People of the Mist
The wooden yoke of the solitary bell hanging in the tower of the church of St. James had broken long ago. The bell neither swung nor tolled when the priest pulled the rope. Every day, before morning mass, one of the altar boys climbed the tower steps, knelt beside the bell and beat it with a hammer. The bell rang out with sharp sounds that echoed the cry of a struck anvil in a hot forge where the farrier tends the horse’s hoofs. Twenty-four times the hammer struck the bell as the acolyte called the parishioners and encouraged them to come to early morning mass.
Tim visited the church from time to time, more out of curiosity than anything else. This morning, however, a sudden urge to visit washed over him. He knew that if he hurried he would get there on time, so he dressed and lumbered down to the courtyard.
“Buenos días, señor,” Mario, the handyman, brush in hand, greeted him with the sunshine of a gold tooth winking among white teeth.
“Buenos días, Mario.”
“Señor, you’re up early. You must be going to mass. Please don’t forget it’s a pig day today.”
“I won’t forget,” Tim returned Mario’s smile and slipped out of the front gates and into the street.
Tim walked with care towards the church of St. James. He looked down at the ground and tried to avoid the tree roots that pushed up between the paving stones on the sidewalk. The stones all lay at awkward angles and the roots crept upwards through the cracks, twisting towards the sun.
… thin clasping fingers … trying to trip the unwary … to pull them to the ground … to tug them into the darkness as they fall between the cracks in the paving stones …
Outside the church door, two young people squatted on the ground in front of the local witchdoctor, El Brujo. The young man, eyes closed, threaded a cactus thorn through his lower lip. Dark blood oozed and, as it fell, El Brujo caught it in a little earthenware bowl. Beside him the young girl carried a flower-filled basket on her head. The aroma of the incense El Brujo burned on his fire tickled Tim’s nostrils.
… light are the flowers … heavy cruel stones lie beneath them and weigh the basket down … twelve girls in floral dresses stand outside the church of the Soledad… they pick up their baskets … place them on their heads … hand on hip one arm swinging free they wait for the high priest to bless them … then they start their pilgrimage … twelve girls … twelve churches … each will leave a floral tribute in a church … they will continue to the cathedral where each petitioner will frame a question as she waits for the blessing … and her lips will whisper the desired prayer … and perhaps it will be answered … but only if the young man sheds enough blood, if the young girl carries a heavy enough weight for long enough …
El Brujo looked at Tim and snapped his fingers. Tim shook his head as he broke away from the images that danced in his head. El Brujo closed his eyes and hummed a rhythmic chant. He was about to enter a trance. Tim shrugged his shoulders, walked past the group, and stopped at the church door, hesitant. Then he took a deep breath and tugged at the oaken door.
Darkness ruled inside the church and would do so until the sun’s first rays awoke the altar’s sleeping colors. Tim had missed the start of the service. He bowed his head, looked towards the altar, genuflected, made the sign of the cross, and knelt at the back of the church. He looked at the people in front of him as they concentrated on the gestures of the priest. He also searched for the man who resembled his father, but there was no sign of him.
The early morning dream world encouraged meditation. Tim watched and dreamed as the shadows crept across the walls. A single beam of sunshine descended and the sharp blade of its heliocentric sword shattered the chapel’s onyx altar into a thousand tiny chips of stained light. A young widow knelt at the altar rail. As the piercing light struck the altar, she turned and her face was a pallid lily truncated by the sun’s pearly light. The sun’s rays placed a halo upon her head. She stood up with her hand before her face as if she were blind then lurched towards the statue of St. James, the patron Saint of this church, of the Conquistadores, and of Spain. The morning service continued as she prayed before his statue.
… St. James the Moor-Slayer … he stands on the severed heads of the Moors he has killed … behind him hands tied behind their backs dusky skinned warriors march away into slavery … the widowed supplicant kneels … her eyes are level with those of the severed heads … she stares eyeball to eyeball at a decapitated Moor … visions of the Gate of Glory in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain … pilgrim after pilgrim lays hands upon the Tree of Jesse and forces grasping fingers into the stone … generations of pilgrim palms burrowing their way into the granite … the supplicant’s flesh clutches the statue’s stone hand … human veins clasp cold marble in search of comfort and an oh-so-elusive warmth …