lunes, 8 de junio de 2009
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
"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?"
"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
"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
"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
"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.
"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
"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."
"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
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."
jueves, 16 de abril de 2009
"How is it?" Renata stared until Alice, reluctant, raised the mug and took a sip. It had a faint taste of cinnamon and something sweet. In spite of herself, she smiled and took another sip.
"Yes, thank you."
"It's my famous café de olla," Renata said. "Okay, now that you have calmed down, I'll tell you about the tzitzimime. Do you know any Aztec or Mexica mythology?"
"No... I've only been in the country for three years."
"Well, the tzitzimime are bringers of doom. They are commanded by Death Goddess Itzpapalotl. She unleashes her army of flesh-eating tzitzimime to wreak havock on the world. It is their job to stop the Sun from rising again. They eat the flesh and bones of people to become stronger. Their arrival can only mean one thing: the fifth sun is about to end, and with it, humanity."
Alice stared at Renata. Not knowing what to say, she took a sip from the coffee, which made her feel better at once.
"Your mother hasn't been the only person to be attacked by the tzitzimime," Renata said. "I've known of at least another five cases of tzitzimime attacks this past week." Alice took another sip of her coffee, but couldn't find anything to say. The idea was so ridiculous she couldn't even give it a thought, couldn't comprehend the scope of the idea. She finished her coffee and set the mug on the floor next to the chair.
"You don't believe me. That's okay. I'll make a deal with you. I'm going to give you a special amulet to keep the tzitzimime away from your mother. You will not have to pay me one cent until you are satisfied that th tzitzimime hasn't returned to your mother." Alice thought about it; she could lose nothing by trying. In the worst case scenario, she'd end up with a new trinket that could serve as a curiosity present for her family in the United States.
"Leo! Leo!" A man with dark skin appeared in the doorway. "Ah, good, you were listening. Bring me the sun amulet."The man disappeared through the door. "He is my son." Renata fidgeted with her coffee mug. "Can I ask you a favor?" Alice sighed.
"Take my son with you," the woman said. "He will try and capture the creature that has been attacking your mother."
"Tzitzimime. We have tried three times already, but they always get away. I promise you that your mother will be safe. He'll just go in, capture the creature and go out. You can then pay him and forget about us." Alice panicked at the mere thought of having a stranger in the room with her and her mother. Even with the hospital safety, she felt uncomfortable with the idea.
"What if there's no creature?"
"There is. Are you willing to take that risk?" Alice remembered how the hole had started to swallow part of her mother's knee, how the doctors were positive she'd never be able to use the leg again. She remembered Dr. Travis' defeated look, and the patient with the hole in his head.
"Fine," she said. "But I've got the cops on my speed dial." A condescending smile appeared on Renata's lips. Your cops won't be able to help you against the tzitzimime, was the message written in the woman's eyes.
domingo, 12 de abril de 2009
A "witch" made of nothing but stereotypes appeared on the doorway of the house. Her bushy gray hair made her wrinkled, brown face look too small for her body. Dirty rags that may have once been indigenous clothing hung to her too-thin body. A glance at the dust settled into her wrinkles and the crazed way those beetle-black eyes stared into space, and Alice regretted having let her imagination drag her into that place.
"I'm... sorry," Alice said in her broken Spanish and turned around to leave. Five bony fingers perched on her shoulder.
"Why would you be afraid of me?" the woman asked. Alice turned around, disgusted at the mere idea that she could be afraid of such an extravagant woman. She shook off the witch's hand and made another try for her car. The sunlight made it impossible to keep on believing in nighttime creatures, even if the woman had worked very hard to create an aura of mystique around her. Once again, the claw-like fingers stopped. "No one gets here 'by accident'. You wanted to see me and talk to me about something. Come inside. Coffee? Or tea?" The woman grabbed Alice by the shoulders and steered her inside. Alice took one last look at her car, wondering if the windows would still be there when she left the witch's house.
"Coffee," she said, not wanting to find out what strange herbs were used in that woman's tea. Maybe her perfume was made of dope, too, since Alice couldn't understand why she didn't just mace the woman and make a run for it. When the witch had turned her back on her, Alice took a look at the card with the address. It said the old woman's name was Renata.
"Come, we'll talk in the kitchen."
