Halfway between Palenque and Ocosingo, Chiapas, Mexico
Elena peeked out between Camaztotz’s wings.
“Are you sure this is the only way to get there?”
“It’s not far. We’re there. Wait until I announce you.”
Elena tilted her head and looked up into Camazotz’ veiled eyes.
“You’ve got to announce me?”
“They will not accept you as the wife of Roberto de Gonzalez. I will tell them that I found one of their leaders. In their minds, I will plant her likeness so when they see and talk to you, you will look and sound just like her. There is one more person joining us. Do not look or speak to him. He has come to listen and decide what is more important to him, land or life.”
Elena’s feet struck the ground. The shock of flying and then hitting the pebbled path did nothing to her. Her hair remained in place. Not even the rushing of their bodies through the air disturbed it. No water droplets frizzed her hair. No sweat dripped from her forehead. Nothing struck against it. It flowed through her; an invisible speck of life participating in one world and a physical shell of skin, bones, and muscles sleeping at home in another world.
The group of dislodged Zapatistas watched as the two forms dropped to the ground and steadied themselves with bare feet. One of the woman, Subcomandanta Ramona, walked forward holding a machete in her right hand. She stared at Elena as if she couldn’t quite decide what to do with her and ignored Camazotz as be she could. She knew what he was, but didn’t trust her eyes that he brought one of their sacred comandantas back from the grave. Romona saw what those two creatures did to her leaders. Did one survive after all?”
“Come here,” Subcomandanta Romona ordered. “I wish to see for myself that you’re safe from those villainous creatures that scattered our human chain and attacked our sacred leaders.”
Elena studied the woman. Her eyes borrowed into the woman. Sharp teeth grazed Elena’s neck. Her hand flew up to the left side of her neck. Blood spattered the fingertips leaving a residue of a dripping bruise. Camazotz’s lips brushed against her skin. His tongue darted and skimmed Elena’s skin. He sucked twice, wiped his lips against Elena’s throbbing pulse, and whipped his head away from her body.
“What did you do?”
“I bit you on the neck. That woman saw one of the counts bite her leader. She’ll look for two puncture wounds. I wanted her to see them. It will protect you from them. If they find out you are a landowner posting those ‘No Trespassing’ signs near the temple ruins, you are doomed. The Zapatistas want their land back. They will kill you. The machete is real. Its blade is sharp. Trust me on this.”
Elena waited. Her arms hung limp by her side, her breathing still while inside her chest her heart thumped and crashed against the insides of her rib cage. Running her tongue over her lips, Elena stiffened as the tip of the machete pricked her nightgown. Ramona inched closer while the tip of the machete dug deeper into Elena’s skin. Compressing her lips, Elena stifled a scream.
Ramona ran her eyes over her leader noting that she looked okay except for two small puncture wounds on the side of her neck.
“Does it hurt?”
“I’m fine,” she said reassuringly. “It knocked me down. I feigned death. They left. I don’t know about . . .”
The woman waited, the point of her machete pressing deeper into Elena’s chest. Elena stumbled over her words that Camazotz had planted inside her mind.
“What’s the name of my fellow leader? Give it to me. Otherwise, I won’t have to worry about Roberto, Ambros, or Erros, this woman will run me through!”
Camazotz stole into Romona’s mind and searched for the names of the Zapatistas’ leaders. Irma popped into his mind, a captain in the Zapatistas’ rebel army. He relayed the information to Elena along with one last name. Your name is Susanna. Say it now!”
“I’m Susanna. Irma is dead. Is that what you wanted to hear? Are you satisfied, Romona? Is there anything else I need to declare for you to believe I’ve escaped death?”
The pressure from the machete tip stopped. Blood dripped from the puncture. Ramona tore off a strip of cloth from her skirt and folded it. Placing it over the cut, she pressed it as tightly as she could.
