THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ
BOOK TEN: THE BOOK of SKULLS
Some years after these named incidents transpired, one may have encountered... sauntering outside the central rail terminus (from whence Merida's passengers depart or arrive from the northern line to Progreso and the sea beyond, the southern, towards the frontier of the territory, or the new overland routes south and west, connecting the Yucatan with the rest of Mexico)... a boletero, or lottery seller, maimed as such often were, clutching his tickets in one hand and waving the stump of the other. With so many Generals crowding the public table, neither Porfirio Diaz, Francisco Madero nor Victoriano Huerta in their turn had made provision for the common soldiers, tossed and scarred by revolution's winds... nor had Don Venus, Villa, Obregon or any of the multitude of interimos and pretenders. Consequently, most local police allowed a few privileged veterans to peddle tickets in such places where the public gathers. And, with the distinguished procession of years, one such elderly boletero might have found his place among the others, even though his injuries may not have stemmed from a Federal shell or Zapatista bullet. "God will provide," would have been the reply of a policeman for... while many Syrians and Lebanese, besides other followers of the Prophet, could be found in Merida... the law did not countenance mutilations of the Arabic sort, so such an injury would have been deemed merely the agency of a capricious Deity, and not a retribution exacted upon evildoers.
Time enough... and our one-handed boletero may have even provided a summation of his calamity, especially if his prospect seemed well-attired or sympathetic. "When I was a young man," the anciano would have said, "I worked at the baling fabrica of Olegario Solis Molina. He would become a governor of all Yucatan, señor. And I remember, to the instant, the occasion upon which don Guillermo, the foreman, demanded I remove some twisted fibers from that sharp, evil heart of the baling contrivance at that very moment that Pedro, el imbecilo, restarted the machinery... it was nine minutes, kind sir, and the night was that last of the siglo, 1899, my good fellow. All Merida was at fiesta, but the heartless don Guillermo demanded that we work eighteen hours through the fin del siglo, noon to dawn. And, so tired and weak from my loss of blood, I did not even think to retrieve my hand... which had been severed as neatly as you may please... nor would Guillermo permit any of my comrades to touch it, leaving it upon the straw... as he declared... for the police. Well, it disappeared of course... the foreman told an absurd tale that a little brown dog entered the fabrica and carried it away, and several of his creatures more frightened than sensible confirmed this lie, so I was discharged without a centavo in compensation. For this don Guillermo surely roasts in Hell, along with Pedro and Governor Molina, but, as only a victim of their indifference, I have only these boletos to support my family. Now... you have the aspect of a lucky fellow, may I interest you in the five peso book?
How resolute is the life in its perplexity! For want of rest, a workman's accident and the wholly natural instinct of hapless Anibál convinced an intoxicated, romantically-aggrieved scion of the gente decente that he was a monster, thereafter compelling him to live up to the importunities of the lie. How diverting to that amiable troller in the sea of souls, He who is respectfully addressed as don del Muerte! Time he has portioned out to all… some in great lengths and breadths, great ropy generations of valor or mediocrity; others have been apportioned only a brief, shimmering slice of consciousness. No matter... don del Muerte will, in the end, have all! Be they Governors or Generals, or only the lowly campesinos in their palm huts, He... who is the true International Harvester of all the nations... will collect and value them, even those whom Baltazar Martinez himself turns away from his poveda for want of the burial obolus.
For, in the land before Columbus, all people paid their tribute to don del Muerte; they did not hide their ancestors, but fed their flesh to children (as Juan de la Cruz still asks of us, though symbolically) and placed their skulls in rows atop rows... sons atop fathers, resting on their fathers' fathers. Mighty walls of skulls the mazehualob built as bridges from the earth to sky, between the dark roads and the white... and these edifices they called tzompalli. Europe, entering the womb of the Americas, was grievously ashamed at seeing their own mysteries literalized and its priests hurled down and scattered the tzompalli, leaving only the simulations in stone to amuse and to admonish their children. But, in don del Muerte's lordly estanción, the skulls of the mazehualob and ladinos, too, even the noble brows of the gente decente are arranged and, from their rows, they speak their narratives; from bones are woven the lineaments of history.
We have passed some pages and some hours in another time and place, and this small excursion is almost done for, now... like all histories (save those, perhaps, of the Classical myths beloved by don Antonio Macias, where virtuous wives and heroes find a sort of immortality as trees or stars)... there is but one conclusion to exploits of men wherein their cord is loosed and their mat unrolled, drawn to its uttermost dimension. Yet be their destiny a gilded grave, surmounted by a fine monument of bronze and marble, or a common congress in the meanest camposanto, don del Muerte values all the souls whose tethers he has drawn across his palm; with Him let us turn these last pages of the days of science and insurgency... our Book of Skulls.
Let us name, then, times and places... beginning with a slight detour from the destiny of the Jaguar Priest into the past, namely a warm afternoon early in November, 1912. With the cessation, at last, of rain in the states of Puebla and Morelos... "Imagine!" said Patricio, the jefe of Cuahtenotl to a somber Padre Luis, "...a norte, a tífon from the West, and then another norte!"... General Angeles had resumed his pursuit of Zapata through the foothills of the Sierra Oriental and, higher up, in Cuahtenotl, Lord Kin's reappearance sent temperatures soaring from near the freezing point to thirty degrees centigrade, causing a fetid miasma to drift down over the village. The source was quickly found to be a nearly demolished choza, containing two bodies... badly mauled by not only the zopilotes, but by rats, wild dogs, ants and all of the rest of the beasts, birds and bugs of the Sierra. It would have been impossible to determine the sex or age of these remains... let alone their identities... but for the careful instructions addressed to the jefe by he who had come and gone under the name of "Jorge Bustamente".
While the corpses were removed by a team of borrachos, deputized in their cell at the Palacio after a hard evening at El Gato Vasilante, and hauled down the mountain to civilization, Patricio and Luis pondered the neatly arranged documents... two death certificates, one witnessed by Kanegis, the other by one of the jefe's reluctant pallbearers, the unfortunate Dionisio, with the full names of the decedents printed thereupon, as well as the cause of decease: "Misadventure!" Also there were burial instructions and a hundred pesos for the plots, and for erection of a tombstone bearing the names "Guillermo y Ana Moscoso" and, under this, "Gerardo Moscoso" (so that there be no misadventure in the course of interment, "Jorge" had identified him as "el largo").
No provision was made for the other, save the cafetero's scrawled admonition: "Bury that one deep!"
When the Padre went to the cemetery... with a few candles, bowls and cups from All Souls' Night still upon the graves... he discovered that half the work of digging up a new grave was done. Someone had visited the untended grave of the last of the Moscosos and ripped the earth from its bedrock, as if desperately searching for... what?
Luis glanced to his sacristan, who shrugged and suggested... "Magic beans?"
The third certificate of death, which Patricio had sold to the self-proclaimed agent of Sanborns, was also there... but this was dotted with question marks at every blank space save those where the jefe had penned "Misadventure" and where Dionisio had made his mark. And there was something else, snagged under and round the turrets of the insane asylum, a wispy, filmy sheath of a shroud of material that neither priest nor policeman had ever seen before, a gossamer that blew from their fingers as they unfastened it and floated upwards towards the railroad tracks and the mountain summits. "It almost seemed like... a shedded snakeskin?" wondered Luis.
"Impossible!" replied the jefe. "There are no snakes of such proportion here, or anywhere in Mexico!"
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