People of the Mist 12

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8:15 AM

Tim fingered the slight stubble on his chin then stepped into the bathroom to shave.  He looked at himself in the mirror: brown eyes stared back at him. What am I doing here? What will become of me? He shrugged and raised his eyebrows. The face in the mirror did not give an answer. He covered that face with a white mask of soap and carved intricate patterns with the razor.

… painted masks … death masks … the masks the priests wear in the codices … the prisoner struggling … not yet fully understanding his fate … around him … animal masks … priest masks … the jaguar cult of the regiments … they strip him down … paint his body … arm him with flowers … place him on a pedestal … from there he will dance his last dance … fight his last fight .. his destiny … to die showing no fear … he strikes first with the flower … his opponents strike back … one by one … with their obsidian knives … each wound a flesh wound on legs and thighs … the heart pounds … the blood flows .. faster and faster … more flowers … more knives … more blood … until almost bloodless the prisoner weakens and stumbles … rough arms seize him by the arms and legs … they carry him to the sacrificial stone … bend him over it … chest exposed … and tear the humping heart from the cavity they carve in his chest … the severed arms and legs bounce down the temple steps to the waiting crowds … tomorrow his spirit will return as a hummingbird … and dance around the sun … for now his torn heart sizzles in the sacrificial fire … a horse’s head … teeth bared … grins from the temple walls …

Tim’s razor, held like a flower, slipped and he gashed his lip. The slow blood seeped through the soap streaking his mask with faint shades of pink. He shivered and stared at his reflection in the mirror. A very plain face with a nose a little bit larger and more hooked than it ought to be stared back at him. He thought of his nose as the prow of a ship or a bird’s beak: an eagle perhaps. His nose was very much like that of the man who died in the flower dance. In spite of the warmth in the room, he shivered again.

It was time for his daily exercises so he left his apartment and ascended the corkscrew staircase with its iron steps that rose to the roof garden. Here, in the Recinto de San Francisco, a little corner dedicated to the saint, two Canadians who dwelt in the apartment had placed a statue of St. Francis next to a tiny bird bath which they filled every morning with water. They had also planted flowers and bit by bit, the azotea had become a regular roof garden with a wilderness of blossom caged and captive in pots and urns. Tim stood amidst the flowers balancing on one leg in a figure called the Stork or the Crane. He looked towards the eastern horizon. The sun was well up now, but it wasn’t hot yet. The fierce heat would come later. He maintained his balance and listened to the traffic sounds in the street below. The exhaust fumes of the buses rose up and made his nostrils twitch. The water seller had already started his rounds. His cries of “¡Peragua! ¡Super Agua!” rang out as he cycled along.

… ruined temples … green grass molded into humps and lumps… tumuli … tumors waiting to be cut open and their secrets laid bare … a tomb open-mouthed … yawning at the sun … light floods in … gold bracelets glint … painted pots cast shadows on the walls … ghosts flitter and flutter … two bright glowing eyes tecolote … the owl of death … staring eyes and crocodile jaws … Tlaloc … the death god … the guardian of the underworld … the gate keeper to the afterlife …

And what, Tim asked himself, comes to us in the afterlife? Henry, the evangelistic missionary, a male from the southern states of the USA, thinks he has a god-given right to tell us all what to do and how to do it. He hammers us with words of wisdom from what he calls the “good book” which he bangs and bashes as he quotes it in a deep rolling voice. I can’t be bothered to argue with this man who believes he holds authority over everyone’s spiritual welfare. So, while I may seem to obey him while he is present, I do not pay much attention to his words after he has gone. As for the unopened tombs that abound in the valley, well, I think they should leave them unopened. People who are dead and gone want to stay that way. They don’t want the treasure hunters breaking down the walls and stealing their treasures. And yet, the valley is full of ghosts who hang around restlessly while the authorities decide whether or not their earthly bodies will be exhumed. As I walk the streets at night, especially when it’s misty, shadows of the dearly departed loom before me. I can almost hear their footsteps on the cobbles and I mouth questions in their direction, only for them to vanish just as they are about to speak.

A hummingbird appeared right in front of Tim who turned his arms, slowly, clockwise, with clenched fists, trying to keep his arms level, trying not to hunch his shoulders, breathing in rhythm: “In two, three, four, and out, two, three, four.”

The hummingbird also churned his wings, whirring away, his flight centered on Tim’s nose, almost between his eyes, as if he thought Tim was a flower or

… a sun god … the sun god … and this is my beloved son … in whom I am well pleased … and these are my warriors … and this also is my son … this poor man … stripped to the waist … hands tied around a column … the lash marks showing bright purple across his back … this poor man walking down the street … beaten by the police … high on mescal …


            A dog barked and dragged him from his day dreams. He finished his exercises, went back down to the apartment, and got ready to go out shopping.

