I closed the door of the church. All the street noises shut down behind it: car engines, loud street vendors, women walking on miniskirts arousing lavishing desires, females who look frenetically for an occasion of sin… Behind the door remained that poor world governed by the master of darkness who tries to keep us from the glory of Our Lord Jesus Christ. But I, Friar Alonso de Zumarraga, had promised myself to resist. I had planned to stay true to the Faith without taking one step away from it at any moment. I thought I had a mission. What was it? I wasn’t sure, but that thought possessed me. I believed I was in that parish, in that neighborhood, because of some mysterious reason. This is an old Dominican convent. Older friars had already died and there aren’t new vocations. During matins, I was the only friar reeling off a rosary expecting every word to take me to a contemplative state. My mission? It was just a hunch, but a strong one, a powerful one… My mission? I expected the Holy Ghost would reveal it to me in time. Meanwhile, day after day, I said morning Mass at seven. Only half-deaf old spinsters crippled with arthritis would hear it. They came to church pushed by habit, not by faith.
They used to leave after Mass among chit-chat and good-byes. I took off my church vestments and kept my cloth from the Order of Preachers. I felt like flying in its folds. Ever since I was a kid I was attracted to the cloth of Dominican friars as they said Mass. I looked at the mirror hoping to see sanctity, but I only saw the face of a man who wanted to sow the Word of God in a wasteland. The sacristy was quiet. Dust fell from the ribbed vault. A dust formed perhaps three, four or even five centuries ago, when the first priests came to the Americas to fight idolatry. The morning sun entered through a high skylight and hit the face of a Christ from the colonial period. His back was bloody. His face expressed endless pain, the suffering for the sins of the Humanity He came to save. I kneeled in front of Him and asked Him to make my life an instrument to share the divine suffering. I was alone, alone against everything. But no, I was not all alone. I had Christ, yet He did not reveal Himself to me. Or was it the revelation I expected in the strange dreams I was having? As soon as I fell asleep, this illuminated world full of machines and computers became a forest of shadows. A few brothers from the Order of Preachers and myself marched through the dark forest. We had brought some water and a little food. Night was falling upon us, wolves howled. The friar leading us, Alvaro de la Cruz, lighted a torch. We kept walking. Trees were huge and old; they seemed to moan, to talk, and to tell stories of treachery and old loves. The melody of Pan’s flute still dwelled in those old trails in the forest. Pan: the old god agitated by the chaos of the forces of the flesh.
Friar Alvaro shook the torch as if it was a sword every time amorphous shadows came close to us. We could only see their huge tusks eager to tear our flesh apart. There was something evil in the air. We, the seven friars, came closer together. I held a strange-looking cross in my hands. The longer bar ended in the tip of a spear. The Crucified was in the middle. More than an instrument for devotion, it looked like a weapon. Or rather, it was actually a symbol that merged submission to Christ with war in His name. Blood and prayer all in the same piece of metal.
I held it with a firm grip. The trail was getting narrower to the point we were practically moving forward in a ditch among bushes. I could smell the herbs, the sleeping flowers. We heard a distant singing. It was women’s voices, soft and intoxicating as wine. Friar Alvaro told us to walk quietly and to make as little noise as possible. He put out the torch. The wind howled fearfully in the trees. The feminine voices reached us with more clarity. We could see a dim glow. It grew brighter as we moved forward. We reached the edge of a forest clearing and we saw dozens of women dancing naked inside a circle of big rocks. At the center of it, there was a bonfire. The rocks had the carving of an eye with six pupils. We were stunned. They were witches worshiping Satan. We were supposed to get out of hiding, get them, and take them to the Inquisition’s dungeons, but we were frozen. We could only watch the beauty of their dance and listen to the sweetness of their singing. We could have stayed like that for all eternity.
