out, not so bony anymore, his hair shiny and rings on every other finger. Jim said we were ready for a place with wide, clean streets and dogs wagging their tails and people who would say hello to you on the sidewalk, so we packed up and moved to Lemuel.

He took us on a long road trip through the national parks in Nevada and Utah while the movers were busy setting up our new home. I never knew such places existed on this planet. Mars, maybe. In Arches National Park, Jim stopped the car on the side of the road, and all us kids jumped out and started scrambling up the side of these rocks. They were bloops of rock stacked one right on top of another, like God went crazy with one of those cake-decorating things, Splurt, splurt, splooch. I stood high on a stack of rocks and could see the road disappearing in both directions and tried to imagine us living in a whole new place. The All-American Trailer Trash Family made good. This God had to be real, if he could shake the drink out of Jim and Mom, make us rich, and drop us into Utah shining like kings and queens.

There were all kinds of crazy rock formations out there in Arches, but one in particular stopped me. This huge rock – as big as our trailer back in Pahrump – was barely balanced on top of another, skinny rock, and the one on top wasn’t even in the middle, but set off to one side, hanging on by its toenails almost. I stood there and waited for it to come crashing down on all of us. This was Roadrunner country, and I could almost see Wile E. Coyote rubbing his paws together just behind that teetering rock, ready to give it a little push. Denny was right behind me.

“That’s called a hoodoo,” he said, his voice low. I didn’t look away from it.

“How do you know?”

“It was in a brochure at the Visitor’s Center. It gets like that from erosion,” Denny said. “It looks like it’s about to fall off, but it can stay like that for a hundred thousand years.”

Mike scrambled up on top of a boulder, stretching his arms out wide. “Mooovin’ on up,” he sang, “Tooo theee top. To a dee-luxe apartment in the sky-high-high…”


The Saints in Utah were blindingly Nice. Smiles switched on like light bulbs when we walked into the chapel in our new ward. Click. Click. Click. As their faces turned to look at us, I saw that every one was pink and white. I felt their eyes moving over us, and I pictured what they saw: Blonde Mom, Denny and Mike—really only half-brothers—yellow-haired like her. MaryEllen my full sister, but she took after Mom, gold curls and light tan skin. They got stuck on Jim and me. We were in the wrong part of the Crayola box.

They were nothing like the Members we’d gotten to know back in Pahrump. All those smiles, but nobody brought their kids over to play with MaryEllen and me. We were rolling in dough by then. Jim became Dad when he and Mom got married, and we were all sealed to each other for All Eternity in the temple, and Dad graduated from TVs to insurance to real estate, to something called speculating, just raking it in every step. He moved us into this big yellow house with pillars and marble floors at the top of a long hill in Lemuel. We even had a hot tub. Mom wore all the latest fashions, and big gold jewelry, and she got her hair done every week at a salon. We had Home Teachers and Visiting Teachers over, and they seemed real friendly and happy to see us, but I wasn’t buying it. Those smiles were cranked up bigger than belief.

Denny and Mike made it better for all of us, all blond and white like they were. Mike was just one year behind Denny in high school, and they were great at sports, especially basketball. The coach wanted to fall on his knees and kiss the ground they walked on, they were that good. Tall boys with good white teeth, hair falling soft around their faces, strong and thin in t-shirts and bellbottoms. Girls showed up on our doorstep with books in their arms, legs shaking under their denim skirts. Let’s face it, I was the one that got under people’s skin. The denim skirt girls gurgled at MaryEllen and her blond curls, some even brave – or stupid – enough to coo about her “tan.” But they’d clam up and sidle past me, their soft brows all wrinkled up. A “Cherokee” kid wasn’t all that unusual in Pahrump, but in Lemuel it was different. Everybody here seemed to know they were supposed to be nice, but I could see a kind of protection slide down over their eyes when they talked to me.

At Parley P. Pratt Elementary, I felt like I was standing outside the party, looking in through the windows at everybody having fun. The girls at school carried their scriptures with them, pretty covers their moms made for them out of flowered material, lace around the edges. Some of the covers were quilted, with built-in pockets for pens and homemade bookmarks. My expensive leather-bound scriptures were too heavy, too dark, I couldn’t imagine carrying them with me through the hallways. The teacher said in class that the first pilgrims to America were like Lehi and his family, driven away from home by religious persecution, and I could see all the kids knew exactly what she was talking about, but I had to look it up in my fancy new scriptures when I got home.

None of that really mattered once the school day was over and I could ride my bike to the dance studio. Just weeks after we moved to Lemuel, Mom and Jim presented me with pink tights and a leotard, and I started taking ballet. That very first day at ballet class, I knew I’d found home. Not that it helped me any at Parley P. Ballet was way too heavy for these kids. I’d’ve been better off – popularitywise – in gymnastics, say, though I’d never been the bendy type. Even clogging would’ve won me more status.

But something changed for me, starting that very first day at Madame Lake’s creaky old studio. I watched myself mimic Madame Lake: first position, second, tendu, plié, and my oddly naked, leotard-clad body looked almost graceful in the full length mirrors. She nodded at the pianist, and guided me through steps that eventually left the ground, leaping straight up in the air, simple sautées that made me hold my breath, the music moving under me, holding me up, pushing me on.

I guess that was really when I found religion – what I could do on a dance floor was closer to what I heard about in church than anything else in regular life.


Founder of the Portuguese Artists Colony in San Francisco, Caitlin Myer regularly reads her work at Why There Are Words, Quiet Lightning, and other established reading salons in California.  Her one woman show on Simone de Beauvoir was produced in Seattle.  

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