This fifth sun, the sun of movement, illuminated the Toltecs and illuminates the Aztecs. It has claws and feeds on human hearts. ~Aztec Theology
Dead Hearts Walking
We are a steady stream pushing ourselves up the steep stairs one by one. They walk without difficulty. I am winded by the exertion, gasp for oxygen in the thin air. With step 248, we reach the summit of the Temple of the Sun, the largest pyramid in the Americas. Each of my companions, a devotee has a cleanly sliced, horizontal hole in their chests just left of center, slicing through the nipple region. The ghosts walking the street do not have the hole. Only those ascending the pyramid do. There must have been a ghost priest near the base performing the ritual.
In their right hands, each holds a beating heart, their own beating heart dripping phantom blood. The drops are low luminance red. They contain too much pigment to be transparent, not enough to be opaque. Translucent blood, translucent as the mixed-blood people inhabiting a society happy to push them to the margins. Out of sight. Out of mind. Translucent. Preferred invisible.
They search for the Sun Stone to offer their hearts, a sacrifice to propitiate the starving Aztec Gods, drinkers of human blood. Once the gods’ thirst is satiated, they will reward the people and resurrect the lost empire and the Aztec will reign again.
But the sacred Stone is missing. It was stolen by Spanish invaders for its gold inlay then thrown in a worthless heap until it was rediscovered and placed behind bars in a museum. Why behind bars? The scientists have heard the stories. They know power lives within and blood will set it free. They fear the power, fear losing their own exalted place in society. So, the people are kept at bay lest they sprinkle their own claret juice and resurrect the ancient gods.
The original thieves failed to comprehend the sacred stone’s significance. Without it, connection to the Gods is severed. The passage from life to resurrection and final death blocked. The sacrifice cannot be made, neither resurrection for the empire nor final passage for the people is attainable. As this realization sets in, that they are trapped in the between world, my companions let loose a howl accompanied by a torrent of tears.
They cram still gasping hearts back into emaciated chests. Heads droop low, unshoed feet drag on sharp rocks. They descend the steps leaving a trail of ghost blood. Some stumble. Others, distraught, hoping for final death and freedom from the curse, jump from the top of the 216 foot Sun Pyramid bouncing off the sides, rolling over the angled walls, come to rest at the pyramid base mangled, crushed. Death eludes them, still. They remain bound to the misery infecting the empire when their leaders turned their backs on Lord Sun instead prostrating before the furry-faced man on the great white horse they believed to be a God incarnate. But Cortés was merely a killer, an invading demon.
With bodies broken, spirits crushed, they rejoin their brothers and sisters walking Avenida del Muerto, the Way of the Dead, the main road connecting the pyramids in Teotihuacán. The wanderers slowly fall into a procession, a line of spirits walking, single file along the Avenue of the dead from the Sun to the Moon to the distant Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent and back to the Sun Temple where they again pull their hearts from their chests and trudge up the 248 steps hoping, in vain, to end their purgatory. The Church came to bring heaven to the Americas but condemned the natives to perpetual perdition.
The line of spirits is endless with multitudes streaming toward the ancient city. They cover the land, a thick blanket of locusts, on their way to join the procession. Even the dead harbor misplaced hope in Gods.
My wife, and I suspect the other tourists, cannot see the ghosts, are not aware of the shadow people wandering in the crowds who slide through the living as light pierces a pane of crystal glass.
Are the locals aware? Probably. The ancient blood runs through their veins so I believe they have genetic knowledge. I hear the vendors speaking to each other but not in Spanish. My guess, it is Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. If their knowledge of the language lives, I’m sure they know of these shadow people, can see the shadow people. I would like to ask them but believe, even if we could speak a common language, they would not reveal ancient secrets to an outsider, especially a gringo.
When I visited almost two years ago, I did not see the shadow people. But that was before I met Grandfather, a spirit, a ghost. An ancient who is as old as the Americas themselves, possibly older. I encountered him twice within a year, both times in New Mexico at distinct locations connected by a common theme. Petroglyphs made by some of the earliest aboriginals in what is now known as the Americas.
The first time I also met and had a conversation with a Rattlesnake spirit. Between those encounters, I met and received a message from the Tukó spirit in the Philippines. Three extra-worldly experiences in one year are enough to put anyone off their nut. All things considered, I am not surprised to be walking with shadow beings at Teotihuacán, archaeological ruins of what was a major city in the Aztecan empire. Nor do I harbor any fear.
Grandfather passed a vision into my head through touch when we met in Albuquerque foretelling of an upcoming encounter. I am in Old México for a break from the cold Chicago winter and, if Grandfather was real, as I believe him to be, to meet my next teacher, Puma. In the vision, though, Los Muertos talked to me. I have tried conversing with these shadows but they act like I don’t exist. Are they aware of me?
Ah well, I know where Puma lives in these ruins. I saw the mural on my previous visit and that is where we are headed next. My only problem, how do I get rid of my wife and away from the crowds. In all my previous spirit encounters, I was alone. It seems to be a prerequisite. No witnesses. No one to validate my experiences. No one to assure me I don’t wander in and out of schizophrenia.
We stop to admire the Puma mural which is a short bit along the avenue on the way to the Temple of the Moon. It is tawny with absurdly long claws. Red waves in the background make it look like it’s walking on water. I need to be rid of the wife. Time for my sob story.
“The mother-freaker Sun Temple was tall. The rise between those steps is long. I thought the Aztec were littler people like five and a half feet tall. How did they manage those steps? And the steepness is scary. I was worried I would take a tumble on the way down. I bet a few of ’em were accidentally sacrificed to the gods just from falling while trying to get to the top. You are smaller than them. You must be tired from the climb up and down.”
“Nope. I’m ok. I’m feeling good. The altitude isn’t bothering me at all.”
“Really? You are definitely better fit than me.” Shameless schmoozing. “I guess the personal trainer is paying off. I should probably find one too because I’m feeling a bit winded and my cough is tickling at the back of my throat up…”
“…and you want to rest for a bit so I should just go ahead?”
“Can’t you come up with a different lie? You told me almost the exact same story a few weeks ago in New Mexico. Practically a duplicate word for word except for the added trainer part. Trying to play to my ego, are you?”
Sheepishly “Ok. I’m feeling a strong need to be solo for a short time. It is the only way I can connect with the spiri…er…the landscape. I don’t want you to feel I am abandoning you.”
“Listen. I’m an introvert. I understand the soul’s drive for alone time to rejuvenate. And, please, no more of this spirit seeing vision shit. If you are going to create a magical realism story cool. I like reading your stuff. Just quit pretending it’s real.”
“Sorry…” not sorry. Did my hypocrisy show through in my intonation? Probably for her next words were, “I’m going to the moon temple. Meet me there when you are ready.” And she walked away without waiting for my response angry footsteps pounding the trodden grass.
It is going to take some mighty fast talking to smooth this over but that’s a problem for later. In the meantime, I need to learn from Puma. I would kneel but the ground is pebbly and my knees are wretched. Prostrating is out with so many people milling about. So I whisper using the few Nahuatl words I learned specifically for this occasion. I hope Puma can hear my prayer over the din.
Miztli (Puma), achtontli (ancestor) icniuhtli (friend). I call you friend knowing very well we may be distant brothers of a common ancestor in a blessed cihtli (grandmother). I saw you in a vision gifted to be my…by our…our Grandfather. I am here because Grandfather foretold you would reveal a cochitlehua, a seeing dream showing my next destiny.
Do not fear me, I am not tlacatecolotl, an afternoon owl bringing evil to either you or the ghosts wandering this ancient city. I seek your toltecal, your wisdom that I may understand the huitzitzilin, the hummingbird journey leading me from flower to flower.
Miztli still appears not to hear me. It remains stoically perched on the wall not flexing any of it’s taught, tawny amber muscles. Nor do I sense it recognizes my presence. If it had, a bridge should form connecting our spirits, enabling communication.
I turn around to think and discover I am surrounded by a semicircle of ghost people with me at the locus. They stand, quiet, focused in my direction. I cannot tell if they are actually looking at me because their eyes are vacant, gray orbs. I slide a few steps to my left, they shift left. I return the three steps to the right, they follow again.
