The man who had just introduced himself sat in a motorized wheelchair, his index finger rested on the small joystick near his right hand. His large dark eyes and dark hair were in stark contrast to his pinched, pale features. He wore a lab coat, and was covered from the waist down by a thin, white blanket. White gloves covered his hands, and a white scarf was wrapped around his neck.
“It’s good to finally meet you, Professor,” Jones said, extending his right hand. “And it’s Detective Jones by the way.”
Lamboi glared at the proffered hand until Jones put it away. “I wish that I could say the same,” he said. “I’m not used to the police barging into my facility and questioning my employees.”
Lamboi turned his formidable glare on his assistant before whipping his chair around and soundlessly scooting away. “Follow me,” he said as he rolled down one of the corridors.
Annoyed, Jones hurried to catch up. “I didn’t just barge into your facility,” he said once he’d caught up to the professor and his chair. “I’m here on official police business.
Lamboi ignored him and continued past the doors of what were obviously offices and meeting rooms.
“Why don’t we just stop at one of these offices?” Jones asked. “What I need to ask should only take a few minutes. And, by the way, I have to admit that I’m impressed at how quiet that chair is, it makes absolutely no noise.”
“The offices are the domain of my assistant and the other drones,” Lamboi answered dismissively. “I prefer to conduct my business in the labs.”
Lamboi ignored the detective’s observation about the chair.
They passed through two sets of double-doors that opened automatically into what the professor described as the main lab. Then he spun the chair around so that he now faced Jones.
“So what business is it that brings the police to my facility unannounced and unwelcome?” Lamboi asked.
Jones hid his annoyance and sighed inwardly. “I apologize for the intrusion, Professor,” he said. “But I’m here investigating a series of murders…”
“And what does that have to do with me?” the professor asked shortly.
“Have you heard about the recent killings that have taken place right here in Cabo Rojo?” Jones asked.
“I’m a very busy man, I don’t have time for television or newspapers,” Lamboi sneered, “Or the garish goings-on of the internet.”
“I understand,” Jones said as he glanced around at the rows of stainless steel and plastic contraptions that filled the enormous lab. “Well it appears that these killings may have been committed by a very powerful creature—an ape in fact.”
Lamboi rolled his eyes, “There are no apes here,” he said.
Jones took out his notepad and flipped through the pages. “According to a Mr. Benitez, your facility received a donation of a large, adult chimpanzee…”
“Oh yes, that creature,” Lamboi sniffed. “I accepted that animal mostly as a favor to the desperate young man that runs that particular facility, but once I’d received it—and after a thorough examination—I’d concluded that the creature was far too damaged to be of any use to me.”
“So where is it now?” Jones asked.
Lamboi smirked. “Follow me,” he said as he spun his chair around and headed to the far end of the lab.
Lamboi stopped his chair in front of a bank of stainless steel racks filled with glass containers of various sizes. “There’s your ape,” he said, indicating one of the large containers with a thrust of his chin.
Jones looked and was immediately repulsed and sickened. Floating in the fluid that filled one of the larger jars was an ape’s head, its face frozen in a perpetual scream.
“What happened to it?” Jones asked once he’d composed himself.
“I euthanized it, of course,” Lamboi said matter-of-factly. “As I said, it was far too damaged for it to be of any use to me.”
“Where’s the rest of it?”
“What’s left of its body is a pile of ashes in our on-site crematorium,” Lamboi said. Then he added with another smirk, “Feel free to take its head with you if it will help with your investigation.”
“No thanks,” Jones said, irritated with the professor’s condescending attitude.
“Very well then,” Lamboi said as he spun away and headed towards the doors through which they’d entered the lab. “In that case, I assume that our business here is finished.”
“Yeah, I guess it is,” Jones said as he snapped his notepad shut and put it away.
Lamboi led Jones back to the lobby where he and his personal assistant, Anna Vasquez, watched Jones exit through the front door and go out to the parking lot. Lamboi then turned his chair towards Anna Vasquez, his face twisted in rage.
Detective Perfecto Jones stepped out into the parking lot and walked the short distance to his car. The day had become overcast and Jones could hear the boom of thunder in the distance. The incoming weather matched his mood—this path of his investigation had basically come to an end—his theory, as crazy as it was, of a rogue ape being somehow involved in the killings in Cabo Rojo had ended in a pile of ashes, and a pickled head in a jar…
Suddenly a terrified scream came from inside the facility, followed closely by a loud thud and an even louder inhuman shriek that made the hairs on the back of Jones’ neck stand on end.
Jones yanked his pistol from its holster and ran back into the lobby of the facility…and into a nightmare!
Anna Vasquez’s body lay on the tiled floor in a rapidly spreading pool of her own blood. Her head was missing. Crouched over her, his gloved hands covered in blood, stood Professor Lamboi—his wheelchair lay on its side.
“Hold it right there, Professor!" Jones yelled. “Don’t move!”
Lamboi slowly turned his head, looking first at Jones’ raised gun, and then directly into Jones’ eyes. He smiled. “It was your fault, you know,” he said calmly. “She knew how I value my privacy. She knew better than to allow the police to come nosing around in my business.”
Outside, thunder rumbled and announced the approaching rainstorm with a dramatic series of bass drumrolls. Inside, the two men ignored it and kept their eyes locked together.
“It was only a matter of time before you were caught, Professor,” Jones said evenly.
“Don’t you want to know why? Or how?” Lamboi asked.
“I can find all of that out once I have you cuffed and in a cell,” Jones answered. “Right now what I want is for you to lay face down on the floor right there.”
Professor Lamboi glanced down at the slowly congealing pool of Anna Vasquez’s blood. “That can be quite messy,” he said.
Jones quickly took a glance at the blood too, just as a sharp crack of thunder exploded outside.
Lamboi leapt at the detective, reaching for the pistol in Jones’ hand. Jones squeezed the trigger but at this close range he couldn’t tell if he’d hit Lamboi or not. As the two men struggled over the gun, Jones was able to fire off two more shots but they went wide; the bullets burying themselves in the fancy receptionist’s desk. Lamboi then succeeded in knocking the gun out of Jones’ hand, nearly breaking the detective’s wrist in the process.
The thunder, now accompanied by brilliant flashes of lightning and the staccato sound of rain, continued to boom outside even as the two men inside savagely fought for the upper hand.
Jones, although he was larger than the professor and trained in hand-to-hand combat by the military, could tell, to his horror, that he was losing the fight. He latched onto the professor in a futile bid to wrestle him to the ground, but Lamboi managed to knock his hands away and shove him back. Jones sprawled onto his back, tearing away the professor’s blood-spattered lab coat as he fell.
Jones quickly raised himself up onto his elbows; the lab coat still clenched tightly in his hand, and looked around wildly for the professor.
At first, Jones’ mind was incapable of processing what he was seeing, and he just sat there propped up on his elbows trying to will his eyes to see reason. But his eyes betrayed him, because what they insisted on seeing was the professor’s head attached to the thickly muscled body of an ape!
“Like it?” Professor Lamboi asked, puffing out his chest and standing a little straighter. “Quite by accident I found that the amalgamation of chemicals in the ape’s body not only negated its natural ability to reject foreign tissue while maintaining a more or less uncompromised immune system, but the ape’s physiology was such that it seemed to welcome and even embrace multi-tissue interfaces while still remaining capable of fighting off the typical microbial invaders that cause infection. I considered it a miracle that this animal found its way to my facility. Due to my unfortunate disability, I’d already conducted a massive amount of research on the probability of performing a successful head transplant, and after that it was a matter of programming my surgical robots to perform the surgery.”
Jones stood up on legs that felt like rubber, and tried to keep his hands from shaking. “I have no idea what you just told me,” he said. “But is all that the reason you killed those people—for some kind of research?” Jones inched his way to the door as he spoke.
“Oh no,” Lamboi said. His eyes, feverish and shiny, followed Jones’ every move. “Even though the surgery was a complete success, I’d made one slight miscalculation…I had opted to keep the ape’s brain stem intact, it’s the reptilian part of the brain that controls base functions such as breathing. Unfortunately this eventually had the effect of somehow transferring the creature’s substantial, and for the most part, uncontrollable rage to me. In essence, its madness became my madness.”
Jones could make out a viscous line of drool leaking from the professor’s mouth and making its way down to his chin. When he looked back up to the professor’s eyes, all he could see were the dizzying depths of his insanity. In desperation Jones threw the lab coat at Lamboi and ran out into the storm.
The wind and rain lashed at his face, blinding him. He fumbled for his car keys, but his trembling hands wouldn’t cooperate and he dropped them on the ground. Jones heard the building’s door open behind him, and he turned to see the monster that used to be Professor Lamboi framed in the open doorway. Lamboi tore the gloves from his hands and flexed his powerful fingers.
“Your head will make a fine addition to my collection, Detective!” Lamboi called out before bursting into maniacal laughter that ended in a series of ape-like hoots and shrieks.
“My God no!” Jones gasped before turning and running across the parking lot and out through the still open gate.
At first Jones ran along the road, but then he heard the beast that had been Professor Lamboi gibbering and shrieking insanely behind him, and he plunged into the darkening forest in a panic.
Jones soon lost his bearing as he crashed through the trees and underbrush, his breath coming in ragged gasps. He had hoped to somehow get to the lighthouse, with its promise of shelter and people, but now he had no idea where he was going and he was too afraid to care. All he knew was that every instinct, every sense, indeed every fiber of his being screamed at him to get away!
Another flash of lightning lit up the sky, burning the image of the forest into monochromatic relief before his eyes, and revealing the glint of water in its strobe. Jones stumbled towards it.
He’d almost made it when he was forced to stop short. He thought that he had been headed towards a beach and the possibility of more people, but instead he now found himself standing on a muddy knoll that abruptly ended right in front of him. The hurricane must have washed away a chunk of the land here, and created a ragged outcropping that jutted out about ten feet above the water.
Jones searched the immediate area desperately as he tried to figure out which way to go, but it was no use—he was trapped.
Jones turned towards a blood-curdling shriek that came from the forest behind him just as a bolt of lightning silhouetted the nightmarish figure of the professor hurtling towards him!
Professor Lamboi barreled into the detective, wrapping his long, powerful arms around his torso as both men flew off the knoll and into the water ten-feet below.
The shock of hitting the cold water caused Lamboi to loosen his grip on the detective who, despite having the wind knocked out of him, managed to kick and flail his arms until he found himself free and swimming towards the surface.
Once he’d broken through to the surface and had filled his lungs with air, Jones nervously scanned the surrounding water for any sign of Lamboi.
A few moments later, sputtering and coughing, the professor surfaced about three feet away from where Jones was effortlessly treading water. The detective could see that Lamboi was having trouble staying afloat.
“Help me you fool! Help me!” The professor coughed.
Jones could only stare.
Professor Lamboi let out a terrible shriek and reached out with one of his long, monstrous arms in an effort to grab Jones, but the sudden movement only caused him to momentarily sink beneath the water. He soon returned to the surface again, his dark eyes wide with fear. “What’s wrong?” He asked. “I can’t stay afloat!”
“An ape’s muscle-mass is too dense for it to swim,” Jones recited, remembering being told this earlier in his investigation. “It would just sink.”
“No!” Professor Lamboi spluttered past a mouthful of seawater, his arms beating frantically at the water around him. “Save me! You must save me-e-e…” And then he sank beneath the waves one last time, his pale face still visible for several feet under the sea’s covering before disappearing into the depths.
Jones looked away, noticing for the first time that the storm had passed. He saw lights and heard distant music coming from a strip of beach about 50 yards away and tiredly made his way in that direction. Back to the world of comparative normalcy, and away from the final watery resting place of the Beast of Cabo Rojo.
Arnaldo Lopez Jr. was born of Puerto Rican parents, and raised in Brooklyn, NY. He’s sold articles to Railway Age magazine, The Daily News magazine, Homeland Defense Journal, and Reptile & Amphibian magazine; scripts to Little Archie and Personality Comics; and short stories to Neo-Opsis magazine, Lost Souls e-zine, Nth Online magazine, Blood Moon magazine, The Acentos Review magazine, Feed Your Monster e-zine, Fangs and Broken Bones horror anthology, Swallowed by the Beast horror anthology, Trembling with Fear horror anthology, Monsters Attack horror anthology, Mythic horror & Sci-fi anthology, and the A reflection of Me: An AAMBC Anthology. He was also editor of Offworld, a small science fiction magazine that was once chosen as a "Best Bet" by Sci-Fi television. His first novel, Chickenhawk, is the winner of two International Latino Book awards.
As Rogelio woke that December morning, Grandpa Ludovico hobbled through the door. He removed his grime-stained mask and wiped the sweat from his brow. His shoulders hunched forward as he sniffled and wiped snot from his nose. He’d returned home early from his shift at the saw mill. He moaned and slogged his way toward the dining table, his eyes accumulating a thin layer of moisture like a child about to cry.
“Good morning, Mijo,” he said, nestling into his seat. He rubbed his eyes and let out a deep sigh.
“Good morning, Abuelito,” Rogelio said smiling. He approached the table and sat beside his grandfather. The man smelled of sweat, coffee, sawdust, and all the scents that came with manhood. “How was work today?”
“Besides having this lingering flu, it was fine,” he said. “I just hope it’s not La Corona.”
Grandpa Ludovico looked outside the window, gazing upon the town as it began to stir awake. People scrubbing clothes and hanging them on clotheslines. Children without masks chasing hens in the narrow alleys.
“We cleared a few more acres from the forest,” he said. “And we were able to finally scatter that tribe from their grounds. They’d been holding up production for months. We had no choice. You know how bad the gringos want our lumber. You remember all the wildfires in Australia? Or in the United States this summer? They have no more wood!” He shook his head. “Anyway, the foreman says at the rate we’re clearing the trees, we’re sure to make our bonuses by the end of the year.” His grandfather rubbed his thumb and index finger together as he smiled and said, “Más lana. More money.” “Oh, how wonderful,” Grandma Clara said coming out of the kitchen holding a tray containing two bowls of chicken soup. “I’m so happy. Finally, some good news this year.”
Grandpa Ludovico nodded. “It’s been a dreadful year, yes. As soon as this flu goes away, I’ll be back on those bulldozers in no time instead of barking at those new kids we hired. They couldn’t fell a tree if—” Suddenly, the old man’s face contorted while he fought off an oncoming sneeze. Grandma Clara set down the steaming bowls of soup beside Ludovico and squeezed her husband’s shoulder, rocking it gently like a cradle.
“Ludovico, try to hold it in,” Grandma Clara pleaded. She gripped her rosary, bowed her head, and uttered a prayer under her breath.
“I can’t fight it anymore,” Ludovico said, worry in his tone. He shut his eyes and tilted his head back.
“What is it, Grandpa?” Rogelio asked jumping out of his chair.
“Mijo,” Grandpa said, crinkling his nose, his lips quivering, “it’s time you knew the truth. Every time we sneeze, we create an entire universe. Every speck of spit and snot houses a galaxy, and in seconds, entire life cycles go by, until the mist dissipates, and then—”
“Achooo!” Ludovico sneezed, shooting a violent spray of moisture and phlegm into the air like a geyser.
“Look, Mijo,” he said pointing at the cluster of haze spiraling over the table. The mist swirled and expanded. The specks of moisture hung on a beam of sunlight emanating from the kitchen window. “That’s a whole world you’re witnessing. You see, time is relative to everything. Even now as we speak life has probably evolved somewhere in here. Perhaps they are working out the basis of civilization at this very moment.” He pointed to a speck lingering in the air. “Somewhere in there people may be marching for their rights as they learn to coexist with one another. Maybe they even have their own plague to deal with. And now,” he said with a bit of excitement, “some species may very well be travelling along the drops, exploring the entirety of their creation. Isn’t it wonderful?”
The cluster began to slow its expansion. The droplets scattered in the wind and settled gently on the table and floor. A few droplets landed on Grandpa Ludovico’s arm and evaporated instantly on his wrinkled skin.
“We get older and sicker,” Ludovico said solemnly at the dissolving mist. He hung his head and removed his hardhat, placing it over his heart. “I’ve destroyed so very much over the years. How many civilizations have I annihilated? Impossible to say.”
Rogelio didn’t know what to say or do to comfort his grandfather. It was all so much information to take in. He felt like he’d stumbled upon some ancient truth kept secret from mortal ears. It was both wonderful, and terrifying. “Bless you, Abuelito,” he said warmly at last, resting a hand on the man’s shoulder and squeezing it as his grandmother had. It was all he could offer his grandfather and he hoped it would be enough.
“Thank you,” said Ludovico with a warm smile. Then his brows furrowed as he regarded the moisture on the table with eyes of contempt. “Now get me a handkerchief. What a damn mess.” As Rogelio turned to reach for a box of tissue, the wallpaper began to peel into tiny flakes as they scattered in the air like ashes. Next, the wood on the wall dissolved in a storm of millions of individual particles. Then, came the roof, and the floor, and his hands, and his grandparents, until darkness at last settled neatly into all the empty spaces that had been their world.
Originally from Los Angeles, Pedro Iniguez is a Mexican-American author now living in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He spends most of his time reading, writing, and painting, which stems from his childhood love of Science-Fiction, Horror, and comic books. His work can be found in various magazines and anthologies such as: Space and Time Magazine, Crossed Genres, Dig Two Graves, Writers of Mystery and Imagination, Deserts of Fire, and Altered States II. His cyberpunk novel Control Theory, and his 10-year collection Synthetic Dawns & Crimson Dusks can be found online. Currently, he is working on his second novel. He can be found online at pedroiniguezauthor.com.
