A soft rustle, followed by a louder thump, stirred me from my sleep. I tried to sit up to see where the sound that disturbed me came from and my forehead collided with a hard surface. I was bathed in complete darkness. I tried to wiggle around and found that I had minimal space to move my arms and legs. Where was I?
In my abysmal sealed enclosure, I fidgeted. Tremors wracked my body, and I took long ragged inhalations. The narrow space shrank. What was I in, and who put me in here? I felt around my surroundings, like a blind man running his hands over someone’s face, to paint a picture in my mind’s eye of my environment. It was soft and velvety.
Another thump hit the top of my cushioned prison. My patience was threadbare. I kicked my feet and banged my hands against the surface, so sparsely above me. The outside sound of whatever had been colliding against the surface suddenly stopped. Breathing heavier and trying to think of the last thing I could remember, I came up with nothing. I had started to sweat and the insides of this lightless box felt like a sauna. I tried to shout out but my throat felt as if I had been stranded in a desert without a drink for days. All I managed was a weak, hoarse moan.
In the midst of me beating against the walls of my confines, like a kindergartener trying to knock down a skyscraper with a spoon, I was abruptly interrupted by the loudest commotion so far. It bombarded my tiny prison. Jostling me around in what little space I had. I thanked whatever higher power there was for the soft cushioning of my lightless cell. More muffled murmurs bled through my confines.
My muddy brain began shutting down, and I now experienced micro moments of unconsciousness. Upon every lucid moment I tried to claw at the walls. Little shreds of silky substance fluttered against my face. I managed a weak growl that only achieved more pain in my desiccated throat. I had been scratching against the ceiling of my confines so much that my fingertips were as tattered as the soft substance I had torn through. My pores were vomiting sweat, and my lungs burnt from my dwindling supply of oxygen.
Suddenly, light penetrated my sombre tomb with the force of an alien ship abducting a new specimen. With it came the sweet taste of fresh air and my lungs quenched their greedy lust for it. The light from above continued to spotlight me. My eyes hurt from their starvation of the luminescence. I had to squint and filter the light through trembling hands to see a figure hovering above me.
‘What in the hell?’ my saviour said. He spoke with the accent only those native to the southern Midwest could recognize. Hell came out sounding like “erl.” A hand appeared, reaching for me. I was hesitant at first and didn’t immediately do anything. Then I was grasped around the collar, callused hands grated against my clothes, and gently lifted me out of my prison. The air kissed my skin and chilled the sweat that coated my whole body. I felt like a new born baby being birthed into the world. The environment around me seemed strange and alien.
‘Water,’ I said. My voice sounding like gravel grating against itself.
‘What did you say, boy?’ He closed the gap between us, cocking his head to the side so that his ear was directed towards my quivering lips.
‘Water,’ I said, struggling to be heard.
‘Darrell, get this poor soul something to drink.’ Whoever Darrell was, I heard his footsteps rapidly fade into the distance. Seconds ticked by feeling like days while the unnamed stranger sat cradling my frail body in his arms.
‘It will be alright, son,’ he spoke, rocking me gently. The man who cradled me spoke with a grandfatherly tone. The effect of his soothing voice helped still some of the tremors wracking my body. His breath had the smell of cheap whiskey and his clothes stunk of one who lit a cigarette with another cigarette. Right now, they were the most beautiful fragrances in the world. I buried my face in his shoulder and greedily inhaled. Beyond his scent was an earthy undertone. One of grass and moist dirt.
From an unknown distance, I heard his companion shout, ‘Mister Jimmy, all I can find is Gatorade and your flask.’
‘Damnit, Darrell! Just bring anything,’ Jimmy said. ‘This boy looks absolutely parched. And grab my coat. He’s shaking so bad his shoes look like they will rattle off.’ Mister Jimmy was right. I was parched, and when I licked my lips, sandpaper rubbing against cardboard.
Darrell, his helper, came jogging back panting at the exertion or excitement. I couldn’t tell and didn’t really give a shit. Just as long as he had fluids. He gently tossed down a transparent plastic bottle filled with blue liquid. It made a hollow thud against the box that I had been inside. From his head Jimmy removed the light that had signalled my release from my imprisonment, and set it aside. It cast our distorted shadows against walls of dirt.