Those images, or other of the same kind, were my dreams night after night. I woke up sweating, my heart pounding in my chest. Concupiscence was overwhelming. Those women had aroused it and, in my waking hours, I wanted those female bodies of my dreams next to me. Delicate and soft, like butter you could cut through with a knife. It always happened around three or four in the morning. I got out of bed. I needed to mortify my body to overcome lust. I took cold showers, but even the freezing water excited the fire in me. I ran, I sang in the middle of the courtyard of the convent. I cried for divine assistance, but defeat always came and I ended up masturbating under 16th century frescoes where Saint Anthony was besieged by a multitude of demons in the middle of the desert. I loathed myself. By then, it was five in the morning already. I felt melancholic from the night, but still I prepared to say the prime hour prayers, so dawn could find me worshiping the Almighty, but above all things, repenting from my lust. By seven, with my church vestments, I said Mass to a few old ladies and a couple lost souls.
This was how I used to spend my days since I arrived to this church in a convent downtown Mexico City. Agitation never left me. I battled constantly against the sin inside me, so the grace of Christ could shine upon my weak flesh. I was committed to increase my flock and to go out and spread the Gospel. I started in my own street. Correo Mayor Street was filled with street vendors. I tried to talk them into coming to church. They said they would when they had to baptize their kids or make them take the First Communion. They only fulfilled the prescribed sacraments, but the love of God did not penetrate their hearts and faith did not move them. Some of them listened to me. Some just turned their heads and kept screaming the names of their products. It didn’t matter. I didn’t lose heart. One time, as I carried out my evangelizing duty, I walked farther away than usual. Street vendors were scarce. A little store caught my eye; a sign outside announced healing magic herbs for sale. “Magic”, a word preferred by pagans to cunningly jump into the worshiping of the Enemy. I entered. There was a powerful scent of sage, rue, oleander, and chicory. The counter was wooden, old, and in need of a paint job. The wall was covered by small shelves with merchandise. I also saw handfuls of dirt and healing stones. Mixed among the old porcelain jars, similar to those of old-fashioned apothecaries, I caught a glimpse of several books of witchcraft. There were the “Grimoire of St. Cyprian”, the “Book of Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage”, “The Black Hen”, and the “Grand Grimoire”, by King Solomon, or rather, attributed to King Solomon, since it is unthinkable that the holy monarch had devoted himself to such craft.
I also saw the leather covers with titles in gothic characters of the “Secret Grimoire of Turiel”, and the very rare “Galdrabok”, the Iceland grimoire from the 16th century. It is a unique volume that contains the runes Nordic people used for summoning the dark forces, Midgar, the Great Serpent, mother of all witchcraft. Without its permission, it is impossible to operate effectively in the world of the spirits.
A black cat of silky fur snuggled up at the top of a shelf. In the back of the room there was a great collection of cages with all kinds of birds: ravens, blackbirds, hawks, and an owl. All for sale, but no one to sell it. “Hello”, said I. “Hello, is anybody there?” Silence. A spider came out from behind the jars and walked to the paneled wood ceiling. I hear squeaks, perhaps rats, coming from the back of the room. There was a door that led to a long hallway with columns and an inner courtyard. Ground-ivy filled the air with its pungent scent. It creeped the shaft of the columns and went all the way up to the capitals. There was an osier chair and a young woman in white was sitting there. The sun coming in from the courtyard bathed her face. It was a weightless, ethereal visage. It was almost as if she was not in front of me, but rather flowing from another time and as if this transmission was suffering from interference. “Sit down”, she told me, pointing to another osier chair. I didn’t know what to do. Suddenly I was afraid of being impolite and I abode. I was spreading the Gospel. How could I introduce the subject in our conversation? She looked at me attentively. “What do you want from the store? I can see you haven’t slept well. Valerian root is great for sleeping problems. Do you have nightmares? Are you haunted?” Such accuracy disturbed me, but still I replied, “I am Alonso de Zumarraga, priest, and I came to invite you to my church, so you can hear Mass”. “Thanks, father, but I can’t. I am a pagan. I worship the forces of nature, the Great Pan. You, father, should take better care of your own nature. By the way, my name is Elenor”. She presented her hand. It was delicate. I imagined a minute ago she must had been weaving golden threads. I remained bedazzled for a few seconds. I imagined those fingers touching my face. Then I got up. “I will take my leave. I have to say the five o’clock Mass very soon”. “I can walk you out”, she said. We passed through the store and all its smells, the chirps and cries from the birds; the store was also a kind of magic library where books taught to summon powers from other worlds. “You can come anytime, Alonso. Can I call you Alonso?”, “Yes, sure”, “Well, then, you can come whenever you want, Alonso. I will be waiting for you.” There was perfume in her breath. Her body exhaled the fairness of superior souls. I left and the door closed behind me. It was only four and half in the evening. Why was she closing the store so early? I looked at the façade. It was a total ruin. It looked like a building from the 16th century, one of the very first edifices the Spanish conquistadores built. It had two floors and a watchtower above them. Window glasses accumulated dust and spider webs. I thought it looked like an abandoned house. But it was not. At least that woman lived there. Elenor.
