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A Junction in the Country
The obituaries in a newspaper from Santa Alicia, Texas, dated the first of October, 1948, include the name of Lacerta. The article mentions the fact that no other appellation could be found for the deceased. The person had been known only by the title of Señora Lacerta.
The listing was worded so as to elicit the self-disclosure of any relations or acquaintances who might have needed to know or who might have had some information about the anomalous circumstances of her departure. No one has ever come forward.
Señora Lacerta had resided in the very small town of Juntura, some twenty-five miles or more west of Santa Alicia, this latter being the county seat and the nearest town big enough to have a newspaper. The evening of her passing was filled with so much enigma and phenomenon as to remain forever locked in my memory with reminiscences of remorse and horror.
It is nine years later that I am compelled to recollect the particulars of that event and record them as best as I can, due to a recent letter which I have received from one of the participants of that night. That person has since relocated to the neighboring state of New Mexico, in deference to a military assignment of classified status.
The town of Juntura, as the name suggests, was at one time no more than a junction, a place along a country main road where farmers and ranchers of the area would meet with potential buyers of their produce or livestock. The procured merchandise would be sorted and loaded onto cargo wagons for shipping. In later years, that country road would turn into a state highway, a railroad would run alongside of it, and trucks and trains would be hauling those loads.
About ten miles east of Juntura was Bosquecillo, also a small town but one that boasted grain elevators and silos and a school. And to the west of Juntura, about fifteen miles away and in a different county, Mateus was a hub from which diverged several thoroughfares to distant urban centers and market places.
When this "junction" was founded for the convenience of the widespread farm and ranch settlers, laborers, mostly of Mexican descent, began moving in, building houses and setting up shops. A general store became necessary, and an eatery and smith-shop soon followed. At the time of the events being related here, the population count was perhaps 150.
Some small streets existed, though none with any names. It is no exaggeration to say that Juntura could have fit easily inside a modern city block with room to spare. It was never commissioned by the state and usually excluded from maps. The citizens enjoyed quietude and an unhurried way of life, choosing to keep a very low profile in the chaparral country.
Over the years, generations came and went. Newcomers were noticed at first sighting. News of any changes, big or small, would spread orally and quickly. The farmers and ranchers coming in to do business once or twice a month would usually already know to expect transformations or new faces in town.
The Mysterious and Reclusive Señora Lacerta
On the edge of Juntura, away from the store and other areas of commercial activity, stood a very small house. All the houses in Juntura were small, but this one particularly so. In 1948, and probably in years preceding, no one could be found who could remember anything about the installation of that house.
Not that this was unusual. Except for some houses which had remained in the ownership of sequent families, there were quite a few which had been ceded or sold off unofficially or just abandoned, leaving scanty or non-existent records of their origins.
It was known, however, that this particular domicile was the home of the very reclusive Señora Lacerta. A few remaining elders could recall vaguely when her presence was first noticed in town, but nothing of her actual arrival. And by 1948, there was no one who could relate anything about her other than hearsay.
In my own recollection, she had been there since before my birth. And reflecting on the days of my youth, I can recall having seen her walking to the store on many occasions. On an afterthought, I seem to remember her as always being an elderly woman . . . except, of course, on her final night.
It is only too obvious now why she always kept herself well-covered, never allowing anyone a clear look at her person, with a veil over her face and gloves on her hands. If greeted, she would usually nod her head or raise a hand, rarely uttering a single syllable, and would continue on her way without pause. It is doubtful that there was anyone in town who ever may have had any sort of conversation with her.
Her neighbors have said that they often saw her early mornings in her yard, using a garden hose to spray water all over the house. This and her strolls to the store seem to be the only activities ever witnessed by anybody. Nonetheless, the yard appeared to be well kept, as did the exterior of the house. And there was one other thing.
Every two or three months, a car would be seen parked in front of the house. From time to time, the visitors would be glimpsed getting in or out, but there seems to be no one now who ever saw them clearly enough to offer any description of them.
Growing up in Juntura, I had to go to school in Bosquecillo. A bus would pick up in front of the store, and then it would also make stops for other children from the farms and ranches along the way.
I was two years from graduating when my parents were both killed in an accident, and since I had already been considering it, I enrolled and moved into a minor seminary in the city of Corpus Christi, some distance away.