Review of ChupaCabra Meets Billy the Kid, a Rudolfo Anaya Extra-Fiction Novel
By Armando Rendón
In Rudolfo Anaya’s latest book,ChupaCabra Meets Billy the Kid, science as in science-fiction gives way to the true fundamental forces of nature as he weaves a story that flashes back and forth in time. The title is misleading because it’s not really ChupaCabra, the goatsucker demon of Mexican lore, that meets Billy the Kid, a historical human artifact mythologized by Western writers of the purple prose, but a clash of realities. Obviously, the title suggests some weirdness going on. Is it fantasy, sci-fi, horror, a retro version of the time travel gimmick? Or is Rudy just pulling our collective leg? As with really good time-travel yarns, underlying the storyline are critical views of society, its social mores or disregard for humane values. I would say that in all the best science fiction I’ve read over half a century – that’s a lot of reading – writers generally conjure up the bad guys or create a social setting that contrasts with the narrator/author’s own time. In H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, the protagonist reconfigures a chair with odd bells and whistles, powered by who knows what and travels thousands then tens of thousands of years into the future. It seems he never returned from his last trip, so the Traveler may still be out there. In a way, Anaya has come, I was going to say, full circle, but only half circle back to his highly acclaimed book, Bless Me, Ultima, which is on many reading lists of schools throughout the U.S. Ultima, the curandera who becomes a spiritual guide for Antonio, the young protagonist in the story, imbues the book with her other-worldly persona and a powerful aura of mysticism. To Anaya, his homeland is a mystical place, the mountains guardians of secrets and beauties found nowhere else, its rivers arteries of life in an otherwise harsh land, and a challenge to survival which his forebears have continually encountered for generations. I’ve caught a glimpse of these truths—seeing how mountain peaks jut up to cut off the horizon, finding a río at the bottom of a gorge by a glint of sun, leaning back a chair against a sun-warmed adobe wall... Anaya’s treatment here conveys the hardships of survival in the New Mexico of the latter 1800s into the early 1900s following the takeover by the U.S. government of half the territory of Mexico as a result of America’s invasion of Mexican territory beyond the Rio Bravo (Grande). Those hostilities ended with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo on February 2, 1848. Yet, this book also celebrates the nuevomexicanos who survived for generations from the meager resources the earth grudgingly gave up. Their devotion to a religion which was increasingly remote resulted in the creation of homegrown zealots, los penitentes, a secretive society of men who preserved the religiosity of the communities through extreme exercises of penitence and sacrifice. The hard life of the early residents resulted in a resolute people, determined to survive in spite of the hardships faced every day. This is how I perceive nuevomexico, from readings (Anaya’s works and others) and conversations and the few times I’ve ventured into the state, traveling far up toward the headwaters of the Rio Grande in the San Juan mountains of Colorado. Out of this history evolved a few persons whom I got to know personally: Tomás Atencio, who created a literary headwaters in Dixon, co-founder of La Academia de la Nueva Raza and author of Resolana: A Chicano Pathway to Knowledge; Enriqueta Vasquez, who was one of the first Chicanas to publish a book on the Chicano Movement (Viva la Raza, 1974) and was part of founding the newspaper, El Grito del Norte, in 1968, about the same time that Quinto Sol Publications arose in Berkeley, which by the way was first to publish Bless Me, Ultima, and Con Safos out of East Los Angeles; Esteván Arellano, a writer and photographer, who drove me up into the mountains the time I met Atencio, and Reies Tijerina, who was a Tejano, but allied himself with and became the most prominent leader of the land grant movement in New Mexico. And Anaya. This sampling of people and experiences inform my reading of ChupaCaba Meets Billy the Kid. I say Anaya circled halfway back to Ultima, because the plot in this book depends heavily on tried and true sci-fi gimmicks, though the story is set in the middle of the Lincoln County War of 1878. A super deep state government unit, operating out of the infamous Area 51, called the C-Force, which also answers directly to the White House; an incredible experiment run by C-Force gone awry which combines the DNA of chupacabra and alien DNA (think Area 51) to produce a devilishly vicious though sometimes clownish hybrid called a Saytir; the good-old wormhole angle worms its way in somehow (well, I know but I’m not telling), and the time-lapping magical laptop (magical because it seems to have a solar powered charger in 1878) that functions for note taking and for checking emails from this now (2018). The reference to the White House, that is, to an actual living person is rare in science-fiction. But Anaya’s story is happening in real time—his book is fresh off the presses. The president has authority over the C-Force and its members are continually advising him. (Does the C stand for ChupaCabra or Chili? Is C-Force to blame for the direction of current events? Is the current president really a Saytir?) In other words, Anaya throws every quirky sci-fi accoutrement ever devised into the fray. You’ve got to love it. Something seemed to be lacking in the story for me as I started to read it, but then I met the aspiring writer protagonist, Rosa, who believes it is her mission to write the true story about Billy the Kid. The true story, “it’s what every writer wants,” she says, still queasy though from some of the not so savory action she’d seen so far. So, lots of background fact-gathering, laying the groundwork for the story, but little of the spiritual or otherworldly that could connect us to his earlier writings, especially Ultima. Yet, Ultima lies in wait in the background throughout the book. For example, look for the flashback to the movie of the Anaya classic. Rosa, the young person documenting all these events and characters, teams up with Billy the Kid, who mysteriously shows up at her new-found digs in 1878 New Mexico. A sort of platonic relationship ensues—Billy is a very approachable fellow with the young ladies even though rather reproachable otherwise. So how does Rosa end up in 1878? Rosa’s chief means of transportation is by horse, of course. She witnesses key events in Billy the Kid’s last few days and shares the lives of kind Mexican American hosts who give her food and shelter, even lend her a proper dress for a señorita to go to el baile, basically because she is friend of Bilito, the Kid. Armed with her laptop and with a lot of time on her hands, so to speak, as she battles writer’s block or rides shutgun next to the Kid, Anaya, I mean, Rosa, ponders a number of issues: the very notion of time, the role of literature in culture, what is driving her even to consider writing about this outlaw and what happened in a backwater of history 140 years ago, like who cares? Rosa suggests that there is far more to comprehend beyond what we see or seek to comprehend. “Time makes something new of us all,” Rosa tells Billy as the Kid’s own timeline draws to a close. Some of us have more time than others, she fails to add. Rosa, of course, knows Billy’s last day is approaching—but she can’t reveal that fact. After what seems like months living in this past world, Rosa begins to worry about how she is to return; there’s no ponderous circus balloon she can take to get back home. Exactly the point, because we want to find out what happened, she has to come back to our real “time” and tell us, but how does she get back? A low-rider spaceship with hydraulics powered by frijoles de la olla? No, chale! The force that bends space and time, Anaya tells us, is beyond quantum physics, string theory, time warps, marvelous spaceships powered by dilithium crystals to visit San Francisco Bay in the 1950s, let alone a barrio kid’s scooter that magically carries him back to historic moments in Chicano history. We know that somehow she made it back. All the while she has been recording what she sees and hears. At the end of the book, she has graciously provided a detailed timeline, “Rosa’s Notes and Observations,” downloaded from her laptop no doubt of what she saw, so that’s proof. But the question still remains, how? When we find out what that inexorable source of energy is, all falls into place. This is what Anaya is getting at. It’s what he has been writing about all his life. How we ourselves can be transported back in time, back to a transcendent period of our own. It’s so obvious when you read the book.
Armando Rendón is editor/founder of Somos en escrito Magazine, author of Chicano Manifesto (1971, 1996), and creator of Young Adult novels, including the four-part series, The Adventures of Noldo and his Magical Scooter, (2013-2016) and the latest Noldo novel, The Wizard of the Blue Hole (2018).
For an excerpt from ChupaCabra Meets Billy the Kid, a Rudolfo Anaya novel, the book was featured recently in Somos en escrito under the title, “I am becoming a recorder of history.” The book is available at ChupacabrabyAnaya.
Winning Authors' Stories in First Annual Extra-Fiction Writing Contest 2018
We are proud to publish the winning stories submitted by three Chicano writers for 2018 and look forward to another exciting round in 2019.
We thank Ernest Hogan, considered by all who care for the genre as the Godfather of Chicano ex-fi, who was the judge for this first competition.
First Place Winner:
Fatherly, dragonly, motherly . . . love, luck and touch
By Rudy Ch. García of Denver, Colorado, co-founder of and dedicated contributor to La Bloga, perhaps best known for his alternate reality/fantasy novel, The Closet of Discarded Dreams, which was a finalist in the International Latino Book Awards’ Fantasy/Sci-Fi category in 2013. He has been a longtime proponent of extra-fiction.
Awakening, flexing her three-foot-wide mouth, Tieholtsodi said to herself, “I can’t sense the children, even through the Portal. For some reason, they’re out earlier than usual.”
Looking over her tentacles for new signs of aging decrepitude, the water-dragon snorted. “Older than the dinosaurs, but at least I’m no fossil.” For eons, she’d talked to herself to counter the loneliness of being the last adult of her kind.
All yawned out, she scanned the dimness of her sub-lake cavern, located at the bottom of what the humans called Lake Powell. Drawing on spirit-power, she appealed to the super-ascendants. “Blessed Holies, grant us some light.”
“As usual, they’re responsive as a sacred mountain.” She shot out a tentacle, missing a blue catfish.
Older and wiser than a mountain, Tieholtsodi hadn’t expected an answer. “So, what good are goddesses who don’t lift a finger to help?”
Stretching her five tentacles limbered her awake. “I’d pass for a fat octopus with a squashed head, nowhere as impressive as when the Diné first appeared.” She scraped at pill clams nesting on her amber hide. “So much of me fades. If my worshippers saw me now, they’d laugh their little red tails off.”
Feeling into the dimness, she traced the rock walls. Little had changed in the millennia since she’d excavated the haven for her family. “They’d better return soon. I worry they’ll be caught by men. Or the alien dragons.” § Miles away, both of the young creatures had been taught not to venture far. But today the world was filled with wonders.
Too young to speak, one telepathed to the other, How can we resist?
Underwater currents carried them, banging them against rocks, dragging them through smooth silt. As if the lake wanted to play-wrestle. Just like Mommy!
Up ahead, colored lights flashed. But no matter how hard and fast they swam, they couldn’t catch them.
Oh, and sweet fishies! The waters tasted of burnt trout.
Might be a present from Blessed Holies, for our achy bellies!
The aroma lured them on.
§ Rising quickly, Tieholtsodi bumped the spikes running down her back against the ten-foot ceiling. “Gagh! Serves me right. Should’ve taken us to the ocean and found a bigger cavern with scrumptious starfish and octopi. What was I thinking!”
Necessity, not thought, had landed her family here. Over millennia, the Great Inland Sea had receded, leaving the Colorado River to gouge a path through the rolling hills and desert plains.
She brushed her rough bristles and sniffed under tentacles. “I’ll have to head mid-lake to rid myself of this bottom-rot smell, after my babies return.
“Of course,”--she sighed--”first they’ll want to play Pile-on-Mommy.” Pretending interest in something else, the children would attack, knock her down and pummel her with their bodies.
She chuckled, and checked her talons for splits that might cut the children. “Should’ve been born with an octopus’s suction cups.” She withdrew the talons, like when hugging her young. “Ah, if motherhood were my only responsibility. But, no! Had to be born a tailless, wingless, flameless monster dragon. Fire-breathing would’ve been good, like the Alien Dragons sort of have.”
Dangling a tentacle into the current, hoping to lure a large fish, she sensed manmade chemicals, the lake’s rising temperature and falling volume. “The big fish disappear, like the red people prophesied.” For a century, the lake had been dying. “Someday we’ll have to find a Portal to the clean, open seas.”
Teeth latched onto her tentacle, making her pull in the catch. “What!” She exchanged bared fangs with a thrashing, six-foot alligator gar. “The children will be pleased! Haven’t seen one your size in hundreds of moons. Where--” Crunch! But something was wrong. The catch had been too easy.
“You’re bait! Someone sent you, thinking I’m a stupid monster?” Natives respected her, and other humans dismissed her as a myth. “That only leaves the Alien Dragons.”
If she’d gorged on the gar, she might’ve missed squeals coming through the Portal. “My babies!” She bashed the fish against a boulder, flung it aside. Flattening herself manta-ray-like, she probed for her young’s auras. “Found them!” Relieved, she radiated an eddy that rolled the boulder onto the gar.
Still, more was wrong.
“They’re not in the lake! They entered a far-off river. Blessed Holies, why’d they…. Have to find them before they’re spotted. Or worse.”
§ Commander Brondel mumbled toward his desk, “Soon we’ll be free to conduct more than occasional hunts in the canyons above. Without worrying someone might detect us.” He’d done well selecting this site underneath a desert. Uranium and coal mines, scattered native tribes and occasional tourists weren’t much of a worry.
He switched off a monitor. “Father, today’s the day. You’ll be proud.” On a desk sat the funereal holo-pic of Father, a fine example of his species, in uniform, tyrannosaurus-like, though with shorter tail and thicker forearms.
Brondel straightened his tunic, ran claws over his hand’s olive-tinted scales. He saluted the holo-pic. “Almost everything’s ready to complete our dream. I can almost smell it.” He grimaced from inhaling deep--the oil-sodden walls stank of the raw fuel humans had extracted, despite the incessant hum from air-filtration scrubbers.
Earlier, leveraging his influence with the Council, he’d proposed more surface explorations. As he’d testified, “A four-foot taller species--two hundred pounds heavier, with twice the intelligence and technology of homo sapiens--shouldn’t be denied fresh air!” He’d barely gotten their approval, and received no laughter.
Brondel checked that his milled-rock desk appeared orderly. Brushing lint off his tunic, he was ready for his Second-in-command. “Father, I expect he’s taken care of everything. But you always said eye-to-eye is the only way to gauge loyalty.” He massaged his belly, hoping for good news. Especially about the little monsters.
§ At the river’s mouth, the young ones turned upstream, chasing the tasty morsels and funny lights.
Later, Mommy might be mad, but they were just babies, as she called them.
What’s a kid supposed to do, anyway?
§ Hearing excited cries, the shaman Tomás halted his spring-cleaning. At the doorway of the adobe cabin, he lowered his head, wiping his hands on worn overalls, and scanned the horizon, thinking, The noise came through a Portal, miles away. He’d blocked off the one in the cabin, well enough.
Sangre de Cristo winds washed him, cooling his toughened skin, sweeping wavy, black locks about his ebonied face.
Tomás couldn’t determine the species he’d heard. They were young, possibly in danger. He inhaled deep. “Nada. Except wildlife and toxic soot from the Four Corners’ power plants.” The locals gossiped about how the shaman-hermit talked to himself, as if communicating with unseen spirits.
During the centuries separated from his colleagues, he’d heard other gritos of distress. But his job of Sentinel took precedence, leaving no time for a wife or family. Ever since the ancient Aztecas discovered the Dragones, one shaman dedicated his extended life to defending the Portal openings, keeping the aliens shuttered underground. Mysteriously, and luckily, they couldn’t dig their way out; the Portal was their only exit. Their science could access it but was inferior to shaman magic, so few snuck by Tomás.
“I could check on those little niños if I had my Superman cape.” He chuckled, glanced at the mesquite cabinet holding his depleted cape. “Too bad cleansing couldn’t remove the dragons’ acidic sangre.” Alien blood eroded his gear and weaponry.
“At least my macquahuitl sword”--hanging from a cottonwood viga above--”the gift from Moctecuzoma I, still shines pristine.” By the tip of its blade, he spun it.
“I suppose there’s una chansa in a million the Holies will answer those niños. Sí, señor, the day brujo-witches learn to fart red rosas!” He resumed his housework and dampened reception of the shrieks. They’d hurt more than his ears.
§ Overheated from traversing the lake, Tieholtsodi coasted. A message came through the Portal. “The Dragons took my babies! Why? We’ve all lived hidden in our caverns for eons.” Heady breezes dried her exposed hide while she considered the message.
“They want me to kill the Sentinel? That means their powers are fading and they’re ready to…. They learned nothing about disturbing the Balance.” Like when their shipwreck exterminated the monstrous dinosaurs.
Tieholtsodi too was a monster, but one who never killed sapients. Diné legends attributed murders to her, from drowning victims she ate. Those weren’t her doing; she simply took advantage of the accidental deaths. Except to save herself or her young, murder was abomination. However, the message left no doubt.
“Blessed Holies, if I don’t kill him before nightfall, I’ll never see my babies, again.”
Sinking, she drifted, not righting herself against currents, nor worrying what direction she drifted. “I can’t let--”
Deep-lake gars took chunks out of a tentacle. She barely sensed the teeth, or much else, and sank into colder depths. The gars fled.
“I must--” She hit silt-bottom, her torso spreading, preventing sinking. Words blubbered out of her jagged mouth, “Must save them, without committing murder. Oh, Holies--how?”
Unanswered, an hour later she’d figured it out. Rising from the ooze, she swam to meet her motherly responsibilities.
§ Ready for his meeting, Brondel punched his toned-as-rock abdomen, wishing more than vacuum-dried seafood was behind it. “Like pumas or cattle the scouts bring back, huh, Father? Good thing hunting’s still in the cadre’s blood.”
Normally, the genetically engineered “perfect” soldiers were tasked to assist and protect the scientists and their research.
“Not hunters, only chaperones for the study of the universe,” he said sarcastically. “Grumph!”
But after a wormhole had swallowed their vessel, they lost contact with their home planet. The crippled ship entered this solar system, crashing in the cataclysmic Impact that created a sulfuric-acid deluge exterminating nearly all dinosauria.
Brondel actuated a holoscreen that flickered from bad connections and jerry-rigging, legacies of the Impact. Besides technological losses, the crew barely held onto principles of non-intervention regarding the humans’ civilization. Faith in the original mission faltered. On his deathbed, Father had predicted imminent colony-collapse. To salvage their species, he’d raised Brondel, special.
“Cadre’ve needed new goals like I need a bloody steak. Confinement’s ruined them.” Brondel flipped between holoscreens. “Father, you trained me to lead us out of our cages and into hunting grounds of our choosing. We’re warriors, not worms.” Grumbling, he checked the monitors--of the shaman, the Diné monster, and its offspring.
“The Council suffers from senility. But if they discover our plan, I’ll be arrested…. Today, everything must go perfectly.”
The door was ajar, and his Second-in-command caught him off guard.
“Your report, soldier?”
“We captured and locked up the two creatures.” He gestured toward the holoscreen. “Your idea of bright lights and cooked fish worked. They followed them straight into our trap.”
“Excellent. Does their birth-mother understand our demands?”
“The observation team reported as much.” He gave his superior a curt grin, without looking him in the eye.
Brondel tried smiling. Military Code dictated it unwise to show emotions around cadre, but he wanted rumors about his optimism to spread. Troop morale and loyalty must center on ME! One great smile from their leader today could sway the doubters. The kidnapping was the first step; the next ones would test every soldier.
I was smart to promote this one. He’d only have been more perfect if he’d been born my ... son. “Keep track that the freak does as told, or she’ll never see her offspring again. Even though we’re limited in getting that shaman, she’s not.” Brondel’s stomach rankled with hunger, for raw meat. “Go.”
Second glimpsed the monitor. The young ones jumped off walls, wrecked furniture and crushed containers. Their squealing reminded him--
“That is all!”
Second returned the fist-salute, spun, tripped and exited. Brondel moved from the plump dragonlings, to the holo of a co-opted satellite. “All, until we take over,” he mumbled. The blue planet overshadowed the gunmetal-gray walls.
“I’ll finally deal with the damned shaman who escaped your attempts on his life.” Grimly, he swore, “Your son will yet rid us of this meddlesome priest.”
He double-checked the door and let loose his cackling. He loved the humans’ literature. Who knew? One day his soldiers might give him a new title. “King Brondel might have a thread of truth to it, Father. The future holds ... possibilities.” He gazed at the youngsters. “Including some delectable ones….”
§ To reach the Blessed Holies’ ethereal realm, pleas and prayers skipped across dimensions of space and Past-Time, avoiding pulsars or disturbing other supernaturals. This involved no luck, so most requests arrived.
As super-ascendants, the Nine Holies sculptured island volcanoes or splatter-painted the heavens with mosaics of comets. However, they seldom answered mortal prayers; wise, maternal guidance demanded minimal meddling.
They’d heed recent pleas because the blue planet’s Balance might be disrupted.
Instantly and nova-bright, the Holies converged on an exoplanet and sat, rimming a crater with a necklace of auras. The Holy, Grand Ultramarine, began. “We heard from our old friend, Tieholtsodi.”
Sky Blue winked and cocked her head sideways.
“Also, from others. I sense we yearn to involve ourselves.”
Everyone nodded sparkles.
“So we shall talk, bearing in mind our original commitments.” The Holies had forsaken mortality to acquire the powers to begin a new world, as any female would have. Still, deep in their auras, memories of their mortal pasts glowed.
“You mean I cannot make ‘a heav’n of hell?’ Sky Blue mischievously raised her eyes. “Shake ‘the lowest bottom of Erebus?’” she giggled; she loved watching Earth life.
Drawing back, she held a plasma bolt, spear-like. “Merely once, I’d relish casting down a lightening--”
Choking, she flushed purple, teetering.
