Seeking to escape the poverty in his small ranching community, Mateo continues to search the mountains at every opportunity, and he narrowly escapes dying there after finding what he imagines are veins of gemstones and other precious minerals. He also finds a grotto with a strange obelisk and several mummy-like individuals.
Since his best friend, Modesto, has moved to California, Mateo confides in the village blacksmith, an old man who has been there for more years than people care to remember. But a greedy villager overhears their conversation, and that person becomes Mateo's mortal enemy.
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BEYOND CIBOLA TO AZTLANA NOVEL
By RAFAEL MELENDEZ
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Rafael Melendez
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Fate of Cuauhtémoc
Seferino, his chin resting on his chest, his wrists purple, black and blue hang in a cycle of pulleys and ropes from his shop's ceiling support, as his body dangles directly over his smithy's fire, like a side of beef.
Reminiscent of Cuauhtemoc, Montezuma's brother and last emperor of Mexico as los españoles tortured him to find Montezuma's treasure.
After twenty minutes or so, little remains of his boots, they now resemble poke rinds while the soles melt like butter. Tied around his ankles is bailing wire. His singed obsidian colored feet drip a clear liquid substance, while certain areas around his ankles have an apple red texture. The outer skin lies back exposing the membrane. Absent are his small toes, as perspiration pours from his head make a hissing sound when it lands on the flames.
Seferino raises his head, oblivious to the pain, looks out from his forty to fifty years blacksmith's world. In the distance, he sees the mountains. Over the mountains, white, gray and black cumulus nimbus hammer-head-shaped clouds begin to thicken like gravy. Lighting strikes scissor across the sky.
"Hablas viejo o mueres, como un salvaje?" Gonzalo asks. "Do you choose to speak, or die like a pig on a spittle?"
Three feet away, Gonzalo leans, comfortably against a supporting post holding the ocotillo and sod roof, with one foot crossed over the other. A sneer crosses his sharp chiseled chin, as he folds his arms. For an audience, he entertains his younger brother Lazaro and Justio, his father's, Mario Castillo's ranch foreman.
So dinos viejo imbecile – what is your death of preference?" He pauses briefly, the question rhetorical. "Por supuesto – perhaps a quick bullet to the head?" His remarks cake frosted with sarcasm.
Lazaro spins the barrel of his pearl handle revolver with his left hand. It is beginning to get warm in the late morning as Gonzalo removes his new Stetson hat. He rubs his hand around the smooth felt brim. "Or Justio can cut your throat- just like that." He snaps his fingers.
Justio turns his head, when he hears his name from watching the road, while the continuing horrific scene in the shop continues. Dios mio, I never imagined ... Uncomfortable with what is occurring; he imagines the event something akin to Dante's Inferno.
Earlier in the morning, Lazaro tells Justio, that they were only going to talk to Seferino. In fact Justio secretly admires the old man despite being in the opposite camp. He thinks of Seferino as a history book of what has happened in the vicinity for the last seven decades. This old man ... he does not finish his thought because he does not know old Seferino's age. Not even Justio's father knows and he is eighty-one years old.
"I heard it all, Seferino," tells Lazaro, swinging his feet back and forth straddling a saddle placed on a sawhorse. The spurs on his boots jingle like a Christmas tambourine. "I was standing behind the door when that mocoso cabón Mateo was telling you about the treasure." He points with his thumb over his shoulder to point out where he was.
Seferino does not reply, or has spoken to the uninvited men since they attacked him earlier. He chants something foreign to them. "Hey yah – hey yah he – hey yah - yay yay yay." His death song.
His eyes glazed over, the initial pain of the ravenous flames from his forge long gone. His mind is not in the shop any longer, but in the mountains where his eyes, focused on something only he can see. The electrical storm continues building coming south.
Dazed, he his mind remembers something a young cavalry captain once said to him in the eighteen hundreds when Geronimo was the government's 'Indian' problem. "If you sit by the riverbank long enough, in the end you will see the bodies of all your enemies floating by." Seferino did not read and could not have known the words of Sun Tzu.
"Gonzalo - hombre," says Justio, cracking his knuckles and looking furtively over his shoulder to watch the road. "Your padre wants us to move el ganado to the northern pasture for feeding today."
This will end this foolishness; he hopes with what he has unwittingly become involved. I don't get paid enough to be part of something ... like ... like ... like ... he cannot find the words to describe what is occurring.
"They can wait," replies Gonzalo, as he returns his hat to his head, adjusts it, as if looking in a mirror. It must be just perfect with a slight Gary Cooper pitch to it.
Lazaro giggles and strikes the imaginary horse with the cuerda, quirt he carries.
"We have all-day," says Gonzalo. "So take all the time you need – 'don' Seferino." He grins with a loud sneer on his face. "Por dios santo," says Justio drawing his left thumb and index finger down the side of his mouth.
Seferino closes his eyes and chants louder as his Levis catch fire. "Hey yah – hey yah he – he he he yay yay yay."
