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ABUELA

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“Bring me more.”

“Quickly!” Abuela roared!

Lilliana scurried out of Abuela’s room and off into the hall, down the stairs and doubling back into the kitchen, where a large iron stock pot filled with meaty gruel boiled violently, spilling it’s slop over the top and onto a filthy black iron stove. She placed abuela’s giant clay soup bowl on the wooden table opposite the stove, then dipped the big wooden ladle in the soup and stirred.

Lilliana looked at her reflection in the worn and stained metal tile finish of the wall behind the stove.

She wasn’t pretty anymore. Not since Abuela took Lilliana from her parents. Her hair matted now, when once she was young her hair draped gracefully over her shoulders, black and shimmering. Her black eyes had once drawn stares but were now ringed with black circles. Her face wrinkled and worn, pasty white, lips parched, mostly hidden by her matted hair. She wore a stained blue house dress that clung to her bones; bones that poked through her skin like trash filled Hefty garbage bags. It seemed to her that her breasts would grow no larger than the pimples they were.

Puberty would never be the same for her as it would be for so many other girls

The gruel continued to pour over the side. It was the only way to make this gruel right, abuela said. Bring it to a boil and keep it there. Simmering won’t stop the demons, boiling them will. To kill them though, you had to eat them, and abuela did. Everyday she ate demons, as she called them. Everyday. Always as a soup. She hated the soup, but it had to be done. The demons were out there and as long as she was alive and still had her powers, she would eat them

The soup boiled but wasn’t filled with enough meat. “Anton!” Lilliana turned to the stairs and called down the basement. “Anton! I need some more meat for the soup.”

Lilliana turned back to the pot on the stove, leaving the door to the basement open for Anton to drag up some more meat from the freezer.

Anton was a tall lanky black guy, with a big head and black happy Einstein hair, wearing a long black t-shirt, faded blue jeans and pink Keds sneakers.

Anton was abuela’s manservant. He did all the repair and heavy work around the house. As well as dragging bags full of demons up from the freezer when Lilliana needed them. He did all the gruesome work on them too. He found them at night, brought them home and kept them in cages, then killed them and chopped them up. Though Anton was mostly silent, Lilliana could occasionally hear him whisper something to them. “Anton? What do you say to them, can I come down and listen to what you say to them and hear their response.” “What they say isn’t so important and your Abuela may not allow that…”

“Then why do you talk to them?”

“Oh, just something to do before I kill them I guess. It calms them. I like them calm. They thrash around less when I’m cutting them up.”

On this day, though, Anton agreed to take her down later to speak with the last one before he killed it

Lilliana returns to Abuela with her soup.

“Abuela! I have your soup. Abuela gave Lilliana a start… she seemed dead at first but Abuela raised her head, she had fallen asleep. She stared….”Abuela, are you ok?”

“Tired and hungry.”

“I brought up another helping of the gruel.”

“Good…”

And she raised the bowl closer to her mouth… as using her arm like a mechanical shovel and crane, she shoveled the putrid gruel from the bowl to her mouth, the contents of which was hot murky liquid and chunks of fresh bloodied meat that danced in kind that almost seemed to be alive as abuela shoveled… Lilliana watched the madness in abuelas motions Like a child’s legs crossed and playing with it’s toys, consuming her favorite food in an effort to rid the world of demons, she imagined…

Abuela paused in exhaustion.

“Abuela, can you tell me more about the demons?”

“I tell you this because you must know, you will eventually do the same and will need to know…. They hide in the bodies of young human children to cast spells which is when you bring them out into the light. Once they become visible you must eat them quickly, seasoned appropriately and why they hide in little bodies is to fool everyone but the most knowledgeable and aware.”

Back in the basement, Anton takes Lilliana down to meet a demon, a little girl of about ten who calls herself Trisha.

“You know Anton is really a sweet guy, he treats you nice until the end.”

“No he doesn’t then why am I here?”

“Because of Grannie and what you are and what she has to do…”

 

“What are your parents like? Do they know about what you are?”

“What do you mean?

“A demon? That you are a demon.”

“But I’m not a demon.”

“Everything will be easier if you’re honest.”

“But I am being honest.”

Lilliana talks with Trisha, asking her questions about her life at home. What her parents are like. Her home. Her friends. Her toys. School. Does she like boys? Trisha often whimpers, afraid of Anton. Lilliana tells her that Anton is really a sweet guy. He just has a job to do

As they talk, Anton paces by, after chopping at meat in the back room, putting it in the freezer, then returning, bending down to Lilliana who sits outside the cage on the soot covered floor with Trisha, and reminding her . . .

“Trisha is a demon, don’t let her fool you.”

Anton walks away up the steps.

Lilliana asked her outright . . . “Are you a demon?”

“What’s a demon,” Trisha asked her pouting innocent lips…

“Well, you…”

Trisha sobbed uncontrollably.

“I’ve done nothing wrong, I don’t understand. Why was I taken? What is he going to do to me?” Lilliana looks back as he works..

Anton watches from the open door of the cutting room

Trisha asks about the locked door.

“What’s in there?”

Lilliana motions to the door down the hall from the cutting room…

“Abuelas secrets, all the scary things that make her who and what she is…”

“What about you? Let’s play some games, what games can you or want to play?”

“Hide and seek!” Trisha spoke with some elation distracted by the current terror…

“I’ll hide, you seek…”

“Ok… I’ll look for you…”

Lilliana lets her out to play, closing the basement door. They play awhile but Lilliana doesn’t recognize her own strength and so Trisha finds the play to rough. Together they press their ears to the secret closet door. They can only imagine. Lilliana tells what she knows about Abuela’s past. That she was a Bruja, and she made clothes for a living, clothes that some said had magical powers. To wear her clothing could be either good or bad luck, no one ever knew. And so the people of her small town in PR exiled her. What happened to all the clothes she made? Perhaps that is her secret.

The bell from Abuela rings out, deafening them. Lilliana runs, dragging Trisha into the cage and leaving her crying. Anton calls down from the top of the stairs to the kitchen. Lilliana fills another bowl from the seething pot on the stove then hurries back up the stairs to tend to Abuela, as Anton unloads another bag of demon meat into the pot While Lilliana sits with Abuela on her bed, feeding her, she looks out of the window to the empty streets.

Their home was a condemned tenement in Brooklyn, the only one on the block left standing. The building was surrounded on all sides by a debris ridden one-acre lot. In the distance she could see children playing in the schoolyard, from which Anton had found and taken two demons in the last year Lilliana turns to Abuela and asks.

“Do you ever wonder if you’ve chosen the wrong child, Abuela?”

She looked up from her soup bowl? Her eyes glistened when opened so wide. Suddenly her head grew twice its size and thrust forward to meet Lilliana’s. Abuelas exposed monster teeth, the ones she needed to chew the demons well but hid in her gums behind her mortal set, and sneered at Lilliana.

Saliva and blood dripped down from her stained fangs, a horrible stench from her breath warmed her face and made Lilliana turn away, sick and afraid Abuela relaxed, sitting back. Her head shrunk back to normal size, her teeth slowly retracted, allowing her to speak again. “Lilliana. Your mother and father wondered the same thing when I went to them with the truth. I told them what some children had become in the wombs of their unsuspecting mother. That two of their own children might be demons. And when I found them to be so, they fought me, until I killed them all. Except you, Lilliana. You were born free of demons. They had not found you because you were supposed to die in your mother’s womb. But you survived.