'The kitchen' was actually a dirty concrete room with a rusted sink and an old-fashioned gas stove. The only clean thing was a large pot in the stove. A strong coffee smell drifted out from the pot, and Renata rushed over to stir it with a wooden spoon.
"You made the right choice, I was just making some café de olla. You're going to love it. Just excuse the mess," she said. "We used to have a table, but it broke, and we don't have money to buy a new one." Alice winced, she didn't like the mention of money at all; it could only mean she was about to lose more than a couple of bills. "So tell me, what is the problem that brings you here? Who steered you in my direction?"
"A nurse... at the hospital. She told me you helped her brother three years ago. She works at... a private hospital." She gave the nurse a vague reference to the location, worried that she might've given too much information already.
"Huh, I think I know who you're talking about. His house had been possessed by demons." The wandering eyes made it hard to tell, but Renata seemed to be talking to herself.
"You don't really believe in demons, do you?"
"Oh, but you do. That's why you're here, isn't it?" Alice began to feel nervous. She looked around herself, a part of her half expecting another window to shatter.
"I'm here because I've nowhere else to turn. My mother's been losing tissue... there's a huge hole forming on her leg and I don't know what's causing it... the doctors are baffled, too. And I've been having hallucinations. I dreamt some kind of creature was creeping under my mother's covers, eating away at her flesh. Maybe it's symbolic? Do you know how to interpret dreams?"
"And the creature was faster than sight?" Alice blushed and looked at the ground. The woman hadn't bought the "dream".
"Yes! It moved so fast I didn't even get a glimpse."
"And, even though the muscle is disappearing from your mother's leg, the skin is still intact, right? The damage has maybe reached the bone, but not the skin?" Alice's heart went berserk, pumping, smashing against her ribcage with every word uttered by the witch.
"It's the tzitzimimes, my dear. The tzitzimimes have taken hold of your mother." Alice stared, trying to form a mental image of the word. She didn't know whether to laugh in relief or in mockery, or to cry from happiness or frustration.
lunes, 6 de abril de 2009
Angry screams intruded into the quiet hospital lobby, raising more than a couple of heads. Alice, busy trying to make out what the fuss was about, didn't notice the nurse running towards the elevator until they both crashed mid-hall.
"Have you seen Dr. Travis?" the nurse asked her. "There's... there's another case... it's an emergency..." Alice shook her head, and the nurse took off running, leaving Alice's curiosity to run rampant. Another case? Her mind worked fast, trying to steer itself away from the obvious. Alice followed the yelling into the ER's waiting room. A fat woman yelled in rapid Spanish at the receptionist, who was doing her best to calm her down. A wheelchair behind the woman contained a man, probably in his mid-thirties, who seemed to bend over himself. Upon closer inspection, Alice noticed the man had been tied to the chair to keep him from falling.
A nurse and a doctor came to look at the man, while the receptionist repeated over and over again that they were looking for Dr. Travis, who would surely be down shortly to look at the woman's husband. Curious, Alice tried to be discreet as she approached the man in the wheelchair, trying to figure out what was wrong with him.
The nurse took a step back from the man and couldn't conceal a look of horror. The doctor grabbed her by the arm, trying to control her reaction, but to no avail. The fat woman started yelling again, this time at the doctor and his incompetence. Alice took advantage of their distraction to approach the man.
Parts of his skull were missing on the right side of his head. The skin sagged, flaccid, into the holes. One of them was so large it had extended to under his eyebrow; the direction of the hairs became wild as the skin that held them sank into the hole. Alice couldn't take such a grotesque sight, she turned around and covered her mouth to suppress a cry. She tried to push away the mental images of her mother with holes all over her face, which only helped the images to become more vivid.
She forgot the coffee she'd gone to the lobby to buy. After finding an isolated chair in a corner, she sat down to wait. It took less than five minutes for Dr. Travis to appear, but he entered five minutes too late for the hysterical woman. She flailed her arms at the doctor, shouting obscenities at the top of her lungs. From what Alice could catch, the man had started with the problem barely two days ago. He was taken inside for examination.
Alice stayed in the ER waiting room until she saw Dr. Travis emerge; the adrenaline had woken her up faster than any coffee could ever have. She ran up to him and grabbed him by the wrists, but did not dare say a word. His gray eyes looked beyond her, to a place far away from the sterile walls of the hospital.
"Excuse me, Miss Hamilton, I'm very busy. I just got another patient with the same disease as your mother," he said, and left. Alice watched his slim, almost woman-like back disappear behind one door, unable to comprehend the scope of the situation.
