Thursday, December 18, 2014

Cuento de Mi Id

“The Tocayo”

“Mar-teen!”

Martin turned to look behind him but there was no one there. Nothing behind or in front of him but shadows.

Must have been my imagination, he thought.

He continued onward.

“Mar-teen!”

Martin turned again. Again there was no one behind him.

My imagination again, he thought.

He started walking faster.

“Mar-teen!”

This time he almost jumped out of his skin. The voice sounded very close that time. Yet he could not tell where it was coming from.

One of the surrounding apartments maybe?

Perhaps but they all looked dark. It was unlikely that anyone was even in one of them. And even if there were, they were probably asleep.

Then who--

“Mar-teen!”

Martin started walking faster. He had no idea who was calling him, but they obviously meant no good if they kept ducking out of sight. Besides he didn’t even know this neighborhood. He normally rode the bus home at this hour. Just his luck that tonight he had stayed after class just a little too long and ended up having to walk home instead.

Still his home couldn’t be too far away. He just wished he knew the neighborhood better.

“Mar-teen!”

Martin circled around, hoping to see someone shouting at him from upon a fire escape or from behind a garbage can. But there was no one in sight. No one at all. Except himself.

“Mar-teen!”

It’s a gang, he thought. They spotted my umbrella and briefcase, and they assumed I was easy pickings. Never mind that I’m probably poorer than they are. They’d probably just make up the difference with bruises.

“Mar-teen!”

If it was a gang, he thought, it was a pretty strange one. And how did they know his name anyway?

“Mar-teen!”

They picked a name at random, he thought. The minute I reacted to it, they knew they had the right one.

He frowned. The thought of having been fooled so easily made him angry. He felt like throwing down his briefcase and umbrella and challenging the mysterious name callers to a fight. He would never do that though. He knew better.

“Mar-teen Gar-see-ah! Doan-dey ess-staas?”

The voice sounded strangely familiar. As if it were someone he knew.

That’s crazy, he thought. He didn’t know anyone in this neighborhood.

So how come they knew his complete name?

Coincidence, he thought. Just coincidence.

“Mar-teen Gar-see-ah! Doan-dey ess-stass?”

The buildings were starting to look more familiar now. He recognized the corner street light ahead and sighed with relief.

He suddenly realized that for the last few feet he had been brandishing his umbrella like a sword and his briefcase like a shield. Pretty foolish of him, he thought. He wasn’t the type to start a fight, and you could fill a thimble with everything he knew about self-defense. Still if he had discouraged someone from messing with him, it was worth it. Even cowards could fight when cornered.

“Mar-teen!”

There he went again. He was beginning to sound nearer. Much nearer. Yet Martin still couldn’t see who was calling that name.

There went the voice again, calling for Martin Garcia. By now he was sure it was a coincidence. After all, he was in plain sight. Why keep asking where he was?

Whoever the caller was, he was obviously after another Martin Garcia. Which was just fine with Martin. He had no intention of getting involved in another man’s business.

Then he rounded the corner and ran into a dark-clad figure. He stopped and dropped his jaw in amazement.

The stranger before him was just a few years younger than he was. Young enough to be a possible gang member.

His hands were empty but there was no telling what he had beneath that black windbreaker. And that face. If it had not been so pale and free of chickenpox scars, it would have almost an exact duplicate of Martin’s own face. A coincidence, perhaps, one worthy of all those dumb TV shows his cousins watched, but it was unsettling all the same.

“Who are you?” Martin asked.

The stranger before him answered, “Martin Garcia.”

Martin scowled. His hands curled into fists. He was tempted to deck the stranger, but he noticed by the boy’s trembling that he was more scared of Martin than vice versa.

Maybe he was telling the truth. Maybe he too was named Martin Garcia. It was not all that unlikely in this neighborhood.

“You’re kidding, right?” Martin asked, just to make sure.

The boy looked at him as if he was going to throw up.

“No, I’m not,” he said with an effort. “I really am Martin Garcia. Who are you?”

The unknown caller interrupted. “Mar-teen!”

Martin noticed that the boy paled as soon as he heard the voice.

“Who is that?” Martin asked.

The boy replied, “My father.”

“Your father?”

“Yes,” the boy said. “I ran away from home and now he wants me to go back.”

He looked Martin straight in the eye. “But I don’t want to go back. My father did mean things to me when I lived with him. He used to beat me and -- and --” his face blushed. “--treat me like a man treats a woman.”

