Spring 2009, Volume 6

Drury Award Winner
Fiction by Virginia Trujillo-Loer

Excerpt from Don Florencio's Machete

The story takes in place In Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico in 1925. This is a border city between El Paso Texas and is also located next to the Rio Grand. Lucero is a 17 yr old girl. Antonio (not seen in this chapter) is her father. Michaela (Meekah-ella) is the young widowed wife of Don Florencio.

Synopsis:  Lucero and Michaela take the machete back to the cotton fields. They hide the machete by putting it inside Michaela's buggy. When Lucero finds the place, she does what Abel instructed which was to stand on the old man's blood trail and expose the machete to the sun. As she does this, she discovers that she and Michaela had been followed. Mateo Garcia had hired two men to follow them. He shows up with a group of men, some are his friends; others follow out of curiosity and try to intervene on Lucero's behalf in the following chapter. Lucero tries to get away from Mateo and is nearly trampled to death by his horse. He wants to prove to everyone that Lucero, her family and Michaela were responsible for murdering his uncle, Don Florencio. Lucero survives the trampling but the machete does not. Before she faints, she realizes that this happened for not doing exactly what Abel's ghost had told her.

Blood Trail

“Lucero, are you sure Abel speaks the truth?” asked Michaela.

“A ghost can’t lie….can it?” I said as I treaded carefully in and around the breaks between countless rows of withering cotton plants. My feet were beginning to blister. Steady rhythmic “squish squish” sounds screamed out of my boots as we marched across the field, but the need that pressed me to free papa from prison was by far, much greater than the painful grazing that any tight fitting buckle-up boot had against the tenderness of my skin.

Michaela moaned and huffed while lagging behind me pushing her baby’s buggy through the many rows of bleach dried cotton plants. The agony behind her moaning would make one think she was actually pushing a baby rather than a machete disguised as one. The August sun crept higher and higher above the horizon until it shone brilliantly overhead. This day was hotter than the one before. We left baby Liliana home sleeping soundly on mama’s bed. She looked like a porcelain doll wearing her Sunday best. The tiny white knitted socks around her chubby ankles matched the lace trimmed collar. Her clothes smelled of rosewater dried under the sun. I had convinced Michaela to remove the matching ruffled bonnet off the sleeping baby’s head. After stuffing the bonnet with old stockings to create a head shaped lump, I placed Liliana’s hat, in the buggy along with the machete. The machete, I also wrapped in the color white and hidden slightly under a blanket. To fool the many suspicious eyes on our way to the field would not be an easy task, especially those of the butcher, the milk maid with her four children, Estefano the grocery store owner, but most of all, Dona Consuelo, the baker’s wife.

My urgent need to return the cursed machete to the exact place where Florencio died was not something Michaela understood, not willingly. I did my best to explain while we walked among the barren cotton plants. The ‘crunch’ ‘crunch’ sounds of twigs and dirt clods dissolving under our heels caused Michaela to watch the ground defensively for small reptiles that might possibly rush in and out of the brush randomly near our feet. She also worried about things above the ground like the many dried branches that she believed, reached out to scratch at our skin and the puffs of our sleeves.

“Lucero,” Michaela blurted, almost out of breath. “When we walked past the bakery, did my nervousness show? I nearly felt myself faint when Dona Consuelo asked about the baby!” Michaela said as she bit her lip and heaved at the buggy’s handle bar in an exaggerated manner “I hope she didn’t suspect a thing.” She continued.

“No one believes that woman’s tongue,” I assured Michaela. “Not since she spread those ridiculous rumors about the mayor, his wife and their butler.”

“How can people not suspect?” She insisted, “How many women have you seen head for the field pushing a baby’s carriage? My skirt feels heavy and my boots are looking dull and dingy.” Michaela complained as she wiped the thick sheath of sweat off her forehead. “How are we supposed to find the place where Florencio died among this throng, this dead brush? It all looks the same. My heels won’t stop sinking in the dirt!” Michaela scoffed when an unexpected dip in the ground nearly caused her to fall, machete, bonnet, buggy and all.