Everyone gasped; no Holy was shielded from fading under space-time. Her brethren streamed over, stabilizing her with their energy.
Grand Ultramarine rolled her lips. “These prayers link to planet-wide conflict that would disturb the Balance. The scenario’s intricate, complicated.” The Holies depended on tiny conjurings to influence reality, otherwise, never moving one wisp.
Calmed, Sky Blue acted less pixyish. “Fate hangs by a thread not of everyone’s making. We have one day to decide.” So they talked. Debated. Pondered. Nuanced. For thousands of instants of time. And reached consensus.
Grand Ultramarine smiled. “This method will prove effective.” Nods all around. “With the lightest touch.”
Pleased with their decision, they chorused, dancing across asteroids. Their merriment rustled dark matter out of a black hole. Three Holies soared over, one saying, “I never tire of these chores.” They nurtured the material back to sleep.
§ Out front of his place, Tomás added spruce logs to his rock-lined fire pit. “The Portal stinks of demonios, hate and fear. Like datura-drunk bruja-witches at a bloodletting ceremony marking the vernal-equinox ending of a fifty-two-year cycle. It’s that crazy!
“But, Holies, it is no brujos--it’s my nemesis, the Alien Dragones. Duty calls, and not the Hispanic kind.” He entered the cabin.
The young ones were likely pawns in a plot, their cries auguring an impending encounter. “Hopefully, I have time and,”--he patted pockets--”prepared enough.”
Suddenly, moss-like fog spurted from walls, spread, choking the interior. “Chingau! Those pinches Dragones!” The fog cemented his feet, quickening his breath. Attempts to dislodge himself made him sweat more than move.
“Bueno, Holies, first a conditioning-spell to free myself, and one to protect my home. Something comes….”
§ Second stood stiff-straight by the desk. “Commander, the creature’s entered the Portal, heading for the shaman. We neutralized him so he’ll be helpless when it arrives. With equipment malfunctions, we don’t know how long it will last.” The word malfunction reminded him he wore a locket with images of his children, draped underneath, on his neck. Really, a minor violation.
“Excellent. Now, what news about our … contingencies?” Brondel was disappointed Second gazed at the screen of the offspring. Removing weak females from our species strengthened us. But this one wavers, probably because of his children. Brondel hadn’t sired any chips-off-the-old-tale; that might’ve ruined Father’s dream. Still, men are more dependable when they believe their family’s threatened. Better deal with that.
“Yes, Commander, the … contingencies. The vault’s stocked, but it was the only place to confine the ... creatures. Whenever you say, we’ll remove them and, after it’s replenished, we’ll escort the Council inside.” He averted the holoscreen.
Brondel loosened his jaw, staunched his anxiety. “Something bothers you; that’s expected. You were raised to protect elders, not lock them up.”
Second checked clawing his locket; it would’ve disappointed his superior.
“We cannot eliminate the Council. That would go completely against Code.” Brondel’s firm tone and step-forward forced his underling to look him in the face.
The green-pupils stare made Second shiver. “I know, Sir.” He scratched his hip, to relax. Strings he loosened floated; one, vacuumed into the rickety, circulation system. A presage of the Council’s fate.
To ease his man, Brondel snapped a smile. “If you haven’t guessed, it’s no contingency; it’s our great leap. Always was. Before, our antiquated, non-interference principles held us back, but they never should’ve applied to a shipwrecked crew. Tieholtsodi eliminates the shaman, the Portal’s wide open.” Brondel cleared his throat; Second tightened his posture.
“Once groundwork is completed, we’ll prepare the invasion. To freely walk the planet, again, to live as superior, sentient beings, inhaling atmosphere, not,”--his arm swept the room--”stank, recycled air…. Your offspring’s’ health suffers here. Imagine how they’ll thrive outside, without fear of humans.” He flushed from perfectly targeting the man’s emotions.
Second visualized he and his young running through grassy, flowered, sunny fields. Suddenly the vision fluctuated to the cold, rocky underground where they played chase-hunts. My commander’s smart and bold, he thought. But did things have to go this far? He set his jaw. Can’t show doubts.
Brondel wanted Second join in the dream. “We could enjoy something better than stinking seafood or reconstituted dino meat! Thick, bloody steaks. Like, The Great Brontosaurus Banquet!” He howled, gnashed his thick tongue. Following their shipwreck, soldiers discovered that surviving dinosauria made great hand-to-hand adversaries. And delectable game. Rumors about the quasi-cannibalism drove some men insane.
Second scoffed; hardly anybody believed the Banquet feeding-frenzy anecdotes.
Brondel gripped Second’s shoulder, their shared hilarity, done. He worried he might’ve sounded too-- “What do you think, Soldier?”
“No--I mean … yes, Sir!”
“Excellent. Keep me updated on the monster, plus, the shaman.” He glanced at that screen. “He already regained consciousness?”
Second lowered his eyes. “I thought we’d delay--”
“Forget it; the monster will dispense with the old pest. Also, have Comm provide me real-time surveillance of all cadre, to make certain my orders are followed.”
Tensing, Second raised his chin. “And the ... children?” He sighed, imagining his own.
§ If they’d known what was planned for them, the youngsters might’ve found their strange cell, less delightful. But it was more fun than cages the dragons had locked them in.
What’s this do?
This place had wood and metal stuff great for playing with.
This one tastes no good and is no fun! They’d nearly run out of ideas for new games.
When’s Mommy coming?
§ “Whatever the fate the shaman meets,”--Brondel cracked knuckles--”you have your orders about the little monsters. If their parent dies, we definitely don’t want revengeful orphans on our tail. Even young claws and teeth shouldn’t be underestimated.” He patted Second’s back, urging him out.
The dark walls curbed Brondel’s rising spirits. He could use larger quarters. “How propitious--the Council won’t need theirs!” He laughed, not hearing Second outside the slowly shutting door, stopping to scrape his boots.
“Father, perhaps the officers should celebrate. Hmmm, is little monster as tangy as fresh baby bronto you described? They’re not enough for a feast, but they’d work as appetizers. That don’t stink of fish. Some tender, young--” He wiped spittle. Never do that in front of cadre; they’d think I’m weak.
Nor could Brondel see his aide scurrying off with scrunched brow and eyes.
§ At the bottom of a waterfall, Tieholtsodi faced the Portal that would transport her into the shaman’s home. She sensed he’d blocked it, but not to stop her. From doing what she must. “If my babies knew what I’m going to do, would they forgive me?”
As ominous as her next task, the Portal glared, beckoning. Swimming in, Tieholtsodi broadcast a final appeal to the Holies.
§ Tomás knew that freeing myself had been too loco-simple. “Dragones’ science is usually more difficult to undo. They weaken. So what else will they use?”
He began stripping the cabin of native rugs, hand-hewn furniture, eventually setting everything outside. “No sense letting my stuff getting chingado-ed.” Items only hung from stuccoed walls and the wood-latias ceiling. “Now we can cumbia!”
Outside he knelt by the fire pit, hoping gathering clouds weren’t a threat. The Dragones had thrown everything imaginable at him. “And a few, unimaginable.” Like a pewter figurine that tried hypnotizing him, eroding his spirit and will.
“Luckily, true magic imagines more than unearthly science.” Burning sage for a cleansing, he wafted it toward the cabin. Done, he scanned the valley.
“What mierda is next? Dragones with ray-guns? Híjole! Better go for my own blaster--some mestizo ambrosia.” His feet scattered cabin dust. “Where did I leave that half-full botella?”
Suddenly, an amber fog flowed from cracks in the walls.
“No more games. They’re fumigating for something bigger than ratas--me!” The fog blinded him. He rubbed his eyes into tears.
Through clouded vision, from the farthest corner, log-thick tentacles rose, blue talons flexed hungrily. Deep growls curdled his hair and heart. Overhead, mounted tools and weapons shook from a huge advancing, lumbering form.
Somehow, the Dragones send Tieholtsodi against puny me. “Qué quieres, Ancient One?”
Must even up the weight, if not the odds.
Tomás lowered his palms, sucked life-force from the flooring and underlying earth, infusing his body with mass. And charged, a bison bull at full-run. Floorboards rippled, rusted nails screeched.
§ Salivating about the outcome, Brondel watched his intended victim duel the assassin-monster. “That shaman was a character, not that he’s dead yet.”
On-screen, makeshift translations streamed underneath. Not totally intelligible, coupled with the man’s swift gestures, they amused Brondel.
“Father, we’ll never enjoy chase-hunting him; the shaman soon goes dark.” Licking drool, he switched the monitor to full-view, leaned into his creaking seat, cackling.
§ Beefed up to nearly a ton, Tomás hoped his enchanted mass would at a minimum stun Tieholtsodi. Reverberations from their collision cracked windows. Ricocheting him like a steel spring off his cast-iron, tortilla comal.
Tieholtsodi scratched her itching belly where she’d been hit. She telepathed Tomás, I’m sorry!
Slammed against the wall, his vision clouded. I harmed the creature not one chiquitito bit. He needed a weapon. Pointing bunched fingers at a thrusting-spear, he charmed it to drop into his hands. He swung at groping tentacles. Phoot! Two sagged, lopped half-off.
“Grraah!” Tieholtsodi rolled onto her wounded side, grasped a doorway and a beam. The shaman heard, You’re as formidable as a century ago. But I cannot fail--
“A dissipation spell may convince you to leave.” Tomás drew bundled datura twigs from his pocket. Cast them and sang in Náhuatl, “Xotla cueponi!” They grew as commanded, enchanted twigs turning steel-hard, penetrating Tieholtsodi’s spine.
Tentacles buckled like serpents; the creature removed what it could, broken splines waving. Resin seeped in, sapping its fury and strength. In Tomás’s mind, she screamed, I have no choice! Tentacles raised and yanked him close.
Fetidness flooded him, almost making him faint. He turned, fangs gashing his earlobe. “Hijo de su--!” Spotting a bottle behind the creature, he mumbled in Náhuatl, “Igualaz.” Flames darted from his twitching fingers, bursting the bottle into igniting.
The Mexican Molotov-cocktail rocketed toward Tieholtsodi.
“Grrrr!” Fire flared up and down her back. She staggered, fell, smothering the flames. And dropped Tomás.
Before she recovered, Tomás formed his arms into a circle. Green lightening shot out, energizing the Portal.
Still stunned, Tieholtsodi latched onto walls and fought the Portal’s suction. Tentacles screamed--steel on glass--keeping her in position. A tentacle knocked Tomás over and wrapped onto a beam. Cabin walls buckled tremor-like.
The obsidian-studded macquahuitl rattled. Dropped with a whoosh from its hefty weight. Cleaving Tomás’s thigh. A slab of bloody, red meat flapped open-closed.
“Ya no con tus pinch--” Screaming horrific, he barely heard Tieholtsodi’s challenge. Of suicidal sacrifice.
§ Bored playing with stuff, the youngsters sighted something new. A metal-green string flew by, exciting them.
Let’s get it!
Their squeals echoed down the corridors and out into the glistening Portal.
§ Breathing fast, in agony Tomás gritted teeth and pulled the sword.
But it was stuck.
Again he jerked. A head-slap sent him tumbling. But at least his grip-lock freed the sword.
Standing, shaking, he raised it, chanted, empowering it with blood-spirit. As he launched it at the creature’s head, the two opponents half-heard the wails coming from the Portal.
Tieholtsodi jerked her head. The sword hit. “Graah!” She writhed back and back out the Portal. That blurred, then silenced. And disappeared.
Tomás collapsed. Breathed. Checking wounds, he fingered the gashed thigh. “Demonios! Just what I needed--more clean-up.” Hobbling, he found the fishing tackle. After three quick tragos of mezcal, he sewed away with hook and line.
§ Tieholtsodi’s final roar ruptured Brondel’s speakers, static multiplying. Half of his plan evaporated when the wounded creature left possibly to die elsewhere.
“Worthless. Unholy. Fish bait!” He killed the monitor, yelled, “Lights!”
Brondel had allowed for this. Now he’d resort to claw-sized explosives used to map underground formations, shelved since homo sapiens appeared. The Council wouldn’t be around to stop him. “Father, even shaman magic melts under a hypertronic detonation.”
“It will alert the earthlings, but we’ll strike before they can. Victories will ease doubts about my decisions. With cadre, anyway.”
Wham! His tail-thump shattered a chair.
“Hah! I’ll claim we had to pre-empt them. First, better check the soldiers that needed watching. Really hate worrying about Second, but he’s a father.
“If he doesn’t see to the meaty imps, maybe I’d better do it. Then, I’ll check on the Council. Lastly, incinerate that shaman. Into cosmic dust.”
§ On his porch, breezes dried mezcal droplets from Tomás’s lips. “Qué bueno I found anesthetic.” He chuckled, tying off the fishing line. “Chíng-- ... Now, something about Tieholtsodi wasn’t right.” He’d never meant to slay the creature, especially after matching her voice-signature to the young ones. “Maybe its attack involved their welfare.”
As he’d launched the sword, he and Tieholtsodi heard the children howling. Triggering Tomás into instinctively twist his wrist at the moment his slashed leg gave way. His spear had bounced off her front fangs, instead of piercing the skull.
He doused the wound with mezcal. “Hí--jo--lé!”
Taking a snip, he said, “Blessed Holies, did its niños make Tieholtsodi duck or did you make us both flinch? Otherwise, I might’ve slain her.”
Tomás wished the Holies would send a clue about the future. The Dragones must’ve observed the battle and would adjust. “Holies, do I wait or enter the Portal, into their cavernas?” Slapping the bottle on his palm, he wondered if he’d just taken his final drink.
§ Holding his breath, Brondel watched Second, on-screen, wandering, hesitating, speeding down the wrong hallway. “My underling acts female-ish.” Brondel dreaded that his favorite might falter. “Must I ... remove him, Father?” The mumbling he heard didn’t allay his fears.
He’d anticipated even this disappointing betrayal. “Father, his emotions could ruin everything.” He contacted another soldier, giving him special orders.
§ Shivers dogged Second’s every step down the hallway. Disobedience would end more than his career. Warning the Council endangers my children. Whatever his reasons, Code required termination of his bloodline.
But children are children, even the creature’s. His guts wrenched with indecision. Committing infanticide, I could never look at mine without remembering ones I’d slain…. “Shouldn’t have followed his insanity!”
He’d free the creatures, notify the elders, then try not worrying about his young. Code dictated his suffering would be short.
Hurrying, he cursed something stuck to his boot. And didn’t see a soldier turn the corner, drawing a weapon.
§ The thought of blood about to flow aroused the assassin. Training had nurtured a cruel streak that earned him the position.
He raised his blaster, guessing he couldn’t miss notwithstanding the dimness. He tried ignoring childish whimpers coming from somewhere. They could be his next assignment! His trigger finger trembled.
§ “Damned thread!” Even busy, Second wanted his uniform neat. Not stopping, he stooped to clean his boot, lost hold and tripped. Too clumsy when I’m hurrying.
A heat-blast cut into his shoulder. Clothes and hide steamed and hissed. Momentum carried him forward, and he rolled hard, curled into crouching, pulled and shot his weapon.
Decapitating the attacker who crumpled. Blomp!
Brondel sent this assassin. No doubts now! He swooned, gushing blood. “Aahh! Gotta get to … wallcomm.”
§ Brondel never believed in the ethereal or luck. Heading out from his room, he mumbled, “I prevail because of your genes, Father, training, and my T-rex mind-set. Don’t need any luck.”
For no reason though, he grabbed his ceremonial sidearm. Several hallways later, his reflexes sparked--Second rising when the man should’ve been dead. Brondel fired, gouging a pit in Second’s back, knocking him flat. “Shit! A kill-shot. Couldn’t help … myself”
He swayed, his eyes turning inky, till he saw the shoulder wound. “Guess the assassin tried…. Second, did you foul up anything else? Sorry. Plus, your offspring will pay.” He wiped sweat from his aide’s brow.
“Would you’ve been faithful if I’d been your….” Brondel skirted him, kicking the assassin’s head, hard.
He ground molars. If the Council knows, my plans are worm bait. Otherwise--he licked lips--I have time to check the little snacks. The slight detour would make him feel better, maybe erase Second from his mind.
§ Barely stirring, given his wound’s size Second knew death approached. But Brondel had left him an out. “Deliberately? Can slow ... bleeding. Maybe save ... my….”
He tuned his weapon to low-setting, used it on himself. “For both of my...!” Drawing on love for his children, he baffled his screams to not alert Brondel. Heat-spurts cauterized the hole. Drenched in tears and sweat, Second dragged himself across gravel toward the wallcomm, nearly fainting with every tug.
§ Trapped for hours, they knew Mommy would soon come to their rescue.
How she’d laugh when she found them.
Then, tasty fish or serpents! They hoped she’d show soon; they were so hungry, they could eat a dragon.
Clutching the wallcomm, Second grimaced, but he’d warned the elders. “The tide turns. Faster than … I bleed out.” His self-triage had given him time, but cut blood flow to vital organs. “At least the children….”
According to Code, self-sacrifice overrode disobedience; his corpse would exonerate him. He gasped from a torturing chuckle.
And Code guaranteed a hero’s children bright futures. “If I wasn’t. Grotesque. Would’ve called for them ... what a father--”
His corpse slumped onto the chilled gravel.
§ “Excellent.” Brondel assumed men guarding the vault had gone for the Council. A monitor showed the out-of-control creatures inside--hyper, hungry as him? He smacked the wall. It didn’t matter; they were plump enough. This won’t take long.
Tapping the bolt-release, he envisioned taking them out, right to left. He set his blaster to medium. Just lightly toasted.
The children sensed something.
Wait, what’s that? Mommy! Run, hide!
They huddled by the entrance.
He couldn’t accidentally kill them, like Second. Remembering his aide’s ghastly face, he bit his lip clean through. To erase the painful image, he yanked the door, leapt in, positioned low, to fire. He slipped on gummy saliva, or worse.
Their bodies blocked his view. Crushed his throat. He lost the sidearm. Floundering for it, he knocked it outside. “N--ooo!”
§ Mommy might’ve sent the strange dragon. So, they’d both withdrawn their talons to not harm it, much. That would’ve taken the fun out of it. Mother had shown them that the day she taught them to never chase or eat dragon.
Hopping off the strange one, they scampered into the hallway.
The last one out playfully slammed the door.
§ “Father, the verdict will be swift.” Brondel cleaned off shredded cushions. “Code justice won’t even allow me makeshift lighting, like after the damned Impact.”
Tearing insignias off, he blotted at small wounds. “Why’d the little scoundrels not inflict more damage? They’ve got the claws for it.” He hadn’t anticipated deviousness from such young things. “They weren’t playing games, Father. Must’ve been survival instincts.”
Brondel couldn’t appeal to the Council. “Sensory deprivation is mandated for our crimes.” He flared nostrils, as if they’d capture light for the future.
To survive isolation, Brondel had only his genes. Despite no light or sound, tech would keep the vault livable. “Father, this is home, now.” He fist-saluted the imagined holo-pic. “Worse than being buried under a sacred mountain.”
Fluffing cushions, he sat, fearing the approaching silence. “Even a shaman would’ve made for decent company.” He’d never again hear anyone.
The droning, air-filtration system drove something into his eye. Dampers engaged, drowning out what might’ve been his first sobs.
§ The fire pit’s wavering flames sucked at Tomás’s eyes. “It’s over. No more of their meddlesome mugre, today.” With a piñon switch, he toppled clumped, melting glass, its glowing emerald fading.
