"Death Eye Dog, Xolotl, cried so much when the last world, the world of the Fourth Sun ended, that his eyes fell out of his sockets."
Death Eye Dog
by Michelle Robles-Wallace
"Death Eye Dog" was a runner up in the 2018 Extra Fiction Contest. See here to read the first, second, and third winning entries and stay tuned for this year's upcoming Extra Fiction Contest.
Mictlán, barren land of darkness and skeletons, the deepest level of the underworld, rests nine worlds beneath our own. The dead take a full four years to journey there; the living never go. At the first level of the underworld, the Mexica dead, if they are lucky, pick up a dog to guide them through the harrowing dangers of the underworld.
Houses are lonely when they are no longer homes and nightfall makes the emptiness rattle. Raul walks in the night with his dog. He wears too-big, hooded sweatshirts that hide his face in darkness. This part of San Francisco is grey. The fog dampens the cold, streetlights dim the darkness and the smell of urine rises thick from the pavement. The only glitter comes from the glass chips in the sidewalk that shine in the momentary light of passing cars.
Raul walks smooth and towers over most people on the street. His arms are heavy and solid; his eyes are tired and full of unshed tears. He carries arrugas on his face so deep they sometimes appear as folds. He lives alone; even when among friends and family, he resists communion. Solid as his name, stonecold, like a fallen star who has forgotten how to shine. It is as if he wears a cloak, a tangle of scars of loss that hide the glow of his heart.
Passersby slink away from the walking duo.
Death Eye Dog sinks over the horizon with the morning light. Xolotl, the evening star, hangs heavy in the night sky, demands notice as soon as the bright rays of the sun sink beneath the horizon.
Death Eye Dog, Xolotl, cried so much when the last world, the world of the Fourth Sun ended, that his eyes fell out of his sockets.
Blind, Xolotl guided his brother, Morning Star, into the depths of Mictlán after the Fourth Sun ended in flood. The waters washed all the dead to the underworld, returning the people to their spiritual home of darkness. None were left to remake the world of the Fifth Sun anew. Morning Star, Quetzlcoatl, guided by Evening Star, Xolotl, descended to Mictlán, land of darkness and skeletons. Human bones covered the ground. Quetzlcoatl slashed his wrists, anointing the bones with his life-giving blood.
Xolotl, Death Eye Dog, gathered up the bones in his mouth, carried them from the underworld back to the material world to remake mankind in the fifth and final age of the Sun.
Raul knew a different life before this life he lives now. He had a wife, he had a daughter: he had a home. They are as gone now as if the flood of the Fourth Sun had come and washed them away.
Untethered, he never cried, gritted his teeth instead and convinced himself not to feel. Stonecold. Emotion oozes out the cracks though, or explodes in sudden unpredictable bursts. The dog was to take the edge off alone, off loss, off untethered.
His pit bull is rowdy. Rambunctious. They hold the opposite ends of the leash and pull and pull and pull. Neither ever gives in, even when Raul raises his arm up over his head hauling the dog several feet off the ground.
Raul lowers him down, lays his broad hand on the dog’s head. He doesn’t push down but lets its weight be enough to make the dog submit and release the leash.
His submissions are only momentary: he knows who is boss, but only in the practical matters of food and shelter. That pit never stops being his own dog. He mischieves all the time.
The dog too is big, he is lean and narrow, but tall, taller than pit bulls are expected to be. Raul and the dog’s eyes are the same color hazel, only the dog’s are full of joy and love and play.
A gap begs a bridge between the two, a guided path from the terrible cloak of Raul’s to the dog’s incorrigible joy. Raul ought to be blind with tears by now, instead his eyes hang heavy at the edges, as if carrying a great weight. He goes about now in a darkness as bleak as Mictlán, in a darkness as tight as a straitjacket.
From Mictlán it is possible to rise again as butterfly or bird, to resurrect oneself.
From loss it is possible to rebuild your life.
Winter rebirths spring swells into summer sheds into autumn returns to the barrenness of winter.
Wintertime, darktimes, where it appears that all is lost and nothing moves are crucial times. The earth restores during winter. Its faith never flails at the darkest time of night, during that hour before the sun sets a blood red glow on the horizon, knowing that it must arrive at those dark depths before bursting forth into spring.
Too, to rebirth from the underworld, the dead must first arrive at the depths of Mictlán.
Raul got his dog after he returned from family back to one. Something warm and alive to love in the hardest time of unknowing what next, something to care for when the dawn was nothing to set his cap at, a guide for the darkest parts of night. He lacks the morning star, the blood of life that ushers in a new dawn.
Stonecold, Raul forgets to look for the sun rising, for the red glow on the horizon. He spends his days waiting for it to be night and the night to be day, until the time that will pass, does. He tries to form a new family, one of friends, stopgaps living with partying, something to fill the time and space. The gap between he and the dog becomes an abyss, slowly, like water run through a crevice carves out a canyon.
Raul and his dog walk up 21st street, past the crowded-at-night basketball courts, the stoops where people sit, talking, drinking and hollering out to passersby. He had set out for a walk to take the chill off alone, but the darkness presses tight. They turn onto Mission, head over to a bar where a friend bartends. Raul ties his dog up outside and walks in to where a beer and a shot of tequila are sliding across the bar to him as soon as his shadow fills the doorway.
It is Guillermo’s bar, meaning, the bar where Guillermo works, not a bar that Guillermo owns. The lights are dim and throw a reddish cast to the bar, except for the bright white light that highlights the rows of bottles. There they are, working and playing, all his crew, and Miguel shouts, “Eh, man, where’d you crawl out from. You missed a great party last week, ha! Ask Devon ‘bout it,” then starts laughing maniacally, like a machine gun. Raul asks, and Guillermo sets out a row of shot glasses, fills them with tequila and then everyone reaches in and grabs one, throws them back and then gets back to work on their beers.
Devon launches into a story, “So this girl, I see her and she looks amazing and she’s alone so I give her a lil’ tap, just a tap not even on her ass, but on her hip, and then this guy over on the couch starts glaring at me and comes over and pushes me across the table,” and Guillermo starts laughing, “and I came in and—”
“Dude, shut up, I’m telling the story and—,”
And Raul’s eyes are lit up, anointed by the liquor, “Hey Guillermo, how about another round over here,” because that’s what they do, is keep going until Guillermo calls last call and then the crowd spills out onto the street, leaving just him and his boys and they head into the back and do some lines and their speech becomes sharp like knives and their laughter like metal and they leave, finally, and head over to where Miguel knows somebody spinning and it’s going to be good, man, and they go and they stay, inside in the dark cut with bright pulsating lights even while sun rises, bloodred, spilling dawn over the land.