People of the Mist 11

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8:00 AM

… the sky is a sharp blue guillotine, poised between twin roofs … a winding metal staircase … a caracol … a snail-shell cork-screwing up to the roof garden … a butterfly in the grapefruit tree opens and closes its painted wings with their wide-open peacock eyes …

Tim went up the stairs to his apartment and sat back down at the table.

Betrayal: the word shocked him and he meditated for a moment on its multiple meanings. He opened his journal and thumbed through the pages looking for a recent conversation he had shared with Alonso, the historical anthropologist. He sighed as he found it and started to read.

… early morning … Sunday … I was on my way to church … I walked through empty city streets … I was lost … I gazed from side to side … closed doors … barred windows … an old lady dressed in black emerged from a doorway in front of me … a lace mantilla covered her face … she carried a basket full of bright wool … I wanted to go to the Church of San Vincente … “This is the way to San Vicente, isn’t it?” I asked, pointing in the direction I was walking …  “Yes,” she said, and started walking in the opposite direction to me … I continued on my journey but I was still lost … I met a second lady … she walked towards me leaning on a walking stick marked like a slide rule with numbers and measurements … “This is the way to San Vicente, isn’t it?” I asked her … she nodded and walked right past me following in the tracks of the first lady … still lost, I stood there doubting … a third lady who looked like the local hairdresser approached … she was carrying an open basket with knives and razors and scissors within it …“This is … can you … will you tell me how to get to San Vicente”  I asked. “Of course,” she said. “Follow me.” … I turned and walked with her in the same direction as the first two ladies … we turned one corner, then another, and there was the church of San Vicente … I slowed down and the third lady went ahead and joined the other two ladies of whom I had asked the way … they seemed to be waiting for me on the church steps … so I walked up to them … I opened the door for them … “All roads lead to San Vicente,” they said in chorus … and they went inside … I sat down on a pew at the back … I looked for them … but there was no sign of them in the church …

I asked Alonso, my anthropological friend, about this weird behaviour. Alonso has a vast store of archived knowledge and seems to be able to locate the strangest facts and discover whatever hidden truth lurks behind almost everything.

“It’s simple,” he told me. “You’re a North American. No native person corrects a man of European descent. You said ‘This is the way to San Francisco, isn’t it?’ and the first two ladies said ‘Yes, it is.’ They’re not fools. They’re not going to put their heads in a noose and correct you by saying ‘No. It isn’t.’ And remember, the older they are, the more steeped they are in the traditional customs. Now, you addressed the third lady in the correct fashion and she gave you the correct answer. That’s what life’s like around here. You must learn to accept the culture and to ask the right questions. Otherwise, in your innocence, you might get misled.”

Tim sat at the table and thought about the day that lay ahead of him. Then he picked up his pen and wrote.

… evening … Monte Albán for the ceremonies and the dances … a dance group who dance native legends by torchlight …. something they say I mustn’t miss … this morning I must go shopping … more mescal … more groceries … must go to the baths …. not the Baños de Oaxaca … those other baths, I forget their name, on Reforma … Alonso told me they were good … and clean … no tourists … all locals … up by the Post Office … Alonso wants to take me to Mitla … late this morning … or early this afternoon … before we go to Monte Albán … it’s going to be a very busy day … I’d better sort it out …

He looked up. Then he stood, walked into the kitchen and looked for the mescal.  None left. He went back to the table, sat down, picked up his pen, unscrewed the cap, and continued writing.

9-11, shopping and los Baños;

1-4 Mitla, with Alonso;

5-8, Monte Albán with Alonso;

8-11, procession with a castillo and dancing

… it’s going to be a tight squeeze to get it all in … I’d like to go back to the cathedral … just to see if that man who looked like my father turns up … if I go there I can walk to Santo Domingo and listen to the old lady who stands alone at the altar and sings … such a beautiful voice …

“Yes,” Tim announced to the room in a loud voice. “I should just be able to manage it, provided Alonso arrives on time.” He stood up, pushed the chair away, clicked his fingers, and started to dance.

People of the Mist 9

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7:40 AM

Sunlight crept in through the open window and the room started to warm up. Tim fingered the leather cord that dangled from his neck and the medallion throbbed with the rhythm of a heartbeat. Tim took it off, held it between his fingers, and examined it with suspicion. Unlike anything he had ever seen before, it still contained the warmth it had taken from Tim’s body. The cross seemed to be a typical Oaxacan cross, except that it was rather stubbier than usual, more like a Maltese Cross. The red of its roses replaced the body and blood of the dying Christ. In the centre of the roses Tim could make out half of a tiny human heart. A jagged tear ran on a diagonal across the medallion. It carved through cross, heart and flowers, leaving the remains grieving for what was absent. The cross was wounded and Tim imagined it throbbing and sobbing as its life blood seeped away. A pedestal of broken stones stood at the cross’s severed foot. The roses that clung where Christ’s body should have been hanging stood out like spilled blood. Tim closed his eyes and tried to recreate the scene in his mind, as if it were whole. Warmth filled his body and he knew that he must find the missing portion.