Meeting Elenor changed me. Her face never left my mind. She was like an emanation of nature itself. At any given moment, her skin could be made of leaves and her feet could dig deep into the dirt as if they were roots. And her fragrance. I could not forget her fragrant skin. It was a scent that made me close my eyes and think in endless forests running into mountains and disappearing into a horizon of mist and electric storms. Elenor was something like the wonder of earth.
Many times I was tempted to go back to her store and talk to her. I resisted. I knew I could fall easily into her trap, since just like any other woman, she spun webs for men. And a man like me, a man looking for holiness, must avoid every temptation. Despite all my precautions, the Evil One kept coming for me. Now my dreams were even more vivid. The scenes where I was walking through a forest with a group of friars came back with unexpected strength. Over and over, we arrived to the forest clearing where the group of women danced and sang. Friar Alvaro ordered us to slaughter them. We charged and chased them inside the circle of rocks. I cornered the queen of the witches and when she was in front of me I realized her face was Elenor’s. I wielded my sharpened cross to kill her, but I couldn’t deliver the blow. The sweetness of her face filled me. The other friars gored women. Soon, the ground was covered with blood. But the queen soared above us. Her hair flowed in the wind, like a lion’s mane. She danced above the treetops. She summoned the clouds. Rain and hail fell upon our heads. We ran through the forest. Friar Alvaro led us into a cave. We entered. “You poor devil”, he said to me, “How could you let the queen of all witches escape?”, “I couldn’t kill her!” I answered. Friar Alvaro was furious. He stood up and told me “I curse you! You will chase her through swamps and rivers, through the desert and the jungle, through time and through eternity. This will be your curse: your soul will not rest until you kill her!” A flash of light filled the cave. The storm outside was deafening. All the friars left using a secret path inside the cave. They left me all alone. I will be forever alone. Alone with my curse. Where would that witch be? I walked into the rain in the middle of the forest. I was drenched from head to toes.
The Queen Witch was still in the sky, naked, moving left and right, making rain and hail fall. I contemplated her in ecstasy. She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I wanted to reach her, but I woke up in my bed covered in sweat. It was almost dawn. A downpour was falling all over Mexico City. Water ran from the roof and through the gutters, finding its way to the cisterns deep into the foundations of this old church.
The rain was hitting the old windows. The walls started to exhale an old odor. It smelled like half-rotted wood and clothes stored for centuries inside a chest. I ran to the street, to Elenor’s house. I had to find out if she was the witch from my dreams, the one I was ordered to kill.