Don’t doubt my powers, Lilliana. Don’t doubt my knowledge, wisdom and awareness. I know that it may all seem amazing and fantastic, and terribly cruel and morbid, but the horror’s we live with must be found and our world cleansed. Trust me, Lilliana.

Lilliana bolted from the room crying

Lilliana sat in the kitchen with Anton, who had made them both some hot tea. Lilliana asked Anton if he ate the soup too. No! Only her grandmother could, because if a mortal drank demon remains, they would be possessed themselves, and she would have to kill and eat them also. Demon infested adults were much more difficult to deal with. Younger mystics could deal with them better than an old ugly fart like Abuela. Perhaps Lilliana would one day be groomed to carry on Abuela’s mission.

Lilliana asked Anton if he was ever afraid they were making a mistake. That they might be killing innocent children

I used to, Lilliana. For a very long time I was doubtful of what I was doing for your Grandmother.

Did you ever say anything to her?

No! Oh no! I’m sure she knew everything I thought, as she knows all that you have in your mind, and anyone else’s that she cares to invade. But I never said anything to her

Then you’re no longer doubtful?

Those doubts are all gone. I trust your grandmother, as you should too. And you will. . . eventually.

Lilliana went back down to the basement without Anton’s permission to speak with Trisha in whispers, hiding behind a column beside the cage, while Anton hammered away at the meat in the cutting room down the hall. Trisha asked all the questions. Asking about Lilliana’s own past. Her own childhood. Lilliana becomes sad and feels strongly for Trisha.

Trisha asks what a demon is.

“You are, you lie…”

“Everybody lies, all children lie. How do you know the children from the demons?”

“The wings.”

“If I’ve got wings, show me or show yourself the wings I have.”

“I’ve never seen them.”

“Never? Then how do you know? I’m scared of you, not a demon like you imagine that I am. I just go to school, play with my friends and toys…”

Anton pokes his head out to listen, believing he hears voices, but then goes back to work…

“Go ahead go down and look… All you have to lose is your innocence…”

Lilliana walked quietly down the hall to the cutting room, never having seen inside the room before never having seen a demon dismembered. She stepped in and watched in horror, as Anton chopped his away at the body of a small child. She looked away, sickened, and saw a sledgehammer leaning against the wall in the corner of the room.

Trisha reached passed Liliana for the sledge hammer and lifted it over Anton’s head. Anton turned and saw her, as Lilliana brought the hammer crashing down on Anton’s big head, smashing it to pieces like a ripe pumpkin at Thanksgiving. He fell to the ground. She knelt down to check if he was breathing, leaning close to him. Not a breath seemed to come from him. His eyes opened wide and she pulled back Lilliana, whispered Anton.

Lilliana. You should’ve listened to your Grandmother.

His eyes closed and he was dead.

Lilliana ran down the hall to the cage, keys in hand that she had taken off the hook in the cutting room.

She unlocked the cage as Trisha’s face brightened. Trisha scurried from the cage, holding Lilliana’s hand as they hurried up the stairs to the kitchen. The kitchen door to the backyard wouldn’t open. Lilliana wasn’t allowed out and she never saw how Anton left the house. All the doors were bolted Abuela’s bell went off Abuela knew.

A great roar rattled the plaster walls. Cracks like lightning opened up to shine their light. The house shook. And like thunder, there was a constant slow pounding that came from above, causing the whole house to quiver. Abuela became the monster, a slithering giant snake like beast.

Abuela was stalking them. My God! “What is that!” asked Trisha.

“My grandmother”… said Lilliana.

Lilliana and the girl ran down further in the basement, to the locked door that keeps Abuela’s secrets. Lilliana smashes the lock with a chain kept nearby and enters the room filled with Abuelas mementos of magic. The girls rummage about noting the overwhelming magic that comes to life to… Abuela slithers in after them, confronting herself, she is quickly immersed in herself. Lilliana battles her Grandmother. Lilliana wins and frees the girl Trisha thanks Lilliana, sprouts a demons reptilian wings and flies away, laughing… Lilliana finishes her story… related to the children from the neighborhood, pointing out how she had taken on her demon hunting chores…

 

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The Astronaut

 

My father…

Yes, I recall your father… He was the last human I saw when I left, he seemed disappointed…

He would’ve been the last man to travel in space…you took his place when the agency discovered the truth about long distance space travel, that he wouldn’t be able to go…

Yes, the fear that human anatomy could not handle the journey…

Humankind couldn’t it turns out Androids are our heroes now… They cost less to maintain as heroes… strange, you do look like my father…

Do I?

Yes… Existing humans were used as the models for many early Androids and eventually great Android artists appeared and the whole concept fully developed until we ended up with sentient beings replacing human beings and only the rich and elite could afford Androids of themselves… The poor lived but soon died off leaving me, a legacy human, a real human…

I must be so different from everybody, everything…

Quite…

I dare say I might feel like you, a legacy…

Your closer to human than Android, but unlike me, you can be eliminated…

I’m a legacy being, a living museum piece for many to see…

I as well perhaps?

Doubtful actually, many like have existed and changed the way existence developed…

And children?

There are none…

The world, humanity, existence has changed since, I am an immortal legacy being but eventually that will end soon I would expect…