I returned to Juntura in the fall of 1948, on a brief hiatus during which I was supposed to contemplate my progression into the major seminary. I had no reason to expect to see Señora Lacerta, nor did I even think of her as I reunited with old friends and acquaintances.
That last week in September was the rainiest and windiest I could ever recall. A hurricane had been reported out in the Gulf of Mexico, about a hundred miles away. My little vacation was reduced to spending time alone at my old home.
One evening, as the storm moved in closer, the sound of the rain became deafening and the wind whipped at the house in a most unmerciful way. The assailment of the two, along with increasing thunder and lightning, left me with no respite.
The power went out finally, rendering the radio useless. Not wanting to succumb to a sense of oppression or fear, I groped around in the dark until I found the old kerosene lantern that had served us without fail through the years.
A scholarly undertaking had been the last thing on my mind that evening, but now, with nothing to do but listen to the storm, I decided to resign myself to some theological study. I sat down in my father’s old stuffed chair with some coffee and a textbook, and then, I had to adjust the wick on the lantern so I could get more light out of it.
Suddenly, there was a flash of lightning that seemed to turn night into day, even lighting the interior of the house eerily for a full thirty seconds. It was abruptly followed by an explosion of thunder that literally shook the earth, even causing some of the dishes in the kitchen cabinets to rattle and break against each other. The aftershock of that sound reverberated in my head for what might have been a few minutes, while I sat there stunned, as if I had been personally assaulted by it.
An Impossible Situation
I don’t really know how long I sat there in a daze before being roused by some loud and persistent knocking at the door. Upon answering, I was surprised to find a young boy standing there, soaking wet and out of breath. I recognized him immediately as the younger brother of a former schoolmate. His name was Rogelio Cruz.
I was about to ask him inside, but he hurriedly told me that Señora Lacerta had just been found unconscious out in her front yard. He had been sent by his father to come and get me so I could lend some assistance.
It occurred to me at a later time that the local populace now perceived me as one with a higher education. And although it wasn’t medical, I was considered the logical go-to person for advice on matters of crisis. I hurriedly threw on a canvas jacket and followed the boy in the pelting rain, leaning into a wind that at times threatened to lift us off our feet and repel us from our goal.
Upon entering her home, I saw that Señora Lacerta had been placed on her bed. Several people with lanterns had gathered around by now and were watching her quietly. I could see that some were praying, with rosaries in their hands. I saw the cloud of gloom as attributable to the storm and the situation at hand … but there was something else in their faces, something mystifying.
During some quiet greetings, I glanced around and noticed sparse and simple furnishings amidst an array of sophisticated electronic equipment. I could not positively say what any of it was, but appearances suggested communications and tracking of the military sort.
Rogelio’s family lived almost directly across the street, and I saw that his father, Don Timoteo Cruz, had himself been called on for direction and decision-making. He had just turned away from the bed, and noticing me in the room, he motioned me over by his side.
He shook his head in sadness, but I could see something else in his eyes. He leaned over and spoke softly, “Esto es algo muy extraño, padrecito.” (This is something very strange, little priest.)
I moved closer to the bed then, and for the first time, I laid eyes on the uncovered person of Señora Lacerta. And now I understood the air of uncertainty that hung in the room. She did not appear to be human.
I would have dismissed the pale gray tone of her facial skin as the result of her present condition, but then there was the matter of the absence of a nose and ears. The slits in the optical area suggested abnormally large eyes, short of eyebrows and lashes. In fact, she had no hair at all.
It did not appear to me that her nose or ears had been altered by accident or intent. The orifices seemed natural enough, short of the protuberances we normally associate with these organs. Lastly, the skin had a faded mottled look to it that graduated into a scaly conformity in certain areas. Having taken all of this in, my reaction was to look upon her personage as some sort of reptilian creature.
A Stranger Comes to Us
I looked away for a moment, trying to make sense of these anomalies and trying to decide what needed to be done. She needed medical attention certainly. This meant taking her into Mateus. A brief inquiry determined that no one in the present company had a vehicle.
Further discussion revealed that the nearest available automobile was probably at a farm two miles away. Getting there in that storm would take a long time, let alone that it would be extremely hazardous … probably close to impossible.
In the thrum of our discussion, we heard a low moan and everyone turned to see that Señora Lacerta had opened her eyes. As she glanced around from face to face, we could see that her eyes were ovate and angular, seemingly all of a bright yellow-green hue, with vertical slits for pupils.
