A novel by Carmen Baca Somewhere in the void of nothingness where la Llorona had been keeping herself in secluded oblivion for the past decade, there was a spark of something. Almost as if the small ember beneath the kindling set to light the morning fire came to life with the breath of a breeze, something in the old ghost’s mind ignited and came alive once again. She couldn’t quite grasp what it was that sparked her to consciousness, but she knew it could only be one thing: Rosita or someone she loved was approaching the boundaries which kept her restrained to the southwest.
As the Tapias had made their home so far away from anything they ever knew and tried consciously not to think of the ghost who was the cause of their move, she lay dormant. Not moving, barely existing, but thinking, always thinking of her revenge and plotting different means to accomplish it when the time was right. She relied on the patience she'd developed over the 148 years of her eternal life.
From time to time, her own son came into her mind and had she been able to cry tears, she would have flooded her location with years of sobs. Instead, she tried minute after minute, hour after hour, and day upon day to reach the Tapia family with her thoughts. Searching everywhere for the boy who escaped her clutches and whom she longed to capture and never release, she did not give up her quest, even though she knew her boundaries limited her reach. In Rosita's old neighborhood, there was a house which held promise. There lived a young woman about the same age as Christino, and like clockwork every Sunday evening she sensed a connection between this girl and the young man though she could also tell there was some distance between the two. She felt that using this girl would enable her to get closer to her goal, and she bided her time until this something or someone crossed the southwest boundaries and fell into her hands. That's how relentless she was and how ruthless.
So, while one part of her mind acted like the ever-undulating snakes sprouting from the head of Medusa constantly using their forked tongues to feel for her prey, she used another part to entertain herself with the memories of contented times to pass her period of isolation. Of course, her chief enjoyment was recollecting all the instances she had encountered humans.
She recalled an occasion where she had just bitten into a succulent wild strawberry she found in an orchard when she spotted a trio of adolescent boys walking past. Sure they were up to no good—apple stealing, most likely—she moved to stand before them when they paused under the first large tree with fruit-laden branches which almost touched the ground.
Before they could move, she blew a strawberry-scented breath into their faces, first left to right and then back again, watching as their eyes opened wide and their mouths too in preparation to speak.
"Did you feel that—" "Oh, Shi—"
Thoughts did not quite make the exclamations complete so quickly did they take steps back. Each turned in all directions to figure out what it was.
"There's no wind," reasoned one.
Another, who began shuffling a foot through the fallen leaves and underbrush and looking at the growth, chimed in, "I don't see a single strawberry."
Then the last said what they had all been hoping none would voice: "La Llorona—it had to be!"
As if to prove him right, an apple fell from the tree they stood beneath and hovered before them in the air as though suspended from invisible string. María had it from the stem and allowed it to swing toward the boy who had said her ill-gotten name. Then the ghost let it loose where it struck him smack in the center of his chest. She didn't throw it hard; it barely hit with a small thump, but he fell back in a faint.
"Oh, my God! He's dead!"
"Quick, grab his arm!"
The other two took an arm and dragged the boy backward as fast as they could get away with tree limbs and shrubs in their path. No matter—though the boy's head got stuck in a large weed once and bumped into a small log on their way out of the arbolera, the three kept going until she could see them no longer.
The memory triggered more, and María retained her position where she lay, knowing the end to her self-imposed banishment was near. She need not waste what time she had to remain dormant in guessing what was to come.
# So, as the two travelers made their way down the Alaskan coast toward Washington, still far from their destination, the evil phantasm the older one wanted to avoid and the younger one knew nothing about kept her senses aware. With each mile that passed, she kept her patient vigil. The days of travel passed routinely for Thomas and Tino; as the number of miles beneath the car's tires grew, so did Tino's impatience to get to their final destination. The earthquake of 1964—ten years before—when he'd been five-years-old, bothered him. Sometimes, when any significant alteration of his daily routine occurred, he became so anxious that Rosita had to teach him how to ward off panic attacks and accept what he couldn't change. Marisol's leaving was an especially trying time for the boy, but the weekly phone calls and letters between the two kept him from experiencing too much anxiety. Rosita hoped the intervening years between Marisol's departure and Tino's reaching his eighteenth year would make him more amenable to change, and she worried about his leaving to college at all if he weren't able to adapt. But then Marisol's mysterious illness arose, and the defect in his character seemed to disappear from the moment he heard her mother's tearful voice say, "Oh, hito, I think our Mari's dying." Concern for the love of his life had done what nothing else, not even subsequent earthquakes brought by Mother Nature herself, could have made him do in all his formative years—accept change and move forward with it, rather than pretend it wasn't happening or worry himself sick over it. He had a quest at last, and a journey ahead that would prove his mettle. Like Odysseus, Tino would face dangers he didn't expect. Unlike the epic hero though, Tino had no idea. So Thomas and Tino traveled through Washington, the top right corner of Oregon, and the bottom left corner of Idaho without incident and made good time. Thomas gave the wheel over to Tino on the long, flat stretches of highway so he could rest his eyes to make the best time of the almost twenty-three-hour trip. Thomas needed no sleep, no resting of any body part, but he had to convince others he was human. And so he did human things he remembered but had no need for any longer. When they reached Utah, something happened which made Thomas well-aware they had reached the southwest. As he drove down the highway, Thomas began getting the feeling he always did when he sensed danger. He glanced at his passenger and saw Tino was awake, so he asked him to keep an eye out. "For?" "I don't know, but something feels off, like maybe a thunderstorm is coming." "I don't see—" Tino began, and left his statement unfinished when he saw it. A sudden dust devil appeared to their right off in the distance, which was strange because Utah isn't known for tornados. Tino called attention to it, but Thomas had already seen it and was debating either accelerating or decelerating to avoid it since it looked to be coming right for the road they were on. "What the heck—" Tino began when it shifted course and seemed to head right at them. It seemed Mother Nature wasn't finished teaching Tino lessons. "Hang on!" Thomas did speed up then, the car shaking and rattling as it shot over eighty miles per hour and the dust devil spun itself into a full-blown tornado. Rocks, gravel, brush, small branches, tumbleweeds, and who knew what else slammed into the vehicle on all sides as Thomas fought with the steering wheel which was shaking so badly Tino feared it would fly right out of his friend's fists. And just as fast as the twister hit, it blew itself out with a giant puff of dirt and dust behind them. Thomas looked at Tino; Tino looked right back. "Did you see that? What was that? Why did—" Thomas held up a hand as he began slowing the car to its normal pace but kept going. "I'm not sure why it happened just as we passed, but that twister must've caught a nice updraft to form as fast as it did," he offered a half-educated opinion and hoped he'd halted Tino's questions. He knew the young man was ignorant about his mother's plight with la Llorona, and he didn't think it was his place to set him straight. And though he didn't like not being truthful with Tino, he didn't know what else to do. Surely, he needed to have a conversation with Doña Sebastiana after all. After another period of travel, they reached a small town. Here was as good as anywhere, Thomas thought, to have supper and a short rest before continuing on. So the two stopped at a quaint diner with '50s memorabilia, and Thomas waited for the inevitable questions Tino was bound to have. The younger man surprised him, however, and spent the time waiting for their order by strolling along the walls featuring old black and white photographs of '50s stars and plugging quarters into the jukebox. When their food arrived, they ate as though they hadn't eaten in days and sat back when they finished, sated and lazy with the fullness of their stomachs. They didn't waste time, both anxious to get going again and left shortly thereafter. Before long, they crossed into the southwest corner of Colorado, and again, Thomas listened to his inner voice warning him of impending danger. Again, he asked Tino to keep vigilant. "Not again," he groaned, sitting up in his seat and sweeping his gaze from one end of the windshield to the other. Turning in his seat to look behind, he saw nothing amiss in any direction. He should've looked up. Everything happened simultaneously—just as they were passing an especially high cliff to their left with a precipitous drop to a canyon on the right, Thomas' acute intuition kicked in, and both he and Tino heard a rumbling from above. The older man floored the accelerator at the same time a boulder larger than the car crashed onto the highway behind them. Slamming on the brakes, Thomas jumped out of the car on his side, and Tino did the same on the other. "Did you know that was going to happen?" He looked wide-eyed at his mentor. Then he accused, "You knew that was going to happen. How, why—" "I heard the rumble before you did, I guess," Thomas interrupted. "I've always had exceptional hearing," he added as both looked back at the cars that were lining up one behind the other due to the obstacle in their way. "At least we're not trapped on the wrong side of that rock." He got back into the car, and Tino followed suit. When Thomas offered no more explanation, Tino remained quiet, vigilant eyes looking in all directions. As he drove, Thomas' thoughts took him back to the twister in Utah and the landslide in Colorado. He had a feeling in his gut the incidents had been orchestrated, not accidental. There was something more at play here, and he wondered if he should let Doña Sebastiana know. Then again, the ancient one knew almost everything, so he determined to be extra alert and keep his concern at bay unless more happened to cause concern.