As though a switch had been flicked and a light turned off, the positive energy stopped and the medallion felt cold and lifeless. Tim traced the edges of the flowers with the tip of his index finger and nothing happened. He wished now he had questioned El Brujo about his gift. However, here in Oaxaca questions were often dangerous and one couldn’t always trust the answers when they were so often double-edged and as sharp as glass. Tim thought of the codex drawings and of the multiple meanings that eccentric experts and squabbling specialists had bestowed upon them.

He placed the medallion on the table and opened the facsimile codex that lay there waiting for him.  The priests who accompanied the conquistadores had hated these indigenous books. Works of the devil, they had called them, and they had tried to destroy, by burning their writings, the history and culture of the people they had conquered. Alonso had told Tim that although much was lost, some things had survived thanks to an oral tradition passed on from generation to generation. This preserved the lore and culture of the older peoples who had for five thousand years inhabited the Valley of Oaxaca. The facsimile copy that Tim possessed still bore the burn marks where a believer had snatched it from the Inquisition’s flames. When Tim touched the burn he could feel in his heart the surge of anguish of the man who had snatched it from the fire and spirited it away. He had so much to learn and grasped at each new world as bubbles of meaning rose from the brush-stroked pages. He knew a multitude of secrets lay in there somewhere, if only he could stumble upon them and shuffle them so they made sense.

… how do you translate a picture into words … he thought … how do you capture line and colour with a few brief strokes of black ink on white paper … what about movement … and perspective … and what cultural perspective steps out from these flat drawings that adorn the page … can you capture in words the smell of cool rain on warm dust … or the scent of the gourd flower when it floats on the surface of hot spicy broth … or the crunch of the mescal worm between the teeth … or the bitter bite of salt and lime  …

The flowing lines of the ideographs wrapped Tim’s day-dreams in colorful hand-woven shawls. The risen sun, a golden treasure trove, gilded the roof of the nearby church and pigeons posed, framed in the window, flash-frozen in an instant of silence. Tim grasped at each new world as it raised bubbles of laughter from the brush-stroked pages, but the speech bubbles quickly faded, faltering on failing air, and he had difficulty in grasping their multiple meanings as they drifted away, golden leaves gliding downwards on an instant of breeze. So many secrets waited to be discovered, if only he could find the key. He looked at his medallion as it lay on the table and listened to the sounds that surrounded him.

…  the tongues of the trees whisper as the slow wind stirs them into speech … the white egrets sigh as they rise from their overnight branches … the strengthening light channels their wings while they shuffle their intimate dance steps …

Last night, the lady who takes her balloons from the square at nine o’clock held a secret within her eyes. It floated in the curls of the children’s hair as they fled to their homes before the coyotes began to prowl. Tim saw them with their cell phones and the synthetic happiness that they peddled in the cellophane packages they carried in their pockets and sold with lies.

Incandescent eyes had blazed from dark doorways in cheap hotels.

“King for a night and a father for the rest of your days,” a young girl whispered to him as he passed by.  Her lips beckoned and her dark eyes tried to draw him.

“I’ll always be your love, my love,” she sighed. Behind her, a table lamp cast the dark shadow of a man with a knife in hand.

How simple it would have been to have followed the snake path, to have slipped sideways and downwards into the welcoming darkness of her arms. But at the end of that trail would come betrayal, the threatening thunder of words, the lightning bolt of the knife with the night sky sliced apart.

… Tochtli leers from his home in the  moon  …  the Owl of the Underworld flaps his wings … drawing near with his gift of subterranean grief …

People of the Mist 8

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7:35 AM

… the sound of dry cactus trickling through a rain stick imitating rain  as it falls from the clouds to strike the forest leaves … rain … steady and  heavy … from purple clouds … water fills the scorpion’s underground nest … Alacrán emerges and  knocks at the dreamer’s door … go away, says the dreamer … tail in air Alacrán minces down the balcony and onto the staircase … now his carcase dries on a stone in the sun … when the rain ends, black ants emerge to pick at Alacrán’s drowned body … they carry him in bite size chunks … up the thin crack in the apartment wall … back to their nests … life goes on … many are called … many are chosen to be victims or assassins … who knows who will be chosen … and for which role …

“Heal yourself,” cried the sánate bird, drawing his knife blade over the sun-warmed stone outside Tim’s window. The trees in the courtyard filled up with sparks of colour as their leaves lapped at his balcony. A butterfly, yellow and black, shook delicate wings, and dangled, at the end of his floral string. Soon the bird of paradise would close its eyes and go back to sleep. High in the sky, strung out like a line of washing in the early morning air, the temples of Monte Albán basked beneath the sun as they dreamed of their former glory. Cloud shadows walked across Tim’s wall. Tourists on an endless train from there to here to nowhere in particular, white clouds stared at Tim from a pastel sky.

