Archive for September, 2014

The Burning Ember Mission of Helldorado

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on September 23, 2014 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Although some might have it that Helldorado is just another name for Tombstone, Arizona, it is an actual place somewhere near Sedona. In fact, it is sort of the anti-Sedona, in the sense that it has a dark vortex, which acts as a Hellmouth that spews darkness and doom into the desert. Invisible to regular folk, the sensitives say you can feel its black aura as an unsettling vibe when you’re nearby, beginning with a migraine headache, dizziness, horripilation of the flesh, then a roiling in one’s gut, turning to nausea. Although the climate tends to a few degrees cooler than in the Valley, one must recall that, traditionally, not all of Hell is on fire.

You won’t find it on a map, nor would you find it driving unless you have business there, intentional or otherwise. It is a magnet for people of evil intent and is host to an array of unsavory characters ranging from small-time hoods to psychotic killers and dark mages. This is truly a town where people dread sundown.

Not all of the inhabitants of Helldorado are evil though, and there are families and businesses which go on about their daily affairs like in most towns; only, come nightfall, all of the good folk go to their homes and bar their doors against the things that come down from the mountains with the coyotes and mountain lions and prowl the shadows of night looking for sustenance and souls. A town like this, as one can imagine, holds many stories, and if its buff adobe walls could speak, it would speak of horror and maleficia believed to have existed in the long ago past, if at all.

One such story is the tale of Adrian Schwarzenberg and the Burning Ember Mission. Adrian is a tall thin Dutchman with straw colored hair that was fading to gray. He is handsome in a professorial way, and dresses just a little young for his middle age. He speaks perfect English, albeit with a slight accent, and in casual conversation is prone to slip into a mixture of American and British idioms. He is polite, but cool, and generally keeps to himself, but goes out and about enough (usually to the local watering hole, Cantina La Catrina, to hit on young debutantes) so that townsfolk know who he is  and to avoid engaging  him at all cost when they come across his path. He lives in a refurbished mission, which had once been the subject of much local lore. Apparently, it was built by a group of rogue Jesuit monks whom had separated from Padre Eusebio Kino, who was responsible for setting up missions throughout what was then known as Pimería Alta back in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, and is now part of Southern Arizona in the United States as well as part of Sonora, Mexico. Drawn to the dark vortex, they set up camp in the area and in the centuries since, the town of Helldorado grew around it. As an affront to Kino and his Jesuit Order, the monks loosely modeled their unholy mission after the San Xavier del Bac mission in Tucson, Arizona, also known as “The White Dove of the Desert”, but only superficially, and on a much smaller scale; basically they reproduced the structure of the  chapel and added an underground catacomb for their library of black grimoires, and of course, quarters for the defrocked missionaries. Although they never had the resources to completely reproduce the lavishness of the Tucson Mission,  they made sure that wherever there is a religious figure or symbol in a relief on the facade of the original building, there is a gargoyle or blasphemous scene in the corresponding place on their mission. Crucifixes were turned on their heads, and nightmarish murals of Dantean diabolism covered its chapel walls where satanic black masses were held in a mockery of christian ritual. Since they employed the earth from the local Red Rocks area in the fashioning of their mud bricks, the adobe structure bore a reddish hue, which made it look like a glowing coal thrown up from the Hellmouth, giving it its name. At a distance, it blended in with the nearby geography, providing a small degree of obscurity. The satanic priests managed to dazzle a few natives from the Papago tribe (a name given to them by the Spanish, they are now recognized as the Tohono O’odham Nation) with their bacchanals and black masses, which were so diametrically different from the subdued rituals of their own people, and so secured their servitude with promises of unearthly pleasures and forbidden knowledge.

Although they practiced their blasphemy unchallenged in relative obscurity and impunity for over a century, they were finally shut down in 1820 in a final gasp of the Spanish Inquisition before the region was relinquished to the Mexicans the following year. The monks somehow contrived to protract their lifespans an unnaturally long time yet without showing a day of wear on their wicked brows, since their exile from the Society of Jesus, so when the Devil finally came to claim their souls, they still bore the fresh faces of the impetuous youths they had been when they first pledged him their troth…and their souls.

Their collection of grimoires and forbidden tomes was never found by the Inquisition; apparently they took inspiration from the off-shoot of the razed Library of Alexandria at the Serapeum and hid their black library underground making it a truly occult library. Despite the onslaught of the enforcers of the Holy Office, much of the mission’s structure remained intact save for a few bullet holes and a cracked window or two, though the murals were white-washed to blot their blasphemy. The inhabitants, however, did not fair as well, for the ones who weren’t killed in the initial skirmish were dragged out into the courtyard where they were tried and burned in an auto-da-fé. Once the deed was done, the Holy Inquisition left the area and the structure to be repaired and maintained by the one or two acolytes that had survived by hiding in the mission churchyard. After the dust had settled, they emerged to salvage what they could, but were wary of what might still be lurking the halls of the mission after sunset, so they built their own makeshift quarters out of earth, ocotillo branches, and saguaro ribs, where they drank cactus wine and tried to ignore the faint but grim chanting issuing from the chapel and the sound of muted voices  and shuffling footsteps outside their door which seeped in through the cracks of the structure during the night, as they waited for dawn. Despite their apparent misgivings, they kept the grounds and guarded the graves of their mentors, but lacked the swart conviction of their masters for continuing their blasphemies.