He reached out with the hand that wasn’t holding me up and grabbed the Gatorade bottle. As soon it was close enough for me to grab I snatched it from him and spun the cap off. I took sloppy, selfish gulps and some of the drink sloshed down my chin, sunshine and heaven sliding down my throat.
‘Slow down, boy,’ he said, ‘or you’re going to sick up.’
‘Mister Jimmy, I brought the whiskey too.’ Darrell said, shaking the flask back and forth in his hands. ‘I figured someone who has been buried alive has earned a drink more than most folks.’
Memory came flooding back into my brain like a dam that had broken.
My name is Eric Stalton, and I am what you would call an action journalist. I chase the dangerous stories. The ones that many other action journalists won’t even take. My colleagues say that I am such an adrenaline junky that it bordered on suicidal. I have patrolled with rangers in Afghanistan without a weapon of my own. (They made me wear a vest). Dove into shark infested waters outside the cage. Conducted interviews with Islamic terrorists while wearing a cross visibly around my neck. Ran with the bulls in Pamplona. Laughing and snapping pictures over my shoulder the whole time. Pretty much if it scared the shit out of you, I liked to do it.
I had just stepped off the plane at Benito Juarez International Airport in Mexico City. I had chased a lead down here of a cult that worshiped an Aztec god named Mictlantecuhtli, who, upon further research, predated the empire. They were known to sacrifice tourist to the god, but a murder charge hadn’t been pegged on them yet. Pretty good shit and right up my alley.
All I had brought with me was a carry on. I liked to travel light. This made it easier for me to get in and out of unsavoury situations fast. Which I seemed to find myself in more often than not. It was a nice little Echo Sigma bag that had many compartments and a MOLLE system set up for attachments and other pouches. What is nice about the MOLLE system is that it can be fully customizable, leaving the user to pick and choose what gear is necessary for a specific setting. This type of backpack is common amongst the military and survival communities.
Weaving between the other passengers, furiously chewing a piece of Nicorette, and coming out of the gate, I tapped my plane ticket against the palm of my hand heading to the area where my escort was supposed to pick me up. A fifty dollar bill got me through customs with nothing more than a head nod from the customs officer. It isn’t like I had any contraband besides a SIG SAUER Compact P250 with four extended twenty round mags and maybe some other accessories. Hey, you never know what you will run into in my line of work. It is better to have it and not need than need it and not have it.
In the pickup area of the airport, I found my escort. He was a portly man on the shorter side of six foot. He held a sign above his head waving it back and forth so it could be seen around the other travellers and wanderers of the airport. His sign had Señor Stalton written on it in bright orange marker. I slowed my pace and came walking up to him wearing my best, devious smile. It is usually the one that gets me into trouble.
‘Hey, Mateo,’ I said, hands in the pockets of my khaki cargo jeans. Mateo Vargas had been my contact and all around go to guy whenever I came down to this part of the world. His size and stature misdirected his abilities. He was literally a jack of all trades. A crooked grin revealed tobacco stained, twisted teeth.
‘So did you get any info for me, good buddy?’ I asked, peering down at him.
His green eyes seemed to sparkle with excitement. ‘Yes, Señor Eric, I did, and something muy preocupante is going on,’ he said, lowering his voice so as not to be heard by those amongst the sea of travellers.
‘What is so disturbing, my friend?’ I asked.
‘We shall discuss that in the car ride to the hotel, my loco amigo.’
On the bland car ride to my nondescript hotel, Mateo filled me in on the cult. We had the windows rolled down in his beat-up piece of moving metal because when he turned on his air conditioning it gave off the noise akin to that of a strangled cat in heat. The aromas of the city accosted me. Smells of sweet spices, being hawked by street vendors, and that of urine intermingled like lovers who didn’t know whether to fight or copulate.
Seemingly since my last update from him, three more tourists had come up missing, and the police had no leads, but Mateo did. They were all graduate students down here studying the local history. All three pursuing degrees in anthropology, two guys and a girl. I don’t believe in consequence and immediately connected the too apparent dots.
‘They were down here studying ancient Aztec culture, weren’t they, Mateo?’