I’m sorry Dave, they’re waiting for you…

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The Screaming Closet

screaming closet
The Screaming Closet
A Story by Ralph Pitre 9/19/2017
Still you seek where the light is not, patience, for in time I will reach out from the darkest and show you the horrors of the cosmos…
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Me
Love as an element of horror, lives unknown until the knife stabs from behind…
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Elsa, a Spanish name.
In Spanish the meaning of the name Elsa is:
Truth.
Elsa walked the length of the hall, her steps small and gentle befitting a woman of her advanced age and still the floorboards creaked underfoot as if from a great weight on the worn yellow and red linear patterned carpet.
Reaching the far end where the wall ran perpendicular to the hall, the doors of two side by side guest rooms were left ajar. Elsa looked into the room on the right where a very tall, very pale man, bluish almost, was in the middle of fitting the sheets tightly around the mattress. He stopped as he felt the weight of her look; nodding to her and she to him. From the left hand room, room number 508, Coltrane’s “Offering” called to her, crying it’s melodic tenor from scratched vinyl on a turntable beside the bed.
The room was empty but for the muffled sound of the strong wind outside. Elsa stepped in to scan the whole room taking note of the empty wheelchair diagonally across the room by the closet door. Walking across the room to the window with the curtain partially drawn, she looked out. She could see the tree struggling against the fierce wind and rain as it grew with each body writhing, rising from the ground along its ancient skin, thunder and lightning drawing them forth.
Elsa closed the curtain and turned back to see the tall bluish man staring at her from the entry door. She looked at the wheel chair to which she crossed the room to stand at the closet door where she could hear a faint sobbing yet distant, that quickly became a frantic cry then a terrible shriek then died, to become sobbing again and then silence. Resting her head against the door, her initial expression of concern became one of endearment… she waited a moment, exhaled deeply, looking down at the tattoo drawn across the pale underside of her wrist, two forearms clutched by two hands…so little time left.
Clover
Lightning cracks the jet black sky…shattering the pane, setting the soul aflame and the world burns, fueling the fire….
The Clover Grill, a dive bar & restaurant, loud and packed with locals, No’la scored a table by the window for herself, Mat and Davida, her camera crew and associate producers, all their gear piled next to No’la sitting on the broad front window bench; however, she couldn’t score the one thing she had been searching for; answers to the Goodbody Mystery. No’la could offer nothing more than a written review of existing Goodbody myth, now decades old…
The smell of an electrical storm… the smell of wet asphalt filled the air, blowing into the grill every time the door opened at the Clover Grill & Bar, on a corner two blocks off the tourist strip out by where the locals lived, it’s old brick and worn woodwork kept its charm while guests enjoyed food, drink, company and an old record player with a shelf stacked with vinyl, new and old, jazz, stomp and zydeco of this small popular eatery on the edge of town…
No’la had eaten very little of her plate of red beans and rice letting it become lumpy paste that she randomly reconfigured with her fork…the hickory coffee, served in a demitasse was still hot enough to allow bubbles to dance randomly building a tiny sculpture from which nothing could be gleaned.
Lost and numb the lack of accomplishment that had become an unwelcome friend for life, reminded her of the day her father was arrested. No’la recalled what she perceived as a happy life in those days when her father never shunned her when he came home from work and she would jump on his lap and ask about the tattoo on his arm under his short sleeve above the elbow; a black & white drawing, a thick chain winding around his back, where a golden ankh hung to end in a hole drawn around his vaccination mark.
No”la was a good investigative journalist at the time her father was arrested. She had been looking into reports that several precincts colluded together to extort money from local businesses and move drugs when eventually it all led to a series of arrests that included her father. A bad cop, perpetuating a family belief that you’re never good enough; it wasn’t enough to be poor, but to have a thug cop for a father….
She was pulled off the story. No’la wasn’t guilty she just knew someone who was and that was enough…
Davida stared at No’la as she grabbed her phone and left the table… I’ll be right back she said…Damn him…No’la had been waiting for his call..Clyph, their boss, their lousy producer in NYC, a hard ass exploiting No’la’s talents and her weaknesses cause all he had was weakness.
Davida had met No’la several years ago soon after No’la had graduated from school… Davida had found herself with no real focus on her studies and the career she announced to family she would pursue… but there she was lost among a throng of pursuer, all running from what they perceived as commitments to their life choices…the shining light crossing the field with a focus on her goals was No’la, who seems to know what she wanted and how to pursue it…
And there was Mat, his mother named him Matador…Born in the bayou as much a modern child slave as could be, he escaped without ever reporting the kidnapping, the abuse and raised himself, hit the military hard then exposed himself to a world documenting the madness… Mat was their warrior, clearly aware of No’la’s issues and No’la and Davida as a loving but estranged couple, Mat kept the trio strong and in gear. With him, once he knew their goal he was their guide, their bodyguard and the only rock steady focus they could trust. Mat spoke little of his past; special task tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. In his stories, and there were many, bits of those tours laced the other stories, constant chatter about so much paranormal that he had taken to heart after losing the stability he thought he had as a warrior. Ghosts, monsters, aliens and all things paranormal gave his life purpose, purpose he lost.
Getting up from the table, away from the noise and the music stomping from the old turntable spinning from an upper shelf behind the bar, No’la walked outside the Clover Grill and stood beside the door, under the recessed canopy avoiding the rain. Phone cradled to speak into she spoke “Hey, what’s up? Clyph…” and the rain had finally started after all its blustering threats, it was a light rain, a drizzle really, normal for this time of year if it stayed light, which it wouldn’t if the angry sky above had anything to say about it…
“No nothing yet”…she told him
“We’re getting something to eat now and still no hotel yet…we’ve called all over…. And now this storm is approaching…”
Skin glistened from sweat and rain, a small protest march started to swell outside of the Clover Grill… Police and mob presence swarmed to bloody each other good, faces broken, blood splattered with a hit of the police club, the crash of a Colt 45 people watched, flooding the street craning their heads from inside the Clover to see what little they could…
The violence swarmed like red rain spilt…black and white bodies flailing, the violence, torrential blood and rain splattered the asphalt black…a black protester stepped from the mass and alone confronted a cop accusing him of killing his brother…
“I can’t talk now Clyph it’s getting violent out here…the march that’s turning into a riot…It’s okay, no nothing at all on this Mr Goodbody, and nothing yet on May…she’s the only victim anybody knows about… no one knew where she went after leaving the hospital…and she’s the mystery, her talk about Mr. Goodbody who seems to have imprisoned her, perhaps tortured her and why she went back to him…it is a mystery, you talk to people who deny it’s importance but it’s obvious they have knowledge and are reluctant to talk about it.”
Listening to Clyph as he spoke…overwhelming frustration…
“It’s been awhile there aren’t many left who know the story, I interviewed who I could, no the lead detective is dead, I spoke with his partner…the partner was a woman who disappeared, maybe…”
“Okay, okay fine I’ll get you an updated file when we’re out of here.”
A black man, over-dressed tatters of rags and clothes, stood aside of the march beside an overflowing garbage container preaching his brand.. looking at the throng, tears filled his eyes…the anger he could see on them, in their hearts, had gone the violence spent…
Mat steps out to stand beside No’la, as if being there would protect her from the protest that hit close to home, prompted action from him but No’la stops him, Mat no…He glared across at the cops holding a protester down on his knees…the anger throbbing fuel on fire, coursing through him until it burst. The cop feeling Mat’s glare, smiles and throws a vicious punch at the protester…Mat looked to No’la, you okay? Yeah let’s get inside…he said.
Just then the angry cop reared back holding the club, and swung…burst…and there was more…
Life is not without the comfort of pain…No’la once said in her sleep…she couldn’t recall any dream or nightmare and Davida could never tell if it was No’la actually saying those words Do you think anybody will ever understand you, No’la was once asked?
Why should they?
No’la preferred being alone, no Mat how lonely she might feel or how much she loved another, her world was solely her own and she preferred it that way, alone… relationships were invasive, a distraction. Once, at a channel party formal dinner to pitching ideas for television shows, in front of hundreds of other guests during a brutal argument, No’la called relationships cancerous, malignant viral entities that clouded one’s thoughts, stopped the heart. Everyone thought she was pitching a show and gave her a standing ovation as she walked out of the ballroom.
Davida, No’la’s best friend and lover, her co-producer and an uber-exuberant No’la supporter since their days at The News Agency was so enamored by her, she was the guardian angel in No’la’s life. Always there, she became as alone and isolated as No’la. Without doubt, Davida believed No’la would come back from her self imposed exile, from life as a significant writing talent to currently making what she called pornographic documentaries about the paranormal. No’la became obsessed with the stories, the research, the culture of believers in all things out of this world who seemed as alone as No’la, strung out on isolation she both loved and hated…
And it burned, No’la could smell it, as always, something burning that she couldn’t identify, always there… burning.
Twenty years ago…
One would hope the hate she had for her father would have died with him, but that hate was greater as a result of what he took from her, something of hers died and she didn’t know what, a lost soul in a cemetery, blank headstones everywhere and nowhere an answer…
Father was mother’s god. Beyond love her dreams saw divinity in him and like him she believed he had been possessed by demons she fought. Both broken one shattered completely. Never finding fault in themselves they believed father’s troubles was the work of demons and their belief in God was overwhelming. The demons worked overtime on father until the day he died. Mother was terrified of suicide because it was a sin instead she chose a long and drawn out method of penance suicide… it was a Mater of time after finding a job in a place doing work where death was inevitable…and it worked.
In all of this, No’la had been left alone never part of the family, part of their madness, no one seemed to care. She watched as Mother fought their demons and father submitted… she could never understand their logic and never knew if dying by their own hand or at the hands of others was victory or defeat. Either way, those same demons seemed to follow her after they were done with father..
No’la’s father would eventually put a gun in his mouth, waiting for a police escort to join the guards who lived in the apartment with them he held a cup of coffee he fired the shot seconds after taking a large gulp…as if thrown from a bucket the blood splattered across the wall mixing with the less viscous coffee, draping a slow black and red curtain…
Over the years the Goodbody Mystery passed from real life mystery to paranormal myth; is there a difference? The archives relate the following: in 1977 an unidentified woman was found roaming the streets by a 12 year old boy who said that she was looking for a place she escaped from but wanted to go back to, that didn’t make any sense but… “I’m trying to find Mr. Goodbody, he’s in a red house, can you help me find him?” Who was Mr. Goodbody? No one ever found out. Naked and wet in the city’s perennial rain storms in a desperate search for Mr Goodbody, she spoke of the big red house, with a water pump in the yard and a “screaming” closet somewhere inside the house. Tim, the 12 year old boy who found her didn’t understand and convinced her to stay where she was, out of the rain at a bus shelter while he went to find police. The police had taken the woman to the hospital where she was treated for exposure, a variety of still broken and badly set bones, bruises, festering wounds and so on… She was kept under observation by a psychologist who used a hypnotist, a blind hypnotist, go figure, to discover that her name was May, born locally in 1952, she was kept inside of a room with several other women in various states of tortured existence when she escaped by slipping into what she called the death bin with two other bodies and did so before Mr Goodbody could catch her. It was apparent that she had been kidnapped, held prisoner and tortured, with other girls some still alive and some dead..the name Goodbody wasn’t much to go on and ultimately she really didn’t know where she was kept.
“This guy often thought of killing himself I would too if I believed I was possessed for over 20 years…”
“What?”
Davida and Mat sat across from No’la, Mat reading out loud from a pulp conspiracy magazine called The Truth, Deal With It! Davida barely listened to Mat’s revelations instead she nursed her cup of coffee deep in thought about No’la and her persistent issues…
“Yeah, over 20 years.”
“What are you guys talking about?”
“Mat found a story about a guy possessed by a demon for 20 years…”
“He’s been possessed by a demon for…?”