I arrived to Elenor’s house. I banged loudly on the door several times but nobody answered. The heavy rain continued. A group of men were walking down the street. “Excuse me, sir, but nobody lives there”, one of them said to me, “That house has been abandoned for years. You won’t get an answer”, he claimed and then they kept on walking. I looked again at the façade to be sure I wasn’t in front of the wrong building, but it was the same house I remembered. I knocked on that door over and over. Nobody answered. Then a soft and cold hand touched my shoulder. It was Elenor. She was in the middle of the street, dressed in white. I was not sure if there was a real body next to me or just a bubble formed by the rain with the image of a real body that was far away in a remote past. Her voice sounded like an echo. “What are you looking for Alonso?”, “You. I needed to see your face and verify something”. “Come in”. She produced an old key, big and rusty, and she opened the door. We entered a hall illuminated by candle light and with old furniture. I sat down in an armchair with a big swan in the back. The arms where wooden and carved with roses. She was in front of me. Her clothes were dry. “Weren’t you out in the rain?” “No” “How come then…?” “I opened the door from the inside”. The atmosphere in the room was thick. Burning incense and camphor vapors floated by the scarlet drapes. In front of me, I could see a large oil painting of Bacchus. His feet were ram hooves and a pair of horns crowned his head. Was I hallucinating still? Had the dream been so powerful that I was still confounded? Had she even opened the door? She was looking at me with misty eyes. Her white robe was almost transparent. I could see her perfect round breasts and her perky nipples. I wanted to touch them and make their warmth mine, but I came back to my senses. I was a Dominican friar visiting a half-naked woman just hours before dawn. I must leave. I was about to get up, but her urgent hand stopped me. I got nervous. “What happened to your herb store?” I asked, “You just passed it; it is the first room” “Really? I didn’t see anything” “It is there”, she said, pointing towards a door behind me. Did that house transmute according to Elenor’s wishes? What was I doing there? Was that the face I kept seeing in my dreams? If it was, what should I do? “I am leaving now”, I said. I got up and left the house. The sun was rising outside. I had to say Mass. I looked one las time at the big door. It was covered by the official seals of foreclosure, prohibiting all entry. Were the men right when they told me nobody lived there? I didn’t want to think anymore and rushed towards my church. In a few minutes, I had to say Mass.
I could not find peace all day long. Elenor’s mystery possessed me, but I was even more anguished by the worrying desire of touching her body, sinking my face in her hair and breathing in that smell of wet dirt. I tried to pray. I couldn’t focus. Her image kept coming to me… under the rain… in that room with old furniture and thick atmosphere. Why did she look so much like the witch from my dreams? Was she a witch disguised as an herb seller? By dusk I found my place under the light coming through the stained glass by the altar. I pictured myself atop the Mount Sinai and sang Te Deum Laudamus. Te dominum confitemur, aeterna fac cum santis tuis in gloria numerari… The last sunrays dimmed out as I glorified the Lord. Soon I found myself alone in the dark, accompanied by the images of saints and their eternal smell of old wood and incense from centuries ago. It was a mesmerizing and powerful scent. I remembered the Master of the Dominicans had told me that in the basement of the presbytery I could find more sacred images to use them if I needed. Perhaps among them I would find a powerful icon that would help me fight temptation. Armed with a candle, I descended through a narrow stairs nobody had used in many years. I saw the faces of the Aztec gods fading away in the stone the conquistadores had used as spolia to build those walls. Tlaloc and his frog face. Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent. Forgotten gods, but maybe not entirely inactive. I found the images the Master had mentioned, but I did not find anything out of the ordinary. They were Christs with bloody backs, or saints from the Order of Preachers, Virgins with crying eyes. Dust, a lot of dust, and bats fluttering about…
I found and old couch. I laid on it to keep on praying, but I fell asleep. My nightmares came back with all their power. The witch with Elenor’s face was being held prisoner in an Inquisition dungeon. I approached her holding the crucifix with the spear tip at the end. I was about to kill her to free the world from her spells, but she started uttering inaudible words from her soft full lips. The air seemed to liquefy. I could feel the soft touch of that mouth and even smell her perfumed breath from paces away. It was a maddening sensation. I just wanted to get lost in such a wonder. I forgot what I had to do. I took the keys and freed her from her shackles. Then the witch ascended, she passed through the stone vault as if it was butter, and found her place next to the stars. From there, she waved her hand a ray fell on the Inquisition rack.