“Michaela, we’ve found it,” I stopped pacing and pointed to the break between two cotton plants. In the narrow space was a mound of up-turned dirt, and a solitary stone in the shape of a turtle shell imbedded half way into the ground, the exact place Abel had described to me.

“Lucero, the rows of this field stretch as far as Colonia Chuatemoc. We have been heading south for an hour, at the very least!”

“It’s here where Florencio’s body lay.” I told her again.

“How can you be certain?”

“Last night, my feet stumbled over this rock, this dull gold colored rock embedded in the

dirt when I climbed off the horse. I saw it clearly under the moon light. Its shape is like a turtle shell and sits here solitary, away from all the other large rocks that surround the edge of the Rio Grand.”

“I can’t bear it.” Michaela wiped more sweat off her forehead. I can’t walk one more step. My feet feel like they are bleeding inside my stockings.”

“Woman, stop! Have you forgotten your pledge already? You speak like an old grandmamma, a little old lady stricken with years and in need of volcanic ointment. Do you want me to give you a back rub? Will that ease your pain?”

“Don’t mock Lucero! You can be so cruel sometimes.”

“And you, annoying.”

“If only you had given me more time, Lucero, I could have borrowed a horse and even a mule from Margarita’s stable.”

“Never mind all that, besides, I can’t be seen around town on a horse! After what happened last night? The picture of my face would appear in the weekly newspaper along with the band of wanted pistoleros.” I said as I flipped open the top of the light gray buggy to remove the bonnet filled with mama’s old stockings where the machete was hiding. It was wrapped in a small white blanket; the one mama received me in when I was born. “I am certain this is the place where Florencio died. There are blood stains on the ground. Didn’t you see? Come closer.” I gestured to Michaela to observe the red gooey marks that the hot sun had turned to dark burgundy brown. The stains attracted flies and even a colony of black ants. The tiny insects traveled from plant to plant near the roots forming long black lines straight and broken, all for tiny bits of cooked blood. “Take a good look so you will be convinced for certain that Abel speaks the truth.”

“Wait!” Michaela protested before I turned around to remove the bonnet and the machete from the buggy.

“Let me move away, far away before you do this. I can’t bear to watch!” She gasped before attempting to move away quickly, something nearly impossible for her to do because her sinking heels forced her to walk away in slow motion.

“Have your feet stopped bleeding?” my tone was too calm to convince that my concern was real.

“You can be so cruel! If anyone followed us here, we will have to swim across the river after all.” Michaela said as she lifted her skirt above her knees and plucked at the tiny prickly thistles stuck to her stockings, plant-like leeches annoying her skin. Before marching away on sinking feet, a faint gust of wind made her skirt and petticoat go up in a puff, like a pink umbrella.

“Oh, how I wish I had worn my huaraches.” She moaned one last time. The long length of her ringlets flopped all around her back before she disappeared behind the brush.

I removed the white blanket from the machete with one brisk tug, then, stood on the small mound of dirt next to the dull gold rock that marked where the evil old man had died. With my boots rubbing close together, I held up the machete, my hands high over my head that the blade could reflect the fire of the sun back to the heavens. I stood there until I felt the soreness vein out deeply through my tired limbs. But it didn’t matter. I would stay there until the blaring yellow sun would turn into a slowly descending deep ruby circle. And so, the sun would act as a back drop to the town’s hill tops with their curvy slopes looking like ember shadows against the red sunset. To save papa from prison, I would remain there for many moons and many suns, stiff and perfectly still like a statue until the brilliant sun would make me age, crack and chip away. I waited with my arms held high. An eagle flew overhead. It circled above. Its beak dropped open. With eyes wide and alert, it squawked two times before spreading fully the width of those russet brown wings. I strained my eyes against the strong yellow rays, as I tightened the tiny muscles beneath my brows. I squinted with a steady resistance to the bright light to see where the bird would land. I tilted the machete enough to shade my eyes, but the bird vanished. I looked in all directions, not even a brown speck left in the indigo blue sky. The foamy white color of the clouds formed a ribbon that stretched from east to the far west end. How could a bird almost the size of a human, disappear so quickly? I hadn’t been standing under the sun long enough to have a mirage.

