The Conjurer, Part Seven by Writingfundimension
"'WHAT IS LIFE? IT IS THE FLASH OF A FIREFLY IN THE NIGHT. IT IS THE BREATH OF A BUFFALO IN THE WINTER TIME. IT IS THE LITTLE SHADOW WHICH RUNS ACROSS THE GRASS AND LOSES ITSELF IN THE SUNSET."|
-- BLACKFOOT TRIBAL ELDER
Senor Pasquale laid a finger alongside his nose and nodded. His features evened out. His eyes, once again, sparkled with humor. "Well, perhaps I've misjudged the situation." He gestured toward a distant point. "I'm sure you're thirsty and hungry. Come, join me for lunch, and perhaps afterward, you can take a short nap. Then we'll talk."
"That doesn't fit with my plans," I complained. "I was planning to leave for Texas in the morning."
"I'm afraid that's not going to be possible, Doctor Morales." He turned to continue along the path at an astonishing speed for a man of his age. I jogged in order to catch up.
"You'll be my guest for the time being," he said as I drew close. "In fact, Puente has returned to the hotel to collect your belongings and settle your account. No need to thank me, though." He swung an arm backward with the palm open and facing upward. "Stick close! A jaguar and its mate share my property."
LOCATION: THE CHIHUAHUAN DESERT OUTSIDE SALTILLO, MEXICO
Senor Pasquale moved like a hot knife through cold butter, and I was forced to set a faster pace. My lungs burned with the effort to stay close to the old man as he maneuvered his way around scattered debris and outcroppings the size of refrigerators. His steps were so precise and controlled that, in a curious turn of thought, I wondered if he was floating rather than walking. Of course, that was impossible… wasn’t it?
The shaman gave no notice of my struggle. Eyes forward, he resolutely proceeded while humming an annoying tune—a dozen notes repeated, I was sure, to deepen my discomfort. After ten minutes of steady climbing, I felt a cramp in the left side of my abdomen signalling my breathing was not keeping pace with the level of exertion. The only way to get rid of it would be to slow down or stop, neither of which was going to happen due to the picture in my head of one, maybe two, Jaguars, lurking nearby and deciding whether to make me their blue plate special.
“Dammit Pasquale, slow down,” I yelled. Squinting my eyes against the bright light, I thought I saw the edge of his serape lifting and falling with his movements. He appeared to be about a dozen feet away. “Now he’ll come back and see how I’m doing,” I thought.
Seconds turned to minutes. I heard no movement but for the scraping of my soles against pebbles. Pasquale and his henchmen showed, to this point, little interest in my well-being. But surely the shaman would not bring me this far only to leave me for buzzard bait?
I was shambling like a depleted runner just short of the finish line. I felt ashamed of my inability to keep up with a man who had fifty years on me, and blamed it on my sedentary patterns. In part due to the oppressive heat back home in Texas, I’d let my running routine dwindle to nothing. Over a period of months, I regressed to being slightly more active than pond scum.
Elise was right to nag me about my running. She said the mind and body need regular tuning, but I told her to back off. Now, I wish I’d listened.
A niggle of fear built to panic. What if I wandered off the path and onto a cliff, blundering forward to break my leg or worse?
My usual response to stress is to become angry. In this case, it worked to my advantage. I slid into investigator mode, scanning the area for footprints. I spotted the distinct indentation of a boot. It looked fresh. Has to be Pasquale’s. I must be heading in the right direction.
Sweat dripping from my forehead caused my eyes to sting. Using the hem of my shirt, I cleaned my face. Determined not to let the devious old fart show me up further, I moved onward with determination. I focused on the ground and came to the stunning realization it was not a dirt path at all, but a dried river bed.
Scary images flashed through my mind of the devastation wrought by flash floods. The person unfortunate enough to be caught unawares faced injury and, possibly, death. The picture, as it played out in my mind, had a negative impact. Dread settled into the pit of my stomach as I imagined myself overtaken by a wall of water. I fought the urge to drop to the ground and weep out my sense of doom.
