Archive for Latino Horror

Lazaro Rising (Part V)

Posted in Aztec Mythology, cihuateteo, La Santa Muerte, Latino Horror, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on September 25, 2015 by Manuel Paul Arenas
V
Zeke felt a burning sensation quickly heat up his finger, as if a tiny brand had been placed upon it, which pulled him out of his thoughts. Realizing it was the sun’s oppressive rays beaming through the window, he shook his hand to cool it off, and adjusted his visor to block the offensive orb.
He had been “zoning out”, as he stared uneasily at a golden eagle honing in on its prey. Although no one had a clue as to what they’d done the day before, and they had been careful to not leave any tell-tale signs behind, he still felt like a hunted man. He had been distracted since the previous night and almost lost control of their van on the wet drive back to Phoenix from Helldorado, during an unexpected cloudburst, when a deer jumped into the road nearly causing him to veer dangerously close to the railing and go off the side of the mountain.
In Helldorado they’d trolled through a neighborhood street fair, trying to score some weed, but were told that the local supplier and his crew were believed to have fallen ill of a local shaman and disappeared the week before. Since the fair had drawn a significant crowd, they decided to stick around and try their luck finding an alternate supplier, or maybe some yokel whom they could rough up and steal his cash and stash.
Unfortunately, they didn’t find what they were looking for, but instead found a wizened old native man with gray stringy hair, and about three teeth left in his head, whose wrinkly brown face reminded Zeke of those creepy dolls with heads made out of dried  apples. He had a trained Capuchin monkey, which he called “Mono” that selected fortunes from a little box which looked like a miniature casket. Zeke didn’t want to have anything to do with them, but Bubba thought the monkey looked hilarious  with it’s doll-sized brocade vest and tutu skirt fanning out from its tiny waist, hopping about and handing people their fortunes.
Bubba gave the creature a dollar, which it placed in the arthritic hands of the old man who then told Mono to select a fortune, which it did, and handed to Bubba. The fortune read, “A secret between two is God’s secret; a secret between three is known to all.” Bubba slipped his sausage fingers under his sweat-stained cap to scratch his clammy noggin as he puzzled for a moment. Then, shoving the fortune deep into his pants pocket, he said “Aww shit, that don’t mean nuthin’; still, it was worth a dollar just to see that li’l Mono hoppin’ around and fetchin’ those little rolled up papers and handin’ them out like li’l diplomas. Heh heh.”
Zeke didn’t laugh. He wasn’t sure exactly what was going to happen, but he saw the fortune as an ill omen, as he did everything he’d laid his squinty eyes on  since they’d planted those beaners in the ground.
Back in Phoenix, Maryflor listened closely as Féretrina laid out her plan of vengeance. “The Queen of Mictlan has helpers who do her bidding in our world. Entities, which may move about in certain quarters and have intercourse within the realm of the living.”
“You mean they have sex; how does that help me?” retorted Maryflor as she scrunched up her nose in distaste at the notion.
“No sister, you do not comprehend me. They may interact with living beings and influence them, and…yes, even lie with them if that is what is required. More importantly, as in the case with these blackguards, they can lure them to a place of our choosing, where we may deal with them as we please.”
“Will they kill them too?” Maryflor asked bluntly, in a voice sorely lacking in sympathy.
“Perhaps,” Féretrina responded, calmly “if that is what you wish them to do.”
“I do not.”
“Do you then wish for them to capture the men and turn them in to the authorities?” Féretrina asked coyly, knowing the response her words would elicit.
“No, I wish for them to capture them and bring them to me, so that I might kill them myself.”
“I commend you for your fearlessness and for the justice you wish to mete out for your brother’s sake, but this is not a game. Once there is blood on your hands it is impossible to wash it off, and even if your intended victims are guilty of the heinous crimes you know them to have perpetrated, the memory of the act may still haunt you to the end of your days.”
“Then I at least want to see them die!” Maryflor shouted.
“Ah, now that I can promise!”
“Just who are these…entities?”
“The Divine Women, they are affiliates of Cihuacoatl, the goddess of motherhood, and are handmaidens of the moon deities Tezcatlipotca and Tlazolteotl. They are the spirits of women whom have died in childbirth, which the ancient Aztec people saw as a sort of battle, so they are honored as fallen warriors. They are fierce adversaries with frightening attributes, but can also present themselves in enticing raiment and are effective at the art of seduction. They are known collectively as the cihuateteo.”
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Casanegra Poetry Cycle

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 22, 2015 by Manuel Paul Arenas
Casanegra Entertainment Logo.

