lunes, 8 de junio de 2009

Part 15: Do you?

"What? No!" Leo yelled, letting go of Alice. He took a few steps forward until the bulk of his body separated Alice from the priest. The priest replied in a strange language, and they both got into a heated argument. Alice stared at the both of them, getting angrier by the minute. Echoes of a car crash she hadn't witnessed haunted her mind, and the only coherent thought that could form in her head was 'I'm going to lose my mother, too'.

The priest won the argument. Leo, furious, retreated to the living room and Alice heard him drop on the couch like a dead weigh, making the springs creak under the weight. She looked at the priest, with his exotic attire and hungry eyes, and felt fright creep through her stomach.

"I'm sorry, dear," he said. "I was just excited about your proposal. As a matter of fact, we were going to talk to the gods tomorrow, but Leo didn't want me to tell you that." The alarms went off in Alice's head, and she took a couple of steps to the side, so she was within eyeshot of the living room couch.

"Why would you?" she asked.

"Because you seem enthusiast about this," the priest said, as a cloud came over his eyes. He tried to conceal it and looked at the altar. Dust seemed to settle in every single crease that formed on his neck as he turned his head. For a moment, he seemed to be a hundred years old. "It is really hard to find people who take the old gods seriously... who are willing to listen to them..."The age became even more apparent as he continued speaking, and Alice almost felt sorry for him. "How do you preach truth in a world where a million people are trying to preach what they believe is the real truth? How do you convince people, even with the most sound proof, when all of them only regard you either as a joke, or a murderer?"

"So..." Alice couldn't think of anything to say, so she just let the word hang in the air, becoming heavy in its uselessness. She was starting to regret her decision.

"It will be tomorrow, it is the best moment. At 8 p.m. You may come if you like. I'll understand if you don't." Alice nodded.

"Right."She left the priest standing there, still staring at the altar, and ran to the entrance door. All she could think about was getting herself out of that place for good. The strange spell cast on her by the strange ceremony and disappearance of the tzitzimime already faded from her mind, and she already regretted the whole episode.

"So... are you going to come?" Leo's voice drifted at her as she put her hand on the doorknob.

"I thought you didn't want me to come."

"I don't." Alice let out a small smile.

"Then I'll certainly be here."

"Alice... you don't know what you're doing." Alice remembered the horrible creature thrashing around in its cage, and cringed.

"Do you?" She exited the apartment amidst the thick silence.

miércoles, 3 de junio de 2009

Part 14: Heralds of Doom

"Where is it?" Alice asked, pressing herself against the wall and looking around the room, trying to catch a glimpse of the lightning-fast creature. The priest walked up to her and put his hands in her arms.

"Don't worry," he said. "It has been vanished out of existance."

"So my mom will be okay?"

"I don't know. As long as she keeps the amulet with her, she'll be fine. But the power of the amulet wanes over time."

"So what can I do to save her?" Alice could feel the tears stinging the back of her eyes. She'd never be able to handle the loss of another loved one.

"Save her? I don't think you're quite getting the big picture here," the priest said. "The fate of the whole world is hanging on a thread. After what you just saw, are you willing to listen?"

"... Yes."

"According to Aztec mythology, every fifty years a Chosen One is born. He who has been chosen carries the flame of the gods in his heart, and needs to be sacrificed so his blood can nourish the sun. Otherwise, the sun will wither and die, taking the world with it. The tzitzimime are heralds of doom, their arrival signals that the sun is about to wither, and we haven't found The Chosen One."

"We believe he might not have been born at all," one of the other men in the room said. "Maybe it is a sign, that the world is supposed to end now." Alice stared at the ma, trying to figure him out.

"Leave the room, both of you." The two men obeyed the priest's order and disappeared behind a door Alice hadn't noticed before. She could feel her breath catching in her lungs, fear keeping it inside. Her head started spinning and the colors on the room started dancing around her. Strong arms wrapped around her shoulders, and she could only faintly hear what the priest and Leo were saying.


"She really insisted."


"I know, I did .... "

" ... then?"

"I don't know."

Alice made a huge effort to drag herself back to life and looked at Leo, who still held her from falling to the ground.

"I'm okay," she said. Her head still spun "I... I wish to talk to the Gods." She almost didn't recognize her voice uttering words so unknown to her. She sensed a sudden tense movement in Leo's arms, and the priest looked surprised.