“It’s not a demon, I never said demon.”
“A politician?”
Mandy their storytelling waitress approached the table with a fresh pour of coffee listened and wondered.
“Mandy, have you ever heard of the Goodbody Mystery?”
“You talking about that girl who was found walking the streets here in the rain, somewhere ’bout here in this neighborhood I think…”
“Yes it was…”
“Not really…word was she up and took off, disappeared.”
“She did…”
“I saw your video equipment…you doing a TV show about it…”
“Just a segment… a piece…”
“I think the whole thing was a hoax anyway, not really a big deal that I know of.”
Mandy rushed off.
Mat continued…
“Well, but then he does call it a demon later on in the article but a benign demon.”
“What the hell is a benign demon, a demon without horns?”
“I don’t know, that’s what the report says…”
“Well he’s accepted the possession for 20 years…”
“Well that sounds dumb and boring.”
“I think it deserves some consideration. Not everything we cover has to be scary paranormal.”
“Well it’s no fun if it’s not scary. Anyway, this is wasting time and we need to find a place to sleep tonight…”
Outside, the storm was growing and still a number of people were out despite the effort by police to clear the crowd, No’la noticed a petite elderly woman standing in among a crowd waiting at the corner and staring at No’la. The light changed and the crowd rushed to cross the street as the elderly woman entered the Clover Grill. No’la noticed a barely visible tattoo on the woman’s arm, peeking out from the sleeve of her jacket as she passed their table, she raised her arm to close the umbrella. No’la looked in through the window to spy Davida and motioned toward the old lady then followed her into the Clover. The elderly tattooed woman walked straight back to the far end of the bar.
No’la rushed to sit grabbing her sack she shuffled through some of her papers, finding the right one…just as Mandy walked up from behind her
The tattoo…!
“You done honey?” asked Mandy.
“Yes, I am, except more coffee please actually. Sure, you know if you need a place to stay for tonight that woman who just walked in runs a small place near the hospital just a couple of blocks away, mostly outpatient guests from the hospital nearby, but she might be able to help, her names Elsa. She just walked in and sat at the end of the bar.”
“That little old lady with the tattoo…?”
“Yes…” Mandy rushes off for the coffee pot…
Across and along the length of the bar, through the growing crowd they watched Elsa, wearing a light rain coat over a heavier jacket over a light house dress with a busy floral pattern…seated on a far end bar stool she was happily ordering from a friendly and smiling bartender.
Mandy returned with a coffee pot and…”Yeah…that ain’t no tattoo, ya know not for decoration at least.”
“Then what is it for?”
“Branding, that’s a tattoo you get when you’re, entitled to someone….”
“Entitled?”
“Branding used to be what a slave owner used when he wanted to mark you as his so that everybody understood….”
“She wasn’t a….”
“No, she’s too young to have been a slave in this country, but she did belong to someone…”
“How do you know?”
“I just know, you hear things…”
And she rushes off again…
No’la couldn’t see the tattoo but she was sure Mandy had one…
“Creepy…”
“I agree.”
“We missing something?”
“Tell me about it.”
A quick sip of hot coffee and No’la was off
“Going to the bathroom…be right back.”
No’la suddenly turned up the flame…the flame Clyph tried to stifle suddenly alight.
Even a few tourists made it this far off the beaten path mingling with the locals at the bar and the tables covered in food and drink. The bathroom, the only bathroom was towards the back hall that led to the kitchen and the back patio. A woman stood in line ahead of her. The turntable pounded out some local Cajun stomp. No’la stood in line behind the woman just behind Elsa. She stared at the bit of tattoo peeking out from under her sleeve, painted on the underside of her arm just above the wrist. She could overhear the conversation she was having with the bartender, the state of business at the hotel, her work with the woman’s health board and how they’re leading the effort to help women in town why the grill sold and advertised to attract tourists but the grill needed the business. No’la wondered if she knew the story of May and the Goodbody mystery.
No’la glances down the bar to see Mandy nod to acknowledge where Elsa is seated
The bartender approached with Elsa’s food order as the bathroom became vacant and No’la lean’s quickly into Elsa calling her May?
“Excuse me?” Annoyed.
“Oh my, I’m so sorry, it’s…”
“Elsa, yes, can I help you…”
No’la was surprised…
The tattoo was…of two arms embracing, wrist over wrist. “I love your tattoo, I noticed it as you entered.”
Embarrassed, Elsa pulls back on her sleeve, trying to hide the tattoo.
“A betrothal tattoo, something i did for my husband long ago when he was alive. Silly at the time but now he’s always sort of with me.”
Two arms embrace, forearm over forearm though one seemed to be pulling, the dominant arm pressing the other and creating shadows where the pressure would be…
“Can I help you with anything?”
“Sorry, my colleagues and I are looking for a place to stay the night and Mandy the waitress mentioned you might be able to help…that you run a hotel or inn nearby?”
“I do, just a couple of blocks from here, you stuck in town?”
“Yes the storm has shut the airport.”
“You call around?”
“Yes…”
“I have a couple of rooms,”
“Here’s the address,” she said while writing it on a bar napkin
“Just head on over, it isn’t far from here. I’ll meet you there and so you know, it’s mostly an outpatient hotel serving the hospital across the street.”
“That’s fine, anyplace clean will do…”
“It is…better hurry…bad rains coming.”
Elsa walked off
“Thank you, Elsa.”
Elsa waved back as she left the grill and put her rain hood on…
No’la turned back for the bathroom just as someone else went in. I can hold it and she hurried back to the table.
No’la hustled back to the table….
“Guys, lets go. We have someplace to stay…”
“Awesome, the old lady?”….Mat & Davida, follow No’la out the door…Yeah.
Attention…
No’la stepped out of the Clover bar, holding the door open as Davida and Mat followed. She looked up to the sky, into the rain, the drops blinding then washing away a vale that revealed a night sky without a star. A sudden instance of vertigo overwhelmed her, drawing her eyes up, into the abyss then letting go, she began to collapse, Mat caught her from behind…held her for moment asking, “Coming?”
Continuing her thought while Mat helped her stand still, “I called her May”…
“What?”
“I called Elsa, May.”
“The old lady?”
“Yes…”
“Slip of the tongue it was…”
“Perhaps…the tattoo, I’d forgotten that May had a tattoo until the moment I noticed Elsa had one as well…the same one in the same place she described…”
“Elsa might be the right age at this point but was it the same tattoo?”
“The description was similar except Elsa’s tattoo was faded…which would make sense…”
They crossed the street looking at the debris the protesters and authorities had left strewn throughout the asphalt, smeared in blood, broken signs…the war fought, the remains of the loser littered the street…
They felt like fish underwater as the rain poured down, heavy and thick to fill the already moist air…they lost sight of Elsa, looking down Dumaine, dark and nothing at first but then there she was, tiny Elsa looking even smaller now that she had walked more than a long block ahead… how did she get that far so fast?…then she turned right around the corner, into a yard?
No’la couldn’t see that any street lamps were on along Dumaine. The homes, dark perhaps empty, shuttered but more likely home to squatters hiding in plain sight…didn’t help to light the darkness to see any life…
No’la turned to look down Dumaine at the well lit streets they were leaving behind. “I think someone’s following us…”
Mat turned, peered into the darkness and yelled to the stranger, a man, alone, dark, homeless, pushing a junk filled shopping cart silhouetted against the street lights… he stopped and called to them.
“Li se prèske tan, tout bèl pouvwa wè ou, vle ou, men se chemen an ou pran ki te ranpli avèk vicieux a, unblessed a, ki pa gen okenn chemen men sa ki w ap atire … jwenn wout ou … pa leur. ..turn tounen … tout bèl pouvwa a wè ou menm ak ou gade lwen, avèg bay verite a …”
To Mat she asked, What’s he saying?
Something like, “It is almost time, glory sees you, wants you, but the path you take is filled with the wanton, the unblessed, who have no path but that which you are attracted to…find your way…not theirs…turn back…the glory sees you and you look away, blind to the truth…”
“On va bien vieux! Merci pour la bénédiction …”Said Mat, walking back on his heels.”
“Ce n’est pas une bénédiction mais un avertissement.”
“Oke di ou mèsi de tout fason … men mwen panse ke nou ka nwaye si anyen.”
No’la pauses in the rain as the others pass and recalls having once heard her father speak similar words on his worst days…but about himself…
The homeless man walked up from behind No’la, lightly grabbing her shoulder to saying something that only she could hear but couldn’t understand…
“Madame, fènwa a ap tann ou, pa pran lòt moun yo … ale pou kont li.”
Mat rushes back to take her away…and she slipped easily from the homeless man’s hand resting on her shoulder.
No’la, Davida and Mat moved on down the block…looking back, No’la suddenly felt great concern, looking for the homeless man who was know gone…
A struggling fatherless family a mother and two children whose gender weren’t apparent cowered, shielded from the torrent under a willow tree just ahead down the block, across the street from an old brick house.
The family stared at No’la and the group as they crossed the street… “This is it, this is where she turned…” she turned to look at every one…
This is the home May described..
Elsa’s?
May’s….
You sure?
Yes…
No’la stepped sideways, staring at the house May described…a feeling of great accomplishment…she almost stood in the middle of the street, watched by the homeless family and Mat and Davida all enthralled by No’la’s amazement…
“It was the hotel May had escaped from…
“l’attente…”
“The what?” No’la said.
“French for “The Waiting.”
“Really,” said No’la. “Waiting for what…”
“Below the hotel name it says “L’endroit pour ceux qui attendent, ‘The place for those in waiting.’”
“But, waiting for what?
“Décès,” Mat turned to look at the others, “Death, I suppose…”
No’la slowly circled the house, stepping side by side the mansion, asylum and hotel as it stood now, a place for the infirmed and questionable, waiting…
“Look around the house,” No’la said. “look for the water pump she described, a fire engine red water pump.”
The District Commander had at first come to meet No’la over a drink at the hotel they first staying…”There are many secrets to keep, in my lifetime and this is one of them. I have to be careful, you understand?”
“Yes, I do sir…so there is a story?”
“There’s always a story, the trick is to verify it as more than the myth it has become.”
“I don’t understand, sir.”
“A long time ago, at that time I wasn’t the District Commander, just a captain… I assigned a very good detective to what seemed… a waste of time…” Pausing he looked away, she waited as the pause lengthened….but she waited…”Timothée, a fine detective…would still be if…let me take you to him, I have his permission…
“Ok,” she said.
“I have a car waiting outside…”
It quickly became obvious that the drive, by the Commander himself was longer than it had to be, the house kept in mystery…the car finally stopped in front of a small bungalow that had suffered water damage from the floods.
He turned to her seated in the back behind black steel mesh…”Go in, he’s expecting you.”
“Thank you Commander…”
“Be quick, we’re not young men…”
No’la shuffled across the back seat to get out and rushed through the rain, to the door… it was unlocked. The Commander, seated in the front, looked through the rain….
A voice greeted her, “You are No’la?”, as she stood inside the door, “I am.”
“Take the chair beside you,” he said softly, as if he were tired of talking and what was left were weak streams of air. She sat, without a greeting…she could barely see where the detective was seated though she could tell he was across from her hidden in the shadows cast throughout a dark house from weak exterior light.
“… I found May exactly where the boy said she would be a large red brick house with a big yard and a manual water pump in a side yard. I stood out front and felt as if there was someone at a window, watching, but I wasn’t sure.”
“You saw the house?”
“Well that’s where I first found her, right in front. Then I rushed her off to find my car and took her to the hospital. The rest of the team could never find the house, I could never find the house again…”
Across the street from the hotel where Elsa disappeared into, a family watched as No’la and the crew climbed the stoop to the hotel steps.
Of dark and dirty red brick the house was built, windows dark and stained, the art vague from a yellow film of uncleanliness; the roof covered in dirty unkempt black roof shingles gave the old edifice the feel of a tired church. Likewise a wall extended away from the front to surround the property throughout, the house angled uncomfortably suggesting that nothing made sense; something was wrong. The building at odds with the quaint style of the rest of town but for the front doors; French, unwashed stained glass covered in a wrought iron design that extended into the wood frame at the top of the front stone steps rising a few feet above the ground.
Mat looked back across the street at the homeless family who were likewise staring, back across…The mother, weighed down by bags and the weight she carried but more so grief evident on her face…three children surrounding her holding their own beside her, wanting both her strength and protect her.
Mat approached the brick wall from one side of the stoop that hid the back and side of the building. Balancing himself along a wrought iron runner he looked into the dark yard, trashed with high grass, branches fallen from trees deep in the waste he could vaguely see a very thick mass, perhaps a tree, quivering in the play of light and shadow…
“Pa ale nan…” mother said while giving the Sign of the Cross… The family watches them enter the house one by one. No’la hesitated a moment then disappear into the house and No’la takes note but still goes…Mat responds to their silent fear, looking back…they watch him walk away with concern, his countenance with the inevitable…
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Canto