Casanegra Entertainment Logo.

Sometime around 2006, I was turned on to the Casanegra DVD reissues of remaster and restored prints of films from the Golden Age of Mexican Horror. These movies were inspired by the success of the Universal Monster movies and have a similar look to them, only with a distinctly Mexican vibe. Before the genre was inundated with monster rallies and luchadores, they produced some really great Gothic Horrors using the local lore. Alongside  vampires and werewolves were La Llorona, brujas, and the Aztec Mummy.

“La Maldicion de la Llorona” (a/k/a The Curse of the Crying Woman”), “El Espejo de la Bruja” (a/k/a “The Witch’s Mirror”), “El Baron del Terror” (a/k/a “Brainiac”), etc., I loved these films, and looked forward to subsequent releases as they were announced in the horror trade magazines. Ultimately, however, they went belly up and couldn’t find a backer to save them. The worst part is that they were on the verge of releasing a new batch of titles, which I had been dying to see, but they were never released.

Feeling a void in my heart for this distinctly Latin style of Gothic Tale, I was inspired to write my own stories and poetry to fill the void and make tribute to these classic films. One of the first attempts was what I provisionally titled my “Southwestern Gothic Tale”. I got about a third of the way through and got bogged down with direction and it languished for years. Like my story “Thalia”, I decided to write poems about the characters to solidify in my mind their respective traits and motivations. What follows are links to the poems I wrote about the three main characters, Altagracia (our doomed heroine), her aunt Lupe (the sympathetic monster), and Dimas Akelarre (the true villain of the tale). I have since decided to call the story “Casanegra” in honor of it’s inspiration, and these are the poems it has birthed:

Altagracia’s Lament: https://mannysbookofshadows.wordpress.com/2015/09/22/altagracias-lament/

Lupe: https://mannysbookofshadows.wordpress.com/2015/09/21/lupe/

Dimas Akelarre ; https://mannysbookofshadows.wordpress.com/2015/09/22/dimas-akelarre/

Below are links to excerpts of the original tale which I have posted on this blog:

Southwestern Gothic Tale Excerpt: https://mannysbookofshadows.wordpress.com/2011/10/18/excerpt-from-my-southwestern-gothic-tale/

Southwestern Gothic Tale Part 2: https://mannysbookofshadows.wordpress.com/2011/12/01/part-2-of-my-southwestern-gothic-tale/

Southwestern Gothic Tale Part 3: https://mannysbookofshadows.wordpress.com/2012/02/18/part-3-of-my-southwestern-gothic-tale/

Lupe

Posted in Casanegra Poetry Cycle, Gothic Poetry, Latino Goth, Latino Horror, Lupe, Poetry, tlahuelpuchi, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on September 21, 2015 by Manuel Paul Arenas
Internet image of a scrying mirror with a reflected candle.

Internet image of a scrying mirror with a reflected candle.

Lupe scries the mirror black, her grim purpose to divine

The one who’ll end her bloody spree and take her place, in time

Her trance begun, the vision starts, she sees her rival clear

The revelation pierces through her heart just like a spear

Her sister has a single child, a daughter they call Grace

A troubled girl, but pure of heart, with an angelic face

Childless Lupe hoped to take her niece under her crape wing

And take on her apprenticeship to teach the way of things

But now it seems this clever girl whom she has warmed to know

Shall mete her retribution like a Fury from below

Does she know, this hapless child who loves her tía so well

She’ll be the one to bring her down, then damn herself to Hell

Are the bodeful images manifesting on the glass

Shadows of unfounded fears, or portents of doom to pass?