"I can arrange that," the priest said. The look on his face had turned almost hungry.

domingo, 31 de mayo de 2009

Part 13: Ceremony

Alice waited alone in the living room as things began to get prepared. All the time, she couldn't shake off the feeling that she ought to be running away from that place as fast as possible. Yet, something stronger than her own bound her to the chair she'd sat in. She wouldn't call that feeling curiosity, although it did play some part in her permanence. A strange sense of duty had started to settle in her chest ever since she'd seen the captured creature in her mom's hospital room.

"Come, Alice," the priest said. "Everything is ready for the ceremony."

She followed him into a back room whose windows had been sealed. A carved stone altar stood in the middle of the room, clashing with the very idea of the apartment it sat on. Dark reddish-brown stains covered the surface of the altar and splattered onto the floor beneath. Many copper recipients spewed copal smoke from the floor and altar, and two people Alice hadn't seen before seemed to dance around the altar, waving green branches around the air. Alice covered her mouth, trying not to cough from the heavy smoke that covered the room.

The cage with the tzitzimime sat on top of the altar. As soon as the wisps of smoke swirled around the cage, the tzitzimime screeched, pounding against the bars that kept it trapped. Alice couldn't stand the sight of the animated bones clacking against each other, with the putrid blackened hair flying around it's head, and the flashing darkness of its eye sockets piercing into her. She turned her attention to the other side of the room, where the priest was fitting himself with a huge ornament made out of feathers. Leo had also taken off his street clothes and wore nothing but a loincloth decorated with feathers. Alice blushed at the sight of his near-naked body, and decided to fix her eyes on the ground, trying not to think about the stains in it.

Finally, the priest stood in front of the altar, and the three other people in the room also stood near them. The priest chanted in a strange, melodic language that seemed to come out of the very air Alice breathed. She listened attentively, trying to internalize every sound, and after a few seconds felt a surge through her heart. The words infused her with courage.

After the chanting and reciting, the priest took one of the branches and began passing it over the tzitztimime, who started screeching. It fell to the center of the cage and contorted in impossible ways that made it look as if it would fall apart any minute. The priest's chanting grew louder, as the branche's movement grew more frantic.

Finally, Leo grabbed a small bow that had been sitting next to the altar and fitted an arrow into it. The black tip shone in the dim light of the room, piercing through the clouds of copal smoke. Leo pointed the arrow at the tzitzimime, and seemed to hesitate for a moment. He seemed to be searching for its head, but the flayling of the creature made it impossible to aim. The creature's bashing inside the cage made it rattle until it was about to fall from the altar. The priest's voice grew more urgent, and his chanting became fragmented.

Finally, Leo shot the arrow. It went right through the ribcage and lodged into the skull from beneath. A screeching sound that shook the walls sent Alice to her knees, and she covered her eyes. The room became darker than she could fathom, as if everything stopped to exist for a moment. When the room came back to focus, the darkness had been so blinding Alice could barely make out the shapes around her.

It took her a minute to be able to stand up, and even then her whole body swayed from one side to the other. She tried to penetrate the veil of darkness that still covered her eyes to look at the altar. The cage had been split in two and lay on either side of the altar, some bits of it melting. The tzitzimime was nowhere to be seen.

miércoles, 27 de mayo de 2009

Part 12: Nourishment

"Nourishment?" Alice asked, trying to remember her sketchy knowledge of ancient mexican rites. Something in the way the priest's eyes flickered and lowered to the ground gave her a bad feeling. He hesitated before speaking again.

"Human blood," he said. "The gods need human blood to stay alive."

Images of a huge white pyramid flooded into her mind. At the summit, two feather-clad indians held a captive against a stone while a third raised a huge obsidian knife over the victim's chest. She couldn't remember where she'd seen that picture, but the image crashed so vividly through her mind that she let out a gasp and stumbled backwards.

"What..." No words could express the horror she felt. She turned around and tried to run away, but crashed headfirst into Leo's chest. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her against him.

"Alice! Alice, calm down!" Alice stopped struggling for a second, feeling her helplessness amidst his muscular arms.

"Some people view it as barbaric, I admit," the priest said. "But you have seen firsthand that the gods do exist. They are getting angry because the nourishment has been scarce these days."

"I don't want to hear about it!"

