Between Palenque and San Cristobol de las Cases, Mexico
Elena Roberto Eduardo de Gonzales didn’t struggle with her captors. She knew better than that. Although the bandits wore fatigues and military boots, she knew that someone had paid them big bucks to kidnap her a crowded bus with lots of witnesses. Elena also knew that Los Indigenos wouldn’t tell the police or military about her disappearance. One fewer landowner for them to work for, and more land for them to burn and clear for their own subsistence.
“Can you take this damn blindfold off of me?” she demanded. “It’s too damn hot for this scarf.”
Coarse laughter erupted around her.
“Be careful Sénora or you might find your mouth blindfolded as well,” a female voice said.
The voice sounded familiar, but Elena couldn’t quite place it, just like that skull- bull she couldn’t quite place. She shook her head only to have a gun barrel shoved into her back. She stumbled forward. More laughter surrounded her, as if she were attending a fiesta with friends and family. The bandits and their captive continued walking. Elena tilted her head and continued listening for the bus.
“It won’t be coming this way, Sénora. We are on a different road. Your friend will be safe enough if she keeps her mouth blindfolded. The gringos don’t like to find too many dead bodies on deserted beaches. Bad for tourism, but if she talks...we’ve got methods to shut her up fast and tight even if she’s a foreigner.
The female voice snickered. Around her, Elena smelled unwashed bodies, alcohol, and the fresh scent of smoked reefers. She continued her mindless walking, but kept her ears and other bodily senses alert for a possible escape from her captors.
“Almost there, Senorita. The one who paid for you really wanted you alive and well. Too bad. My men and I live in the jungle. We could use some sporting activities.”
“Shut up. You talk too much,” a deeper voice growled.
Again, Elena made a mental note of the timbre of that second voice. It too was familiar, but she couldn’t quite place. It haunted her as did the disappearance of her late husband, Roberto Eduardo Gonzales.
Elena jerked herself alert. She now found herself stumbling into deep potholes full of rocks. The sun no longer warmed her face, but struck between her shoulder blades. The ground under her feet became the soft soil of the jungle floor. Wide bush leaves brushed against her thighs. Knotted tree roots constantly tripped her and hanging moss slapped against her face. Elena staggered on, smelling tepid water as her shoes began to make squishing noises.
All around her, she heard howler and spider monkeys screaming. A jaguar coughed nearby. Parrots shrieked as the band trooped through the animals’ terrain, unwanted, and uninvited.
Elena felt a hand clasp her arm close to her elbow. It steadied her at bit. Hot air blasted her from below.
“Please, we go this way. Place one foot in front of the other like drunks walk, so as not to fall,” the older rough voice said.
Another voice piped up as if she couldn’t contain herself any longer despite threats from the older voice.
“Just as well you’re blindfolded. You don’t want to look down. See many small things in the rushing water below. Ah, that’s good. You listen well for a landowner.”
The wet surface slipped beneath Elena’s booted feet. The pressure on her arm kept her going. As instructed, she placed her right foot directly in front of her left foot. Her right foot pushed forward as her body swayed to one side of her.
“Careful, stand straight and true, and you’ll be A-Okay. Okay? No fancy footwork here.”
This time, Elena heard the female’s voice again. Only now, it sounded much too young to be a grownup’s voice. Behind her, she felt a slight pressure in the lower part of her back. It pushed her forward along the sodden path to a place unknown. It took forever, it seemed to Elena, but she knew that in two to three minutes, she would reach the opposite bank and resume her normal walking.
“Okay, you did good. We take off your blindfold now, but no tricks.”
The blindfold slipped down from her eyes and was whisked away by an unseen hand. Elena blinked in the half light of the jungle. She rubbed her arms up and down, palms up expecting to find marauding tarantulas, scorpions, or small spiders. She felt nothing -- no stings, bites, or claw marks, just the bruised inside of her elbow where one of her captors had clasped her arm while traversing a fallen tree trunk. In front of her two of the bandits, their faces still masked, squatted with their rifles cradled between their knees. Elena saw their dark eyes dart past her. She turned and suppressed a gasp. Her husband, Roberto Eduardo Gonzales, dead for more than eleven years, stood in a tiny clearing framed by the broad flat leaves of the undergrowth, enormous cohune palms, strangler figs and the hanging tentacles of banyan trees. He held the reins to one of their horses bought especially for equestrian riding.
Elena studied him as he strode toward, the horse following behind him at a docile pace. Dressed in his festive white frilled collared shirt, black pants, and thigh-high black riding boots, he looked almost like the man she once knew. In his left hand dangled a riding crop.