Martin did not know what to say.

“That’s why I ran away,” said the stranger. “I -- I just couldn’t take it anymore. I tried to fight back but I couldn’t. He was too strong. Besides he’s my own father. So I ran away.”

“I see,” said Martin. Actually he did not see anything, but it seemed the right thing to say. The real scary part was how frightened the boy looked. Nobody deserved to be that scared of his own father.

He’s just a few years younger than me, Martin realized. He even has the same name. A tocayo, he thought. A namesake. There but for the grace of God...

“Mar-teen!”

The voice was louder this time -- and even closer than before. The boy grew paler.

“He’s coming,” the boy said.

Martin looked around. “Where is he?”

“Close,” said the boy. “Too close. He’s been following me ever since I ran away, and he doesn’t ever stop.”

Martin stared at the boy. “Why don’t you go to the police?”

“It wouldn’t do any good,” said the boy. “He’d just get me there. You see, just before I left home, I hit him on the head with a frying pan. I hit him real hard -- and it didn’t do any good. He still follows me.”

“But surely--”

“I hit him so hard his skull broke. I’m sure of it. And still he follows me.”

“Mar-teen!”

The voice sounded like it was just a few inches away now and still Martin could not see a thing. The boy’s eyes, however, were as wide as they could be.

He seemed to be staring at something just behind Martin’s shoulder -- something only he could see.

Then he screamed and ran off in the opposite direction. Martin started to run after him, then stopped and wondered what he was doing. It was then that he heard it. A second set of footsteps running right by him in the boy’s direction. And not a soul in sight.

There but for the grace of God, he thought. He walked hurriedly in the opposite direction.

*************************************************************************************************************

He did not bother to tell his parents about what he had seen that night. He did not tell anyone. He just went straight to his room and buried himself in his homework.

Martin was never so grateful for night school as he was that night. At least it gave something to think about apart from what he had seen. When at last he was through and he retired for the night, he wondered what had happened to the boy. None of his business, he decided. It wasn’t his problem.

Nevertheless, it was a sad case. And lying there in the darkness, Martin could almost hear the same voice he had heard before.

“Mar-teen...”

It must be his imagination, he decided. Or a dream.

Even the sound of pebbles being thrown at his window was just his subconscious’s interpretation of a more mundane sound.

“Mar-teen...”

The voice sounded louder now. The pebbles being thrown against the window sounded louder too. Almost any minute he would see his namesake before him...

Klunk!

Martin sat up in bed. For a minute there, it sounded as if someone had thrown a huge rock at the windowpane. He turned on the lamp on his nightstand and saw that the windowpane was still intact, the street below still empty.

It was just a dream, he decided.

He reached for the lamp switch and brushed against something. It was a human hand.

Before he could scream, another hand clamped itself over his mouth. Then the lamp went out and things got really interesting.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Cuento de Mi Id

“The Mission”

From a distance, the mission thrust up against the sky as if it was part of the natural landscape. There were hundreds of ruins like this in the American Southwest, Taylor realized, scattered throughout the land like broken teeth. An empire had died here -- a far-flung empire which had conquered the great cities of the Aztecs and the wily Moors but had proved powerless against the onslaught of red-skinned barbarians.

The barbarians always win in the end, thought Taylor. They had defeated the Spanish dandies at Goliad and Veracruz and now were in the process of taking over the Great Plains from other barbarians. It was not civilization which counted in the end; it was strength. As soon as a nation forgot that, it was doomed, but Taylor’s nation was still young and prided itself on its barbarism. It had been built up not by silver-haired dandies in Boston and Richmond but by frontiersmen like himself, who were socially just a step above the Indians as far as their so-called “betters” were concerned.

Taylor took pride in that fact, and also in the fact that for seven weeks, he had avoided a posse of Tucson’s finest. If they ever caught him, it was back to Tucson for an appointment with a rope, but in the meantime, he had led them a merry chase through territory no white man in his right mind would dare to enter. Now he was exhausted, and his canteen was nearly empty. The mission looked deserted but a nearby aqueduct promised water and there was sure to be a well.

Taylor staggered forward, too tired to run although part of him yearned for shelter from the blazing desert sun. The mission would be a good place to rest before he went over the mountains. A good place to hide, too, in case any of his pursuers showed up over the horizon.