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CANTO
And there was stillness throughout…
The voice of billions silent, gone in weeks the act of a small band of terrorizing white supremacists experimenting with viral strains to created an agent and render intended targets, politicians, mute. It worked too well and spread quickly throughout and far more hurt than expected and so many to blame…
The applause died, in that short moment of silence before Sophia began to sing, there was a great anticipation, a longing. She bowed her head for a moment, then raised it to look out into the audience, tears welled to fill her eyes as the voice they had all come to hear, filled the room and cried. Cry, they could hear, the voice of God. Cry, others knew, it was and cried in anticipation of the first sound.
Sophia sung with an angel’s voice. The voice had become part of her, one with her, as if she had already been born with the voice of an angel.
The creation of a new set of vocal cords as replacements for a damaged set was hard enough, but to design and manufacture a set of organic vocal cords whose sound was greater than natural or imagined. That is why no one succeeded in centuries. It simply worked or it didn’t. These spectacular voices, it seemed, were beyond the ability of man to create them, and yet man did create them. It is said the designer Mariana literally knew the secret and used it to produce three of the greatest singers in all of history. Two possessed by women, one by a man. Those are gone now, and the few that exist are prized possessions of private and corporate archives as valued artifacts of art and science. They are from a time long before when science had achieved artistic status. Where scientific creations were as much artistic creations. No one in centuries had ever dared to consider implanting one until Sophia.
Sophia sat quietly alone in the waiting room upstairs from the stage contemplating how close she had come to be with the angel’s voice. The voice had taken on a life of it’s own. No longer did Sophia just sing with the voice, but they sang as one.
They had come to know each other so well, the angels voice had become a singular being… Margarite unwraps the scarf around Sophia’s neck, gently caressing her neck, then kissing her on the neck then to her lips. Sophia pulls away.
“Is it the voice you love Margarite? Or me?”
“You of course.”
“Sometimes I don’t know which, sometimes I wonder what attracts you to me. What keeps you with me?”
“I stay for you, Sophia.”
“I know that the voice has great power that no one seems able to resist, including myself. I find myself in love with the angel as much as I do you and I don’t know whom I love most. I feel lost, stuck in the middle of a terrible triangle of emotion.”
“Sing for me Sophia, sing for me, softly so the guards outside can’t hear.”
Is it the voice Margarite loves or Sophia? Margarite often caresses her neck, kissing it, often asking for a softly sung poem, just a few lines, so as not to arouse the guards waiting outside to escort them to the party and ultimately take the voice away.
She clothed herself after the show, wrapping a scarf around her neck, drinking a nutrient drink.
Later when the party is over, Sophia will go away and hide behind a partition to remove the voice placing it in a secure safe, and then taken by security away from her until the next performance. But for now she must have it for the party.
We live in a world where many instruments are still made and the voice of an angel is one of them. The process by which a voice can be man made like any other instrument is unique and amazing. As detailed in a revealing science article in The New York Times the voice is literally grown from cells, and genes manipulated to become a self sufficient organism able to survive both inside and outside of the body. The performer swallows a small organically grown device, destroying the existing vocal cords and bonding with the body. The new vocal cords sing what many call the voice of angels. There are sacrifices to possessing the voice. You become a mute, because the vocal chords must be removed and cleansed in a solution. The chords are for singing only, speaking with them is not advised, the user or the listener. With the voice in place, the performer can never talk out loud or fully. She must whisper for fear that the full sound that is so heavenly would deafen the listener. It is only through song that one can listen. Only then is the voice under control.
Fifteen years ago Sophia had heard recordings of the voice implanted in the body of the Great Marlena and decided then she wanted that voice. She was a great and popular singer already but she wanted to be like no other since. No other singer had ever done this since Marlena. And Marlena had given up her voice as she neared death. No other singer dared for fear of losing their original voice and becoming a mute and slave to a voice that wasn’t your own; the voice of the angel’s. Her then manager had lectured her on this matter and was ultimately fired when her sign language interpreter took on those duties.
She formed a consortium of investors who were willing to pull money together to acquire the voice and implant it in Sophia.
The party awaits her in the grand ballroom.
Escorted by her interpreter, Sophia attends the party where she is congratulated. She greets everyone as a mute, her thoughts voiced by her interpreter who is trained to listen to the soft whisper of her voice.
She had become one with her voice. They longed for each other when they were apart. Of late she sensed the voice had become tired. Why? She could never tell. The voice had no way of communicating with her except through feelings. She knew that it was tired, that it was unhappy. The voice itself was taking on sentient awareness. This she divulged to no one but Margarite.
Sophia is called into the back room where she waits. The board chairman owned three angel voices. The other two were in use by singers. While those two had a grand history of performance, Sophia’s had only one great singer other than herself, attached to it. It had been created for Marlena over three hundred years. She spent twenty-two years performing with it right up until the day she died. Several decades passed until it had once again implanted. In a series of seven male and female singers over a century and a half, the voice never again performed as it had for Marlena. Not until Sophia. The board chairman, Mariano, was a huge fan and connoisseur of the voices and with his money hoped to collect all of them.
In the back room the board chairman explains they want to take the voice back. They want to implant the voice in another woman. They have already tested the implant on this other woman and it has performed well.
Now she knew why it was tired. They had conspired to take the voice away.
In conversation with Margarite, while the guards make their way to take the voice from her, it is suggested she ask for one more performance.
The chairman insists she perform now, for the party, in the ballroom, her final performance and then the cords will be removed.
As the chairman walks to the stage, Margarite and Sophia quietly discuss what to do next. Escape? Sophia finally decides to kill herself. She takes a knife from the buffet table, which she hides in her long sleeve.
As the chairman announces her entrance she slowly makes her way through the crowd.
Alone in the dark of a loft that overlooks the stage from above the rafters of the theater a man sits poised with a rifle aimed at Sophia, his right eye pressed against the sight, his right index finger lightly placed across the trigger.
She sings her saddest aria, making the guests cry. It is from an opera that tells the story of betrayal and suicide and vengeance against the betrayers. Sophia then attempts to stab herself in the throat, but not before the sniper shoots her down, saving the voice which still seems to resonate, to sing a voice of tears. Cries to save the voice can be heard from the guests.
Margarite rushes the stage, calling for help, and no one seems to care. Attendants of the board rush the stage to remove the voice from Sophia, without a care for Sophia who lay barely breathing, blood flowing crimson from the bullet hole in her head. As the board attendants step away with the voice safe in its container, Mariano the board chairman standing over the scene, tells one of the attendants to help her. Reluctantly and surprised, he does so.
Sophia speaks to Margarite and revealing she knows that it was Margarite, then dies.
We see the voice safely stored in a box, retired.
Margarite sits at Sophia’s grave, sobbing and haunted by what she has done. Margarite had given up her natural voice for the chance to have Sona implanted in her. After many tests and private performances doctors report the organ will never again perform as great as it once did. “But why?”
The doctor can’t explain.
The voice was retired and Margarite stayed forever mute.
The voice had been implanted in man, a male singer to try and coax the voice to sing could not…
Having known the voice had been implanted in the other performer.
And she knew. That breathless moment just after the applause, the paralysis of fear suddenly gone, she looked at every face that looked at her, and it was all of them. The moment was hers. Sophia bowed her head, the voice trembling within her. It wanted to sing.
The fear and anxiety that had rushed up to paralyze her died with the applause She looked back at them as fear and anxiety rushed to paralyze her, for a moment, as the applause died, the fear died, she looked down and she knew. The moment was hers. They were hers and they would listen as she sang for them. Not because they had paid for her to sing, but because they had become disciples and they would be witness to the divine in her voice.
Sophia sat in the antique high-back chair as Margarite reached from behind to massage and caress her.
                “That breathless moment just after the applause, the fear gone, looking at their faces. I knew the moment was mine.”
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Viejo II