Her body reacted even before her mind. Her hands darted inside her purse and retrieved the paper that the nurse had given her the night before; her eyes scanned the address and her legs dragged her to the car. Six blocks separated her from the hospital before she realized what she was doing. She drove through the city in record time, even if she still hadn't gotten used to the unusual layout of the Mexican streets, or the strange street names.
The address she'd been given was on the type of neighborhood Alice had been told to avoid. The tiny houses crammed next to each other, most of them looking about to fall down due the eclectic building materials: bricks, blocks, wood, and poorly nailed sheets of aluminum. Only two or three had painted walls, and the house on the left of the address had boarded-up holes instead of windows. On the other side of the street, two men sat on top of soda cases in front of a repairshop, drinking beers. A crooked smile appeared on the men's faces when they saw Alice, and she quickly thrust her hand into her purse to feel the comforting plastic surface of the mace. It had been a present from her fiancee, so that she could feel safe even when he wasn't with her. A shudder seized her whole body; her fiancee hadn't known the mace would become her constant companion after a drunk driver had taken him away from her.
Thinking things couldn't possibly get worse, she searched for a bell to ring. After a few seconds, she realized it was ridiculous to expect a house like that to have a bell, and instead knocked on the door. Rust rained down on the floor with every blow, covering her shoes in a scarlet rain.
Alice let out a scream and ran to her mother's bed. Marianne hadn't woken up with the noise, but was caught up in a nightmarish dream that made her squirm and sweat while babbling incoherently.
"What was that?" Alice asked. She rushed over to the window and looked around, but only the stillness of the night answered her frantic question. She looked down at the shards of glass, trying to see what had broken the glass, but found nothing. The nature of the conversation that she'd been having with the nurse, along with the spontaneous breaking of the glass, made her hair stand on end. She turned to the nurse, intent on asking her if she'd seen anything, when she noticed the nurse praying.
"Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." The nurse stopped for a second to catch her breath when a sharp slap broke the silence and the nurse fell over the sofa cushions.
The screech that Alice had heard two nights prior pierced the calm, and Marianne tossed. Her mumbling turned into cries of horror or pain, and the expression on her face got more and more tense. The covers on the left side of the bed moved as though something pulled at them; Alice quickly kicked at the spot and felt something hard beneath her shoe. She let out another cry and staggered back.
"Oh father, who art in heaven-" Whatever it was, it slapped the nurse so hard her feet left the ground and she hit the wall on top of the sofa.
The glasses beneath the broken window scattered, as if something had passed among them. The screech faded away into the night, and the atmosphere around them returned to normal. Alice spent a few seconds trying to recover her breath, until nurse's gasps turned her glance to the sofa. She helped the woman get into a sitting position, and watched as the nurse closed her eyes and tried to regain her breath.
"It was the demon," the nurse said. "It is the demon that is eating your mother. You need protection." Alice wanted to argue, to explain how ridiculous the idea was, but the shattered glass glared at her from the ground, forbidding.
A full minute of silence passed, in which Alice waited, helpless, for the nightmare to stop. She'd wake up to the voice of Dr. Travis telling her they'd finally figured a rational explanation for her mother's disease, and a way to cure her in a science-based way. Her racing mind presented her with the image of a vampire hunter, armed with a test tube filled with holy water. The image, ridiculous under any other circumstance, brought Alice to tears.
"I can give you the number of a woman that helped my brother three years ago," the nurse said. Her maternal ways had been replaced with a robot-like attitude, even her tone of voice had something automatic to it. She stood up and grabbed a notepad with the hospital letterhead, and wrote an address. "It is all I can do for you."
The moment Alice took the piece of paper, the nurse went out of the room, sore from trying not to run away. She looked at the scrawls, trying to make out an address, but decided she was better off not knowing, and threw the paper into the depths of her purse. She did not want to be tempted into going to that address. Not knowing what else to do, she crawled into the bed with her mother, careful not to touch her legs, and fell asleep from exhaustion against the warm comfort of Marianne's body.
jueves, 2 de abril de 2009
It had been forty-six hours since Alice had last fallen asleep. The tremors on her hands from drinking too much coffee kept her from even using the computer to catch up with her work. Every time she dozed off, the image of something moving under her mother's covers flashed into her mind. In her near-delirium, Alice thought she saw the covers move a couple more times. But in spite of her watchful gaze, the hole kept getting bigger every night.