In the latter part of the 19th century, the Anglo-American settlers began to flood in bringing with them a new breed of “christian soldiers”, who laid siege to the mission and its remaining inhabitants were run out of town, after which the mission fell into disrepair and neglect under the indifferent care of the local government. Even so, the black vortex held sway in the end and the second attempt to topple this beacon of darkness in the desert was quelled.

Enter Adrian Schwarzenberg, who came to the mission as a sort of black pilgrimage in the early oughts of the 21st century, and was so taken with the mission and the isolation of the area, that he purchased it and restored the mission to its original satanic glory. He converted the monk’s quarters into his home and added modern amenities; he had the stained glass windows repaired, the murals restored, and the termite-ridden balconies replaced with Makassar Ebony from Indonesia, which he made a special trip to purchase. While traveling within the Indonesian archipelago, he procured a pet, which he called Magistellus: an Ayam Cemani rooster, a local fowl which is entirely black in its appearance from its coxcomb to its feet; even its flesh is black, only its blood is said to be of a dark red hue. Because of its rarity, it is rarely seen outdoors, even behind he high red walls of his mission home, although once in a while it can be heard to crow at odd hours of the day and night.

Although he has not been officially employed by any specific entity for several decades, Schwarzenberg has somehow managed to accumulate much wealth over the years which he keeps in Swiss accounts. Despite his wealth, however, he dresses poorly and always in black, usually in mismatched shades of the color; he takes his meals at the local eateries, where he always pays in traveler’s cheques, and generally shows no other outward sign of his affluence, aside from his elaborate home, his black 1961 Jaguar  E-Type sports car and his regular trips to far flung places of the world for his “research”.

I say “research”, quote unquote, because everyone knows that he abandoned his profession of religious anthropologist years ago and it is said that Schwarzenberg is now into some dark magic which he’d latched onto as a young man during his travels in the UK to study the origins of the mid-twentieth century resurgence of interest in the old religions and the practice of witchcraft following the 1951 repeal of the British Parliament’s Witchcraft Act of 1736. It is rumored that he studied the black arts at a fabled satanic school in the Transylvanian region of Romania, and at one point had ties to a particular university of metaphysics somewhere in New England until they banned him from the grounds for inappropriate use of materials from the rare book room at the campus’ extensive occult library.

Not long after settling in Helldorado, he seemed to fall under the spell of a Mexican-American shaman, named Diego, a thin, short but impishly handsome fellow replete with an aigrette of coarse, pomade-slickened black hair, which he combed away from his narrow forehead like a cresting wave so as not to obstruct his lively brown eyes and broad, friendly smile with which he used to charm his marks. Diego claimed to be a nahual or shapeshifter, among other things, which Adrian had a marked interest in learning about. The two became unlikely but fast friends and Diego soon took up residence in Schwarzenberg’s house for the better part of a year. At first folks in town thought the shaman, who was notorious for hoodwinking starry-eyed New Age tourists in Sedona into giving him wads of cash to teach them the secrets of the indigenous tribes of the Southwest à la Carlos Castañeda, had taken advantage of Schwarzenberg, until Diego started showing up at the local watering hole, Cantina La Catrina, red eyed and disheveled to get tanked and shoot off his mouth about Schwarrzenberg’s unsavory proclivities and his collection of black grimoires. Apparently, one night, as he sat  pegando palos and blabbing, his shot glass exploded just inches away from his twiggy brown fingers as they reached for another swig.

Startled, the man turned round sharply, his handsome, burnt umber features distorting into a mask of dread, and yelped when he saw Schawrzenberg emerge from the shadows in the back of the room. He spun round on his stool and leapt off at a sprint into the night, but Adrian just walked slowly toward the bar, smiling like a house cat that just swallowed the family canary, casually sauntering out of the cantina door in the direction of his lair. That was the last most folks saw of Diego for some time.

Not long after, Schwarzenberg fell afoul of a small-time dope dealer named Mirruño (an ironic nickname which is a play on the Spanish word, mirruña, which means “tiny”, the diametrical opposite of the hulk that he was), when he shamelessly propositioned his moll, Orfalinda, a brown skinned, black-eyed beauty with thick black hair and curves more treacherous than a winding mountain road. It is rumored he also left a jar underneath  Mirruño’s RV which contained unsavory charms intended to bring discord to their intimacy.  Mirruño was a jealous type and did not appreciate the insult to his hyna or the bad mojo, so he paid Adrian a visit with a few of his vatos. When  no one answered the door, they trashed the man’s vintage car, which had been left parked outside with a car cover to protect it from the sun’s blanching rays, but found that no matter how they tried, they could not gain entrance into the chapel nor the house proper.

Expecting retaliation, and spoiling for a fight,  Mirruño put out the word that if that joto holandés had any real cojones he would face him directly, como un hombre verdadero, and “take what’s coming to him instead of hiding in his house behind locked doors like a chicken shit”. In his further harangues, of which there were many, he would frequently revert to the chicken  analogy in his references to the Dutchman, but Schwarzenberg never responded and was not to be seen in town for many months afterward.