For now Lupe shall watch and wait, to see what will transpire

And judge how much time she’s left ere leaping through the fire

Lazaro Rising (Part IV)

Posted in La Santa Muerte, Latino Horror, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on August 19, 2015 by Manuel Paul Arenas

IV

Maryflor wanted to know more, but Féretrina had no more information to give her as of yet. “I have no more information to give you right now but, if you wish, I can show you what I have seen and maybe you will espy something which will help you in your quest.” Maryflor was hungry for information, so Féretrina complied. Placing  her hands on Maryflor’s temples she told her to focus on what she wanted to see, then she told her to close her eyes and visualize a dark tunnel. Maryflor did as she was told as Féretrina began to chant under her breath in very quick and clipped phrases in a language that she did not recognize, but she knew for certain that it was not Spanish.

Maryflor felt a tingling sensation ripple through her body, then a feeling of separation and lightness of being. She soon found herself in that dark tunnel she had recently conjured up in her mind, and she was afraid. The darkness was cold and all engulfing and seemed to have no end to it, until a faint light appeared a few yards away. As it approached, she discerned a figure, which she soon recognized as the living (?) counterpart of the statuette she had brought to the Yerberia Fenix. The Lady of Shadows approached her in all of her osseous glory, draped in a radiant green mantle, only this time she did not carry any scales nor her customary scythe. On her left shoulder was a grey screech owl with large yellow eyes that shown like spotlights, which contrasted sharply with the atramentous darkness that abode within the quelling glance of the Queen of Mictlan.

Nestled in Her bony arms was a spectral infant in black swaddling bands. The Lady peeled away a black ribbon to reveal the ashen torso of the child, allowing it some limited freedom of movement. The tiny wraith opened its big black eyes to regard Maryflor then reaching out his pallid little hand, he touched her forehead which caused her perspective to swap with that of the owl, allowing her to see herself from the point of view of the strigiform. Disoriented, on top of being scared, Maryflor heard the voice of Féretrina calling to her from a distance, “Do not tarry, you are the owl, you are my Mistress’s eyes. Go see what she has seen, learn what you wish to know–go now!”

Rising from the perch on the shoulder of the tenebrous goddess, Maryflor flew towards the blackness from whence the Lady of Shadows had emerged. Then seeing a light, she raced towards it and burst into the light of day and upon a place she knew well: a corner in her brother’s neighborhood, just off of Grand Avenue, in Phoenix Arizona.

As Maryflor alit on the branch of a nearby tree, she saw a white van pull up to a little island adjacent to the corner, which was soon swarmed by a group of brown-faced men, who flew to it like moths to a flame. One lagged behind, however, whom she recognized as her brother Lazaro. She thrilled to see him alive, then recalled that it was just his shadow, and despaired.

“Buenose tardess ameegoes!” sneered a lanky pink-faced man from the passenger side window.

“Yustehdehs keeyerrehn trabahar?” he continued as his thin-lipped rictus stretched into a tobacco stained smile, or at least what was meant to pass for one, his gray eyes glaring from his furrowed brow at the men now forming a semi-circle around the passenger side door. His companion, the driver of the van, sat quietly with a blank expression on his puffy mug. As his partner pitched his offer to the men in his best broken Spanish, he stared ahead and pulled the brim of his dark blue cap down on his brow. His small mouth almost entirely obscured by his bushy auburn mustache.

Maryflor’s brother Alvaro seemed to be the only one of the bunch who didn’t seem to be buying what this overly friendly huckster was selling. He simply stood behind his friends and watched the scene with growing trepidation. The man, noticing his reticence, called out to him, “Khe passa ameego? No keeyerreh yustehd gannahrr deenehro?”

As Lazaro struggled for an appropriate response, his buddy Heriberto, smiling, turned to place a hand on his shoulder and responded in heavily accented English, “My friend, he like work, he come too!”

“Well, okey-dokey then, kindly step into the back of my van and we will take you to the site!”

