Clouds wreathed in white and pink, like so many ballet tulles, flow to the horizon. It is a typically warm California afternoon, but Mr. Raj is cold all through, like something has eaten through his flesh and has left a gaping void. When he was a kid his nana would tell him stories of ghouls, evil genies who could shape-shift and appear to human eyes as beautiful women. The ghoul would lure you to its cave and consume you while you were still alive. It would eat you from the inside out, leaving only your skin. Every so often, as it was devouring you, it would pause and laugh at you.
Its laughter, his nana told him, is sharper than its teeth.
Nana, why would anyone go to the cave with the ghoul?
Because men follow a pretty girl anywhere.
I wouldn’t, the seven-year-old Raj tells her.
Wait, his grandmother tells him. You just wait.