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A Troubled Young Man
Lúcio rubbed his eyes and snorted. Snorting was something he did a great deal, but here, the smoke from the campfire was getting to him. And then, there was the other smoke, which the old Indian kept pushing on him.
The old Indian, Almarroba, sat a couple of feet away and handed him the pipe again. “Ten más humito,” he said with a grin.
“Te ayudará comprender.” (Have some more ‘little smoke’. It will help you understand.)
Lúcio accepted the pipe and sucked on it. Whatever was in it was more powerful than anything he’d ever smoked before, and he had smoked some pretty wicked stuff. This concoction Almarroba was giving him was supposed to facilitate whatever instructions the old man was going to convey to him.
But Lúcio couldn’t see how. He was getting so wasted, he could hardly see straight anymore. Since there wasn’t any discussion taking place yet, he was compelled to reflect on the circumstances that had brought him here.
As a teenager, all he had ever wanted to do was party and run around, repeatedly getting into trouble. He started drinking early on, and it wasn’t long before he started trying other drugs. Without realizing it, he had become addicted to everything he tried…alcohol, smack, crack and then, gambling. He’d put his parents through hell. As committed as they’d been to his welfare, in the end, with a great deal of pain, they had to let him go and shut him out.
While serving a short term in prison, he met an older man from Mexico, Domingo Puentes. Domingo listened patiently to all of Lúcio’s hard-luck stories, and then one day, he related one of his own.
He told Lúcio about Almarroba. “Almarroba is a sorcerer of the old ways. He can probably help you…for a price. He helped me.”
Lúcio scoffed at him, “Yeah, how well did he help you? You’re in prison.”
“You think this is so bad? I could be in a prison in Mexico. Here, I am getting fat, I have good books to read, and nobody bothers me. And when I get out, they will send me home. Believe me, I know how hard it could be, compared to how easy it is in the here and now.”
Lúcio gazed out through the bars pensively. “So what’s the price?”
Lúcio had stopped believing in a soul or a god long ago. He had seen his mother pray piously day after day, while his father labored like a slave, and nothing ever changed. They were always poor, always suffering, and always humble. They feigned contentment and they always talked about being grateful for everything, but in Lúcio’s eyes, it was all an act.
He had chosen to break out of that rut. It had landed him in prison, but at least, he’d had some fun getting there. After his hitch, he robbed a few places, lay low, and saved a little money. And then, he made his way into Mexico. He’d had to go all the way down into Guerrero, to a little place called Terrero, and he had figured that finding one man was not going to be easy.
But it turned out to be easier than he had expected. At first, most people turned away from him when he mentioned the name Almarroba. But one day, a scraggly and scrawny little man followed him out of a bar and lured him into the shadows of an alley. For a bottle of tequila, he provided Lúcio with the directions he needed.
Lúcio had to find his way across town. He kept seeing living conditions at their poorest and their worst…people in rusty, sheet-metal huts and others in cardboard boxes…dirty, naked children. And at times, he detected smells that turned his stomach.
Finally, he spotted a dead tree with the skull of some animal mounted on one of its branches. There was supposed to be a path leading out from here, but all he could see was an opening between the shrubs and the cactus that towered over his head. Apprehensively, he decided to follow that vague corridor. It seemed to wind endlessly, turning into a dry creek bed, and then a narrow space between boulders. He must have walked for at least two hours, and he began to worry that he might get lost out here.
Lúcio stopped walking and considered turning back. He was tired and thirsty, and he was beginning to think that this had all been a deception. And then, he saw a man walking towards him. The man was tall, wearing jeans and a vest, sandals and a bandana headband.
The man walked right up to him and stared down at him with piercing eyes. And then, he grinned widely and spoke, “Yo soy el que buscas.” (I’m the one you seek.)
The Sorcerer’s Design
Almarroba seemed to know why Lúcio had come looking for him. Lúcio kept chattering about who he was and what he was about, and Almarroba just kept nodding and said nothing. They walked a bit more, until they arrived at the campsite. There, the old Indian gave him water and some jerky and prepared the pipe for them to smoke.
Lúcio was now very incoherent. He felt himself slipping in and out of darkness and the livid colors of the fire. Almarroba had chosen this moment to start talking. His voice sounded like a monotonous drone, coming from a distant place. And then, at times, it wafted over the flame like a chant.
In all that obscurity, however, some things seemed to float into Lúcio’s consciousness with a particular clarity. He heard Almarroba saying, “It does not have to be your soul that you pay me with. You can send me that of another…as another has sent you.”
“You will not perish out here among the rocks. Your calling now is to go and touch others, use them, hurt them, break them, take their pride and their confidence and their beliefs…and leave them for me to find.”