With those thoughts in mind, he staggered inside the open gate, taking note of his surroundings until he reached the well in the main plaza. The well was sealed by a metal lid chained down and engraved with words which Taylor recognized as part of the Spanish language. From what he read, the well appeared to be cursed, perhaps poisoned by rebellious Indians.

No matter. There was still the aqueduct. But first, rest. The chapel was deserted; a broken communion chalice lay broken on the ground before the altar. On the back wall, a gold cross covered with light brown stains dimly reflected the desert sun. This should have rang a warning bell in Taylor’s normally suspicious mind, but he was too tired to think about it.

He sat down in a heap behind the back pew. Exhausted from days of travel, he soon fell asleep. In his mind, he seemed to hear the posse behind him. A rampaging mob out to lynch him from the highest tree. He awoke once or twice and looked out upon the horizon but no one was there.

At last his stomach awoke and he nibbled on his last piece of jerky. Not much else to eat out here and he wasn’t sure where he was going to find another supply. Perhaps in the mountains, he could find something. In that case, he’d better conserve his bullets.

He went looking for water and found the aqueduct totally inadequate for his purpose. With the departure of the Spaniards, the structure had gone downhill, its water now blocked by masses of fallen stone. Perhaps the original source had dried up and the Indians had simply lacked the knowledge to find another one, much less build another aqueduct. Whatever the reason, its channels were now as dry as dust, evoking a strangely powerful thirst in Taylor’s parched throat.

But there was still the well. The chains clung tightly and Taylor was forced to search for a tool to pry them loose. In one of the outbuildings, he found some digging tools, put there, no doubt, for use on the once fertile fields. He found a pickaxe and hauled that over to the well. A few strikes with it upon the massive padlock and the hasp broke. The chains came off. The well was open.

Taylor had just pulled off the massive lid when he realized that there was no rope or bucket. The brackish water appeared to be about a half-mile down and there was no way to haul it up. With a curse, Taylor stalked off to search through the outbuildings again. He finally came up with a rusty metal bucket and a length of old rope. He attached one end of the rope to the bucket, and let it down into the well very slowly. But the rope wasn’t quite long enough. So he had to search for another length of rope.

A scurrying noise sounded behind him, but when he looked, no one was there. Perhaps it had been a rat. Perhaps not. He drew out his revolver and searched the grounds, but he couldn’t find a trace of any living creature besides himself. Yet the peculiar feeling of having missed something persisted.

Where else could he have looked? The well? He found his piece of rope and went back to the well. Knotting the two lengths together, he formed a strand long enough to reach down into the well water. He let the bucket down easily and hauled it up half-full. The water tasted brackish, but it was still water. It had an odd, fishy taste to it, but it beat dying of thirst.

Night would soon be upon him now. No time to make it to the mountains. Shame. He would have to sleep here at the mission.

He walked back to the church, slightly surprised that the water that had looked so brackish wasn’t affecting his stomach in any manner. A man’s body will accept anything if he’s thirsty enough, he thought, and with that, he entered the church.

He heard another scurrying noise behind him. He turned and saw nothing.

Then he turned back toward the altar and saw something step toward him out of the darkness. He suddenly dived behind the back pew, drew out his revolver, and without looking, fired four shots in the direction of the altar. Then he looked up.

A woman in a nun’s habit and a black veil was standing there, smiling.

“Ten cuidado,” she said with a Castilian lilt to her voice. “You could have hurt someone with that thing.”

Taylor just looked at her. “How come you ain’t dead?”

“You weren’t exactly aiming too carefully now, were you?” She said with a smile. “Perhaps you missed.”

Her teeth seemed awfully white for a woman who had been alone in this mission for so long. Or did she come from the mission? Could she have traveled across the desert like himself? And if so, where had she been all this time? Taylor would have seen anyone coming from miles around. And he was sure he had searched every hiding place before. Everywhere that is except the well. But surely...

“You really should be careful with that thing,” she said, indicating his gun. “You could have hurt someone.”

“Who are you?” said Taylor. “And how did you get here?”

“My,” she said. “How impolite.”

He cocked his gun and aimed it in her direction. “Well?”

“You really shouldn’t be so rude,” she said. “After all, it was not I who trespassed upon your domain, but you who trespassed upon mine.”

“Never mind that,” Taylor said. “Just answer my question or in five minutes, your gray matter is going to be spread out all over them church tiles.”