On the pyramid climb, they were oblivious to my presence. If not oblivious then consciously chose to ignore me. Now, they are definitely focused on me. Was hearing their own language the impetus for the change?
“Miztli,” I say testing my hypothesis. They lean closer, the ancient language a magnet pulling them toward me. The words must have pierced the wall between the living and the wandering dead diverting them from their mourner’s path toward me.
“¿Tlen?” I say which translates as what. I need to know what they want from me. Perhaps, they have insight and can help bridge me into Puma’s world.
In unison, they respond, “Meztli.”
Using my thumb, I point over my shoulder toward the Puma mural hoping it is not a rude gesture in their Aztec culture. I ask, “¿Miztli?”. I’m too fearful to point with pursed lips which would require turning my back on the phantoms, the growing legion of phantoms. I sense an uneasiness in the crowd. Again they say in booming unison, “Meztli.” This time looking left and pointing with pursed lips to the North.
It is then I realize my mistake. I thought they had said miztli which means puma but they actually said meztli meaning moon. They are directing me to the Moon Pyramid.
“¿Does Miztli spirit reside at the temple of Meztli?” I don’t expect an answer. A response presupposes people who died hundreds of year ago can understand my English. I pause for a brief eternity allowing ample space for them to speak. No response.
I turn right, begin walking toward the Moon Temple hoping it is where I will find miztli but expecting bubkus, nada, nothing. The phantoms follow close behind. I glance back for one last look at the mural. Puma has vanished from the painting. There is a hole where the wavy red lines were behind the painting. Shit. I missed my chance.
I turn back to the ghosts who have resumed their eternal march. I jump in front of them and wave my arms. The walk around me, through me on their never-ending procession that will eventually route them to the top of the Sun Temple and another attempt to resurrect the old gods, their dispossessed lives. Instead, they exist in an eternal hell. Their purpose had been to distract me so Puma could make an escape. I am disturbed. Why did Miztli choose to avoid me?
Head hanging, I drag my feet to the Moon skirting the ubiquitous vendors selling trinket and blankets and jaguar whistles and graven images. Can they see the ghosts? Do they care?
The steps up the Moon Temple are equally steep as the Sun. These, though, end at a platform less than halfway up the pyramid. Access to the top is prohibited, blocked by a weak fence I could easily circumvent. But the ascent is tricky, the steps crumbled, crumbling. An ascent carries the twin possibilities of success and sacrifice in equal measures. My goat days are long behind me. I opt to play it safe.
I return to the lip of the platform, sit, stare south along the very straight Avenue of the Dead toward the unseeable Temple of the Feathered Serpent. The Aztec were astounding engineers. The most distant temple It is hidden behind polluted air. Beyond that is a mountain range. Further still all of Central and South America with many more ruins to explore before I jump from the physical world to the spirit world. Hopefully, not too soon though.
The tourist count, high when we arrived, is continually increasing. As expected when visiting famous sites during vacation time between Christmas and New Years. Too many people for my liking. The avenue is packed with the colorful living and gray, translucent dead. Is there really a difference between life and death? So often, life feels like hell.
In the midst of the chaos, I spy the tawny rippling muscles and twitching tail of Miztli. Is Puma out for a stroll or a hunt? It looks toward me, at me. Not having the animals sharp vision, I cannot tell if it is looking with disinterestedness or disdain. My soul tells me it’s probably indifference. I’m living. It is spirit. What can I possibly offer a demigod?
My wife sits next to me, “I see you made it.” The angry edge is mostly gone from her voice.
“You look hot. Your face is pink. Here, drink some water so you stay hydrated. We better get you a hat on the way out.”
I drink, wishing it was colder, wishing it was an elixir that would allow me to exist permanently and simultaneously in both worlds instead of spirit visions occurring haphazardly. Is it haphazard? Grandfather must have some plan, some rationale for bringing me to his side. I wish I knew what it was.
I feel a need to speak, to bridge the gap I created. “This is a great view, I would love to have seen it in its heyday when the pyramids were pristine and all these structures in mint condition. I’m sure it was amazing.”
“Did you find what you were looking for at the Puma grotto?”
“Do you want the truth?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Even if it includes spirits and phantoms?”
“I want truth not figments of your imagination. Save that for your stories.”
“Ok. No. I did not find what I wanted at the grotto. I learned nothing. Maybe, I was supposed to learn nothing.”
“That’s good. Are you about ready to go?”
“Sure. I am feeling a bit lightheaded. The sun is getting to me. It is exasperated by the low humidity. I can hear the moisture being sucked from my body through my pores. I need to get a Coke on the way out. The sugar will do me some good.”
“Are you ready to go now or do you need more rest?”
“I’m ready. Say goodbye Gracie.”
“Tag line from an old TV show. Let’s find our driver and get back to Mexico City.”
A few days later, we shift ourselves from México City to Puebla via an easy two-hour, first class bus ride. The one drawback, the movie on the overhead screens is in Spanish. My Spanish, other than impolite words, is elementary and that is being generous. I’m unable to understand most of the movie. This lack of Spanish speaking is a deficiency I need to rectify since there are still many Central and South American countries I plan on visiting.
México felt modern. Not as modern as Chicago but still contemporary. Puebla is more old school with great colors on the buildings. The Zocalo is a cozy park surrounded by shops, restaurants, with the focal point a gorgeous cathedral. It feels like an old European town. I could see myself retiring here spending the mornings sipping tea and writing. The evenings would be more difficult because the restaurants lack variety.
For this second half of our trip, we have prearranged a local to guide us, a friend of a Chicago friend. They are a mother and daughter pair. The mother speaks more English than we do Spanish still our ability to communicate with her is limited. The daughter, a teenager, is a self-taught English speaker. She has a strong grasp of the language and is virtually accent-free. This is the first time she’s conversed in English. My wife and I are stunned.
Our first stop, the great pyramid of Cholula, is a touch shorter than the Sun Temple making it the 2nd tallest in the Americas. Most of Cholula is unexcavated. By volume, Cholula is larger than any of the taller Egyptian pyramids. Which begs the question. Which is bigger? Is it the greater height or the greater volume?
When I used to fish, some of my fishing buddies determined bigger by length. I was a weight guy believing a heavier fish would feed more people therefor it was the bigger. We never did reach an agreement. Maybe, if I caught the longer fish I would have shifted to their perspective. I never did catch the largest fish so it was a moot point. The one time I was close, the fish, a four-footer, spit the lure out right at the boat and winked at me as it dove into the darkness.
The side of the pyramid on which we arrive appears to be nothing more than a hill. We can’t see it yet but there is a tiny little church on top desecrating the sacred pyramid. That is bad but the story gets worse. We walk around to the opposite side. Vendors are hawking dried grasshoppers, a local delicacy sold by the bucket full. I am unable to suppress my squeamishness long enough for a sample. Next time, I tell myself knowing very well there is unlikely to be a next time. There are few foods I won’t knowingly try. Insects and balut top that list. My try new food tactic is to have the people I’m with order their favorites for my meal and not tell me what I ate until after I’ve finished. It’s a great way to stretch my palette.
The Aztec were master Engineers creating their cities without the aid of computers or machinery. I expect the pyramid to have sides parallel with the cardinal directions like the sun and moon temples. This is not the case. It isn’t until reaching the top I come up with a logical, to me, rationale. The pyramid is built askance for spiritual purposes. Parallel to one side there is a volcano and another mountain peak. In concert, they are key figures in a local creation story.
The Yellow Church
The ascent is a paved walkway, an ascending road absent steps. I don’t know if it is the original fixed up or a modern addition. The angle of ascent is not insignificant, the pain in my thighs a minor irritation, the 7,000-foot altitude plays a part. We stop twice to catch our breath. I am reminded of the uphill ascent to Parvati temple in Pune India. Both feel similar in distance and inclination.
At the top sits a small church. I am appalled but not surprised. It was the Spanish invaders’ practice to deprive the indigenous their freedoms and their lives. They also did their best to annihilate their chosen afterlife. This is the underlying reason for the ghosts wandering the Avenue of the Dead at Teotihuacan.