“Hold this tight. It should stop the flow. I had to be sure. Such creatures I haven’t seen since our ancestors sacrificed to the Lords of the Dead. Come with me. We must find Irma’s body and give it the last rites. Her family must be told. Do you remember what they did with her body? Can you find it?”
Elena sighed. Do I know where Irma’s body is?” she silently asked Camazotz.
“I know where her arm is. Not sure where they chopped and dropped the rest of the body.”
Ramona scrutinized Elena’s face. Her eyes drew together and squinted past her. Elena’s lips pursed. Her body drooped as if the weight of her thoughts were pulling her down.
“You can tell me Susanna. It can’t be that bad.”
Lifting her eyes, Elena connected with Romona’s.
“It’s worse. Those creatures tore her body apart. I know where one of her arms is. As for the rest of the body . . .”
Elena bit her lips. Her eyes dropped to the ground. She didn’t want to see what Romona would do. Bracing her body, she felt Camazotz stand behind her, his wings cushioning her back as if knew that Romona might attack her.
Romona stifled a scream. The machete dropped from her hand. Behind her, the remaining mestizos sat down cross-legged on the ground clutched their heads and moaned.
“Silence. I will handle this.”
The drawn out wail subsided. Romona grabbed Elena by the hand and dragged her into the jungle.
“Show me where you fell.”
Elena pushed broad leaves out of her path. She ducked under the hanging trailers of moss and plodded forward not knowing where she might fight the dirt outlines of the dead leaders’ bodies.
“Stop here,” Camazotz whispered in her ear. “See? That’s where those two rebel leaders fell after Erros and Ambros bit them.”
“You call them by their first names. How informal you’ve become Camazotz.”
He jerked her other arm.
“Do not play with me, Elena. Here are the body prints of the dead rebel leaders. Show her those prints. She will lead you back. Her followers will open their hearts and souls to you. You thirst? Do you need more?”
Elena shook her head not quite catching his meaning. Ramona pushed past her and studied the faint dirt outline of where two bodies once rested. Clasping Elena to her chest, she turned and dragged Elena back to the waiting crowd.
“It is Susanna come back to life. What is your order, Captain? The landowner, his wife, and those two creatures scattered us and made it safely to the hacienda. We can wait here.”
Elena pursed his lips.
“No, I’ve got a better idea. We need to show our contempt for these wealthy landowners and the people who support them. We must do something more.”
“What do you have in mind?”
“The Temple Ruins at Palenque. We must set up a line of women soldiers from the Zapatista National Liberation Army and prevent the tourists, landowners, military, and the drug lords from taking our ancestral land from us.”
Ramona stared at Elena.
“How are we going to prevent them from storming us like Sen͂or Gonzalez did with his friends?”
“We’ll use this,” Elena said.
She unhooked the gold cross from around her neck and held it up. Camazotz made sure it brightened the covered glade even in the black shroud of night. The mestizos muttered to themselves. Some flung up their hands in front of their eyes, shielding their pupils from the brilliant glow of the yellow light that pierced the darkness. Only Romona remained unimpressed.
“A crucified man’s cross won’t keep us safe. Did that knock on the head drive your thoughts out of your head?”
“We will wear pasamontañas—ski masks—that cover our faces because “to have no land is to have no face. The Zapatistas are engulfed in a conflict that is fundamentally environmental. The continuing clash between the government and us is about the land. Who owns it? What is it to be used for?”
Behind them the listening mestizos cried out in one voice.
“｡Tierra y Libertad! Land and Liberty! Land to those who work it!”
“And, that’s exactly what we’ll do,” Elena said.
Ramona stared at her as if she lost her mind a second time.
“Gather the people. We fight on the steps of the Temple. We’ll take back what is rightfully ours. Do you not follow my train of thought or must I write it in the sky with puffs of white smoke so that our enemies can read and learn of our plans, and then defeat us where our ancestors were once defeated by the metal-clad warriors and priests?”