"Miss Hamilton, you need to get some sleep. You're not doing your mother any favors," a nurse told her. Alice, so tired she couldn't even move her head, glanced at her from the corners of her eyes. She didn't want to waste precious energy with a reply, and waited in vain for the nurse to leave the room. "Is everything okay? Do you need anything?"
Alice shook her head as if in a trance. How could she explain that, through sleepless nights, she had gotten herself to believe the tale about the monster under the covers? She'd even given it an appearance: covered in brownish fur, with huge red eyes and teeth that could somehow eat the muscle but not the flesh. As soon as the thought of sharing her ludicrous secret with the nurse crossed her mind, Alice burst into tears.
The nurse rushed over to the sofa and, sitting beside Alice, put a plump arm around her shoulders. Alice tried to lower the volume of her sobbing so she wouldn't wake her mother. She would've given everything she had to be held by Marianne, but the nurse had a certain soothing, motherly quality about her. She looked at the nurse's huge brown eyes, wondering if the woman would dare make fun of her.
Alice needed to tell someone about the creature that she'd imagined under her mother's covers. Keeping her madness to herself would only build up inside until it made her explode. Having someone to confide in would at least cement her imagination in reality, where common sense would be able to beat it into oblivion. The nurse looked like the kind of person who'd take anything seriously. The crosses hanging from her neck at least identified her as a superstitious person.
"I..." Alice fell silent. How could she arrange the right words in a sequence that did not end up sounding like a lunatic's invention? She couldn't afford to be taken away from her mother's side.
"You can tell me, dear."
"It's just... something strange. The doctors are baffled... they're fighting among themselves because they don't know what is causing my mom to lose her leg... some of the bone has even been chipped off and they don't know why... But I saw something the other day. Something like a creature this big, crawling under the covers, right over my mother's leg." The nurse stared a couple of seconds.
"You mean... like an evil spirit?" In spite of herself, Alice let out a snort. She'd been toying around with the idea for a while, but couldn't believe how ridiculous it sounded.
"An evil spirit?"
"Miss, you lose nothing by always being protected against evil spirits," the nurse said, letting go of Alice as she put her index and middle finger over the gold crucifix that hung from her neck. Alice shook her head.
"I'm just sleep-deprived, that's all. I don't even know where I got the idea for that story, but I'm sure that no amount of supernatural protection is going to cure my mother." Alice sighed.
"A little faith would do you good," the nurse said. "Sometimes, it helps to believe in a higher power that gives us strength. You have no idea how many patients I've seen that were saved by their unwavering faith." Alice rolled her eyes. She'd been looking for sympathy and instead was going to be treated to a cathecism.
"I'm sorry I mentioned it. I don't know what came over me, but I simply will not believe a demon has been chewing my mom's leg off. It's too ridic-" Her sentence was cut short by the shattering of the window, raining pieces of glass over both women.
lunes, 30 de marzo de 2009
Getting Marianne into the operation room didn't change the situation at all. All the doctors could find was that, indeed, the hole formed because the muscle in the leg was disappearing. The only new thing they could find was that the muscle seemed to be torn around the hole, and that it was indeed growing to the point that it almost reached the bone.
"Torn?" Alice asked. The image of an invisible monster sneaking beneath her mother's sheets, chewing at her skin, tearing her mother's muscle away with razor sharp teeth invaded her mind with such unpleasant strength it made her dizzy.
"Yes, torn. We're not sure if it is a degenerative disease-"
"It's not a degenerative disease," the other doctor interrupted. Dr. Taylor frowned.
"We haven't ruled that out yet."
"But it is very unlikely-"
"Okay!" Alice interrupted, waving her hands at the doctors. "I get it. You've no idea what it is." For a second, she almost blurted out the ridiculous idea that had just crossed her mind. At least it could be worth a laugh. She shook her head. "Please, I don't want to lose my mother. I don't care what you do, you need to find out what's wrong with her." The image of a strange, invisible creature chewing at her mother's leg from under the covers flashed into her head. It made too much noise in her mind, which wanted to cling to any possibility, no matter how ludicrous.
"We could..." The two doctors exchanged glances.
"You could... what?"Dr. Taylor cleared his throat and played with a pen inside his pocket.