Michelle Marie Robles Wallace is working on a collection of short stories set along the borderlands, a memoir and a YA novel. She has published short fiction, CNF and journalism and is particularly interested in themes of healing and borders. She has an MFA and is the recipient of a San Francisco Arts Commission Individual Artists Grant, a Writers' Grotto Writing Fellowship, and hosted the Borderlands Lectura.
by Carmen Baca
"La Muñeca" was a runner up in the 2018 Extra Fiction Contest
See here to read the first, second, and third winning entries and stay tuned for this year's upcoming Extra Fiction Contest.
The redness of the flames stood out vividly against the blackness of the night. They rose from the open windows of the façade of the building front like multi-colored streamers from the Día de los Muertos celebrations in their varied hues of red, orange, yellow, even green and blue closer to the source of the fire. As if the Devil and his armies were celebrating some spectacular event in the old, formerly grand hotel, the sporadic flashes from within announced with small explosions that something else had just been consumed by the hungry beast. The roar was like nothing before heard in the town center, only on the outskirts if one stood close to the rail line when the Big Chief passenger train rushed through without stopping. If Hades could be imagined by humans, perhaps then this came close. Sudden flares rose through the roof and burst into flying embers and sparks rivaling the best Fourth of July fireworks display.
Flames rose so high in the sky that night that people who lived in the hilly area south of the town could see, and many a head of the household left their comfy casitas to rush to the rescue while others simply went to have first-hand reports to tell anyone who would listen in the days to come. That is the way of human nature: some true altruists rush into the fray without stopping to consider their own safety while others seek their fifteen minutes of fame by being the center of attention when news, mitote (gossip,) or innuendo of any kind presents itself. It wasn’t until these two kinds of people reached the town plaza that they discovered the majestic and historic Casa Encantada was so engulfed in flames that they didn’t think even one wall would survive.
Earlier, three permanent inhabitants of the hotel began their day in their normal fashion: conversation, introspection, and reflection. They wandered through the halls and rooms of the building without constraint and only caused small gasps or shivers in the people they encountered occasionally. The younger of the trio loved yerba buena which she found growing in the patio and enjoyed blowing a breath of mint-scented air in the faces of the people she passed in the hall just for fun to watch their eyes widen, their mouths fall open, and their bodies shake themselves like a dog after taking a swim. Aside from curling up in the window alcove with a good book, that was one of the ways she entertained herself since going to school or anywhere else was out of the question.
When darkness began to replace the dusk of the late afternoon, the girl’s two adult companions sat in the parlor of the suite they inhabited. The lady’s laughter trickling from the second floor was so lovely it sounded like crystal chimes in a light breeze to the young man walking below the open window. When he glanced up, she moved back into the room. “Not again,” she giggled. “Reminds me of how I almost gave myself away when you caused Nicola to stumble upon the staircase the day of the quinceañera. I was afraid she was going to fall and hurt herself—all because you wanted a better vantage point.”
“That was a close one,” her husband, Señor Theodoro Barela, agreed. “I tried to push against her with my arm so she wouldn’t fall forward. I was trying to get out of the woman’s view, but she still caught my image in her camera.”
“You are not the only one in the photographs,” Señora Romulda Barela added with sudden solemnity. “The photo of the three of us must have caused much consternation among Nicola’s people.”
The young subject of their discourse walked into the room, carrying her rag doll in one arm as she usually did. Had she lived with her parents, it was unlikely she’d still be attached to the special symbol of what she’d left behind. She sat on the settee, the very same one where she’d been pretending to sleep when the couple appeared before her and asked if she was ready to join them that night several years before.
“That’s the one action I still have difficulty feeling good about,” Nicola sighed. “That I caused my mother such pain by leaving with you that night.”
The couple exchanged a concerned glance.
Nicola looked out the window down at the plaza and the townspeople of Mariposa. “But I’m sure the pain she would’ve felt seeing me get sicker every day with an incurable illness would’ve been worse. I’m content to be here with you and to catch an occasional glimpse of her when she comes to the plaza.”
The three sat in pensive silence as they watched the people of the town come and go in the early coolness of the evening. They were unable to leave the confines of the hotel, but they spent much of their days by the windows looking at people doing simple activities like walking, window shopping, visiting with others on the park benches, or playing with their children and pets on the green lawns in the summers or in the pristine snow of the winters. The couple had inhabited the hotel for over a hundred years while the girl had only been there for five. They were ghosts of the people they once were, but they existed just as sure as any of the humans they observed. Theirs was a quiet afterlife, and they were as content as they could be, given their circumstances.
But the trio didn’t know their happy ethereal existence in the historic hotel was about to come to an end. Left unattended for but a few minutes, hot grease in a skillet bubbled up and splattered on a dish towel someone had carelessly left by the stove. The chef and his two assistants were in the stockroom nearby taking inventory and preparing a grocery list. None knew a grease fire was searching for oxygen in the kitchen. By the time one of the men smelled the burning oil and they scrambled back into the cocina to tackle the flames, some had already begun to consume the nearby window curtains. The busboy opening the swinging door to the dining area created just the right amount of air flow to fan the hungry beast. With a sudden whoosh, the starving fire flashed into an explosion and before anyone could take action, the blaze engulfed the entire room.
The conflagration found more air through the open door to the dining area and the sparks jumped like lively, devilish creatures from furniture to carpet. Freed from any constraints, the embers soon followed, rolling along the wood floor and leaving more sparks to ignite. The employees at and around the reservation desk heard the roar of the hungry monster. Just as their attention flew in the direction of the wide entrance to the dining room, they felt the heat and saw the rising swirls of black smoke coming toward them at the same time the tongues of searing flames burst through. Cries of alarm rose in crescendo like the fire truck would only a few minutes later. Everyone rushed to the bar behind the reservation desk and ran through the exit to raise the cry of “Fire!”
The fire department was just down the block, but by the time the small engine got into place, the entire first floor was rapidly being devoured by the hungry conflagration. The guests and employees in the upper four stories evacuated quickly through the exterior fire escapes, so not a soul was lost that they knew of. Most of the back of the building suffered most of the damage when all was over. But the water damage and the blows of the bomberos’ axes made the building uninhabitable. The Casa Encantada closed its doors that day, leaving the three spiritual inhabitants alone.
