When Father Arres heard about a body that turned up near a new church construction site, he did not ask any further questions – that was now my problem.
In a race against time, Alan Martin must rescue the beauty of his life from a remote cave located high in the Sierras of central Mexico. On the way there he reconnects with his family and discovers that the Mesoamerican legend of Alichan may not be a myth after all.
Al Epifanio’s fast-paced adventure is an epic collision between light and dark. Prepare to be challenged to the core as you are forced to face your darkest, deepest fears. Are you strong enough to overcome?
What is your Alichan?
About the Author
Al Epifanio is a Commercial Real Estate Consultant and the International Director for ChristianCycling.com. Following years of racing and cycling adventures, he moved from his home in Laguna Niguel to Colorado where he now lives with his wife.
Read an Excerpt
1. The Call Littleton, Colorado
In the beginning, life was good. When I first met RuMa, it was as though she was made just for me. We said, “till death do us part,” and we meant it. That’s what we said and that’s what we believed. We shared the first years of our marriage naked and free to explore the limits of the paradise in which we lived. Then we wanted more. We wanted more education, more money, better cars, a bigger house, children, the world. We thought we could have it all.
Then she left, and her disappearance disturbed me more than the agony of our last days together when we either argued to points beyond despair or avoided each other altogether. There should have been some sense of deliverance when she departed, yet there I was, irretrievably broken.
A few weeks before that race in Durango, I woke up alone in my bed, tortured by RuMa’s absence. I missed her soft, warm skin next to mine. My world was formless and empty. Dawn hovered over the purple majesty of the Front Range refreshing my spirit, if only for a few fleeting moments. The mountains were my refuge and strength, an escape from the reality of a love lost.
Often, I rode far into the forest on my bicycle hoping to find answers to the biggest questions in life such as: Where has my passion gone? When will this dysthymia end? Or, is it possible to ever love someone without doing irreparable harm? In the distance a stream whispered an answer that I could not understand.
After my early morning ride and a speedy shower, another busy workday was about to begin when the phone rang. The soft familiar voice on the other end of the line immediately sensed my fatigue and said, “Happiness is . . . Mi hijito, I’m afraid I have some urgent news for you.”
No matter how dismal the occasion, Mom always prefaced every conversation with: “Happiness is…” and the words mi hijito, which in Spanish mean, “my little son.” When merged together, they sound like honey to the ears and get pronounced as one word: mee-heeto. The tone of her voice meant that whatever shock she was about to deliver, I should gear down for it.
“I just got off the phone with your cousin Jose in Culiacan and he sounds very upset. He thinks they may have found RuMa somewhere near El Rodeo.”
The fog lifted from my brain just enough to inquire anxiously into the whereabouts of my missing spouse. “What is RuMa doing in Mexico?”
“They think she was doing research, diving into some old mines or a cave for something, I don’t know. Anyway, Jose heard on the news that they found a body in the area where RuMa was supposed to be.”
Oh no, my worst fears were about to be realized. “But, then,” she continued, “he got a call yesterday from a priest we know named Padre Arres. He said that the Father thinks RuMa may still be alive. He has a message from her about some important word that he needs from you. Do you know what he’s talking about?”
I had no idea, but being a devout cynic, I asked, “How do they know this message came from RuMa?”
“Well, because your cousin was talking to the priest a few weeks ago and El Padre said he met with a lady named Rosa Martinez, but Jose said it must have been RuMa.” I recalled that RuMa occasionally used Rosa Martinez as an alias when traveling in foreign countries. Oddly enough, most people fell for it because of her dark hair, high cheek bones and comfortable Spanish accent. So many thoughts at once caused electricity to flow rapidly into every circuit of my body.
I’ve felt helpless before, but this took me far beyond the comfort zone. My vocation is to evaluate commercial real estate, to determine the value of places and things. RuMa, was an archaeologist who tried to discover the nature of peoples through the analysis of their things. Although her maiden name was Ruth-Marie Andersen, our kids had trouble saying her Midwestern name of Ruth-Marie. Thus, Mom was affectionately slurred into RuMa. To me, she just became Rue.
After years of struggling through a difficult relationship, there was nothing left of our marriage once the kids moved out. Endless battles over finances and debates over how to spend our time together eventually drove us apart. Busyness could never satisfy the constant demand for more peace and more security. Though we tried counseling and therapies of all sorts, nothing was able to overcome the void between us. We legally separated over a year ago, trying to make the most of life by putting all of our energies into respective careers and interests.
Then about two weeks ago, RuMa completely disappeared, and despite my best efforts, we have been unable to find each other. Though it wasn’t unusual for her to disappear from me for a few days or even weeks at a time, a few of her friends and distant family members were wondering whether we should get the police or detectives involved.
At this point I was looking agitatedly for a note pad to write on, “Do you know if Mark is home right now?” Mark was RuMa’s older brother who lived in Los Angeles and the only living member of her immediate family. Scribbling out a to-do list, it began to make sense that RuMa, with all her degrees in science, would go back into old Mexico to explore the hidden demons and treasures of my family’s past.