‘Yes, my friend, and I believe they may have found themselves a little demasiado profundo.’
I cocked an eyebrow at him. ‘How so, my jolly little buddy?’
‘You see, señor, they were on the same trail that I have put you on.’
I found this to be even more intriguing. Before I could think further on what he had said Mateo tossed a folder across the car. It flew over discarded candy bar wrappers and empty fast food soft drink cups to land on my lap. I went to open the file but was interrupted.
‘It would be best to look at that in your room, my friend,’ he said. ‘Some of those pictures need to be viewed in close proximity to a baño, muy preocupante.’
I nodded my sweating head at the haunted look in his eyes. If these images disturbed Mateo to that extent, then it would be best to take heed of his warning. With my arm resting on the door, I leaned my head out the window and let the funky breeze cool me.
We pulled into the hotel and parted ways for the time giving each other the normal adieu. The hotel he dropped me off at was literally called Downtown Mexico. It had a cracked, grey brick front with wrought iron railings surrounding a second story balcony. I walked up to the massive oak door with metal studs throughout it and pushed my way in. It easily glided open deceiving the intimidating size of it. I felt like I had stepped into a time machine back into seventeenth century Mexico.
It had just the amount of privacy I needed and placed perfectly in the region of the city in which I would be investigating the most. When I saw Mateo next I would have to toss him a little extra because he had really outdone himself. I quickly acquired my room key from the check in counter and hurried to my room. Inside of my suite, I flung my bag onto the king size bed and proceeded to devour the info Mateo had gathered for me.
The cult had carved a bloody swathe across the past decade. At least ninety unsolved murders could be loosely connected to them but not enough to make any charges stick. Many local newspaper articles were included in the file accompanied by crime scene photos, autopsy photos, and victim backgrounds. Skimming through all the data he had collected I was suddenly halted by one crime scene photo in particular. In the attached notes, I noticed the victim had been filleted down the front, leaving the chest cavity hanging to the sides exposing the meaty insides. The organs had been methodically placed around the corpse with the care of a home decorator renovating a house. I assumed that the brown crusted hieroglyphs strategically placed all around the room had been painted with the victim’s blood.
The way the body had been dissected hinted to someone with a medical background. The close ups of the body showed smooth, precise incisions and the organs had minimal damage that is normal of removing them. Even the lungs lying at the head of the body had been removed immaculately intact. What was most shocking was the age of the victim. It was a nine year old blonde girl. If you looked closely you could see a Dora the Explorer backpack had been angrily discarded in one of the room’s corners. Its scattered contents portrayed the trajectory and force of which the bag had been tossed. Tiny, unimportant knick knacks that only a little girl would carry lay about the bag. Her iceberg blue eyes stared into nothingness, no longer taking in the innocent beauties of a nine year old’s world. This revealed to me that she had been awake through the whole ritual.
A cold sweat broke out on my brow, and my stomach became an acrobat gone mad. It performed erratic handsprings and backflips until I rushed to the bathroom and violently expelled the inflight meal of packaged chicken enchilada and microwaved veggies into the luxurious toilet. In my chosen profession I have witnessed many atrocities across the globe, but this blatant disregard for life borderlines that of the surreal. What sort of creature could take such a sweet little girl and end her short life without what seemed to be a single care in the world?
I needed a drink after seeing this macabre scene. Quickly washing the clinging remnants of my mile high lunch of my face. I stared at myself in the mirror. Dilated pupils and a grey complexion stared back at me. Briefly, I considered checking this whole trip off as a loss and going home to curl up in the security and warmth of my blankets. The inner me said to quit being a pussy. I never won a battle with that arrogant prick. Curiosity and ego took hold and I lazily towelled my still damp face off.
I rammed the room key into my coat pocket, slung my pack over my shoulder and walked out the door trying to avoid making eye contact with the file. My façade of smooth composure back in place I strolled out of the hotel giving the cute girl at the front desk one of my best ‘I’m a badass’ smiles as I walked by. My hurried pace at which I walked deceived the air of cool mofo that I was trying to portray. My feet ate up distance on the cobblestone sidewalks and streets played out underneath my feet. About two blocks from my hotel the rhythm to my stroll became its normal casual pattern. I was once again Mr. Sunshine and smiles.