"Alice, listen," Leo said. "Remember that pendant that is protecting your mother?" Alice froze for a second. Her brain had already made the connection, but her conscious mind refused to acknowledge it. Leo loosened his hold on her and she took a few steps back into the center of the room. "That amulet could only be created and bestowed with its protective powers because of a willing sacrifice that bestowed it with the power of the gods." Alice shook her head, moving her mouth like a fish out of the water, trying to reconcile all the thoughts running around her head. "You asked to come with me."

"I... I did."

"Look," the priest said to Alice. "The tzitzimime have already had a taste of your mother's flesh. They'll try to come back as soon as the power of the amulet wanes. We'll have to keep producing new amulets for her. Willing sacrifices are hard to come by, but not impossible" Alice closed her eyes. Not even the deliberate inclusion of the word "willing" could repress all the moral qualms bubbling up inside her.

Leo put a hand on her shoulder, but she pushed him away. She wanted to run away from that place, but deep inside her she knew she'd never be able to.

"What then?" she asked.

"First, we need to get rid of our unwanted guest," the priest said. "You're more than welcome to attend the vanishing ceremony, if you wish."

lunes, 25 de mayo de 2009

Part 11: Ancient Traditions

Alice couldn't remember a time where she'd been more tense while driving. Leo sat on the back seat, with the cage on his lap. The creature still screeched and its horrible bony teeth made a grinding noise against the metal as the creature tried to chew its way out.

"Don't worry," Leo told her. "It won't escape, and we're almost there." Alice couldn't believe there could be a worse neigborhood than the one where she'd found Leo's mother. Tall buildings with cracked walls and only a faint memory of paint blocked the light, filling every available space that hadn't been taken by the pavement, all full of potholes. The car tumbled and groaned as it made its slow way towards the most decrepit building in the street.

Alice parked right in front of the building, right behind a beat-up car straight from the 1950's. She locked the doors at least three times to make sure no one could break into the car, even though Leo assured her that it wouldn't be necessary.

"I'm with you," he said. "And that's enough to keep you safe in the neighborhood." The cage in his hands rattled, and he shook it to force the creature into submission. Alice took a step back, frightened. She couldn't remember the impulse that had sent her in that wild adventure with Leo.

He led her to the stairs. The narrow staircase appeared light-proof, it was so dark inside Alice had to hold on to the walls not to trip. Her fingers kept bumping against things on the walls she didn't want to identify; the whole buildinged to be sweating. They went straight to the fourth floor and Leo knocked on a door.


"It's me. I brought it." The door flew open as if by magic. A man with premature white hairs stared at Leo, his eyes shinning like the sun.

"You did?" Leo held up the cage and shook it a little. The creature inside shrieked and bit the bars.

"Excellent!" he said. "This is great! Where did you find it?"

"It was attacking this lady's mother." For the first time, the man noticed Alice. He examined her with those bright eyes, and a smile appeared on his face.

"What a beautiful lady!" he exclaimed. "Welcome, welcome, make yourself at home. Leo, take the creature to the back room, I'll take care of it later. You, young lady, please come in. Tea? I've got some really good brews. My name is Salvador, and I'm a Mexica priest."

"An actual priest?" she said.

Salvador laughed.

"I'm a direct descendant from the Mexica priests that survived the Conquest," he said. "We have been passing down the secrets of our art for centuries, hidden from the Catholic Church." Alice blinked, stalling for time. After having watched that horrible thing, nothing could surprise her now.

"Why have you been hiding?" she asked, the least idiotic question she could think of.

"To survive, of course. The Catholic Church pretty much destroyed everything Mexica, and tried to leave no remainders of our culture. But we survived, because we know that the sun cannot live without nourishment. We have been providing that nourishment for centuries, it's our duty."

domingo, 26 de abril de 2009

Part 10: I believe

The moment Alice woke up, the horrifying image of the tzitzimime sprang to her mind and she tried to scream. A hand pressed itself against her mouth, blocking off any sound.

"Don't scream, or the doctors will come," Leo told her. He removed his hand with caution, but Alice only managed a whimper.

"I believe," she said. "I believe." She began to repeat those words over and over again as if they were a comforting mantra against the sharp shrills that still emerged from beneath the cage, which Leo had covered with a cloth.

"I have to get her out of here. Are you sure you're okay?"

"You're not leaving me!" Alice flung herself to Leo and hugged his arm. She didn't care about dignity anymore, Leo had been brave enough not only to comfront the creature, but to capture it. As far as Alice was concerned, she wasn't letting him out of her sight. Especially when she noticed Leo had washed off all the protective suns he'd drawn on the window.