He could rest. The Portal, almost silent, the Dragones’ banter, eerily absent. The Balance, maintained.
“Some hero I’ve been--big shaman defeats Diné monster in great battle!” He scattered coals. “Guess the bebés are safe. Or were they just playing war? Quién sabe.” But he did know where some special buds were curing. Maybe he’d use some as an offering to the Holies, just in case.
On a comet’s tail, the Holies shrouded their gathering, facing center. “We do not celebrate ourselves,” said Ultramarine, “no reverting to mortal emotions. We shaped happenstance, with no beings aware that we did it.” Concurring, the others pulsed crimson.
Observing the little creatures scurry to their parent, every Holy held her breath, geysers frozen, mid-blast. Tieholtsodi’s family hugged and their love enveloped the Holies in pulsating turquoise, like from a birthing star.
Someone yelled, “Look, she’s losing her--”
Sky Blue’s form and color fluctuated. Into dank blue.
“Everyone, stabilize her!” Ultramarine pled.
But in stages, Sky Blue’s aura thinned, she choked, spasmed, from pining for her antediluvian family, surrendering to rejoin them. Eight Holies’ froze, silent, unable to save her.
And Sky Blue fell.
Into Earth’s atmosphere. She transmuted into a meteor that burst into gold dust sprinkling over land and sea. Much of her settled within Tieholtsodi’s grotto.
The Eight Holies gripped palms, chanting, “We laud Sky Blue and her final act.” They embraced. “We reaffirm our decisions made at the Beginning.” Grand Ultramarine plugged a tear.
The Holies regrouped to consider new prayers. Ultramarine said, “The consequences are obvious. So, what tweak might we imagine for this?” Chatter ceased when she added, “Or would we interfere with the beginning of the Fourth World?” Quizzical looks flickered on and off for some time.
§ Ignored her bleeding from the children’s tiny spikes, Tieholtsodi crushed her babies. “My aching hide glows amber from holding you two.” New gold dust brightened their home, and she could see better. “Now our grotto’s perfect!”
Her heart beat gently about how things had turned out. “I’d never have murdered the shaman.” The children stared at her. “I’d have let him slay me and prayed they released you two later. Risky, but all I came up with.” Wiping tears of joy, she flinched from her lacerated cheek.
“The shaman cast his spear like a born hunter.” Tieholtsodi had turned so it only pierced her cheek, but observers might’ve thought it fatally struck her. “Did he deliberately miss?” Not understanding her, the children scattered. “Or did the Holies intervene?”
Howls stopped her musings, but it was nothing--the children fruitlessly pushing the boulder to get at the gar. They couldn’t hurt themselves, so let them play.
“Blessed Holies, I’d never hover or obsess. Not only males possess that wisdom.” Rolling back, she laughed, teasing her babies into attacking. Until the time for some delicious gar.
§ § §
By Ricardo Tavarez, who hails from Watsonville, California, and now lives in Oakland. He has an MFA from San Francisco State and is part of La Brigada, a collective that organizes the International SF Flor Y Canto Literary Festival. His writing has appeared most recently in the anthologies, "Poetry in Flight : Poesia en Vuelo” and “The City is Already Speaking,” the City being San Francisco.
Sunlight beamed through the frayed blinds onto faded pictures of forgotten musicians and concerts. He paused, sipped coffee then turned his eyes onto a shelf where a specific tape reel was filed. Lettering on the slim box had faded since the last Great War but he was able to make out the letters that had been written by a steady hand. On most boxes there were song times, titles, studio location, band personnel and a few even had the time of day when the song was recorded. The box that held his attention listed a florid name. Each letter leapt beyond the top and bottom margin of the frame labeled: Notes. The first letter, C, swirled at the top and at its base flowed into the next letter, A, that bloomed and quickly melted into an R. It was at the third letter where he usually paused to sip water or take a deep breath. Before tracing the last three letters, he retraced the first three letters as though confirming the pen strokes then continued. The R became a vine that crept into an M that sprouted into a sudden but neat, E. Then after tracing the last letter N. He whispered it, imagining the pen in singer’s soft hands as she wrote her name: Carmen.
Perhaps the box rested on a music stand as she wrote her name with one hand holding a cigarette while writing with her other hand? Or it might have been after a concert in a Texan ballroom? He conceived scenarios in which Carmen was circled by fans or responding to radio host questions or standing alongside her sister as they warbled into microphones with a band roaring behind them.
It was a December afternoon. He was shelving records and cassettes when he turned his ear to a faint doorknob click. He stepped softly along the short hallway and peered around the corner. Dion scribbled on labels, shuffled paperwork and wedged notes into a clipboard.
“What record label are you archiving now?” Dion asked as he flipped through pages, waiting for an answer.
“I’m on Ideal.” He hoped Dion would be satisfied with his answer and return to the front office.
“Hmm…. Ideal? Okay,” Dion looked around aghast. “Well…can you please keep this place clean? Geez,” he muttered. His boots hammered on stairs as he bounded back to his office.
Alone again, he returned to the archiving station and pulled a reel box from the shelf. He lifted the tape gingerly, nested it in the supply column then clicked an empty reel onto the opposite side. He unwound a length of tape from the supply reel to thread it along the tape path into the capstan’s rubber pinch roller and plunged it into the playback head then guided the tape into a slot inside the playback reel base. A tiny bulb flickered green as it powered on. He turned a knob that made bulbs glow orange. Needles in two faded VU meters skittered with every knob click. He skimmed the tape box for scribbles or notes made by studio personnel. A tan note lay inside the box.
“It must be a musician list or suggested song sequence,” he thought.
Studios often included invoices, jukebox sales distribution numbers or musician names with the reels. A deep crackle filled the room; slow breathing from a singer, preserved for 50 years, erupted into a barrage of coughs, clearing their throat. He closed his eyes and imagined the guitarist plucking muted strings for harmonics while the drummer tapped on a drumhead tightening the snare slowly.
A raspy voice counted down, “Uno, Dos…,” accordion strikes revved slowly until lightning fast accordion melodies drove the band as the guitar strummed staccato chords. With eyes closed, he could see studio lights gleaming above, power cords lay tangled across the floor, and tube amplifiers glowing. The archivist memorized every note and between songs he eavesdropped on conversations whispered near microphones. Near the end of the tape, musicians chatted about who was driving the truck on Friday night. Someone asked the guitarist to pluck an F note.
He sat frozen between two eras observing the tension to keep the tape from stretching. He exhaled quietly to keep from missing faint whispers or instrument clicks. Vocalists counted down each take with: “Cut One” or “Cut Two.” Often times it was just a breath before the band roared life into the room where he sat. He couldn’t remember when the recordings absorbed him but he remembered the moment when Carmen’s voice first reached out to him from 1952.
In the spring, a new guy waltzed into the office spouting off music trivia and concert dates. It irritated the archivist when he’d stroll into the archive waxing on about a multi-track recording method, a singer’s peccadillos or launch into a lecture about song lyrics. At the last company meeting, the archivist noticed the new guy had an eye tremor before rattling off the gist of an obscure Chicago blues documentary or Delta slide guitar style. The archivist noticed the youngster’s effort to impress others with sidebars lifted from books sleeves and conversations. Once alone in the archiving room, he felt embarrassed. Not for the new guy but for the young guy he was who also did the same chirping concert dates and liner notes at parties. To have spent so much time preoccupied impressing strangers rather than feeling the warm afternoon sun on his face, sip a glass of wine and be free from the weight of opinions.
That night, he pulled out a box of 78 records and sat snuggly close to the record player. One after the other, he listened to each side and every note. He closed his eyes and drifted on arpeggios from accordions, dulcimers, violins and fell into a deep sleep. He awoke in a watermelon field and it felt like a fiery summer and his clothes were covered in fine dust. A man standing on a flatbed truck glared at him and screeched an order. The archivist was dizzy from the heat. His heart raced. He needed… water!
“¡Agua! ¡Agua!” scraped up from his throat.
He thought of cracking open a watermelon and rolled the closest melon to his lap, then lifted it to his waist. A hand jerked his belt and tipped him over. The fruit fell and rolled to a stop beside him.
“¿Que haces? ¡Te cobran la sandia!” A whisper scolded him.
A short man handed him a metal canteen. His heartbeat and breathing calmed.
“Where am I?” He asked the short man.
“Well, let me put it this way. You’re Emperor Moctezuma out for a walk.” The short man chuckled. “Sit, the sun can make you imagine things.” The short man waved a signal to the truck driver whose face contorted then punched a frustrated uppercut.
The archivist squinted into the distance. Work songs from the crew rose on the heat haze. He wiped a dam of sweat from his eyes then braced to ease up to his knees and slowly got on his feet.
“¿Que haces? Wait! You’ll…!” The short man snapped.
The short man saw his legs buckled and feet shuffle a puff of red clay. The archivist felt the crimson sun on his cheeks. A faint smile glimmered across his face as he fainted into a knot of watermelon vines. The watermelon patch faded.
Even though it had been a week since he dreamt the field and he could still feel the searing thirst. It was late afternoon when he paused to follow a sliver of sunlight inching across the wall. The beam stretched into the recesses of the room. Cracked glass from a picture frame reflected a rainbow across the room on a picture collage. The archivist walked over and stood at the collage for a moment. There were photos of buildings, storefronts, kids playing and in the last photo, a man smiled coyly.
He had unbuckled his belt in the restroom when a memory flashed. In seconds, the archivist huffed at the collage, “It’s him!” It was the short man from his dream! But how? Scribbled on the photo was a year and two faded words: “1942.” He found the archive box where it had been stored. There were receipts, expense lists and invoices. In a large envelope, he found someone’s personal collection of Polaroid’s and negatives. In other photos the short man crooned into a microphone while someone adjusted soundboard levels behind him. He founds photos of the short man playing the accordion and recording in a kitchen. Photos of the short man smiling along with two men while a worker loaded sound equipment behind them. Bold white lettering on the truck door read, “Discos Ideal.”
Was it really him?!
He knew it!
There was Armando and Paco and Beto!
He had to step out for air. From the door, the archivist drank water and scanned the sparse tree canopy that protruded from slim yard pads that hugged bungalow homes. He stepped back inside, washed his cup and dried his hands by running them through his hair. It was mid afternoon and he decided to call it a day. He had the feeling someone was watching him and couldn’t help glancing at the picture from time to time.
Once home, the archivist made tea and sat in his living room. A pocket radio on the kitchen counter rattled the news. He put the cup on a side table, reached for records and thought of Carmen. He found an empty record cover but couldn’t remember where he left the record. On the cover, a concert photo of Carmen on the sleeve caught his eye. With a puff, he opened the sleeve and found a blue paper inside. It looked new. He placed it on the table. News rattled in from the kitchen. He sipped warm tea then opened the note, it read:
Gracias por el apoyo.
¡Nos vemos en San Antonio!
The curl of the C was like the one the tape box! How could he not have seen the note before? He slid the note into the sleeve and placed the cover on the record stack. Finding the note filled him with wonder. It was nearing sunset and he decided to take a walk. The faces in the picture frame flashed in his memory as he moved along the sidewalk. Across the street, teenagers roared with guffaws, smiling and hugging each other at times. Their joy felt familiar. Dusk fell with a warm breeze just as he made it back home. In the kitchen, he remembered the note while washing the teacup and decided to the see Carmen’s writing one more time. He dried the cup. Why did the note say San Antonio? Could that concert have been the reason why the men were loading equipment in the photo? He picked up the sleeve and with a quick puff parted the sleeve. He reached in and unfolded the note. It was folded differently and had a hint of perfume. He read the note, paused and looked out the window bewildered. It read:
Saludos amigo, Gracias por el apoyo
¡Nos vemos en Laredo!
The archivist examined the cover for other notes. Nothing. He examined the outside of the sleeve along the edges just in case any notes were glued behind the paperboard. Nothing. Maybe the photo paper wasn’t glued right? Nothing.
That night he flipped through an atlas for a map of Texas and traced the path from San Antonio to Laredo. Concert tour dates on the cover listed San Antonio and Laredo. He grabbed a pen and ripped a page from a notebook. After San Antonio, a recording was scheduled at a dance hall in Laredo. Jokingly, he took a piece of paper and wrote:
Gracias por el disco, soy técnico de sonido
Let me know if you need help in Mcallen –A
Had anyone caught him placing the note inside, he would have blushed. The note slid into the LP cover followed by a long sigh. A talk show crackled in the kitchen. A lone bulb lit the back of the living room in the evening. He lifted his feet onto a small footstool and dozed off.
A booming thump on his door jolted him awake. Was it morning already? Had someone dropped a refrigerator on his door? He opened the door and looked down the hallway but didn’t see anyone. Laughter from people walking along the avenue filtered through the old windows. He poured some water and looked across the counter.
“The note,” he thought and paused in the narrow hallway to consider whether he ought to give in to childish curiosity and pull the note from the sleeve for some cosmic message. Just then, someone walked into the building and the heavy metal gate slammed with the usual clang. It was settled. He’d wait until morning to check the note. That night, the archivist sat in bed thinking about the concert tour, Carmen, and the strange knock on the door. So many thoughts whirled that he didn’t notice when he fell asleep.
Air streaming in between the window gaps chilled the room in the morning. The archivist eased out of bed and warmed yesterday’s coffee on the compact stove. The cup warmed his fingers. What about the note? He brushed away the idea of checking the note when he checked the time. He got ready for work instead and decided to bring some of his records to the archive. There were times between reels that he was able to look up details on LP’s in the vast archive. The train ride was uneventful as usual. Once at the archive he began by sorting and inspecting reels. It was almost noon when the intercom rang. Dion asked if he would join the office staff for lunch. Without pausing, he said he was in mid reel. Dion responded with a twanged “OK” before clicking off the line.
While rewinding a reel, the archivist puttered about the room counted magazines, inspected a photo hanging over a door, meandered to a cassette station and skimmed a recording log. Nothing on the charts stood out. He reached for the LP carrier and found the sleeve from last night. He paused when the archiving machine clicked and tape flicked round and round. He placed the cover on the desk and turned the knob to “Standby.” He stood up to shuffle through the archive box. There were faded invoices, studio musician lists and receipts. Inside a folder, pinned between receipts, he found a blue note. It was like the blue paper from last night. It was a list of names. All were familiar except for one, “Archy? Was it the comic? Was there someone on the crew named Archibaldo?
“Now that’s a real name,” he thought.
On the train home, he thought of the picture, the blue note and… the LP sleeve was on the desk! Once at home, the note was nowhere to be found. He made tea and retraced every step. Nothing. Before sunset, he crossed the avenue to walk along the lake. It felt familiar to let his shoes sink into the soft ground under the grass. Seabirds rested on scraggly roosting islands far from barreling joggers and an occasional inebriated stumbler. A heron’s marble eye burned an amber filament as it tracked him from atop a whirring power box. Warm evening gusts jostled Live Oaks. A beehive tucked in the eave of a municipal building buzzed faintly as he listened to the water lap against the rocky shore before going home.
Soon, he stood in the narrow kitchen, the pocket radio crackled Santo and Johnny. He wrapped himself in a blanket to muse over Carmen and didn’t notice when he fell fast asleep. A loud thump roused him to his feet.
“Its that thump again,” He thought, rubbing his eyes, stumbling to the door. This time he was going to catch whoever it was! He felt warm air around him and he dropped the blanket. He opened his eyes and someone thumping from inside a truck cab. Was it Paco? It was late afternoon and he stood on the back of a loading truck. Three men were also loading speaker cabinets onto the truck. They motioned for him to place them up near the cab.
“¡Sonríe!” a woman exclaimed then a flash bulb lit the back of the truck and he was able to see into the truck. There were chrome microphones and a box of record cutting needles.
“Put the wires ON that cabinet,” a muffled voice yelled through the cab window, startling him.
“Arriba!” An arm mimed a flustered motion from inside the cab.
The men stood at the foot of the truck, looking at him.
“Pues, en que trabajas que no sabes subir cabinetes?” One man asked jokingly.
The archivist looked down at the tangled wires.
“Soy archivista,” he said while winding a long cable.
“No te canses, hay mas que subir,” another man joked and surprised him with a firm pat on the back that made him stumble forward.
“¡Ay, que este archivista!”
He helped the three men load the last of the sound equipment then impressed them by winding the cables between his elbow and left purlicue paying close attention to direction the wire twisted.
“You’re a magician! The recording from Laredo is impeccable. Thanks for your help.” Armando dug into his pocket for truck keys.
“We’re cutting a full record tomorrow night. We’re lucky to have you around.” Armando said while jumping into the cab. The archivist saw him turn to Paco and say, “Carmen ya va en camino. Dijo que nos vemos con su tía.”
Armando fired up the truck, clicked a stubborn shifter into gear and heaved the machine onto the road. In the back of the truck, he improvised a snug bed of blankets. That afternoon, the truck glided along the Texas highway as the sky became a dazzling starlit panorama right before his eyes.
Sessions In Augmented Reality
Chicano writer Nicholas Belardes has appeared or is forthcoming in Latinx Archive: Speculative Fiction For Dreamers, Afterlives of the Writers, Acentos Review, Carve Magazine and others. He teaches for the Online MFA Creative Writing Program at Southern New Hampshire University. Nick lives in San Luis Obispo, California.
1. After her mother’s death, Dorota, nine years old, dreams of a dragon. Scintillating scales sway like an ash tree with glowing orange leaves. At the funeral she wears a short black dress covered in white dots reminding her she is only a white speck in the universe of the great dragon.
2. Year after year she draws the creature’s leaf-like scales. Each pen stroke closes hollow spaces, trapping both her and the dragon in a shell of memories.
3. Her mother’s ghost stands very still in the doorframe. Orange light ripples beneath her blue skin. “Turn off the light,” her ghost-mother says.
4. Eighteen now, Dorota sits against the wall of her bedroom, opposite the hanging round lantern with the broken bulb. Her moleskin journal rests on the floor. She opens it and begins to draw, using the nightlight her mother Eleadora gave her.
5. Eleadora’s ghost accompanies Dorota to the tea garden in San Jose. They ride the train around the storybook maze. Dorota knows if she tries to touch her shimmering form Eleadora will leap off the train. Eleadora points out the strangers: “You see that old man. He has the flat face of a dog with no snout. You see that boy on the bridge staring at koi? His profile resembles a fish and his arms are short like fins.” She points out fairytales too. “This one’s a rabbit. That one’s an aardvark. She’s cake frosting. Let’s go eat cake.” And so Dorota does.
6. Dorota is biracial. Her white father, James, knocks on the bedroom door, asks about her boyfriend. She wants to tell him that her boyfriend Albert is like a moon. Grey. Lost. A distant dead planet. A piece of rock that wants to found. Albert hovers in the candy dish of her solar system. Her father stands in the doorway where Eleadora also hovers. “Why were you in the city?” he asks. “To draw and read.” Dorota knows he just wants to be a part of her life. She tells him about an orange-and-yellow skirt she saw in a downtown window. She doesn’t really want it. Her father slips a letter out of his back pocket. “I’ve been holding onto this for nine years,” he says. It’s been nine years since her mother died. Nine years since she was nine years old. He sets the letter on her desk. The paper glows muddy grey in the dark.
7. Albert holds a photo of Joanna he’s been carrying for several weeks. He tucks it in Jeet Thayil’sNarcopolis, his favorite book. He read Dorota the prologue, “Something For The Mouth,” over and over.