Lazaro, wary, said “Wait, you haven’t told us yet where it is or whether we need to bring any special tools.”

The pink-faced man lost his smile for a moment, looked Lazaro in the eye and retorted, “Don’t you worry your pretty little head about it son, you won’t need anything at all where you’re going.”

Lazaro Rising (Part III)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on August 18, 2015 by Manuel Paul Arenas

III

 “What is the name of the one whom you seek?” asked a voice, which came from within Féretrina, but did not sound like her. Maryflor was not certain whether she was being addressed by Féretrina or from someone else inside the young lady, as in mediumistic channeling. Maryflor stared warily at the white eyed face before her but couldn’t see any trace of the grave young woman whose body she was supernaturally affixed to.

“Tell me the name of the one whom you seek”, the voice repeated, “Think of their countenance and your feelings for them, then say their name three times so that I might invoke their soul if they be here with me already; do it now.”

Maryflor, terrified, complied, saying the full name of her brother three times as she thought of his serious but loving face, and all of the memories of them together which she stored in her heart from childhood up to now. Tears streamed down her cheeks as her mind reeled with the thought that he might be lost or hurt and she wasn’t there to help him, her blessed brother.

A voice called her back to the room, this time Féretrina‘s, her beautiful black eyes back to their rightful place, but distant, looking ahead but not at Maryflor, rather upon something not physically there. “There are two men in a van, they have stopped to talk to a group of men on a street corner. The skinny one, on the passenger side, leers at the men like a hungry snake mesmerizing his prey. He smiles, flatters and cajoles as his eyes take their measure.

“The chubby one in the driver’s seat does not look at the men because her fears they will see his disdain and the ruse will not work. He has a personal grudge against the men, something about a perceived injustice which has put him in a bad way, but it is all his own doing and he is blaming the men rather than acknowledging his own hand in his fate. He is full of anger and seeks retribution; not the skinny one though, he is devoid of all emotion, he just likes to kill.”

At the intonation of the last word Maryflor let out a sharp cry and fell forward towards Féretrina, who caught her shoulders and set her aright with Maryflor’s hands still clinging to her abdomen. Maryflor knew her search for her Lazaro would probably end like this, but to hear it said aloud was almost too much for her to bear.

Once resettled, Féretrina continued. “The skinny one speaks Spanish but with an accent; his words are more or less correct, but his pronunciation is off, as if he learned from a book. He offers the men fair wages and a free lunch for a day’s work if they go with him for a brief ride in the van. One of the men, he speaks English well–your brother?–he does not trust the skinny man, but his companions are keen. He reluctantly agrees to go just so her can keep an eye out for his friends. It does not seem to end well for them.”

Maryflor, despairing, fell to her knees, while yet grasping the dark messenger before her. Féretrina became very still, as she concentrated for a moment before placing her delicate hand on Maryflor’s cheek. “Maryflor, my Lady has confirmed that your brother Lazaro is with her on the other side of this veil of tears. I know your pain, I too have lost my loved ones through the treachery of others, but I made the perpetrators pay dearly for their perfidy, and I can do the same for you, if you want me to. Give me the word and I shall ask my Lady to assist us in our quest to find these villains and bring them to justice.”

 Maryflor, momentarily pausing the torrent of tears she had been shedding for her beloved brother, looked up to Féretrina‘s face and said softly in a voice horse from crying, “I want them to feel my pain.”

“Pain they shall feel,” Féretrina clarified, “but not anything so abstract as emotional pain. They shall suffer the threefold reprisal of whatever they did to your brother and those men. Give me your consent and I will see it done.”

Maryflor, paused to consider the offer for a moment, then peering up from Féretrina‘s lap into her big black eyes, she replied  “Do it.”