She began to stir and quickly became agitated, and I moved closer thinking to provide some reassurance or comfort. Although those eyes were extraordinarily large and extrinsic, like nothing I had ever seen before, there was no mistaking the look of fear and concern in them.
Weakly, she raised a small, bony hand and clutched one of my wrists. She made great effort to pull me closer. Then, she faintly and lispingly managed to say, “You must get out!”
I responded, “But you need help. Is there anything we can do for you? Anyone we can call?” This of course, was a thoughtless utterance since the power-lines, including the telephone lines, were out of service.
Appearing to regain some strength, she began to move her head from side to side, and more loudly now and quite coarsely, she uttered, “No, no. You must get out! You have seen too much. Too much!” She had raised herself up part way by now, and looking from face to face, she barely managed to gasp out, “You are all in great danger!”
I was trying to think of something to say when she fell back and closed her eyes. A few seconds later, she began convulsing, arching her back in an alarming manner. Her facial muscles twisted and constricted, producing contortions that didn’t seem possible. And she muttered in syllables which none of us recognized or comprehended.
Finally, coming to rest on her back, she again moved her head slowly from side to side, and she opened her mouth as if to gag. But instead, her tongue came out and extended itself obscenely, until it stretched to the length of my forearm. And as it bulged and pulsed tensely, we saw it slowly divide in two at the tip.
There was a simultaneous gasp from the entire group of men, women, and children, including myself. I am unable now to adequately describe my feelings of awe and disgust. A damp chill seemed to penetrate into my skin, and revulsion pulled at my abdomen . . . feelings, which, I have no doubt, I was sharing with everyone there.
As I stared at that creature, I became resolved that not only was it not of human attribute, it was most probably not even of this earth. And I felt very much concerned.
If a stranger comes to us from a realm that neither our senses nor our cognizance can comprehend, is it not just as possible as anything else that it is from an evil domain?
Señora Lacerta’s last gasps appeared to be excruciating, with convulsions that twisted her body so grotesquely that we could actually hear what we assumed to be her bones cracking. And, as if the physical torment was not enough, the look of absolute fear in her eyes and her expressions of agony and despair depicted suffering of a nature we could not even imagine.
I was familiar with the lamentations and the utterances of pity that arise in some women during the times of someone’s passing and mourning. But now I turned and saw a countenance of pure compassion and empathy among the men, some of them in tears and some appearing to sag under the onus of helplessness.
There was no longer any horror or repugnance in the room, but only the sorrow and sympathy which some people experience in another’s pain, suffering, and death. My own fears abated somewhat, and I began to sense instead feelings of humility and reverence to be one among these simple but sensitive people.
While we were still not sure that she was dead, someone suggested that we should feel for a pulse. And someone else, a vague and disconnected voice, added that such a creature might not have a pulse, that such a creature might not even have a heart. Unexpectedly, I found that the body was becoming cold and rigid already.
I looked among the faces and saw Don Timoteo quietly talking with some of the people in the room and presumably dismissing them, for they were nodding and waving and slipping out, until there were five of us left.
The Cloud of Disparities
Don Timoteo Cruz was a man in his fifties and the eldest among us. He was a non-pretentious person of calm confidence. Although he had a limited education, his sense of pragmatism had drawn him into the position of reluctant leadership. His suggestions or directives would have been followed without qualm or protest. Yet, I could sense that he would look to me for support, solely on the merits of my aspirations and my education.
His son Rogelio was about fourteen. In a later conversation, Don Timoteo would disclose his thoughts about including such a young one in these proceedings. The boy had already seen this much, he had come this far, and this experience would probably stay with him for the rest of his life. Might it not serve some purpose to let him see the situation through?
The other two men, Eloi Perez and Simón Cavazos, were both neighbors of Lacerta and Cruz. They were younger than Don Timoteo and older than me, probably in their thirties. In their own ways and for their own reasons, they both held a certain resentment and an unfounded distrust of me.
Like many Mexican-Americans of that time and place, they had worked in the fields with their parents since childhood. Often kept out of school for months, most of them would have trouble catching up, and many would drop out. Then they would have nothing except the work in the fields.
Seeing someone else of their kind getting a higher education, some of them, understandably, would feel envious. Any opinions I might share about our present circumstances would probably be met with discord on their part, and they would be turning to Don Timoteo exclusively.