“You don’t really want to do that,” said the woman. “The posse you’re worried about could be coming within earshot of this place any time now and all it would take to bring them here in a hurry would be one more gunshot.”

“How did you know about the posse?”

“How can I not know about the posse? Dios knows you’ve been thinking about it often enough. Besides, shouldn‘t you be saving your bullets for hunting?”

Taylor fired.

The woman’s skull exploded and she went down. Whatever she had been, she was certainly susceptible to cold lead as much as the next person.

Then he turned. And saw a man in a priest’s outfit blocking his way. He too seemed Spanish. And his clothes, hair and skin were all wet. Almost as if he had been hiding in the w--

He hastily aimed his revolver but the pseudo-priest just knocked it out of his hand as easily as it had been candy.

“You shouldn’t have done that to my wife, señor. It was not very polite.”

Taylor reached for the Bowie knife in his boot, only to find the stranger clutching his two hands and dragging him out into the sunlight.

Behind him, from the direction of the altar, he heard a gurgling noise. Almost as if something was trying to revive itself from a severe injury.

But no. That couldn’t be.

As the man dragged Taylor out into the sunlight, he noticed to his horror that he was being dragged toward the well.

“My wife was hiding in the hills when the Spaniards came and trapped me,” said the man. “Had she been stronger, she would have set me free herself. But she wasn’t strong enough…and of course, there was that whole holy water thing. But she got her vengeance upon the Spaniards eventually. And now that you have freed me, I am quite sure that she would have paid you back for that favor -- had you not been so impolite.”

Taylor tried to say something. “Creatures like you... you can’t exist.”

“But we do exist,” said the man. “And for the record, we’ve lived in this area far, far longer than you.” He smiled. “Or the Spaniards.”

He came to the wall and grabbed a length of rope. With one hand he held Taylor down while with the other he tied his hands and feet.

“You can’t be meaning to do what I think you’re meaning to do,” said Taylor. “It wouldn’t be civilized.”

“You did say much earlier that the barbarians always win,” said the man. “Just think of this as yet another inevitable victory.”

He tied the other length of rope to Taylor’s feet and started lowering him into the well. From the direction of the church, Taylor thought he heard something heavy bump against something. Almost as if it was stumbling against a door or something.

“Please,” said Taylor. “You can’t do this.”

The man stopped and looked at him. “And how many of your victims did you spare when they cried for mercy?”

“Well, that was different,” said Taylor. “I couldn’t have let them live. They would have fingered me at the next trial and then they would have hung me.”

The pseudo-priest smiled. “And yet you ended up fleeing to escape a death sentence anyway. You humans and your ludicrous morality.”

He dropped the rope and Taylor fell the rest of the way into the well. He should have drowned... but he didn’t. The water was just deep enough to break his fall and shallow enough for him to stand up and keep his mouth out of the water. Now if he could only find a way to cut the rope and then climb up.

The pseudo-priest looked down at him again and smiled. “Lucky for you that my wife and I aren’t hungry yet. But I suspect that we both will be... later on.”

He put the lid back on the well and left Taylor in darkness.

Too late Taylor reached his Bowie knife but the way his limbs were tied, he couldn’t quite reach it. If he could get out of here in time, he’d make them two sorry they had ever treated him like this.

Perhaps if he could reach a jagged rock or broken brick.

Then he heard the sound of metal moving. Someone was removing the well lid.

The posse, perhaps? Or some kindly passerby?

Instead, he just saw the man again and the thing he called his spouse. In one hand he was holding Taylor’s revolver.

The man grinned. “My dear wife just reminded me that you had left this behind up here and that it would not be very polite of us to keep it. Indeed, one might say that it would not be civilized. And you so much wanted me to be civilized when we had spoken before.”

Taylor shrugged. Perhaps his luck was changing.

If the two were dumb enough to give him back his gun while the two were still within shooting range...

The gun fired. Just one time.

Afterwards, the pseudo-priest tossed the now-empty gun into the well and replaced the lid.

But Taylor didn’t even try to grab for it.

He wasn’t ever likely to grab for anything ever again. And he did not even feel it when his body fell over and the brackish water started entering his mouth.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Cuento de Mi Id

“Werewives of London”

I was awakened by my wife one night when there was a full moon. I felt her move against me as she got up and I opened my eyes in time to see her walking out the bedroom door.