Afterward, it stood abandoned but fenced in to prevent hoboes from attempting to live there and to deter any of the neighborhood adolescents from daring one another to explore, to vandalize, and most importantly, to become hurt by the fragility of the frame. Of the former classic and sophisticated building, only the front remained, like a painted façade of a movie set with nothing much behind to hold it up. The rear was reduced to a skeleton; in some areas only the basic framework of the exterior walls still stood. The wood was blackened, charred so badly in some places one had only to give a slight push and it cracked, splintered, and fell. During the night sometimes in the slightest breeze, neighbors heard the crash of another piece of lumber and shook their heads in dismay that the city leaders didn’t just tear it all down before someone was hurt.
Several months later Señor and Señora Barela and their young charge, Nicola, sat in the small space left relatively untouched by the fire, the parlor where they’d been conversing when the blaze began.
“Are we to reside here in this one cramped room for the rest of eternity?” Nicola asked, plopping down on her favorite window seat with her doll in her lap.
“Since we can’t leave this building, I don’t see any alternative, mi hita,” the elder man replied. “You know we have tried to go beyond our limited confines and what happens when we do.”
The lady sighed and shook her head. “Esposo querido, I cannot stay here, not like this.” She stood and waved her hand to the charred and water-damaged walls. “I am sure this frame will fall before long or will be torn down by the town fathers. It is time to leave this earth and welcome what awaits us in the next phase of our existence. Please, join me in this, mi amor.”
Sadness came to his face and made its home in the dying sparkle of his eyes, the downward turn of his lips, and in the resigned shrug of his shoulders as he finally nodded in acquiescence. “You are right. I know you are. We’ve spent too much time here already and have been of assistance to only a few others from this place.”
He recalled the custodian whom they’d saved over seventy years ago and who had already made his way to his own afterlife. There was also the hobo who’d come into the patio nearly fifty years before and also left his earthly existence for what came after only ten years later. There were several others, but nowhere as many had they been in a larger city and been able to leave the confines of the hotel. So much time had passed, neither he nor his wife could even remember why they were restricted to the walls of the previously large and comfortable building they called home for over a century.
“When would you like to go?”
“Well, we’ve made up our minds. What’s wrong with tomorrow? Let us enjoy our last night here, for we don’t know whether we will be together after we leave.”
“I guess I’m ready too,” Nicola sighed. Her face was a reflection of the man’s, her eyes sad and her mouth trembling from the cries which gathered in the back of her throat.
The older couple comforted her as best they could, trying to be optimistic about their future together even though neither knew what was ahead. They’d lived good lives on earth when they were alive and expected that surely what they’d done as spiritual beings would count for something. They never knew why they had been unable to move forward previously, only existing to help those whom they could without question. The burning pyre which had consumed their home and their inability to move elsewhere on earth left them no choice but to move on.
The three spent the rest of the night in more conversation, reminiscing about their pasts with equal parts of laughter and sorrow until the fingers of the dawn began to part the curtains of darkness and sunrise was imminent. They enjoyed one last group hug, holding one another tightly and then moving to the first floor to stand before the front doors with clasped hands.
“Ready, my loves?” Señor Barela asked.
With Señor Barela on the left and his wife between them, Nicola clutched her precious muñeca in one arm, wondering if somehow, some way, the doll would accompany her to her next destination. Not wanting to let either of his companions’ hands go, the Señor touched the tip of his boot to each door to get them to open. They stepped outside into the welcome warmth of the sun and lifted their faces to the rays which enfolded the three for the first time since each had died. For only a moment they stood still, waiting for something to happen. When nothing did, they took a few steps more, and a few more until they reached the center of the park. They were allowed to feel the sunlight on their faces and arms, to take deep breaths of the freshness of the air, and to enjoy one last time the feel of the grass beneath their feet, their sight of the green foliage and trees and the bountiful and beautiful hues and scents of the flowers—and they were gone. No fanfare of angels’ trumpets, no clap of thunder, no opening in the clouds revealed the stairway to heaven. But the gated doors opened wide, and the saints were there to welcome the couple as they passed.
Nicola was not so lucky. Perhaps the powers which govern life, death, and the afterlife decided it was not her time. Perhaps she had unfulfilled duties on earth. But when the señor and his señora ascended through the gates to meet their Maker and to receive answers to all their questions, she was not with them.
The neighborhood kids, Anselmo, Gabriel, and Guillermo, decided on a dare several weeks later to pass through a loose board in the fence which enclosed the remains of the hotel.
They were joined by the only girl they considered a friend, Carlotta, whom they called Charlie. Truthfully, she blackmailed them into letting her accompany them or they most likely would’ve left her behind. But there they were, the four of them, sneaking through the opening and prowling amongst the ruins for any treasures they might find. Of course, there wasn’t much on the ground. And everything was soot-covered, so touching anything left them with black fingers.
When Guillermo was the first to wipe his hand on his pants, it was Charlie who reminded him to “wash” the hollín off with dirt instead. Otherwise, their parents would all know where they’d been, and they wouldn’t be able to get away with coming back.
Other than a few coins, a couple of candle holders only partially melted, and a little metal box, they didn’t find much of value. Charlie went in one direction and the boys went opposite. She came upon a fallen chest of drawers, opening first one drawer after the other until she came to the last. A raggedy doll with only a touch of smoke damage looked up at her from the folds of a baby blanket in which it had been wrapped. She joined the boys shortly after.
“Look what I found,” she announced and held the doll up so they could see.
The boys were unimpressed, hoping she had found something of value they could pawn.
“Let’s use it for target practice,” Anselmo made to grab it with one hand while holding up his slingshot with the other.
“No!” Charlie yanked the doll to her chest to keep it safe. “I’m gonna give it to myhermanita.” And with that, she left the boys behind, taking the callejones behind the houses all the way home so no one would see her carrying a doll. She had her reputation to maintain.
Her little sister, Augusta, was only four. But she rarely spoke. She wasn’t mute, according to the doctors, nor was she simple-minded. She simply chose not to communicate with words when her actions could convey what she wanted. She had no friends since to be a friend requires some kind of communication, but she didn’t seem to mind. In fact, she preferred her own company to that of others, except Charlie, and even then, only periodically, like when Charlie read to her at night or taught her to play jacks or some other game.