In obvious bewilderment, he stood there quietly staring at the corpse. After some minutes, he turned to me and said, “Pienso que deberíamos hacer lo apropiado, pero la verdad es que yo no se lo que eso sería. ¿Que piensa usted, padrecito?” (I think we should do the appropriate thing, but the truth is I don’t know what that could be. What do you think, little priest?)
I was being asked for an opinion. But what could I say? I was not even twenty at the time. We were trying to decide what to do with the corpse of a creature of which we could not be sure called for any more or less than the carcass of a dog. But we had all known her as Señora Lacerta, a person, one of the community.
To report it to some civil servant or agency would result in an investigation that might go on for months. It would bring unwanted intrusion to the town of Juntura and probably undesirable publicity. In addition to that, any of these men, including myself, could be implicated and charged with any number of things.
It was still raining moderately outside, though the wind and lightning had subsided. And a dull gray daylight was beginning to show. I suggested that, since nothing could be done at the moment, we should all go to our homes, get some rest, and give it some more thought until the weather permitted some options. Don Timoteo nodded in agreement, and the others nodded back.
Stepping outside and bracing myself for the wet walk home, I glanced up at the sky and could not help noticing a large, very dark, and unusual cloud directly overhead. What caught my attention was its stationary position. While other clouds appeared to be moving along in a noticeable way, this one just hovered there, roiling and rumbling, exhibiting some electrical activity, but keeping it all within itself. And I felt as if the cloud was watching me somehow as I made my way home.
The Blue Enlightenment
Don Timoteo came to see me at noon. The rain had let up completely about an hour earlier, but the sky was still very much overcast and it remained gloomy outside. He expressed an opinion that we should bury the body in secrecy and nothing more should ever be said about it. It was apparent that the idea had already been discussed with the others, and there was some concern as to whether or not I could be trusted to participate, considering my position.
With some reservation, I assured him that I would never betray my own people, and a melancholy filled me as I pondered the deed to which we were committing ourselves. We proceeded then to go and meet the other men at Lacerta’s house. When we arrived there, we were met in the front yard by Rogelio, who informed us that the body was gone.
Eloi and Simón came out of the house then, with puzzled looks on their faces, but Simón seemed a little more shaken and had to say something right away, “¿Vieron el relámpago extraño de luz azul que cayó aquí como a las diez?” (Did you see the strange lightning of blue that struck here about ten?)
We all shook our heads in unison and said we hadn’t seen it. Impulsively, I looked up then, and I saw that strange dark cloud still lingering there, swirling unto itself, as if consciously making an effort to maintain its constituency. Then I saw something even more strange.
One side of the cloud began to light up, and a soft bluish glow appeared to emerge. The glow became brighter and then it detached itself from the cloud. We all stood there and watched what looked like an orb of blue light descending toward us.
Simón excitedly told us that this was what he had seen earlier. The light, though blue, had a peculiar brightness to it. It lit up the area it occupied with a sharp clarity. Not knowing the nature of this occurrence and feeling somewhat threatened by it, we walked across the street and prepared to run and seek shelter.
The orb descended purposefully and hovered over Lacerta’s house. When it touched the roof of the house, it became increasingly brighter. The house became engulfed in a bright bluish light, until it was lost from sight in the glare.
Then there was a sort of loud electrical snap, like a loud buzzing suddenly shut off. And in an instant, the glare of light dispersed, and there was a shallow and empty crater where Lacerta’s house had stood. All traces of her were gone now.
Up in the sky, there were rumblings and flashes of light … and the strange cloud began to drift … upwards and away.
It was I who placed the listing in the newspaper some days later, requesting of any concerned party to contact me directly. I did not divulge this initiative to any of the men involved, and I presumed none of them would have enough interest in an English-worded paper to ever discover it.
I was prepared to tell any inquisitive civil servants that a proper disposition of the body had been administered by the neighboring county, which was closer to Juntura, and which consequently had assumed the costs. I was reasonably certain that legal interests would be overlooked, since the only thing to be gained in pursuing them would be the expenses.
Rogelio graduated from school four years later, was accepted into the Air Force Academy, and then got stationed at Roswell, New Mexico. The letter from him states that he has seen it all again and more, but he was instructed by his superiors to restrain himself from disclosing too much and to be as ambiguous as possible.
However, a good portion of that story has leaked out. Other people have seen things, and the sightings have caused much controversy and speculation across the nation.
r. nuñez, 6/2011