Behind him, she noticed two older men dressed in the traditional vaquero clothing of Mexican cowboys: a three-piece black suit with white cotton shirts, silver buttons running down the sides of their pants, and leather heeled cowboy boots. On their heads they didn’t wear sombreros but woolen hats with wide turned up brims embroidered with red and gold threads.
Roberto, “her late husband,” embraced his wife crushing her face into his chest. Squirming beneath his tightening arms, she managed to say.
“Nice seeing you, too. In God’s name, where have you been?”
Roberto pulled back and glared at her.
“Is that all you can say after eleven years, ‘Nice seeing you, too?’”
Elena pushed herself away and frowned. Roberto continued berating her.
“You weren’t at home. Los Indigenos were blocking the road with their unwashed bodies and their bratty kids. Since when do Los Indigenos have more power than the local landowners? Where were the government troops? Or the policia? They’re on private land. My land, or have they and you forgotten?”
Elena laughed. It was a harsh guttural sound, more like a macaw’s shriek than a human sob. Squeezing her eyes shut, she took a deep breath, and then released the pent up hot air and opened her eyes. Her “late” husband smashed his riding crop against his opened palm. The group’s restive horses pawed the ground. The two Mexican vaqueros, if she could call them that, leaned back against their horse’s quivering sides underneath the jungle’s towering mahogany trees. They waited, their eyes glued on the figure of her husband. The bandits were nowhere to be seen.
“You didn’t give me much choice, Roberto. I learned to take care of myself and now that you’re back, you expect me to surrender myself totally? Be totally dependent on you? What happens should you decide to disappear again? What then? Do I declare you legally dead and remarry. Or do I become a widow once again and face the world as a lone woman against the world?”
Roberto snorted. His crop slapped against his thigh.
“You do neither. You’re my wife until death do us part. You’re here now. Let’s go home. I’ve brought home two European Counts from abroad. Treat them as you would treat family. Do you understand me?”
Elena dropped her eyes to the ground. Not quite groveling, but not quite submissive either, she curtseyed to her husband’s two guests. In turn, they bowed like tree branches, stiff and unyielding.
Roberto swung around. Elena followed and hurried toward the waiting horses. When she reached the spot where her husband’s guests stood, one of them stepped forward sweeping his funny little hat from his head and jerked into a half formal bow.
“Please to meet you. This is my friend Count Ambros. I am Count Erros. We come from across the ocean to visit your country. Your husband, Roberto Eduardo Gonzalez, made it sound like paradise, one worth visiting and eventually, living here.”
Count Ambros slid up to Roberto’s horse and cupped his hands.
“Please step here. I’ll give you a boost for you to place your feet in the stirrup and mount his horse. A gentle beast . . . for a thoroughbred stallion.”
Elena inclined her head and hesitated. Behind her, her husband Roberto grabbed her by the waist and lifted. Count Ambros pushed Elena’s leg over the back of the horse and settled her on the western saddle. With a jump, Roberto mounted directly behind her on the horse. Grabbing the reins, he lifted them around Elena. With a click of his tongue against his teeth, the horse trotted forward.
Rigid, Elena sat in in the saddle while Roberto guided the horse onto a mud-packed trail. The two counts’ horses fell into step behind them. Roberto leaned forward and tried blocking his wife’s face and stiff body from the low hanging branches, but Elena refused his generosity. Leaning forward over the saddle horn, she pressed her face into the horse’s mane while keeping her hands tightly clasping the saddle’s horn.
“We would go faster if you’d cooperate,” Robert said.
“I’m just fine. Thank you for thinking about my welfare. It’s been eleven years since I last heard you voice your concern over my well-being. It’s quite appreciated, but I know how to ride a horse with a western saddle. Much of my time is spent in the saddle herding cattle and taking them down to the river for shipment to Texas.”
“Elena, that’s my job now. I’m back now. With my two benefactors, we can take care of everything, the hacienda, the land, our cattle, and those meddlesome Los Indigenos, who should know better than to tangle with me, a wealthy landowner, their better in all ways and means.”
Elena shook her head in disbelief. Roberto now considered himself an official of the government? She twisted her head and glanced back at Roberto’s two European Counts following behind them. Although neither Senors Ambros nor Erros looked any different from Roberto’s black eyes and black hair, something about them bothered her. She couldn’t order them to leave. She didn’t have that kind of authority now that Roberto was back. After all, they were Roberto’s guests. Still, she felt her heart in her throat, choking her as if they tied a scarf around her throat and tightened it each time she disobeyed Roberto’s wishes or commands.
As Elena straightened up on the saddle, a low hanging branch whacked against her face. She cried out.
“Sorry,” Roberto said. “I should’ve warned you, but I thought you saw that coming.”
“It doesn’t matter. What is, is. Next time, I’ll scream louder.”
This time it was Roberto who shrugged his shoulders.
“With your permission,” his voice trailed off.
