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.