Eventually, he let it go and word spread around that Schwarzenberg had skipped town to avoid a drubbing from the drug dealer and his band of scary men and thus was labeled a poltroon and derided as a “chicken”–again.

One evening, as  Mirruño and his vatos were swilling bottles of cerveza and trading tall tales of their exploits, Diego, whom no one had seen in town for several months, strolled into Cantina La Catrina and sat down at the bar for his customary tequila shots. There was, however, something different about his carriage; he was a changed man. He was quieter, sullen and haggard looking. Gone was the exuberance and charm he once exuded. His dark brown eyes stared out from his now crow-footed eye lids like dark amber orbs with inclusions of death’s-heads that cast a pall over everything they rested their bloodshot, azoic gaze upon.

He sat, solemnly, in his usual white attire and kerchief, looking almost like the comedian Cantinflas, but without his customary smile, and drank his shots in silence. Not believing his eyes,  Mirruño slowly rose from his bar-stool and approached Diego, looked him over with protuberant eyes, fit to burst with pique, then nodding his head sharply, tapped Diego on the shoulder with enough force to spill his drink, but Diego turned, unphased, and just smiled.  Mirruño sneered at the trickster, “Oye chavalo, donde esta el bolillo con quien andavas? Where is that white-bread you used to hang out with?”

Diego replied calmly, “Ba’al Schwarzenberg is still out of town on business, but he will be back soon enough.”

“Bahl? Boludo more like it!”  Mirruño retorted.

Diego replied in a calm and cautious tone, as if speaking to a child who doesn’t know well enough to let sleeping dogs lie, “Ba’al is an honorific title meaning lord, or master. Because you really have no idea who you are trying to provoke, I will give you this friendly word of warning. I am a fraud, I think you all know that by now;” and here he cast a brief glance at  Mirruño’s crew who sat expectantly at their table, hands by their respective sides. “I can say that with no amount of guilt because I have already paid for my sins tenfold. Once he sussed me out as a phony Ba’al Schwarzenberg blackmailed me into being his footman, his servant, if you will, or else he would expose me as a fraud and ruin my reputation and my livelihood. It was then that I was conscripted into his dark ranks. Since I couldn’t really teach him the shape-shifting ways of a nahual, he found out what he needed to know on his own using the black books in his library. After your last visit to the house, we spent many months traveling around the world.  He has taken me to places I had never dreamed of seeing and shown me things I may never dream again without seeing. If I may say so my friend, I think it best to lay low and be glad that the devil has his focus on other things for now instead of you.”

Me vale madres what you think chavalo! You tell that viejo verde that I am going to make him wish he never even laid his squinty pervert eyes on my Orfalinda next time we meet!” Seething with his machismo, he snatched Diego’s freshly refilled drink from his hand and swallowed it in a loud gulp before slamming the empty glass on the bar counter. Looking at the resigning man, he winked, took a few quick breaths, passed his large olive-skinned hand over his bald head then turned to shoot a sharp glance at his men who all stood to attention, and with a firm nod from their boss, followed him out of the cantina.

A week had passed since the cantina confrontation when a renovated Jaguar S3 was seen to crawl up the winding driveway leading to Schwarzenberg’s lair in the small hours of the night with its headlights turned off. Mirruño, however, had men watching the house, so he was soon apprised of what appeared to be Schwarzenberg’s much anticipated return, though the driver was never actually seen to alight from the car, which had pulled into the garage (a recent add-on), the door of which closed quickly behind it. Not surprisingly, the Dutchman failed to make any confirmatory public appearance at anytime thereafter.

Then the nightmares came. Orfalinda began to have pesadillas, nightmares, about a gallo infernal that would strut about the foot of her bed; a big black rooster, the size of a human child, clawing at the carpeted floor, with its left wing stretched downward, walking widdershins while a paralyzing dark cloud pressed upon her chest and distant voices droned a darksome chant. These went on for almost a fortnight when the dream became an horrific reality.

On the thirteenth night of her torment, Orfalinda was awakened by an unearthly shrill rooster crow. Confused, she turned her groggy head to see the time on her digital clock read 13:00 o’clock. Not registering the hour but sensing somewhere in her sleep-addled brain that something was off, she felt a surge of gooseflesh ripple across her perfect brown skin as she heard the sinister chanting from her dreams with her conscious ears. Hesitantly she looked to the foot of her bed and saw the black rooster, blacker than the shadows of the light-less room, oppressing her with its black onyx gaze as it grew in height and girth, like an inflating balloon figure, until it popped with a burst of static electricity into a cloud of black dust particles which hovered in the air, swirling over her prostrate form.

Panicking, Orfalinda turned to rouse Mirruño, calling him by his real name, Marcelo, but no matter how much she shook, prodded, punched, or screamed at her bedfellow, he would not respond.  Gradually, she found that her limbs were becoming numb and weighty, and soon she was paralyzed as the swirling mass above her transmogrified into an icy black brume that engulfed her in its sooty tendrils and, somehow, this intangible entity commenced to assault her physically as she tried to scream through her frozen throat.