So when Charlie got home, she slipped quietly into the bathroom, washed the grime from the rag doll, and hung it to dry in her closet until the following day. That morning after breakfast, she found Augusta in her room quietly playing with her Susie Q doll. She presented the homely but somewhat homey muñeca to the little girl and told her the doll was special. She told Augusta she could tell the doll her secrets and the muñeca would keep them. Thinking that perhaps the doll could help to get the little one to talk more and perhaps be a conduit to communicating with other little girls, she made up a detail which she’d come to regret years later. She told Augusta the doll was magical and would help her learn to speak better.
From that day, the muñeca became Augusta’s constant companion. Charlie’s plan had backfired. Augusta didn’t want any human company once the doll came into her possession. She named it Esther, and when anyone asked how she came upon such an unusual choice, she always replied that the doll told her. After a month her parents thought perhaps the way she cared for, spoke to, and carried the thing everywhere was unhealthy. Truly, it appeared the doll communicated in some way as the child would whisper to it and incline her head as if listening to a quiet reply.
If the adults tried to take Esther away, Augusta’s cries were so forlorn they ended up giving it back before too long. Thinking they were making too much out of it, her parents convinced themselves she’d outgrow the muñeca with time or it would eventually fall apart. After all, it was a rag doll.
Another year passed and still Augusta and her Esther doll were constant companions.
Though her parents were dismayed that their daughter was still too attached to the thing and that said cosa had grown no more tattered or ragged than it was when she got it, they welcomed the opportunity which arose that would allow them to separate the two. The little girl started school, and her parents insisted she leave her doll behind. Between them, Charlie, and other well-meaning family members supplying various reasons why Nicola couldn’t accompany her to school, Augusta finally relented. But she explained in as little words as possible the reason why, and it had nothing to do with any of theirs: “Esther says it’s okay.”
While she was away at escuela, her mother, Guadalupita, Pita for short, did what many mothers did in the fifties— cleaned, cooked, and enjoyed her hobbies: sewing, gardening, and crocheting. Her life was fairly uneventful, and she enjoyed it that way. Her adolescent and early adult years had had traumatic events, so she was content to have nothing of importance to contend with—nothing with life or death issues. Would that she had been able to see the future. Oftentimes, life’s lessons come in hindsight, and sometimes we don’t pay enough attention to our instinct, our own intuition to heed those little hairs that rise on the back of our necks or on our arms when we get that feeling people call “someone passing over our graves.”
So when a few days after Augusta started school and the strange phenomenon began, she tried to shake off any concern. Pita, leaving the room Augusta shared with Charlie, caught in the corner of her eye something moving. The act happened so quickly that when she turned, it had stopped. There was no window where she looked, nothing like a fluttering curtain to have captured her attention. Blinking her eyes and attributing it to exhaustion or imagination, she forgot about it.
Until the next time a week later. And the time after that. And... She noted that every single time, the Esther doll was the object of her attention. There were instances where she’d leave the doll in one place only to discover it had moved. Telling herself she only forgot she’d left the thing there and instead had left it somewhere else, she tried to convince herself the muñeca had no powers.
But then she stopped a few weeks later to reflect about that: powers. Powers? She knew from the first she’d sensed in the doll something so mesmerizing her own daughter clung to it like a drug. Never far from the Esther doll, Augusta always kept it in her sight, perhaps afraid they’d try to sneak it away from her. When she held it, her little girl seemed to be at peace.
When she whispered to her doll, she inclined her head to place her ear close to its mouth as though listening closely to whatever she imagined (and surely it had to come from her imagination). And she wore such an expression of contentment that one would’ve thought the angels of the Lord were speaking to her. That was the moment of revelation for Guadalupita.
The doll wasn’t cursed; it was blessed. She didn’t know how or why, but if the doll insisted it was Esther and had such a positive influence on her daughter as to cause her to wear that look of bliss on her face, who was she to say otherwise? The muñeca hadn’t done anything, had not endangered Augusta or any of them. She’d merely satisfied some need in her daughter that human interaction or contact didn’t.
That very day she entered the girls’ bedroom and picked Esther up. Staring into her cross-stitched eyes, Pita was surprised to see a sort of compassion and when she held the doll close, it actually felt as if Esther’s little arms moved, as if she wanted to embrace the woman back. But instead of fear, a sudden and overwhelming feeling of absolute contentment came over her, as if the doll extended her sympathy for Pita’s past traumas and tried to offer empathy for what was and for what would come.
She tried and failed to explain to her husband later and resorted to leading him by the hand to the girls’ room, pushing him to sit on Charlie’s bed and placing Esther in his arms. She left him alone. It wasn’t long before he joined her in the kitchen where he put the beer back in the fridge and instead opted for a glass of cold water. The look on his face told her what she needed to know.
Since the girls were still at school, they rushed the doll to their parish priest and had him bless Esther for their own peace of mind. Father Carlos didn’t feel any kind of trepidation when he held it, and nothing happened at the church to any of them. Any concerns they had dissipated, and they were instead convinced they’d been right. They never spoke of what they did to their girls; they never mentioned it to anyone.
So the first two years of Augusta’s education passed without incident. She found school delightful and indeed made a few friends. Esther was still an important confidante, and both Charlie and Pita laughed between themselves that soon Augusta would confide in her doll about which boy she should return attention to of the upcoming suitors she’d be sure to attract.
That was not to be, however.
On the very anniversary of the day Señor and Señora Barela had entered their heavenly home, Augusta disappeared from her swing under the large apple tree in her family’s backyard. She was gone without a trace. Investigations from every jurisdiction in the city came together; searches yielded nothing. The parents, clearly heartbroken, were cleared. So were her sister, friends, neighbors, and even acquaintances. No suspects came to light, no leads developed—there was no closure, as they say. The entire town wanted to know what happened, especially in light of the disappearance of the little girl for that ill-fated quinceañera of five years before.
When Nicola’s parents heard about Augusta, they paid the De La Cruz parents a visit.
Nicola’s mother, Hortencia, disclosed that Esther was Nicola’s third name, her confirmation name. Her full name as recorded in her birth certificate was Nicola Frances Esther De La Cruz.
As for the muñeca, it was the one given to Nicola by the quinceañera herself, Marguerite Quintanilla, her own cousin. They proved it with a photograph from the event. Pita nearly fainted at the confirmation. Hortencia saw how deeply she had been affected and gave her one of three similar photos as a gesture of comfort.