8. Dorota tries not to get jealous of Joanna. It isn’t like Albert knows her. Dorota thinks he’s put Joanna onto some phantasmal pedestal where Dorota will never be unless she becomes a missing fantasy too.
9. Albert found the photo of the missing woman nailed to a lamppost in the Mission District. Now he carries Joanna everywhere. Her narrow black face shines at them. Dorota wants to hold the photo. She can’t bring herself to beg, let alone pry the photo from Albert’s fingers. She knows she can. When they have sex she doesn’t mind his effete thrusts.
10. Dorota asks, “Do you think you know where Joanna is?” Albert sips bourbon. He turns the glass as if he doesn’t want to drink from the same rim twice. Dorota thinks about how always she acts like such a little girl around her father. She’s sick of herself, sick of home, sick of her mother’s ghost following her around yet not wanting to be touched. By the time Dorota is aware, the bartender is climbing on a chair, reaching for the lower lip of a mounted moose head, shot in 1897 by a hunter named Robert Smith Heffernan, whose own black-and-white photo is less life-like than the head of this creature. The bartender is being directed by Albert, who points upward. “The mouth!” Albert’s voice is shrill, audible. “There’s something in the mouth!”
11. The bartender is beautiful in the red light, eyes like dark stars, neutrons sucking in the light. Dorota is glad the bartender hasn’t fallen as she reaches in the taxidermal mouth, pulling out a white slip of paper. Albert explains they’re on the trail of a missing woman named Joanna. He shows the bartender the photo from the lamppost. Has she seen her? Maybe she’s a regular customer? A hint of light flicks in the bartender’s eyes. “No.” She shakes her head. “Is this a game?
12. Dorota isn’t about to give up. “I’m down for Z & Y if you tell me what that was all about back there.” “We just ate,” Albert says. “It’s a note.” “I can see that. From who?” “Okay. Let’s get to BART,” Albert says. “I’m freezing.” Dorota uses a felt pen she keeps in her purse to sketch his silhouette in the alley, face half-lit, long puddles stretching around his feet. She pays close attention to his hunched shoulders. She draws a line of continuation up to the corner of a fire escape where plants drip water from the recent rain. Then she follows the line to reflections of walls, windows and neon, blurring the thin layer of oily water. Finally, she draws a sheet hanging wet from rain along with graffiti markings on the wall: KULTURKAMF and PARADISE NOW.
13. A dragon towers in the alley, pulsating, lit from inside, a giant lantern of scales. Dorota imagines the beast and considers going back home. Her father wanted to talk about the letter. She’s not ready to confront the blood on the page. “What are you doing?” Albert asks. “I told you,” she says, drawing again. “I’m chronicling your mystery.” She knows he’s just another set of abstractions. She can draw that.
14. “The Geheimnisse,” Albert’s muffled voice echoes through his gas mask. Dorota has seen the stencil lining walls in both the Oakland and San Francisco Chinatowns. She first saw it near the side entrance to the Furnace of Beautiful Writing. She likes to read there because so many books have been incinerated in its oven.
15. Albert babbles about the experiment in the tower, the threat of implants, Kulturkamf. Mysterious calls at coffeehouse phone booths. She picks up a French novel about memory and wonders if a copy had ever been burned here.
16. The day they bought the gas masks they watched experiments with sound through oscillators. Sound-field characteristic studies, chaotic oscillators, sound-bending, embeddable tech implants. Sound benders and biohackers showed off their scars, using their implants to make digitized sound react to gyrating around wildly like some kind of fucked up cyber-ravers. Every smart phone went crazy. In the middle of it was Professor Piot. He said the Geheimnisse was something tangible. Dorota half expected Eleadora to appear.
17. Albert is an apologetic bug in his gas mask. Dorota’s headlamp lights up a wall. Around her feet an inch of water trickles past. She thinks she sees a salamander or a frog. Its body is dragon-like, flaming. She’s far in the tunnel, having squeezed through the grate on the side of a hill mostly covered with pine trees at an abandoned water station. She studies the creature, draws gestures of it in her journal.
18. Q & A with Professor Rudolph Piot. Interviewed by Marion Little for Health & Rumor Magazine, Oct. 13, 2027.
Health & Rumor: You’ve launched an experimental course. You’re calling it Sessions in Augmented Reality: Blending Realism & Fantasy. There are no course materials. Is this class a sort of game?
Piot: I don’t call education a game. Not at all. One of our national leaders recently said, “Life as you know it on Earth is at risk.” I think we all feel this fear in some way. What happens if we’re forced to go out into the world and confront contextual boundaries? What happens when we learn from society by putting our hands in the fire? People slip into augmented realities every day, aware that fiction and fantasy are already a part of their communication.”
Health & Rumor: Do you worry about your students?
Piot: That they would discover the truth? The people participating suggest there’s a reality that is more than convincing than everyday life. They’d rather be led down a rabbit hole than into a NIKE store. Is that bad? Just because some of the people searching for answers are connected to me through the university doesn’t mean there isn’t validity to what’s happening.
Health & Rumor: What is the Geheimnisse?
Piot: Quite literally it means “secrets.” Layers upon layers of realities are being peeled away by some of the most brilliant young minds of the city.
19. Sirens race the paved hills as Dorota pins a drawing to a bulletin board with a grey tack. There’s no telling which street they’re wailing their shrill songs. She inspects the spaces between buildings. Could there be winged creatures atop Coit Tower? She imagines beautiful women luring ships from the deep black Pacific while at the same time warning of fatal lethargy. Dorota has drawn the man with an African accent they saw on BART surrounded by passengers in masks and gloves. He’s pleading. Crying. His child is crying too, begging for daddy to make all the people stop looking at her. “Will you all please stop this madness,” he cries. Dorota wants everyone to see the drawing, to know the panic on the faces of the transit passengers. She licks the wetness from her bottom lip as if frozen by the ghostly presence of Eleadora running her blue fingers along the sheets.
20. SAN FRANCISCO, CA -- A hoax story about San Francisco State professor Rudolph Piot dying in a Bay Area tunnel on Saturday has duped internet users, city officials, and media sites who reported on the professor’s death. A group of urban explorers alleged that Professor Piot was found dead in a storm drain tunnel made popular by the Suicide Club in the 1970s. San Francisco police officials cite a popular augmented reality game as the culprit. “We are certainly not aware of anyone dying in a tunnel,” said Officer Donny Youngfellow. “But there are Hispanic gangs we’re clamping down on this moment spreading disease and lies among Californians. Not only them. Immigrants are swarming the tops of Amtraks in the middle of the night, clinging to trains flying eighty-five miles per hour, trying to escape San Diego up the Pacific coast.” Officials claim the professor was found grading exams at his home in Oakland.
21. Dorota thinks of her drawings now pinned to a downtown San Francisco bulletin board. Will rain disintegrate the paper? Wash away the colors? She wonders if this is Joanna’s fate. Will she altogether disappear from both present and past? “The note says to go to the tunnel again,” Albert says over dinner. Dorota drops her spoon, pushes the bowl away. She thinks of the letter again, wonders if Eleadora will crawl from it, pale and blue, heaving herself solid into this world, like some kind of hybrid from the experimental meat farms.
22. The smell of burnt fish crashes into Dorota’s nostrils. Charred remains coat the sink. Eleadora could cook fish, unlike her father who burns it every time. Dorota remembers the mouthwatering kind of tilapia tacos that filled her with love and energy before she scooted out the door to school as a child.
23. Dorota wonders if she will ever see dragon fire emanate from the mouth of her ghost-mother. She hasn’t gone to her college classes the past two days. It’s all about Joanne. Everything. Even sex with Albert has somehow been about the missing girl. His thrusts have become harder as if Joanne is in her, as if he’s trying to break down the barrier between them. Dorota darts past the kitchen into her room, afraid that reality is something even darker than Albert’s game. She pulls the dress straight over her head, tosses it to the floor. A bright white knee-length dress with purple orchid print lies on her bed. It’s not the one she told her father about but she puts it on anyway. Why do mothers die so young? To leave behind stubborn girls who take themselves to the brink of hopelessness just to spite them? Opening a blank page, the whiteness is like an opaque scale. Realizing she lives inside the Furnace of Beautiful Writing she wonders if all her journals will burn. The comforter bunches between her fingers like some kind of skin, some kind of paper that’s been placed inside the incinerator. Has she been a ghost herself for nine years? Somewhere in the room is the dried eye of the fish. There is no dragon here. Only the scent of the dead as she waits for her mother’s blue skin to appear in the doorway.
"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.
"Stuck outside Tenochtitlán, with the Tezcatlipoca blues"
Excerpt with illustrations from the 2018 new edition of Smoking Mirror Blues
By Ernest Hogan
"Oh, Caldonia, look over there! Such a cute guy!" said Phoebe. It was Tezcatlipoca. "Yeah, I guess he is." Caldonia pouted. "For a guy. Chingow! Why do you always want to talk about guys? I'm certainly not in the mood for guys – not tonight! I was hoping you wouldn't be either, especially after the way that xau-xau Beto treated you." "Oh, Caldonia!" Phoebe took her friend's hand. "You know I love you. I guess you're right. That guy is probably xau-xau too. He even looks a little like Beto." "Yuck!" The two women kissed, and walked back to the scooter with their arms around each other. * The ghosts carried Xochitl through the streets of University City. Two figures in ragged costumes through which body armor could be seen carrying a kicking and screaming, nightgown-clad woman just wasn't anything unusual. A lot of the National Autonomous University of Mexico students were getting into the Dead Daze phenomenon. They were out in force in an array of bizarre costumes: jackal-headed cowboys, chicken-footed dancing devils, ambulatory mermaids, heroic masked wrestlers in artificial muscle suits, women with five serpent heads each, Aztec warriors in animal-head helmets, people of all ages and sexes in skirts that looked like they were made of living snakes, life-sized papier-mâché skeletons in all manner of attire, Art Deco robots, antique sci-fi space creatures, Hollywood horror apparitions and things spawned of unique imaginations. It looked as if Hell and several Aztec heavens had broken loose. It did make getting to wherever the ghosts wanted to take Xochitl difficult. A crowd like a giant amoeba dancing to the frenetic beat of Xuxo Ben-Xuxa's "Macumba Mutation Mambo" flowed around them and pulled them against their path as it digested them. When the ghosts tried to force their way against the flow, the members of the crowd reacted as if it was the latest type of roughhouse, martial-arts dancing. The force of the "Macumba Mutation Mambo"-driven crowd was overwhelming. * Follow the group – the ones dressed like some kind of ghosts with robot-type paraphernalia underneath – you know, the ones carrying the girl who's doing a good job of acting like she's trying to get away from them. There. Good. The big crowd collided with them. Some bashada dancing has broken out. Excellent! I was hoping to catch some of that. Bashada is very popular right now; could be a selling point for this mondomentary. "Bashada on the Day of the Dead" – could make a good title. Anyway, stay with the ghosts and the girl, and try to get some closeups – she doesn't have any underwear on and there may be the chance for some nudity, which always ups the salability. Ah, yes, one of her breasts has popped out – be sure to get as close as you can, and in focus! Oh, the ghosts have lost their grip and she's running away, out of the crowd. How dramatic! This will really be a hit at the Lasha Mondo Festival! * Tezcatlipoca was seeing and being seen as he strutted down Hollywood Boulevard. He liked it. It was overwhelming. Now and then he had to check with the phone on his wrist to find out something that wasn't directly accessible through Beto's mind – all he had to do was look and his soul made the computer flash the desired information at the speed of light. He soon felt that he should be doing more than just walking along as part of the parade. He was a god – the Great Trickster who dared go beyond anything the ancient coyote god ever dreamed of. He was new, now – not at the beginning of time! He was young manhood riding at the peak of its powers on hormones and black magic. His fingers tapped the teponaxtle, and the wooden drum with the strange electronic attachments made pleasing sounds. His feet turned his strut into a dance. Music – it was in him, and now he had to let it out: some wild, magical Tezcatlipoca/trickster music that would allow him to take this world for his own. He walked out to the middle of the street that Beto's mind associated with vehicles that breathed poisonous fire, but that was now filled with pedestrians. It seemed that the machines, automobiles, cars were destroying the very sky – how his brother Quetzalcoatl in his Ehécatl, God of the Winds, guise would have hated that! – so they weren't allowed in the heart of this city that spilled over the horizon. He sat down, placed the teponaxtle down in front of him, realized that he had to turn it on and did so, took the sticks in hand and started beating out the feelings that were writhing around in his borrowed heart and computerized soul. The electronic accent that the drum put on its wooden sound took a little getting used to, but as a trickster and wizard he was used to adjusting to new things. Soon it became his new accent, the way Beto's voice became his voice. His music became the music of this place – Hollywood, Los Angeles/El Lay, SoCal; a place with many names, names with many places. It mixed with and infected the musics that other people carried with them. All those marching, strolling feet began to dance to Tezcatlipoca's driving beat. * Ralph didn't realize he was dreaming. He thought he was still in the throws of insomnia, so he got up, and drifted toward his workstation. Suddenly there was a frantic pounding on the front door, which burst open, revealing blinding, Phoenician mid-day sun, even though it was night inside, just like a Magritte painting. Beto staggered through the door, his clothes were ripped to shreds, and his body was covered with black, swollen welts that gave off blue smoke. He had something in his hands that he gave to Ralph, just before falling to the hardwood flood and disintegrating into a pile of black goo that gave off more blue smoke. What he had handed to Ralph was a human heart that didn't have a speck of blood on it – yet it was still beating. Ralph put it down next to his computer. Blood-red wires wormed out of the heart's venal and arterial openings and, with crackling sparks on contact, worked their way into Ralph's computer. The monitor flickered, then flashed with the detonation of a nuclear blast. He whimpered as the image of a mushroom cloud the size of the Arizona sky filled his brain. His wife, Norma, her blonde hair mussed from sleep, shook him awake. "Wake up, dear," she said, "you're having a nightmare." "I was dreaming about Beto," he said. "It figures." She smirked, and got that familiar look of disgust in her blue eyes. *
"Oh look Caldonia," Phoebe said as the motorcycle came to a stop. "That cute guy – the one that looks a little like Beto – he sat right down in the middle of the street and he's playing music. Hey, I think Beto has a drum like that . . ." "Don't be xau-xau, Phoebe. He's just like all the rest, and you really don't want to pay any attention to him if he reminds you of Beto. You should have some fun with me." Phoebe squeezed Caldonia's hand. "But I am having fun with you." Caldonia pulled something out of one of her bandoliers and slipped it into Phoebe's hand. "I mean have Fun with me, Phoebe-babe." Phoebe looked at the stubby Fun stick in her hand. "Oh! Have Fun with you! How sumato! You mean right here on the street?" "It's Dead Daze, we can get away with anything." Caldonia put a Fun stick between her lips, flicked it on, and sucked it off. Phoebe opened the mouth of her mask and did the same. * Hey! Two girls sucking Fun at five o'clock! Zoom in. Good. Our viewers love glimpses of blatant illegality. Uh-oh. Time for a station I.D. (The Sumato Channel logo slides across the screen.) * "Oh!" said Phoebe. "Feels so good and sumato!" Caldonia smiled, put an arm around Phoebe, and grabbed one of her breasts. "Now that we've had some Fun, maybe we can go back to my place and have fun." * You get the best Dead Daze coverage on the Sumato Channel, so stay tuned for more! *
"Oh look Caldonia," Phoebe said as the motorcycle came to a stop. "That cute guy – the one that looks a little like Beto – he sat right down in the middle of the street and he's playing music. Hey, I think Beto has a drum like that . . ." "Don't be xau-xau, Phoebe. He's just like all the rest, and you really don't want to pay any attention to him if he reminds you of Beto. You should have some fun with me." Phoebe squeezed Caldonia's hand. "But I am having fun with you." Caldonia pulled something out of one of her bandoliers and slipped it into Phoebe's hand. "I mean have Fun with me, Phoebe-babe." Phoebe looked at the stubby Fun stick in her hand. "Oh! Have Fun with you! How sumato! You mean right here on the street?" "It's Dead Daze, we can get away with anything." Caldonia put a Fun stick between her lips, flicked it on, and sucked it off. Phoebe opened the mouth of her mask and did the same. * Hey! Two girls sucking Fun at five o'clock! Zoom in. Good. Our viewers love glimpses of blatant illegality. Uh-oh. Time for a station I.D. (The Sumato Channel logo slides across the screen.) * "Oh!" said Phoebe. "Feels so good and sumato!" Caldonia smiled, put an arm around Phoebe, and grabbed one of her breasts. "Now that we've had some Fun, maybe we can go back to my place and have fun." * You get the best Dead Daze coverage on the Sumato Channel, so stay tuned for more! *
Did you get that? In closeup? Great! Of all the sumato luck! I can't chingow believe this! It's great! We caught a SoCal citizen exercising his legal right to kill a certified gangster in self-defense! Every network on the planet will want it! We gotta move fast – plug into the mediasphere, let the world know what we got and start taking bids . . . * Tezcatlipoca licked the blood off the drumsticks and didn't flinch from the mild electric shock. The crowd went wild. Soon he was riding its many shoulders down Hollywood Boulevard. * Phoebe looked over at Tezcatlipoca riding the crowd. "He sure is sumato, even if he does look like Beto," she said, then kissed Caldonia before she could react. * Eventually, Xochitl made her way to her father's house. "My daughter," the bespectacled, grey-haired man asked, "what happened?" "All Hell's breaking loose, Papa. Evil spirits are coming to get me through my computer. My work has gotten me into big trouble." He looked confused. "The god-simulating program, Papa." He shook his head. "I didn't think it was possible." "It may not be – I haven't worked out all the details yet, but that doesn't seem to matter to all the crazy people in the world." "Let me get you something to wear. Sit down, my daughter." He pointed her to a chair and walked over to the closet. "No, Papa, I think I need to use your phone. Who knows what they did to my place." She punched in her number, then the code to play her messages, hoping to find a clue to what was going on. The first few were of the "Miss Echaurren, we want to talk to you about the program you have been working on," variety; whoever wanted the program, they were willing to go to extremes to get it. Then Beto's voice came in through some long distance static, singing, in English: "Oh, Mama, can this really be the end? to be stuck outside Tenochtitlán, with the Tezcatlipoca blues, again!" Then he switched to his heavily accented Spanish: "Well, maybe not the end, Xochitlita. Maybe it's the beginning, a new beginning, far from Tenochtitlán, where we're going to be singing a brand new kind of Tezcatlipoca blues as soon as I run through the program of yours that I just had to make an unauthorized clone of. Sorry I couldn't come out and ask you for it, baby, but you were being so xau-xau cautious, worrying about all those control elements. You can't control gods, Xochitl; if you could, they wouldn't be gods. Zero hour will be when Dead Daze kicks off. I'll let you know what happens, or maybe the world will tell you first. Later, baby." Xochitl said, "Oh my God!" and didn't listen through the next three renditions of "Miss Echaurren, we want to talk to you about the program . . ." * Tezcatlipoca saw Phoebe in the distance. Recognizing her caused a violent reaction in Beto's mind. Beto was repulsed. This interested Tezcatlipoca. It was a chance to see who was the master here. "That metal-faced woman!" Tezcatlipoca pointed to Phoebe. "I want her!" * Xochitl's father brought a large bathrobe. "Here, my daughter, put this on." She did. Like a glass-eyed zombie. "Could it possibly be that bad?" he asked. "Worse than I thought. Not only are some fanatics after the program, but that North American I met a few months ago, Beto . . ." "The one from California." He shook his head, sorrowfully. "Yes, he's trying to use the program to evoke Tezcatlipoca. And the version he cloned doesn't have any of my control elements." "Why, if it works it could be a catastrophe." "It may have already happened!" "Well, don't worry, my daughter, you can stay here as long as you need to." "Ay! I can't do that! I called my place on your phone! They could have traced it! They might be on their way here already! How could I have been so stupid?" He put his arms around her. "So, where can you go to be safe, Xochitlita? I'll do whatever I can to help you." "Oh – I don't know. There may not be any safe place." "Then sit down. Relax. Think." He led her back to the chair. * Phoebe broke the kiss, and pushed Caldonia away. "That cute guy," Phoebe said, "I think he means me." She looked. Tezcatlipoca was grinning at her. "He does mean me!" She pushed her way to him. Caldonia growled. * Xochitl jumped up. "I've got to leave the country! Now. Tonight. Can you lend me some clothes and money?" "Of course, but the program, is it where the fanatics can get it?"
