Saturday, February 04, 2006

Danse of the Lycan

The Mexican night smelled of sweat and burnt fuel. I had just finished my fifth gimlet and was debating a sixth when a pretty little senorita in a green skirt brushed past me, fluttering long black eyelashes in my direction before disappearing into the throng of dark clad street creepers. I took my drink to go and ambled into her wake, trying to recapture the meaning of the look she gave me. Something said she knew me, precisely the kind of thing that can get a man killed.

The late night revelers continued their dance of the dead, skeletons and vihuelas in the moonlight, as cries of passion and pistol shots echoed into the darkness. I stumbled more than once on the crudely cobbled pathway, deeper into the underbelly of the peddler district. I hoped nothing had been slipped in my drink as I noticed the crowds thinning on the lightless, crumbling walkways of the inner zocalo.

Lighting a cigarette, I polished off the gimlet and threw the glass in the street, hoping to draw out a serpent. I knew it wasn’t a smart move, but I figured a risk couldn’t hurt. I was also nearly drunk, and out of sorts in the night’s unnatural humidity. A few shadows stirred in dimly lit windows, and a cancer-stricken cough responded to the break in silence with its own disturbing hymn. This was a dirty place, from the smell in the air to the rot underfoot.

El cuchillo de afeita. The razor. The name was known well in these parts. Sliced up bodies had been turning up every once in a while for twenty years, and always on Dia de los Muertos. The work of a master slayer, each kill had its sinister marking with the angle and number of the cuts and the messages in blood. The victims were far from insignificant. Fair haired tourists with bulging pockets, and the occasional local businessman felled by too much success.

The locals pointed to obscure, occultist rituals and superstitions of demonic spirits possessing the land. Politicians chalked it up to extremist activism or cartel crime, depending on the election cycle. The truth was that no one knew who was responsible. But the razor had systematically decimated the morale of a proud city with a series of murders heinous enough to shake the psyches of even the most optimistic. Industry and commerce had slowed to deplorable levels, with tourism an afterthought, and the townspeople had lost all sense of civility and social function. Oaxatec fell into dominion of the nefarious, and nothing remained to fight back.

I thought about my long years in the business and my cynicism toward the craft. Standing in the shadow of an empty boutique, I wondered how it was that I could lose touch with the emotional plight of a long-suffering people. The strands that keep us alive and struggling are thin and taut, but I’d seen more than a lord’s share of mortal perseverance in the face of the dragon, long though his teeth might be. In the waning moonlight, the street’s empty desperation allowed me the presence to collect myself. I was there for a reason.

She came into the light slowly, smiling. Her green skirt ruffled in the modest breeze, and, arrested by her gaze, I felt the suspicions I had the first time I saw her were at once vindicated. I took a last drag of my cigarette and flicked into the street, footsteps away from where she stood, swaying.

“You think you know what you are doing?” Her accent was thick, but her English was good.

“I promised myself I wouldn’t get mixed up with any local beauties this time,” I said. “I’ve had too many waitresses and aspiring émigrés in my travels down here.”

She laughed a sweet, playful laugh. “I don’t want you to take me back to your country, senor, but maybe you have a nice hotel, hmm?”

“Perhaps we can talk a little first, not spoil things.”

“What is it you would like to know?” She raised her eyebrows, and for an instant, I was immobilized by her beauty. But there was something not right about it. I knew that face. It was a face I could not forget, not after a hundred chambers of torment, not after a visit from the darkest of the otherworldly who come in the night to steel away dreams for their own vile, self-gratifying purposes.

She had taken on the very visage of my Carmela, the one true thing I held dear in the days before.

“You shape-shifting bitch,” I said. “I think it’s time I introduced myself.” I pulled out my blade and sprung without thinking. But she was too fast.

As my chin connected with stone, I felt the sickening crack of my right arm, as my weapon was twisted and flung from my grasp. I rolled onto my back just in time to avoid the hew of her fist, and pulled myself up, arm hanging limply.

In her natural form, the beast was hideous, claws sprouting from her face and spittle dripping from open orifices in her heaving, fur-covered body. The bitch howled with ravenous ferocity, cracking spindly bones and steel talons in her maniacal histrionics. I braced for a fight.

“The circle is closed, foolish gringo,” she spat it like acid. “You have walked onto sacred grounds.”

“Guess what?” I figured it was time for decisive action. “I got paid a lot for this job.”

She bellowed an ear-shattering roar as powerful hind muscles kicked her were-body airborne. The last thing her devil’s eyes must have seen before the end was the point of a silver blade and the glint in my smiling eyes, sated by her destruction. I wrenched the gilded dagger on my boot free of her quivering midsection and watched a venal spray smatter the filth-soaked street. The demon’s unsteady breath was quieted with a final stroke of my good hand, aided by the scythe hidden in my woolen sleeve.
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