In confirmation of her harrowing ordeal, Orfalinda awoke to find her person covered in the tell-tale signs of the brutal and involuntary coition. Mirruño, awakened by the sobs of his ladylove was beside himself. Trying very hard to contain his anger and horror, he did his best to calm Orfalinda down enough to hear her tale of the previous night’s visit from the gallinaceous incubus.

Because of her questionable status as a citizen, Orfalinda could not retain a regular doctor, so she went to the Helldorado Free Clinic, where she could get some basic care with few questions asked. In the waiting room she kept having flashbacks of her hellish night every time the lids of her sleep-deprived eyes endeavored to close and afford her some respite. Although she spoke little English, there was a translator on hand who accompanied her into the examination room once she was called upon to be seen by a volunteer medical student. The young woman quickly surmised that her patient had been the victim of a sexual assault and bid the translator to ask if Orfalinda wanted to speak to someone about reporting what had happened to her, but she just began to hyperventilate as her tear ducts sprung a hot salty stream down her caramel colored cheeks.

“It’s okay honey, we’re here to help you. Did you know your assailant–was it your boyfriend whose sitting in the waiting room?”

“No, no!” shouted Orfalinda, “No fue Marcelo, fue un gallo infernal–un demonio!

“She is delusional,” said the translator, in a cold flat tone, “she thinks she was attacked by some demon chicken or something. Whoever it was that did this to her, she is totally in denial about it.”

“Well, there’s not much else we can do for her after the rape kit is done, unless she is willing to cooperate.”

When she left the clinic, the young doctor gave Orfalinda her card as well as the card of an advocate in case she changed her mind about reporting the assault.

A week later, Orfalinda contacted the young doctor, screaming half in Spanish and in broken English that she was carrying the devil’s child and needed an abortion. After several tests it was determined that somehow she was indeed in an advanced state of pregnancy but although they could see something was there in an ultrasound image, something malshapened and non-human, they could not access nor breach her pudenda. Over the next few weeks, as her abdomen grew, so her sanity slipped until one evening, long after the particular events of this tale wrapped up, she simultaneously “gave light” as she went to the light in the infirmary at the local insane asylum. The chimeric cherub that clawed and slithered its way from her womb caused the on-site doctor to drop dead on sight before it mauled a nurse with its claws and flew through a window into the desert night.

But I am getting ahead of the story here…Anyway, after the initial hospital visits,  Mirruño was on the war path. He told his man Chuy to let him know as soon as there was any sign of anyone leaving the enchanted mission. Chuy sent an enthusiastic young thug named Javi to keep an eye on the place and to take pictures of the layout for an imminent assault on the mission. When he did not check in the next day Chuy sent Alejo, one of  Mirruño bodyguards, to the lookout post just outside the mission walls where Javi’s body was found in the driver’s seat of a parked (not-so-inconspicuous) Chevy Impala convertible, top up, with his eyes gouged out. In the passenger seat to his right was a camera with a cracked long-range lens that look like it had been crunched like a discarded tin soda can. Needless to say, the memory card had been extracted. Not eager to lose anymore men, Chuy arranged to have a small (very expensive) drone sent out to scout the area periodically. The following evening,  Mirruño got his wish when Diego was seen to leave the mission and go to the Cafe La Calaca, an adjunct to Cantina La Catrina, which serves coffee,  pastries and a Mexican lunch menu.

When  Mirruño arrived Diego looked  hungover, hovering over a bowl of pozole and desperately grasping a tall glass of Agua Fresca de Jamaica. Slowly inhaling in the aroma of the spicy broth, while looking at an indoor mural reproduction of the Posada print bearing the image of establishment’s namesake, he mused over how the cooked hominy kernels looked like little skulls floating in a cauldron of sacrificial flesh much like the ritual stew of his ancestors in pre-Columbian times and wondered whether the stewed flesh of his enemies would taste anything like the pork chunks in his bowl.

As if on cue, Mirruño burst into the cafe like a bull barreling down on a red flag, but Chuy grabbed his boss’ arm before he did something he would later regret.

“Where is he? Where is that hijo de puta Schwarzenberg? Tell me now so I can go kill him, or else I kill you first!”

Turning to look at the brute who towered over his table, Diego raised his hand in a halting manor and calmly replied, “Cuidado amigo, we are in a public place, where open threats like that can land a man in a cot at the Helldorado hoosgow. What has gotten you so upset this time?”

“I’ll tell you what, that ruco sent some devil chicken to my house and it made my girlfriend pregnant!”

“Wait…what? A devil chicken? So does that make you a cluck-old now?” barely able to contain his amusement at his joke, Diego let slip a smirk and a snicker which set  Mirruño off. The larger man grabbed the trickster by his shirt collar and landed a punch on his mouth which knocked him to the ground.

“You think you’re funny chavolo? We’ll see if your tongue still says funny things when your wearing it as a necktie!”

Oye, ustedes dos no se pueden pelear aqui”-shouted the woman behind the counter-“take your fight outside!”

Mirruño, either not hearing or caring what the proprietor of the cafe said, reared for a second blow, but Diego put out his hand and shouted.

