Our Lady of San Juan by Teri Skultety
“It caught my eye, emblazoned on the side of a bus zooming by us in the streets of Guadalajara. Our Lady of San Juan, but she didn’t look right. The advertisement was half pasted over with what looked like a sale paper pushing bananas, plantains they called them. Really not bananas but does it matter? It didn’t look right. Someone had painted tears on her face, seemed incongruous to me, that she should be crying. The bus was on it’s way back to the border, to Calexico. We should have been on it.
We said we weren’t going to do it anymore. I don’t know how it happens. He gets these ideas in his head and it’s all I can do to keep up. This time he wanted to bring the guys along and I just knew, you know? But he said they’d get a big kick out of it so we stopped and picked up Jaime and Rick on the way, they were drunk before we hit the border. He says I don’t roll with things anymore. I was trying not to talk, looking out the window.
The place is outside Chichen Itza, if you get me a map I’ll mark it for you. There’s a temple there, we found it years ago. What you do is sit in the center of the square, you meditate, we made up a song for it too, just no words for it, and then they show up after midnight. The lights usually appear from the North-East but…”
“The lights?” He tapped his pencil against his steno-pad.
Sandy took a deep breath. The walls were doing their best to shed their latest coat of green paint, succeeding in places. She smiled, it was like the set of a B-Movie. Everything was too hot, sweaty, dim, tired and tense. Water bugs scurried in and out the edges of doors, under the bars of the cells across the aisle. She was so pissed at him, when they got home she was really going to let him have it. She smiled again, knowing she wouldn’t.
“The lights Ms. Colburn?” He tapped his pencil.
“It’s not Colburn anymore, it’s Jefferson. I was waiting ’til my license expired to change it. Have you ever been to the DMV in the US?” She didn’t like this guy. He wasn’t a Mexican official, he was outside intel. He was a spook. “It’s awful, I mean, slightly better than what you’ve got going here but, it’s not pretty.”
“Newlyweds?” He tapped his pencil.
“Four years ago but I had just changed my license so, why spend the money if you don’t
need to? Can I get another soda?” She ran her finger around the top of the can.
“The lights, Mrs. Jefferson.” He tapped his pencil.
“Sandy. You know every time I hear my last name now, I think of Thomas Jefferson, all those places in the South, the houses where he slept all have plaques out front. It’s pretty interesting.”
“Fascinating. The lights?” He tapped his pencil.
“Where is he? You tell me where he is and I’ll tell you everything you want to know about the lights in the sky and the shiny silver men, where they land, everything you want to know. Where is he?” Sandy slowly slid herself back in the chair, planted her feet, leaned her upper body forward ever so slightly.
“Don’t worry too much about your husband. He’s in the building.” He smiled in such a way that Sandy knew it was a lie. She leaned back, put her hands in her lap, then leaned forward again so that her hands were under the table.
“Well, they come out of the North- East, usually, between two a.m. and dawn. They’re steady, never wavering or darting around the sky erratically like they always describe on those shows. They just kind of look like…” She looked a the ceiling and then back at him. “Hey, what is that? On your shirt?” She didn’t think he would look at his shirt. She’d pulled a piece of the metal stripping off the underside of the table. Had seen that it was loose when she’d sat down.
“Nice try.” He nodded. Looked down at his steno pad.
Sandy bolted out of her chair, over the table, jammed the piece of metal into his eye, took the pencil away from him, jammed it into his throat. Had his keys out of his pocket and was going out an open window at the far side of the room when he hit the floor. The late model sedan, standard issue, all that and a bag of chips spilled on the floor was exactly what she didn’t want. She opened the back seat, took the briefcase. She threw his keys into the first drain. If he was who she thought he was, whatever was in the brief case was likely about her, about Truvell and his job at the lab.
She made her way across the city streets, pick pocketing as she went, if the chance presented itself, but she kept moving. He would either be there or he wouldn’t. Two nights earlier she’d sat on the edge of the jungle and watched Jaime get his head taken off by one of those things, his neck peeled back slow like the skin on a banana and that’s what it was that had thrown things off. Our Lady Of Guadalajara, she’d sat there in shock and thought to pray but couldn’t remember what the name of that saint was and for some reason in that moment it had just seemed so important. It really didn’t matter at all, only that it was something to focus on. She didn’t know how long she’d sat there and if that was what they’d meant by ‘missing time’ then she had.
Jaime hadn’t screamed. Hadn’t made a sound. They weren’t silver. They were like chameleons, flesh colored like humans but they’d disappear, blend right into the jungle. Rick had gone running out into the clearing. There was nothing they could do but watch. Truvell had lit out around the edge of the field. Sandy hadn’t been able to get up as fast as he had. He must have thought she was closer. The Mexican Police, and the spooks, were waiting when she’d got back to where they always hid the Jeep. Truvell was gone with it. She didn’t know if he’d gotten away or if they’d already taken him.
Everything was in the files. Sandy had gone to pick him up at work one night but he didn’t want to leave, just wanted to show her the files. It was all real hinky, Area 51 type stuff. They didn’t really buy any of it, or wouldn’t have, except that he worked for a government agency and his security clearance had been upped every year. Truvell always was a model citizen. It was a lark. They thought they’d go down there on vacation, see if they could find the temple. They sat in the clearing in the center of the square, laughing, getting stoned, drinking wine, and then seen the lights fly right over them like nothing they’d ever seen before. Completely silent. The next night they stayed sober. The lights came back again.
The dreams had started after they’d gotten home. They’d wake up in the middle of making love, as though they’d been dreaming the same dream. Everything was so much better for awhile. They’d gone back to the temple many times. But then started to think maybe it wasn’t good somehow. That maybe it wasn’t some strange gift they’d been given, just the two of them.
When he’d decided to go again, take the guys along, she’d known it was an excuse.
Truvell had wanted evidence. They had seen one of those things and he had wanted a witness, other than her, to be able to confirm it. She knew he’d been taking papers from work, something else was going on that he didn’t want to tell her.
The street narrowed, the pavement faded to cobblestones. The door to the cantina was open, music filtering out the way she remembered. Inside she stayed close to the wall, giving her eyes time to adjust, so dark that Truvell had joked they’d find the Shroud of Turin inside. She eased her way around the edge of the bar. He wasn’t at their table. The side door was open to the courtyard. The fountain was leaking red streaked water. Truvell sat next to it.
I wrote this quite awhile ago, sort of Hunter Thompson inspired, in a roundabout way, part of a new spate of stories I’ve been working on. ~Teri Skultety