Finally crossing the state line into the uppermost corner of New Mexico, the travelers were anxious to arrive. Thomas knew, though, that here was the most danger—and now he realized that the boundaries which held María in this land of enchantment were more of her own making than that of a higher power. Thomas had read up on the state, which he now entered. This land held so much more than beautiful vistas. It was home to a melting pot of peoples: several Native American tribes, Hispanics whose ancestors settled here from mainly Mexico and Spain, and many others of varied and many nationalities, races, and cultures who sought the peace and serenity of the diverse landscapes the state provided. From mountain ranges in the north and south-central portions, to desert like sections in the southwest, central and south eastern parts, with gorges and rock formations, cliff dwellings and caverns, the state had much to offer its residents and tourists alike. So many who ventured into the enchanted part of the southwestern United States fell in love with the varied landscapes and left their homes elsewhere for the fresh air and mystic mystery of the place. It was no wonder la Llorona and so many others of her ilk refused to leave it even when they passed. Haunting their favorite places, from hotels to individual houses, cemeteries, and churches, bars and brothels alike, like Billy the Kid in Fort Sumner, an unknown woman in white by the highway around Santa Rosa, and even a little boy haunting the Kimo Theatre in Albuquerque. New Mexico has always been a safe haven for ghosts. And they were spotted regularly enough that everyone believed in all of them.
The legend of la Llorona was, by far, the most widely known, however. She was the only one who had been spotted through the recent centuries in all of the south west states. Others, like el serpiente, were seen in specific locations. There were still others who were spotted in many places, but they seemed to be ghosts of different people. It was la Llorona, the Weeping Woman, who was spotted throughout the decades searching for her lost children as she wandered along both lush and nearly barren river banks from Utah, to California, to Mexico and the states between.
Just as Thomas approached the border at the top corner of the state, his intuition kicked in, stronger than at any time since his demise on the train collision. It was a punch to his mid-section that left him bent in pain as the hand not on the wheel pressed hard against his stomach. He inhaled with the intensity of the blow and sat up straight so fast his spine gave a crack.
And it was gone.
The moment the car flew past the state line dividing Colorado from New Mexico, he felt exhilarated—still concerned, wary, but not fearful—gee, had it been fear—he wondered, interrupting his own thoughts.
He shook his head and rubbed his eyes, alert like a watchdog to danger he senses in each bristle of hair on his spine, but not yet having caught the scent sufficiently to know what or where it was. Thomas opened his mouth to tell Tino once again to watch out for something, but there was a whoosh to his right—a blast of light from the window next to Tino as though something like a fireball had been flung from the sky into the forest with great strength.
"Ahhh!" The two pitches of baritone from older and younger man simultaneously would’ve been funny, especially when they turned to look into each other’s wide eyes before turning again to the woods. But what they saw was far from humorous.
Thomas floored the gas pedal for the third time and caused Tino to clutch what he could find to hold on. The trees caught fire, and within seconds the flames raced toward them.
Tongues of red, orange, yellow, and even white flames fluttered and reached for them. When the car shot forward, so did the fire. It was as though a giant had blown a big breath toward them right from the spot of the initial explosion. The danger was immediate; Thomas felt the heat of the flames as they shot over the roof of the car before it accelerated. When Tino, crouching still in the passenger seat, looked into the door mirror, he could swear the flames formed a giant face—the face of a woman who seemed to be crying fire. He rubbed his eyes with both fists, blinked several times, and looked again. The flames were gone; there was no fire. Only a plume of black smoke rose into the sky like a finger pointing ever upward. And as it rose higher, the black turned gray, then white, and then dissipated into the air into nothing. The forest was intact, the trees as green as they always were.
"I did not imagine that." Tino’s voice started with a quaver and finished with certainty. "What innocent explanation are you going to try to cover this disaster up with? At least with the avalanche you didn’t even try to explain, but with that tornado—when you tried to make light of it—nuh huh, no, no way. I need the truth, Thomas. Don’t try to pacify me anymore. There’s something up—something that’s been going on for a while, I can tell. I just don’t know what it is or why it seems to target us. This has to do with my parents' refusal to come back to New Mexico, doesn't it?"
Within a few hours, Thomas knew they’d reach their destination. He hadn’t changed his mind. He was not the one to tell the boy the truth.
"You need to go to sleep, son." "Whaaa—" "Hear me out." The hand he held up caused Tino to shut his mouth. "Because of what you’ve witnessed on this trip, you should trust what I’m about to tell you will work, and do as I say. The answers you seek will come to you in sleep. Only in a deep, genuine sleep. So force yourself to relax with the sound of the road beneath the tires and the silence of the air around you. Sleep."
He said no more, and Tino didn’t ask for more. Just as he had stopped asking questions about the matter through the years because his parents always refused to answer, he knew he had to stop now and do as his older friend said. He gave himself a shake, loosening his limbs from tense to relaxed, leaned back against his seat, and crossed his arms over his chest. With a deep sigh, he closed his eyes and gave sleep his best effort. For a few miles, nothing happened. His mind swirled with questions and answers he guessed at, and he didn’t think he could stand a moment longer trying to quiet his thoughts. And that was when sleep came and drove his consciousness down into blackness, nothingness, and left his mind open and malleable to the entrance of the ancient ghost’s thoughts.