“Wait, wait! You said you think a chicken is responsible for your girlfriend’s attack? Okay, let’s say that were possible. Ba’al Schwarzenberg does have a black chicken that he keeps as a pet, which he picked up during his trip to Indonesia to buy some special wood for the mission renovations. Let’s say I can get you access to this bird, what would you do then?”

“What would I do? I’d kill it and make pollo frito with it and make that smug bastard eat it before I killed him!”

“I have a better idea amigo mio, what if we kidnap the bird? I’ve read some of the old books in Schwarzenberg’s private library and there was one that spoke of a black chicken that could literally lay golden eggs!”

“Golden eggs? No mames güey, that’s a fairytale; what, you think I’m some kind of pendejo or something?”

Here Diego smiled, even through split lips and blood-stained teeth, the charming smile that warmed the hearts and opened the purse strings of lonely dowagers, as well as the legs of pretty ingénues, appeared on his boyish face and as he rose from the floor beside his table, with the confidence of a grifter, he threw his left arm around the broad shoulders of his attacker, which quickly tensed up, but Diego ignored this and spoke softly in a conspiratorial fashion.

“Quite the opposite, Señor Mirruño, I see you are a smart man who knows a good thing when he hears it. I am tired of being under the yoke of this güero and would like to teach him a lesson too, but I would also like to get something to make up for all of the time I’ve lost being under his thumb, and this golden egg could be just the pay off we both want, and the best time to get the brujo by surprise is when he is practicing his devotions…at dusk.”

 

Mirruño and his men parked their cars at the bottom of the pathway leading up to the lair of the sorcerer, then proceeded to walk up the winding trail until the mission-house came into view as a silhouette against the darkening sky. The Moon was just materializing in the gloaming, giving it a foreboding aspect, but these men were fueled with self-righteous anger and adrenaline and would not be deterred from their bloody purpose. The plan was to go into the house and dispose of Schwarzenberg in the most prejudicial manner they could muster, then steel his golden egg.

So as not to be conspicuous, they walked off of the path, through the teddy-bear cholla, with their prickly “jumping” spurs that catch in one’s clothes when brushed against. This resulted in a few muffled oaths from the men who had foolishly stormed through the brush without being mindful of the flora, but for the most part they reached the house without incident, save for a growing nausea with seeped into the core of their stomachs when they first stepped upon the trail and worsened the further they delved into the compound. Approaching the side gate, they found it unlocked and cautiously slipped in under the cover of the gloam, staying close to the walls. As the encroaching shadows of the twilight hour engulfed the purposeful party, the vesperal lull was shattered by an unearthly cockcrow, which gave the men a momentary pause to stare into one-another’s faces.

Mirruño’s man Chuy was selected to be the one to nick the golden egg and dispose of Schwarzenberg’s pet…and Diego, once the egg was procured. Breaking from the original raiding party, which stayed behind to enter the chapel, he skulked to the rear of the mission, down a pathway lined on either side with panels depicting a panoply of skeletons, cavorting in a danse macabre, which led to the mortuary chapel. On the side of the chapel, behind a fence of tall, spiny ocatillos were thirteen headstones, one for each of the original founding friars of the mission. Upon every sun blanched headstone was a graven crux-ansata, symbolizing eternal life. The tiny red flowers at the tips of the ocatillo stalks looked like little flames. To his left he was startled by what he initially thought were two people waiting in the shadows. What it turned out to be was a tableau, a life-size diorama, replicating the  initial appearance of Mephistopheles to Faust, apparently another of Schwarzenberg’s renovation add-ons.

Shaking his head and cursing himself under his breath for being spooked so easily, he continued down the thorny path to the red adobe chapel. As he approached the doorway, he was met by a surprisingly chipper Diego.

“Hey bro, you made it!”

“Shush! Keep it down dude, you don’t want to give us away do you?” Chided Chuy.

“Huh? Oh yeah…I mean no, right…right you are!” replied Diego in a conspicuously loud whisper. Then motioning for Chuy to follow, he led him to the chapel door, an ebony portal which curiously bore no metal, only a heavy wooden bolt which was locked. Looming over the entrance from a transom window were a an actual skull and crossbones set onto red stained glass. Diego muttered an unintelligible incantation over the lock, and the bolt shot open. Smiling, he turned and said with a wink to Chuy,

“A handy trick I learned from the Master!”

Once inside, it was so dark Chuy could not see an inch away from his face. The stifling air was a miasma of incense, expired candle smoke and another not quite definable odor, the identification of which Chuy was not too eager to know. His heart began to race a bit with apprehension.

Mercifully, the familiar scraping sound of a match strike was followed by a spark of flame, which although small helped to dispel his growing panic. his eyes followed the little flame as it sought out a flambeau, which consequently erupted into a flurry of warmth and light. Again, he saw that the now illumined face of Diego bore that unsettling smile of his. Was this the same mask he wore for his marks at the Sedona thoroughfare?