However, no amount of rationalization on anyone’s parts could satisfy everyone with a plausible explanation—not the two sets of parents, not the authorities, nor the priest or the bishop when contacted. Sometimes those of us who live by our faith in a higher power have to accept that there are certain aspects of life, death, or the beyond which we do not have the capacity to understand. This was one of those times. No one could confirm what happened with Nicola or Augusta, or even with Esther, the muñeca, who had disappeared with her owner. The town fathers brought in their heavy equipment and their city employees and cleared out the remains of the hotel, sifting through every little pile to satisfy everyone that the girls and the doll were not somehow there. Though no rational explanation of why anyone thought they might was provided, it was something everyone wanted done.
There were only two mothers who shared a secret the next day after construction on the rebuilding of Casa Encantada began, which was the day after they had exchanged a special photograph. Before bed that night, Pita had sat with the photo in her hand. After a moment she felt a weight lift from her shoulders, and her headache, which had arrived with a vengeance the day her little girl went missing, also went away.
She felt at peace and went immediately to bed. In her dreams Augusta came to explain that the muñeca had held the spirit of the little girl who vanished before she did. She made her mother understand that Nicola would have spent her short life in the agony of a fatal illness, and that angels had offered her a way to escape into heaven to avoid not only her own pain, but that of her mother and father.
They would have been helpless to help her, which would have hurt them in so many ways. And she was afraid they’d experience hopelessness and lose their faith. Departing as she did allowed her to leave her parents with their faith that what happened would be part of God’s plan and accept it.
Nicola’s spirit had remained in the muñeca to offer the same help to the next little girl who was fated to meet her. Nicola confirmed that Augusta was soon to have become ill; she would’ve died before the end of the year. Nicola had done what she needed to leave this plane and emerge whole and healthy in the next; she saved another as she had been saved. As for the muñeca, let’s just add a little warning here if we may. If you come across a raggedy-looking doll with cross-stitch eyes in the newly constructed Casa Encantada, you might think twice before picking her up.
Carmen Baca taught a variety of English and history courses, mostly at the high school and college levels in northern New Mexico where she lives, over the course of 36 years before retiring in 2014. She published her first novel in May 2017, El Hermano, a historical fiction based on her father’s induction into the Penitente society and rise to El Hermano Mayor. The book is available from online booksellers. She has also published eight short pieces in online literary magazines and women’s blogs.
A Story of the Fourth Crusade
(With First Alternative Ending in the Style of Jorge Luis Borges)
By Rosa Martha Villarreal
These swore on the holy relics that they would perform their embassy loyally and in good faith, and that they would come back to their host. Three kept their oath well, and the fourth evilly, and this one was Robert of Boves. For he executed his office as badly as he could, and perjured himself, and went away to Syria as others had done.
--Memoir or Chronicle of the Fourth Crusade and The Conquest of Constantinople, Geoffrey de Villehardouin,
Translated by T. Marzials
When Sir Robert departed for the Holy Land in defiance of his lord, the Doge of Venice, he was accompanied by an archer known as Eusebius de Asturias because the archer hailed from northern Spain. The archer had fought against the Moors since his youth, and now in the waning years of his prime he saw his one last chance to gain spoils in the rich lands of the orient. Soon after he swore fealty to the knight, Eusebius and his new lord secretly departed at night and secured passage to a small port near the Turkish border. There, they were to meet with a small band of crusaders and travel overland through the Muslim lands by night and resume their journey by daylight once they reached the safety of Christian lands.
When they arrived at the port, the other crusaders were not there. But Sir Robert and Eusebius dared not wait. Their brothers may have been arrested or shipwrecked or perhaps have had a change of heart. One way or the other, by now their plan was surely known to the Doge and the Frankish Barons, and there was no other recourse except to continue to Syria alone.
Sir Robert and Eusebius hid during the day in abandoned stone huts in the countryside or in caves. In the dead of the night, they stole food from the villages and farms. Soon every night seemed like the night before and only the changing moon told them that time was indeed passing, and they were still living men and not wandering spirits.
One night, they discovered an offering of food at the entrance of a Muslim village. Or so they thought. The remains of a slaughtered sheep hung on a post. Not the entire carcass, just the heart, liver, lungs, and kidneys. Blue glass amulets were hung next to the entrails. Pieces of paper with Arabic writing were littered on the ground as well.
Eusebius was wary of the food offerings, but not Sir Robert whose mind was filled with fantastical musings about how the villagers must think they were spirits or wayward angels. When they found similar meat offerings at the entrance of every village, the knight was more convinced than ever that this was a sign from God.
When the third full moon had arrived, they came upon a stone marker with three crosses. They were now in Christian lands. Giving thanks to God, they slept for the remainder of that night and greeted the sunrise once again.
The first Christian village they encountered was empty. The livestock was all gone, and the barns, grain stores, and other foodstuffs had been burned. Inside the homes, disorder abounded as if the people had but a few moments to gather what belongings they could before fleeing.
“The infidel armies must have marched through here on their way to the Holy Land. Perhaps there are Christian souls hiding nearby,” said the knight.
“Aye, my lord” responded the archer. “The wells may have been poisoned. We should drink and water our horses only at the springs from now on.”
Days later, when they found another village, it, too, was abandoned and all of the food was burned. They wondered why they had not yet seen a single refugee. What they did encountered helter-skelter on the road between the abandoned settlements were large mounds of dirt. Sir Robert, frustrated by the sight, finally decided to poke at the dirt, and a human hand was revealed. He galloped to another nearby mound and found another corpse interred standing up.
“What foulness,” said the knight.
“Aye, my lord,” said the archer. “It must be a pagan custom.”
They rode on for several more days, barely speaking. But each silently waited for the world that they knew to re-emerge, for human souls to reappear. Even the sight of the enemy would have been preferable to this solitude. Then an unexpected sight appeared. The sun hung low in the sky, and a grove of trees appeared in the horizon, almost as if it could only be seen in the light of the dying sun. The knight raised his arm, and the archer halted at his side. Sir Robert took out his map, a gift from his uncle who had fought in the previous crusade.
“The grove is not marked on the map, Asturias. But the trees look mature. A strange omission, indeed.”
The archer said nothing.
“Could we have taken the wrong path somehow?” said Sir Robert. Then speaking more to himself: “Perhaps my uncle thought it unimportant to mark the grove being that the Monastery of Saint – is but a league from here.”
“Or perhaps…” the archer finally spoke up.
“What?” the knight said irritably.
“My lord, it could be an enchantment of the Devil or some pagan demon. We should ride on.”
The knight ignored the warning and defiantly spurred his horse towards the grove. He was a soldier of Christ, and if he had to battle the Devil himself, he would do so for God and glory.