The Aztec were born into a belief system, a system annihilated by the invaders preventing the Aztec from completing their prescribed birth, death, afterlife cycle. They lived and died but were unable to transition from death to final afterlife thus are stuck in a limbo world and will remain trapped until their rituals can be performed. The Spanish tried to supplant the Aztec system with Christianity but the new system is a cycle outside the original. Unless an individual Aztec freely chose to convert, they remained bound under the auspices of the original system.
The Catholic Church, represented by the conquistadors, condemned millions to suffer eternally or until the Stone is returned to the sun temple and the legions adrift can finally crush their own hearts on that altar and be released into the eternal afterlife.
The yellow church perched on the top of the pyramid is named the Shrine of Our Lady of Remedies. It was built by indigenous slaves to transition them from paganism to Christianity. Repurposing religious sites was a common blasphemy conducted by the church patriarchy in their quest to save the savages. Yet another parallel between Catholicism and the ISIS bastards destroying ancient sites. The Catholic Church was the ISIS of the invaded new world.
Upon completion, including gilding the interior with stolen Aztec gold, the natives were forbidden from entering the church. They were allowed to attend mass from the outside looking in through the small church doors but not cross the threshold and sit beneath the roof. Even conversion, an act said to cleanse them in god’s eyes, was not a key allowing them entrance. The spiritual soul saved, physical soul pissed on. WHy? They were not white and not Spanish. Blatant discrimination reflects the Church’s true character. What they truly needed saving from was the invading Church and the depraved Christians.
On our way to the walk-up side of the Great Pyramid, we pass a ticket booth granting access to the soul of the pyramid. The line was long so we opted to bypass for the fee free jaunt to the top. One of our hosts, seeing the steepness of the climb, offered to return and buy tickets so we could enter on the flip trip. Having always wondered what lies beneath these behemoths, we agreed. An added bonus, there are excavated sections of the exterior complex only accessible with the tickets.
The world beneath is spider-webbed with narrow passages. The openings take the form of a gravestone, straight sides with an angled top coming to a point at the peak. The best I can describe is the shadow cast by a short, squat pencil with the tip worn down.
The electric lighting is yellowish casting a jaundiced glow on the brick and mortar walls. Are they adobe? I’m not sure. The construction reminds me of adobe huts and the ruins left by the Anasazi. Rocks slathered with mud hardening sufficiently to endure the ages. I imagine the ancients scurrying the passageways carrying torches, atra, fire flickering on a long stick casting eerie shadows. I look for but do not see any signs of fire soot. Was it cleaned by the excavators? Rinsed away by floods?
My head barely clears the top. A head bobble would have me scraping the sides so I do my best to keep my noggin steady. No quick turns. The narrowness makes it not possible to walk two abreast. Squeezing past someone is impossible without body contact. The Aztec were littler people and would have little difficulty navigating the tunnels.
I feel walled in, claustrophobic. I imagine horrors, tunnels collapsing trapping us in blackness slowly suffocating in the dwindling oxygen. A rush of water slowly filling until we drown. I enjoy exploring the tunnels while simultaneously fighting the urge to flee into the sunlight and blessed open space. Every fiber of my being is at war with the dilemma made worse because I have no idea how long it will take to traverse the maze and emerge on the other side.
I have a strong preference for deserts over forests. Forests are beautiful and awe inspiring but sight lines are limited. In deserts, I can see forever in every direction. I feel free, not trapped by a thousand wooded fence poles. The solid walls in the pyramid depths are infinitely scarier than the densest, deepest forest.
We have no map. There are no mile markers displaying distance covered, distance remaining. I do my best to stuff my growing panic as I used to stuff my emotions. Hopefully, stuffing my panic with have a happier ending instead of exploding when my emotions erupted.
We pass side tunnels. Some on the same level, others descending all blocked by steel gates. Some are lit. Most are pitch. They are obviously still under excavation. One descending into the depths, step by step, has a shallow puddle pool a couple of feet down. Coins are visible in the still pool.
Are the coins an offering to the gods? A superstitious act to dispense good luck? Probably both. The folly of humanity never ceases to amaze me. It was at one such side tunnel that I pull over and let my companions pass. I am much bigger and was probably blocking their view. I also hope, having them in front of me, will add perspective reducing my burgeoning panic to a manageable whimper. And, it will provide moments to study architecture without worrying about holding the others up.
During an extended lollygag, I trace a faint outline, faint like it was scrubbed away by repeated flooding. I can’t really tell what was there because the many gaps force me to fill in the blanks with my imagination but there is a resemblance to the Puma at Teotihuacan. Can it be? Or is it wishful thinking? My own folly. I am still confused about why the encounter with Puma turned sour before a connection was bridged.
I’ve lost track of my companions. There is a turn ahead they must have already passed. I am alone. Alone in this constricted space with thinning air making it hard to breathe. My panic simmers with dainty, little, baby bubbles hiding the churning below. It’s not a raging boil, yet. I need to get out. I need to be free now. My feet move independently, rapidly.
I come to an ascending passageway on my right. There is no gate blocking the way. At the top, there is the glow of light. It’s around a bend so I can’t tell if the tunnel leads to the exterior but the natural looking light is a draw I can’t pass up.
The Up Tunnel
I’m in. No choice, really. The light is a salve to my fear, an elixir to quench my thirst for sun. I begin the upward climb gradually stooping over because the space between the steps and the ceiling is shrinking. Shortly, I am crawling on hands and knees and another phobia kicks in. I am terrified of getting wedged in a tight space in a cave. The next level phobia is getting wedged while scuba diving in caves with my oxygen running out.
I hear voices ahead. The light is bright. The end must be near. The final stretch, what appears to be the final stretch, of the tunnel requires belly crawling. I start and stop. Sweat coats my body, has soaked through my shirt. I can’t muster the courage to continue. I must abandon this route and return to the original. I start inching backward irritated I didn’t have enough courage to fight my irrational fears. My toes splash in a puddle. Oh shit! I’m kneeling in a thin layer of water, a layer slowly rising. Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Progress or perish. Going back is not an option.
I reach my arms forward narrowing my body as much as possible wishing I had paid better attention to my weight. The bulging belly adds to the challenge. My fingers feel only slick wall, no finger holes to pull through. I can’t begin to guess how long the passage is. I use my toes to push myself forward, literally, inch by terrifying inch. Every fiber in my being screams in horror. I’m going to die.
The water continues rising forcing me to nose breathe. Mouth breaths would contain more water than air. The water makes the rock slick and toeholds difficult. I concentrate, force them down so the rubber on my shoes can push forward and create propulsion. The one benefit of the water is it acts as a lubricant making forward movement easier. I move a couple of feet when I feel a lip to grasp. The water reaches my nose just as I break through into a chamber.
To shaken to think, I find a rock and sit trying to settle my nerves. No luck. I must move. The chamber is a largish junction between two tunnels. I’m able to stand with a few inches of head clearance same as the original tunnel. My arms, outstretched, reach neither wall. I am disoriented. My internal compass cannot calibrate. Which tunnel do I take?
Holy shit, I realize I can see. There’s light from a burning torch propped in a wall notch. How did this get here? There are no footsteps on the soft ground. I pull it off the wall and step first into one tunnel then the other. I hear nothing but my breathing and a light trickle of water. Do I go with the flow or against the flow? I’ve always been an against the flow kind of guy. No need to deliberate. Water flows downhill. I want to ascend to the surface. I go against the flow.
I turn two bends and see a hole of light in the distance. I pick up my pace, drop the flaming torch, and am nearly running when I break out of the tunnel. I enter a light so forcefully bright, it knocks me flat on my back. I roll over to avoid the searing brightness. The ground is parched, cracked into a mosaic most chunks big as my hand. I pull myself up to my knees. Stunted corn with shriveled yellow-brown stalks extends for as far as I can see. Must be in the middle of a drought.
There is chanting behind me. I whirl around and discover I am kneeling before a stone structure of meticulously inlaid stonework, a man-made puzzle of stunning symmetry. The stones are much smaller than the rocks composing the pyramid but the workmanship is identical. It stands 2ish feet high. Three steps take one to the flat top. It appears to be a miniature of the great pyramid.