Turning to the room, Chuy reactively recoiled when he saw a glass casket containing a recumbent mummified corpse, with a jade amulet about its neck, resting on a catafalque, behind an altar covered with expended colored votive candles; single melted stubs of gold, green, and purple, then several of brown, red and black. In the foreground was a black bowl filled with the charred remains of some offal that Chuy hoped came from an animal. Diego walked to the far corner of the shadowed room and lit a tall candelabra which lit up a shrine that featured an inverted crucifix. with a very nonplussed looking Christ on it. Behind that was a black robed figure of the Santa Muerte, with her hands outstretched, in which she held a globe and a scythe, respectively. About her waist was a knotted cord which bore an hour glass and a small scale. Chuy stared into her eyeless grinning skull-face and felt a chill ripple through his frame.

Trying not to show his fear, Chuy turned to Diego and quipped “You know there have been great advancements in electrical wiring since the time this place was originally built; you guys ever think of putting a few light switches in here? You’d save a bundle on candle sticks and matches.”

“Aha! Good one!” Diego replied, “No…the Master doesn’t wish to interfere with the structure or the vibrations of these ancient edifices. Though there is electricity in the main house.”

“Why do you call him ‘master’?” Chuy sneered, “Are you his slave, or something? Are you his bottom bitch?”

“No, I am not!” Diego snapped back; anger flashed across his brow, but quickly dissipated as he turned to light another candle, which revealed another shrine. This time the celebrated figure was a demon of some sort with the torso of a man, a rooster’s leg and a dragon’s tail. On his shoulders her bore three heads; one of a man, which spat fire, one of a bull and the other a ram. Due to his gallinaceous appendage, he was supported by two crutches.

“What the hell is that?!”

That is “the Devil on Two Sticks”, Asmodeus, one of the Seven Princes of Hell, and the demon of lust and vengeance! He walks with crutches because his foot is all cocked up, though sometimes he rides a lion with dragon wings. ”

“You believe all of this hocus pocus devil crap?” Chuy asked incredulously, but Diego only smiled again and said “Come on, lets go meet Mister Chicken. Oh yeah, and you should take a step back right about now.”

Walking to the inverted crucifix, Diego gingerly pulled on the top (or bottom, depending on one’s point of view) like a beer tap, which triggered a trap door in floor in the center of the room. However, the bouquet of the draft which issued from within was far from palatable.

“You want me to grab the torch?” Chuy asked, with an equal mixture of unease and disdain.

“No, there are some lanterns down there, hanging by the bottom of the stair, which we can light as soon as we descend the steps, using the light from up here to see.”

As Diego went down the long stone staircase into the dark and musty catacomb, Chuy took one last look at the altars and crossed himself before following behind. In the shadows, underneath the main altar near a cooling puddle of candle wax, a bark scorpion cornered a cricket.

Once they touched cold clammy ground, Diego hung his lantern on a hook which dangled from the surprisingly high ceiling, illuminating the cavernous room. Chuy marveled at the length of the room, which must have stretched well beyond the dimensions of the aboveground chapel. It’s high stone walls were covered in ebony bookshelves, over-stacked with crumbling ancient tomes. A tall freshly fashioned ebon ladder leaned toward the shelves, attached to a trellis that spanned the uppermost part of the shelves and, in a corner, was a niche which contained a rack with brittle yellowed scrolls and large folders which looked like portfolios.

The room itself bore little furniture, save for a great ebon desk of intricate design, with what looked like a stylized bird talon at the end of the front left leg; it’s companion to the right was a human foot, and the back legs were normal , albeit intricately carved, table legs. The desktop ended in a beveled trim with what looked like carved scales, and on the front of the desk was carved another likeness of the demon Asmodeus, with his three heads. Behind the desk was an ebon chair, with a plush red satin seat, obviously made by the same artisan. On the desk was a small black book with a red ribbon bookmark keeping place in its pages. Diego sat in the chair, looked at Chuy and nonchalantly pointed his finger in the direction of the bookshelves and said, “At the end of the shelves is a door with a little viewer port about eye-level, in the center. That is where you’ll find the egg; you can go inside, it’s unlocked at present.”

Chuy, hesitant at first, walked down to the end of the bookshelves.  As he passed the books he tried to see if he could recognize individual titles but was not close enough to decipher the faded print on their withered spines. “How do you guys keep these old books from just turning to dust down here?” he asked, more as a distraction than out of real curiosity.

Catching the scent of fear in his words, Diego responded, “Oh, you know, we use some ‘Hints from Heloise’ and a little domestic magic”.

Realizing that Diego was not going to play along, he asked no more questions and just continued walking down the lengthy hall, his footsteps falling echo-less and flat on the stony walls, until he reached the end where he cautiously opened the door to what turned out to be a light-less cell. Peering inside, Chuy called out to Diego, “Dude, I can’t see shit in here, bring me a lantern or something, will you?”

“Sure thing!” responded Diego.

Returning with a lantern in one hand, which he handed to Chuy, and the small black book in the other, he turned to the bookmarked page and made a point of acting as if he was reading something of great interest as he leaned on the jamb in the doorway.

Raising the lantern, Chuy inspected the contents of the cell.

“Man, there ain’t nothing down here but some straw and a big black stone!” Chuy yelled angrily over his shoulder at Diego.