Carmen Baca taught a variety of English and history courses from grades six through twelve and college levels over the course of thirty-six years before retiring in 2014. Her command of both English and Spanish enables her to write with true story-telling talent. Her debut novel, El Hermano, published in April of 2017 and became a NM-AZ Book Award Finalist. She has since published three more books and twenty-three short pieces in online literary magazines, women’s blogs, and anthologies. She and her husband enjoy a quiet life in the country, caring for the land and for their animals.
"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. “I am.” “Me too.”
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 Bacataught 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 herfather’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.
“She is like Julia in every way.” Excerpt from The Book of Archives and Other Stories from the Mora Valley, New Mexicoby
A. Gabriel Melendez
OPENING TO A PREVIOUS LIFE
¿Qué somos en esta vida? Just what are we in this life? Un costal lleno de huesos, A sack full of bones. Y una cosa corrompida, And rotten stuffing. ¡Ay, ay, cuán amarga es la muerte Oh how bitter is death Y qué dulce fue la vida! And oh how sweet was life! —Miguel Casías, San Juan, New Mexico, July 7, 1989
Every day in Mora two or three new graves were dug to accommodate the victims of the previous day’s scourge. So many people had died in such a short time that in some precincts the people tired of opening new graves and they began to bury the dead one on top of the other. Enriqueta Vásquez fell sick with the illness on a cold January day. She had buried her husband and seen her father-in-law, an older sister, two uncles, an aunt, and three of her cousins buried in the span of the month and a half that the influenza had raged in the mountain valley. Enriqueta was Julia Pacheco de Steiner’s granddaughter, and people often talked about the striking resemblance she bore to her grandmother. Enriqueta was a young bride about whom people said, “She is like Julia in every way.” Later, when people tried to make sense of her death, they said that the reason Enriqueta had fallen so quickly was because she had been weakened by the birth of her second daughter. “She had not yet rested the forty days a new mother should before she was out burying her kin,” they said. Enriqueta’s second daughter was born in the first days of the influenza, and her birth brought hope and joy. Cándida had the blue eyes of her German great-grandfather and the soft dark skin of her mestiza great-grandmother. Enriqueta cradled the child in her arms and nursed her with the sweet milk of her breast in the amber light of the oil lamps that lit the rooms of her home. One Saturday afternoon, Enriqueta felt soreness in her shoulders and she retired to her bedroom even before the sun had gone down. She laid Cándida beside her in the bed and picked up her missal and prayed the Divine Praises in preparation for hearing Mass the next morning. She could not keep her eyes open and left off reading at the epistle for the first Sunday after Epiphany at the verses “Be patient in turbulence and persevering in prayer.” She slept until Cándida’s cries woke her. So deep was her sleep that at first she thought she had only napped, but her breasts were heavy with the night’s milk and she thought, “I must nurse Cándida.” At midmorning, Enriqueta began to shiver with chills and she complained of drafts through the house. Corina Lucero, the médica that attended her, did not let her up from bed, and Enriqueta slept soundly for several more hours. She awoke drenched in a copious sweat that had formed an outline of her delicate body on the sheets of her bed. On Sunday afternoon, Cándida began to show the first signs of having contracted her mother’s illness, and Corina Lucero had her crib moved to an adjoining room where she could better watch over the child. Cándida’s eyes had lost their natural brilliance and had dulled to the color of gray river rock. She cried and dozed in fits and spurts. The silver sliver of a waning moon hung over La Jicarita, and Cándida’s shrill cries threatened to rend the ice-blue sky of that January evening. At a quarter to seven on the morning of the second day, Enriqueta spoke, but her words confounded those around her. She looked at Corina and said, “Are you the devil?” and pointing at the darkened corners of the room, she continued, “And are they your consorts?” She rubbed her fist against her left eye and shouted, “This horrid smoke, it burns my eyes! Open the dampers on the stoves!” Then she fell into a deep coma and did not regain consciousness. The fever continued to consume mother and daughter, but try as Corina might, nothing she did quelled its progress. Neither the sponge baths, nor the paper-thin slices of potatoes to cool the forehead, nor the herb tea, nor the prayers to San Ramón broke the fever’s grip. At nine o’clock on Tuesday morning, Enriqueta’s breathing sounded like sand running through a sieve. Corina strained to hear a heartbeat. It was distant, like thunder in a snowstorm. The old woman advised the family: “Call the padre, Enriqueta is at the very edge of this life.” The Dutch priest, Padre Munnecom, was presiding over a funeral at Chacón in the upper valley and did not arrive till midafternoon. After giving Enriqueta the last rites, he said, “She is dead. Bury her quickly.” Before leaving, he inquired about the child’s health. Corina looked down at the floor and answered, “Gravely ill, she is very weak, Padre.” A delegation of penitentes came to bury Enriqueta. After praying over her, those hermanos who had known her grandmother as a young woman asked each other, “How can it be that one person can be reborn into life as another?” They did as the family asked and buried Enriqueta next to her grandmother, Julia Pacheco de Steiner. They lowered the simple wooden casket into the darkness of a fresh grave at the upper campo santo on the road to the village of El Oro. Enriqueta’s sister, Lourdes Paiz, her eyes swollen and red from days of mourning, had reached her wit’s end with worry and fatigue. That evening as the family gathered to console themselves and fortify their weary bodies with sweet breads and strong coffee, Lourdes lost her composure when the old woman Corina said in resignation, “It must be God’s will.” “Shut up, you old witch,” cried Lourdes, “if we didn’t have to depend on your foolish remedies and your useless hand-wringing, Enriqueta would be alive now! Look at the Americans,” she said, “their doctors keep them from such misery.” ’Mana Corina responded, “Child, the American doctors have their understanding of things and I have mine. But it seems that compassion is not a part of their science of things. Have you ever seen an Americano doctor cross the threshold of one of our homes? It is what we have, mi hija, foolish remedies, cure patches, and tea baths like those that cooled your old man Romaldo’s body when his skin peeled back from his flesh after the boiler exploded at Don Tito’s sawmill in Chacón.” When Lourdes was calm again, she said, “Forgive me, Corina. It’s just that these blows that life has dealt us have been so fierce. I did not mean to blame you. You have done what you could. When Cándida’s fever breaks, send her to me.” Lourdes continued, “I will raise her and she will not want for anything nor will she know what it is to be an orphan.” Cándida’s crying subsided, drifting into quiet sobs, then stopped altogether, but the fever would not break. Like her mother, she fell into a coma and her life grew fainter and fainter as the hours of the night pushed toward the new day. At seven the next morning, her tiny body wrenched in violent spasms and she coughed up a wad of mucus and coagulated blood. An hour later she was cold and her arms stiffened like the limbs of a doll. Her eyes were open, but she was dead. Cándida was dressed in a white gown. Corina placed a pair of brown shoes on her feet and on her head an ornate crown fashioned from an old piece of tin. Then she placed a branch of piñón wrapped with faded crepe paper and adorned with gourds for a staff at the child’s side. She was presented to her mourning family as an angelita, a little angel, because she had died without knowing either the stain of evil or the false joy of this world. All during Mass and during her Rosary, the villagers imagined Cándida’s soul winging its way to heaven along the shafts of sunlight that pierced the rolling winter clouds above them. ’Mana Cortina refused to follow the cortege to the cemetery and she turned back at the first stop. “This sickness be damned,” she cried as she touched Cándida, lying in the black cardboard casket, one last time. “Little messenger,” she whispered, “tell Almighty God in his Glory that his people suffer much upon this earth. Tell him, my child, in case He has forgotten us.” Lourdes Paiz asked that as a proper and fitting thing the infant Cándida be interred with her mother. Again the penitente brothers opened the grave they had closed only a day earlier. The wet earth sliced open like clay on a potter’s wheel until their shovels sounded hollow drumbeats upon Enriqueta’s pine coffin. The men heaved, grasping at the edges to pry back the coffin’s lid and deposit the infant daughter. In the dark pit they drew back the white shroud, their lanterns swinging high over Enriqueta’s face until they could see it clearly. “Ay, Dios,” came up the gasps of the men who were waist deep in the shallow grave. Enriqueta’s eyes were open and her face was contorted, her mouth agape as though locked in a silent scream. Her hands were not clasped upon her chest in peaceful repose, but were tangled in the long strands of Enriqueta’s raven black hair. Her fists were full of the tufts of hair she had torn from her head. “Ay, Dios mío,” those at the graveside shouted in horror as they stepped back, “Enriqueta was buried alive!”
