THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ

 

BOOK SEVEN:  CUAHTENOTL EPACT

CHAPTER THIRTY NINE

 

The sun had wholly disappeared now... for what its stay had been worth... and the tiny lamps flickered through the rain until no more villagers came to the wet priest and his sacristan with outstretched bowls or plates, and Eliseo balanced the stewpots, cold now, across the back of the mule with a leather strap.

          "Guess you managed to bring enough," José remarked as they made ready to leave.

          "God has been generous," the Padre agreed.

          José gestured towards the graves. He had been walking about for more than an hour, seeking the past of Gerardo Moscoso, but few paid attention to him. Those who did repeated the contention that the whole family was bad, some merely crossed themselves. At first he had wanted to shoot someone, just to make an impression on these superstitious idiots, but his eagle had whispered that to do so would be wrong... there were presences about; not that the Major could see them, but they knew that he was there.

          He'd drifted back towards those who interpreted God's ways to men.

          "What happens now?"

          "They are waiting for us to leave," said the Padre. "When midnight comes and the dead must return to their Otherworld, it will be proper for the families to eat the offerings whose essence the spirits have already consumed."

          "I know that."

          "You've probably traveled a great deal in the course of your business," Luis sighed, "and learned a great many things of this world."

          "I have..."

          Eliseo had almost completed strapping the stewpots to the suddenly contentious mule, when there was a commotion perhaps a hundred meters distant... oaths and anti-devotional shouting at a sudden blaze which flared up, illuminating the cemetery plain, that was, as quickly, quenched by the persistent rain.

          "An accident," the sacristan grimaced. "The dead also consume the essence of the caña, but without diluting its taste or its strength for the living. There are a few smart fellows here who bring little copitas that will fit beneath a palm shelter, out of the rain, but one of them left his offering too close to the flame. Will his ancestors have a difficult year for this, Padre?"

          "No worse than their life already is, I should think. And they shall have something to talk about, to tell the other spirits... life in the Otherworld is monotonous..."

          There were several wooden cups strung to the halter, and Eliseo released one of these. "I must return to the church, and then I shall take you to that place the Moscoso family used to occupy. Nobody lives there now."

          "Good!" the Major replied.

          "There is a little bit of stew at the bottom of the pot," ventured the sacristan, "the Padre and I shall have our meal after midnight, but I do not think Juan de la Cruz would take offense were you to feed now."

          And José, realizing that he had not eaten anything since Friday afternoon in San Sebastien, accepted the bowl which Eliseo had scraped along the bottom of the pot. He ate it with his fingers as they departed the cemetery and returned to the church... there were a few potato chunks, from the texture of them, some chilis, but the stew was mostly a fatty meat which the Major could not place. In the Territory, a stew might contain wild pig, or rat... to pass the time at Akbal, he had even ordered several particularly venomous crotalos chopped up and boiled with rice. He licked his fingers, rinsed them in rainwater and the bowl, also, and returned it to the sacristan as they entered the church.

          "Two hours, twenty minutes to midnight," declared Padre Luis, removing a Moxon watch from beneath the salvaged brown robes and telling the time by the votive candles of his church.

          The pasha beamed down upon them from his cross and José mentioned that he felt an uneasiness in his stomach.

          "Nothing to worry about," scoffed Eliseo, once the mule was relieved of its burden and housed in a room behind the altar... "solid food does that when one has been surviving on liquor and beer."

          "How will they know when midnight has come?" José asked, then answered his own question by pointing upwards, to the bell tower. He followed the sacristan back along the aisle of hacked and uprooted pews, the beastly paintings shimmering in candlelight and, though it rained, still, gulped breaths of fresh, mountain air once he was out of that church.

          "Come! Come!" Eliseo beckoned, "...we haven't all night."

          He led the Major back down the San Sebastien path, past his own choza, through streets of crumbling, deserted huts of those who had moved on from the village to a better place, whether temporal or eternal. Finally, he stopped and pointed.

          "There is the Casa Moscoso!"