The chanting is from a lone priest standing on top. His eyes are dark as teak. They were all pupil and no iris or dilated to consume the pupil. Almost as if he is without a human soul.
He’s wearing a headdress of pheasant tail feathers. Some are natural, light brown bands separated by smaller, dark brown, almost black bands. Others are dyed red, green, and blue. They extend from is head outward similar to a peacock flashing feathers in a mating ritual. There’s an amulet around his neck. I can’t make it out clearly. He’s in an animal skin loincloth. It looks like the hide of a jaguar. The same hide is banded around his ankles to mid-calf. Leather sandals protect his feet.
Behind him, a golden puma the gold of prairie grasses at sunrise is locked in a cage and pacing nonstop. The cage is built of wood, looks flimsy. Why doesn’t the puma push through the slats? It must have enough strength. It screams occasionally, a raspy scream sounding like the gates of hell have opened and a female demon is being skinned alive while simultaneously roasting on an open flame. Pumas eyes are pale blue, a warm blue with yellow trim and they are fixed on me, fixated on me. They never leave me even when screaming and exposing large canines.
In his right hand, the Priest holds a knife, a long knife of blackest obsidian glinting the sun hanging high in the cloudless, cerulean sky. He stands severe, eyes raised, arms outstretched to the heavens. Is the stone structure on which he stands an altar? If so, where’s the warrior for the sacrifice?
Footsteps approach from behind the patter of lots of footsteps. The priest lowers eyes and arms, looks into the distance over my shoulder. He is sweating yet the air is cool.
Is it the king’s army coming to sacrifice him for failing to summon rain from the gods? A priest unable to persuade the gods to give the gift of rain is not much use for an agrarian society. Perhaps he will be forced to cut his own heart from his chest? Will a priest finally get his comeuppance? It’s high time they paid for their sins.
I have an issue with priests and the organizations perpetuating the defective of the lot. By defectives, I mean those like the pedophile priests so long protected and hidden by the Catholic Church. As if wearing a white clerical collar automatically exempts them from paying for their horrendous crimes. They are men in places of authority and must be held to a higher standard than the laity because of their widespread influence. Instead, the Church chose, still chooses, to ignore the trauma of the children and move the bastard priests to places they could unleash more terror unchecked. Unconscionable. No…EVIL!
It’s not soldiers but common folk, men, women, and children in farmers clothing, little more than loincloths on all. Most are barefooted, a few wear sandals made of what appears to be corn husks. They gather on either side of me, behind me, drop to their knees in reverence when they stop. Some prostrate themselves. They chant, Tlaloc, in unison. Tlaloc, literally he who makes things sprout, is the Aztec rain god. They are petitioning Tlaloc for quiyahuitl, rain.
The priest has pulled on a mask with large round eyes and long fangs. He has become Tlaloc. My answer to who will be sacrificed is soon answered as a family, a husband, wife, and boy child about 5 years old walk to the altar. The family must watch the warrior be sacrificed up close? It seems unusually cruel not to mention traumatic to one so young.
Of course, I view this ancient ritual with modern eyes. My society is individualistic. We are an I society. The rights of the individual are paramount superseding the needs of the group. Others are collective. The needs of society trump the needs of the individual. Rules promote selflessness and sacrificing one to better the all. I have read, it was an honor to be the first warrior sacrificed to the gods by the priests. Who am I to judge how they choose to live.
The father grabs the boys hands, the mother his feet. They pick him up, pull on his limbs until he is parallel, lay him on his back holding tightly so movement from his struggles is minimized. I am horrified to see the priest kneel and raise the knife. The chanting grows louder. Tlaloc, TLALOC, TLALOC. The voices become a frenzy. TLAAAAALOOOOC!
I scream “Noooo” with all the volume I can muster. Either they cannot hear me or I am drowned out by the chanting. I look toward Puma. It is still fixed on me. Why can it see me but these people can’t? I try to stand and run to stop the madness but can’t move. My knees are rooted to the ground, tendrils extend from me into the cracks in the soil.
The priest drops the knife into the child’s chest. TLAAAAALOOOOC! He wiggles it around deftly, then reaches in and pulls out the heart.TLAAAAALOOOOC! He raises it toward the heavens and squeezes. Blood spurts from the severed arteries. TLAAAAALOOOOC! When the blood stops dripping, he takes a bite opening the chambers and turns it over ensuring the last drops of blood are bled. In my disgust, I cannot tell if the priest ate the part he bit off or spit it out. TLAAAAALOOOOC! The priest reaches behind, picks up an axe and lops off the child’s head in one blow. TLAAAAALOOOOC! The parents move the corpse to the side of the altar. They place the opening where the head hangs over the edge allowing the spilling blood to feed the earth. TLAAAAALOOOOC!
My stomach constricts. I feel the acid taste of vomit swelling in my throat. I heave but nothing comes out. I heave and heave. Nothing. I’m forced to swallow the vile liquid stuck in my throat.
Three additional sacrifices are offered in the same manner. One more boy and two petite girls. Are they small because the drought is long and food is scarce? All have been in the 5 to 10 year old range. The crowd has grown quiet. I wonder, is the carnage finished? I hope it is. I pray it is.
Everyone, the people, the priest looks my way. No. They are looking next to me at a family, couple and an infant, kneeling beside me. They stand up. Oh god, No! The infant is a ginger, a redhead with light, almost white skin. I am surprised. I didn’t know gingers existed in the Aztec universe. The mother places the child against her chest, the smiling cherub peers at me over the shoulder.
Holy Fuck! The infant is the spitting image of my childhood photos down to the cornflower, blue eyes. It looks exactly like me. Wait…No, no, NO! It doesn’t just look like me. It IS me. I am an Aztec infant about to be sacrificed. I don’t want to die. Hold on. Hold on! This can’t be me. I’m alive now. If I was killed, I couldn’t be alive. But Grandfather did say I had blood ties in the ancient New World. Could this be an ancestor? He also said I have many destinies. Could he be one of my manifestations? Is it a he or a she? too young to tell. Or did Grandfather say I have had many destinies? Or was the conversation about destinies past and future? I can’t recall.
The infant is outstretched on the altar. The parents are stoic. Are they drugged? Why aren’t they in agony? I would be fighting tooth and claw to prevent the pending insanity. Why aren’t they crying? How can they let this mad priest sacrifice their child to some mythological being and actually believe it will bring rain? This is fucked up. They are all brainwashed. I try to get up and stop the madness but the roots I have set won’t break free.
The instant the knife hits the child, I feel a stabbing pain in my chest like I am also being sliced open. I grab at the point of pain. My hand is instantly covered in warm pulsing blood. The priest pulls out the heart. I collapse to the ground, sense a void in my chest. He raises the organ to the heavens and the cloudless sky opens releasing a deluge. Rain from a cloudless sky?
The people leap to their feet, arms reaching to the skies shouting quiyahuitl, rain, and, Tlaloc, Tlaloc, Tlaloc. Puma pushes against the cage. The slats bulge. A loud thunderclap echoes, the slats splinter. Puma squeezes through. Miztli is free. The priest raises the ax and severs the infant’s head. Not even Christ had to suffer such an indignity.
The ground is too hard to absorb the water. The deluge becomes a flood, a land river a mile wide and inches deep. My vision fades to a tunnel, a shrinking tunnel. I can’t move. My body rises with the swelling water, floats with the stream. What happened to my roots? A shadow hovers over me. Teeth grip my neck with just enough force to control my movement while not breaking the skin. I am being pulled. Am I going to be eaten? My vision goes black.
The River Cave
I come to consciousness in a cave. No idea how long I’ve been unconscious. My legs lay in a shallow rivulet. I sweep my mouth. No gold coin. I’m not dead. This is not the river Styx or maybe it is and Charon is waiting in the wings for death to complete its task then ferry me across.
“No, David. You are not dead.”