He tightened his grip on the reins and, digging his boot spurs into the horse’s flanks, their leisurely trot became a canter. Elena heard the other two horses snort and neighed. A sharp burst of staccato words erupted behind her from Roberto’s two companions. She tried catching what they said to each other, but their words made no sense to her. Roberto tightened his hold around her.
“Don’t want you to fall off.”
“Thanks for your concern. I won’t . . . too much for me to do.”
Inside her head, she heard, “And see.” Told you I come to those who serve me in mind, spirit, and voice.” Camazotz’s voice swelled and rolled through Elena’s head like the foamy surf bursting upon the shore. His voice roared, buffeting her inner thoughts into a gigantic whirlpool. Reflexively, she raised her hands to her ears blocking out his deafening tone. It didn’t help. The god continued to speak inside her mind, ignoring her physical efforts.
“I told you I would never let you go. You are mine. I put my mark on you this morning at Pok-A-Tok. You are my woman to serve and to be served. I protect those who I love and in return love me. There is nothing that can keep us apart . . . unless. . . you so will it Elena. I am here to stay with you in mind, spirit, and voice.”
Shaken, Elena let go of the saddle horn and swayed. She almost fell off the horse, but Roberto’s strong encircling arms steadied her.
Camazotz’s voice continued inside her head.
“It would help if you relax. Or better yet, feign sleep.”
“Are you for real?” she blurted out.
“Did you say something?” Roberto asked.
Elena shook her head.
“No. Must’ve been a howler monkey. It wasn’t me.”
Camazotz’s inner laughter pierced her thoughts.
“Answer with your internal thoughts.” Camazotz continued. “The ones you think inside, but do not dare to share with your recently resurrected husband and his two macho friends.”
“How do you know they’re macho?” Elena thought in her inner voice. “All I can see are two men dressed as vaqueros and trying to appear as rich landowners like my parents once were. I can’t quite put my finger on who or what they are, but they’re definitely not the type of people that my parents brought me up with or ones that I care to associate with. They give me the creeps.”
“They are from another place.” Camazotz said.
“How can you tell?”
“They talk funny with a strange tongue like the enemy metal-clad warriors that entombed me and killed my priests and stole the land from our people. You and your husband and his two nocturnal guests will not be able to go home this way. The path is blocked with mestizos," Camazotz said, referring to people of mixed Spanish and Mayan heritage.
Elena shrugged her shoulders. The movement drew Roberto’s eyes down to his wife rather than looking forward. That’s when the lasso settled around Roberto’s chest, tightened, pulling him from his horse and onto the muddied path. Elena swung her head aside and saw two other lassos dangling from an overhead branch. Roberto’s two companions saw them as well, and ducked, thinking this would help them. But other lassos flew from either side of the trail and found their targets. The two strangers crashed on the muddied path. The mestizos pulled them toward where Roberto sat with a dirtied white shirt and a mud-stained face.
The leader of the group gave an impromptu salute.
“Senora, we do not fight woman. Please, go home. The council will decide what to do with them.”
Camazotz’s voice ripped through Elena’s mind. She closed her mind to him with a protection prayer that her mother taught her when she was a young girl, praying to the Lady of Gadalupe: ”Dios te salve, María. Llena eres de gracia: El Señor es contigo. Bendita tú eres entre todas las mujeres. Y bendito es el fruto de tu vientre: Jesús. Santa María, Madre de Dios, ruega por nosotros pecadores, ahora y en la hora de nuestra muerte. Amén." (God save you, Maria. Are full of grace: the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among all women. And blessed is the fruit of thy womb: Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and in the hour of our death. Amen.)
Elena looked toward heaven, crossed herself and then pulled at the reins nudging the side of the horse with both feet. Forcing it to go back down the trail, she soon came upon the two now rider-less horses. She leaned sideways, scooped the dangling reins and righted herself on the saddle. Winding the loose reins around the saddle horn like a lasso, she faced her husband’s captors.
“Does Senora require an escort to get home . . . safely?” The leader of the mestizos asked.
“I’ll be fine,” she said in a wan voice, and turned the horse around. It plodded down the trail they’d just left. After riding nearly one hundred feet, she turned in her saddle and screamed at the top of her lungs to Roberto and his two friends.
But before she could utter another sound, Camazotz interjected in a petulant voice inside Elena’s mind, “You cannot shut me out by praying to one of your gods, this Lady of Guadalupe. I can do many things, Elena. I want you to become my companion for all of eternity. Say yes. You will not regret it.”
“Why would I exchange one set of prison bars for another?”
“It is not like that. You will have your freedom.”
“How would I know the difference between the freedom you’re offering me, and the freedom that Roberto offers me? Or, is this a ‘kiss my ass’ thing, so that I still do the cooking, cleaning, and ‘servicing’ when you want it?”