Lazaro Rising (Part II)

Posted in La Santa Muerte, Latino Horror with tags , , , , on August 12, 2015 by Manuel Paul Arenas

II

Maryflor arrived at the Yerberia Fenix around 8 o’clock, as per Jacinta’s instructions, but paused before her hand reached to knock on the glass the door. Staring at the sign which read “Closed / Cerrado”, the butterflies in her belly told her that she should turn around now and walk away as fast as her long thin legs could carry her but, just as the thought crossed her mind, the door swung open with a ring-a-ling as the lady of too much perfume appeared to quickly pull Maryflor into the store before shutting and locking the door again.

The storefront was adusk, but a light shown at the end of the hallway opposite the break-room, from behind the tapestry she had noticed earlier which she now saw was a variation of the Virgin of Guadalupe with the distinct difference of the Holy Mother appearing to be a skeleton, the revelation of which brought the butterflies back to her belly. In the dimming light, Maryflor could still see that her hostess was dressed for a special occasion, and as the rotund little woman grasped Maryflor by the arm to escort her, she could faintly make out something wriggling on the woman’s dress. Once within the light of the hallway, she found it to be a bejeweled live zopherus beetle on a broach. The soothsayer, who was all made up and had even dyed her hair a very rusty looking red, ushered her past the tapestry into what appeared to be a meeting room. The scent of incense–myrrh, although she wouldn’t have known it herself–struck her nostrils upon entering the room. The electric lights were shut off, but there were many white candles girding the periphery, which illuminated the room in a calming lambent glow.

At the far end of the room, was the focal piece: an altar. Upon a riser covered with a yellow mantel was a green veladora, a glass of water, a piece of bread, a partially smoked cigar,  three red delicious apples, a clay plate containing a small cross, a handful of coins, and a dollar bill; to the right of this was what looked like a tiny metal tajine-shaped censer, from which emanated the scent that greeted her so strenuously upon her entry. Hovering over the ofrenda was a statue, of La Santa Muerte, about the size in height of the proprietor, robed in a golden shroud, holding a globe in one hand and a scythe in the other.

In front of the altar, a dark figure sat quietly on a folding chair in the flickering candlelight, her face veiled in shadows. Pushing Maryflor in the direction of the tenebrous figure, the shopkeeper excitedly whispered, “Avanzate, go to her, acercate a la Niña and tell her your queja.

As she cautiously approached the seated figure, she was surprised to see that she was only a girl, barely in her twenties, if a day, and very slight, but when she raised her big black eyes to meet Maryflor’s gaze, she felt the weight of doom fix their fell sights upon her. She was lovely, gorgeous in fact, like a porcelain doll dressed in widow’s weeds. Her lush black hair was pulled up in a tight bun which emphasized her dark brow and sorrowful eyes. She wore no make up on her perfectly chiseled features, but sported largish plug earrings which appeared to be made of bone. Her dress seemed almost Victorian; black, with long sleeves and a high collar from which her cream and coffee colored countenance sprouted like a beautiful mournful bulb of some funereal flower. At the base of her collar was a cameo with a depiction of what was most likely a skull, although in the gloom and at a respectable distance, Maryflor was not entirely sure.

“Greetings sister, my name is Féretrina, how can I help you?” said the girl in a firm but gentle voice.

Maryflor, transfixed, didn’t answer but just stared at the solemn little relict before her, marveling how the delicacy of her mien was belied by the dark power behind that implacable stare. How horrible it must be, she thought, for someone so young to know so much sorrow. She could also swear that the movement of her lips did not match what came out of her mouth, but dismissed it as a trick of the shadows.

The sound of the proprietor clearing her throat behind her brought Maryflor back to the unanswered question and the young woman in black, who sat patiently awaiting her response.

Unconsciously folding her hands in front of herself, in a supplicatory stance, Maryflor said “Sorry,…hi…my name is Maryflor–nice to meet you–um, I  was told that you might be able to help me find out what happened to my brother. He and the men he was working with have disappeared and no one seems to know what became of them. I tried to get the police to help me, but they seem to be dragging their heals. I suppose it doesn’t help that most of his companions were day laborers, so there’s no official information available on them for the authorities to look in to.”