I followed her as she sleepwalked through the house and the backyard. I saw her walk down to the old pond and then strip off her lily-white nightgown. By the time I caught up with her, she had already dived into the pond and little pieces of feminine underwear were scattered about the mud like pieces of a torn snakeskin.

I waited for her to rise out of the water. But the only thing that came out was a naked man who emerged on the opposite side of the pond and then disappeared into the woods beyond.

That was three days ago.

I'm still waiting for my wife.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Cuento de Mi Id

“Bloodwaters”

It was a hot summer day and the sky was raining blood. Lots of it. A regular gullywasher. I ran inside as soon as it started and stared defiantly at the dark clouds from the safety of my bedroom window. But the blood did not cease falling.

In panic, I watched as the rain continued on and on, creating puddles out of dry patches and ponds out of puddles. The storm drains were regurgitating their unabsorbed contents into the city streets, transforming them into crimson canals... The front lawn became a scarlet lake and as the rising fluid began to pour over the curbs, I suddenly thought about Mom and Dad and how they were supposed to be coming home from work soon.

I ran for the kitchen phone and dialed my Dad’s work number. A busy signal answered so I tried Mom. Halfway through dialing, the phone went dead. So did the lights.

I ran out to the living room to examine the neighbors’ lights, but their houses were just as dark as mine. A part of me wondered idly about the conductibility of plasma and then I remembered the flood outside and how close it had been to my house.

By then, the red rain had reached the front hall. I had never seen rain flow uphill before but then this was not normal rain. I tried pushing it away with a mop but that only seemed to encourage it. So I ran.

I ran to my sanctuary of sanctuaries -- my bedroom. I huddled there on the bed in a panic. I thought idly of climbing out the window and escaping through the back yard but one glance outside showed me that the blood was just as deep out there as it was up front. So, like a dummy, I just sat there and prayed that God would make it go away. But He didn’t.

By then, the rain had begun to seep into my bedroom from beneath the door. I watched in horror as it darkened the nice clean white carpet and in desperation, I took my shoes off and climbed upon the bed, hoping upon hope that I had chosen the highest point in the room. The rain continued to flow in. The carpet by then was saturated with pink fluid and had begun to resemble a small pond. I thought about making a break for it across the squishy carpet but somehow the thought of touching it with my bare feet just seemed too much.

Then the bloodwaters rose higher and the room was covered with rich, flowing blood. I looked around in vain for a dry spot, certain now that I must escape that room or drown. But there was no place to go that was not already shin-deep in blood.

Eventually the fluid reached as high as the top of the bed. I drew back, climbing upon the pillows as if their combined height would save me from the rising tide.

By now it was so high that it was breaking out the window in my bedroom. Some of the fluid flowed out but much more flowed in. So I climbed atop my headboard and made a grab for the overhead light.

My fingers slipped. I lost my balance and fell. The plasma poured over me as I fell into it and when I tried to scream, it filled my mouth.

What will my parents think, I thought as I lost consciousness. What will my parents thin --

*************************************************************************************************************

At that point, the alarm clock rang. I awoke and noticed that there was no blood in my room. The window was still intact and there was no blood anywhere on my person.

I smiled, got up and went across the hall to the children’s bathroom to pee.

The door was open. Something inside smelled. One of my sisters had left her clothes all over the floor and it smelled as if she had forgotten to drain the bathtub after her morning shower.

I smelled something too. Like blood. And pee. And some other odors I wasn’t sure I wanted to identify.

I remembered my dream and shook my head. That had been just my imagination.

Perhaps my older sister Lupe was playing a trick on me -- though how she could have possibly known about my dream, I did not stop to ponder. Instead I turned and opened the shower curtain on the bathtub.

Someone had indeed forgotten to drain the bathtub and it didn’t just hold water. Instead it held Lupe’s naked body, her bloody wrists still staining the water a color that resembled the fluid I had seen in my dreams.

At that point, I opened my mouth to scream. But then I slipped and fell into the bathtub, at which point my sister’s blood started to pour into my mouth.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Cuento de Mi Id

“The Second Time”

“I’m sorry to do this,” I said, “but the moment can’t be put off any longer.”

The old man looked at me from the depths of his cell. “They asked for me?”

“No, but the State can’t be put off any longer. I have orders to carry out the sentence immediately and -- well -- orders are orders.”

I unlocked the cell door and led the old man out. He went along slowly but uncomplainingly. As we got to the courtyard, he looked around in puzzlement.