From the perimeter of the grove, the crusaders could see thin rays of light break through the canopy of the thick ancient trees. A mud brick structure was partially hidden in the shadows.
“Asturias,” said the knight. “Look beyond. There appears to be a house in the grove. There may be someone there.”
Before Eusebius could respond, Sir Robert brusquely spurred his horse forward, but the animal resisted, reared and threw him to the ground. The archer swiftly dismounted and tended to the knight who was stunned by the fall.
“Do not move, my lord. Rest here for a while. I shall investigate.” Eusebius drew his archer’s sword and walked towards the house. The archer found several fresh burial mounds marked by crude crosses of branches tied with rope. The dead appeared to be hastily buried and the odor of decomposition—and something else that was like the perfume of decaying flowers–seeped from the soil. The archer thought, “Perhaps the infidels had recently rampaged through these lands. Or perhaps there had been a plague. Perhaps that is why the villages were abandoned.”
The mud brick house in the grove was partially collapsed and exposed. Eusebius could see barrels and tools strewn about. As he approached, he saw a door which proved to be unlocked and opened with slight push to a second room which had a small cot, a table and stool, and a fireplace for cooking. A kettle hung in the fireplace. An iron pan was hung next to the fireplace, and on a shelf nailed to the wall he found flour, dried meat, and oil, as though someone had recently been living there. He wondered if the owner were nearby.
Eusebius returned and reported his findings–and his suspicions–to the knight.
“I do not trust this place, my lord. It is almost as if it has been set up to lure us in. We should move on, sir.”
The knight, however, aching from the fall, ignored the archer’s words.
“We stay here tonight. The monastery is a day’s ride from here.”
The knight had been in good spirits that evening, but the archer was filled with foreboding. The knight prayed and mediated while the archer boiled some water for Sir Robert’s bath and baked some bread and roasted the dried meat over the fireplace. At dinner, the knight ate lustily but not Eusebius. Unlike the knight, his sense of smell seemed to have been fouled by the odor permeating from the graves because he could have sworn the food smelled like the perfume of decayed flowers. The knight, however, claimed there was no such odor. Eusebius tried to eat but he would retch the moment the food was near his mouth. The knight laughed and devoured the remaining food. That evening after his prayers, Sir Robert retired on the cot.
The archer slept on the floor next to the fire not so much to warm himself because it was not cold. It was as if he needed the proximity of that primal weapon, fire. Though he suppressed the thought, he sensed an unseen enemy nearby, and placed a lit torch at the entrance of the room for extra protection. The horses sensed danger, too, because they rustled about nervously. Eusebius took the torch and went outside to calm them. He was suddenly overtaken by a magnetic urge, a perverse curiosity, to return to the nearby burials. His instincts told him there was something there. He went and got a shovel and began to dig up one of the graves. The body appeared to lay in an uneasy repose, as though, she–it was a woman—had been carelessly and unceremoniously dropped. He got on his knees to get a better look, and as he passed the torch over her body, he saw that her torso was exposed, ripped open and desecrated by some unspeakable violence.
“God be merciful,” he said, crossing himself, and filled the dirt back into the grave. As he walked back to the house, he thought he saw the outline of a man standing in the night shadows, but when he called out, no one answered. He gave it no further thought and went back inside to sleep.
Many hours later, Eusebius shuddered, awakened by the horses’ cries of terror. He ran outside and saw their penumbras disappear into the shadows. The archer ran after them, unarmed and without alerting his companion and without the torch. He followed the sounds of their pounding hooves and occasional neighs. Thick clouds moved back and forth, obscuring the moonlight and then suddenly moving again, brightly illuminating the landscape before him. He spotted the horses in a meadow, huddled, whimpering, and rubbing their heads and necks against one another.
When he reached the horses, the clouds shifted once more and the moon shone on what appeared to be a mound. It was not a dirt mound like those they had seen before but a stone beehive mound. In the moonlight, Eusebius saw a narrow opening. “What a strange and ungodly land this is,” he thought, crossing himself. The clouds once again shrouded the moon just as a man emerged from the aperture.
“Greetings!” said the archer. “Are you a Christian, good sir?”
The man said nothing. Eusebius could not make out the other’s face. Then the clouds drifted again and the moonlight shone on the stranger’s face, albeit ever so briefly. The archer squinted his eyes in disbelief, for the fleeting image seemed an abomination. The man’s face appeared to be that of two men squeezed together. The man made a muffled sound, filling the archer with terror. Eusebius ran towards the horses, who had not moved and merely watched him all along as though they were held there by a spell. He mounted his horse bareback and galloped away with the knight’s horse running along his side. Thoughts raced through Eusebius’s mind. Had the animals been lured there by that obscene and ungodly monster? “I must tell my master!”
When the archer returned to the house, the sun had begun to rise. The knight commanded him to help him with his chainmail. Eusebius reported the events of the night before.
Sir Robert was disinterested. “We must hurry to the monastery. Our greater mission awaits us.”
When they arrived at the monastery, the gates were wide open. The streets were empty. Nary a human soul was to be seen. Rats scurried about trash and partially burned food. Even the dogs and cats had apparently fled with the people.
“Ho, there!” cried the archer, his voice dissolving into the wind that swept through the main thoroughfare.
“Fear not!” shouted the knight. “We are soldiers of Christ!”
“My lord,” said the archer. “Perhaps the monks are barricaded in the church.”
But the church, too, was empty, undisturbed, as if all had fled in an instance.
“Asturias, there is a foul evil in this land,” said the knight, crossing himself.
“I feel it, too, my lord,” said the archer.
“Let us rest here tonight, and tomorrow we will continue our journey to Syria.”
That very night, Sir Robert fell ill with a fever. They quartered themselves in the parlor and decided to wait for the fever to pass. But the fever only worsened. The knight slept most of the time, restless, and the suffocating perfume of decaying flowers drenched his clothes and the bedding. Eusebius tried feeding the knight small game and wild figs, but Sir Robert ate little if at all. The archer went into the apothecary’s lab to find something to give to the knight. But as he could not read, he went about opening jars and smelling the contents, hoping to find a familiar smell of an herb the midwives had used back home. Some of the herbs and powders had familiar scents. Eusebius boiled these medicines in the hope that he could miraculously cure the knight but to no avail. The knight merely lay in bed, his eyes open and staring at the ceiling. He had stopped eating and managed only to rise from bed to relieve himself.