It was still early in the day, the sun not reaching its noonday apex, and the locals were revving up for their dia de los Muertos celebrations that would kick into high gear later on that night. Colourful sugar candy skulls, papier mâché skull death mask, devil’s horns, and all sorts of elements related to the beloved holiday were in every shopfront along the tourist district which I haunted at this moment. I decided to get out of the city and do some investigatory work. What place better to get some filler info for my next story than the Teotihuacan Pyramids and Shrine of Guadalupe. I hailed down a cab with the skill of a New Yorker native, which means I was ignored until I held out a twenty in my hand, an American twenty.
A yellow rust bucket cut through cars causing screeching brakes and some colourful Spanish I hadn’t even heard until it came to halt right in front of me. A dirt and grime coated TAXI sign adorned the top of a dinted, sad, yellow car. Behind the wheel the driver turned to look at me, his belly dragging against the steering wheel. Signalling for me to get in, he nodded smiling. It looked as if all his teeth were capped in gold. Oddly, his canines had been modified to make them more profound, seemingly a vampiric-in-gold look. I guessed it was in preparation for tonight’s festivities. Despite the many tree air fresheners, the inside of the cab smelt like yesterday’s tamales and desperation.
He jovially greeted me with his disturbing gold monster teeth and asked where I was headed and where had I been. I turned my head away from monster mouth to the scene playing out on the street outside the cab. Pedestrians and tourist shoppers made a chorus that sang of the beauty of humanity. I felt I had witnessed something sensual, something shared between lovers in a bedroom, not for an outsider like me who seemed to be peeking in a window, not out of one. It was still better than focusing on the smell of the cab and creepiness of my driver. I shoved the twenty into his greasy hand and told him to take me to the pyramids. His mask of faux happiness stayed in place and he bowed his head. Just like that the taxi shot into traffic and wove a chaotic path in between cars.
The driver turned up the radio and in the mirror, his eyebrows rose. ‘Te importa?’ He asked.
No es muy fina,’ I said.
The sound of three mariachis singing of love lost eventually faded into the most recent hit by one of Latin America’s biggest pop sensations. Let’s just say her hips don’t lie. I noticed the inside of his car had scattered decorations of Aztec hieroglyphic figures. A man spearing a serpent on the ceiling above his head. What appeared to be a girl being devoured by a winged beast above my own. Many other ideographs were haphazardly placed throughout the car. I filed this away for later and let the music carry me into a state of oblivion. Before I knew it, we were at the pyramids. Had I dozed a little, and what did that say about my mental state if I was able to nap in the back of this mobile roach motel?
His sweaty sphere rotated and gave me another ghoulish grin. ‘Estamos aquí, señor.’ We are here, sir.
I handed him another ten and shoved the door open. ‘Muchas gracias.’
Before he sped off to pick up the next sorry bastard he handed me a card. On it was Quetzalcoatl Cab: “Nos movemos como el viento!” “We move like the wind” is the translation. Very catchy, considering Quetzalcoatl was the Aztecan God of the Wind.
‘Just call and ask for Carlos if you want me to pick you up,’ he said, in plain English.
‘Thanks, buddy,’ I said before I doubled taked and realized how he had spoken. That sly son of a bitch.
He smiled ruefully and gunned the gas pedal kicking up gravel. The puttering sound of his motor and Latin music faded into the distance. I turned from the site of his departure, gazing upon the titans that were the Teotihuacán Pyramids.
The rest of the day was filled with me asking questions to the tour guides about Aztecan culture, as we trekked the tour grounds, and scribbling frantic annotations on my little OD green write in the rain notepad. When the sun started to reach the horizon, I decided to call Carlos. Surprisingly, he was there within ten minutes. Almost as if he had been waiting for my call. He pulled up wearing that I’m going to eat you smile and turned down his Latin pop music. I found his love for it bordering on obnoxious.
‘You have a good time, señor?’
‘It was uneventful and sometimes that does just fine with me,’ I said, even though that was a total lie. Don’t get me wrong. I love gathering info, but put me in a firefight in Fallujah with a handful of freedom loving marines any day. ‘Would you please take me back to Downtown Mexico Hotel?’ I said.
‘If that is what you want, señor.’