Tim loved the sparrows. If he left the apartment door open, they would cease their squabbling and fly down to his balcony from the red-tiled roof of his neighbour’s house. Fearless, they would step through the opening to see if he would throw them some crumbs from his table. Sometimes, they would fly right in, perch next to him on the table, and pierce him with their inscrutable gaze.

Ah, would some power the giftie gie us, to see ourselves as these sparrows see us, Tim used to think, for sparrows dwell among the blessed and it is written that not a single one shall fall

The sánate kept winding up the day with the whistle of his call and dogs barked on the azoteas and in the streets. A warm wind walked through the open door, ruffled Tim’s hair, and climbed out through the kitchen window with a last wave of the palm leaves. This was now his life: to sit here before an open book while black ants crawled their predatory letters across the page and tulips and carnations performed a slow dance in time with the sun’s rotation. Tropical fruit sulked in a basket on the table. The great wheel of the sun had risen over the rooftops and sparrows hopped, dogs barked, and the sánate dragged once more the long thin knife of his tinker’s cry across the sharpener’s grindstone as a rooster crowed his thick rich morning cocoa rico.

the breakfast orange lies racked on the plate …  juices flow like blood … a blood orange … rising like the sun from night’s mist … and now the orange … lifeless … a pale yellow robe spent and exhausted … fading in the sunlight … the wasted disc of a worn-out decadent moon … a lantern with its wasted light cast across a tabloid sky … a still life this orange … its life blood a sacrifice … thick rich golden liquid … as fierce and sweet as sunshine on a branch … 

Tim blinked, went into the kitchen, and looked for the mescal, but it had all gone. The absence of the yellow worm’s slithering crunch beneath his teeth was the ultimate sacrifice. He stood in the doorway, shivered in the sunshine, and mourned one more among his many losses.

 

People of the Mist 6

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7:15 AM

Tim turned the corner away from the church and on the next street a bitter sweet smell assaulted his nostrils. An old man stood vomiting into the gutter. Behind him, holding handkerchiefs to their faces with one hand and their white night-sticks with the other, two policemen prodded the wretch, pushing him onwards, out towards the city’s edge. A small crowd buzzed around him like a cloud of flies. He lurched forward and the policemen prodded him on again. He lurched forward, a stubborn donkey provoked by a stick. The people in the street parted like a bow wave from the ship-shock of his passing.

Stunned and vomiting, sick to the core, half-blind, stinking of the worst kind of cheap mescal, he lugged himself along his personal Via Crucis, step by painful step. When he fell, the policewomen closed in, kicking and tugging him back to his feet.

… quivering nostrils … the throat blazing with its desire for lemon and lime … the jag of the salt …  the chili’s burning flame … the healing kiss of the mescal …the harsh dried husk of the twisting worm … like grit between the teeth …

The old man stood there, nailed to the cross of the sidewalk, his arms hung out on the wind to dry. A scarecrow’s clothing would be cleaner than his clothes. A Guy Fawkes figure, rags and tatters leaked out from his flimsy frame.

… the sun hangs its tail-less kite in the sky … the moon dreams her way through the heavens … an old man washes his own brain … cleanses it of myth and memory … tries to drown himself in a dark river of tears … a sad hand rises from the waves to wave farewell … in the depths of the mescal a yellow worm glides like a shark to the bottom of the bottle …

The old man seemed to walk through shallow water with the millstone of the morning after tied round his neck, a personal millstone, made to measure and grinding exceeding small. If the wearer were to wander into deep water, then it would weigh him down and he would drown.

The street people taunted him, threatened to stand him in the stocks, to strip him down to his basic elements, the heart that beats, the lungs that breathe, the white flat rib-bones that can be scarred, like paper, with the wonder of words. They threatened to stretch him on an ancient altar. They shouted that his torso’s closed flesh was ripe for the sacrificial blade, his body bent backwards, his mind dreaming of the knife’s vertical descent and horizontal slash. People cheered as the policeman’s stick with a thunderous thump flashed white lightning and pierced the mist that lay thick on the vagrant’s mind.

… one quick swallow … then another … twin promises of summer’s sun and of hope’s renewal … each thimbleful of this mouth-burning treasure, drawing warmth into the gut forcing a tear drop from the eye … bringing oblivion …  

The old man soiled the newborn day by vomiting again and drenching the street in a paper bag reality of soiled clothes and running liquid. The street people closed in, creating a moving jail and the old man shivered with laughter and spread out his arms. His round wide eyes were those of an owl about to fly into the cockcrow sun face. Then the crowd drew too close and something snapped: he roared at the stabbing fingers and pissed at the people through the bars of his cage. A beam of sunlight picked him out and, for a moment, his eyes met Tim’s. They gazed into each other’s souls and a voice rang like a bell within Tim’s head: there too, but for the gift of the gods, go you.

The policemen again stepped towards the old man but a strong, dark figure appeared between the police and their victim.

Basta, enough,” El Brujo raised his hand and the officers backed away. “I will look after him.”