“Abel,” I called out. Is this a sign? What are you trying to tell me?” I looked into the blade. All I could see was my own refection. The tiny muscles beneath my cheeks connected to the soft flesh of my eyes making my skin look pinched, like soft clay melting.

“Abel, speak to me! I’ve done what you commanded. What do I do now? It was then I heard the rustling of footsteps off in the distance treading in and around the brush, much too slow to be a lizard but too fast paced to match the sound of a snake. Those footsteps belonged to a human, not Michaela. Her lips can’t stay silent for more than three seconds. The foamy white clouds above began to swirl together with the indigo blue sky. The two clashing colors whirled together creating a picture of an ocean wave. It must have been the dryness in my throat prompting my thoughts. But the sound of steps in the brush was not the result of my thirst or even my imagination. “Who’s there?” I waited for an answer while I hid the machete behind my back.

“Michaela, is that you? If you are playing your tricks, you’ll be sorry. Come out!”

I waited for a voice but instead, I heard more footsteps and the crunching sound of twigs and thistles on the dry flat ground that zigzagged into uneven trails all through the fields. The infernal heat waves rising from the ground played tricks with my eyes since I knew those were more than dark silhouettes behind the skeletal cotton plants. The countless dried branches created a frail haze of a curtain between me and the moving dark shapes that grew bigger and bigger as they approached. More steps came toward me, heavier steps. I recognized the ‘cloc, cloc, cloc’ rhythm of a horse’s hooves. Michaela was right. We’d been followed by not one but by a half dozen men. From behind the haze of broken branches, the group of men filed out in twos and threes. I searched for papa’s face among them. He wasn’t there. No! This couldn’t be real. Abel could not lie!

The men wore white loose pants and matching shirts as most men did in the summer. The last man to emerge rode on a horse and carried a rifle. I recognized this man. He wore dark clothes, even against the unbearable heat. His arm muscles bulged out as he used the butt of his rifle to clear away the dried brittle branches. He created a drizzling shower of dead twigs falling to the ground, while the rest of the posse walked ahead of him and his brick colored horse. Beneath the brightness of the sun, the horse’s coat shimmered like a newly minted penny coin. His master, even on top of a horse looked rangy. His once fair skin was now red and beginning to sag from his long chin like a ripened fruit. He wore a thick mustache, so thick and long he had to point the ends outward, a perfect portrait of the devil, mama always claimed. He was Mateo Garcia, Don Florencio’s esteemed nephew. Another man among them wore very old huaraches that practically fell apart as he walked. This man, whom I didn’t recognize, stopped in his tracks and pointed toward me. He then nodded and motioned with his head for Mateo Garcia to come forward on his horse. I let the machete slip from my fingers and fall at my heels so very carefully. The mound of dirt near my feet was high enough to hide the machete, so I hoped. I would have to lie, pretend I knew nothing. I rehearsed what I would say to them as I stood on one foot flamingo style and used the bottom of my other foot to cover the machete with dirt. I glided my foot across the loose dusty ground over and over again without looking down, carefully keeping my balance. I was grateful at that moment for the thick brush. A few seconds was all I had to conceal the machete once again.

Ella es! La hija de Antonio!” The man on foot wearing old huaraches pointed toward me again. After disclosing who I was, he stepped back, arms limp at his side and allowed Mateo Garcia on his shiny copper horse to strut toward me. With a few prancing steps to one side, the horse shook out its raven black mane and snorted. The horse then shoveled its front hoof into the ground over and over as if hoping to dig itself a very deep hole in the earth and there escape from captivity while his master, Mateo Garcia looked me over. His hat was in the style of gringo cowboys, black velveteen instead of the common sombreros other men wore against the August sun made out of long strips of dried leaves woven into a cone. In spite of his heavy twisted mustache, his thick pressed lips revealed a smile, a cold smile that caused one of his eyes to bulge out more than the other, just like his uncle’s. Still holding on to his rifle, he pulled out a small wad of pesos from his vest and threw it down at the man in old huaraches. “Here,” Mateo said without looking away from me while his horse strutted from side to side restlessly. “You’ll get the rest when you bring back the other one!” Mateo continued.