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Canimao climbed out of the boat and let the cold of the great water wash over his legs. Looking back across the sea where so much of their lives had been spent in the recent months of their voyage. Here they arrived to find and explore the land of men with no color that would bring them to the land of the men they sought, the men who died in a terrible storm that lashed the shores of Canimao’s home land. Saddened by the lost men and their failed quest…Cinimao’s quest succeeded with his warriors quest to bring them home.
Canimao gathered his warrior’s and searched for the items of the lost men. They were pale men challenging what is known by the people’s bohiques, surmising the dead man’s origin and considered adding the found men to return them to their people and their land…
Canimao’s spear, tethered to his waist, a shield held in his arm, six warrior’s, all exhausted from there long trip, still healthy and fit but thinking of rest and hunger. They found a place to camp among in the tree, hidden from view of any natives. Finding their bodies laid about the beach, Canimao asked his people for volunteers, to help gather their bodies and things then try and transport them all back to their homes, a dangerous and great distance away…The dead men were sailors from a land over the horizon. A consult with the chiefs and bohiques led them to understand where the pale men were from.
Canimao once heard of people like them who’s color was pale compared to him and his people. Their home, a journey long and far away on the great water and much preparation would be involved.
Canimao, I have heard of these men but have never seen them, they are explorers of riches and only riches, the riches of others; they seek wealth from others to add to their already stolen wealth as their own. Your quest is your own but know that their lust stains them as blood. But know the consequences of your journey.
In the year 1491, inhabitants of a land far across the Atlantic, arrived on the shores of Portugal. Canimao and his crew arrived in a large seaworthy vessel with the personal belongings of the men they found after having succumbed to a terrible storm off the shore of Canimao’s land. Each, equipped with survival pouches, and information describing the men whose lives they tried to save; men who arrived across the ocean in a land they believed was in Portugal.
“Canimao, how will we find those who knew those men?”
Shaking his head side to side, “I don’t know yet, we don’t know the language, who the men were, I don’t know how but we shall try with their goods of trade.”