El Brujo turned to the old man, wrapped his arms around him, and hugged him tight.

“You must forgive them, brother,” he spoke in a loud voice so the crowd might hear him. “They know not what they do.”

“Come, come home with me,” El Brujo waved the crowd to one side and put his arm around the old man’s shoulder. “I will help you find what you seek.”

The crowd sighed and started to break up. El Brujo and the old man walked arm in arm down the street. The police officers followed them for a step or two but the crowd gathered in behind the pair and ahead of the police, blocking their way. With a shrug of their shoulders, the uniformed officers turned back. A voice in the crowd cried out:

“¡Viva El Brujo! Make way for our saint.”

… the medallion  awoke … it ticked back into life … warm around the neck of the wearer … it moved … a pendulum swaying … side to side … white lightning … a hammer blow falling … somewhere … falling … and the ground swelling up to shake itself out … an old man … an old dog with fleas … shaking …

Well aware of the warmth he carried against his chest Tim turned away from the street scene and walked towards the apartment he now called home.

People of the Mist 5

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7:00 AM

Mass over, Tim stood, made a copycat sign of the cross, and walked out of the church. The boy with the cactus and the girl with her basket of flowers had left the courtyard. The witchdoctor, however, remained. He squatted on the ground, in a trance-like state. Before him, his fire burned low. The strong scent of copal rose from the coals, hung heavy on the air, then dissipated in curves and waves of thin smoke. Tim stopped for a second to look at El Brujo and, as he gazed, the witch doctor, without opening his eyes, spoke.

“It’s a wise man knows his own father.”

“What? What do you mean?” Tim’s knees shook and his voice became squeaky. It seemed to rise an octave as he mouthed dry words.

“I spoke to your mother yesterday.”

“That’s nonsense. My mother’s dead.”

“What ails you, my friend?”

Tim didn’t know what to say.

“If you won’t speak, I’ll speak for you,” El Brujo opened his eyes and stared at Tim. “One night, many years ago, Jaguar crept between your ribs and took your heart into his mouth. When he closed his jaws, your heart was as heavy as stone and Jaguar broke his tooth upon it. He cursed you and your heart remained a rock within your chest. At night, when you sleep, you dream of dust and ashes.”

“You speak in nursery rhymes and riddles,” Tim forced himself to remain calm yet the words fanned a sorrow within him that he had thought long dead.

“Perhaps, but do they speak true?”

Images flash through Tim’s mind.

… curses … stone … dust … ashes … broken heart … rock … heart in moutha marigold path … zopilote … high in the morning air … an old stone bridge … a river below it with the snow floating down to be carried away by the current … three crones dancing on the steps of an old stone building … three beautiful ladies dancing on the temple step at Monte Albán … an old man … dead … then alive and walking in his burial clothes … hummingbirds dancing round the sun … red slashes of blood … tulips against a white-washed wall … an old man vanishing into a tomb … the face of death simmering in the moon’s dwindling pool …

Tim shook his head from side to side.

“So, I see you have some knowledge,” El Brujo raised one eyebrow. “But do you trust that knowledge?”

“Tell me what’s happening, please.”

“What do you want to know?”

“I want to know everything.”

El Brujo turned down the corners of his mouth in a frown.

“Everything? Listen with care and remember. The rich man in Yanhuitlán bought a husband and wife from a nearby village for nine pieces of gold. Next day, he cut their throats at the foot of a large stone idol; then he sprinkled the dead man’s grave with their blood. When he did so, the rains returned, the crops grew again, and the sun continued on his daily journey.”

“That’s it?”

El Brujo nodded in assent.

“What has that got to do with me?” Tim’s voice quavered as he asked the question.

“You too must make a sacrifice, my friend, for in blood we were born, and in blood we will finish our days.”

“What kind of sacrifice? A blood sacrifice, like that boy?”

“No, not like that,” El Brujo shook his head. “You must sacrifice your beliefs and allow me to bless you.”

“I have no beliefs.”

“Even that is a belief.”

“Then I am sacrificing nothing.”

“If that is what you believe, it is so. Here: take this. It’s yours by right,” El Brujo held out his hand. A medallion on a braided leather thong lay in the palm.

Tim looked at the medallion and saw that it had been broken in two and that one half was missing. What remained showed a cross with a half bunch of roses where the crucified Christ would normally have appeared.

“This is your mother’s gift to you.”

“You’re crazy. You know that? I told you: my mother’s dead yet you still say my mother left me this.”

“I do and she did.”

“Did you know her?”

“I did.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“You may believe what you want. But tell me, do you not feel for the medallion? Does it not cry out to you?”

“I can’t say it cries out to me, but I like it, yes. How much do you want for it?” Tim put his hand in his pocket and drew out his change purse.

“You do not have enough money to purchase it,” El Brujo wrinkled his nose in distaste.  “And if you did, you wouldn’t be the man I think you are and then I wouldn’t sell it to you. But it comes from your mother and it belongs to you. Here, take it and put your money away. Please, don’t insult me. Here, lower your head. I promised your mother I’d put this on you myself.”