I woke up. I was on the couch. The candle was almost consumed and I was sweating. The atmosphere in the basement was asphyxiating. I was about to leave when my hand hit a metal object. At first, I thought it was an ordinary crucifix, but when I brought the candle closer I saw it clearly: it was the same weapon I wielded in my dreams. I was frightened. I looked around. It was the first time in my life something apparently supernatural happened to me. The spear-crucifix had traveled from my dreams or from an unknown past to that place. Was it a signal sent by God or by the Devil? By God, for sure. I do not believe the Devil can manipulate the image of Our Lord without perishing in the act. There wasn’t any doubt about it anymore: I had to use the divine weapon in this century. I knew I had to use it against Elenor. However, I was not joyful, but rather sad. Shouldn’t obeying God’s Will fill me with joy? No, it didn’t. But no matter what, I climbed the stairs with the weapon in my hands. I walked to my cell. The hour was matins and I prayed so the Lord gave my hand strength. I couldn’t focus on my prayers. My mind was trying to drive me away from my mission. Maybe, I said to myself, the strange-looking crucifix was a common instrument in bygone days and that is why it was stored away in the basement. But then, why had I dreamt so many times with an object I had never seen? It was God’s work undoubtedly. Would I dare slaying Elenor? Why should I? What if it was all a hallucination or some sort of psychosis? No, I wouldn’t kill Elenor, not even if the whole universe commanded me to kill her. Even if God Himself commanded me? No, no, no. I thought I was defying the Almighty and falling from His grace. I felt, or imagined, a strong wind on my face, a gray gale that was dragging me into the depths of Hell.
I couldn’t sleep since I discovered the spear-crucifix. I was shaking with anxiety all the time. I was short of breath. My hands sweated as I reached for objects that did not exist. As I tried to sleep inside my cell, I felt the walls closing around me. So, I got the habit of escaping to the courtyard and laying under the refreshing orange trees. I looked for relief under their freshness, but my muscles were tight and my body ached with cramps. My skin and my eyes were burning from sleep deprivation. I said Mass for many days in that awful state, my head heavy with lead butterflies fluttering inside.
One day I fainted as I was coming down the pulpit. The feeble old women helped me regain my feet and they threw water on my face. I mumbled an apology and hid in the sacristy. I decided I had to see Elenor; between the two of us, we must decipher what the problem was. That thought made me experience some tranquility for the first time in many days and I fell asleep. I did not wake up within the next hour, not even at noon. I kept on sleeping. At five in the evening I opened my eyes. I was fresh, strengthened. The state of nervous alteration had given in. I wasn’t seeing shadows and dangers at every corner. I decided to find Elenor. The evening outside was peaceful. I rejoiced with the touch of the sun as I walked the streets. I passed the house known as the Mayorazgo de los Aispuro, then the Palace of the Counts of San Berenice and Calimaya, now in a deplorable state of abandonment. In their walls there are several alchemic symbols. I cannot understand why the Inquisition allowed such audacity. I cannot understand, I could not understand… but I kept walking next to colonial houses, each house in a more deplorable state than the one before, more decayed, filthier, and all of them reeking since they were inhabited by dozens of poor families. The mix of things in those houses was unsettling: putrefaction and sweat met with an ancient opulence. Finally, I arrived to an old café. Elenor’s house should have been in front of it, but it wasn’t. There was nothing but a piece of land with a few walls crumbling apart. How? Had that house collapsed in a few days? How could I ever find Elenor now? I asked the waiters what had happened. They said “Nothing”; the place had been like that for many years. Nobody remembered a house or an herb store. I insisted. I was sure Elenor’s house used to be there. They said no. I felt anguish growing inside me. My veins were suddenly half-empty. I was not complete anymore, and I wouldn’t be complete as long as I didn’t see that beautiful woman again. But I wouldn’t see her. She had vanished without leaving a trail.