Canimao and his crew disembark from their sailing ships and scan the forests perimeter, looking for signs of life while dragging their boats up from the waves onto the shore. They quickly unloaded the boats of their goods and packed the remains of the men of no color, the items that were theirs and lay them beside the their own and the lay down to relax and rest and ponder their journey. After some thought they walk along the edge of the forest without straying too far from shore to prowl along the forests in search of someone who might help them find the origins of the men they helped. Without calling attention to themselves. Skirting along the edge of villages they judge who they will try and communicate with… They watch the daily lives of the inhabitants of this new land and they wonder…
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Tuning Papi’s Chrome Blue Nova with A Warm Glass of Rum

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Papi used to tune the 6-cylinder engine to his Chrome blue Chevy Impala with a warm glass of rum.
On Saturday mornings, after spending the start of the weekend sleeping, Papi used to walk out to the car, which he kept parked in front of the red brick tenement we lived in, in Brooklyn. In the trunk he kept his tools and likewise in a greasy brown bag an old drinking glass stained with use and a bottle of dark Puerto Rican rum. He opened the bottle and poured a half glass of rum, warmed by the summer heat that turned the trunk into an oven and cooked whatever was inside. Then he walked around to the front of the car and leaned forward to unlatch the hood through the front grill, lift the hood, take a small sip of rum and then place the glass on the right front fender.
As he worked, Papi would take small sips from the glass for each part of the car he worked on; checking plugs, wires, air filter, belts. Then he would check the engines idle that would actually cause the car to shake more or less.
Taking a small screw driver, he would reach reach deep into the carburetor and turn the idle screw. He watched the glass of rum as he turned the screw and judged his work based on the ripples that formed in the rum. The ripples started at the center of the filled glass, then radiated out to the edge of the glass, then bounced back, creating a storm of waves that seemed to boil the rum. Often I stood beside the glass and watched the storm grow in the rum, until Papi tuned the car. He continued to turn the idle screw until the car settled, and the rum settled. Finally the car didn’t visibly shake, but the rum rippled ever so gently; like the warm pools of water in the mountains of Puerto Rico. The ripples had become shallow, even and fast.
The car was tuned; and Papi was glad…
Papi would stand in front of the car and admire the engine. Then take the warm glass of rum and pour the rest down his throat.
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El Viejo / La Vida de La Dona y El Cuerpo del Cacique

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“Hurakan…”spoke El Cacique. “I can smell the water of the great sea burning”… said El Cacique…
“The dead…”
“To speak of the dead is wrong…”
“Men of no color?”
“Men of any color?”
Canimao and his men gathered the remains of the men of no color, the men of no color, who suffered the storm…
“They are dead and deserve rituals of their dead…”
“They are dead, Cacique,” said Canimao… “We do not know their ways…
“Nor do we know their intent… They consume without the intent of nourishment…
Canimao…since you will explore where they come from… It is your choice…
We will…gather their remains from the beach and ready them for transport…It is a long journey and I fear we will know what we fear to know…
The fear of where these men come from…
Return them to rest…
I fear they will come back…”Cacique shooed them away….and to himself he spoke.
“We arrived to this world too late and the world will return us too soon…
They’re hunger is like the heat of an angry fire…
The fear is they are seekers of desires, of lonely people who never stop looking for they know not what they seek…
Their desire, their urge is insurmountable… a mountain never to be looked upon or climbed upon…”
The great sea was tormented…inundating them with a great wash…
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Data guru living with ALS modernizes industries by typing with his eyes

