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."