"More oxigeno," Gonzalo tells Lazaro. Lazaro jumps off the sawhorse and pulls on the bellow's rope. The flames shoot up, increasing the intensity of the fire and set the old man's shirt on fire. A glee breaks out in Lazaro's face as it might on a Christmas morning.
"Where is the treasure, viejo desgraciado," Gonzalo asks, nonchalantly as Seferino coughs. The smoke of his burning clothes begins to invade his trachea.
"Tell them, viejo- before it is too late," Justio implores rubbing his hand together as if warming them in a cold winter morning.
Again, Lazaro giggles. "Where are the gems – the gems - the diamonds?"
Gonzalo yawns and covers his mouth with his right hand, as he lowers his hand and looks at his shining fingernails. "This is such a dirty business," he says as he sees the half moon dirt underneath them.
Chapter TwoLas Sierras de los indios. - 1944
Mateo picks at a scab on his hand. Tree climbing is not one of his stronger points. Unlike his friend Modesto, whom Mateo thinks is part squirrel. He sticks his index finger into his right ear and digs around for several seconds. He stops and then looks around the room. Smiling, he studies the other youngsters in the class.
Father Obrero is late, again, eleven-year-old Mateo decides, pulling on his tongue with his thumb and index fingers trying to get the tongue to touch his nose. His eyes cross in the effort.
I say he will not show up, the slightly wavy black haired youngster figures, not after last night's visit to Chope's. His reference is a local roadhouse cantina. La rego de mas. He looks up and sees the clear sky through the high classroom window. Well, it won't be the first time el padrecito, doesn't show up." He looks at his fingers, especially the cuticles that he bits off, "for his scheduled altar boy class." He sticks his thumb and index finger into one of the compartment in his bib overalls and squeezes out a toothpick. He starts to outline his right hand on the desk.
"No big noticias- news, everybody knows that the padre is a borracho de primera class." That is what, Josefina, Mateo's grandmother always says. Of course, most of his parishioners know that the priest enjoys, so they whisper among themselves, a drink or two. And sometimes even three. He justifies visiting the place en el valle de Mesilla to attend to the religious needs of the braceros, the substitute field-workers replacing the men and women gone off to war.
My jefita is not one to mince words. He agrees. It is what it is, "hay esta el detalle." He mutters one of his grandmother's favorite truisms to himself as his eyes continue to roam around the classroom counting the Stations of the Cross.
However, the lisping priest from Alta Madura, Spain, often imbibes way past his limits and on those occasions, his duties fall by the wayside.
Therefore, while the other class youngsters agree to stay in the rectory and wait for el padrecito's eventual appearance, Mateo decides the time could be spend to better use. His and Modesto's, favorite past time: exploring the mountains, las sierras de los indios as the centuries old residents of the valley call them.
Mateo could care less if the priest appears or not, and in fact, the padre's absence is a Godsend to him. One cannot miss an opportunity when it presents itself. One problem though, Mateo needs to convince Modesto to go with him to the mountains.
He jumps over several chairs, sits next to him, and puts on his best Cheshire grin. As Modesto turns, Mateo says to him. "Carnal," he calls his best friend, brother, on occasions and especially when he is trying to convince him to do something he should not. "I have a super idea – una idea a toda madre," he says
Two years younger, the straight brown haired Modesto sighs and rolls his eyes. "Ese, why is it that whenever you smile like that we get into trouble?"
"Watcha," Mateo begins, "Listen." He pauses briefly. "I say we wait another ten more minutes for padre Obrero to appear —"
Modesto is already shaking his head. "No – nela canela – no quiero saber - I don't want to hear it."
Mateo sees Modesto's eyes drift toward the door. Simon que si. Modesto wants to leave just as bad. He just needs a little push, he decides and throws his arm around him.
"Watcha, Modesto. Ten minutes, ese – nos esperamos diez minutos mas, and if the padrecito does not show by then - then he is not coming." He raises and lowers his shoulders quickly for effect. "We will not be missing anything." He pauses for a moment. "Listen-watcha." He cups his right ear with his right hand. "Can you hear it ... huh?" He pauses for effect before continuing, "Las sierras-do you hear them?" Modesto does not take the bait, but Mateo is only beginning. "Listen – oye -, they are calling us. Do you not hear them, carnal?"
Modesto bites his lower lip, as out of nowhere the two little voices he carries in his head – his consciences appear.
"Listen – listen," Mateo continues, "Do you not hear them? 'Come climb us. You will have fun today. It is decreed." He uses a quivery voice imitating the character in the popular Shadow radio show.
Modesto laughs and capitulates. "Okay. If the father doesn't show after ten more minutes, we will talk about it then, ese."
* * *
Ten minutes later, "I don't see why we can't just go out the front door," Modesto suggests as he struggles to exit through the boy's bathroom window as Mateo boosts him out.
"This is more fun," Mateo replies. Quick enough Modesto is out the window. Behind him, Mateo scrambles out and tears the scabs on his hands. "Chinga cagada," he curses, as he hits the ground and then rolls.
