Supernatural Fiction posted October 1, 2015


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Fata Morgana

The Conjurer, Part Two

by Writingfundimension

The author has placed a warning on this post for language.

THE STORY: Doctor Stefano Morales comes to Mexico seeking a meeting with the renowned shaman, Senor Pasquale. He hopes to convince the man to share some of his 'secrets' for a paper the Neuropsychologist is planning to write on advanced psychotic states--little knowing his entire worldview is about to be upended. 

PREVIOUSLY:

I realized that all the people and animals milling about the square had disappeared while I was tangled up in my own thoughts. Birds I'd heard rustling and calling to each other among the branches of a nearby tree had gone silent. A shiver of foreboding worked its way up and down my spine.

What the hell had I gotten myself into? 

**********


I waited for a cue that the curtain was about to rise on this play that I had rushed into, unrehearsed like the most ill-prepared of understudies.

Had the occupants of the square been warned to make themselves scarce? Did they have an inherent sense that a gullible gringo was about to find himself in a world of trouble? Despite the finger of fear prodding my ribcage, I decided to give the Shaman ten more minutes to make an appearance before booking it back to Texas.

Adjusting my stance to lean against the bandstand’s pillar allowed me a complete view of the square.  A misshapen tree cast its shadow several yards beyond the toe of my boots. The twin ogres of heat and drought had emboldened the weeds that crowded its base. As if formed by the hands of a master blacksmith, a screen of tight, green mesh invaded the oak tree's bark.

Pondering nature's rapacious aspects, I wondered at the ability of that tree to thrive in its imperfect environment. Water, air and sun nurtured it, as they do every tree, yet this one had been thrust into an unnatural setting, fighting to survive against man's onslaught. I pressed my palm against the bark and felt an affinity for its struggle. My thoughts flashed to a time fifteen years prior.

I was a twenty-two-year-old college student who'd driven six hours to spend a rare weekend with my father. It was after dark when I pulled my Jeep into his driveway. A porch light was on, but the front door was locked. I procured a spare key for the front door and let myself into the foyer.

“Hello… anyone about?”

Manuela Gutierrez, our long-time family cook, called back, “Stefano...we’re in here.”

I placed my bag on the floor and entered the kitchen to find a familiar scene. The dumpling shaped, always-smiling woman of my childhood held her arms wide for a hug, and my father sat on a stool nearby smoking a cigar. “We expected you hours ago,” he scolded. “I was just about to suggest I go ahead and eat without you.”

Squashing the urge to react like a five-year-old caught with a book of matches, I strode to where Manuela waited, kissed her cheeks then moved to the stool next to my father.

“I’m sorry for the delay. It was my only chance to catch up with my advisor. The meeting went on longer than expected.”

I suppose it would have been normal for a father and son to shake hands after an absence of nearly a year. But that was not the nature of my relationship with him. Instead, we faced each like two gladiators in an arena. As usual, it was Manuela who intervened by herding us toward the candlelit table where she proceeded to cheer me up with a succession of my favorite dishes.

Afterward, the two of us sat on the patio. Father drank an iced coffee, and I worked my way through a bottle of Guinness which is the only liquor he keeps in the house. During a career in the Foreign Service, he'd spent time in Great Britain and, thereafter, refused to refrigerate his beer. I considered it another one of his pretentions, but desperate to calm my nerves, I drank the vile beverage.

I looked about the back yard and noticed the trees at the edge of the property had all been cut down. Among them were fruit trees that my mother had coaxed into beauty. On my last visit, they'd appeared vigorously healthy--I was certain of it. As my eyes moved from one naked stump to another, I felt corrosive bile rise up into my throat. I slammed my beer down on the table and turned.

"What the hell have you done with all the trees!?" 

My father continued reading his paper, responding in an even tone, "I had them removed. Now I don't have to bother raking leaves in the Fall." He lifted his eyes, then, and pursed his lips. "You'll be moving to Texas permanently, so why should you care?"

"That’s not the point. Why would you kill those trees just to save yourself a once-a-year task? That makes no sense to me."

My father uncrossed his legs, reached for his beverage then sipped delicately for several seconds. Taking a napkin from atop the pile, he swiped it across his mouth. Looking at me sideways, as if I was an afterthought, he said, "Stefano, I'm surprised at your opinion on this matter. You are a scientist, and logic is your God." I started to defend myself, but he silenced me by chopping his hand through the air. "Cutting down those trees makes perfect sense. I'm saving my back from injury and eliminating the expense of their upkeep." He opened his arms wide, adding, "This veranda provides all the shade I need."

I'd considered my father eccentric and unfathomable for most of my life--my mother had bailed years before. But this was beyond obsessive behavior. It was capricious, it was cruel, and I was appalled. I knew it would be futile to attempt to argue the case for the trees. I could see conviction of his reasoning in the rakish smile he flashed in my direction.

The situation left me disoriented. Next morning, after my father left for his standard breakfast with pals at a local diner, I hastily packed, wrote a note saying an emergency had come up and left it on the kitchen table. It was the coward’s way out, but I simply had to put as much distance as possible between us.