          José did not recognize it, at first, even the aspect of the unfortunate days had not prevented someone from removing the crumpled fragment of tin roofing which had protected him from the rain, somewhat, on his first night. "The Devil!" he swore, and shook his fist at Eliseo, "...you are playing some cruel trick upon me, old man."

          Eliseo Martín placed his forefinger to his lip. "Be careful, cafetero, this is a barrio of many ghosts, and most are angry and disappointed that no living soul has deigned offer them homage, again. If the weather were not so bad, you'd feel their chill in passing. But this is, verily, the house of the Moscoso family... over there was the bed Guillermo and Ana made their children in, it has been stolen, of course, some of these rocks may once have comprised their cooking hearth. Here, I shall provide you with light."

          And the sacristan lit a candle he had brought from the church and set it on the ground under that part of the choza that still retained its roof, so that the Major had a dim, unsteady beacon to work by. Outraged, José went through the motions of scrutinizing that part of the floor which was still earth... there would be no way to determine whether or not the better half, which was mud, had been disturbed or not. He kicked stones along the floor and pounded at the walls, in case there was a hollow large enough for the General's saddlebags.

          "And what is it, exactly, that we are looking for?" asked Eliseo, seating himself in a window that had not known glass, at least for a decade and, more likely, never.

          "I am looking for my... for Sanborns' magic beans," the Major replied, sourly. "Isn't that what you think, the crazy fellow following after some fairy story. Well, look around, the whole village is crazy. I think it is not only the Porfirian properties that were dumped here but, also, all those lunatics that were not welcome at the manicomío San Geronimo."

          "A splendid model, by the way," said Eliseo, removing a pipe from his pockets, and a pouch of tobacco. "Of course it would not remain long in the valley... Gerardo took the insane asylum out of a house, you know. The basurero's daughters so enjoyed it that he would not sell it, which he could have, and for quite a bit of money. Your fellow saw them playing in front of their choza and picked it right up, kicking them away. The father came for him, of course, but received nothing but a machete blow for his concern... thankfully with the flat end, or he would have lost more than the hearing in one ear."

          The Major had straddled a collapsed wall of stones and cement, half in and half out of the rain, tugging at the stones to see if any had been removed and then replaced. "And Patricio allowed him to simply wander the village, taking what he pleased by force?"

          "He is not much of a jefe," the sacristan agreed. "And, also, it was inevitable that somebody would come for him, a friend or foe... it doesn't matter. And, now, I understand that he has gone to San Sebastien, where there are wealthier people to rob. Such things happen... excitement does not long survive here. Have a pinch of this tobacco... it's very fine. Enjoy a cigarette, don't work so hard!"

          The Major squinted. "That's an extraordinary pipe you have... the very same that Doktor Krankenhauer smoked. And that is also his brand of tobacco, is it not?"

          "San Sebastien isn't good for much," Eliseo condescended, "but there are a few good pipe makers still left. Apparently, that German had the same preferences as myself." He reached into the pouch, held up a wad of leaves between his thumb and forefinger. "Cigarette?" he repeated.

          José rolled and smoked a cigarette of the Kentucky Standard, finding it agreeable but light... almost feminine. When he had finished, he pinched the little flame of the sacristan's candle. "Nothing is here, not that I can see. Of course there are plenty of places around outside, I'll just have to return tomorrow, when there is at least a little bit of light."

          The sacristan inhaled again, the embers of tobacco making a little red spark in the shadows of the choza; wisps of blue smoke, barely lighter than the night, dispersed, as into the throats of dozens of lingering ghosts, hungry for nicotine. "This miserable weather has to end, sooner or later," agreed Eliseo.

          "Until tomorrow, then," José replied... his last view of the sacristan being the barest outline of a man among the shadows, visible only when he drew another draught of the Kentucky Standard, which burned in the salvaged pipe as the coals of a miniature abyss.

 

RETURN to HOMEPAGE – “THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ”

 

RETURN to GENERISIS HOMEPAGE