A voice? Who is talking to me? I look around. There is only Puma and me. It must be Puma that’s talking. I should be surprised but am not. I’ve experienced enough mysteries in the spirit world in the past year or so, an ancient ghost Grandfather, a talking Rattlesnake, a talking Gecko. And who knows how many spirits I failed to recognize. I seriously doubt anything can surprise me anymore. I don’t want to be rude here. “What shall I call you?”
“You may call me Puma or Cougar or Miztli whichever. You don’t really need to call me anything. We can easily communicate with our spirit minds. Words are unnecessary.” Puma is sitting stoically exuding the regal air of royalty.
“Spirit mind? I have a spirit mind? That means I am a spirit? Doesn’t that mean I am dead?”
“You have died many times. In this moment, you are alive. I can’t speak for future moments.”
“Alive in the earthly sense?”
“Yes, alive in the earthly sense. You are a living human being.”
“If it is all the same with you, I prefer we talk with words. I don’t want you wandering inside my mind. Hell, I get uncomfortable wandering inside my mind. I wouldn’t want to put that suffering on you.”
“As you wish. I will stay out of your mind. I, however, may revert to spirit mind. I have trouble correctly pronouncing words in your language. Thoughts are easier because they live outside the restricted confines of language.”
I stand up, move to higher ground, shake the water off my hiking boots. I’m feeling chilled in the cave’s coolness. The water exacerbates the chill. “That’s fine by me. Are you the same Miztli I saw at Teotihuacán?”
“That I am.”
I pat my chest. There is no blood. No wet blood. No crunchy dried blood. No evidence I bled at all. I feel the rhythmic beating of my heart. “Why did you not talk to me then? I tried. You purposely avoided me.”
Puma’s long wheat gold tail flicks in time with our conversation.
“It was neither the time nor the place. The Wanderers abhor sharing their spirit world with Europeans. If I had communicated with you, they would have raised a ruckus. There’s no need to inflame their agony. Five hundred years trying and failing to move to the afterlife has a way of deepening a grudge. They hold a might big grudge against your kind.”
“I wasn’t them. I had no part in the armageddon inflicted on the Aztec empire.”
“In the eyes of the Wanderers, all of you are guilty, all of you carry the spilt blood of the Aztec in your wretched souls. If they had the ability, they would wage a holy war against you not stopping until every white in your world suffered a similar living hell, forever shut outside the door to your heaven.”
“Grandfather said my bloodline runs through the original inhabitants of the Americas. I am one of them.”
“You are and you are not.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“You will understand in good time. If not during your visit with me then during another of your destinies.”
“So, I have more destinies?”
“That was an assumption on my part. I am not a future seer like Grandfather.”
“Where are we?”
“We are in the Great Temple of Cholula.”
“I feared so. But, don’t you mean Great Pyramid?”
“To us, it is and always has been a temple. It is only you outsiders that call our temple a pyramid.”
“Why here? I don’t like being stuck in small places.”
“Had I left you outside, in your condition, you would have drowned.”
“Ya, but this is all imaginary existence.” Why can’t he comprehend simple logic? Is he a lesser spirit than Grandfather?
“If you died out there, you would also be dead in what you call ‘real life’ as well. Death does not distinguish between layers of existence. It merely collects.”
“What do you mean, my condition?”
“You were exiting consciousness. You and ancient baby you…”
“Shit! That was me? I thought it looked like. I didn’t think it actually was me.” Why did I lie? There’s no need. I saw into it’s…my…soul. I knew we were one.
“Yes. The two of you, all of the previous yous, current you, and future yous are interconnected by a diaphanous web. What happens in previous lives impacts the next life. And what happens in future lives ripples back altering past lives which, in turn, affects every future life. Neither the future nor the past is set in stone. The further events are separated the less the energy the ripple has to impart change. The distant ends are highly viscous, change is minimal but not null. Your current life is the locus with extremely low viscosity. Think of current you as flowing water history adjusting course with every experience.”
“And when the baby died?”
“When baby you died the two loci were dangerously close. Both were highly fluid. Baby you’s death was flowing into current you’s existence. You felt the pain in your chest. You were moving into unconsciousness and would have died with baby you. If not, then current you would have asphyxiated in the water. I intervened. By pulling you away, I separated the loci allowing both to assume their own destinies. By pulling current you to higher ground and this chamber, I prayed you would not drown before regaining consciousness before the rising waters also filled this chamber.”
“As I said, I don’t see into the future like Grandfather. I am here at his behest. His hand has helped guide you since the beginning.”
“Beginning? Beginning of what?”
“The beginning of the beginning. Grandfather is an original.”
“You mean a god?”
“Not a god. An intermediary between the gods and creation.”
“You said before the rising waters also filled this chamber?”
“Yes, the deluge started when baby you died is the storm to end all storms. It is unleashing more water than this land has seen in the combined past twenty-three years.”
“Let’s get out of here!”
“Not possible. The rising waters have already blocked the exits.”
“Then we are going to drown?”
“Not necessarily. Grandfather said, when the time is right, a way will appear. I trust the ancient’s wisdom.”
“So we wait?”
“Yes. We wait. There are no other options.”
Fixated on the conversation, I hadn’t been paying attention to my surroundings. The water is now calf deep. Miztli leaps to a higher ledge with an elegance a prima ballerina could never muster. The tail still slowly flicking from side to side, a metronome keeping time. Time for what?
Conversation exhausted, for now, we dwell in silence. I hear the burble of water flowing over submerged rocks, the plink, plunk of water falling from the ceiling into the pool that is quickly swelling. I am now knee deep. I look for an escape route. There is one low tunnel mostly filled with water, an inlet filling our chamber. Probably the one Miztli dragged me through. I realize there are no lamps on the wall, no overhead holes for outside light to filter in. I wonder out loud, “How the hell am I able to see? And why am I seeing everything in monochrome?”
“David, I am allowing you to see through my eyes. I figured your fear would spiral out of control if you could only see blackness.”
“Very true. Drowning while stuck in a cave is, like, my ultimate nightmare, so, thank you.”
“What is the light cloud I see around you?”
“When you see in color you see the physical person. Monochromatic vision allows one to also perceive a soul. A light cloud indicates a kind aura. A dark gray is the other end of the kind evil spectrum.”
The inflow from the tunnel increases in pressure. The water rises faster. It moves from knee deep to chest deep in a matter of minutes. Puma leaps to the last visible ledge, one so close to the ceiling he or she must move into a crouched pounce position to fit. The tail flicks noticeably faster. His tension is also increasing.
“Miztli, are you male or female?”
“Yes, I am male and female and third gender.”
I would purse the line further but the water has risen to my chin. I tippy toe and angle my head up for the last space of air. Miztli is getting wet too. Half his body is submerged. What to do? What to do? There’s nothing I can do. I’m losing balance in the rising water, I lean against the wall to steady myself. It feels flimsy. I push harder. It flexes ever so slightly. Another, more forceful push, a stone gives way and falls through. The water flows through knocking other stones loose. The hole widens.
“This is our escape,” Miztli says. “When this wall crumbles we will be caught in the torrent. Grab onto my tail with both hands and don’t let go. Let go and you will end.”
“What about you? You could drown, too.”
“I’m spirit. I’ll be ok. I’m not so sure about you. You better grab onto my tail now. The wall will collapse momentarily.”
I grab onto Miztli’s tail. It is softer than I expect and smaller in diameter. Holding onto it is difficult. It begins slipping. I loop it around in a circle tight enough to fit my hands. Miztli screams. Too late to redo my grip. The wall collapses and we are sucked through into a vortex. For one of the few times in my life, I am going with the flow.
We are helpless in the rushing torrent. I cannot see, cannot control my body. I reassert my death grip on Miztli’s tail holding as if my life depends upon it because it does. Hopefully, the tail won’t break leaving me careening and bouncing my head off any submerged rocks or the rock walls. We twist and turn with the bends in the frigid river.
I am unsure if Miztli is directing us or has submitted to River intelligence taking us where we are supposed…are destined…to go. Which of my destiny lines are we traveling? Is it my line or Miztli’s line? Could this be an overlap of destinies? Are we on parallel destinies? If so, how long until we separate? I hope it is not until this crazy underground river journey comes to a peaceful end and I can lay under a warm sun to dry off.