Curiously, watching the two youngsters is Fito, Modesto's mutt. Modesto has had Fito for years and the mutt is like a four-legged brother. Mateo sees Fito, reaches over and scratches the dog behind the ears.
He glances over at Modesto, still on his back looking at the sky, as Mateo gives Fito one last pat, then stands up, dusts himself off, checks the tear on the knee of his bib overalls and then his fingernails. Satisfied, he offers Modesto his hand. "You ready to go, ese?" He asks. "Vamonos."
"Okay," Modesto replies not too enthusiastic. "I suppose so - veámonos." He grabs Mateo's hand, and Mateo pulls him to his feet.
The people in the valley call them the three "Musketeers" because they are inseparable. Their reputation is a strange combination to the locals. Mateo has an 'A' personality and goes as the fancy pleases him.
Modesto is the exact opposite of Mateo. He is a productive member of the community. He helps, Pilar, his great-grandmother, with chores and the family business: raising hens for their eggs. Ration stamps are not the only source of revenue in the valley and a strong barter system flourishes supplementing the current shortages of goods and food.
Mateo misses school, cavorts at night in the local valley roadhouse cantina doing errands to earn some extra change for the family.
Modesto, warned by his grandmother to avoid Chope's because she knows the place, filled with those not fit or too old to fight in World War II, those having avoided the draft and the braceros tells Modesto to stay away as best as he can.
Given the opportunity, Mateo also makes money on the illicit betting there as well: the cockfighting, rebote - handball, cards, and of course craps.
The attraction at Chope's is understandable to Mateo. With its walls covered with the four-year-old newsprint filled with the news of New Mexico's 100th Artillery Battalion captured in the Philippines - Bataan and Corregidor at the beginning of the hostilities by Japan. In another newspaper section, several of the locals appear in the first all Chicano Army Company E. In their latest exploits, they become part of the Americans capturing Fieldmarschal Von Rundstedt and Reichmarschal Hermann Goering. They are an orgullo, a pride in the valley and the City of El Paso.
The newsprint, now a faded light yellow, the owner promises to burn the pages when the Japs (the popular phrase of the time) get their fundillos- butts kicked
As World War II slowly ends, Modesto continues to wait for his parents. They have been gone, fighting to defeat the Nazi menace and Imperial threats of Japan, for years.
So, when Modesto is not delivering eggs, and his chores are done, he climbs the mountains with Fito and Mateo to find San Miguel Encantado, one of the legendary seven cities of Cibola. The cities, with their streets paved in gold are too great a temptation to them. Of course, accompanying them is Fito who also thrives on exploring and keeping his two-legged friends out of trouble.
"Today is the day," Mateo says to them, rubbing his hand. Fito barks as if agreeing. "I had a dream."
However, Modesto also has had his share of dreams. His approaches their explorations with a hide and watch to see how the day plays out.
Chapter ThreeHours Later
"Hey, horale perro menso," Mateo says to Fito, as he tries to hold the candle steady. Fito, ever persistent, holds and pulls on Mateo's trouser leg, and will not let go. "Let go, Fito," he says, "suéltame, let me loose – cabron perro."
While Mateo works to pry the mutt loose with his free hand, Modesto digs with a small WW II G-I foldable shovel that Lalo, Mateo's uncle had given him.
Modesto turns and grins, as Mateo continues to shake Fito away. They are missing Fito's immediate concern.
"Hold the candle steady, ese, so I can see what I'm doing here," Modesto says, not too sympathetic with Mateo's plight. "You can do that at least, que no, ese?" He asks as he watches Mateo struggling with Fito. The innuendo escapes Mateo.
However, neither youngster realizes that Fito senses a danger and is determined to discourage his friends from any further exploration. Fito's main concern, his most important contribution to the group, is keeping his two-legged companions, as much as he is able, out of trouble and out of harm's way.
Fito knows that, Pilar, Modesto's great-grandmother will ultimately hold him responsible.
"But they are two-legged," Fito barks at Pilar. "They cannot help themselves."
"I'm never coming up here with you two bueyes again - not in my vida," says the irritated Mateo dusting himself off unaware that Fito continues to kick dirt on him.
"Ya cállate, llorón – crybaby," Modesto replies with a subtle headshake. He tires of Mateo's complains while he does the hard work as Mateo now makes shadow figures on the cave wall with the candle.
Modesto notices something unusual, almost too late. On the cave's wall, he sees several obscured repairs on the section of the wall he is digging into. What is this? The fine sharpens his curiosity. He quickens his work, clearing the dirt away from the wall and discovers several large eight-inch square support beams, thinking they keep the ceiling from falling.
"Hey, hórrale -a toda machina – this is swell! Ese, vato - I found something." Modesto now digs away encouraged with a new found enthusiasm. Mateo stops playing with the candle and the shadow eagle disappears from the wall. The insistent Fito now kicks dirt on Modesto.
Excerpted from BEYOND CIBOLA TO AZTLAN by RAFAEL MELENDEZ Copyright © 2011 by Rafael Melendez. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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