TALES FROM THE VOLCANO: Day Of The Alive
I’m taking this back, Mr. Lucas.
age of volcanoes blog note: Tales From The Volcano is a new series which will appear sporadically. It is original fictional short stories written by me for the main purpose of conceptualizing and understanding this reality happening around me a little bit better. Today’s will be an unusual “ghost” story for The Day of the Dead. Enjoy.
living tiki disclaimer: I know extremely little about Guatemala. I needed a setting for the story, and this seemed perfect. So no hassles, Guatemalan bloggers… OK?
“Trick or treat!”
“Ahh!” Annie shrieked when she saw what her husband had slyly placed on her laptop, distracting her with a kiss. He had silently come behind her seated at a small table. “Don’t do that!” she chided while playfully swatting his hand. “You know how I am with the bugs here.”
“Exactly. Perfect for Halloween in Guatemala,” Simon replied, smiling.
“Except that today is November 1st, sweetie. Dia de los Muertos.”
“Shoot! Either I’m going senile or experiencing a major case of jet lag.”
Dr. Annie Jensen’s heart ached for her husband. The trip was unexpected, and he had yet to experience the entire spectrum of insectoid inhabitants – particularly the ones that bite. But she couldn’t turn down the opportunity of a lifetime: Newly discovered ruins in Tikal National Park, including a subterranean chamber. The university would fund her trip, along with two graduate students. They had arrived yesterday, and opted to stay in a small village much closer to the new site than Antigua, or even the hotels near the main site.
The lack of the sometimes even basic amenities didn’t bother Annie. Being an expert in Pre-Columbian Mayan archeology, she’d been down to Guatemala five times already. And although the last time would be nearly twenty years ago, her memory was timeless: The same heavy, humid air with that lightly sweet scent; the same flock of kaleidoscope parrots flying overhead; the same howler monkeys welcoming her back. Only Simon would be different this time.
Being the owner and operator of a sport fishing business, Simon was truly a fish out of water. This was definitely not Cabo San Lucas or Acapulco, and the only reason he was here was because of her. She knew he was already hating it. It just made things worse when he started massaging her shoulders.
“Ohhh,” Annie winced, rubbing her hands.
“Yeah. I could sure go for the treat now.” Pain registered in her voice.
“That was the kiss.”
“So… you’re telling me the marketplace didn’t have any wine?” she said, looking back with a grin.
“Fine. Just for that, I won’t share any of the whiskey they did have,” he replied, holding the bottle up and swinging it like a hypnotist’s watch. Annie’s eyes lit up. Alcohol was alcohol.
“Wine’s a treat. But you’ve got medicine. Please, doctor?” she begged, holding out a cup as if expecting change.
“Doctor, heal thyself,” Simon stated as he poured. He decided not to hold back, even to get in a little more teasing. Arthritis was bad enough, but she was down here with diabetes along with a recent positive diagnosis for lupus. Annie’s not twenty-five anymore, regardless of how much returning here was making her believe she was, he noted. The day’s trip to the site took it’s toll. Even though the grads did most of the work, Annie was notably exhausted.
“Thank you for being here. I tend to forget the jungle’s no place for a fifty year old woman.”
“Well I guess that means I’m really screwed – it’s certainly no place for a fifty-two year old man who is continuously asking ‘What the hell is that thing?’. And asking it in a language nobody seems to understand.”
Annie chuckled, then winced again. “Oh, today was brutal. Stop trying to make me feel good!”
At that moment one of the villagers approached and spoke to Annie. She turned around in her chair and glanced behind Simon, which caused him to look as well. Both were initially surprised at how silent the other man had been standing there, which faded as they realized he wasn’t a resident, but rather a forest shaman. His appearance in the village was rare, yet not uncommon. He grinned a toothless smile back at them.
“What is it, sweetie? What do they want?” Simon inquired to Annie.
“That man is a shaman, and he just told the villager to ask me if I want to be healed.”
“Healed? Of… what? Are you going to have to eat something weird?”