Mom sounded troubled but not quite frantic yet. I only thought about my workload for a moment while trying quickly to make travel arrangements in my mind, “Maybe I can take a few days off and get down there to find out what’s going on.”
“Ohhh, that would be wonderful! Happiness is . . . a family adventure.” Mom’s voice was back to normal. I had to hold the telephone a few inches away from my ear. She was relieved for the moment, but now I had to figure out how to make this all happen. Trying to escape from client obligations for more than a few days could be financially disastrous. Unfortunately, living from project to project makes sudden cash demands like this even more challenging.
“Well, I can’t take you with me, but I may need to stop over on the way to find out more about where she might be. Hopefully Mark can explain what RuMa was up to and we can bring her back.” I thought about calling the police first, but if they asked what I thought she was doing in Mexico, the cops would probably lock me up in an asylum. At the very least, I’d probably be a murder suspect with no chance of ever getting out of the country.
“Before you call anyone else, better let me talk to Mark first.”
Then the phone went silent as Mom began to catch up. It didn’t take long. The somber tone she originally called with returned, “You know I wonder if she was looking for the Alichan’s treasure?”
I almost laughed out loud, but instead just chuckled softly and shook my head. Realizing the sincerity of her beliefs in our ancient family myths kept me silent for a moment before replying, “I’m sure RuMa is just fine. She’s too smart and mean to be in any big trouble.”
It took a full day to get my travel plans in order and get through to Father Arres via telephone. He is the priest of a church in the remote Mexican village known as Tamazula, a name which comes from the Nahuatl word for “lagoon of the toads.”
“Father Arres, my name is Alan Martin, and I understand that you may have some important information regarding my wife. She sometimes goes by the name of Rosa Martinez or RuMa, but her real name is Ruth-Marie Martin. We believe she may have been somewhere in your area doing some archaeological work, digging for bones, and we have not heard anything from her in a few weeks.”
The tone of his voice was far more urgent than that of my Mom’s. In spite of a poor connection and el padre’s thick Spanish accent, I could clearly understand that he needed to see me immediately, “Mr. Martin, your wife Rosa was here recently, and we just received a message from her that your mother has something you need to bring here right away. It is called the La Palabra de Dios (The Word of God). She also said that your mother knows exactly what that is and where to find it.”
Before I could catch my breath to ask a question, the Father rushed onward, “Your wife has discovered a very important Scroll here in the Sierra that she will only allow me to give you when you bring the Palabra. We have someone here who can guide you to her and explain this more clearly once you arrive, but it is muy complicado. You must get to here right away. RuMa said you are the only one who can bring this Word to her in time.”
“Okay, I’m not sure I understand, but do you know exactly where we can find her? Is she all right?”
There was a pregnant pause that seemed to last forever as the priest searched for the words in English to finally say, “I think she may still be alive, but in grave danger. There was a body found in the area where she was working but we don’t know for sure that it was hers. There is nothing more I can tell you at this time. There is nothing more you should say to anyone. The police here are just as dangerous as the bandits looking for her. If she is still alive, the place where she is hidden is about 45 kilometers from here. That’s almost two days by mule.”
Dazed and confused by the father’s odd statements, I did some quick math in my head. Thinking that I could ride faster than a mule and remembering the need to train for an upcoming race in Durango, Colorado, my naïve reply was, “I can ride my bike.”
That got the priest to laugh gently before he replied, “You do not understand, the terrain here is very steep and rocky. There are no maps to where you must go; nothing more I can tell you by the phone. The rivers are rising rapidly here, so you must come at once.”
Apparently, there was no time to refuse this request for action. Father Arres knew the legends of the Rios family well enough to leave them alone. Others were not so fortunate. This is a story that I didn’t want to tell, but according to the priest, a great conflict was about to occur, “A war is about to begin that all of humanity needs to prepare for,” he said.
Before that fateful call, I was focused, resolutely climbing toward my own selfish goals. Then suddenly this great shadow of doubt attacked . . . an enemy that we could not see was preparing for its big invasion.
RuMa must have discovered something near the tiny Mexican village of El Rodeo that she wasn’t supposed to find. My family always warned us never to go any further than Tamazula de Victoria. Though I cautioned RuMa on numerous occasions that the Federales and drug cartels did not want anyone exploring their territory, she must have gone into the Sierra anyway. When Father Arres heard about a body that turned up near a new church construction site, he did not ask any further questions; that was now my problem.
At this stirring merger of fear and anticipation, there were rising rivers to ford. Searching for any glimmer of hope, I grabbed a recent picture of RuMa and packed it into a bag. Even if she was still alive, what was the probability of ever winning back my mate and convincing her of my true worth as a man?
I’ve heard that Einstein once said, “The true value of a human being can be found in the degree to which he has attained liberation from the self.”
That day I wasn’t planning to search for a lost love, discover some ancient legend or a priceless treasure; I just wanted to be free from all the prevailing wounds in life
free from myself.