What else would I want? I shook my head yes and hopped into the back. Reacquainting myself with a malodorous haze of the cab. He turned his music up and fell back into his wannabe NASCAR driver routine. Once again, I seemed to lose track of time. I was hopping out of the cab onto the cobblestone sidewalk in front of my hotel, paying Carlos, and walking into the hotel before I noticed that I had blanked out the whole trip back. I did a breakneck about-face and looked around. The sun had set, and the streets were overrun with the dead.
Many skull adorned faces ran about laughing and singing. Some held candles. A couple here and there were dressed as corpse groom and bride. Up-tempo music filled the air. The dead danced and played. Colourful skulls synonymous with the holiday were painted on faces or worn as a mask. A few in the crowd abstained from wearing some sort of an honorific to the dead. These were usually the old or infirm matriarchs and patriarchs of families. The ones who would probably in the near future be celebrated on this day. They had the looks of past memories of their own days dancing about and being mischievous in their haunted eyes.
A feminine voice behind me said, ‘Sir, someone left a message for you.’
I wheeled back around to see the exotic beauty that had been working the front desk earlier in the day when I departed the hotel for the pyramids. An envelope with a note inside. The only person who knew I was here was Mateo. I took it thanking the dark-haired beauty and went up to my room to freshen up.
Minutes later I came out of the bathroom towelling off my freshly washed hair. Tossing the damp towel into a corner of the room I walked over to the bed leaving a damp trail behind me. When I had come back to my room earlier I had closed the file like I was trying to pick up hot coals. The envelope with the message for me lay beside it torn open. A flyer of some local Mexican bar was inside and the note was hastily scribbled on the back. Meet me at nine was all it said. Mateo didn’t have a mysterious bone in his body. This rang of an outsider and I was truly intrigued. Throwing on my usual outfit, putting my SIG in a shoulder holster with extra magazines, and putting on a jacket to conceal my pistol, I snagged the flyer and headed out into the masses of the celebratory dead.
The bar was only a few blocks away. I popped some more nicotine gum in and began my trek towards my meeting with destiny. Weaving through the convulsing crowd, I kept thinking about the message on the back of the flyer. Who would know where I was, and mainly how did they find me? Only my editor and Mateo knew I was down here.
Lost in the Socratic Method, still aware of my trivial surroundings, I made my way to the destination on the flyer. It was on a side road littered with garbage and items no longer useful to the owner. A pair of filth stained women’s lace panties lay next to a half-broken bottle of local tequila just a few feet from the door of the bar. I looked up to the sign over the bar. Un Diablo Que Usted Conoce matched the name on the flyer. ‘A Devil You Know.’ I wrinkled my brow and shook my head as I took my first step into who knows what.
The inside of the dive wasn’t much better than the outside. At least the inside wasn’t decorated with dirty women’s underwear. Some local Mexican band played eerie music to fit the holiday, and they were dressed as dead mariachis. As I walked in, it seemed like everyone turned an inquiring eye on me. A bead of sweat ran down my face but there was no way in hell I was going to wipe it off. I gave a come get some smile back to the crowd, and it was like I was Norm walking into some hellish version Cheers.
I walked up to the bar and slumped down. An old veteran of countless bar fights and smoky nights was tending. I ordered a shot of cheap tequila, no expensive stuff here, and a local Cerveza. The shot disappeared turning my throat into a stinging slip and slide. I sucked the glorious fumes of the shot back into my body. One thing I loved was rotgut tequila. Call it a guilty pleasure of mine. I used the mirror on the back of the bar to covertly scan the patrons, hoping to find my secret admirer.
Suddenly, a voice spoke, the cinnamon scented breath tickling my ear. ‘You look lost, gringo,’ a feminine voice said, dripping with Latin sexuality.
My beer almost slipped out of my hand. I will contribute that to the beads of sweat from the cold bottle. A woman no older than me stood sharing a reflection with me. The face looking back at me predatorily, a very feline quality. Almond shaped, dark brown eyes dusted with gold flecks reflected the dim light of the room. Her full, red lips tugged up to one side in a devious smile, and her black hair that ended in ringlets at her shoulder begged to be pulled. Damn, I hadn’t even been around this woman thirty seconds, and I was thinking about making sweet animalistic love to her. No way in hell I was going to let her see that, though.