Oomph! Damn rocks! I crash into and bounce off another something. Thankfully, most collisions are with surfaces softer than rock. Does that mean we have passed the boundaries of the pyramid? I want to open my eyes but worry the debris hitting my face will slice open my eyeballs. Unforgiving surfaces slam into me causing pain winces. I almost lose my tenuous grip on the tail. Is this what it feels like to go over a waterfall in a barrel? So far, none of the surfaces have felt sharp enough to pierce my flesh. But, I am so disoriented, so pumped with adrenaline I might not feel a gash, might not feel a severed limb.
We have been under for minutes? Longer? I can’t determine the duration. Time has lost meaning. How am I still conscious? I can’t have been under too long. My lungs are not burning from lack of oxygen. Then again, in this messed up between world, oxygen may be irrelevant. Am I spirit? Am I live? Am I Memorex?
The water grows warmer. Tropical. Red shadows play on my eyelids. Why aren’t we stopping? We’re not even slowing down. This would be a fun slip and slide if I were not so terrified. The water cools again, becomes uncomfortably chilly. Darkness embraces me. We slow down. There is smooth gravel beneath me, rocks worn by incessant water polishing their souls. Puma drags me onto a pebbly shore.
“David. You can open your eyes now and let go of my tail.”
I drop the tail. My hands are numb, legs wobbly. I ache all over from the rough and tumble ride. “Ok.” I open my eyes. I think I open my eyes. It’s black as pitch. “I can’t see anything.”
“Ah, yes. Human eyes. I will again allow you to see through mine.”
I pull myself to a sitting position, allow my vision to focus. “I…I can see now. I don’t think I will ever grow used to this monochromatic sight. It’s good for photography when I can adjust for colors but, real life, there aren’t any adjustment knobs. Where are we?”
“We are in a large cave system made by the river running at our feet.”
I smell a whisper of fresh air on the dank odor of the cave. The exit mustn’t be too far ahead. We are on a sandbar, no, a pebble bar. I stand, marveling at the great expanse of the cave’s interior. There are stalactites hanging from the ceiling, stalagmites growing from the floor. There are pillars where the two met. This must be an ancient cave. I cross an ankle-deep rivulet. The flowing water deposits tiny stones in my boots which work their way to the inner sole. I gingerly walk to a ledge along the wall, take a seat, and shake out my boots. There is something familiar about this cave. An undercurrent of fragrance I recognize. But from where?
It is then I see the Mayan fetish carved into the cave wall, the one my wife and I saw on our first trip to Belize. I wonder, is it Yum Kaax, the Maize god? We were in the jungle on a tubing trip inside a river caving system. It was the terminus of our route. The place we ate our lunch before the inner tube float back to the cave entryway. The guide told us the history of the fetish, how some Mayans sacrificed their firstborn under the belief their fecundity would soar resulting in the births of many additional children. Sacrifice the one for the many. If we waited here long enough, there was bound to be a tour group and I would be rescued. Did I need to be rescued? Are we really in the cave?
“Miztli, where are we?”
“We are in Yucatan.”
“Yucatan as in southern México?”
“In my world, there is no delineation by country. There is only mother Earth. To orient you, we are in the land you call Belize.”
A hear voices heading our way, voices and the splish splash of a paddle dipping in water. The rocks bounce sound carrying it quickly in these caves. I listen closely to the words. They are not Spanish or any other language I recognize.
“Miztli, what language are those people speaking?”
“They are speaking K’iche’, one of the Mayan languages.”
“Do you speak k’iche’?”
“As I told you, I am spirit. I have no need of language.”
I think I may have asked Miztli the wrong question. It is not where that is important. “Miztli, when are we?”
“We are in the time before the invasion of the Americas.”
“Is this before or after the sacrifices outside Cholula?”
“It is hard to say. Time in the spirit world is nonlinear. Before and after are irrelevant concepts. We exist at all points in time. I can’t accurately say if we are before or after Cholula. To me, they are the same time.”
I can see a halo from a torch bouncing off the cave walls and ceiling. The rhythmical splish splash of the oar grows louder, the voices clearer. Correction. The voice clearer. Only one person is speaking. The voice sings a repetition of sounds as if…as if…chanting?
A shallow dugout canoe paddled by a man slides onto the gently sloping sand and pebble shore. They are all standing in the canoe. How do they maintain balance with such ease? The chanter, who would turn out to be a priest, has a dark aura and stands in the front, the paddler, in the middle, and the woman in the rear both emit mid tone auras. I guess they, like most, beings are a mixture of good and bad.
The priest wears a plumed headdress of orange feathers standing in a half moon, vertical halo. Green feathers extended backward reminding me of a high knotted ponytail. He carries a staff. The top is carved into an animal, a demented jaguar or some other totem fetish I can’t figure out. A gold and turquoise pendant attached to what looks to be a deer hide lanyard hangs around his neck resting in the middle of his chest. It is exquisitely blue and polished to a sheen.
The priest exists first followed by the man and the woman who first bends down to gather a bundle. Food, I hope but, based on my Cholula experience, fear otherwise. The evidence confirming my fears was soon plain. The bundle was surrounded by an aura so light it appeared white. There was an innocent in the mix.
The woman is wearing a just past the knee length white skirt with a deeply notches circling the hem. The notches stop just before a horizontal golden band. Red lines crosshatch the dress forming a diamond pattern. He is in a white kilt with a red band just below the waist.
All three have strong Mayan noses, Roman in profile, tattoos. They are short by Western standards. The priest has raven’s whiskers tattooed on his face. The men are around five and a half feet, the woman under five. When they speak, they reveal teeth filed to points. It looks like two rows of jagged mountains with the peaks touching. Even in the torchlight, the whiteness is astounding.
The priest builds a fire. They must have brought the wood in the boat for there is no timber in the cave. The woman places the bundle on the natural rock shelf. There are corn stalks, ears of corn, and a baby, a very young baby. She picks him up. When she turns toward the fire, I realize he, too looks like me. I assume also a ginger but can’t tell in this colorblind state. Not again! But it may not even be me. I need to know so I inch closer. They are oblivious to my presence. I move closer yet for a better look. The torch throws a nimbus around the baby’s head. Shit! It is the spitting image of me. I twirl toward Miztli.
“Yes, David. This firstborn is you.”
“Firstborn? Wasn’t I also a first born in Cholula?”
“You have always been a firstborn, David.”
Another sacrifice? To what fucked up purpose? Absurd attempts to bend the gods wills to human wills? Assinine attempts to appease omnipotent deities? Are they to brainwashed to comprehend with omnipotence comes anything the god’s want? There is no need to trade a current life for rain or the potential for future children. Madness, all this, madness. Is ancient baby me nothing more than an oblation to appease a hungry god? Were my sacrificed lives atonements for the sins of others? None of this is right nor makes any logical sense. Religion and sensibility? Antonyms. Mutually exclusive concepts people hold in their heads denying the impossibility of coexistence.
“How many times, Miztli? How many lives have been a child sacrifice?”
“These two you’ve seen. A few more I can see scattered through your many past human manifestations.”
“Why me? Why was I chosen for sacrifice?”
“For reasons, I don’t know for sure. One possibility, you always return to life as a ginger. In this land, in all lands, you are an anomaly, a blue eye ginger in an ocean of brown eye ravens. So it has been with gingers through the ages. The people either fear or revere the extremely different. Albinos suffer the same curse. The fearful sacrifice because they are worried, the oddity, if allowed to exist, will bring bad luck upon the people. Better to destroy than risk potential suffering. The reverent trade the choicest diamond for a promise of future blessings.”
The chanting increases in pitch and cadence. I don’t want to look but can’t keep my eyes from watching. The burning fire emits a lovely scent reminding me of countless glorious evenings sitting around a campfire seeing flame reflections in smiling eyes moist from laughter. This may ruin fires for me forever. The priest walks in a circle around the couple waving a censer burning what smells like sweet sage. I have not seen sage in Belize. It must be a trade good from Northern peoples.
“What is the priest saying?”
“The priest is calling on the gods to accept a blood and burnt offering of a first born and return many child blessings on the couple that their line may not disappear from Earth.”