“Last time there was a crowd,” he said. “A big crowd.”

“My superiors want you to be executed in private,” I said. “They do not want another martyr to the cause.”

“In that case,” he said, “you should let me go.”

“I’m sorry. I can not. You’re much too dangerous for us to keep alive.”

“Too dangerous, huh?” The old man smiled.

“Of course. The world is very unstable nowadays. All it needs is one more fanatic to send it over the edge and plunge it into World War III. We can’t have that.”

“Have you no tolerance for a man with strong beliefs?”

“Sure, if he keeps them to himself. But when he starts gathering crowds around him and trying to convert others to his viewpoint... he’s a troublemaker.”

“Your world doesn’t seem to have much room for strong personalities.”

“Of course it does. We just can’t afford chaos.”

“I see,” said the old man. “And a man like me... would start chaos.”

“Of course.”

“You don’t really believe that.”

“I believe what I’m told to believe.”

“Then I pity you.”

Something about the old man got to me. If I were in his place, I would be scared to death, but the old man did not flinch an eyelash. I knew he must be trembling inside at the thought of his imminent death, yet he did not show it. Perhaps he was gripped by self-doubt about the validity of the cause he espoused and he didn’t want to show it. Yes, that was it.

If so, he didn’t say so. He just stood there silently, daring me to speak.

Finally he spoke. “All the healings I did... I suppose they don’t mean anything?”

“There was no reliable witnesses to any of them, “ I said. “Therefore, there were no healings.”

“What about the patients?”

“Either con-men or fools. In either case, hardly very convincing.”

“What about the dead man I resurrected?”

“Another phony miracle. And just as well, considering the population explosion.”

“You’re quite cynical for a young man. Surely you believe such things can happen.”

“I would not know. I have never seen them happen.”

The old man sighed. “Your world sounds like a sad one, Sergeant. Surely you must believe in something.”

“Sure, I do,” I said. “I believe in God.”

The old man laughed.

I glared at him. “Did I say something funny, old man?”

The old man fell silent.

“If I did, I wish you’d say so,” I said, “so that an old soldier like me can get in on the joke.”

The old man sighed.

“You wouldn’t understand,” he said.

He walked brusquely towards the end of the courtyard and turned towards me.

“Finish it,” he said.

I frowned. Something about the old man made me uneasy. He was not acting the way I had expected him to act.

Moreover, there was an air of familiarity about him -- as if he reminded me of an old family friend or a favorite uncle. Impossible, I thought. None of my family or friends would be caught dead associating with the type of scum the old man has associated with. Yet he talked to me as if he had known me all my life. As if I had known him long before he had been assigned to my prison.

Perhaps he was a fanatic, I thought. That would explain his reaction. In his mind, he was dying for his cause. Never mind if it was the right one. At least in his mind, he was doing something for the sake of whatever it was he believed in.

As for the air of familiarity, that could be explained too. People like him thrived on making converts wherever they went. No matter how unlikely the place or how unlikely the convert. And how better to make such converts than to feign friendship in even the most hostile environment.

I smiled when I realized this. Seen in that light, the old man no longer seemed so impressive.

“Turn around and face the wall,” I said.

He did so.

A couple of shots from my revolver and it was done.

Good, I thought, as I summoned some guards for burial detail. The old man was finished. One more would-be revolutionary had bitten the dust.

I started to turn around, then remembered to cross myself. As my fingers brushed across my crucifix, I suddenly seized it and brought it before my face.

It was at that moment that I finally realized where I had seen the old man’s face before.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Cuento de Mi Id

“The Last Day of Summer”

It was the last day of summer, and there was no one else on the beach.

Normally the beach would be quite crowded this time of year but now for some reason, it was empty. Quite empty.

Must be all the stuff that happened in Matamoros that did it, Callie thought. Stuff like that usually scares away the tourists; in fact, it always does.

But not her. She had waited too long for this break, this vacation. Waited too long for this week which was now drawing to a far too rapid end.

She had waited too long for a lot of things. Perhaps that was why she finally decided to kick off her flip-flops, strip off her bikini and plunge into the warm waters of the Gulf.

Not that it mattered. There was no one around to see. No one around for miles. And her friends back at the beach house had their own dates -- and undoubtedly they were already doing things with them that were far more daring.