In the sky, black clouds started to form. They were full with rain and hail. We heard thunders above our heads. The waiters, perhaps only moved by compassion, told me they had seen an herb store two blocks away, but they didn’t know who the owner was. I didn’t even finished listening to them and started walking. It started to rain heavily. The air seemed to liquefy. The world was a vast extension of grey mist where watered spoke with ancient voices. My Dominican cloth was soaking wet and the wind made it flop. Hail was hitting my face. I was looking at the houses trying to find the store. Among the old tezontle rock walls I thought I saw faces with missing teeth, but maybe it was an illusion of the ornamental stone carving on the baroque façades. I arrived to the place where Elenor’s store was supposed to be, but it was a whorehouse. The prostitutes under their umbrellas made immoral signs to me when they saw me. They were part of that softness, that liquid sensation that had taken over the world. Under that rain, only basic instincts existed. Under the pouring rain and their umbrellas, those women showed me their breasts crowned with big dark nipples. I wanted to touch them and I did touch them lightly with the tip of my fingers. Then the sky was cracked open by thunder and light. I jumped away from them. I had fallen into the Devil’s clutches for a moment. I ran away from the whorehouse.
Rain kept hitting my face. I was lost in the streets. I wandered under the downpour, cold and shivering. The street was lightened by the storm. I wanted to go back to my church, but I couldn’t find the way. Finally, I stumbled and hit the front of an old house. The wall started moving under the weight of my body. I look around in fear and realized it was not a moving wall but an old wooden door half-eaten by moths. It opened up completely. I smelled a faint odor of ancient chests full of old clothes. Some kind of animal ran away and hid. I entered the house to find shelter from the tremendous storm. I turned on a small lantern. I was in a big hall with an exposed beam ceiling. Furniture crawled out of darkness, as if awaken from a long sleep by the light I had produced. There were Napoleon style armchairs. Their arms were of a worn-down golden color. The tapestry was adorned with young lovers in a swing. I caressed them. They were covered in dust. Nobody had used those armchairs in years. In the walls, I discovered a large painting of a woman exquisitely garmented with 18th or 19th century clothes. She was wearing a pearl necklace and cobwebs and dust covered her face.
I heard a harpsichord. Somebody reeled off notes in an upper floor. It was a virtuous execution. The house was not empty. I thought I must leave at once. I turned around but I didn’t see a door. My God, what sort of trap was that! The harpsichord, like a river, threw its notes on the columns, the wooden beams, the furniture, the vases and the carpets. I had find a way out, but all along the wall, which looked so very long to me, I couldn’t find a door. I tried to pray for divine assistance, but I was unable. That was a palace of evil. I wandered in its hallways. The sound of the harpsichord playing Bach followed me. A good half an hour later I found a stairway. My hands held the rail covered in dust. The steps were covered by a red carpet torn into pieces. There were carcasses of rats and bats all over. I climbed the stairs thinking that somewhere in the upper floors there should be a window I could use to scape.
I got to the top of stairs. A strange spectacle awaited me there. There was a long hallway with several doors tall and shut, illuminated by golden lights. The light at the end of the hallway was the brightest of them all and I caught a glimpse of a figure leaning in a harpsichord. I pray to God for help to scape, but I had lost all control of my own paces. It was a woman applying herself to the keys and producing a mild sound. Every note created a parallel universe, a magic world where time and space where different. I saw her hands running through the keyboard. Every movement was a spell, a wave in a lake or the flight of an owl… I touch her soft shoulders, of a softness like that of a Botticelli’s Venus. She smelled like fresh cut grass. I sank my hands in her hair. She rose. She was wearing a light dress, almost transparent. The harpsichord was now playing by itself. It had started a baroque prelude. There was a mirror in front of us. I saw Elenor’s face reflection. And yes, she was just like that witch, daughter of Satan, who kept coming to my dreams. I had to kill her. I