“Who can know the minds of the creator gods? What you are witnessing is a corn people’s belief. When an ear of corn dies, the seeds are scattered resulting in many more plants and a bountiful next harvest.”
“I…the baby me…is not corn.”
“No, but life is life is life.”
“What does that mean?”
“Only the gods can create life. All lives are valuable in the gods’ eyes. All lives exist to feed on and be food. In the end, it is simply a circle.”
“There’s no purpose in this insanity.”
“You are blessed with luck.”
“How is it lucky to be sacrificed as an infant?”
“Not all souls find another vessel to inhabit. Many are stuck between. To use your concept, a soul purgatory. You have, so far, been spared the non-existence existence. You have always found a suitable vessel to carry you through the four life cycles described by Grandfather.”
“I remember. He said I was in the fourth cycle, the final cycle before liberation.”
“Few, relative to the population, progress as far as you have. Many get stuck in one cycle for eternity never learning enough to shift. By being sacrificed pure, your soul was given a choice for the next vessel.”
“Yes, a choice. Those who die after the age when they understand right from wrong must atone for their sins, pay for their crimes against creation.”
“A kind of Karma?”
“Yes. The baby you being sacrificed chose the Aztec vessel sacrificed at Cholula. Both were sacrificed why still sinless allowing the choice of positive energy vessel making phase shifts more likely. The positives have greater knowledge and shift the phases more easily.”
“So, I was sacrificed in Belize followed by Cholula.”
“Time is nonlinear, sometimes circular, frequently erratic. It is just as likely you were sacrificed first in Cholula then Belize. In circular time, you were sacrificed in Cholula before and after Belize and in Belize before and after Cholula. In spirit time, both sacrifices occurred simultaneously.”
“Only crazy because you exist in physical life. When you finally finish the fourth phase, transcend to spirit, and exist at every point in time, it will make sense.”
“So I will transcend?”
Miztli smiles, whiskers twitch, says nothing.
“It is my understanding, you are on your way, that it is one of your possible destinies. Remember, only being a present, past seer, I can’ know for sure. But, Grandfather has given you special attention so I expect you will achieve spirit existence. Or Grandfather likes playing games meaning there is a distinct possibility you are stuck.”
“What is the stuck between, soul purgatory you mentioned?”
“All in good time, David.”
“Is not all time good, Miztli?”
“Then now is a good a time as any so tell…aah!” A hot pain sears into my chest cavity.
The priest places the heart on top of the Mayan fetish then throws the still twitching corpse into the fire. My eyes burn as if touched by habanero oil. My skin sizzles. Puma grabs me and drags me into the river separating the life ripples between me and baby me from interfering with each other.
The water is thick, tastes of blood. Why couldn’t it be wine? I can’t breathe. Struggling, I grab Miztli by the nape to steady myself, find a way to the surface. A great surge as if a dam has burst slams into us breaking my hold on Miztli. I am thrown about like a rag doll, tumbling head over heels. Blackness engulfs me. I fear my premonitions, my reoccurring dreams that I’m fishing in still waters with my dad, have come true and I am dead again.
Isla de las Muñecas (Island of the Dolls)
After another long body numbing journey rendering me completely disoriented, I surge upward until I’m thrown clear of the waters and crash back down onto a muddy embankment. I lay still dappled by the sun filtering through verdant leaves in what appears to be a jungle. But where exactly am I? And what has happened to Miztli? I scan the area.
There are paths radiating from the pool. They are all too narrow to have been made by humans, probably the natural outcome of small animals sneaking in for water under cover of night. I pick the one lined with the most colorful flowers to explore. I’m thankful for the return of color vision for I love being bedazzled by colors. But wish I still had the ability to detect a person’s aura. I don’t know who I will encounter wherever I am. Knowing if they are bent toward good or evil would be helpful in choosing to trust or flee.
The foliage is canopied 3 feet over the trail. Too low for me without crawling. I force my way through suffering the slapping of tree branches and small cuts on my legs, face, and arms. The sound of scampering feet is in front of me. They stop then start when I get near moving off a short distance. The leaves prevent me from seeing what type of animal I’m spooking. Strange that it would not just flee far, far away. I fight the attacking branches for another fifteen sweaty minutes before breaking into a clearing nearly devoid of leaves. I drop to my knees and plant my head on the cool ground. Oh, that feels good. But it smells musty.
When the coolness of earth seeps into me, I right myself to a kneeling position which doesn’t last long because my knees ache when deeply bent. It’s painful to raise myself from a squat. I grab a thin tree using it to pull myself into a standing position. When fully erect, I’m staring directly into the face of a weathered, plastic doll. It’s naked, bald, pink, and blue-eyed. The left leg is broken off at the knee leaving jagged plastic exposed.
I jump back. There are more. A black hair rag doll above, another plastic doll, headless lower on the tree. I whirl around almost falling in the process. There are dolls in all the trees. Some are tied, others nailed, still, others wedged between branches. Naked dolls. Clothed dolls. A spiderman doll. A construction worker doll. Stuffed animals, too. I want to run but every which way is blocked by this army of grungey dolls.
“Where the HELL am I?” I scream.
“David, you are at one of the Islas de las muñecas.”
“Miztli? Is that you?”
“Why can’t I see you?”
“We are outside the spirit realm. I’m only visible in the spirit realm.”
“This is real? This is sickening? How is it you can talk? Can you and see me?”
“I can see you.”
“What is this muñecas place?”
“Remember when I told you, you were lucky to find vessels so quickly?”
“This island is filled with the souls not so lucky as you. This is their purgatory.”
“Purgatory as in the intermediate state after physical death where souls await expiatory purification?” I find it enjoyable showing off my school smarts.
“No. That is another case of organized religion usurping a spiritual state and applying their own irrelevant concepts in an erroneous attempt to explain.”
“Then, please explain it to me.”
“The beings you see here…”
“Beings…you mean they are not dolls?”
“Yes and no. The beings you see here are awaiting suitable conditions for their next birth.”
“This feels like an island of misfit toys.”
“Most are societal misfits. This island is populated primarily with those who committed evil in their previous lives. The vessels they have tried to enter rejected them. Those with a positive aura quickly find a new vessel. The evil must wait.”
“So, the vessels are not simply births yet to be?”
“Correct. Both the vessel and the soul are spirits. They combine to be a new being in birth. Each can reject the other. Vessels look for souls with a pure aura that will, hopefully, enable them to maintain their physical integrity outside senseless violence. Souls are less finicky. They prefer one of the few vessels likely to be born to a life of leisure but will settle for significantly less. You see, it is the soul that determines the goodness or badness of the birthed being. So, a bad soul will choose a substandard vessel with the ultimate goal of achieving power and wealth by whatever means it takes.”
“Some of the souls on this isla have, over time, deeply meditated on their ways and migrated away from evil toward goodness so there are some with lighter auras. They are few for a jaguar almost never changes their spots. They are more likely to combine with a vessel. Of course, some revert back to evil so the vessels are leary and play it safe. Some of the souls have dwelt here for ages.”
“Is Cortés here?”
“Yes, along with many of the marauding invaders.”
“And the dolls?”
“The dolls are put up by the locals to trap evil. The souls see the dolls then, thinking they are available vessels, crawl inside and wait for rebirth. If they were not waiting in the vessels they would scour the countrysides looking for a living vessel to steal. There are rare instances when stealing is possible.”
“There does not seem to be enough dolls on the island to hold the world’s evil.”
“This is one of many doll islands in México. Still, you are correct, there are not enough. Evil continually leaks into the physical world. If it’s not leaking then new evil is generating. The nefarious activities of humanity are never-ending. Just when we think America is on a positive path, racists of all colors ooze from their slime committing heinous acts.”
“Yes. I do live in a corrupt world.”
“Do not think you are immune. Every time you look the other way, every time you don’t speak up when you see a person being shamed, you are complicit in creating space for evil to flourish. You are part of the problem, David.”
Ok. This was getting uncomfortable. I knew I wasn’t perfect but am not in the mood to have it thrown in my face. Come to think of it, there’s never a time when I like my foibles given voice. I need to smoothly change the topic. “How do the locals know to put up the dolls?”