Desperate, the archer went back to the apothecary’s lab and frantically leafed through books, hoping beyond hope that the pictures would tell him something. The pictures resembled those he had briefly seen before in other books: Soldiers, monks, scenes of battles. In some scenes the holy men confronted God’s spiritual enemies: Satan, demons, heretics, and witches. He ran his fingers over the words, silent as rocks, their secrets locked from him. He was certain that the words in the books, like the powders and herbs in the jars, held the cure to his companion’s ailment.
Exhausted he went to bed, and, as he slept and dreamt, his mind’s eye again saw the images in the books and discerned a pattern that had escaped him before. He got out of bed and returned to the apothecary’s lab. In the flickering candlelight, he studied the pictures and found images half-hidden on the peripheries of the illustrations, faces camouflaged among the shrubs and trees.
In a different illustration, men-like creatures—part bird, part serpent–were embedded in the face of a cliff. They appeared to struggle to free themselves. He turned the page and studied the next illustration. In the foreground, the soldiers of Christ and monks marched in a procession, their feet floating above the ground like ghosts, while barely visible in the background, a mound with protruding hands and feet. Some of the soldiers were kneeling and praying, their eyes heavenward, mouths agape.
Eusebius took another one of the books he had previously inspected: One depicting battles, a castle, and an army of crusaders attacking the castle. One particular scene depicted a pitched battle. The occupants of the castle hurled rocks, arrows, and poured cauldrons of boiling oil at the crusaders. When he saw this illustration the day before, Eusebius assumed that the enemy were the Turks. But something caused him to pause before he turned the page. A curved glass lay on the desk. He had seen the monks use them before to magnify words and objects. He took the glass and held it over the men atop the castle and he fell back with a muted shriek. They were not Turks! They were not even men but the same bird-serpent men-like creatures of the previous picture. “Not even the pawns of the Devil!” he thought. “Something more sacrilegious, things beyond God’s creation.”
Then the sunlight shone on the pages. He had spent the entire night studying the books. He hurried to his companion’s side. The knight was gone.
The day was overcast, and Eusebius rode at a brisk pace, deep in thought, mulling the enigma of Sir Robert’s disappearance. The knight must have vanished on foot because his horse was still in the stable. Yet his chainmail, shield, and sword were gone. When Eusebius had last seen Sir Robert the night before, he was still bedridden, barely speaking. Eusebius wondered what miracle had occurred that allowed his companion not only to rise from bed but walk away. But soon, on horseback, Eusebius was sure he would overtake the knight. He crossed himself, and, as if God had heard his thoughts, the sun broke through and the archer beheld a castle perched on the mountain before him.
With Sir Robert’s horse tethered to his, he pressed forward. The road before him wound and ascended towards the mountain. The clouds parted every so often and the sunlight seemed to reveal a different world, strong and godly, as if to press him onward. Then the clouds once again darkened the skies. He caught something out of the corner of his eye, an image from a recurring dream which had haunted him since childhood: An enormous, half-decaying tree twisted with age, protruding from a pile of enormous rocks. He remembered it now. In his dream, there was a hollowed-out space in the trunk of the tree. A crystal would rise from the crevice and float in the air.
He searched many years in his youth for the meaning to the dream, questioning the Spanish monks in the monasteries they had liberated from the Muslims. No one had an answer but a monk who had made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land decades before. The monk said that the Egyptian wizards from the time of Moses had made such a crystal to preserve the bodies of the dead. But Eusebius now wondered: What if the monk was wrong and the crystal could turn lead into gold as the alchemists said? What if his dream had been an omen? For that brief moment, Eusebius’s being was filled with joy. He dismounted and searched the tree for any hollowed-out spaces but there were none. He looked at the pile of rocks. Some of the rocks were not strewn about willy-nilly but arranged in a pattern.
Eusebius sensed that the crystal was hidden there and began to toss aside the rocks. A rune stone became visible. He paid no attention to the rune stone’s images let alone try to decipher their message—their warning. He lifted a slab and discovered a corpse with a gauze-like veil on his face and his body covered with a half-rotted, blood stained shroud. The stench of decaying flowers permeated from the grave. Perhaps the gem was hidden therein. He looked around and found a branch and slightly lifted the shroud and saw that that the corpse’s chest had been crudely slit open. Then the corpse shuddered. Eusebius jumped back and crossed himself. “Did I imagine it, dear God?” he said out loud. But when looked again, he saw the fingers on the exposed hand moving slightly. He threw the slab on top of the corpse and piled the rocks atop the grave and fled at full gallop.
Eusebius felt himself falling and shuddered. He had fallen asleep on the road while riding. He looked behind him, and Sir Robert’s steed walked calmly with that serenity that comes from the lack of dreams, that cursed portal into the unseen worlds. Eusebius wondered if he had indeed seen the animated corpse or if he had dreamt it. Before he could give that further thought, he saw the castle was about half a league away. From there, he could discern the castle’s bluish hue, as if the stones were illuminated by some unseen moon. It would be nightfall soon, so he backtracked to a nearby creek to make camp. The horses grazed for a while, but they returned to the camp when the sun had almost sunk beneath the horizon. They hovered near Eusebius as he cooked a rabbit he had hunted earlier in the day. They lay near him like dogs, as though they took comfort in the fire and his presence. He could have sworn they sighed.
“You are good beasts,” he said rubbing their heads, and he did not bother to tether them for the night.
Later that evening, the waning moon floated over the castle. He saw the dense penumbras of men moving about the ramparts of the castle. He was now certain that they must have kidnapped Sir Robert for ransom as was the custom. He kneeled and prayed out loud to God to steel himself for the uncertainty that lay before him.
When the sky turned to the gray hues of early morning, he saddled the horses, and rubbed their necks. “Wait for me here, my friends, my angels. I shall return shortly with our master.” He fashioned a torch, strapped on his sword, and slung the bow and arrows over his shoulder, and walked towards the castle.
The gate of the castle was swung wide open, as if they—whoever they were–had left it open just for him. From a distance, he could see the courtyard was empty and the only sound was that of the wind. Eusebius knew this could be a trap, but he had to try and find Sir Robert. He walked about the perimeter of the castle to search for a way in and found a collapsed portion of the outer wall. Once inside the wall he made his way inside the castle. In the interior of the castle, he saw objects embedded in the stones. Bright and illuminating, some resembled the contraptions of alchemists and astronomers. Others appeared like toys, not the toys he’d seen, but what a people from another world would conceive of as toys. Others were shards of metal.