But Callie did not feel sorry for herself. No, Callie was too good a person to do that. Better to hold it in. To swallow it down. To pretend it did not exist.

She did not need a date. She never did. She never will. She probably would not know what to do with a man even if she did meet one.

But she did know how to swim. She took lessons at the Y. And no matter how depressed she felt tonight, there was no way she was going to emulate that Crissie girl in the Benchley novel. She was much smarter than that.

Just swim to the buoy and back, she thought. Simple. In fact, she could do it dog-paddling. And no one on the shore could see her. No one at all.

There.

She touched it.

Now swim back, she thought.

Quick.

Before the sharks come.

Not that they will come, of course. You don't find many man-eaters in the Gulf. But then there is always a first time.

So Callie closed her eyes to protect them from the salt. And she swam back to the beach, stopping every so often to check for triangular fins.

But there were none.

Told ya, she thought.

Sharks are the world's oldest movie cliché, anyway. Stuff like that doesn't happen to people like Callie in real life. It just doesn't.

But it could.

Good thing she's not having her period.

They are attracted by blood, you know.

But the deed was done. She was through. She was finished.

She stood up and walked out of the water, feeling more than a little brazen.

Imagine me, she thought. Callie Martin, an actual skinnydipper.

She smiled and then glanced toward her clothes.

Only to notice that they weren't there.

But they were just there a few minutes ago, she thought. I know. I saw them.

Then where did they go?

Instinctively, she covered herself. Wrapped her arms around her torso as much as for warmth as for modesty.

The night wind was feeling quite chilly upon her backside and Callie was already beginning to regret her impulsive midnight swim.

Where are my clothes? she thought. Where are they?

She thought of what her friends back at the beach house would say if they saw her now. The inferences they would make and the assumptions that would not be true.

She thought about her parents and her grandparents and the kids back in high school. Kids she'd never thought she'd see again after graduation but who were bound to come into her life again once the scandal hit.

Then Callie saw a young Mexican girl up upon the dunes. She was wearing a red bikini. Her red bikini. Callie knew that much by instinct.

The girl was not facing her, choosing instead to concentrate on a pair of flip-flops she was putting on. Her flip-flops! They had to be.

In spite of her nakedness, Callie ran up to the girl and grabbed her arm.

"Those are my things!" she started to yell. But then the words died in her throat.

The face that looked back at her had once been pretty -- but no more. It was much battered and scarred. Nor did the scars stop at the girl's face. They ran all down her body as if they were seams -- invisible from a distance, of course, but all too visible up close.

If that were the worst of it, Callie might have continued. But she had already felt the girl's arm. Felt the girl's leathery arm. And she also smelled the aroma of something oozing up from the girl's body.

Then the girl grinned. Not a gold-toothed grin but it was quite obvious to Callie that the teeth did not match up with the girl's lips. Nor did the knife which the girl produced from within her bikini bottom's waistband.

Callie screamed but the girl just laughed. A harsh, masculine laugh that could not have come from such a girl under normal circumstances.

Then Callie ran. Not toward the beach house. But toward the sea.

She reached the surf before the Mexican girl did. She dived into it without a moment's hesitation and surfaced only after she had passed the shallow area. Then she swam out toward the buoy.

Only then did she turn around.

Only then did she notice that the Mexican girl was not following her into the sea. In fact, she was quite content to wait for Callie upon the shore with the knife still in her hand.

Callie let go of the buoy and dived into the sea. When she surfaced again, the girl was still waiting for her on the beach. Her arms were crossed this time, but she was still waiting. And as the girl started to sit down upon the sand, Callie suddenly realized that the girl could very well wait there all night.

That's okay, she thought.

I'll just wait her out.

I can swim. I can tread water. But apparently she can't do any of that or else she'd be out here already.

Good thing for me.

Now I just have to wait for dawn to arrive.

As soon as people start showing up on the beach, she'll have to move. Granted, the results might be a little embarrassing for me, but better that than whatever thing that girl had in mind.

Besides, she thought, I'm a lot warmer here in the ocean than I would be on the beach.

So warm, in fact, that Callie never really felt the onset of her period until the first drops of blood hit the water.

And a black triangle started zigzagging its way through the ocean behind her.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Cuento de Mi Id

“Overheard at the Door of a Cottage on the Shore of a Dark Scottish Lake”

For the last time, Beastie, Tokyo is thataway. I don't care what your GPS told you.