She reached into the bodice of her nightgown. "I hope it didn't fall out. No, here it is. I jammed it into a seam." She pulled out an ant-sized nanochip. "They saw me dressed like this and didn't think to search me – not very imaginative, I guess. If they had just pointed their software sniffers at me . . ." "I'll do what I can to help you. Where do you think you should go?" "Los Angeles." He frowned. "California? Where that Beto fellow lives." "I know, I know, it's crazy – almost as crazy as he is, but I have to. And at least it will get me out of here, away from whoever it is that's after me, and allow me to stop him, or try to undo any damage he's done."
Ernest Hogan, a six-foot tall Aztec leprechaun, was born in East L.A. and he grew up in West Covina, which he considered one of the most boring places in California. Monster movies, comic books, and science fiction, he says, saved his life. The author of High Aztech, Smoking Mirror Blues, and Cortez on Jupiter, he is considered the Father of Chicano Science Fiction, though there hasn’t been any kind of DNA test. His short fiction has appeared in Amazing Stories, Analog, Science Fiction Age, and many other publications. Recently discovered by academia, his “Chicanonautica Manifesto” appeared in Aztlan: A Journal of Chicano Studies.
Excerpt from Five to the Future: All New Novelettes of Tomorrow and Beyond By Ernest Hogan With a review by Scott Duncan-Fernandez
I didn’t have any real idea when I started. I thought the quote from Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs would make a good title. Then Donald Trump started running for president. It’s fun to take things that people say they want and make a sci-fi future out of it. But then, remember that your utopia is someone else’s dystopia and vice versa.—Ernest Hogan
“Testing, testing. . . Is this thing on? UNO! . . . DOS! ONE-TWO! TRES! CUATRO!”
Low-flying F-16s rattled windows and loosened fillings as they rumbled their way to and from Luke Air Force Base, as they did every day since the new president stepped up the war.
A camera perched on the security fence near Central Avenue in Phoenix, undergoing repair after a hole was blown in it, partially destroying the face of the new president that was painted there as part of the ongoing mural project. It swiveled, looking for action and finding it on the street below. A flash of light disturbed a chain gang of young brown and black women wearing striped jumpsuits. A hologram appeared: a figure in a spacesuit tricked out in intricate, colorful decorations like Mayan embroidery or a charro’s best suit. The helmet had DayGlo hot rod flames and an engine’s air intake sticking out of the top. The face was not human, but a papier-mâché skeleton painted for Día de los Muertos. It screamed like a rooster from Hell. “UNO! … DOS! ONE-TWO! TRES! CUATRO!” The chain gang panicked and tried to run, tripping on their shackles. An officer fired her gun, triggering a hail of gunfire from passersby and vehicles trapped in the perpetual traffic clog near the fence. People screamed. More shots were fired. Sirens wailed. Drones large enough to be armed buzzed in.
The hologram admired the mayhem. Its mask stretched and cracked into a grin. Something flew over the fence, landing near the hologram. The object exploded into a cloud of red smoke. When the smoke cleared there was a flash-painted portrait of the skull-faced hologram on the fence next to the hole. The hologram laughed like an over-amplified mariachi and disappeared. Two F-16s thundered low overhead, heading for Luke Air Force Base.
Later, back at the now partially repaired hole in the fence, bullet holes in what was left of the new president’s face had been patched with a white spray-on plaster. The portrait of the skull- faced hologram had been painted over. A young woman wearing a hijab and matching fuchsia designer combat fatigues posed where the hologram had appeared. She smiled like a pro. The high-resolution fairy drone flew a smooth path to the young woman’s dark brown face, remaining focused on her green eyes. “Hiya, hiya, hiya, babes of the world! Don’t adjust your devices! It’s me, Cha-Cha Chavez. I’m in disguised as Muslim for my latest Gonzomedia assignment—a daring investigation into the dangerous West Side of the Metro Phoenix area!” An F-16 roared overhead. “And, as you’ve probably noticed, I’ve had a melanin enhancement, too! My advance research crew advised me that a darker skin tone would be advisable in this Unsecure Zone. With no offense meant to the melanin-rich inhabitants of the Zone. Frankly, I think I look great! Makes feel more in touch with the Afro side of my Afrolatinidad! I just may keep it. What do you think, babes of the world?” The fairy zoomed up for a bird’s-eye shot. “Anyway, I’m here at this complicated tangle of streets where Phoenix intersects with Indian School Road near one of the main checkpoints that has been shut down after the recent guerrilla art bombing.” “Wait a minute there, Ms. Chavez, it was more like an act of domestic terrorism. I don’t see anything resembling art.” The fairy zoomed down to focus on Cha-Cha and a group of uniformed people. “As you can now see, it’s not just me and one of Gonzomedia’s state-of-the-art fairy drones facing the ragged edge of Phoenix’s Unsecure Zone—I’m accompanied by a team of Maricopa County’s new sheriff’s deputies, led by Deputy Billy Gomez.” “That’s Deputy Sheriff Public Relations Specialist First Class Billy Gomez.” The deputy tried to look humble. “And we’re proud to be here to serve you, Cha-Cha. We only wish that you’d let us go with you into the Zone.” “I’m sure exploring the Zone with you and these attractive men and women would be fun, but as a journalist I’ve undergone martial arts and combat training, and I have a licensed concealed-carry weapon.” “She’s armed!” All the deputies drew their weapons and aimed at Cha-Cha, who smirked as she raised her hands. “I’m afraid that you’re going to have let us see your weapon. Get it out, nice and slow,” said Gomez. “Your Muslim getup has gone some of my people here kinda nervous.” “Are you profiling me?” Cha-Cha got down on one knee in a graceful, ballet-like move. “No, ma’am, it’s just as members of one of the sheriff’s Elite Special Posse we’ve some bad experiences with Muslims.” Cha-Cha pulled up a pant leg, revealing a holster strapped to her leg just above the top of her boot. “Now get it out, real slow. Keep your fingers away from the trigger.” Using only two fingers, Cha-Cha lifted out an ornate, gold-plated .45 automatic. One of the deputies whistled. Cha-Cha winked. “Got it from a confidential source while doing a story about drug gangs in Mexico.” A pickup truck flying a full-sized American flag pulled up. A window rolled down. A white man in an AMERICA IS GREAT AGAIN! baseball cap leaned out. “Need any help, officers? I got a .44 Magnum here . . .” “No. We have the situation under control.” “Are you sure?’ “Yes.” “Damn. I never get to have any fun.” The pickup flowed back into traffic. “Put the weapon down on the sidewalk, ma’am,” said Gomez. “I have a permit.” “Let’s see it.” Cha-Cha pulled it out. The deputy scanned it. “I guess it’s all legit, but we still wish you would let us accompany and protect you.” “Sorry, but you’d totally ruin my doc. Nobody would want to talk to me. Like the way this fence doesn’t really do anything but slow down traffic since it’s never been completed. Some people have told me that’s all just a scam designed to bring in more federal tax money.” “We’re just trying to keep things secure.” “Security is overrated. Besides I’m going to meet someone who will watch over me and guide me through the Zone as an insider.” “And who would that be?” “None other than the famous lowrider, Xolo Garcia.” All the deputies groaned and grumbled.
“An infamous lowrider,” said Gomez. “He’s a very suspicious individual. Involved in all kinds of questionable activities. And he’s suspected of being involved with gangs, graffiti, guerrilla theater, and other things that are tracked by the NSA and the president’s new Department on National Unsecurity.” “And here he comes now!” The thrum-thrum-thrum on the base of a powerful sound system pulsed through the air, and the ground. El Xolomobile, a huge vehicle, Frankenkustomized beyond any hope of recognizing any factory make or model, cruised through the gap where the streets cut through the fence. The vehicle rode low to the ground, had a complicated array of chrome exhaust pipes, and was painted in a designed loosely based on the Aztec Calendar Stone and underground cybertoons. A pale young woman broke through the police barricades and dashed into traffic, causing horn honks and tire screeching. She was dressed in a fuchsia outfit similar to Cha-Cha’s, but without the hijab; instead, a frizzled mass of fuchsia hair bounced to her every movement. “Cha-Cha! Cha-Cha! Don’t do it! Everything west of Central is the ghetto! And it’s infested with illegals and immigrants! You could get shot! And I’m your biggest fan!” The deputies blocked her way and then grabbed her. “By the way”—Fuchsia-hair hardly seemed to notice the interference—“I love the new skintone! It really sets off your eyes. I’m saving up to get it, too!” Cha-Cha struck a superhero pose. “Sorry, but this story is too important. The social fabric of Phoenix, the United States of America, and the entire planet depends on people being able to figure out what the hell is going on, and I’m determined to help them.” The Xolomobile’s passenger door opened with a hiss. Cha-Cha leaped in, her fairy following after taking a wide-angle establishing shot. “For God’s sake! Don’t let them convert you to Islam!” Fuchsia-hair burst into tears and collapsed. The deputies consoled her.
The interior of the vehicle glowed with Huicholesque beadwork and light coming from the fringe of electric puffballs that dangled from the edge of the ceiling. The driver wore a python- skin cowboy hat, a bullfighter’s jacket, charro pants, vaquero boots, and a T-shirt that said something in colorful, ornate lettering “Xolo Garcia?” “My too-weird-to-live/too-rare-to-die self. And you must be the out-of-this-world-famous Cha- Cha Chavez! Glad to meet you! Welcome to El Xolomobile!” He held out a hand with a pachuco cross tattoo. The fairy zoomed in to capture the handshake. “Moi aussi,” said Cha-Cha. “So this is the infamous Xolomobile. Are you trying to be some kind of superhero?”
“My dad always said we should all be our own superheroes.” “That would Popocatepetl Garcia, the cult hero/performance artist/political activist who is presumed dead after disappearing under mysterious circumstances a few years ago?” “Some of us don’t think it was so pinche mysterioso. And we prefer to use the word assassinated.” Cha-Cha giggled. “It’s hard to read in this light. What does your T-shirt say?”“Legalize Bullfighting Now!” “Wow! That’s controversial!” “Bullfighting is the mother of all artforms—life, death, and art all at once! After watching a good one, you feel you can take on anything that comes your way, and after a great one it’s like anything is possible! A culture that bans it is doomed. Besides, there’s something about it— especially when performed by a beautiful woman—that really gets to me.” “So, is there any truth to the rumors that you are romantically connected to the woman bullfighter Cihuachichi?” “Romantically is to put it lightly. What we have is more like afición beyond mad, existential passion.” Cha-Cha beamed at the fairy camera. “So you heard it here, folks! Xolo and Cihuachichi are an item!” “What we have is also real,” said Xolo. “Not media masturbation material.” A phone video appeared as a head-up display on the windshield. It was a tight close up of a beautiful dark-skinned woman with the features of an Aztec warrior princess—Cihuachichi. Her black-painted lips sent kisses to the lens. She wore skull earrings and her black hair was buzzed down the nub except for a long, braid that was wound from the back of her head around her neck and tucked into her cleavage. She didn’t seem to be wearing any clothes. She rubbed a bullfighter’s sword against her cheek. “Xolo, mi amor, have fun on your interview with this Cha-Cha chiki-chiki, but if you”—she licked and sucked on the tip of the sword—“use your sword on her I may have use this one on the both of you.” She jabbed the lipstick-smeared sword at the lens. Xolo and Cha-Cha realized that they were leaning on each other, their hands touching, and jerked apart. “Wow!” said Cha-Cha, “She’s hot!” “Don’t I know it!” “And you are also as passionate about legalizing bullfighting?” “Yeah, I know, some of the gente say we should be moderate, start out with decriminalizing cockfighting, then after a few generations legalizing bullfighting. Guess I inherited Papa Popo’s attitude. I want to see bullfights at the Glendale International Sports Arena—hopefully performed by Cihuachichi—in my lifetime.” “Which hopefully will be longer than your father’s,” “Pinche right, cabróna!” The fairy took a 360 of the vehicle’s spacious interior, then did a zoom out the rear window, catching the murals on the west side of the fence. “The art on this side certainly looks different,” said Cha-Cha. “Rougher, in an out-of-control gangster graffiti-style. No doubt indicating a cultural divide.” “The murals on the East Side are a publicly-sponsored project,” said Xolo. “Those on the West Side are spontaneous graffiti. Sometimes they’re done by the same artists. Like me.” “You’re an artist as well as a lowrider!” “Look around, El Xolomobile is a work of art, as is my life. Sometimes I have to do stuff for money.” “Would this stuff include illegal activities?” “What’s illegal today can be legal tomorrow. Besides, I’m not going to say anything that may incriminate me. As my sister, Xuana, who’s a lawyer, advised me.” “Aw, come on, how are we going to make this an interesting doc?” Xolo pointed to some of the many screens on the dashboard. “Right now there are seven drones following us. And a helicopter trying to be discreet by flying high. El Xolomobile has detected—and blocked—several attempts to hack into our conversation.” The fairy buzzed around, catching glimpses of the drones and helicopters. An F-16 blasted by. “My Gonzomedia techs assured me that my link with my fairy drone was secure.” “This is an Unsecure Zone, Cha-Cha. Always assume that everything you say and do can and will be used against you in a court of law.” Cha-Cha pointed. “Is that a mosque over there?” The fairy focused on it. “Yeah. We have them here. And churches of all kinds. I’ll cruise by the NeoAztecan temple later.” “Would you say this was a multicultural area?” A group of girls in colorful hijabs crossed the street on skateboards. “The whole world is multicultural, if you haven’t noticed. This is more like a recombocultural witches’ brew, cooking up the civilizations of the future. Like my dad said, ‘Utopias are do-it-yourself projects—dystopias are too.’” “But a lot of people are afraid of it,” said Cha-Cha. “Like the fan who warned me that this was the ghetto.” Xolo shrugged. “A victim of postpostmodern times. She probably spent her entire life in a suburban environment where all problems are instantly solved by dialing 911. Her coming here to warn you is probably the climax of her life. She’s probably rushing back home now to install herself in her mind-dissolving entertainment system and vegetate happily ever after.” “Most people prefer security.” “Police states claim to be secure.” “You can’t possibly claim this is a police state.” A siren blasted. Red and blue lights flashed. “Chinga!” Xolo pulled over. “GET OUT OF THE VEHICLE. PUT YOUR HANDS OVER YOUR HEADS!” Xolo rolled his eyes, and tapped a key near the ornate steering wheel, “WHAT IS THIS DEEP-FRIED PINCHE CACA, BILLY? YOU KNOW THEY SAID THEY DON’T WANT ANY MORE UNLAWFUL HARASSMENT SUITS!” The doors of the cruiser popped open. “THAT’S DEPUTY GOMEZ IN THIS SITUATION, XOLO.” The other deputies hopped out. “I THINK I’LL CALL MY SISTER XUANA. SHE HAS AN APP WHERE SHE CAN SUE ONLINE.” The deputies drew their weapons. Cha-Cha put her hand on her own gun. Xolo glanced at her, then back at the officers. “AND WE’RE RECORDING IN HERE! I COULD MAKE THIS A LIVE WORLDWIDE FEED.” Deputy Gomez frowned. “HOLSTER UP, PEOPLE.” The other deputies obeyed. “THE NEW SHERIFF HAS SPECIFICALLY TOLD ME TO WATCH THE PUBLICITY ANGLE, SO I’M GONNA LET YOU OFF WITH A WARNING THIS TIME, XOLO, BUT LET ME WARN YOU: IF SO MUCH AS ONE COLORFUL HAIR ON MS. CHAVEZ’S HEAD IS HARMED WHILE YOU’RE ON HER WATCH, I’M PERSONALLY GONNA MAKE YOUR LIFE A LIVING HELL.” Deputy Gomez crossed his arms and looked mad, holding the pose for all the cameras. El Xolomobile lurched into the flow of traffic. Xolo smirked. “Looks like our deputy friend has a bit of a soft spot for you, eh, Cha-Cha?” Cha-Cha mimed putting her finger down her throat. “Definitely not my type, and besides, he’s got to be almost thirty. I bet he’s just doing this to improve the sheriff’s department’s image with my target demographic.” “He’d like to target me, but can’t seem to come up with any charges that will stick.” “So you know Deputy Gomez?” “We got history, go way back. We’re from the same neighborhood.” “Interesting.” The fairy focused on the houses along the street. “Are those shrines to the Virgin of Guadalupe?” said Cha-Cha. “Yes, we have a lot of them around here. Them and Mexican food joints.” “It does looks kind of like Mexico around here.” “Aztlán. I prefer it to the corporate franchise decor of the East Side.” An ice cream truck playing “La Cucaracha” cruised by. The fairy locked on for a tracking shot. “A lot of people don’t know that ‘La Cucaracha’ is about a marijuana smoker,” said Xolo. Cha-Cha didn’t bat an eyelash. “Are you a marijuana smoker?” “Since Arizona is one of that states that stubbornly keeps mota illegal despite the new president’s strong-arm tactics, I am going to have to evoke the grand American tradition of declining to answer on the grounds that it may incriminate me.” “Xolo, you disappoint me.” “Hey, keeping my ass out of jail is top priority.” “But you can trust me. I’m Cha-Cha! And we aren’t sending this live/online like amateurs. I’m recording raw feed that I’m later going to edit into a professional, artistic documentary that will be accessible through Gonzomedia with a worldwide promotional campaign.” He laughed. “A lot of people get arrested and deported because of raw feeds. Especially since the new president got elected.” “Still, Xolo, we need as many raw feeds as we can to create an awesome final product.” “Who’s to say that we aren’t that final product, Cha-Cha?” “Now, you’re sounding like your father.” “What can I say, Papa Popo raised me.” “And what about your mother?” “Along with the fabulosa Cihuachichi, mi madre, Doña Juana Colón, is a guiding light of my life.” “She’s very interesting. I tried to schedule an interview, but she refused.” “She’s old-fashioned, likes her privacy.” “You’d think a Latina involved in technical and business activities the way she is would be concerned with communicating with world at large.” Xolo frowned. “She’s very busy.” “Doing what?” “I am not permitted to say.” “I’ve heard some interesting rumors about inventions, strange vehicles being sighted on roads, and even on the sky.” “Like that?” The fairy focused on a drone glittering in the sun. Cha-Cha tickled a handheld device. Xolo barely glanced at it. “According to El Xolomobile’s brains, it’s been following us for a while.” “It’s not alone,” said Cha-Cha. The fairy did a sweep, and spotted two more drones of different designs. “Actually, Cha-Cha, this is normal when I go cruising around here.” “Does it bother you, Xolo?” “You can’t take a ride like El Xolomobile out without attracting attention. Why have style if you can’t show it off?” “Doesn’t being watched cramp this style of yours? He grinned. “Watch this!” Xolo gripped the wheel and stomped the accelerator. El Xolomobile sped down the street, making a few sudden, screeching turns. The drones scrambled, trying to keep up, and avoid each other. There were some collisions, and dogfights over ideal tracking positions. Onboard weapons were deployed and fired. Some drones fell to earth in pieces. Children rushed out of houses to fight over the pieces. And an F-16 made a low, loud pass. The fairy caught it all.