Casually spinning around on my bar stool, I said, ‘Not lost at all. I believe I am right where I need to be.’ She looked at me like I missed the joke and she threw her head back giving the room a smoky laugh.
‘I see you got my note.’
My eyes widened and my mouth may have hung open for a second or ten. I am a quick recover, though. ‘You seem to have me at a disadvantage. Who might I be so blessed to speak with, and how do you know me?’
‘You should be careful with what you call blessings. Sometimes they aren’t the ones you want.’ She danced around my questions easily, not giving me a clear answer to either of my inquiries. I liked her immediately.
‘Are we going to play this game all night or was there a reason you invited me to this den of thieves?’ A little acid touching my voice.
She cocked one eyebrow up and bit the corner of her lip before answering me. ‘A feisty one, I see. Mateo warned me you would be leery of me.’
I blew out a breath and let the tension in my shoulders out. If Mateo had told her to meet me then she must be someone reliable. He doesn’t like to have useless people in his close circle, and his close circle is all there is in his life. Believe me, I know. We have a past that is a story for another day.
I held out my hand. ‘Let’s start over. I think we both may have played the wrong cards first. My name is Eric, as you already know. Would you like to have a drink with me?’
She shifted her hips and looked me in the eyes, trapping me in her gaze. It felt like seconds turned into an eternity before she responded to me. ‘Okay, gringo. I am Katrine, and yes I would be very pleased with a drink.’
‘How about my good old friend Tequila? He likes to make you dance and sometimes wake up without any pants. Anyways, the dirty bastard has done that to me more times than I would like to count.’ If you hadn’t noticed yet, sometimes I have a tendency to ramble. But she seemed to be amused because she favoured me with another of her lovely laughs. I ordered us four shots of tequila, and she also ordered some form of margarita alien to me. The bartender just grunted and went to work preparing our drinks. What a lovely fellow.
I find alcohol a great icebreaker between strangers. She briefly told me that she had known Mateo since she was a little girl, and he was the only semblance of family she had. For just a tiny moment her eyes welled up with tears, but she quickly got herself under control. That ended the friendly chatter, and she went straight into business mode. She filled me in on locations, possible suspects, and the area heaviest with victims discovered. All of it was quite informative but I wasn’t giving it attention. I had become enamoured in all that was her. She was a total contradiction. At times in our conversation she seemed vulnerable and then suddenly she was a Valkyrie with a flaming sword in her hands.
‘Well, Katrine, it has been swell, but my drunk ass needs to get back to my room before I can’t find it. Care to join me?’
She hesitated, never a good sign. Twirling a curl between her fingers, she said, ‘I’m sure that we would both enjoy that, but I still have a few things I need to do tonight.’
What the hell did she still have to do at this time of night? I shrugged. ‘Your loss, but maybe we can do this again some other time.’ I stood up reeling a little and made my way swaying to the door. I turned and waved bye to her. ‘See you in the funny pages, kid.’ All I got back was a weak smile.
Out in the air away from the bar I took a deep breath trying to find my centre. I began my wobbly journey back to Downton Mexico City Hotel wondering what I had done to strike out with her. About halfway back my bladder told me I wasn’t going to make it back to my room, so I dipped into the darkness of the nearest alley. The streets were still pretty crowded and the days of me getting drunk and showing my blinding white ass to the public are behind me. In the middle of my glorious urination, three people come walking out of the alley.
‘Got a light, hombre?’ one of them said. Of course, he had to be the biggest out of the three. Two other guys stood behind him still partially bathed in darkness.
‘Nope, man. I quit smoking a while ago. I would appreciate it if you let me finish my business. I mean what kind of guy asks a dude for a light when his dick is in his hands?’
This didn’t seem to strike him as funny because he walked up and kicked me over, mid piss. I flew out of the alley into the street, rolling and peeing in symphony. That may strike some as funny but it really, I hate to say this, pissed me off. When I settled I put my partner back in my pants and picked myself unsteadily up of the ground.