Winter Burial at Los Hueros, 2014 John Warm Day Coming http://www.jonathanwarmday.com/
POR LA RENDIJA DE UNA VIDA PREVIA ¿Qué somos en esta vida? Un costal lleno de huesos, Y una cosa corrompida,
¡Ay, ay, cuán amarga es la muerte Y qué dulce fue la vida!
—Miguel Casías, San Juan, Nuevo México, 7 de julio de 1989
Cada día en Mora se sacaban dos o tres sepulcros más para acomodar las víctimas de la plaga del día antes. Tanta gente había muerto en tan poco tiempo que en algunos precintos los vivos se cansaron de abrir nuevos sepulcros y comenzaron a enterrar a los difuntos unos sobre otros. Enriqueta Vásquez se puso mala en un día frío de enero. Ella había enterrado a su esposo y había visto morir a su suegro, una hermana mayor, dos tíos, una tía y tres de sus primos hermanos en lo que iba del mes en el que la influenza había arrasado con los pueblerinos del valle. Enriqueta era la nieta de Julia Pacheco de Steiner, y la gente solía comentar el parecido asombroso que guardaba con su abuela. De Enriqueta, recién casada, decían, “Es la dijunta Julia en todo y por todo”. Más tarde cuando la gente se puso a averiguar la causa de su muerte, se aseguraba que se había enfermado tan repentinamente por la débil condición en que se hallaba tras el parto de su segunda hija: “No había descansado los cuarenta días del parto cuando ya andaba enterrando a sus parientes”. La segunda niña de Enriqueta había nacido en los primeros días de la influenza, y su llegada trajo esperanza y júbilo. Cándida tenía los ojos azules de su bisabuelo alemán y la tez blanda y morena de su bisabuela mestiza. A las tres semanas de nacida, Enriqueta la apechaba en brazos y la amamantaba con la dulce leche de su seno en la pálida luz de las lámparas de aceite que alumbraban las salas de la casa. Un sábado por la tarde, Enriqueta sintió un dolor en los hombros y se retiró a su cuarto a descansar antes de que el sol de aquella tarde cayera. Acostó a Cándida a su lado en el lecho de su cama y agarró su libro de oraciones y rezó las Divinas Alabanzas para prepararse para asistir a la Misa del día siguiente. No pudo resistir el sueño y dejó de leer la epístola del primer domingo después de la Epifanía a lo alto de los versos, “Tened paciencia en la turbulencia y preservad en la oración”. Durmió hasta que los lloriqueos de la niña la despertaron al alba. Tan rendida estaba al sueño que quiso creer que sólo había dormitado, pero sus pechos llenos con la leche de la noche la desmintieron. Pensó, “Tengo que amamantar a Cándida”. Unas horas después, Enriqueta sintió escalofríos y se quejó de las corrientes de aire que atravesaban la casa. Corina Lucero, la médica que la atendía, no quiso que se levantara para salir a Misa, y Enriqueta se volvió a acostar y durmió unas horas más. Cuando despertó, estaba empapada en un copioso sudor que había dejado perfilado su delicado cuerpo en las sábanas de su camalta. El domingo por la tarde, Cándida comenzó a dar indicios de que se había contagiado de la enfermedad de la mamá. Corina Lucero hizo que trasladaran la cuna de la niña a su cuarto para poder mejor ver de ella. Los ojos de Cándida perdieron su fulgor natural y se volvieron gris como las piedras boludas en el lecho del río. Cándida comenzó a llorar y a dar sobresaltos y estallidos. La astilla de una luna menguante colgaba sobre la cumbre de la Jicarita, y los chillidos de la niña amenazaban con rasgar la bóveda helada del cielo azul de aquella tarde de enero. A las siete menos cuarto de la mañana, Enriqueta habló, pero sus palabras trastornaron el pensamiento de los que la rodeaban. Miró a ’mana Corina y dijo, “¿Eres el diablo?”, y señalando con el dedo las sombras en las esquinas del cuarto, siguió maldiciendo, “Y aquellas son tus consortes?”. Se alisó el ojo izquierdo con su mano derecha y gritó, “¡Ay, qué feo humo! ¡Me arden los ojos! ¡Abran los apagadores de los fogones!”. Después se desmayó y no volvió en sí de nuevo. La calentura seguía consumiendo tanto a la madre como a la hija, y por más que Corina Lucero lo intentara, no pudo abatir su progreso. Ni los remojos, ni las rabanadas de papas que colocó en la frente de Julia, ni el té de estafiate, ni las oraciones a San Ramón pudieron contra aquella fiebre. A las nueve de la mañana el martes, el aliento raspaba como arena que cae por un cedazo. Corina quiso pulsar el latir de su corazón, pero se oía distante como truenos apagados por el peso de una gran nevada. La médica les dijo a los familiares, “Llamen al padre, Enriqueta vacila entre la vida y la muerte”. El párroco holandés, el Padre Munnecom, asistía a un funeral en Chacón, en el valle de arriba, y no llegó hasta después de mediodía. Después de darle los últimos auxilios a Enriqueta, les dijo a los presentes, “Está muerta. Entiérrenla”. Antes de irse preguntó por la niña. ’Mana Corina no alzaba la mirada del piso y respondió, “Malita, grave. Ella tampoco da de sí, Padre”. Una comisión de la hermandad de penitentes se encargó de abrir la sepultura de Enriqueta. Después de rezarle la encomendación del alma, aquellos que habían conocido a la abuela de Enriqueta en su mocedad se preguntaron unos a otros, “¿Cómo puede ser que una persona renazca en otra?”. Hicieron lo que la familia les había pedido y enterraron a Enri- queta a un lado de su abuela. Bajaron el ataúd de madera con cuidado, depositándolo en una sepultura recién cavada en el camposanto de arriba en el camino que sube al pueblo de El Oro. Lourdes Paiz, la hermana de Enriqueta, sus ojos hinchados y rojizos tras días enteras de congojas y duelo, estaba loca del dolor. Aquella tarde cuando se reunió la familia para conformarse y for- talecer sus cuerpos con tazas de espeso café y empanadas dulces, Lourdes perdió su compostura cuando oyó a ’mana Corina decir con resignación, “Será la voluntad de Dios”. “Se me calla, vieja bruja”, le gritó Lourdes Paiz, “si no tuviéramos que depender en tus inútiles remedios y el esdrujar de tus manos, Enriqueta estuviera buena y sana ’hora mismo.” “¿Que no ve a los americanos”, dijo, “sus dotores los apartan de esta miseria?”