Ernest Hogan is a six-foot tall Aztec leprechaun who was born in East LA back in the Atomic Age. His mother’s name was Garcia, and his parents weren’t aware of Ernest Hogan, the Father of Ragtime. He grew up in West Covina, considered to be one of the most boring places in California. Monster movies, comic books, and science fiction saved his life. Because he is the author of High Aztech, Smoking Mirror Blues, and Cortez on Jupiter, he is considered to be the Father of Chicano Science Fiction, though there hasn’t been any kind of DNA test. His short fiction has appeared in Amazing Stories, Analog, Science Fiction Age, and many other publications, His story “The Frankenstein Penis,” has been made into student films. He is also an artist and cartoonist. He has been recently discovered by academia, which may bring about the end of Western Civilization, his “Chicanonautica Manifesto” appeared in Aztlan: A Journal of Chicano Studies. He is married to the writer Emily Devenport. They live in Arizona, and enjoy exploring the Wild West. He blogs at mondoernesto.com and labloga.blogspot.com. Currently, he’s trying to finish several novels, but keeps getting distracted by all kinds of weirdness.
THE REVIEW Let's Not Be L7!By Scott Duncan-Fernandez
“Uno! Dos! One-Two! Tres! Cuatro!” is a cruise into the heart of the near future barrio. A place the author, Ernest Hogan, has taken us before, but this barrio—West Phoenix, Arizona—seems a future much nearer than before. So much so that it could be the barrio of the now. And it can be a confusing, violent, much watched place with a cacophony of voices and ideas on what to do, who to be.
Hogan is the father of Chicano sci-fi and much of his work has to do with media, underground-outlier representation, and of course, the crossroads of Chicanismo. He’s fond of aliens, AI, and Chicano style and rascuache know-how. Much of his work has a cyberpunk feel to it. That cityspeak talking detective with a limp, Eduardo Gaff, wouldn’t be too lost in Hogan’s novels,Cortez on Jupiter, High Aztech, or Smoking Mirror Blues. The latter was written about at length last year in the collection of critical essays on Latino speculative fiction, Altermundos.
Hogan’s barrios reflect the future and the present, and perhaps none more so than “Uno! Dos! One-Two! Tres! Cuatro!” In the story, we initially view the new president’s damaged state sponsored murals and see prison garbed brown bodies at work under tight surveillance. It is his program that walls off the barrios. Chicanos, Arabs, Muslims, Neo-Aztecans, and so-called “illegals” gather in the barrio, the receptacle for the fears of the mainstream the president feeds upon. What the president says later in the story shows his Trumpian repressive attitude:
“This all just goes to show that the Unsecure Zone program is the right thing to do…the people who live in them are a threat to the American Way of Life!...We need to finish and enforce all the Unsecure Zones and start building the Elimination Camps—I mean Centers!”
The text of “Uno! Dos! One-Two! Tres! Cuatro!” as read is actually the script of an underground video—we’ll get to that later—of the “mondo-journalist” Cha-Cha Chavez entering the Unsecure Zone of West Phoenix. She intends to find out “what the hell is going on” for her viewers. Cha-Cha is a mainstream celebrity journalist and dons a hijab and skin darkener to “fit in” to the west side. She seems like a pocha, a coconut, as her last name is Hispanic, yet she has a stereotyped view of Chicanos, or rather the many cultured people living in the barrio and the life of the pejorative other. She and her video, the text of the story, become a conduit—between mainstream America, the reader, and the scary modes of being and living in the maligned area, i.e. the Chicano experience. She takes the reader into what is the other as she herself learns…and eventually she chooses sides.
The story is dubbed a novellete. I might say “flash novella,” as it fits the quick, bursting style. It’s vivid and lurid with electric vaquero outfits, lady bullfighters (no hotels), and an interview with a gangster over messy tacos. There’s word play, jokes, even with the characters names, Cha-Cha Chavez, Cihuachichi. The innuendo, quick pace, obsession with media and eventual meta-fictional ending smacks of 80s New Narrative to me as well as the setting and topic. It could be that present day America smacks of the 80s with the nuclear threat, the (un)reality television actor president, anti-immigrant, and anti-Latino sentiments. After all, didn’t Blade Runner just come out like it’s 1982?
Hogan is taking the present right-wing rhetoric to the future conclusion of more walls and more suppression. And he is seeking answers, the answer is the look into the barrio, opening of minds and knowing the Chicano experience linked to our ancient culture(s).
Cha-Cha the mondo journalist has a guide to the barrio, Xolo Garcia. He is a quasi-wanted social minded self-declared superhero who rolls in a techo-lowrider—El Xolomobile—his scientist mom made him, much like a Chicano Batman (not the band). Batman, incidentally, is based off Zorro who is based off figures in Californio history. Xolo is a Batman returning to his roots with a techno update.
The barrio Xolo patrols is multicultural and enterprising—a place of loud expression. It’s a cacophony of voices—vato locos, revolucionistas, LGBTQ, and Aztlaners—all with a plan and demands. The mix of demands and plans with police lead to violence which leads Xolo to take Cha-Cha out to the desert.
Xolo himself is connected to his famous performance artist-scientist parents. Ultimately, after meeting his famous mother, inventor of the flying Xolomobile and Chicano Space Program, they connect with his father, who has been on a UFO. He contacted the aliens by taking peyote and opening his mind and hearing the world. This point of view brings time and space together and creates new possibilities to many ideas the ancients had as well.
The world and ancient cultures are recombined and this solution of altered consciousness of course brings the police and the military. The video shuts off and a message warns that you have watched outlawed material and that security forces are on the way to you. Within the context of the world of “Uno! Dos! One-Two! Tres! Cuatro!” whoever you are, you have this forbidden knowledge of the Chicano experience and possibilty. You, the reader, are now a character in this world, a part of the resistance (if you want or not, “they” the government is coming for you). Likewise, in the real world (whatever that may be for you reading the novelette) you are armed with the underground knowledge having read this story, have witnessed a new possibility, the mezcla of what being Chicano is.
I love this meta-ending, using the connection of knowledge and reader, fantasy and reality coming together, much like within the story. Xolo’s father might say that is how you process reality. Whether you want it or not, having read this you are in the know, are down, are cool, are no longer “L7.” And we should remember, though it has been overturned, that our real world government has banned Chicano culture very recently. In Hogan’s story—reality slips in and out of the page. For me, this connection to mind altering drugs and “new consciousness” of possibilities of Xolo’s father alludes to the new consciousness that the civil rights movement brought in the 60s. The Chicano solution to the barrio’s, the USA’s, and the world’s problems, as Cha-Cha puts it, is empowerment and new points of view that include our ancient “alien” and “native” cultures.
The title, which is the opening of “Woolly Bully” by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, comes into play a bit. It’s Xolo’s parents’ song. Hogan said he was just inspired by it, but I might say the counting off Spanish and English is an expression of Mexican Americanness. Not to go too much into it, but Sam the Sham, who is Mexican American, said he wanted to count off in “Tex-mex.” “Woolly Bully,” of course, has sexual innuendo and seems to be about accepting and dancing with something unknown. A good fit for a story about seeking out the other in a low and slow future.
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 scottrussellduncan.com
The Oñate Expedition’s Mysterious Encounter with a “Demon”, as Recorded by Capitán Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá in 1610
By Louis F. Serna, with sketches by the author
When Cortez first saw the Aztecs and their magnificent city in 1519, he must have marveled at the sight before him! Coming from the then “civilized” country of Spain which was celebrating high prominence among their European neighbors, the Spanish were very conscious of the “style of the nobility”, high fashion, and the literary arts. They saw themselves as far more advanced and civilized than the people they encountered elsewhere, including the Aztecs. They and their European neighbors such as England and France considered themselves highly educated, and entrusted with the self-imposed righteous responsibility of bringing religion to heathens at every known port.
With “soul saving” in mind, Spanish sailings included an abundance of Franciscan friars anxious to spread the word of God as emissaries of the Catholic faith and the Pope in Rome. Spanish monks saw themselves as duty bound to teach Christianity to those under-privileged savages they heard of from exploring conquistadores, and they couldn’t wait to have their names immortalized as “crusaders” and even martyrs. Certainly, those Friars would have known of all Spanish explorations of the time and of the many amazing discoveries as the Spanish sailed from port to port, seeing and reporting new places and people still in their primal evolution.
As for Cortez, he must have been in awe of those Aztecs, their culture, amazing cities, their gold, and their advanced knowledge of astronomy. And certainly, he would have known all along that he was duty bound to take every ounce of gold they might possess, to enrich his King, Country, and himself. In the process, he almost certainly also knew that he would probably have to kill them all to get it!
Thus began the Spanish “entrada” (entrance) into this new land called “Mexica”, “la nueva viscaya”, “la Nueva Espana”, “la Nueva Galicia”, and later to the north, “el Nuevo Mexico” (today New Mexico). Following the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs by Cortez, other notable Spaniards would quickly occupy the lands in the interior of what became Mexico and become rich off of its resources. Spaniards like Cristobal de Oñate, who established himself in the area of Zacatecas, rich in silver ore. He became a very rich man, taking tons of silver from “la Bufa”, that famous mountain some believed was made entirely of silver, and other mines punched into the countryside. By then, in 1540, another adventurous Spaniard by the name of Coronado was already advancing into the area to the north… the area where those Aztecs were said to have come from originally…. The lands where people lived in multi-storied structures made of mud brick and stone… lands that Cabeza de Baca, just a few years earlier, claimed to be rich in gold, and in fact, he said he saw “cities of gold…” Seven of them..!!!
As anxious as the Spanish adventurers were, to seek their fortunes up north, they knew and respected the laws of their King, which prevented them from just sauntering up into the frontier lands at their convenience and enriching themselves of what they might find. Special permission, money, and noble class were the prerequisites to any exploration. The King of Spain assured that his “right to his domain” in all explorations was protected, by requiring that the right man be selected for any explorations. A proven leader whose family would be scrutinized by the Viceroy to assure their finances, and then they would have to pass his “inspection.” Preferably, the man would be of noble birth or of royal “order”, and from a well funded family, to assure that he could afford to pay his way, and all the expenses of his expeditionary force. The King risked only a military escort, and that primarily to protect his investment. Such a man would have to take complete responsibility for the success of any expedition and in the event of success he would enjoy titles, lands, and a good share of whatever treasures the lands had to offer. Should he fail, he would lose all his investment, and probably face the King’s penalty tax for failing, as well as disgrace brought on to his family!
Who would risk all this? Knowing with some certainty that the lands to the north were probably impoverished, and knowing that the stories of wealth were spun by the deceiver, Cabeza de Baca, as reported by Coronado, and knowing that the reports filed by that earlier Conquistador painted a dismal picture of hardship to the north, the man who dared was Don Juan de Oñate, the son of the wealthy Zacatecas silver merchant, Cristobal de Oñate. Juan was a son, wanting so desperately to equal or better his father’s achievement of having gained such great wealth in the silver mines. He was also desperately anxious to prove to others that he was a manly conqueror and to become the greatest achiever of them all! And so he filed his petition in 1596, and began the process of selection and approval by the King of Spain.
Many troubles arose for Oñate in recruiting soldiers, supporters, wagons, food, tools, and hardest of all, the King’s hesitant approval. Finally, three years after he began the process, and at great expense to him as he continued to add colonists and supplies which the horde of people seemed to consume as fast as he acquired it, word came from the King that he was free to start his march. Finally, yet another Spaniard began his search for riches and a fruitful destiny! And he too, would encounter strange people, customs, and an unforgiving land!
A byproduct of the Spanish King’s “need to know” of where all his subjects were at any given time, lest he lose out on any taxes due him, was that everything worth knowing be recorded and filed with his Vicero. As well, the Monks, who also sought equal shares of notoriety and taxes to be had, recorded their activities to their superiors and ultimately to the living icon, the Pope in Rome! In view of all this need to record, the leaders of expeditions usually assigned experienced scribes to record all activities of their explorations. That man would also have the confidence and approval of the Crown, so this would be a man of considerable trust and reputation. In addition to his “official” records, “diaries” were also kept by officers, enlisted men, and all concerned.
Today, we have a great amount of information about the people, the times, and the wondrous things they encountered, thanks to the printed record of the day-to-day activities of those early Spanish folk.
Capitán Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá
Capitán Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá
It is the writings of one of those Oñate Officers, which is the subject of this story.
The writer – recorder - author is that well respected scribe, Don Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá, who was made a Capitán in Onate’s staff in 1596.
His later titles and accomplishments would be many. His writings have been preserved in several productions, and in particular in a book titled: “Historia de la Nueva Mexico, 1610”. This particular book is considered “A critical and annotated Spanish / English Edition, translated and edited by Miguel Encinias, Alfred Rodriguez, and Joseph P. Sanchez”. The well educated and well read Villagrá wrote his account of events in a Spanish prose / poetry style. He captioned them as “Cantos”, (songs), which are replete with references to the earliest biblical events and writings of scholars of earlier times such as Pliny, Plato, and others. Villagrá can be considered to be a most reliable and learned observer and recorder of his time. And so it is that the scholars of today, such as those mentioned above, took great respect and care in their treatment and interpretations of Villagrá’s Cantos, from Spanish to English. And that is how they appear in the book mentioned: his entry in the Spanish of that time, and alongside, the English interpretation.
The Book – Historia de la Nueva Mexico, 1610
Finally, I draw your attention to Villagrá’s first and second Cantos, in which he writes about the mass of humanity that had assembled at or near what is now El Paso, Texas, known then as “el paso del Norte” and by other names. In referencing their interpretations, Encinias, Rodriguez, and Sanchez, are hereafter referred to as: “the interpretors”, and so we begin.
El CANTO PRIMERO
Villagrá entitles his Canto Primero, “Que Declara el argumento de la historia y sitio de la nueva Mexico y noticia que della se tuvo en quanto la antiqualla de los indios, y de la salida y decendencia de los verdaderos Mexicanos”.
The interpreters’ English version is: “Which sets forth the outline of the history and location of New Mexico, and the reports had of it in the tradition of the Indians, and of the true origin and descent of the Mexicans.”
In his first Canto (Canto Primero and Canto I), Villagrá describes the geographical location of the point of beginning of the Oñate Expedition. In his learned way, he carefully references its location, relative to geographical north – south longitude and east – west latitude with the then known points of the compass and even compares the location on the world globe, with known places in the old world. He equates the location geographically, to Jerusalem by latitude! He also describes the mass of humanity that is the expedition, and even marvels at the attire of some of the characters. Some are well-dressed gentlemen, riding excellent mounts adorned with “finery” and “livery as in the finest courts” which clearly defines to their noble class, while others are fearful looking men, one even wearing the skin of a lion complete with mane! Some wear the skins of striped cats, leopards, and even wolf skins! They carry weapons of all sorts, and banners and standards of all colors and kinds as they slowly move along. It is a fearful and bedraggled looking lot! People, cattle, goats, sheep, and everything necessary to support the expedition walk in unison. At the end of Canto I and in Canto II, which is again, the subject of this article and the beginning of Oñate’s drive north, he describes a terrible apparition!
It is the last lines of Canto Primero and the text in Canto Segundo that fascinates me. My fascination is in that although I interpret Villagrá’s notations and descriptions of the “apparition” literally in the same way as the interpreters do, I see through Villagrá’s eyes, something quite different and amazing than they do! Being careful not to show disrespect to those interpreters in any way, I claim the right to my own interpretation and understanding of what Villagrá and the whole camp saw and what he recorded so carefully in the only way he knew how. He compared what he saw to things he could relate to at that time in 1599.
In Canto I, Villagrá ends his description of the mass of moving people by stating that as the many people (and animals) trod on over the hard baked ground, they raised a huge cloud of dust.
Suddenly, a figure appeared before them, which he describes as looking like an old naked woman:
“Delante se les puso con cuydado, en figura la vieja desembuelta, un valiente demonio resabido – cuyo feroz semblante no me atrevo, si con algun cuydado he de pintarlo, sin otro nuevo aliento a retratarlo”.
The interpreters write:
“There placed before himself, before them by intent, is the form of an old and hag-like woman. A valiant and cunning demon, whose face ferocious dare I not look at, if I must with some care depict it, set out to paint without new strength.”
It appears that Villagrá and those with him have come face to face with a being, which he says carefully, or cautiously, appears before them, resembling an old naked hag-like woman. (I think he assumes it to be “feminine” as he can see no male genitalia). His first reaction is to associate this inhuman form with some kind of demon or even the devil! It has such terrible features (cuyos feroz semblantes), that he doesn’t dare assume that it is (the devil), as in his next breath (otro nuevo aliento), he may create it in his mind or in fact, create it incarnate (a retratarlo)!
So what is this being that suddenly confronts them? Appearing to look like an old, naked hag?
In modern times, today, his description takes on the appearance of those ugly little beings who we hear and read about, and who appear to wear a one-piece, pale gray, skin-tight garment if any at all, and who we call, Extraterrestrials!!!
Villagrá writes the Canto Segundo in the first person, as an eyewitness to what he and others are observing. Again, Villagrá entitles Canto Segundo:
“Como se apparecio el Demonio a todo el Campo, en figura de vieja y de la traza que tuvo en dividir los dos hermanos, y del gran mojon de hierro que asento para que cada cual connociesse sus estados”.
The interpreters’ English version is:
"How the Devil appeared in the whole camp in the shape of an old woman, and of the scheme he had to separate the two brothers, and of the great heap of iron that he left so that everyone might know his true estate”.
I think that Villagrá has seen what he (and the others) believe is the devil in the disguise of an old hag-like, nude woman. Although terrified, they courageously stand their ground. Somehow, the entity communicates to them, or they believe they hear it say, that it is going to separate the two “brothers?” It also leaves “un gran mojon de hierro que asento para que cada cual connociesse sus estados”.
The interpreters say “he left a great heap of iron”.
My interpretation of this “heap of iron”, is that Villagrá is describing a one-piece metal vessel, standing upright. A “mojon” in Spanish, can be a landmark… as in a real estate landmark or marker of the boundaries of one’s lands. The landmarks of old were shaped like an obelisk, and in this case, made of metal. Is this the shape that Villagrá is seeing and can only describe it in a familiar term, like a “mojon de hierro?”
The Being’s Vessel
Above is an example of a “mojon”. A Spanish word for a landmark or monument, typically used to mark boundaries of property. Typically they are four-sided, hewn from stone, and pointed at the top to prevent snow or water from settling on its top, lest the water turn to ice in winter and crack, and eventually break the stone.