Ramona jumped backwards away from her captain. Susanna made sense at last. The cross might work against those heathen creatures of Sen͂or Roberto Gonzalez, but the planned demonstration would bring attention to them. News crews from local and foreign media would appear. Tourists would crowd and join them. This she knew from 1994 when they held their first demonstration. The Americans loved to put up a good fight.
Thinking this put a wide smile on Ramona’s lips.
“You are wise beyond your years Susanna. We’ll do as you say. Come, you must rest after your ordeal. I’ll take the rest of the communal back with us and rest. The morning comes soon, and we must plan this so we have the world’s attention on us – and not the rulers.”
The air split apart with an old song. Elena’s nap hairs on the back of her neck stood up when she heard their words.
For everybody, everything! For us, nothing! We want the great quantities of land that are in the hands of the finqueros and the national terratenientes and the foreigners and other persons who own a lot of land but are not farmers. We want lands to pass into the hands of those villagers who have no land at all.” [—Zapatista Commander Humberto, March 1994].
Camazotz watched as the men, women, and children marched away from the glade in which Elena and he stood. He turned toward her.
“I told you it would work. Now, I must get you home so you can sleep in your own bed and body.”
Elena picked at her lower lip.
“I did outdo myself. What would Roberto think of all this?”
“Do you really care? You know how he feels about women in his native culture. Women are beasts of burden. Barefoot and pregnant are what God intended. Nothing else needs being said.”
“You don’t believe that?”
“You know your ancient customs. I do not want that for you, Elena. You want more. So do I. Now, come here so I can take you home. Your husband will not wait forever to gather you in his arms and make love to you.”
“I don’t know if I can do it again. Before, it was a game. Now . . .”
“Now, you must convince him that you are the same and will remain what he married, an obedient wife dependent on her husband for all things. You must pretend Elena. You must put your mind to it. Ambros and Erros will look for mistakes, any deviation that they can twist and turn into something that really isn’t of importance. They want you out of the way. I know they have one of their own picked as your successor.”
“Roberto can’t divorce me. It’s against Church laws.”
“He does not have to leave you, Elena. He just needs to get you out of the way.”
“Better than what the European counts did for their wives.”
“A slow living death. They entombed them in a metal-clad priest’s house behind metal bars and wood doors locked behind metal bars. I see them in long dresses of black like the metal-clad priests wear. They wear a black hood upon their head. It hides their hair and part of their face. They sit in the garden with bowed heads, gray-streaked hair, and pale, translucent hands. I can even see their blue veins pulsating under their skin.”
Elena trembled. Camazotz licked the tears from her cheeks.
“Come, I will take you home. Sleep well. I will see you later at dusk.”
The flight home took seconds. Elena fell asleep in Camazotz arms. He flew through an opened window and laid her on the bed. Looking down at her, he took one last nip on her neck. He drank deep and fast. Finished, he wiped away the telltale signs of blood. Elena stirred in her sleep, but didn’t wake up. Roberto’s voice hung in the air.
“Thank you Detective Cruz and Dr. Carlos for joining us this evening. It was quite enjoyable. We must do this again. Good night.”
The door slammed shut twice. Camazotz heard Roberto lead the two counts into the guest bedrooms which he knew they wouldn’t use. Roberto’s voice penetrated the bedroom a second time.
“Yes, I’ll look for them. I haven’t seen anything in here. The maps must be in the safe in the closet. Elena’s so out of it that I’m sure I can slip in and out before she awakes and asks any awkward questions.”
Camazotz headed toward the closet and opened the door. To the left, out of sight, was a metal safe with a large black and white knob on it. Stooping, his fingers fiddled with the knob, his ultra-sensitive ears listening for the tumblers to fall in place. In a moment he had it unlocked. He swung open the door. Inside the steel box, he saw rolled tubes of paper. With one hand, Camazotz grabbed all the tubes and stuck them in his pants’ waistband. The other hand closed the metal door. He twisted the knob to the right. Satisfied that the metal box was again locked, Camazotz stepped out from the closet and closed the door.
Extending his giant wings, Camazotz flew out the window as Roberto walked in.