. ’Mana Corina le respondió, “Mira, hija, los americanos tienen su cono- cimiento y yo tengo el mío. Pero parece que tendremos que esperar hasta que la compasión entre en su ciencia de las cosas. ¿A caso, has visto que pase un dotor americano por el umbral de una de nuestras casas? Esto es lo que tenemos, mi hija, remedios, parches y baños de té como los que entibiaron el cuerpo de tu viejo, Romaldo, cuando se le despellejaba la piel de la carne cuando explotó la vaporizador de la máquina de rajar de don Tito en Chacón”. Cuando Lourdes se repuso, le dijo, “Discúlpame, Corina. Pero es que estos golpes han sido tan brutales. No quise echarte la culpar. Sé que has hecho lo posible. Cuando se le pase la calentura a Cándida, mándamela a casa. Yo tendré cargo de que no le falte nada y la criaré y no sabrá lo que es ser huérfana”. Los lloriqueos de Cándida se fueron apagando y se tornaron en pucheros, pero no se le quitaba la calentura. Igual que su madre, se desmayó y su vida se hizo cada vez más tenue a medida que las horas de la noche avanzaban hacia el nuevo día. A las siete de la mañana, su pequeño cuerpo se acalambró y la niña vomitó una bola viscosa de sangre coagulada. Una hora más tarde su cuerpo estaba frío y sus bracitos se entumecieron como los de una muñeca. Sus ojos siguieron abiertos, pero estaba muerta. A Cándida se le vistió en una bata blanca. ’Mana Corina le calzó los pies con unos zapatitos marrones y le colocó una corona hecha de un pedazo de estaño en la cabeza. Luego puso a un lado de la niña la rama de un árbol de piñón envuelta en papel barato y adornada de guajes amarillos para que le sirviera de bastón. Se le presentó a la familia como una angelita porque había muerto sin conocer la mancha de maldad, ni había entrado en el retozo falso de este mundo. Durante la Misa y durante el Rosario, los aldeanos se imaginaban que el alma de Cándida volaba al cielo, subiendo por los rayos de luz que perforaban las nubes revueltas que pasaban por encima. ’Mana Corina no quiso acompañar el cortejo al camposanto y se volvió en el primer descanso. “Malahaya esta enfermedá”, sollozaba al tocar por vez última el diminutivo cuerpo de Cándida que yacía en un ataúd hecho de cartón negro. “Linda angelita, mandataria nuestra”, dijo, “dile a mi Tata Dios que en su reino ’stá, dile que su gente sufre demasiadas penas sobre la tierra. Díselo, niña, por si se ha olvidado de nosotros” Lourdes Paiz pidió que como justo y propio se enterrara a la niña Cándida con su madre en la misma sepultura. Otra vez los hermanos penitentes abrieron el sepulcro que acababan de cerrar la tarde antes. La tierra húmeda se rebanaba como barro en las manos del alfarero hasta que sus palas vinieron a sonar huecos golpecitos sobre el cajón de pino abeto de Enriqueta. Los hombres se esforzaban asiéndose de las orillas para levantar la tapadera y para depositar a la hija infanta. Corrieron a un lado el sudario blanco, columpiando sus faroles en alto sobre la fosa oscura hasta que el rostro de Enriqueta se dejó ver por completo. “Ay, Dios mío”, se oyeron los quejidos de los hombres que estaban parados a media rodilla en el pozo. Los ojos de Enriqueta estaban abiertos y su cara estaba torcida, su boca estaba abierta, asida en un alarido sigiloso. Las manos de la difunta no yacían sobre su pecho en actitud de paz y reposo, sino que estaban enmarañados en los bucles de su lindo y negro cabello. Tenía los puños llenos de los mechones de pelo que se había arrancado de la cabeza. “¡Ay, Dios mío”, dijeron los que rodeaban la fosa, al tambolearse hacia atrás, “Enriqueta fue enterrada viva!”.
San Juan Bautista de Los Hueros Chapel in Mora County
Sit and Listen a review by Scott Duncan-Fernandez
The last few years have been good for books on the Northern New Mexican region. In 2015 out came Farolito, a poetry chapbook on elder abuse set in Mora by Karen S. Cordova. Last year, 2017, came the wonderful book about penitentes, El Hermano by Carmen Baca (featured on Somos en escrito along with her latest book set similarly,Las Mujeres Misteriosas) and The Book of Archives by Gabriel Melendez, a finalist for the International Latino Award.
The Book of Archives is a novella of vignettes based around oral history of the hispano people of Mora, New Mexico. It is a dual language book, the novella first in English, then in Spanish, New Mexican Spanish that is, known for retaining some archaic usages.
Dr. Melendez has already written books on persevering New Mexican literature and culture—check out his book The Writings of Eusebio Chacón, a literary figure part of a literary renaissance in Las Vegas, New Mexico in the 1880s, something almost lost to history.
The Book of Archives takes on quite a lot—to create a book of oral tales and histories of Mora county metaphorically through the fictional book of archives, even more metaphorically destroyed by the US bombardment of Mora for its part in the Taos Revolt. What was that, the Taos Revolt? You mean the US bombed the town of Mora and burned all its ranches? If you ask these questions, it exemplifies one of the needs for a book such as The Book of Archives. Quickly, as the motif of the book of archives relates, the Taos revolt arose from New Mexicans interested in resisting the US invasion as, deceived by a paid off Mexican governor, they found themselves already occupied and offered no resistance. The likes of Kit Carson marched on to California, where he burned native villages and Californio ranches. Pueblos and hispanos attacked Americans in the New Mexican colony and then the soldiers upon their return. The US army took revenge and bombed Mora and burned everyone’s house and ranch. And here we get to the fictional book of archives. The book which recorded our history and tales was hit by an American cannonball, sending pages to the wind. The Book of Archives attempts to recreate a record of the things the US has decimated—our history, our memory, our stories.