A sound that was a cross between a bellowing bull and a war cry startled me. I looked up in time to see what appeared to be a bird of prehistoric proportions hurtling toward me. My scream was reduced to a whoosh of expelled air as the creature grabbed my midsection, lifted me off my feet and flung me several feet further down the path. I stayed pinned to the ground for some minutes unable to escape what felt like a demonic Ferris wheel.
When the world stopped spinning, I opened my eyes to an expansive blue sky. My head throbbed as if I’d been cold-cocked by a hammer. I sensed a movement next to me and turned my eyes in that direction.
Pasquale sat on his heels studying me. He stared at the center of my abdomen, seeming intent on something only he could see. He mumbled to himself in Spanish, then laid his palm against my navel. I felt a surge of contentment flood my being and thought, “I want to feel like this forever.”
When I tried to verbalize the thought, all that came out was a croak. Pasquale’s reaction was to laugh so hard he nearly toppled over. Then, he collected himself and turned fierce eyes on me. They seemed to pierce through the bones of my skull, and I felt like the illusion behind a magician’s trick.
“You, Doctor Morales, are as transparent as an ice crystal. I remember being like that once, though not nearly as innately stupid. Lucky for you that you’ve met the man willing to help you overcome this unfortunate handicap.”
I shot upward producing a sharp pain in the middle of my forehead. I remained motionless until the pain subsided, opened my eyes and looked around. “Where is it?” I demanded.
Pasquale’s response was to cross and uncross his eyes, which threw me into a panic. I lunged forward, determined to retrace my steps back to the main road so I could hitch a ride back to town. The old man waylaid my plans. He grabbed my neck and pressed his fingers into its soft tissue. “Your violent reactions mark you as weak,” he whispered in my ear. I tried to twist away, but that only made him dig his fingers deeper. “Stop, you fool. She is watching you… watching us both. Your only hope is to calm down and hope she decides you were worth saving.”
“Save me? What the fuck are you talking about!?”
Pasquale pointed to a churned up area where I’d previously stood. “Another minute in that spot and you would have died.”
His words produced a jolt of energy to the middle of my body. I couldn’t look away though I had a screaming urge to crawl behind the nearest boulder. As I puzzled his words, trying to devise an intelligent response, the powerful spasms spread outward. I closed my eyes and shook my head. “No. You’re attempting to make me doubt myself.” I opened my eyes and spat out, “The only thing I need to fear right now is you, old man.”
To my astonishment, Pasquale’s appearance underwent a bizarre transformation. In place of the aged Indian stood a warrior. Gone was the subtle bend to his spine--the wrinkled skin wrought by decades of desert living. He advanced until the soles of my boots stopped his momentum. Dropping down, he grasped my forearms and pulled me to my feet. He slid around my body and stood with his back against mine.
Around me was a pregnant silence and, within, the steady thumping of my heart. I felt the sun on my skin, comprehending how its dual essence was both blessing and curse. Yet, it held the key to my existence. What part of me birthed these thoughts?
Pasquale’s voice soared up then, like a plucked cello string. “There is no better time than now and no better place than this desert for you to learn mortal man’s most important lesson.”
I tried to turn and face him, but my legs felt rooted into the earth.
“I know and accept any of my actions has the potential to be my final one. Spirit does not negotiate on this matter. So, I walk on the earth with a harmonious intent. In turn, the Mother speaks to me just as she did to you back there. This time, I was able to save you from being consumed by your morbidity. But I assure you, until you stop fighting your fate—the fate of every living creature—and learn to accept death as an advisor, you will pass away from something stupid like cancer.”
I gasped as he rose up in front of me. I’d felt no trace of his movements. He held my face in his hands and asked, “Is it your wish to become impeccable, Doctor Morales?”
Teardrops wet my cheeks. Pasquale rubbed them away with his thumbs.
“I’ve been chasing a theoretical life. I want to remember what it is to be a man. Please help me.”
Pasquale linked his arm with mine, and we proceeded along the path to his home. He was once again the old Indian I’d first met in Saltillo. He leaned into me as if in need of assistance. But I’d seen too much in this day that felt like a year. I wasn’t falling for it. Feeling emboldened like a mouse beyond the reach of the wolf, I wondered: If death stalked me, what face would it wear?
~~ TO BE CONTINUED ~~
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