Camazotz’s voice thickened.
“I take only what is willingly offered. And, only in small droplets . . . tokens of my people’s love for me.”
Squirming, Elena replied, “That’s not what I’ve been taught.”
“Lies. Those brown-robed priests wanted us to become the public enemy of their new order. What better way to turn our people against us than to mix the blood of their dead god with the blood of our religion, and then curse us, the true gods, and entomb us for a millennium?”
Elena continued as if she didn’t hear Camazotz’s outburst inside of her.
“My parents were Lacandons, direct descendants of the Mayans,” she answered. “They used to scare my brothers and me into obedience with your precious bloodletting. There are laws against that type of travesty.”
Camazotz raised his voice, this time louder inside her mind to make sure that Elena paid attention and heard every word he said without tuning him out a second time.
“Yes, there are natural laws against cannibalism. But I still see people drinking that dead god’s blood and eating his body. Is there a fine line here that I cannot see?”
She fired back desperately and afraid at what this god seemed to know about her . . . claimed to know about her.
“You don’t understand. What about Francesca and Acan? I saw how he looked at her at the temple ruins. He literally ate her alive with his eyes. She’s too young for that kind of mystical and sexual power game.”
Camazotz responded with a softer voice as if to reassure himself and Elena that nothing would happen between Acan and Francesca until Camazotz made the final decision for them both.
“Acan knows she is not ready.”
In turn, Elena’s voice quieted as well.
“He’s willing to teach her. Sixteen is a dangerous age for a girl. In some ways, she’s no longer a child, but in another ways, she’s not ready to become a woman Either way she loses.
“You are speaking in two tongues, Elena. You were fourteen when you married your prince charming, Roberto Eduardo Gonzales, wealthy and imperious landowner. In their prayers to me, my followers told me you did not refuse your parents’ wish that you marry so young. And when you married, you wore your mother’s white wedding gown, signifying to all that you were a virgin. From the lips of the people, I was told all this.”
Elena calmed her inner mind’s turmoil before responding to Camazotz’s retort.
“You seem to know a lot about me and the laws of our country. I had to wear virgin white for my marriage. Daughters are the property of their parents. Mine wanted a good marriage partner for me. Roberto, an older man, was picked, and I had to obey. You try being a girl in today’s culture, and see how far it gets you. Only then can we compare notes as to whose method works best. Only then, can we talk about it. Only, then we’ll be on the same side of the page. Just a thought, but do I become your property to be offered and accepted by masculine company when one or more comes calling?”
“Do not mock me, Elena. It does not suit you. I have no intention of sharing you with one or more of my priests . . . or even with Acan. You are mine, alone.”
“I guess you think that I should thank you for that noble sentiment. What about those mestizos? They’re your working class – the same minions who served you willingly five hundred years ago. What are you going to about them?”
“My little parrot is becoming a mighty jaguar. They are your people as well. I would like to see the mestizos get their land back instead of enemy warriors to steal it and use it to smuggle drugs or drill for oil or raise cattle. It is their land.”
His voice stiffened. It rattled against the inside walls of her mind. Her nose twitched.
“Elena, listen to me, you would be more useful to the mestizos dead than alive. Think about it.”
A cold ache settled between her shoulders and dragged her down into the saddle. Huddling, Elena grasped its horn and kept herself from falling.
“Senora, are you all right?” the mestizo leader called out.
Elena mouthed the words, but heard Camazotz’s voice answering for her. She waited for the mestizos to swing a lasso over her shoulders as well, but nothing happened. Looking around, all she saw was the surrounding jungle. Roberto and his two friends lay on the ground with their hands and legs tied. She saw nothing of the mestizos.
“Where did they go?” Elena asked Camazotz.
“The mestizos are still in the jungle with their prizes, Roberto and his two friends. It is you who’s not where you are supposed to be. Take a good look around you. All of this could belong to you and our people. You just have to say the word, and I can make it happen for you.”
“I don’t think you understand me at all. I’m not exchanging one master for another. The only master that’s going to master me, is me.”
“I should go and leave you alone?” he coyly responded.
“First, can you get rid of the mestizos? I really want to get home, shower, and put on some comfortable clothes. What about Francesca? What’s she up to . . . ah, doing now?”
“She saw the man of war in the village and spoke with him. Acan says he is taking her to find her mother.”
Elena snorted. Camazotz chuckled at her vulgar noise.
“That’s her stepmother, the one she drugged this morning. Camazotz, if you really care for me, help me get Roberto and his friends out of this problem without me usurping the natural order of machismo. My husband will never forgive me if I rescue him and his friends.”
“It is done,” Camazotz said and with that, he fled from Elena’s mind.