The last thing Lúcio remembered was a horrid laughter that drifted in the wind and faded away. The sun woke him up in the morning, feeling stiff and dazed. Almarroba was gone.
Lúcio noticed a remnant of paper torn from a brown paper bag, pinned to the ground with a stick. On it were the instructions, scribbled with a pencil. These were things he had to remember, and some he had to follow to the letter.
- The hour of magic is not midnight. It is closer to one in the morning, for that is the 13th hour. But time is only relevant to the mind of man, and it does not have to be exact.
- Ritualizing under a full moon is respectful to the forces in play and provides light in the darkness of night, but a good alternative is to have a canopy under a powerful electrical storm.
- The ritual must be performed over a grave, where there is no marker or symbol of deism.
- You must provide a source of fire, an object of value, the carcass of a creature that has been drowned, suffocated, burned, or starved to death. Larger animals have more merit.
- Fresh blood is essential.
- You will choose the game of gamble. If you win, you must wait for the pay-off. If you leave before you are paid, you will never collect. If you lose, everything is lost. Your soul is forfeited either way.
- Remember this, when the devil takes a soul, that is not all he takes.
Lúcio was amazed at how easily he made it back into Texas. His robberies and gambling endeavors, which he had to keep doing to sustain himself, all went smoothly and profitably. He felt as if the magic was working already.
On a crisp New Year’s Eve, he entered a cemetery that was located out in the country and far from the communities where he was known. He found a recent grave, where no stone or cross had been placed yet. He thought about his intentions only briefly, for the promise of wealth invaded his conscience.
He spread a tarp over the grave and sat crossed-legged, facing the foot of the grave. He had brought an old kerosene lantern missing the globe, and he lit the wick and placed it in front of him. From a sack, he took out the body of a dog that he had drowned the day before. He set this beside the lantern. Then, he began to chant the words he had been given.
The flame began to flicker and dance, and it continued to do this, throwing a strobe-like effect on the rest of the proceedings. He took out a gold watch he had stolen some days ago and set this down by the lantern.
The next step was more difficult. He had a live domestic rabbit, which he held by its hind feet, and he chopped at its neck with a knife, scattering blood all over everything. He continued to chant. But tears had welled up in his eyes, and he choked up and had to compose himself.
It suddenly became very dark, and he felt a tremendous chill when he looked up and didn’t see a single cloud. The moon and the stars shined brightly. But there was a looming shroud of darkness all around him, except for the little bubble of space lit up by the lantern.
He looked around and felt as if the denizens of the other graves had all come out and were watching what he was doing. When he looked back at the flame, he almost jumped away, because there was now a face visible in the shadows of the folds in the tarp. He had never known such fear as he was feeling now.
He took out a pair of dice and slid back a little so as to make room to roll them. He chanted the incantation one last time, shook the dice, and rolled a five and a one. With mounting trepidation, he rolled again and got a pair of fives. His jaw tightened.
The next roll came up a three and a two, and he felt a surge of despair. He sat there and let his thoughts go rampant for a moment. How can the devil lose? Does he not have the power to control every outcome of every endeavor pursued in his name? Why should he let me win? He’s the devil!
Lúcio started having flashbacks of his life, like someone who might be facing death. It was very unpleasant. He could see what a wretched person he had always been, selfish and uncaring, and how this had made him appear unattractive and unwelcome to others. In fact, right now, he was seeing himself as rather monstrous and downright ugly.
So what, he thought, I take what I want, I use whom I want, and I don’t care what anybody thinks. I am who I am.
Finally, without any more thought about the past or the future, he rolled again, and he got a four and a two. His eyes twinkled and he smiled. Yes! Now give me what I’ve got coming!
He waited…and he waited. He remembered what Almarroba had written down for him. He had to wait it out, and he wondered now if he would still be there waiting when the sun came up.
Suddenly, he felt the earth moving under him. It pushed up forcefully and almost tipped him over. He jumped up and stepped aside. He watched the tarp moving, as if something was groping from underneath. And then, everything began to get pulled inwardly, sucked into the ground, until there was nothing left.
A few seconds later, a hand emerged, a dried up hand of only skin and bones, with veins pulsing grotesquely. And it was holding a bundle of currency!
Lúcio reached over carefully and took the bundle. The hand stretched searchingly, as if it had just been robbed. It retreated back into the ground, and another emerged, holding more currency. It continued this way, and he lost count of how many times it was repeated. But his pockets became stuffed, and there were bundles scattered on the ground around him. When the activity finally ceased, he sensed that it was close to daybreak. He gathered up all the bundles, and he walked briskly over to his old car and drove away.
Living the Dream
In the dingy room of a cheap motel, Lúcio threw all the money on the bed and began to count his fortune. He stopped at 10,000. He had never been good with numbers, but he could see there was a great deal more than that. He lay on it and rolled around, as if bathing himself in it. And then, he sat up and thought about all the things he was going to do now. But they were the thoughts of a simple-minded young man.