The man picked up the money that had scattered on the ground then whistled at another man among the group, a tall muscular man in his twenties who had a lasso entwined around his shoulder like a pet snake.

“Si, senor!” the man in old huaraches answered Mateo before the man turned again to the tall muscular man with the lasso and said: “Vamanos, Let’s go!” Both men ran off holding their hats of straw in place as they disappeared behind the brush.

“Well, well, Antonio’s little girl.” Mateo’s deep voice sounded harsh, raspy, like he was inflicted with a head cold. He cleared his throat, and parted his lips to let some spit fall from his mouth and down his chin before spitting the rest out, with great force, on the ground before he spoke to me again. “I hear Michaela and your family are good collaborators, no?”

“Michaela? Which one? I know many women by that name.” I had to stall him. I couldn’t run but I could still use my brain. I would find a way to distract him.

“Don’t play dumb with me! You are too much like your papa. Always trying to hide your

doings. Just how long do you think that role of innocence will last? Didn’t last long for your father. I suspect it won’t last long for you.”

“Where is papa?” I demanded.

Mateo turned to look at the group of men, stretched out a wide grin, then turned to look at me with a glowering stare. “I’m afraid your papa did not receive a warm welcome in prison. There was a brawl. Too many aggressors in one prison cell, not a good idea. You think?”

“What happened to papa? Tell me?”

“He was killed shortly after he was jailed.” he answered with a sneer that slowly crept across his face.

“No, you’re lying. I don’t believe you!”

“Climb on. I’ll take you to town. See for yourself.”

His horse snorted loudly before Mateo pulled on the rein forcing the restless horse to follow his lead. The horse strutted slowly toward me shaking its head and twitching its ears back and forth. Mateo stretched out his arm. The dark greenish veins at his wrist bulged out of the tight thinning skin as he pointed all five fingers for me to grasp. “Come on girl!” He commanded. “Haven’t got all day. Climb on. This is not a request!”

I stood on both feet again and took one step toward him and his horse.

“That’s it. Come closer. See how good things go when you do as you’re told?”

“Si senor, Yes sir” I answered in an even almost submissive tone. The tips of my fingers stretched out to meet his. He smiled again, bearing his crooked teeth, but much to his surprise, I pulled my hand away then spat on his out stretched hand. I heard some of the men laugh at the expression of shock that brushed across Mateo’s face. He wiped his hand on his shirt with one quick angry swipe then attempted to climb off his agitated horse. I bent over quickly, grabbed two fists full of loose dirt then threw them at the horse’s face. The animal reacted to the explosion hurled into its eyes like a snail dusted with salt. Flinging its neck wildly from side to side and snorting into the powdery explosion that I had mixed with twigs and a few black ants. It belted a loud neigh standing tall, vertically on hind hooves. Mateo slid downward on his saddle and would have fallen off by the seat of his pants, but his hands were quick to hold on to the reins, although he had to drop the rifle. His gun fell between the sharp prick of two thorny bushels. I reached down to the ground to claim my machete, the handle exposed slightly from under the up-turned dirt where it was hiding. I wasn’t afraid. I knew the spirits were on my side. He pricked the horse’s sides with his silver star-shaped spurs and told it to stay still. This angered the horse even more. He neighed and bucked one time with its strong hind legs. The animal knocked two men off their feet. Falling backwards, the men landed on their backs, but not before flattening a cluster of dried prickly cotton plants on their way to the ground. Two pairs of feet in huaraches pointed up toward the sky. The cone shaped hats flew up as their bodies went down. They belted out one loud “umph!” between them.

Three of the men in the group came forward and tried to calm the horse. With the machete in hand I would run toward the river. I began with a steady sprint on the balls of my feet while Mateo attempted to keep from sliding off the saddle by the seat of his pants, while climbing off the horse. Some of the men laughed, whistled and mocked at my attempt to run away. I prayed I could disappear behind the brush with my machete, that the heat waves rising from the ground would swallow me up whole. I would find Michaela and together we would rescue papa even if we had to use the machete to destroy the metal bars one strike after the next. I would beckon Abel’s spirit and even all the spirits resting within their graves.