My grandfather’s side, Fernandezes, as well as Pachecos and Arguellos, are from Mora. Many of the families talked about in The Book of Archives would be my distant and not too distant relatives. Some of the tales are familiar and some are rather pan-hispano, Juan Tonto or Stupid John for pochos such as myself. Mora is a place of high altitude, around 7,000 feet, enough for a coastal person like myself (cowabunga) to draw an extra breath while walking the family ranch. I remember going to Mora for family reunions and visits since 1977 (I can remember being quite young). Sparsely populated, many ranches and sheep, which have now given way to those Alpaca-monsters. The Mora accent is singsong. I joke it sounds like singsong Mexican with movie Apache. Men of my grandfather’s generation spoke rather curt, but when I think of Mora I think of some of the kindest people who love jokes and throwing parties (hey, I’ve always been a visiting relative, your mileage may vary). And you always have to eat. While Mora is an out of the way place, it and its inhabitants have figured in Chicano literature. Fray Chavez, often called the godfather of Chicano literature, grew up in Mora and became an important historian and genealogist of New Mexico. Some of his stories display some of the not so great aspects of the hispano character, but more on that later, as it comes up wonderfully in The Book of Archives. Mora is a beautiful place. It’s full of traditional houses and churches, wooded mountains, grassy hills and antelope, as well. The Book of Archives gives a good sense of place and the earliest histories of Mora being a stopover place and how native people and hispanos in the early 1800s finally made something more permanent there. Comancheros, villains in such books as Lonesome Dove, have never been more than impoverished New Mexicans who sought out Comanches to trade for their buffalo hides, booty from their raids, and unfortunately captives--slaves. Though out of the way, trade routes to New Mexico have always been important and fictionalized (take a look at the bandoliered Jawas as they trade robot-captives on la frontera of Tatooine).
Mora is still a rural place, though I recall in the 1970s, you could only see the ranch house and the original shack my great great grandfather built on Rancho Fernandez. Now that house burned down and they built a new one for my great aunt Maclovia before she passed away along with another house on the ranch and several neighbors. Rural existence is tough, you can’t pay your land tax in sheep, so many people go far to look for work. There are many land issues and displacements going on today as gringos having finally considered the land there valuable enough to buy up and have put the community described in The Book of Archives at risk of dissolution.
Melendez seems to have gleaned many documents and spoken to many people for the history of Mora. Perforce many Chicano books are postmodern (thanks to Dr. Melendez for spelling it out), Old Testament-like mixes of legends, myths, letters and histories.
The Book of Archives is even more so as it includes notes from tax documents, land titles, military reports, as well as the aforementioned myths and histories, including those within recent memory of family history (the adopted Quintana who was raised by Carmen and Mama Clarita comes to mind).
Many pieces contain some sadness, some can be even terrible—hispanos of the area survived the US invasion, hunger, influenza and poverty. While The Books of Archivesis mostly realistic, like Cien años de soledad, what is fantastic moves further away as the stories approach the modern era, save for some potential Santo Niño sightings and speaking on the Niño de Atocha, and the Blue Nun towards the end. Witches become spoken of less as everyone thinks they must have left the valley until on old man gets accused in the newspaper of hecheria.
Several story lines and characters repeat, though most stories are not too connected, but all are set in the town of Mora, the area, and the mountain of Jicarita. The beautiful Maria appears in several tales, along with the sad tale of her granddaughter. Old Man Vilmas and the Black Poet Garcia, two New Mexican folk tale figures, who seem to be preternaturally old, appear in tales and perform the traditional entertainment of arguing until the radio causes people to forget all about them.
The length varies from vignette to vignette, which seems another very Chicano form,House on Mango Street and Drink Cultura come to mind. Perhaps a people who suffer with the dangers of erasement and lack of representation exist in fragments and authors pick these pieces up and shine them up to present to us readers to draw a wholeness from. Moving from the long to the short to the shorter and the long makes for an engaging read—as well as the variance of people and topics. It’s a collection of flash fiction and short stories that make a novel, or create the sense of a novel.
Many things written on Northern New Mexico seem either to decry our insistence for Spanishness or go through many tangles and hoops to support it. Denise Chavez speaks of it on her father’s side in her memoir, A Taco Testimony. Fray Angelico Chavez came from Mora. His characters go through long, tortuous explanations on how they are Spanish. For some reason, native blood and mestizoness gets disowned. The movement didn’t miss Mora, but aside from self-hate, the US invasion caused many a hispano in Tejas, Colorado, California, and even indios, to declare themselves hispanos puros so they could own land and not be hunted, as our Indian brothers and sisters were literally. I also see it as something cultural…out on the frontier, you were on the one side culturally or the other, though these things got knotted and tangled, as someone with the last name of Duncan can tell you. Melendez addresses this Spanish issue and is probably one of the best you’ll find in Chicano or Latin American literature dealing with it (this kind of thing isn’t limited to Northern New Mexico). A man whose grandmother was a Comanche captive goes about declaring his pure Spanish blood and looks the fool (he even tells the beautiful Maria that he will overlook her imperfect blood in light of her beauty).
Dr. Melendez has done the amazing, he has made a wonderful book that amasses functions and stories like stone hedge gathers ley lines: He has created a book of archives, giving this place in northern New Mexico a history, and validates our existence, our tales, records family histories, and keeps the memories, and moreover acknowledges and helps preserve the New Mexican brand of Spanish. This is a book for anyone who likes stories, but for Latinos it functions as an elder who remembers and will tell you all, if you would just sit and listen.
Jonathan Warm Day, a native of Taos Pueblo, learned painting from his mother, Eva Mirabal, an artist herself who had been a student at the Santa Fe Indian School during its artistic renaissance under the direction of Dorothy Dunn. After graduating from Taos High School, Warm Day attended Diné College in Tsaile, Arizona, then studied art at the University of New Mexico. His paintings are included in several important collections and have been exhibited in various galleries. Warm Day lives in Taos with his two daughters, Carly and Jade, both high school athletes. He makes his living as an artist and storyteller. Visit his website at http://www.jonathanwarmday.com/
Scott Russell Duncan, a.k.a. Scott Duncan-Fernandez, recently completed The Ramona Diary of SRD, a memoir of growing up Chicano-Anglo and a fantastical tour reclaiming the myths of Spanish California. Scott’s fiction involves the mythic, the surreal, the abstract, in other words, the weird. Scott received his MFA from Mills College in Oakland, California where he now lives and writes. He is an assistant editor at Somos en escrito. See more about his work and publications on Scott’s website https://scottrussellduncan.com/
"El quien haga su fortuna, no se olvide de su cuna."