He drank himself to sleep, with the TV on. When he woke up, he tried to plan an itinerary for the day, but he couldn’t see past getting a good breakfast. He took a shower, he shaved, and he put on some fresh clothes. This would be the last time he would be doing this.
It was midday, and he went to a restaurant that served breakfast all day. He stuffed himself and left a huge tip. After breakfast, he tried hooking up with old friends, but everyone was busy. They all had jobs. Eventually, he went back to his other friends, the ones who didn’t work for a living.
He bought a quarter pound of pot and sat around for a while, sharing smoke with five or six other people, laughing heartily about nonsensical things. When he asked if there was any cocaine around, there were some glances exchanged.
The one called Tónio gave him a wary look and asked, “Hey, what’s going on with you, bro? You come in here, lookin’ like you got a hot date, you buy a whole Q. And now, you askin’ for coke? You win the lottery or somethin’?”
Lúcio knew he had to be careful. These guys were friendly, but in the venue of dealing drugs, no one was really a friend. He smiled sheepishly and shook his head. “I was in Falfurrias the other night, got into a card game and made a killing. I just want to enjoy it while it lasts.”
He didn’t get as much coke as he really wanted. Cocaine was expensive, and he realized he had eyes on him now. As high as he was, he was beginning to feel paranoid. But things were cool. He now had some smoke on him, some fresh coke, and the next thing on his mind was to get together with one of his old girlfriends.
But the women who knew him were not interested. In one way or another, they had each been left feeling used or betrayed by him. None of them wanted anything to do with him now. He set the phone down after the last call and stared at the wall. I don’t need you, he thought, I don’t need any of you. He was angry…and sad.
In the past, Lúcio had been with street whores, the type who only looked good if he were drunk or high. They would take him to seedy places and have him lie down on grimy sheets, and they would place limits on the duration of their activity. This time, he looked up a higher-class call girl, and he got a nice, clean room. He had her stay all night, and they indulged themselves for hours.
When he woke up the next day, she was gone. And he lay there thinking about how much pot they had smoked, how much wine they had drunk, how much coke they had snorted, and how much she had cost. And all said, it hadn’t been much different. There hadn’t been anything fulfilling or even satisfying about it. It had just been very expensive.
Something was missing. He felt like there was something he needed to be doing, and he couldn’t figure out what it was.
In the days and weeks that followed, Lúcio’s activities became more and more loathsome. He continued to use alcohol and drugs in dangerous quantities. He became sexually insatiable, but he also became careless about his appearance and his hygiene.
He was always in such a compromised state of mind, that he couldn’t see how unclean he was becoming. He had not bathed since that day at the motel, and he had not changed his clothes. To see him on any given day, one might have mistaken him for a homeless bum.
Even when he showed his money up front, the prostitutes who had known him would wave him off because of his body odor. He had to turn to the ones who were more distasteful, less discriminating, and more likely of being diseased.
In those time spans when he would give in to fatigue or to the drugs, Lúcio would drift off into fantasies and dreams of well-being, mingling with the well-to-do people, and having beautiful, sensuous women in his company.
He woke up one day and saw that he had urinated in his sleep. He found the cleanest of his dirty pants and changed into them. And still, he did not consider taking a shower. The following day, it happened again. And then, on the third such occasion, he defecated while he was passed out.
He was unable to go anywhere in the daylight anymore. Whoever was willing to sell him any drugs would come to his room and leave quickly. And not being able to hire any more prostitutes, even the most iniquitous, he began to stalk women at night and resorted to rape.
He was out one night, lurking in the shadows, when he spied a young girl going into a neighborhood store. He had noticed that she had not driven there, so he waited for her to come out. She couldn’t have been more than 16.
Lúcio was directly across the small parking lot of the store. When she came out, she turned immediately and went around to the side of the building, proceeding to walk towards the rear. Lúcio kept to the shadows, making his way around the perimeter of the lot and spotted her almost a block away. There was a hedge on the next block. That would be the place to take her. He walked a little faster, having to keep as quiet as possible.
She reached the end of the block before he could catch up, but then she turned the corner. And he knew the hedge continued there. When he turned the same corner, she was gone. He stood there, somewhat confused and disappointed. And then, he saw a familiar figure walking towards him from the far end of the block. He stood there in disbelief.
The man was tall and dressed a little differently from the way Lúcio remembered him, but he walked up to him in a familiar manner and stared down at him with the same piercing eyes. He spoke quietly and assertively, “Cuando el diablo se toma un alma, eso no es todo lo que se toma.” (When the devil takes a soul, that is not all he takes.)
Lúcio hung his head and remembered. Then he fell to his knees and sobbed uncontrollably.