"I need to take him to the priest."

Alice shook her head, but let go of his arm.

"The world is going to end," she whispered.

"We'll try to stop it," Leo said without thinking. As soon as his words filled the silence in the room, he blushed. "I mean..."

"What? There's a way to stop it?"

"Yes. We need to find a suitable sacrifice to keep the fifth sun running."

"You mean... kill someone?"

"That someone will be willing." Alice bit her lip. It all sounded so ridiculous, yet there was no ignoring the creature inside the cage.

"Take me with you... to see the priest."

"What for?"

"I want to help. This thing has turned my mother into an invalid. I need to do something about it. I mean, maybe the medallion can protect her now, but what if more of those things come? I need to do something about it." She wasn't thinking her words, she didn't want to. As long as the heroic impulse kept running through her, she'd never feel useless again. Remembering all the hours of helplessness passed at her mother's side, watching her get consumed by a mysterious force, Alice knew that she'd regret it forever if she passed this opportunity to do anything, even if it was holding candles for the priest.

"Are you sure? I mean, you just fainted."

"What would you have done? But I have seen it, now. I see it's face right now, it's something I'll never be able to take off my mind. And that's exactly why I need to go with you." Leo let out a sigh.

"Okay. You may come to the priest's house, it's going to be pretty harmless."

lunes, 20 de abril de 2009

Part 9: It's here

Alice couldn't remember being more uncomfortable while driving. Leo had taken the passenger seat, and kept so still Alice sometimes forgot he was there. Only the rumble of a cage he'd brought to the back seat reminded her of the ridiculous thing she was about to do. She tried to spark a conversation once or twice, but the man replied only in monosyllables. Alice's purse still hung from her shoulder, resting on her lap. While her right hand steered the wheel, her left hand didn't lift from the mace. If the guy tried anything, she'd attack him. Leo seemed to understand that, as he kept so still it looked unnatural.

Darkness fell before they arrived at the hospital. Alice parked her car as close to the door as she could, and turned it off. Leo rushed out of the car, leaving Alice inside to fumble with her keys. He followed her to Marianne's room, concealing the cage inside a cloth bag. Alice's mother lay on her bed, propped up by three pillows, watching TV. Alice saw her and stopped Leo from going into the room.

"Stay outside," she told him. "I don't want to explain you to my mom. I'll call you when she falls asleep." Alice counted on her mother's insomnia pills to keep her from noticing the strange man in her room. Drawing a deep breath, Alice entered her mother's room.

"Alice! I've been asking for you, the nurses don't know where you've been." Marianne sighed. "Alice, you can't leave me alone with these people, I barely understand a word of Spanish and their English is a joke."

"I'm sorry, mom, I had some errands to do. What are you watching?" Alice sat down on the bed next to Marianne and grabbed her hand. Her mother's bony fingers gave her a tender squeeze.

"It's a romantic comedy. Watch it with me."

Even though she enjoyed the time spent with her mother, Alice felt relieved when the nurse came in to give Marianne her meds. Five minutes later, a soft snore had replaced the constant chatter in Marianne's lips. Alice carressed her mother's forehead and kissed her before going to the hall to look for Leo. She found him sitting at the reception, reading a newspaper. Alice went over to him and touched his shoulder.

"Come on. Mom's asleep."

"Good," he said. "The tzitzimime will be there any moment now." Alice looked around herself in panic.

"Don't speak so loud! I'm mad enough to have let you come here, but I'm not going to let them know what you're up to." He didn't say another word. They entered Marianne's room, and Alice covered her mother with the sheets, she didn't want an inch of her mother's skin exposed to the stranger.

Without a word, Leo set to work. He took out a piece of chalk and began drawing highly stylized suns on all the windows. Alice sat down on the sofa and watched him work, amazed.

"Give me the amulet," he said. Alice took out a sun-shaped amulet with a blood red stone in its center and handed it to Leo. The trinket had turned out to be prettier than she imagined; she thought of keeping it for herself when everything was over.

Leo didn't use the amulet. He sat down on the only chair in the room and leaned back. Again, Alice felt the urge to start any sort of conversation, but couldn't find anything that might interest him. The minutes passed, and Alice felt herself drifting away into sleep. Leo's voice startled her back to reality.

"It's here," Leo said, standing up. "Don't move."