                    ***

Something cold skittering across my knuckles brought me back to the square. I shook myself free of the troubling memory and its tendrils of guilt. Lifting the edge of the bandana from around my neck, I pressed it to my sweating skin. I'm a man of rigorous methods--logic above all else--yet here I was putting myself into the hands of a stranger exactly opposite from myself for the sake of a book concept I've only toyed with until now. 

A gust of wind from the south, carrying the scent of sage, rhythmically rocked the tree's leaves. My eyelids drooped, and I felt as though a string, running the length of my body's core, was being drawn taut.

The wind picked up speed, and I sensed presences on either side of me speaking in Spanish. “The wind is a woman,” I heard on my right side and felt a weight against that shoulder. “No one holds her,” a voice whispered in my left ear, and I felt a second weight.

My heart jumped about in my chest as synchronous voices whispered in both ears, 'Nadien suera duena de ella.' No one owns her.

Flinging my arms outward, I expected to encounter flesh, but I remained alone in that square. A second gust of wind crawled along my arms leaving a trail of suspended hairs in its wake. The nerve pathways from the base of my neck to the tips of my fingers strummed with electrical sensations. And everywhere I looked, bending light rays were splitting into endless squirming strands-- like monofilament line-- superimposed over my entire field of vision.

It fell to my old friend logic to explain what was happening as possibly being the collision of heat and pavement causing the unusual visual phenomenon known as Fata Morgana. My thoughts kept me from hearing those who drew near.

"Doctor Morales, it is my understanding that you wish to speak to me?"

I whirled at the sound. A second ago there was no one standing anywhere near me. Now, close enough to touch was a dark, leathery-skinned man, perhaps 5'6" tall. He wore faded denim and a straw hat set back off his crown. His eyes were flat, black and without a trace of warmth. 

Behind him, a scant few feet away, stood another man with a sculpted torso and a scar splitting his right cheek. I guessed him to be under thirty. Leaning on his arm was a raven-haired woman wearing large dark glasses and a scarf wrapped around her head in a way that reminded me of Jackie Kennedy. Neither of them spoke.

"Strange things happen in this old square, have you noticed?" the old man continued, in perfect English. "It’s true!" He shoved the brim of his hat further back on his head and bent closer. His voice dropped to a conspiratorial tone. "The locals believe witches hide within its shadows." Pausing to grin, he added, "Do you believe in la bruja, Doctor Morales?"

I sensed the muscles flanking my abdomen tense at which I perceived a challenge. Play it cool, I thought. The journalist warned you this guy’s a flake.

"Do I have the honor of addressing Senor Pasquale?" I countered.

Bowing, the old man made a sweeping gesture with his arms as if he was brandishing a plumed hat and not a ratty straw version. "At your service, Doctor Morales."

He was mocking me, I decided. But since I’d risked so much to meet the man, I entered into his silly game. "With your permission, Senor, I would like to interview you for my book on altered states of consciousness. I have some theories that I would relish discussing and comparing with the viewpoints of a practitioner of the...ah...shamanic arts, such as yourself."

Senior Pasquale said nothing, only continuing to study me with his hard eyes. Then, the corners of his mouth curled in amusement and he croaked a laugh, which his companions echoed.

 "You mind sharing what you find so funny?" 

"We are laughing, Doctor Morales, because we know that you consider us far less intelligent than you. What are we but poor folk—the kind of people who crap in an outdoor privy and use newspapers to wipe our asses. The only reason you’re here at all is because you think that in exchange for certain information, you will have the great satisfaction of enlightening us in the ways of the real world." 

He shrugged his left shoulder and dropped his eyes. For a second, he became my father, right down to the wild eyebrows. One, maybe two seconds passed and the vision was gone. But a deep unease settled into my gut. 

Stepping closer, he grabbed my hand and seared me with a look that made me think he felt sorry for me. I tried, but could not disengage from that look nor turn away from his words.

"Do not waste this opportunity, Doctor Morales. The wind has invited you into her world--a rare and beautiful omen. She will teach you the fate of man is to transcend death by embracing it." 

I felt a crazy desire to fall into the depths of Senor Pasquale’s eyes. Pinpoints of light shone from their center, and the whites of his eyes gleamed. Something in me gave way at that moment. I felt all my tension let loose followed by an exquisite sense of well-being. An infant peering into the face of its mother for the first time could not feel more ecstasy than I did at that moment.

"Come to my home in the desert, Doctor Morales," I heard him say. "Who knows how much more time an old codger like me has?" He dropped my hand and issued a piercing whistle. His companions moved to his side, and between one blink and the next, the three were in a black ’59 Caddy and heading away from the square. 

From the receding vehicle, a single red rose floated to the pavement.

~~~

To be continued…



 


Recognized


TERMS:
la Brujo: Witch
Shaman: A practitioner of healing arts.

Thanks to avmurray for the great artwork.
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

Artwork by avmurray at FanArtReview.com

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