“In days long past, there were powerful empaths with insights into the spirit world. They placed straw dolls to fool the souls. There are very few powerful empaths living today but the custom has become deeply rooted and the locals continue the tradition believing the dolls have the power to trap ghosts. The souls are not actually trapped, just fooled into believing birth is imminent. They don’t leave for fear they won’t find another vessel willing to accept them.”
“Why do all souls congregate here?”
“They do not. It’s common practice to put dolls out in yards, on verandas, in windows to catch the ghosts. When they believe one has been caught, the dolls are brought here because souls are unable to cross the water.”
“That’s a silly superstition.”
“No. It is true. The souls are incompatible with water. Once here or any of the islas, they are stuck until they encounter a vessel or hitch a ride on a living empath.”
“I guess, I can’t see the auras because I’m not an empath?”
“Almost correct. You are weak in your empathic abilities, still, stronger than most.”
“Hmmm…you’ve had me in spirit realms twice today. Why can’t you help me see these?”
“But you won’t.”
“This place is laden with evil. Seeing strong evil even in aura form has a way of damaging the human psyche. I’m not sure you have strength enough to protect yourself.”
“I want to try. If I feel any discomfort whatsoever I’ll shut my eyes and you can disconnect from me.”
“I warn you, the damage inflicted can come quick.”
“You will be inside my head. You can use your attuned spirit to protect me.”
“Ok. As you wish. Close our eyes.”
“Close them? But I want to see.”
“Once I have bridged our minds, you may open them. It is easier if you’re not distracted.”
“Gotcha, boss.” I close my eyes and wait one minute, two minutes. I feel nothing. Was Miztli messing with me?
“No, I am not. Open them slowly and remember, if anything feels out of place, slam them shut.”
I open them a sliver but am unable to make out anything beyond the blur of my eyelashes. Fuck it. I open them wide. Color is gone. That’s still a freaky feeling. The dolls have auras. All of them are deep black, black so black all light is absorbed. It feels like my energy is being siphoned out of my body. I become light-headed. I grab onto a tree to keep from falling and close my eyes until balance is restored.”
“Are you ok, David?”
“I reopen my eyes and look around.” They black auras seem to be energized, little sparks light them up. The dolls start moving. “Miztli, the dolls…”
“What about the dolls?”
“They…they are moving.”
“They’re moving. How are they moving?”
“They all turn their heads, the ones that have heads, the ones with eyes are staring at me. I’m getting scared.”
“David, quickly close your eyes.”
I try to shut them but they are stuck like they are propped open with little sticks as in the old cartoons. “I can’t. I CAN’T”
“I’m disengaging from you. Hold on a moment. There. We are separate again.”
I feel a pop like when a wine cork is freed from the bottle. “Um…I can see color and I can see the auras. How can I see both? I thought you said that was not possible.”
Miztli paces frantically keeping himself between me and the closest dolls. “I said it was only possible for very strong empaths. This is not good. Worse. This is bad. You must be stronger than I believed possible.”
“Miztli, the dolls are climbing down from the trees. A couple are hobbling. One without legs is crawling. They are coming toward me!” A zombie apocalypse of dolls is coming for me. Are the flesh eaters? Are they soul eaters? What happens to a soul eaten by evil zombie dolls? Would I too become evil? Would I be stuck on this island until finding a suitable vessel?
“Listen closely. There must be more to your spirit than I am able to sense. Whatever it is, it has disturbed the souls. They, in turn, have animated the dolls. The only explanation is they see you as a way off this island.”
“When I tell you, you need to run as fast as possible back to the pool through which we entered. Don’t look back. Don’t stop no matter what you hear or feel. You got that?”
“Dive into the pool and swim down the throat as far as possible. You will come to a lip. Swim horizontally beneath the island until you are past the edge. Then swim upward angled away from the island. You will pop up in the waterways of Xochimilco. There are many boats traveling the canals. One of them will surely take you in.”
“What about you? I can’t leave you behind.”
“I will keep the dolls from following you. I’m spirit not physical. They can’t hurt me. I’ll be ok.”
I run back along the path I took to the clearing. It is easier this time with the branches I broke on the way in. Still, running is a challenge. Roooaarrrr. Miztli is screaming. Is it pain or a diversion. I want to go back and help but She said not to. There are black auras in my peripheral vision. They are coming. How fast can they move? Roooaarrrr. I can’t wait to find out and run faster and longer than I have since my soccer playing days. When I think I can’t take another step the forest clears.
I’m at the pond. My hiking boots won’t do for swimming. I squat and fumble finger the laces until I can kick the boots off. I hate to lose these. The plants are rustling. I consider removing my pants but half nakedness will be hard to explain to anyone rescuing me. The pond is not wide, about my body length. I dove in shallow water as a kid and hit bottom. I was lucky not to break my neck. I dive in. No resistance. I’m in the throat. I should be safe now but can’t be sure. The adrenaline is in high gear driving me into the dark depths.
I cannot see. Navigation requires reaching out to the wall and feeling for the lip. I’m not a strong swimmer. I don’t know how long I can hold out. The wall ends. I turn left and kick like a mad man probing the top with my fingers searching for the end. The bottom of the island is not smooth like the throat through which I descended. Something sharp slices into a finger. I pray its only exposed tree roots and not a colony of snaggle tooth critters with a hankering for warm flesh. I use quick slaps with my knuckles to test if I’m still under the island. The first time, I hit nothing I angle 45 degrees and shoot for the surface.
My lungs are burning. I need oxygen. How much further? Is it possible to die without sucking in lungs full of water? If I don’t breathe will I pass out then float to the surface? No. I will probably inhale and drown. My mind starts fading. I kick frantically, pump my arms doing my best to claw my way to the surface. I break through and suck in fresh air too fast. My mind sees black spots. After that, things get hazy.
I vaguely remember someone calling, “Señor! Señor! ¿Necesitas ayuda?”
I think ayuda means help. “Sí. Sí.” I respond. I am pulled into a colorful boat and throw up before passing out.
“David.” The voice sounds muffled as if my ears are under water. But, I’m dry. I’m laying on my back on a very hard, uneven surface. The horizon is dimming to red. I don’t smell any water.
“What are you doing in there, David? That area is off limits. Didn’t you see the fence?”
I pull myself to a sitting position. Look around. I’m outside Cholula. Cholula? And I’m on the mini-pyramid where the kids…where young David and the kids…were sacrificed to bring rain. How did I get here?
“David. You need to get out of there. It’s off limits. Get out before security throws you out and we all have to leave. I want to see the rest of the temple grounds.
“Uh…Ok.” My boots are next to me. I pull them on, lace ’em up, tie ’em snug. It’s much easier when terror is not running through the fingers. I hop off the pyramid, walk over to my wife and our friends.
“How did you get out here ahead of us? I didn’t see you pass us in the tunnel.”
“I took a different way, the uphill tunnel we saw.” A half-truth. To tell her the whole truth would be received as a full lie. To tell her I had another spirit world experience would do nothing more than raise her ire. I was able to talk her out of an MRI last time. The thought of being in one of those machines is scary. I doubt I could talk her out of it again. She thinks I have cancer.
“But that was gated.”
“The gate wasn’t locked so I took a side excursion.”
“Really.” She’s not good at hiding her feelings. I can see the annoyance in her knitted brow. We are with friends so nothing will be discussed now. She smiles and we continue our excursion.
The trip did not end here. We visited another Pyramid, spent time walking the Puebla Zocalo. It’s a beautiful, relaxed city. But there was not a sign of Miztli anywhere.
I spent those last days lost. My last experiences in the spirit world concluded with a foretelling of a next step in my destiny of destinies. When I first met, Grandfather in New Mexico, he foretold of a trip to the Philippines. There I met Tukó who informed me I was on a vision quest. When I returned to New Mexico, Grandfather foretold the vision quest would continue with a trip to New Mexico where I would meet Puma. Puma, though, told me nothing about my future. True, he said he was a past seer, not a future seer so would not have the future sight. So, I wonder, is this the end of my vision quest?
Part 5: Coming…