Excerpts from Las Mujeres Misteriosas,a novel by Carmen Baca
"When I came upon Esmeralda by the Rio Grande near El Paso—yes, I move around from one water source to another when the mood suits me—she startled me more than I did her. I was not expecting to ever meet a human who did not run in fear. Almost immediately, I sensed in her a certain love of material goods. She was a little older than you and had already begun working. Every penny she earned she saved until she could buy things which suited her fancy. So I gave her the gift of—well, the ability to make money—since that was the only thing I could gather from her. Even when she looked upon me, she was collecting her thoughts about how best to make a profit from me, how she could convince me to allow her to use me as a psychic, a mind reader of sorts." The old woman laughed long and loud, startling Rosita for the first time. She forgot María’s true mind reading ability and allowed a twinge of fear to enter her thoughts. "Do not be afraid, my child," the old woman continued. "I meant I merely conveyed to Esmeralda that I could not be used by her or by anyone other than those with higher powers than I. Then I gave her the ability and let her go on with her life. It was how she used the gift which created her own downfall." "Esmeralda went forth from our meeting that day as though she were Ploutos, the god of wealth, himself. Every money-making scheme she attempted brought her profits. She started as a street vendor. Her aguas frescas were so fresh, so sweet to the taste, they were like ambrosia to her customers. Everyone flocked to her stall and left refreshed as though they’d drunk from the chalices of the gods themselves." "But of course, she was not satisfied. She tired of the calor—the heat—and thefrío—the cold of the weather after only a year and let her brother take over her stall. Esmeralda had made enough money to open a restaurant and employed more of her family members to work for her. Sadly, the street vending business failed under her brother’s management. No one knew what happened. The same juices were sold on the same corners Esmeralda had done her business, but the customers complained the taste of the aguas was different. They stopped coming, and word of mouth did the rest." "She blamed her brother and refused to extend him a loan to try again. Her eatery was thriving, and that was all she cared about. Again, the customers raved over the food and the drink. Again, she prospered. She even contemplated opening another and dreamed of creating a chain across the city and perhaps even to Juarez across the border. Images of how much profit she could make and what kinds of things she could buy fed her greed. Like a glutton who grows fat on favorite foods, she allowed her appetite for money to cloud her judgement. Avarice fed on her need for cash, and she would have allowed it free rein but for the failure of her first small business. This thought gave her pause. She was only one woman, and her experience with leaving her vending stall with her brother only to have him run it to the tierra stopped her. She realized that she and she alone had the ability to capitalize on her business ventures. She could involve no one else." "Before that year was over, she had earned enough to buy the biggest house in El Paso and enjoyed becoming part of the elite, those few Texans who enjoyed their new wealth in the early nineteenth century. She hired a personal valet from France who taught her how to act and talk like a lady; she wore only the most expensive evening gowns and jewelry; she learned how to appreciate the opera and the ballet. The only reward she refused herself was love. She could not afford to fall in love because she simply could not share her wealth with another. Hers became a lonely existence once she realized she cared more for her money than she ever could for a man, much less children. Her personal life was almost non-existent because her desire for more, bigger, and better, took over." "This was when my counterpart came into the situation. You see, another woman occupies the same plane as I occasionally although she seems to exist everywhere at once. La Muerte, Saint Death, I’m sure you’ve heard of her. She intervened to show Esmeralda the error of her thinking and to get her back on the right path. The saint came to Esmeralda every few weeks to influence her dreams. She dreamed of the Devil’s minions, those fallen angels who hovered above, watching and waiting for what came next. All around her the buzzards and other carrion-eaters perched, biding their time. And she was mired in a sort of quicksand with no way to escape. Sometimes her nightmares showed her what came after. The heat of the hot sun on her body in the sand won out and exhaustion overcame her, and she could fight it no more in those dreams. She would begin to fall asleep long enough to wake to the birds plucking the flesh from her face, inching closer to her eyes. Esmeralda’s screams shocked her awake on those nights. She knew this was a vision of what her afterlife would be, but not even such gruesome pesadillas could take away her gluttonous thoughts ofdinero." "How to make a bigger profit and how to make money faster took over her being. She assigned her cousin Ramona to do the purchasing and gave her only a meager amount to spend while she furiously tried to keep up with the food preparation. Her cousin’s protests that she didn’t have enough funds to buy quality products fell on deaf ears. Ramona knew Esmeralda cared only for the profits. In her anger with her cousin for being such a cheapskate, she took shortcuts when she bought produce. She didn’t care that the vegetables were not as fresh nor that she left them unwashed, so the occasional worm or grub made its way into the meals she helped her boss to prepare. When some of the beef went bad in the ice box, she boiled it anyway. Laughing to herself that the maggots would dissolve, and no one would be the wiser, she turned the meat over to Esmeralda. She, in turn, created the final product which she served her guests in one of her most popular dishes that evening. Ramona wore the smile of self-satisfaction that night when she watched Esmeralda count all the bills in her cashbox. She sensed something major would befall her greedy prima because of the dish." "Sure enough, the very next day when every patron who had eaten at her place became ill, some so violently that it killed them with excruciating pain, the entire city turned against her. Her own family, some of whom had distanced themselves from her because of the disaster with her brother and some who worked for her only because they had no alternative, did nothing to help. There was no time for her to flee. The authorities moved quickly to close her establishment down and dealt with her just as fast. Jailed for only a fortnight, she was hanged for the murder of the customers who died. La Muerte stood by the hangman’s platform with her horse-drawn carriage and swept Esperanza up inside after she drew her last breath. La Muerte sped away in the direction of the setting sun rather than flying toward the clouds above since the woman’s final destination had been predetermined by her actions on earth. There would be no resting in eternal peace for her: the sands and the carrion-eaters awaited." "So you see, I had nothing to do with her life after giving her the gift. She allowed her greed to govern her actions and brought about her own downfall. If she had treated her employees, her own family members, fairly, her cousin would not have fostered such dislike that she sabotaged Esmeralda’s business." "Yes," Rosita agreed in her thoughts. "If she had been happy with earning only a modest income and enjoying life with her loved ones instead, she wouldn’t have come to such a bad end." "There’s a lesson to be learned here." La Llorona crossed her legs and adjusted her skirt, "El quien haga su fortuna, no se olvide de su cuna." "He who makes his fortune should not forget his cradle." "Yes, that is the literal translation, but cradle is a metaphor for home—more specifically, one’s family." "Esmeralda forgot that her family was more valuable to her than her fortune." Rosita nodded. "Let me tell you about Penelope now."