pressed her body against mine and she moaned. The harpsichord kept playing. I couldn’t tell if Elenor was still moaning or if it was music coming from her lips. Then her dress hit the floor and I saw her splendid breasts of unpolluted whiteness. They were solid, medium size, perky, a pair of battering rams that wanted to defeat me. I took a step back, but her body was still one with mine. I pushed one of the doors with my back. We fell into an old chamber with crimson drapery. There was a tall canopy bed with splendid sheets. Somewhere, an orchestra was playing. Together, our bodies clasped together, we kept on rolling and we passed room after room. In some, there were people. Men with tailcoats and top-hats. Women wearing crinolines under their old-fashioned dresses. They wore pearl necklaces and stoles. The orchestra was playing still, perhaps a piece by Mozart. We rolled into the last chamber with wallpapers depicting naked men and women hunting a male goat. I realized I was naked too and that woman, Elenor, rubbed herself against my body like a serpent making me feel lustful. I thought about strangling her. She was the witch I had chased over centuries, in many eras. I put my hands around her neck and I caressed her; my hands went down to her breasts, her belly… She twisted her body. She spitted smoke like a great dragon. She sat on my phallus and I saw her head grew horns where flowers blossomed and attracted bees and birds. She was draining my body. I felt a maelstrom in my blood. Things were spinning around me. A woman introduced herself as the Duchess D’Orsay. She was holding a bloody heart on her left hand and an umbrella on her right one. It was raining heavily on it. I saw Elenor no more. I felt something was missing inside me, perhaps my blood. Lights of all colors were dancing in front of my eyes. The Duchess D’Orsay also disappeared. Rain was soaking my body. Then I look left and right and realized I was in the middle of the street, in front of an old house that looked abandoned. It was the same one I had entered… half an hour… an hour ago? I couldn’t tell. Nevertheless, everything I had lived was real since I was naked. That sinful woman who induced me to the acts of the flesh had kept my cloth.
The wind howled around the corners and water fell copiously from the eaves and into my naked body. Cold made me shiver. I walked. Streams of water whirled around my feet as if they tried to make me fall. The world seemed to be falling apart. I saw green birds flying around my head. An old raven was on the sidewalk just waiting for the rain to stop. Its wings were soaked. The raven was losing feathers from the top of its skull, perhaps out of old age. I was shivering, so I kept moving. What if I was already in hell? Perhaps that was my punishment: non-stopping water running over my flesh, which had been the cause of my sin. A cold world with liquid walls of endless rain. I touched a wall… but, no… it was a real wall, it had consistency. Where was my church? Under the gale everything looked the same to me. I had walked maybe a couple blocks when I saw a man with a barrel organ. Water was streaming down from his cap. He was turning the handle round and round. The barrel organ produced a nostalgic and repetitive music. I walked to him. How to approach him? How to explain my nudity? I didn’t have to. “Father Alonso… what are you doing here?” “I am looking for the church, my son” “I just saw five naked men before you came along”, he said. “Can you get me to my church? Do you know where it is?” The man started walking and I followed him. The lightning continued in the sky. Water fell through a sewer with a sound like a waterfall. “That’s some weather”, he said and spit. After a few minutes we arrived to my church, but my bad luck hadn’t ran out. I had left my keys in my cloth. “Don’t worry, father. When I don’t get money from the barrel organ, I break into houses.” The man pulled out the handle from the music box and he picked the lock with it. “Could you give me a blessing, father?” “May God bless you, my son”, I said.
I entered the church shivering. I dried soon. Then I felt really tired. The fight between my soul and my flesh had extenuated me. I was evident that the Evil One worked in the hinges of reality. He lied and transfigured things as usual. I had fallen into his clutches. I had committed a sin with that woman who was Lucifer’s servant beyond any doubt. And the worst thing was I knew I would be unable to lift my hand against Elenor. I felt a fervent lust for her. To me, she had the face of an angel. I was about to lose my mind.