‘Now hold up, partner,’ I said, holding my hands out in front of me and wobbling more than I actually needed to. ‘I don’t want any trouble. I was just trying to be funny. Don’t you have a sense of…’ Before I finished my line I yanked my pistol out of the holster and levelled it at Sluggo’s chest. ‘Now you boys have two choices. Keep on stepping and continue to enjoy life, or I can put two in each of your chests, and to be safe I will add one to your heads.’
The big one that I named Sluggo didn’t seem scared. He came right at me. I held good on my promise and dropped him. The report from my pistol echoed along the streets and alley. His buddies dropped what they had in their hands. Was I really that drunk? I quietly scolded myself for not noticing they had weapons also. I was better than that.
‘Now, once again. Do we wish to continue?’ I said, my senses in overdrive. I was fully aware of how my heart was racing and I checked my peripherals to see if anyone else was coming. It seemed that my shots were drowned out by the ruckus of the night and hadn’t even bothered the ongoing celebrations of the dead. Well, they had one more to celebrate. I slowly started to backpedal my way to a more crowded street. I didn’t make it five steps when I noticed them smiling at me. The mouth of my pistol still pointed in their direction I didn’t see any reason for them to be smiling.
‘What the hell is so…’
A dull pain in my head was the first thing I noticed as I swam back into consciousness. I was lying down and couldn’t move. Slowly, I cracked my eyes and fought sparks of agony that danced across my vision. As the feeling of looking through a smeared lens faded I noticed that I was in a stone room with all kinds of indiscernible writing. Many white candles sat sweating their fat drops of wax onto the stony surface in which they had been placed. The candles cast dancing shadows across the room. A faint breeze tickled my body and gooseflesh sprang up across my skin. I was wearing nothing but my birthday suit. Rapidly trying to sit up I barely moved. My hands and feet had been restrained by crusty leather straps connected to a stone slab that I discovered I was laying on. I tried to speak, but the ability to speak had been stolen from me by a piece of cloth gag. Chains rattled around my head, and when I looked up three nude figures hung by their feet right over my head struggling and trying to scream through their gags. It was the three missing college kids. The two guys were hanging on either side of the girl. All were wide eyed and convulsing.
Birthed from the shadows robed figures started to gather around me. Many of their faces remained hidden in the shadows of the hoods. Two of them didn’t wear robes though, and it was these two that sent my head spinning. Chest bare and in only a loin cloth Mateo stood at my feet. He had on some kind of ceremonial headdress. It had many dark coloured, voluminous feathers in it. Next to him stood Katrine. She was dressed similarly to him but no headdress. Many beaded necklaces with symbols I couldn’t quite place lay lazily in between her supple breast. Now was not the time to get aroused. She had a knife with an onyx blade tucked into the waistband of her loin cloth.
‘I am sorry, my friend, but you were chosen for this from the start,’ Mateo said. His voice monotone.
Katrine remained silent. A look of pure lust flamed her eyes. It wasn’t a lust for me, no matter what I told myself. The others gathered closer around and started to murmur in a garbled tongue I hadn’t ever heard. They started slowly, and the tempo picked up. They would reach the end of their litany and shout one word. Mictlantecuhtli. A flash of some skull faced figure in full head dress pounded images into my brain. Then they would start over, swaying and reciting it faster.
In unison, Mateo and Katrine walked on opposite sides of the slab I lay on. When they reached the sides closest to my chest they stopped. Katrine withdrew the onyx blade and held it up over her head. Turning in each direction of the compass she spurted out some chatter. Then she turned back to me and lowered the tip of the blade to my chest. White hot fire lanced across my flesh as she began carving something into me. I bit down so hard on my gag a coppery taste filled my mouth. Pain has a way of distorting time, and it felt like days before she was done. Then she handed the knife over to Mateo. He took his turn carving into me. Then they walked up to the three hanging at my head.
The voices of the other sadistic bastards rose to a disturbed cacophony. My vision started to warp around the edges. I felt like I was looking through a bubble. Mateo walked up to the first guy on my right and held the blade up into the air. He said a little bit, and then with lightning speed he lashed out and slit the kid’s throat. Arterial spurting painted my body and ran into every orifice of my face. I tried to scream but only managed futile, muffled protestations. The chains the other two hung from immediately started to madly jingle and clatter. The bodies convulsed as if they were in the throes of Grande Maule seizures. Mateo and Katrine switched sides. Mateo repeated himself and ended the life of the second young man.