“I see.” said the girl, “Maryflor, I am going to ask you to do something which may make you a little uncomfortable, but I want you to trust me and believe that I am going to help you; however, you must do exactly what I say. I want you to place your hands on my stomach. You may feel some movement underneath my bodice but do not be afraid, it is only my son re-entering his former shell.”

The butterflies in her belly were in a panic as a chill shot up Maryflor’s spine, but the young woman, sensing her demurral, took Maryflor’s long hands between her delicate fingers and placed them upon her roiling abdomen. She felt a magnetic pull to the spot and the butterflies flaffed furiously in vain, as Maryflor swooned in a wave of incense and adrenalin, and those big black eyes rolled up to the whites as Féretrina, entranced, began to speak.

Lazaro Rising (Part I)

Posted in La Santa Muerte, Latino Horror, Uncategorized, Yerberias with tags , , , , , on August 5, 2015 by Manuel Paul Arenas

I

A miniature carillon announced her entry as Maryflor cautiously crossed the threshold of the dubious looking storefront which bore a sign in the window that read Lectura de Cartas. Upon entering, she found the store to be a sort of Mexican New Age shop,  but with less emphasis on Wicca books, crystals and pewter fantasy figurines and more on herbal remedies and sincretized Mesoamerican folk-magick and Catholic mysticism. The shelves were stocked with a rainbow array of candles, many in tall, slender glass containers, embossed with white lettered phrases and descriptive pictures or images of saints or the Virgin of Guadalupe. There were racks with little plastic envelopes of herbs: echinacea, flor de manita, yerba del sapo, ajenjo, and diente de leon. There were booklets on saints, and powders like the intriguingly sketchy polvo esoterico contra la ley!

Maryflor took all of this in a panoramic scan of the room as she clutched a shoebox in her hands which she had brought with her to be examined. Awash in a wave of anxiety and not a little fear, she began to feel like she’d made a mistake in coming, and was just about to turn on her heels and go when she was startled by a voice behind a partition screen declaiming “Vienvenidos a la Yerberia Fenix; diga!”

Maryflor froze in her tracks, unsure of how to respond. Her Spanish was rusty at best and there was no way she would be able to converse with anyone on such an esoteric subject as what brought her hither. “Diga.” the voice insisted, with no hint of annoyance, nor yet would it brook any hesitation in being answered.

Hola…desculpe pero, hay alguien aqui quien habla Ingles?” “I can help you!” called a young voice from the back room. Turning towards the source, Maryflor saw a terra-cotta colored woman with a dimpled smile which pierced her chubby cheeks at both ends. She couldn’t have been more than five foot and three inches, and her sleek black hair hung heavily down her back to her waist. Behind the counter Maryflor could only see her torso, which was draped in a plain turquoise blouse which stood out against her reddish-brown skin. Her sparkly black eyes were welcoming and her voice small and sweet when she explained “Don’t mind my mother, she forgets her manners when she’s ‘in the zone’.”

“Oh, thank you! No worries, I just wasn’t sure how to respond…my Spanish is a little rusty, I haven’t spoken it since I was a girl when my abuela passed. My parents insisted we become Americans, so we were only allowed to speak English in the house from that point on….anyway, you don’t need to know all that! Sorry.” The young woman behind the counter patiently smiled and continued, without judgment, “How can I help you today?”

“Um…sorry…to the point, right…um. I opened my front door this morning to find a shoebox which contains this little skeleton statue and I was worried it might be some devil thing and I’m already stressing because my brother has gone missing and …ugh…oh my God, I’m so sorry…” Placing the box on the counter-top Maryflor broke down into tears.

“Oh no!” yelped the young girl in surprise. From behind the partition emerged a short, squat woman in a purple sleeveless dress exposing her chubby arms which reached out towards Maryflor in an embrace.   “Ven aca mija, come with me and we’ll get you some te de manzanilla to drink and some tissues to wipe those tears away!” The two little women looked almost comical as they helped the shaky tall and lanky Maryflor walk into a break room in the back, where they sat her down in a folding chair and made her some chamomile tea with honey and handed her a box of tissues. “The basura is behind you, if you need to toss a dirty tissue.” Said the older woman. “I have to go back up front to finish clearing my cards, but you can stay here until you feel better. My daughter Jacinta will take care of you.”