El Aviso Más Peligroso (The Most Dangerous Vision)
Before Rosita knew it, the summer gave way to a new school year and September arrived. Now, she and Susie alternated driving Anita and Sarah so the four could travel to and from school. As inseparable as the young women were, none had any inkling of Rosita’s secret. Even if she could have told them, she had no idea how she would’ve explained her unstable situation. She never brought up la Llorona or la Muerte, and none of the others ever mentioned the two legendary ladies of the darkness, not even in jest. She guarded herself as best as she could when an impulse hit her or when an aviso made itself clear in her mind’s eye. Since the other three hadn’t said anything about her behavior, she figured she’d done a good job of hiding the times when her strange ability awoke within her. They had only started their classes when Susie’s brother, Raphael, met them in town for lunch, having come down to visit from Ratón, many miles to the north. He held the job of steward on the Big Chief railroad line and was very proud of it. He likened his job to that of airplane flight attendants who provided passenger services. His duties included assisting travelers to board the trains, helping with their bags, checking their tickets and helping them to their seats or sleepers. He even helped prepare and serve meals if needed. He held the three girls enthralled with his stories all through lunch, and they had a hard time finishing their food around the laughter he caused. “Once,” Raphael told them, “we had a passenger who understood only English. The steward he was trying to receive assistance from spoke only Spanish. When I got to where they stood in the dining car, I could see the passenger nodding and smiling the entire time the steward was looking at this man’s ticket in his hand. The steward, my friend Julian, kept waving it, pointing at the print, and then pointing his finger at the man. When I asked what was wrong and Julian explained, I had to stop from saying a curse word on behalf of the passenger. “¿Como puede ser?” I asked Julian how this could be. “Está equivocado este señor. Se subió en el mal tren, el pendejo.” “Oh!” laughed Sarah. “He was confused and got on the wrong train!” We agreed that what he did was pendejo, stupid, indeed. “But how did he board the wrong train?” asked Anita. “Eventually, I got the explanation from the man. He arrived at the station an hour early and just jumped on our train, thinking it was the right one since it was the only train at the platform. He fell asleep when we left and only discovered his mistake when I explained it to him. Good thing he was going in the right direction, just a farther destination. We got him on the right train when we got to Albuquerque. But it was so funny, he sat at attention the entire way and fought hard not to fall back asleep. Apparently, he had been traveling from back east somewhere to California and hadn’t slept much. His head kept nodding no matter how many cups of coffee I took him. He reminded me so much of my own abuelito. Believe me, I took care of that pasajero the whole way, just to make sure he got where he was going. Seems he was off to visit his brand-new granddaughter and had been saving his money for the entire nine months to make the trip. You know the Super Chief is, after all, the most expensive.” “There was another time,” Raphael reminisced, “that this group of college boys missed their train entirely—three times! See, the four were across the street at a bar having highballs. By the time they heard the whistle, the train was pulling out of the station. So, they went back to have another drink. The same thing happened twice more.” “Oh no!” “¡Que barbaridad!” “¡Que estúpidos!” “Wait, that’s not all,” Raphael held up a hand to prevent more outbursts. “When the last train pulled in, three of the guys ran and jumped aboard just as it was leaving. When the fourth guy caught up and just stood there, the station master ran out to the platform, too. The one they left behind was bien pedo, really drunk, just laughing and laughing. When the station master asked why he was laughing ’cause, you know, he expected the man to be crying maybe, the guy explained that he had all their tickets.” “Oh, no! What happened to the boys when they got to the next stop?” Susie asked. “Probably detained by the local authorities for riding for free, I’m not sure.” The girls’ giggles became full out laughter. “Oh, my,” said Rosita when she could breathe. “Those cocktails must’ve been strong.” “Um hm,” agreed Anita. “The drinks gave them a loco motive to travel.” Her four companions groaned, but that didn’t stop the punning which ensued. Since they had ordered appetizers and were munching away, Sarah reminded them, “Choo-chew your food, people.” “Oh, groan, c’mon, let’s stay on the right track here,” added Anita before she choked on a gulp of her water. Rosita, clapping her hard on the back, laughed. “Do we need to turn you over like a toddler and slap you on the caboose?” The group parted ways after several hours with promises to meet again when Rafael was back in town. Rosita was especially anxious to see him again, having developed an interest in him and wanting to get to know the young man better. He was good looking in a Ricky Nelson kind of way. Clean cut with chiseled cheekbones and full kissable lips like the teen heartthrob Rosita thought was so handsome, this was the first young man who captured her interest and made her want to see what having a boyfriend would be like. She was more than a little thrilled when he lingered with her apart from the others and gripped her fingers a bit longer when they shook hands goodbye, especially when he pressed a paper with his home address into her palm and asked her to write him once in a while until they met again. Of course, her friends had noticed the spark of interest between the couple, and when Rosita and the girls went back to school the following day, their good-natured ribbing began in earnest. Every little while, one or the other of the friends made a comment here and another there, making Rosita blush like a school girl and protest that she and Raphael had barely met. That didn’t deter her friends though. They were happy someone had finally caught her eye and that it was a great guy like Raphael was even better. They hoped and even conspired to make sure the young pair would turn into a couple. So the friends’ routine of class, work, chores, rest, and back again resumed. However, it was September fourth when Rosita got that feeling in her gut, the one she didn’t look forward to anymore, the one she was hoping either to master or to bargain with the gift giver to remove from her once and for all. A short time after she got home at the end of her shift at the drugstore, the premonition hit her with such force she doubled over with the intensity of the feeling. She heard a whistle, a huge roar, a crash, and then an explosion so loud whatever happened had to be massive. The difference with this particular vision from those that had come before was striking. She could see no details except large broken pieces of what looked like silver metal, the red-orange glow of fire in darkness, and black smoke rising like a gray fog through the flames. She heard screams of people in pain, and she both fought to see more and yet struggled to see less, knowing this time was worse than any which had come before. She burst into tears and gave in to the despair until she got hold of herself and decided enough was enough. Yelling over her shoulder that she was going for a walk, she left the house before her mother could see she’d been crying and took the same path as before to visit the one woman who could make this stop if she so desired. Or so she hoped. Along the way Rosita began to think the gift was cursed. What if she were the conductor who endangered the lives of the people she was supposed to save, primarily because everyone who she had an aviso about was either someone she knew or someone with whom she was acquainted? She had to know if la Llorona had somehow managed to alter her ability even more than she’d indicated at their last meeting. Meanwhile, la Muerte had been observing, standing aside rather than interfering because Rosita had made a deal with her nefarious counterpart, after all. Though the girl didn’t know what she was getting herself into, she shouldn’t have entered into the contract from the start. She would see what would come if Rosita and the lady met on this day, but she had her own plan to put into action. With that in mind, she jumped into her carriage and flicked the reins over her horses’ backs to urge them forward. She knew just whom to recruit to help her assist this foolish human get out of the mess she’d gotten into with the murderess who haunted the riverbanks. As la Muerte’s carriage rose into the sky, Rosita reached the clearing and looked at the rock ledge before her. ‘Are you here?’ she asked in her thoughts. She waited, but there was no reply. She looked around and wandered listlessly along the edge of the large outcropping. Her steps took her to the back side where she spotted a copse of trees and lowered herself to the grass beneath. Sitting cross-legged, she picked a shoot of wheat grass and twirled it listlessly between her fingers. She looked up at the valley spread before her, each patch of property a square of green, some vibrant like the hue of limes, others paler, like the tint of honeydew melons, with other squares of brown here and there. These indicated the harvested alfalfa, oats, and wheatgrass had already been cut, baled, and collected into the barns of the farmers who worked their lands to provide for the livestock, which, in turn, provided sustenance for the farmers’ families. She loved the patchwork look of it all and thought perhaps she’d like to take over the farm which had been left to her family by a cousin of her mother’s, the one they still called la Lunática. Though rumor held that the house she left behind was haunted, Rosita took no stock in such tales. Even now that she struggled with her decision to accept a gift from a ghost, she believed she could live there in peace one day. She would see. "Where are you?" she silently asked again. "I really need to talk to you, Señora María." The señora was inside her cave, sitting comfortably on her cushioned ledge as she watched her young friend and listened to her thoughts. She felt almost sorry that the girl suffered and would fall into despair when she learned the truth of what she envisioned, but there was nothing she could do. She did not have that kind of power, and the other who did would merely observe as she always did when disaster struck. Only then would she swoop down to collect the dead and take them to the place which had been determined for each. After about an hour, Rosita gave up on the ghost and began walking slowly home. They were in the last of the dog days of summer, right before the fall, and she heard a tractor in the distance, saw the machine maneuver in circles in the field, listened to the rhythmic chunk, chunk as the cutting blade moved back and forth in steady cadence. She stood for a moment and watched as the tall tassels of oats fell in a line of several feet, the length of the cutter’s blade. Would that she could cut herself away from the gift as easily, she thought to herself as she continued toward home.
Carmen Bacataught 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 herfather’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.