“That’s no stone, that’s the egg.” Diego replied and without lifting his eyes from the page he was reading, he slammed the cell door shut, the bolt of which automatically shot closed at his command. Opening a barred porthole in the middle of the door, Diego continued, “And what an egg it is, eh? Oh we tweaked it a bit; said some chants over it, spilled some blood on it, and, voila, big black scary monster egg! Fascinating stuff this Black Pullet–this is the grimoire I told you of; well, not you specifically, your boss–but you were there! This is the one with the story about the black chicken that lays the golden eggs, but you know, I’m not so sure now that I got it right. You see, in this book it’s a black “pullet”, which is a young hen, that lays the golden egg, but Ba’al Schwarzenberg’s bird, Magistellus, well he’s a rooster. I do know, however, another story about rooster eggs; in English lore it’s said they hatch into a cockatrice, a hybrid dragon of sorts that’s half rooster and half serpent which supposedly can kill a man with its gaze. Do you think that’s what we have here in this egg? Shall we wait and see?”

Then, with a few quick words from Diego, the lantern in Chuy’s hand went dark, as he slammed the porthole door shut. At that moment, unseen in the darkness, the color drained from Chuy’s face and his bladder released a warm rivulet down his trouser leg as he heard the crackling sound of a cornaceous black beak pecking its way through the flat black surface of the over-sized ovum. This would be the last sound he would ever consciously hear.

 

Although spooked a bit by the strange sound they’d heard, Mirruño and his men walked slowly but with dread purpose to the chapel door, as per Diego’s instructions.True to his word, they found it unlocked and walked across the threshold in a single file into this embassy of Hell on Earth. The room was very dark, lit only by a grand candelabra behind the altar, which bore a fleeting resemblance to a menorah, only with six candles in descending order on either side of a larger central candle. Mirruño mused on how it reminded him of a hand offering him “the finger”, and wondered if that pinche chavolo hadn’t played him for a fool after all.

In the dim lighting, which barely filtered in through the stained glass windows, one could just barely make out the some of the diablerie which decorated them as well as the chapel walls. As the gang all awkwardly stood there, taking in their surroundings and debating over their next course of action, their discourse was interrupted by the sound of the mission bell ringing a sad, solemn note which resonated with a clang that reverberated in their bones. Then as the tone of the first toll still hummed in their ears, there came a second note…then a third…there were thirteen in all.

Superstitious at heart, the bells set the men on edge; many began to wonder whether they had made a mistake by trying to fight the sorcerer on his own turf but, in reality, it would not have mattered either way. As the last toll dissipated into the eventide darkness, a dirge-like drone was heard to descend from the shadowed rafters of the room, permeating the chapel with phantasmal voices. Abruptly, as if by a thrown switch, the mural walls sprung to life with a growing luminescence as additional candle wicks sparked to life with flames of their own accord. Illumined in every recess of the chapel walls, lurked a figure of a devil, each with their own name plate. The Seven Princes of Hell they were; Lucifer, Mammon, Asmodeus, Leviathan, Beelzebub, Satan, and Belphegor. In another alcove in a glass cabinet, was a statue made of some dull black substance, which did not reflect the candlelight of the room, rather absorb it, engulfing it in it’s antithetical substance. The figure was that of a sorcerer in a ceremonial gown and conical cap looking much like the traditional wizard of fantasy lore. His hands were open in a receptive stance, by his sides, and the expression on his petrified countenance was one of abject terror and metaphysical ecstasy. The plate at the base of the cabinet read, in Dutch, “A Devotee of Evil“; not that these late-night intruders could tell, of course. The myriad devils painted on the walls around him  seemed almost to be taunting him like in Schongauer’s Saint Anthony.  Revealed as well in the candlelight were the pale spectral countenances of the chorus of revenant monks whose ghastly faces and funereal tones made the gangster’s hearts sink and their resolve dissolve.

Despite their chosen profession, most of these men had been raised Catholic and taught to fear the Devil and his works. Straddling the line between good and evil, mostly leaning towards the latter, they had a difficult relationship with the faith of their childhood. Most saw their criminal transgressions as a means to an end, a sure, albeit risky, way out of the poverty and despair of the poor neighborhoods of their respective upbringings. Perhaps some even saw it as adventuresome and romantic, aspiring to be like caricatures of gangsters from television and the silver screen, but when confronted with genuine Evil, they all quailed.

Gerardo, a tall thin youth, whipped out a butterfly knife from his pocket and began to recite under his breath “Padre nuestro, que estás en el cielo, santificado sea tu Nombre; venga a nosotros tu reino; hágase tu voluntad en la tierra como en el cielo…”

Mirruño ran his hand over his bald pate and swore under his breath, then shouted “What the Hell is wrong with you putos? Are you really all so afraid of a bunch of devil paintings and some ghosts?” Then pointing to his eyes, he shouted to his bodyguard “Alejo–águila ! Eyes open, man!”

Abruptly, the acrid smell of burnt ozone stung their nostrils, causing them to wince and cough, as a black brume rushed past the men and up to the altar, piercing through everyone present like an icy lance leaving them all with a fast-spreading, numbing chill in their torsos. Gathering at the altar, it swirled into a cone, which resembled a tiny tornado, then took on the shape of the black sorcerer, Ba’al Adrian Schwarzenberg.

The stunned gangsters froze, rooted to their places, but Mirruño’s ire was renewed at the sight of his nemesis. Preparing to lunge, however, he found that his limbs would not obey his will, restricting him from acting on his vengeful impulses.