When he entered a different hall, the rafters were collapsed as if a projectile had landed there during a battle. The debris of the roof was strewn about, and the sun shone on the walls revealing carved reliefs depicting a story of some kind. Bird and serpent men-like creatures were eating the hearts and entrails of humans and horses. He dropped on his knees and prayed to God for protection for whatever place this was it was not that of the Muslims who at the very least worshiped a God similar to his, if not the very same one. He took the flint stone that hung from his neck and lit the torch. Whatever abominations inhabited this cursed castle could not be immune from fire, that sacred secret stolen by a strange god as a gift to mankind long before his God had existed.
He walked through the spacious corridors, noting distinguishing markers so he could find his way out quickly if need be. Finally, he came to an entrance that opened up to a great hall. A blue-tinged light streamed from the stained-glass windows high above, giving the sensation of being submerged under water. Eusebius saw men–Christian men—standing in the room. He knew that because of the red crosses emblazoned on their white capes. He wanted to call out, but an instinct that had persevered since the time humans were but ape-men abominations themselves silenced him.
Eusebius approached the center of the great hall. The crusaders stood like stone statues around a body that lay in an open sarcophagus. As he approached them, the smoke from the torch could no longer mask the perfume of decaying flowers. The men were mummified. A cobweb-like gauze covered their well-preserved faces, their eyes shut, as if in a strange burial custom. “Like the mounds!” he heard himself say out loud. Eusebius covered his nose with his hand and approached the sarcophagus. He let out a scream. It was Sir Robert! Before he could ponder how or why his master was killed and placed there, he felt the air move.
Eusebius turned around and saw that one of the mummies was moving ever so slightly, like a half-dead insect in a cocoon. Then another opened his eyes and began to move his fingers, just like the corpse he had found by the twisted tree, then another shuddering as if he had awoken. Terrified, Eusebius fell backwards, dropping the torch, and heard a scream. It was not his voice, but Sir Robert’s. “He’s alive!” he thought. Eusebius ran to the sarcophagus to save his companion. The knight struggled to let out one word: “Burn!”
Then he heard thumping of weighted footsteps approaching the great hall. Eusebius knew they were not Christians nor Muslims but them–the ones he had seen atop the castle the night before. They had found him. “Forgive me, my lord!” he said and crossed himself and set Sir Robert on fire. Then he lit the capes of the other crusaders. The great hall was filled with screams as the fire engulfed them. They were still alive, all of them. Eusebius then heard a dull muffled sound approaching one of the entrances of the great hall. The sound was like the attempted shouts of mouthless men. Eusebius ran in the opposite direction, hastily setting fire on what he could. When he reached the courtyard, he spilled an oil barrel in front of the gate and lit it on fire and fled. He looked back and saw the creatures, scurrying about trying to put out the fire before it spread. He could not see them well enough to discern their faces but feathers sprouted from their necks and shoulders, and they moved clumsily as if they were made of stone. He ran down the road and heard explosions as the fire must have surely spread to the nearby oil barrels.
The sun was now beginning to set. From the foot of the mountain, Eusebius could see the castle roof ablaze. The windows were bright orange and reds. Soon, the remaining rafters would collapse and burn everyone inside.
The horses were not far from where he had left them, calmly grazing in a nearby meadow. When they saw the archer, they trotted towards him and huddled close to him as if to comfort him from the grief and despair. Remounting, he rode away and a darkness set upon him, his body slackened, and his thoughts vanished.
He awoke in an abbey.
“We found you on the bank of the river two days ago,” said the attendant monk. “The horses were wandering in our courtyard. The angels must have sent them to tell us of your whereabouts. You are very fortunate that we have found you. Another day in the cold may have killed you, or you would have caught the plague.”
“Not plague,” Eusebius struggled to say. “Creatures. Vile, ungodly…”
Another monk came into view, the abbot. “No, my son. The plague. It was carried here by two lone crusaders.”
The End No. 1
A Story of the Fourth Crusade
(With Second Alternative Ending in the Manner of Edgar Allan Poe)
Another monk came into view. “I am Father Augustine, the Abbot. Brother James is correct. There is a plague. It was carried here by two lone crusaders. The people began to flee when they heard they were nearby.”
“No! Men-like creatures…they poisoned the food. Trapped people in cocoons…ate their hearts and entrails.”
The two monks looked at each, and finally the abbot asked, “Was it a demon?
“Not a demon! Men! I saw them. But I have burned them!”
“He must be delirious, Father,” said Brother James as the archer slipped back into unconsciousness.
“Let him rest,” said the abbot. “We will interrogate him when he recovers.”
After having questioned Eusebius for several days, the monks determined there was some validity to the archer’s claims as they had previously gotten scattered reports of strange mounds which emitted a foul perfume. The fleeing villagers had been too fearful to uncover the mounds and set them on fire. Father Augustine ordered a messenger to Rome informed them of his decision to investigate the incident and possibly capture one of the creatures. He assembled a group of monks to accompany Eusebius back to the castle. The evening before the expedition, the silence of the refractory was broken when two shepherds burst in with the body of their dead companion. He had been attacked by three men-like creatures who had ripped open his chest and eaten his heart and other entrails.
“It’s them!” shouted Eusebius. “They live! I must kill them!”
He burst out of the refractory, into the stable, and rode out bareback on the knight’s steed armed with only his sword. The monks were unable to stop him but quickly assembled their entourage and followed suit. The very next night they came within sight of the Monastery of St. ______, where Sir Robert and Eusebius had rested. The buildings were in flames. Just outside of the gates they found the body of Eusebius and what appeared to be another man. Eusebius and his antagonist had apparently killed each other in hand to hand combat. When Brother James turned over the body of the other man, he let out a shriek because it was not a man but a human-like abomination like the one the archer had described.
The monks took the body of the creature and sent it to Rome where it was hidden in the secret vaults of the Vatican.
Rosa Martha Villarreal, a Chicana novelist and essayist, is a descendant of the 16th century Spanish and Tlaxcatecan settlers of Nuevo Leon, Mexico. She drew upon her family history in her critically acclaimed novels Doctor Magdalena, Chronicles of Air and Dreams: A Novel of Mexico,and The Stillness of Love and Exile, the latter a recipient of the Josephine Miles PEN Literary Award and a Silver Medalist in the Independent Publishers Book Award (2008). She writes a column, “Tertullian’s Corner,” for Somos en escrito Magazine.