"This is, of course, as a last resort," Dr. Taylor said. "We don't want to jump into something drastic without sufficient cause. But, as a last resort, if it seems to pose a threat to your mother's life... and I mean, there is a small possibility due to the expansive nature of the ailment... We could amputate her leg to prevent it from spreading elsewhere. Just beneath the knee, she wouldn't have to lose all the leg... With a prosthesis, she could go on with her life as she always has." Alice nodded.
"Can you leave me alone, just for a second? You can tell my mother everything you told me, but please, please don't tell her that last thing." The doctors nodded and entered Marianne's room, leaving Alice alone on the corridor.
She paced back and forth, hoping that moving her legs would be enough to keep her brain distracted from the horrible idea that had been suggested to her. She stopped in front of an Aztec statue that adorned the corridor and stared at it to keep herself busy. Its jarring asymmetrical features, dominated by an open mouth with huge fangs, unsettled her. It seemed to be poking fun at her, the very embodiment of death, laughing as it prepared to pounce, once again, on her loved ones. It took all of her self-control not to pull the statue and let it smash on the ground.
As she considered the statue, something caught her attention. A glimpse of a shadow, quivering behind the statue when no source of light could've made it quiver. She approached the statue and, with the image of invisible monsters still in mind, felt behind it with a careful hand There was nothing there, not even a trace of the physical presence that had lurked beneath the sheets on her mother's bed. Alice laughed.
"The stress must be getting to me," she said, as she headed back to her mother's room. A newly developed itch made her scratch the back of her right hand while heading for the door. Her head was so full of worries she didn't notice the tiny hole that seemed to have appeared beneath her own skin, causing the itch.
miércoles, 25 de marzo de 2009
Marianne sat up on her bed and screamed. Her arms and legs flayed wildly about her. Alice rushed over to her mother, trying to contain her before she hurt her leg further, but Marianne's fright had given her all the strength age had stolen from her.
"They're going to eat me! They're eating me!" she yelled, kicking. Alice hugged her mother and pressed her against the bed until Marianne calmed down. Marianne's chest heaved against Alice's, almost pushing her away with the strength of her gasps. Her eyes focused on the room around her, and then on her daughter.
"Mom? Are you okay? Were you having a nightmare?"
"I'm fine," Marianne said. "I must've been dreaming... I don't remember now. How's my leg doing? Why are you still awake? It must be past midnight." Alice had already hidden the digital clock, which marked 3 a.m., on her mother's bedside.
"It's not even eleven o'clock, mom. Your leg's doing great," Alice said, but the cheerful tone was too much of an effort for her to add a smile to it. Marianne nodded and leaned back on her pillow.
"You should get some more rest. That's the key, rest."
"It's the medicines." Marianne mumbled something, but sleep had wrapped around her even before the words escaped from her mouth. Alice kissed her on the forehead; somehow, the irony of the moment made her uncomfortable. She was sure that her mother could see through her pathetic attempts at cheerfulness, but Marianne was behaving like a model patient, and Alice was glad for it.
She curled up in the sofa that had been turned into a bed with some sheets and a pillow. Two nights on that couch had accustomed her to the position, and her back was no longer sore. However, she still found it difficult to fall asleep on such an alien location. With no room to toss and turn, she kept still, staring at her mother's legs.
Alice dozed off. Dreams intertwined with reality and played with her perception of the room, if she was still semi-conscious and not merely dreaming of the room. She watched as the sheets at her mother's feet blew up and rose back down. The billowing movement gave way to a steady waving back and forth, as though something walked over her mother's feet, beneath the sheets.
The sight startled Alice into a sitting position. She rubbed her eyes and looked at the vision. It didn't feel like a dream, the walls around her were too well defined, the room too full of excellent details she barely registered, and even through the drowsiness, she had a rock-steady sense of here and now that was always absent even in the sweetest dream. No, that had to be the kind of nightmare that doesn't allow for the solace and insanity that is the world of the subconscious.
She stood up and went to the bed. Whatever walked on her mother's leg was larger than a crow, although it hunched over as it circled a specific area of the leg, stopping every now and then and making strange splurging noises. Alice let out a sharp gasp that made her chest hurt when she realized that 'it' was circling the hole in her mother's leg. Unable to restrain herself, Alice grabbed the sheets and pulled them away.