Tim hesitated, but El Brujo’s eyes held a power that disconcerted him. He bent his knees and lowered his head and the copal that burned on the witch doctor’s fire made Tim’s eyes fill with water and blurred his vision. His lungs filled with its heady heaviness and El Brujo pushed him down towards the source of the incense. Tim inhaled and broke out in a sweat.

“You must wear this always. It will protect you,” El Brujo placed the medallion around Tim’s neck.

“But it’s broken.”

“Not broken, but divided. You must search until you find the missing half.”

“Did my mother tell you that?”

“Your mother is dead.”

El Brujo lapsed into silence and stared Tim down. After a moment, he broke into a weird, wailing chant, using a language that Tim had never heard before. As he sang, he brushed Tim’s eyes with an eagle feather that he drew from his shirt pocket.

“Now, you will be able to see.”

an old woman dressed in black pushes a young man in the chest … woollen threads hang out their colors from her sewing basket … they flap like flags in a single ray of sunshine that breaks into a million tiny sparks of fire … hummingbirds, wing their dance around a sun that bears a dead man’s  face … a pair of scissors snips at the string that ties the balloon to the earth and it floats away up into the air high above the cathedral tower … fire catches its wings and it flares like zopilote … the cathedral spire is a notched measuring stick conducting the clouds as they dance and weave their patterns … within the prison of the sky … trenchant shadows … twisted dancers … old warrior kings bend themselves into pipe wire shapes as they struggle to escape … an old man  wrings his hands then vanishes …  a soap bubble floats away on the wind … a young girl stands on a bridge in winter … snow swirls drawing a curtain around her falling body … an old crone wrapped in rags carries a bundle of clothes to a set of steps and leaves it there …

“The medallion vibrates, it’s heavy and warm.”

“It knows you.”

“What do you mean, ‘it knows me’?”

“Did you feel nothing? Did you see nothing?”

“I saw nothing,” Tim coughed and cleared his throat. “I saw nothing at all.”

“If you say so,” El Brujo stared at Tim long and hard. He opened his mouth to speak, then shrugged his shoulders.

“Come, you have accepted the medallion your mother left you. Now accept my blessing.”

Why?”

Because I ask you to. Are you such a coward that you cannot accept a blessing from a man old enough to be your father? Here, kneel beside me,” El Brujo tapped the ground at his side and Tim, wondering all the while what on earth he thought he was doing, knelt beside the witch doctor.

El Brujo leaned forward and blew on the fire. He added a handful of twigs and selected with great care three pieces of copal from one of his pockets.  He thought for a moment then added two more pieces of incense. The fire caught and smoldering incense filled the air with its heady scent.

“This is a magic land,” El Brujo said as he sketched his spell onto the smoke rising from the fire and laid hands on Tim’s head, all the while muttering an incantation as he squeezed Tim’s neck between his thumb and forefinger. Tim didn’t struggle as El Brujo moved his head to where the incense was thickest. Tim coughed at first, then inhaled the incense and relaxed as his lungs filled with its aroma.

… the young man’s spirit drifts out of his body … it floats in the air above him … the witch doctor draws grief and sorrow from the young man’s heart … they circle for a moment … a sharp wind blows them away …  a child’s balloon rises in the air … it soars upwards to where zopilote floats in the sky … the witch doctor chants and his words have the brightness of forgotten gods long-buried in splendour … still burning with life … he hangs a silver sun round the young man’s neck … it rests against his heart and mirrors the gold disc hanging from the sky … silver mingles with gold as the warm metals bond with flesh and blood …

Tim continued to inhale the incense and exuded thick beads of sweat as he struggled to remain conscious. El Brujo filled his heart and soul with honey and hibiscus. The witch doctor blessed him and again brushed his eyes with the eagle feather. Then he sat back, closed his own eyes, and waited for Tim to regain his senses. Tim’s eyelids fluttered; like a landed fish, he took in great gulps of air, then struggled to his feet, swaying for a moment and shaking his head. El Brujo remained motionless. Tim opened his mouth to speak, but could find no words. He shuffled away in silence.

…  dry leaves gather in quiet corners where the morning breeze weaves them in endless figures of eight … a whirlwind of dead dust scuttles in mysterious circles … rats disturb old bones that lie drying on the floor of an age old attic in an abandoned house … a light brown hand rises for a moment … waves … then dips beneath icy waters …

Tim turned as he reached the edge of the square and looked back. The fire sputtered and one last spurt of smoke formed into a figure that crouched low beside the witch doctor and whispered in his ear.