Standing behind the altar, looking a lot younger than he did the last time anyone had seen him in public,  stood the sorcerer, wearing a cloak covered in black feathers, the lining of which was made of black silk  decorated with esoteric symbols embroidered in gold. The clasp that held it in place about his throat was fashioned from the sooty feet of an Ayam Cemani rooster.   Turning back to face the lynch mob before him, he smiled and said “Surprised? I think so, by the looks on all of your faces. Ah, you must be wondering about the cloak: it’s covered in the feathers of the Thai black rooster–you wouldn’t believe how many of those filthy creatures it took to provide enough feathers to cover the entire topside of the garment! It was costly for sure, but what is money to me? What is important, is that it brings me closer to the bird, which I need to do in order to make the transformation you just witnessed, rather like the wolf’s pelt does for a lycanthrope. The magical symbols help the process along. See how they catch the light? They’re so shiny! The lining doesn’t need to be silk of course, that’s a personal touch, as I like the way it feels on my skin. What can I say? I am nothing if not a sensualist, after all!” and here he winked at the stunned men before him and let out an impish chuckle.

“Now, let’s talk business,” he continued, “I know you came to kill me, but it must have been so hard to get “good intel” (as they say nowadays) on my whereabouts when your scouts get their eyes gouged out. However, I believe the real reason you came here was for my prized poultry, my pet rooster. I heard the plan was to take the golden egg and kill the fowl, if you couldn’t find me, to teach me a lesson? Yes, yes, I know all about it, my faithful servant Diego has informed me of your scheme to avenge sweet Orfalinda’s honor.”

“You don’t get to say her name brujo!” shouted Mirruño, straining to free himself from his magical bonds.

“Too late Lancelot. And you’re too late for your revenge plan as well because I killed the bird myself months ago to retrieve his lone egg–they don’t just lay them like hens you know. I of course ate him after he’d served his purpose and, let me tell you, that was the first chicken I ever saw that was ALL dark meat! Besides, no self-respecting sorcerer would ever keep a rooster in his house. Like the witch Latoma, whom Montague Summers quoted to have said that “That bird is the herald of dawn, he arouses men to the worship of God; and many an odious sin which darkness shrouds will be revealed in the light of day.”

“Bullshit! Your magic chicken was haunting my Orfalinda just last week–and then he turned into a cloud and raped her! Diego says you call it Magistellus and that it’s a ‘familiar’ or something.”

“Magistellus; a dark cloud, huh? You mean like the one I just materialized from? No you dunce, the sun must have hard boiled your tiny brain under that egg head crown of yours. Now I know how you must have gotten your nickname–you have the brain of a T-Rex: tiny!!! I raped your “hyna” and even left a little bit of me behind, a souvenir of the experience if you will. I am Magistellus! I am the Master!”

As if on cue, the spectral choir renewed their dark chant as Schwarzenberg commenced to nigrify and break apart like, a pixelated image, into particles which swirled into a miniscule whirlwind, rearranging into another form, a hybrid form. When the black dust finally settled into place and solidify–a feat which took mere seconds to accomplish–the sorcerer had transformed. In place of his smug straw-haired mug, there was a black rooster head of human proportions, with a great black beak and enormous black eyes that looked through one with a startlingly sentient gaze. His nigrous coxcomb quivered as he moved his head in jerky gestures, to scan the small posse which stood planted on the other side of the altar.

The long pale hands which only recently rose from his shirtsleeves were replaced by sharp black talons. The overall effect was alternately absurd and unnaturally terrifying, looking something like a benighted Foghorn Leghorn.

A shot rang out from the opposite end of the aisle, by the entrance. A lookout, sensing something was amiss, came to check in on his homies, but to no avail. The shot passed through the black brume that only moments before had been a solid creature, and lodged into the wall behind the altar, just above a chryselephantine statue of Eliphas Levi’s Baphomet. The swirling mass then swooped down in front of the shooter and tore out his throat with a swipe of a talon which rose from within, before disappearing again into the brume. As the man fell to the ground, choking and bleeding to death, the cloud turned its focus on the remaining men and made short shrift of all of his mates in one bloody and brief massacre, as they all stood helplessly awaiting their respective turn as if on an abattoir dis-assembly line. All save for Mirruño that is.

Stopping to reconstitute in front of the small-time thug, it took physical shape again and cradled the man’s bald head in it’s claws, cocking its head to stare into his eyes. Soon a voice sounded in Mirruño’s head, the voice of the sorcerer, which said “I laud you sir, for coming to the defense of your ladylove, like a true galaunt, fighting against the unwelcome suitor, the cad, the evil wizard with his dark charms and black magic. Unfortunately, you are no Galahad, your heart is not pure, thus your mojo is weak against my wholly black heart, and your tainted intentions merely led you to my private piece of Hell on Earth. Goodbye for now, and when you see her on the other side, please give Orfalinda a peck on the cheek from me!”

And with that, the werecock bore its beak into the face of Marcelo “Mirruño” Martinez as his muffled, gurgled cries commingled with the droning of the satanic spectral choir of the Burning Ember Mission of Helldorado.