Now bathed in the blood of two people, I savagely thrashed back and forth. Trying to find any way to break free. Shaking my drenched head to clear the viscera from my eyes I looked up at the young girl hanging above me. She screamed, and tears poured down her forehead. A shadow passed over me, and I noticed Mateo handing Katrine back the knife. The other ritual members crowded the room with noise from their chanting. It seemed to reach a sexual rhythm. Rising higher and faster. Katrine raised the blade to the young girls naval, her mouth moving rapidly, spewing out garbage I didn’t care to translate. The college girl and I made eye contact right before Katrine plunged the black blade into her midsection and savagely drug it down to her sternum. Her freed organs made their home on my body, leaving me wrapped in a cardinal blanket of warmth and stink that only those who have been around death could recognize. I will say one thing about Mateo and Katrine. They didn’t drag out the deaths. This wasn’t torture. It was sacrifice, and each of the three died swiftly.
Now it was my turn. They curbed their attention back to me, as unwanted as it was. They moved back to the positions they had taken when they had a carving party on my chest. Now they joined in on chanting the archaic words of the ritual. When they yelled Mictlantecuhtli they threw their heads back in elation and I was once again assaulted with the image of the skull faced figure. The other members followed suit and one of them had been my taxi driver. What kind of sick bastards were these people? They were all rapidly swaying together now. Mateo and Katrine joined hands over me. I looked up and in their hands was the sinister onyx knife. The clumps of flesh clung to it and the candle light cast mad reflections upon its surface. For a brief moment, I swore I saw faces writhing in agony and torment. Then as they were reaching their climax the cult members screamed Mictlantecuhtli. Mateo and Katrine plunged the blade down into my chest. A living shadow accompanying the descending blade.
I jerked in Mister Jimmy’s embrace at the remembrance of the blade penetrating and breaking the bone of my sternum. He tightened his hold trying to stop me from clawing at the area of my chest where the blade had entered me.
He cooed into my hair. ‘It’s alright, boy. Shhh, it will be okay.’
‘Mister Jimmy, what is that poor man doing?’ Darrell said, standing at the mouth of the grave.
‘Shut up, you fool boy, and help me get him out of here,’ he said. Then to me he said gently, ‘Can you stand?’
I nodded and we rose, him holding me like I was made of brittle porcelain and me on two rickety excuses of legs. He leaned me up against the dirt wall and climbed out. Then he and Darrell lay on their bellies and reached down with callused hands to help me rise out of the hole, bringing me back into the world of the living once again. Darrell ran back to the truck to grab a blanket and a phone. I sat there with my feet dangling into the hole of my prison. Darrell came back and tossed Jimmy the blanket. It was an old ragtag affair that Jimmy kept in his truck for no reason he could remember.
Swaddled in the blanket now, Jimmy asked me if I wanted to call anyone, possibly the authorities. I told him I needed to collect myself first. He just gave me a knowing nod and rubbed my back in small rotations. Darrell plopped down on the opposite side of the hole, and we passed the flask around quickly draining it of its bitter elixir. I was suddenly wracked with uncontrollable laughter. I just couldn’t stop giggling. I am sure I looked like a mad man to them, but they both held their tongues. Good for them. Looking up and wiping tears from my eyes I asked if they wanted to know how I got here. Both stiffened at first as if I had slapped them in the face and then slowly beckoned me to continue. I told them everything that had led up this point. Their faces drained of all colour and Darrell looked like he was going to lose his lunch. I think my jovial tone threw them off.
‘You know what the best part about this is?’ I said to them with blacked out eyes. Their faces contorting into screaming mask. ‘I am finally free.’
Unlike Mateo and Katrine, I take my time dismantling a body. I think one should take pleasure in his art, and I tried to keep Jimmy and Darrell alive as long as possible. Their fruitless screams washed over the cemetery. The only thing that displeased me during the whole glorious process was that snivelling bastard Eric, wailing against the walls of the cage I locked him in the back of our head. I took a long drag from the cigarette I pilfered from Jimmy’s scattered corpse. It felt good to be back.

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