The sides are usually oriented to the four directions of the compass and may contain the owner’s name, coat of arms, and/or the geographical extent of that corner or location of the property. The size of landmarks varies, and the height can be as much as one meter. The sides can be one-fourth that, or per the owner’s specifications.
Does Villagrá mean that the creature “left” that mojon de hierro (vessel)? As in, coming out of it? And it is therefore his “estate” or “place of residence?” I think Villagrá could be saying that the entity “exited” from an upright metal vessel shaped similar to a “mojon” and came toward them. I do not interpret his use of the word mojon, as a “heap of iron”, which implies a pile of metal scrap. I don’t believe that Villagrá had that meaning in mind.
Villagrá next describes the being as:
“Delante se les puso aquel maldito, en figura de vieja rebozada. Cuya espantosa y gran desemboltura, daba pavor y miedo imaginaria. Truxo el cabello cano mal compuesto y, cual horrenda y fiera notomia, el rostro descarnado, macilento. De fiera y espantosa catadura: desmesurados pechos, largas tetas, hambrientas, flacas, secas y fruncidas, nerbudos pechos, anchos y espaciosos, con terribles espaldas bien trabadas: Sumidos ojos de color de fuego, disforme boca desde oreja a oreja, por cuyos labios secos, desmedidios, quatro solos colmillos hazia fuera de un largo palmo, corbos se mostraban: los brazos temerarios, pies y piernas por cuyas espantosas coniunturas una ossamenta gruesa rechinaba, de poderosos nerbios vien assida" .
The interpreters write:
“That accursed one, placed he before them in the form of an old woman well disguised, whose great and fearful cleverness, doth cause both fear and terror to imagine. He had his gray hair badly dressed, and like a horrible, fierce skeleton, his fleshless and emaciated face, of an expression wild and fearsome, misshapen breasts and dangling teats, starved, flaccid, dry, and wrinkled. Great chest, both wide and spacious, with shoulders terrible, well set eyes sunk and colored as of fire, a mouth small formed, from ear to ear, through whose dry and distorted lips, fangs, just four protruded, and showing themselves in good palm’s length. His arms were fearful, feet and legs, in whose fearsome joints the bones creaked loud. Well set, with muscles powerful. Just as they picture for us and do show, The ferocious person of brave Atlas, upon whose great and robust strength, the great incomparable weight and thrust of highest-lifted heavens doth rest.”
Generally, I agree with the literal interpretation of the interpreters, but I feel that looking at the entity through Villagrá’s’ eyes, he sees a living being, with a very small, thin body on the one hand, (desmesurados pechos, largas tetas, hambrientas, flacas, secas, y fruncidas), yet with very broad shoulders bien tradadas, which in Spanish, can mean “shoulders with a brace or apparatus connected to them, or over them, making them look larger than they are”.
(Example: in Spanish, un buey tradado, means an oxen with an ox yolk over his neck and shoulders, which can be quite massive).
The Being’s Bodily Appearance
Can this mean it was wearing something on or over its shoulders? Like a life support pack of some kind? Villagrá then says he could see “los brazos temerarios, pies y piernas por cuyas espantosas conjunturas, una ossamente gruesa rechinaba” Could this mean the being’s arms were such that Villagrá did not feel they were arms but were exaggerations of arms? Temerarios means overly bold or inconsiderate, or baseless. Perhaps that is how he saw the arms… covered with something that made them look bigger than arms should be? Pies y piernas por cuyas espantosas conjunturas. Villagrá describes the arms and legs as frightening in that the legs seem to be joined or connected to each other, as one… (conjunturas) Could they be covered with some kind of protective clothing or apparatus? Could the being be standing in some kind of apparatus that partially covers his feet and legs? He says that “una ossamente gruesa rechinaba”. He says that one of the “boney” legs or both as one, made a loud creaking, screeching, or whining sound, Could this be the high pitch sound of a propulsion device? Or propelled device on its legs or whatever Villagrá saw and describes as legs joined together? As if to confirm this thought, Villagrá adds to the description of the “legs”, “de poderosos nerbios vien assida”. Could the “powerful nerves, well constructed”, he is describing, be in reality, hydraulic-like tubes or lines attached to the being’s legs, or whatever he is standing on? Can we see through Villagrá’s eyes, in his description, a very frail like being, ugly to them like an old skinny, nude, woman would look, but partially “clothed” in a suit of some kind that has some kind of apparatus on or over its shoulders, and some kind of leggings or apparatus with fluid-like lines attached, that make a whining sound like a motor would make?
The Being’s Head
Villagrá then describes the appearance of the being’s head:
“Encima de la fuerte y gran cabeza, un grave, inorme, passo, casi en forma de concha de tortuga lebantada, que ochocientos quintales excedia, de hierro bien mazizo y amasado.”
The Interpreters write: “Upon her head, so great and strong, a huge, enormous weight, almost in the form a tortoise-shell set upright, exceeding some eight hundred quintal weight, of metal, massive and well molded".
Again, I agree with the literal interpretation that the interpreters say Villagrá saw, and would add that again, looking through Villagrá’s eyes in that time, he could only compare what he saw to something he knew, yet ridiculous…a tortoise shell over the being’s head! If Villagrá were living in modern times, he could easily say that the being was wearing a large, shiny clear acrylic helmet, almost exactly like our astronauts wear today.
Villagrá next writes:
“Y luego que llego al forastero campo y le tuvo attento y bien suspenso, con lebantada voz desenfadada, herguida la cerviz, assi les dijo: “No me pesa esforzados Mexicanos, que como bravo fuego no domado. Que para su alta cumbre se lebanta no menos seays movidos y llamados de aquella brava alteza y gallardia de vuestra insigne, ilustre y noble sangre, a cuya heroica, real, naturaleza, le es propio y natural el gran deseo. Con que alargando os vais del patrio nido, para solo buscar remotas tierras, nuevos mundos, tambien nuevas estrellas, donde pueda mostrarse la grandeza de vuestros fuertes brazos belicosos, ensanchando por una y otra parte, etc.”
The interpreters write:
“And when he came upon the foreign camp, holding it attentive and in suspense, with a loud voice and unembarrassed, his head erect, he then addressed them thus: “I am not pained, o valiant Mexicans, because, as raging fire never quenched, which rises to its summit high, you are in no way less moved or beckoned by the rude haughtiness and gallantry of your illustrious, grand, and noble blood, to whose heroic royal character is natural, inborn, this great desire, with which you go from the paternal nest, only to seek for lands remote, etc., etc.”
It seems that in this lengthy passage, Villagrá writes that the being confronts the very attentive people in camp and speaks to them, telling them that it understands how they feel, compelled to enter new lands and that it is in their nature to do so, given their royal blood, etc…. It seems that suddenly, Villagrá no longer fears or sees the entity as an ugly devil, but now it speaks to them in an understanding tone of voice, empathetic to their cause, agreeing with their right to pursue their search for new lands, etc. Or is Villagrá now writing for the eyes of the King? Or his representative, the Viceroy? Perhaps not wanting to appear less manly for previously being afraid of this being? Did the being really say these things to them? Why would it now seem to agree and invite them to continue into this new land, when at first it seemed so threatening?
Villagrá next writes:
“Y lebantando en alto los talones, sobre las fuertes puntas afirmada, alzo los flacos brazos poderosos, y dando al monstruosa carga buelo, assi como si fuera fiero yrayo, que con grande pavor y pasmo assombra, a muchos y los dexa sin sentido”
The interpreters write:
“And raising from the ground his heels, set firm upon his mighty toes, he raised his powerful, mighty arms and giving to his monstrous load a push, as though it were a mighty thunderbolt.”
Villagrá describes a being rising off the very ground, by some “force” emitting from its feet. It raises its spindly, but powerful arms and “lifts” its bulky body, (el monstruosa carga buelo), like a metallic bolt of lighting, leaving them stunned and senseless! Villagrá earlier described a heavy bulky suit over a spindly body. Now he sees the small but heavy being lift off the ground with bolts of lightning emanating from his “feet”. Could the bolts of lightning be exhaust from some kind of propulsion unit? He describes it as best he can.
Villagrá next writes: “Assi, con subito rumor y estruendo, la portentosa carga solto en vago y apenas ocupo la dura tierra quando temblando y toda estremecida, quedo por todas partes quebrantada!”
The interpreters write:
“So with a sudden and horrendous noise, he threw aside the mighty load. And hardly did it strike the flinty earth, when, trembling and shaking all, that earth was broken everywhere.”
Villagrá describes as best he can, how as soon as the entity clears his “feet” off the ground, there is a mighty roar which makes the earth tremble and the ground below the entity is blown away in all directions… just like a modern day astronaut blasts off with a shoulder mounted jet-pack, like those presently being tested by our military, and even demonstrated at an NFL football game on one occasion, when the pilot flew all around and over the grandstand spectators!
“Y assi como acabo, qual diestra Circe, alli desvanecio sin que la viesen, senalando del uno al otro polo. Las dos altas coronas lebantadas. Y como aquellos Griegos y Romanos quando el famoso Imperio didieron, Cuio hecho grandioso y admirable.” The interpreters write: “And when ‘twas done, like Circe skilled, he vanished thence without their seeing him, pointing to one and to the other pole. The two crowns raised on high, just as the Greeks and Romans when they divided the empire famed.”
“Tan presto como viene, bemos buelve, assi con fuerte bote, el campo herido con lo que assi la vieja les propuso, la retaguardia toda dio la buelta para la dulve patria que dexaban”.
Again Villagrá describes what he sees and can only compare it to a great event he knows of: the parting of the Greek and Roman Empire! He sees the being rise and fly back and forth from north to south, (the poles), and as quickly as it goes, it returns, and he sees “las dos altas coronas lebantadas”. He must be seeing the “burst” of flames or exhaust from two jets attached to the back pack the entity is wearing. which to him, from below, look like two shining royal “crowns” glittering up high.
The interpreters write:
“ Thus in a bound, the stricken camp became from what the woman had proposed to them, all the rear guard did turn again toward that sweet fatherland they’d left”.
Villagrá now sees the frightened people in the camp, terrified at the sight of the being flying overhead, to and fro, beginning to turn around and beginning to retreat back to the safety of whence they came.
Villagrá now writes, as though a day or more later:
“Y por sus mismos propios ojos viendo la grandeza del monstuo que alli estaba.
Al qual no se acercaban los caballos por mas que los hijares les rompian, porque unos se empinaban y arbolaban con notables bufidos y ronquidos, y otros, mas espandados, resurrian por uno y otro lado rezelosos de aquel inorme peso nunca visto, hasta que cierto religioso un dia celebro el gran misterio sacrosanto de aquella redencion del universo, tomando por altar al mismo hierro, y donde entonces vemos que se llegan sin ningún pavor, miedo ni reselo a su estalage…”
The interpreters write:
“There still remains in the same way, the mighty mass which there was placed, in height some twenty-seven degrees and a half more. And there was no man of all your camp who did not stop, astonished, stunned, and almost senseless, considering that same story and seeing with his own two eyes the greatness of the monstrous mass was there. And of the horses, not one would approach it unless one tore their flanks, for some stood on their hind legs, rebellious, with whistling, and snorts, and others, frightened more, did shy suspicious from one side to the other from that enormous mass, such as was never seen. Until one day a certain priest did celebrate the great most holy mystery of that redemption of the universe, taking for altar that same mass of iron, and ever since we noticed that those beasts came without fear or trembling or suspicion to it’s foot”.
Villagrá now writes about a huge metal vessel or ship, which now stands in the place where the previous apparitions were witnessed. It rests upright and he measures it in degrees of an angle, instead of measurement of height. Can this mean that the top of the vessel is angularly shaped? Cone-like, as like a present-day missile? And like the mojon described earlier? He says anyone (everyone), from the camp now comes to see it in complete disbelief and amazement. The horses sense something very foreign as they display terrified behavior, rearing up on hind legs and refusing to come closer.
Then Villagrá says “a certain priest celebrates a most holy mystery of that redemption of the universe, using the base of the vessel as an altar, and all seems calmed with the animals”. Is the “certain priest” an entity from the vessel? If it is one of the monks among the Spanish, why doesn’t he say it is a monk? And the “celebration of the most holy mystery of the universe”, at the base of the vessel. Is the entity simply disconnecting something or turning something off at the base of the vessel? Such as a motor, which is making high frequency waves, which scare the animals? Does Villagrá mistake his actions as some kind of religious ceremony he is conducting? Villagrá describes it as best he can, when he writes: “and ever since we noticed that those beasts came, (the horses), without fear or trembling or suspicion, right to it’s foot, as to a place which has been freed from some unloosed infernal fury”. It seems that after the “priest” did whatever he did at the base of the vessel, the horses no longer fear it.
Note that Villagrá and the people in camp no longer refer to the entity as a devil, witch, or brujo; they now seem to accept that what they have been seeing as something wondrous is apparently harmless to them as they freely come to see and touch the vessel.
Villagrá writes perhaps the most telling account of what the “heap of iron” is: “Y como quien de vista es buen testigo, digo que es un metal tan puro y liso y tan limpio de orin como si fuera una refina plata de Copella”. He further describes the purity of the metal, and can only wonder how it could have been created in that primitive land, not understanding that it probably came from beyond our world."
The interpreters write:
“And I as one who is good witness of that sight, say that it is as pure and smooth a metal, and free of rust, as if it were silver refined at Copella!”
Villagrá’s’ description of the vessel’s metal surface speaks for itself. For me, the description is very familiar. For many years, I worked as a machinist and welder for the Boeing Aerospace Company in Seattle, Washington. I taught metallurgy, welding, and fabrication in several Community Colleges in that City for many years. I also worked in an Engineering office designing pressure vessels using various state of the art exotic metals, some that can withstand rust, abrasion, and acids, and remain highly polished. The metal Villagrá describes can only be a highly polished alloy, not of this earth, especially in that day and age.
Villagrá now wonders as to the construction of this “mojon” which is in fact, a wondrous craft:
“Una refina plata de Copella, y lo que mas admira nuestro caso, es que no vemos genero de veta, horrumbre, quemazon, o alguna piedra con quia fuerza muestre y nos pareca aberse el gran mojon alli criado, porque no muestra mas señal de aquesto, que el rastro que las prestas aves dejan, rompiendo por el aire sus caminos, o por ancho mar los sueltos pezes quando las aguas claras van cruzando..!”
The interpreters write:
“And what our people wondered most, is that we saw no sort of vein, nor scoria, trace, nor any rock, by means of which we might be shown or see how the great mass could be created there. Because there is no more trace of that, than the swift birds leave traces in the air through which they make their road, or, in the sea, the swimming fish, when they go plying through the waters clean”.
Villagrá, again is trying to compare this wondrous metal to something familiar, as he and the others contemplate what he now calls “una refina plata de Copella”, “the finest silver from Copella”, and no longer “un monton de hierro”, “a heap of iron.” He and the others can’t understand how this vessel was constructed. It has no apparent rivets, joints, or seams, (genero de veta), there is no evidence of metal casting materials like sand or clay in evidence, (horrumbre), nor evidence of a smelting fire or oven, (quemazon) where it may have been cast. There is not even a rock with which someone might have pounded the mass into shape.
Understandably, they assume someone built the vessel where it stands, as the concept of it having flown there is not a consideration. He goes on to write that there is no trace of its fabrication anywhere, just as one doesn’t see the “trace” or track of a bird flying through the air, or the “trace” or track of a fish swimming through the cleanest water. He is obviously in awe of this mystery.
Villagrá next writes that there were stories told by the “antiguos naturales”, the ancient native Indians of the old tribes of Mexico, of people from the far off northland from whom they say they are descended. These people were “como en Castilla, gente blanca, que todas son grandezas que nos fuerzan a derribar por tierra las columnas del “non Plus Ultra”, infame que lebantan Gentes mas para rueca y el estrado”.
People who looked as white as those of Castille, of grandeur, just as our memories of those beyond the columns of “Non Plus Ultra”, who were famous for their ability to elevate themselves on platforms!
This appears to be a reference to the ancient people of Atlantis, who Villagrá knew of from Pliny and Plato’s writings, and who were said to live beyond the columns or pillars of Non Plus Ultra, (the Straits of Gibraltor.) “The place no one dares go beyond,” where the inhabitants, (Atlantians), (Gentes mas para rueca), were said to elevate themselves on “platforms” (estrados).
Finally, at the end of Canto Segundo, Villagrá writes, in reference to the people encountered: “Mas dexamos aquesta causa en vanda, cerrando nuestro canto mal cantado, con aber entonado todo aquello, que de los mas antiguos naturales ha podido alcanzarse y descubrirse”.
The interpreters write:
But let us lay this thing aside, which needs a story long to tell it all, closing our Canto, badly sung, by having sung quite all of what, by the most ancient natives here, could be remembered and discovered, about the ancient descent.
Frustrated, Villagrá writes, “let us lay this event aside, which needs a story long to tell it all.” Obviously, he has seen much he cannot explain and feels it is a story too long to tell to make sense of it, and perhaps because the expedition is now moving on, and he decides to put this experience aside. He says his Canto is “badly sung,” meaning he is obviously disappointed that he could not better explain in words, all he has seen and all he has experienced, that he cannot explain it all as he doesn’t have the experience or memory to relate to, as this is all new to him…. He seems to writes it off as if to say, “Ask the natives… they can tell you more from their memories of their ancient ancestors!”
Villagrá ends the Canto Primero with these final words:
“De aqueste nuevo Mundo que inquirimos, adelante diremos quales fueron y quienes pretendieron la jornada sin verla en punto puesta y acabada”.
The interpreters write:
Of this New World which we explore, I shall say later who they were, those who the journey undertook, not seeing it done and ended in a moment.
I feel Villagrá says much in his final statement.. “Of this new world,” can mean the world they are entering, meaning New Mexico, or it can mean “the new world of knowledge” he has just entered, in view of what he has just seen: the beings, their flights, the vessel, the lack of anything familiar, the lack of explanations, etc.. Certainly his mind would never be the same!!
He says he shall say later “who they were, those who the journey undertook, not seeing it done and ended in a moment…” does this mean he received some knowledge from them as to who they really were? Or does this mean he will share his interpretation of who they were at a later date? Are “those who the journey undertook”, the beings? Or, the people in the caravan slowly traveling north? I think he has learned, perhaps from the beings, that they have traveled far to come to this earth. And he doesn’t understand or can comprehend that thought as he says, “not seeing it done and ended in a moment”. Can this mean that he didn’t see them arrive, so can’t understand how that massive “heap” could have moved through the air and brought them here?
And finally, the statement: “ended in a moment”. Can this mean he saw them leave, and as many have reported even today, when the crafts take off, they do so in an instant, almost as if they disappear out of sight! Thus again, his statement: “ended in a moment”.
When Villagrá says, “I shall say later who they were”, one might think that at some later date, he wrote more of this encounter, and perhaps then, if that “Canto” or report is found, we will all know more of this strange encounter he wrote of, while on Onate’s Expedition into this land we now call New Mexico. Certainly no dream or made up story of a witch or demon, but the recording of an event that could only be explained in the words and experience of his time.
New Mexico is a land which has certainly seen its share of unexplained mysteries, such as at Roswell, Socorro, and in the mountains of northern New Mexico around Dulce, so rich in accounts of sightings of beings and unexplained flying crafts.
And so ends this interpretation that I found so fascinating and that poor Villagrá found so mysteriously perplexing!
Villagrá gazing skyward as the vessel flies away.