I limped to my cell. My eyes wandered around. My old table looked strange to me, as if it came from another world. My theology books seemed to be filled with nonsense at best. Everything seemed to come from a maddened world. I saw the instrument of mortification. The whip. That lash slave traders used to carry around. The cord we called “discipline” but some people call the “cat-o’-nine-tails”, because it spreads into threads with leaden tips. My trembling hand reached for it and I whipped the first lash on my back with fear. I thought of Elenor’s warm womb. Pain. I needed pain to purge that memory. And I needed courage. The leaden tips tore away pieces of my skin with the following lashes. Blood was streaming. I was euphoric. More lashes, and then some more… the pain was unbearable. My blood splatted all over the walls. My hands were wet with it. Then I thought that blood was my offering to Elenor. The bright red color made me want that witch even more. My fight with the devil was horrendous. I was enraged. I kept hurting myself. It was too much blood. I was in such a state of mind I didn’t even have thoughts anymore, only random images: my cousin I used to peep on as a teenager; a dirty magazine I masturbated to; pictures of people with their heads blown to pieces by gunshots. I think blood was covering all of my body. I couldn’t defeat the Demon. I was doomed. I put on my white Dominican cloth. It was soon covered in huge red spots. My open wounds rubbed against the fabric. I was in pain, like a tortured man. I went out to the courtyard.
I was about to seat under the orange trees to bleed to death when I saw something in one of the benches. When I got closer I saw Eudoxia, an old woman from my church who could barely distinguish reality from dream or memory from real life. “Father, I have been waiting for you all night” “How did you get inside? I locked up.” Eudoxia touched my bloody cloth. Blood stained her long nails that made her look like a raven. “I don’t know, father. I just started walking and all of the sudden I was here” “And what do you want?” “Look here, I have this snake…” Eudoxia showed me a long green animal contorting on her shoulders and around her waist. In the head, it had a purple spot in the shape of a diamond. I made the sign of the cross in front of that evil presence. “Kill it, father. I don’t dare killing it. It’s a burden in my house. It used to be my pet, but I don’t want it anymore. It eats a lot.” I made the sign of the cross again. A few drops of my blood sprayed out and fell on the reptile. The snake licked it with great delight. It was an evil being brought to me on purpose. In the middle of that darkness the Divine Savior was giving me sanity. I understood the signal very well. Heaven had sent a last chance to wash away my sin. “Wait”, I said to Eudoxia. After a few moments I came back with my spear-crucifix. I intended to stab the head of the snake with it and everything would end. My blood started clotting. I felt as if my body were under a hard shell. The fabric of my cloth was stiff. The snake rise its head. It looked at me and its eyes were Elenor’s. “Witch”, I said to her. She showed me her bifid tongue. I wielded my cross, but I couldn’t deliver the blow. Her eyes were very beautiful. The animal twisted its body around the neck of the old woman.
Eudoxia’s voice changed. It became manly, hoarse. It was Friar Alvaro’s voice, the friar I had followed in my dreams. “Brother, this witch has you under her spell. We must pray.” Then we went to my cell, as the snake was still around Eudoxia’s neck. She put the reptile in a corner and tie it to my bed with her shawl. We sang old hymns in Latin. They were ancient, from the time I followed Alvaro –through the German forests? –looking for witches to burn. As we continued praying, old Eudoxia transfigured. Her body became powerful, her mouth filled with teeth, and finally Friar Alvaro appeared in front of me. With fierce eyes he said to me: “I’ve had to cross many centuries to get here, poor devil.” He grabbed my spear-crucifix and he pierce the head of the snake with it. The snake agonized in violent contortions until it was dead at last. Alvaro shifted his appearance into that of Eudoxia again, cover the reptile with the shawl, and asked me to open the door that lead to the street. Alvaro or Eudoxia left, his back hunched, mumbling things.
The dawn was breaking. In a few minutes, I had to say Mass. The wounds of my injured body may have been starting to infect. I was feverish. With my remaining strength, I walked to the pulpit. My flock fled as they saw me covered in blood. I performed the rituals all alone. Then I limped back into my cell.
Days passed. I haven’t seen a doctor. Fever comes and goes. I am not eating. I don’t know any more if old Eudoxia was carrying a snake or not. I don’t know if I ever followed Friar Alvaro in some mission. I don’t know who I am. Elenor’s image comes to me frequently. I don’t know who she is either. I am too weak to think what is real and what is not. I think I would look for her house if I had the strength. I am growing weaker every day; the fever is getting worse. My open wounds reek…