Somehow Mateo gained control of the animal once again or maybe the horse felt more vindicated now after having knocked the wind out of two aggressors, along with their cone shaped sombreros. Mateo and his horse caught up to me quickly with a trail of men running behind. Mateo thrust his weight forward into the silver foot straps. He leaned in and caught a hand full of my hair forcing my body to do a half turn toward him. One swift strike of my hand with my weapon, was all it took to break away from his grasp along with strands of my hair and the top layer of the skin off his hand. Mateo gritted his teeth and growled under his breath to hide the pain in his voice. I kept running, although, the other men stopped interfering. They could have feared my machete or perhaps they had decided that after a good slicing of his hand, Mateo had earned the right to redeem himself by defeating a 17 yr old girl. Fumbling with his hurt hand, Mateo removed the coiled up rope attached to his saddle, while the blood spilled down his sleeve. The blood dripped down the horse’s shoulder. It was fresh, bright red. It trailed down the horse’s side in long uneven streaks, creeping down steadily on the copper coat as if taking on life of its own after being freed from his flesh. The blood created a light shower. Scattered drops of red fell here and there on the ground near the horse’s hooves.

Mateo looped his lasso a few times over his head creating a halo from which the darkness of his heart could escape through. He was now about to take me down like a wild calf. Suddenly, the wind escaped my lungs in one harsh gasp. The rows of cotton plants began to swerve before my eyes into one long smudge of yellow. My chest felt tight. I couldn’t breathe. How could this be? How could my eyes not have seen the lasso before it fell around me constricting my arms and elbows at my waist? I felt the machete’s handle nearly slip from my fingers, sharp silver blade pointing down, back to the earth once again. My hand was trying to betray me, to release my machete against my will. With added strength, Mateo pulled at the rope even tighter around my waist before I fell flat on my back. The yellow trails of cotton plants turned into spinning circles. When I looked up, I saw only indigo blue. Where had the plants gone? A mirage? I tightened my grasp around the machete. I could still feel it, until Mateo and his horse stood before me. Its front hooves a few feet over my head, blocking every inch of indigo sky. The horse was a giant from where I lay, 10 times larger.

“Papa!” I called out before the horse would crush me. The horse stood on hind hooves before it would land on top of me. I waited for the crushing sound of my bones. All I could see from the ground was the horse’s belly and the black soles of Mateo’s boots. As I felt my eyes close, I heard the horse’s hoof smash against the machete near my hand. It leaped up with Mateo riding, sitting steadily on the saddle before galloping away, while the pungent smell of dirt caused a deep burning inside my throat. I clutched at the machete’s handle. It was still in my grasp. I pulled it toward me, between, the dust, the wetness of my tears and the vast blue sky above. I saw that the handle was split in two, broken. The machete was broken… and powerless. Abel’s ghost had warned me about this. He tried to warn me but I did not listen. Now, the blue up above began to mix with the yellow below, two colors together spinning in endless circles until I saw nothing at all. Abel’s voice, this I could hear, ever so clearly. The words he had told me finally sunk in.

I see that the inexperience of your years will not let you see clearly, so much, that you will not heed my words. You will not learn this way, Lucero. Very well… I will help release your father from prison now and on your terms, but that these actions do not result in severe consequences, you have no promise.”

BIO:  Virginia Trujillo-Loer is a Child Development professional. Her study of creative writing in earlier years helped bring about "The Skeleton in the Closet," a magical story for young adults. "Blood trails" is one of twenty chapters from the novel currently in the works, titled: "Don Florencio's Machete." This is an enchanted work of Mexican folklore mixed with magical realism. Lucero, a seventeen year old girl is the main character. Two of the central characters are ghosts. One of these is Abel Montenegro, Lucero's cousin and the other is a mysterious woman killed by a speeding train in the first chapter. Toward the middle of the story, Lucero will not only expose the secret life of Don Florencio, but will also discover why her family had been plagued with a sore curse for one hundred years. The curse caused a warp between the world of the living and the dead and those affected by this curse shall find no peace, until the curse is undone. Because of her unique lineage, Lucero is the only one who can end the curse. The setting is the border city of Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, in post-revolutionary times. She is also currently involved in the writing of an article for a professional magazine: "The Exchange."