People of the Mist 4

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People of the Mist
6:30 AM

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 …

 


 

People of the Mist 3

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People of the Mist
6:15 AM

            The bitter taste of bile and vomit brought Tim face to face with to the realities of the day. He removed his soiled, sweat-soaked tee shirt and, still wearing shorts that served him as pajamas, he wandered into the kitchen and lit the gas stove. He opened the fridge. Inside, a plastic bottle of cold water, purchased from the little man in the corner shop, stared back at him. Tim poured some bottled water into an open saucepan and set it to boil.  He added two large splinters of cinnamon. When the water started to bubble, he sprinkled coffee grains on the seething liquid and waited for the grounds to settle. He brought the water back to the boil and did this two more times. When the liquid changed to the dark color he craved, he strained it through a filter into his cup. He scooped a spoonful of honey into the brew and walked across to the table where his copy of a new post-Columbian códice lay open, gazed for a moment at the colored figures in their multitude of poses, and started to read.

“Two breasts: one green, one yellow, symbolic of the hill where the church stands; the church itself bi-coloured, strong stone walls, a spire. A large red heart symbolic of the love we bear for you, our masters. Two feet walking the path of enlightenment you opened before us are accompanied by two hands pointing the way. The feet below the heart; the hands above the heart, like wings; and the heart becomes the body of the new place you have built for us. And in the heart is our sacred symbol: the Earthquake, a sign of leadership and power used only by those of Royal Stature and the Noblest Blood. Attached to the heart is the Numeral One which means Lord of the Earthquake; for you are Number One in our Hearts. Attached to the heart is a speech scroll showing felicitous words of praise; below it is the sacred earthworm, and beneath that the serpent head of wisdom and the flint knife promising strength through sacrifice.

But be wary: for our symbols are double-edged! The colors of the hill are divided, as the hill is divided, showing strife and division. The church is on top of the hill, for the symbol has conquered the people, and the people are starving, subject, and destroyed. The feet are pointing in opposite directions, for the people are stalled. They have no forward movement, nor will of their own, for they are conquered by the sword and not by love. And the hands are pointing in opposite directions; for the right hand knows not what the left hand is doing. And the hands are reversed showing anguish and distress. The sign of the heart is the sign of the disembodied heart, torn from the heaving chest of the vanquished and thrown to the dogs. The sign of the earthquake is also the sign of movement. And that movement is a bowel movement. And one movement in the middle of the sacrificed heart is the victor excreting on the vanquished and treating them with scorn and contempt. The scroll protrudes from the nether part and says that the victors are speaking words of excrement, that verbal diarrhoea issues from their lips. And the serpent has no feathers; it cannot fly. It is as a snake treacherous and bitter, crawling on the ground. The head of the serpent is two tongued and tells of treachery and of deceit. The flint is attached to a heart; it speaks of the heart that is as hard as flint, knowing no mercy. And at the end that heart will receive no mercy in its turn.”

Tim stopped reading. He put his head in his hands and wild thoughts tumbled through his brain, crazy thoughts, hallucinations fueled by the mescal of the previous night.

the rabbit in the moon wears his father’s face … it perches like a scarecrow on the dead stick of a spent rocket … and the rabbit puts out the sun and causes the moon to be formed, moon-raker, moon-maker, jack rabbit, rabbit pie in the sky … and the second sun stares down now a blinded eye, unblinking … death’s face simmers in the stew pot moon and everyone seems doomed as the white rabbit scuttles down his narrow escape tube and back into his burrow high flames flicker on zopilote’s wings and bring an end to darkness … Zopilote the Trickster, the bringer of the sun’s early morning fire … Lucifer, the morning star, the bearer of light, a new star rising among star-crossed generations red scars of tulips, casting shadows on the white-washed wall, twisting shadows, shadows dancing as they struggle to take shape … three women, dancing in the limelight, and an old man, standing there, wringing his hands, then vanishing, a soap bubble, borne away on the wind … floating to where the returning warriors play their hummingbird games around the sun, … they return from their death like all the dead, here in Oaxaca … and the people placing food and drink on altars in their homes for their dearest beloveds to return once a year … down the moonlight’s marigold path, to feast and be fêted by their families … all the dead … returned …

“All the dead …?” Tim repeated the words out loud and sat upright, wide awake. He took his pen and wrote in his journal:

Things to do today:

Shopping: Bread / Newspaper / Mescal

 He stopped writing and took a sip of his coffee. He again put pen to paper.

 But this is all nonsense: I can’t believe that I saw my father last night. It couldn’t have been him. I buried him a long time ago and a long way away. What did I see then, a living man, a man who looked like him? But he was wearing the shirt and tie in which I buried my dad, so it had to be him. And who was following El Brujo and Alonso this morning? I just don’t understand. I know they told me the mescal would get to me and give me hallucinations and strange dreams, but surely not so soon. Dreams , visions, or hallucinations: there are so many things I want to know.