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By Susanna Ray 10 September, 2018
The self-proclaimed “oldest nerd of Guatemala,” Otto Knoke is an admitted workaholic, glued to his computer screen from 4 a.m. to 8 p.m. as he analyzes data and creates business-intelligence dashboards for customers ranging from restaurants to hotels and real-estate companies.
The 60-year-old data analyst is well-known in Guatemala’s business community, especially after he helped modernize the banking industry by bringing ATMs to the country 20 years ago. But even as the then-40-year-old’s career was blossoming, his muscles were beginning to fail him. In 1998, Knoke (pronounced kuh-NO-kuh) was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, and was told he had two years to live.
Always an early adopter of new technology, Knoke persistently researched ways tech advances could help him thrive even as the disease has progressed. Two decades later, he has become the first person in Guatemala to use Microsoft’s new eye-tracking software for Windows 10, called Eye Control. That’s given him access to pivotal tools, helping his mind overcome the restrictions of his body, and his business is booming.
“Technology has permitted me to work and communicate with my loved ones, with the people who help me and with my friends,” Knoke said in an interview conducted over email, his responses typed using his eyes. “And now that I’ve learned to use Eye Control and a foot mouse at the same time, my productivity at work has skyrocketed and my relationships have improved.”
Otto Knoke, who has lived with ALS for 20 years, “always has a big smile on his face, because he’s got his independence back” thanks to new technology that helps him communicate, says his wife Pamela Knoke.
ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, erodes muscular functions until a person is unable to walk, talk or breathe. There’s no known cause or cure, and it usually results in death within five years, according to the ALS Association, although physicist Stephen Hawking lived with the disease for 55 years until he died earlier this year – one of just 5 percent of patients, including Knoke, to survive for more than 20 years.
Once an avid cyclist, weightlifter and tennis player, Knoke lost use of his hands and arms first, which meant he couldn’t hold a cane to support his weakening legs. So he’d tuck his arm under his wife’s, and she propelled him forward. His symptoms progressed slowly, allowing him to keep his job as a chief executive officer in the banking industry for 12 years. He retired in 2010 when he began losing his voice, making it difficult to communicate with his board of directors.
But he didn’t stop working; he simply moved his office home and became a data analyst, helping nonprofits and small- to medium-sized companies use new business intelligence tools to get value from their data.
“He’s not retired – he doesn’t know the meaning of that word – he just doesn’t go to the office anymore,” said his wife of 32 years, Pamela Knoke, who quit her job as a bank process manager to become his business partner – and his voice.
The couple remodeled their two-story townhouse near Guatemala City so he had everything he needed on the first floor and didn’t have to navigate stairs. Otto learned to use a trackball mouse with his foot to type with an on-screen keyboard. But it was cumbersome, and he needed Pamela nearby to move the cursor from one corner of his two 32-inch screens to another as he navigated Excel spreadsheets and Power BI dashboards.
A tracheotomy was put in his throat to help him breathe, taking away his limited speech and increasing his isolation. But when Knoke, who spends two hours a day reading blogs and researching, saw his friend Juan Alvarado’s post about the new Eye Control feature in Windows 10, he let loose with his version of a shout and immediately ordered the Tobii Eye Tracker hardware to use with the software.
Otto Knoke with his wife, daughters and sons-in-law. Photo provided by Pamela Knoke.
Alvarado, who met Knoke as a database consultant working on the ATM system Knoke had implemented, hadn’t known about Knoke’s condition until he suddenly saw him in a wheelchair one day. And fittingly, Eye Control itself began with a wheelchair.
Microsoft employees, inspired by former pro football player Steve Gleason, who had lost the use of his limbs to ALS, outfitted a wheelchair with  electronic gadgets to help him drive with his eyes during the company’s first Hackathon, in 2014. The project was so popular that a new Microsoft Research team was formed to explore the potential of eye-tracking technology to help people with disabilities, leading to last year’s release of Eye Control for Windows 10.
Knoke said it was “a joy” to learn how to type with his eyes, getting the feel of having sensors track his eye movements as he navigated around the screen and rested his gaze on the elements he wanted to click. Using Eye Control and the on-screen keyboard, he now can type 12 words a minute and creates spreadsheets, Power BI dashboards and even PowerPoint presentations. Combined with his foot-operated mouse, his productivity has doubled. He plans to expand his services to the U.S., where he spent six years studying and working in the 1970s. He no longer relies on his wife’s voice, because Eye Control offers a text-to-speech function as well.
“It was frustrating trying to be understood,” Knoke said in the email interview. “After a few days of using Eye Control I became so independent that I did not need someone to interact with clients when there were questions or I needed to explain something. We have a remote session to the client’s computer, and we open Notepad and interact with each other that way.”
His wife and his nurse had learned to understand the sounds he was able to make, even with the tracheotomy restricting his vocal chords. But now he can communicate with his three grown daughters, his friends and all his customers.
Using a foot-operated mouse, Eye Control for Windows 10 and the text-to-speech function, Otto Knoke is able to communicate with his family — including his daughter, seen here — as well as with clients.
“Now when our children visit, he can be not just nodding at what they say, but he can be inside the conversation, too,” Pamela Knoke said. “He always has a big smile on his face, because he’s got his independence back.”
He’s also started texting jokes to friends again.
“It’s kind of like it brought my friend back, and it’s amazing,” Alvarado said. “Otto told me that for him, it was like eye tracking meant his arms can move again.”
Being able to text message with Eye Control has helped his business as well.
Grupo Tir, a real-estate development and telecommunications business in Guatemala, hired Knoke for several projects, including streamlining its sales team’s tracking of travel expenses with Power BI.
“Working with Otto has been amazing,” said Grupo Tir Chief Financial Officer Cristina Martinez. “We can’t really meet with him, so we usually work with texts, and it’s like a normal conversation.
“He really has no limitations, and he always is looking for new ways to improve and to help companies.”
Otto Knoke uses Eye Control in Windows 10 to create spreadsheets and interactive Power BI reports, such as this one, for his clients.
Knoke’s ready feedback on the Microsoft products he works with every day, such as Power BI, led to improvements in the software’s features, along with a job offer that he calls “a dream come true.” The company hired him as a contractor this month to serve as a community manager for Power BI’s customer advisory team.
“I was really inspired,” said Cesar Cernuda, the president of Microsoft Latin America, who visited Knoke at his home earlier this year. “And it’s not that we’re helping him, but that he’s helping all of his customers, as an expert on Power BI.”
Knoke’s pioneering use of Eye Control in Guatemala and the way he’s been able to harness technology to enrich his personal life spoke volumes to Mario Ibarguen, the general manager of Taco Bell Guatemala. The fast-food franchisee has been growing in the country, opening 54 restaurants including the world’s largest Taco Bell, housed in a former bank in Guatemala City. When Ibarguen needed a tool for the restaurant managers to measure growth and sales in real time, he knew Knoke would have the answer.
“All these tools that Otto has have helped him a lot, so it’s good to have someone like Otto helping us,” Ibarguen said.
Knoke credits his family, work, faith and attitude as the “winning ticket” that has sustained him as his disease progressed over the past two decades. And with his renewed ability to communicate, he said, “I’m so busy that I don’t have time to think about my disease.”

Top photo: Otto Knoke and Juan Alvarado discuss a Power BI report Knoke created using eye-tracking software for Windows 10.