Wiping her tears with a tissue, Maryflor squinted through puffy eyes at a tapestry of the Virgin of Guadalupe which covered a door across the way. Something was off about it, but with her glasses off and her eyes swollen and blurred from crying, she couldn’t tell quite what. Dismissing it as inconsequential, she looked away as Jacinta closed the door to the break room. Taking a couple of healthy sniffles after blowing her nose, she inhaled the scent of cheap perfume left behind by the woman from when she had embraced her, which made Maryflor smile, albeit briefly.

“What’s your name?” Jacinta asked as she took another folding chair for herself. “Maryflor.” she responded faintly, as she sniffled again and cleared her throat and crumpled a damp tissue in her fidgety hands. “Maryflor, I want you to tell me what has happened to you which might have caused someone to contact you in this way. You mentioned your brother…what happened to him?”

“Lazaro, my brother, he always wanted to get back to his roots. When he got old enough he studied Spanish and got involved in social work that benefited the immigrant community. He decided that in order to understand the plight of the migrant workers he should join them for a while and see what conditions were like and what hardships they went through so that he might be able to fix them later. He started picking fruit in an orange grove, which opened his eyes. Once he had done that, he decided to try his hand tagging along with some of the day laborers who stand in front of hardware outlets in hopes that someone might hire them for a project. He left to do this a week ago and no one has seen him or the other men since. “I have tried reporting his disappearance to the police, but they don’t seem to be doing much. Some of the people from the neighborhoods Lazaro did social work in have tried to organize search parties and stuff but they don’t seem to be getting any headway. Some people tried enlisting me to talk at political rallies, but I declined, that’s not my thing. I just want someone to find my brother and bring him home. Then I found…this…on my doorstep and I wasn’t sure if someone was mad at me for not getting involved, or maybe it was just a mean prank…”

“May I see what’s in the box?” Jacinta asked. “Sure, help yourself.” Maryflor, opening her hands in a fanning gesture then pushed the box across the small folding table with the palms of her hands toward the young woman, who received it gently and carefully opened the lid to reveal a statuette of a skeleton in a green hooded robe, holding scales in one hand and a scythe in the other. Pausing for a moment’s reflection, she then turned her gaze to Maryflor and said, “Does this frighten you?”

“Yes, yes it does.” Maryflor replied, curtly, then raising her voice a bit, edging on hysteria she implored “Is someone trying to put a hex on me? Does someone want me dead?!”

“No, sweetie–please try to relax–I think someone is actually trying to help you find justice for your brother. This figurine is of La Santa Muerte. She helps those whom the Law and the Church usually ignore or refuse to help; the disenchanted, the lost souls. In this guise she stands for justice. You see that she holds scales in one hand…?” Here Jacinta raised the statuette to Maryflor, who recoiled before nodding her head in assent. Then looking a little uneasily at the young woman she asked “So am I supposed to pray to this thing or make sacrifices or something? I was raised Catholic and I don’t worship the Devil or anything.”

“No, nothing like that!” Jacinta replied then, placing a reassuring hand on Maryflor’s corresponding appendage, she continued “La Santa Muerte is not evil, she is the patron saint of society’s outcasts and misfits. She will, however, grant favors which your average saints will not, which is one of the reasons the Church will not officially recognize her.

“I tell you what: there is a young woman in town, a medium of sorts, who has a special connection with our Lady of the Shadows. Some call her Feretrina, and she is known to help people reconnect with their loved ones both here and on the other side. Perhaps she can tell you where your brother is. Come here tonight after we close, around 8 o’clock, and I’ll see if I can squeeze in a private audience with her for you.”

Against her better judgment, Maryflor agreed, then rising from her seat, she gingerly closed the lid of the shoebox, making a point of not looking at its contents as she did so, then placing it under her arm, she whispered “Gracias” and hastily walked back to the front room and out of the store.