People of the Mist 2

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People of the Mist
6:00 AM

… dream worlds circle outside the window in a starry sky where two moons float …  inside the bedroom, grey scalpels shaved from black obsidian inscribe red gashes on white-washed walls … the slashes turn into tulips that scrape sharp fingernails across the paint and send blood scuttling down to the floor … against a background of granite and trenchant shadows, twisted dancers, themselves old warrior kings bend themselves into pipe wire shapes as they struggle to escape their carved imprisonment … around and above them, the temples of Monte Albán tower and threaten … high priests in long black robes gape at the sky from their sanctuary in the observatory as three young women walk at an angle up the pagan temple steps … when they reach the top, a moonbeam holds them in its spotlight and they wax with the full moon’s beauty …  the doorway to an unclosed grave opens its crocodile jaws and three women descend the temple steps, ageing as they walk … they enter the tomb’s dark mouth … an old man in a faded suit follows them in … the grave swallows them and buries them in the hidden depths beneath the mound …

Down below, in the courtyard of Tim’s residence, the handy man tumble-dried a TV ad in the washing machine of his song sparrow throat. He gargled with gravel and churned stony lyrics skywards until they grated at Tim’s bedroom window and tried to drag him from his dreams.

… dream shadows back themselves into a cul-de-sac, a wilderness of harsh black scars … Tezcatlipoca catches Tochtli the Rabbit by his ears and throws him against the second sun that sizzles in the sky … his sharp teeth burrow, burying themselves deep in the fire’s red light … the second sun loses its fire and turns into the cold stone of the moon …  Tochtli’s face, the rabbit  face of death, simmers in the moon’s dwindling pool … a white rabbit, pursued by death’s hounds, scampers down a narrow escape tube through the deep dark tunnel of an earthen throat that allows him to escape from the hunter’s teeth …

… with a clicking of claws, knitting needles come together to lift the dreamer outwards and upwards towards death’s golden guillotine floating in the sky … the moon sharpens its knife edge on the keening wind and sets the dreamer’s blood tingling from toes to head … the dreamer desires to be free, free from those nightmares, those nocturnal visions that rise up from the past and stalk him as he lies in bed … he longs for the alarm clock to shuffle its pack of sleepless hours and to waken him with its piercing shriek as it tears him from these winding sheets, these grave clothes in which he lies … he  waits for the sun to shine into his window … he wants it to waken the bright jungle parrot that sleeps in the yard so that querulous caged voice will scatter night’s drawn curtains of clouds and drifting dream ….

The first waves of sunlight broke over the houses and Tim’s dreams began to fade. As the new day dawned the black bat of night flew back to its distant cave. Light fell, in the yard below, on the parrot’s cage where the bird clung to the bars, and “¡Loro, loro! I’m a parrot!” the caged bird shrieked at the sky.

New visions crawled out from the vellum codex left open last night on the table and red and green gods with black and white masks crawled through Tim’s drowsing mind. He linked them together with lines and arrows and made a silent vow that his life would never again be scarred by their furrowed frowns and secretive smiles.

The day’s first rocket climbed its ladder of sky to fizzle and smash at the gods’ front door. A second rocket extracted him like a tooth from the socket and drew him fully into daylight. The third explosion sounded much closer and a fourth rocket soon surged skywards. The fifth and sixth rockets were two fiery giants with arms reaching up to claw with their fingers at the sky.

Tim thought about getting up to see if the rocket delivery mailman was one of his neighbors, but last night’s mescal still swaddled him in lullabies and he couldn’t get out of bed.

… whoever the man is, the half-dozen rockets he has purchased have been expended now and he’ll soon be home ... maybe I can roll over and go back to sleep …

As Tim thought this, he heard the swoosh of the seventh rocket.

“Seven,” he said out loud, sitting up in bed.  “That means five more. Nobody buys a dozen rockets, unless it’s something very special.”

Tim pulled back the sheets and swung his legs out over the side of the bed. He looked out of the window. Down below him, in the street, his friend Alonso, the archaeologist, walked side by side with El Brujo, the witch doctor. Alonso held a bunch of rockets in one hand while El Brujo opened and closed a box of traditional Oaxacan wax matches. Alonso readied a rocket in his right hand and El Brujo scratched match against sandpaper and applied flame to the rocket’s blue paper. With a flash and a whoosh, the rocket soared into the air.

Alonso and El Brujo stopped, looked up towards Tim’s window, and waved.

“Come down and join us, Tim,” El Brujo called. “We’ve got a surprise for you. There’s something we want to tell you.”

Tim saw three women and a man in a suit turning the corner at the end of the street. The shadows they cast in the rocket’s red glare were those of sinuous worms slithering along the cobbles. Tim shook his head in disbelief and moved away from the window. A sudden nausea gripped him. He went to the bathroom, gagged, knelt before the toilet bowl, put two fingers down his throat, and threw up. Six wrinkled worms swam round and round leaving a thin, yellow smoke trail in the flush’s whirlpool.

Tim got to his feet and hurried back to the window but the street was empty. Before he could turn away, rockets number eight and nine climbed out of unseen hands and soared upwards to knock in mockery on the doors of the celestial gods.