“I don’t know. Although I’ve seen them before, I’ve never actually spoken with one. At least a real one – not the cigar smoking, booze drinking, westernized ones they have in the bigger towns. This fellow is straight out of the wild,” she relayed with trepidation. After another verbal exchange with the shaman and translation from the villager, Annie turned to Simon. “It’s not pharmacological. He’s saying the forest will heal me. I think it’s some kind of ceremony.”
“He said the forest told him.”
“I’m out of my element. You gotta make the call on this one,” Simon shrugged.
“It is unusual for a shaman to offer this, especially without a request for payment. It would be insulting to turn down such an offer. The villager says the shaman has done it many times already for others in the village. OK, sure… why not? I think it would be neat.”
The shaman motioned for Annie to follow him to a nearby clearing, with Simon and the villager acting as interpreter following. Other locals started seeing what was occurring, and started to gather close to the field as if spectators preparing to view a football match.
“Hey, what’s going on?” One of the grad students inquired as he caught up with Simon.
“Your professor is about to have a Kodak moment. Apparently that shaman there is going to perform some sort of healing ritual, but all the villagers gathering ’round tells me it’s going to be quite a show.”
As the shaman motioned for the others except the translator to stay back while they moved to the center of the clearing, Annie looked concerned at all the attention. Long, late afternoon beams of light illuminated the area, providing a magical tranquility that calmed her. Or was it fatigue?
The shaman motioned for Annie to sit on the ground while he did the same opposite her. The villager remained standing close by, and spoke after the shaman. “He asks if you truly want to be healed.”
“Yes, of course. Who wouldn’t?” she stated.
“Many,” replied the villager.
The shaman then took a stick of incense from his satchel, stuck it upright in the ground and lit it. Annie expected a sweet smell, but it was pungent. He closed his eyes and began a chant. It was brief, and after finishing he stood and turned to walk away with the villager following.
“Wait, where is he going?” Annie asked the villager.
“He’s not the one doing the healing,” he replied back.
Instantly Annie took a sharp intake of breath, as if just surfacing from a lake. Slowly exhaling, she looked around puzzled, and then began to smile… and cry. She stood awkwardly, with the legs of a newborn calf. Simon reflexively began to move towards her, but was gently restrained by another villager who said something to him with a smile.
Now starting to walk around, Annie glanced around in all directions with the eyes of a scientist and a child combined, becoming more assured with each step. Then she began to dance. With arms outstretched, she twirled and leaped from place to place, seemingly oblivious to everyone…. and her own ailments. Laughing with a joyfulness her husband had never heard in all the time he’s known her, the forest responded to her merriment in kind with an orchestra of calls, the howler monkeys directing the din.
For a moment, the dimming sunlight appeared to sparkle until Simon realized it was the approaching flutter of dozens of butterflies, settling around her as choreographed confetti. Annie slowed her movements and gazed at those gathered. Upon seeing Simon she smiled and instantly moved towards him, almost skipping. The butterflies dissipated back into the forest. When she was mere feet away she stopped, gazing at him with both familiarity and strangeness.
“Honey?” he inquired softly. She approached him slowly staring into his eyes until she was close enough to give him a kiss. She fainted, taking Simon by surprise but not enough to where he caught her in time. Holding her, he navigated sitting down while carefully laying her on the ground and putting her head in his lap. He signaled for Neil to get him some water.
“Um…. Can anybody tell me what just happened to my wife?” Simon inquired in an amusing tone. The villager whom had been acting as translator spoke. Simon turned to Neil whom had just returned with water to translate.
“He said the forest spirits healed her,” Neil explained. “In wanting to be healed, she allowed them to take temporary possession of her body. He said the forest spirits are very powerful, and their presence in someone makes great healing. In return, they get to briefly experience their world – their home – through her senses, her body, her eyes. The physical world we take for granted every day is an amazing experience for them. I think they were attracted to how Dr. Jensen regarded this place and the forest.”
At that moment, Annie started to mumble, and her eyes slowly opened. Taking in a long breath, she rubbed her face with her hand almost as if to check and feel if it was real. She looked up at Simon. “What happened?”
“I’m not sure except it was pretty fantastic,” he answered. “How do you feel?”