I’ve been writing stories about Alondra DeCourval for years and years. “Guardian of the Golden Gate,” which just appeared in the Strange California anthology, is the tenth to be published. The others have appeared in the books Best New Horror #27, Fright Mare: Women Write Horror, Sins of the Sirens, The Haunted Mansion Project: Year One, and nEvermore!: Tales of Murder, Mystery, and the Macabre, as well as in magazines from Not One of Us to New Realm.
Most of the Alondra stories have been inspired by places I’ve traveled, but “Guardian of the Golden Gate” was directly inspired by a place that I lived. When I first moved to San Francisco in 1988, I lived in a beautiful Victorian house at Divisadero and Castro. It stood in a transitional neighborhood: not the gay Mecca of the Castro, not a remnant of the African-American Lower Haight, not a vestige of the Summer of Love in the Haight-Ashbury. The house I lived in had survived the 1906 quake, but looked out across the bay into Oakland and beyond. It gave me a sense of living in something alive and growing.
Down the hill from my house was the first Thai restaurant that I ever ate in. When Alondra eats there in the story, she chooses my favorite dish. Almost thirty years later, Phuket is still there, as is Toronado, the bar where Alondra and Clement meet for beers.
One place in the story that hasn’t survived the years is the magic shop where Alondra and Stella work. Curios and Candles was a real place, full of suncatchers and gallon jars of spell ingredients, jewelry, and handcrafts, and lots of books. Curios and Candles was a holdover from the magical days of San Francisco’s past. I’m still sad that it’s gone.
The restaurant where the story ends, All You Knead, is gone, too. A bright room filled with canvases by local artists, it survived for decades in the Upper Haight on the same block as Mendel’s Art Supply. The waitresses had the best tattoos. Like Alondra, I always ordered the black olive calzone. I could never finish it, either.
This story includes other things I love about San Francisco: riding a motorcycle in the fog, walking by the bay in the moonlight, the wildlife, the history. It draws on the darker side of life by the Bay, too. The dove that Alondra sees on the bridge came from real life. I like to walk from the Warming Hut in the Presidio across the Golden Gate Bridge into Sausalito for a cup of coffee on a Sunday morning. On one of those hikes, I saw a luminous white bird on the edge of the roadway across the bridge. I faced the same dilemma that Alondra does. Unfortunately, the outcome was the same. I honor the memory of that amazing, otherworldly messenger.
Clement himself was inspired by a character in a story called “Ascalon” by Seth Lindberg. (You can read an excerpt of the story or order a copy of it here. I recommend both.) Seth and I spent a couple of years in a writing group called The Paramental Appreciation Society. He borrowed Alondra for an urban fantasy he was writing. With his permission, I borrowed Clement for this story.
My final inspiration for “Guardian of the Golden Gate” was the documentary The Bridge, which explored the pull of the Golden Gate Bridge on people who are suicidal. I understand the call of darkness, but if you need help, please ask for it. We are here in this world for each other. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline anytime: 1-800-273-8255.