There was nothing beneath them. Alice looked around, hoping to find an escaped rodent with lightning-fast feet, but there wasn't even a thud to betray it jumping from the bed. Alice was about to chalk it all up to an overactive imagination she didn't possess when she noticed her mother's leg. The hole had just grown bigger; the skin stretching over it sagged into the depth of the hole. When she turned on the light, she could see, clear as day, the unnatural redness of the skin that covered the hole.
sábado, 21 de marzo de 2009
In spite of herself, Alice approached her mother's bedside and put a hand on the covers. The strong medicine dripping down from the IV plugged into her arm guaranteed that Marianne wouldn't wake up as Alice uncovered her leg. There, beneath the thick, unshaved hairs and popping varicose veins, hid what seemed to be a hole beneath the skin. Alice passed her finger softly over it, feeling the sinking of the muscle. She remembered the hole being smaller, not larger than a tennis ball. As Alice traced its perimeter, it seemed to her it'd started to venture into softball territory. She pressed the emergency call button.
"Call Dr. Taylor or Dr. Ramirez, whoever's on guard." The nurse stopped with her body halfway through the door she hadn't even quite opened yet and went back outside to fulfill Alice's request. The door quietly slid back into place and the nurse's soft footsteps faded on the carpet outside. Exhausted, Alice dragged the only chair in the room so she could sit while she held her mother's hand.
"Oh, mom..." Encouraged by the fact that Marianne was asleep, Alice lifted her mother's hand up to her lips and kissed it. Marianne's bony hand felt as though it could fall apart any moment, so Alice put it back with care on top of the sheets and leaned back on the chair as she waited. The headlights on the street next to the hospital created ocean-like shadows on the ceiling of the room, aided by the sound of engines rushing by. The night felt still, missing only the comfort of soft sand beneath the feet and the haunting of the stars above to soothe Alice's soul into oblivion.
As she gazed up, a shadow slid through the ceiling on the wrong direction. Alice rushed to the window, expecting some idiot to be driving the wrong way, but for the moment the street lay deserted. Startled, Alice edged back to the chair, and sat down with her eyes locked on the spot where the shadow had merged into the silhouette of her mother's bed. As she watched, something seemed to stir on the corner.
A screech sent her heart beating so fast the surge of blood pushed her body into a standing position. Her breath had turned into short, sharp gasps that did nothing to alleviate the empty lungs. Asliver of light accompannied the horrible sound, which stopped once the door was fully oppened. Doctor Travis entered the room, and the screech filled the air again as the door closed, straining its hinges.
"Miss Hamilton?" The doctor gave Alice a very puzzled look, and relief finally allowed her to breathe. "Did you call me?"
"I'm sorry, doctor, the door startled me. Yes, I called you. The treatment you gave my mother this morning isn't working. The hole is already much larger than it was this morning. Look." The doctor approached Marianne's leg and started pressing with his fingers, his frown growing.
"Well... I didn't expect it to work right away... but the fact that this keeps growing troubles me. Actually, I was just looking at the bacteria cultures we got this morning."
"I did find some unusual bacteria, but not the kind that could be doing this. They seem to be more of a consequence than a cause. Also, there are no signs of infection." Even in darkness, the doctor's eyes shone with frustrations, which caused a thousands screams of helplessness to well up in Alice's chest. The pressure made her whole body shake, and she had her mouth open a whole minute while trying to find her voice. The chords inside her throat tensed with the mere thought of being used for something other than wailing. Her eyes welled up, but a will of iron kept her body's instincts at bay.
"You mean it's... just.... going to keep growing?"
"I don't know, Miss Hamilton."
"Well it better not!" Alice slammed her fist against the wall. "I'm paying you a fucking fortune to just stand there and tell me you don't know why the hell there's a hole in my mother's leg? Can't you see it's growing? What kind of doctor are you?"
"Miss Hamilton, I would appreciate if you lowered your voice. I've already scheduled the operation room for your mother tomorrow morning. We'll open up the leg and assess the damage properly. I assure you we will find out what is happening to your mother."
"You'd better." Alice walked over to the window and pressed her forehead against the glass to cool it off. Tears were already streaming down her cheeks, forcing her to shut up or risk bursting into sobs. The door screeched again, signaling the doctor's exit. The echoes of his footsteps faded away, leaving behind a comforting silence. She was about to let her frustration turn into crying when she heard a soft screech that had nothing to do with the door.