(Leon, Mexico 1906)
Under an enormous auburn moon, Andres wobbled down a cobblestone street. He stopped and leaned his back against an adobe wall. He fumbled, retrieving a small pint of whiskey from his suit pocket. Swallowing the last drop, Andres shook his head recalling all the money he lost to his friends playing poker earlier. What a stupid shame, he thought. He smashed the whiskey bottle on the cobblestones and urinated over the scattered shards of glass. Under the moonlight, they gleamed with the wavering, distorted image of Andres.
Although it was another hot night in his desert town, Andres’ body shivered. He unbuttoned his jacket, and as he did, a strong sense of dread gouged him. Andres turned around slowly, and that was when he first saw him.
The Little Man.
The Little Man stood barely four feet tall with his feet pointed backwards. His eyes were squinted. His elegant, dark suit was lined with blood-stained colored pin strips. The Little Man tipped his hat revealing two horns. He grinned broadly. His fine, minute, mother-of-pearl colored teeth glistened. His laughter rippled over the air, receding down an alley where cat eyes glowed.
A single cold bead of sweat streamed down Andres’ back.
Andres nodded at the Little Man, and stepped to the right. Then, the Little Man stepped to left. When Andres stepped to the left, the Little Man stepped to the right. This routine was repeated several times before Andres cleared his throat; he was about to say something when he realized he was unable to speak. He knew the words, Amigo, please let me pass, but nothing came out. Smiling, the Little Man removed a gold cigarette case from his suit pocket and lit it. A fine, gray smoke rolled out of his flaring nostrils wafting over the slick twists of his dark hair.
Andres closed his eyes tightly. He began to pray. This is something evil, he thought. The angelic face of the blessed virgin rose to mind. He prayed to her, straining to ignore the white breathes rising from the Little Man. Andres poured every ounce of his will and being into his prayer. “Forgive us our trespasses,” he said, trembling.
“Too late, you’re already dammed,” the Little Man hissed. Andres opened his eyes and the Little Man had vanished. Tears gushed from Andres’ eyes into his mouth, a salty tang riddled his tongue.
Andres began running. His legs felt heavy, as if anchored but he managed to tread unsteadily down the empty streets. His footsteps echoed behind him ricocheting off the cobblestones and the adobe houses. Andres had to fight off the urge to glance back over his shoulder, afraid of what he might see, until his feet finally reached home.
Quickly Andres unlocked the door and yelled, “Madre, Madre!” When she stepped toward him, he fainted in her arms. As he fell, the image of the Little Man laughing, gazing down at him whirled in his mind.
When Andres awoke, his mother removed a wet cloth from his forehead and handed him a cup of water. “What is it hijo, you look like you saw a ghost.”
“No, not a ghost, Madre, something worse. I really need a stiff drink, my mouth is dry.” Then, they heard one, then two, then a rainstorm of rocks pelting the side of the house and roof. Andres’ mother walked toward the front door, but he grabbed her by the arm. “Don’t, for the love of God, don’t look!” Andres said. She stopped cold. “It’s something evil!” Her eyes widened. “Pray with me Madre, let’s pray.”
Andres grabbed her hand. They both kneeled and prayed. His mother’s voice comforted Andres and he was suddenly aware that he was trembling. Even his teeth chattered. “Dear God, please help me. I’ll change, I promise I’ll change. I’ll give up my evil ways—drinking and cards and loose women.”
His mother squeezed his hand hard and Andres opened his eyes and the rocks rained down harder than ever and then suddenly stopped. “Thank God, Madre, thank God!” he said. His mother hugged him, delivering a huge, cracking squeeze.
Still, Andres felt an unnerving sense of dread. Slowly, he made his way to the chicken coop. Countless insects shrieked and blue-black clouds bruised the cheeks of the moon. Poking his head into the coop, he found Hermes, his prize rooster, dead. His throat was slit and thick, dark blood oozed over his deflated chest down to his tense, clawed feet.
The next morning Andres slept until noon. When he awoke his eyes were bloodshot and his ears were ringing. His mouth felt as dry as the desert air.
His mother, Refugía, set the table and served him a delicious beef and potato stew. A large stack of tortillas wrapped in a cloth waited in a bowl. She slapped Andres’ face. The smack rang dryly. “You could have died, you damn fool,” she said and adding soberly, “Change, before it’s too late.”
Andres’ right shoulder blade ached as if something had beaten him all night long. He gulped down the last morsel of tortilla. Then, Andres reached across the table and patted his mother’s arm. “Madre, forgive me. I’m so very sorry.”
“Hijo,” she said looking straight into his eyes, “I will forgive, but not forget.” Her fist pounded the table with a short but fierce vibration. “Don’t let it happen again!”
“I won’t Madre, never.” Andres stood up and walked over and hugged her. Afterwards, he gathered the rocks piling them into a pyramid by the front door.
The next night Andres awoke in a cold sweat. In his dream, the Little Man walked through the front door with his fist squeezing Hermes’ neck. Andres watched as the rooster’s body dangled down limply. The little man threw Hermes at his feet. Hermes’ eyes opened for a moment as blood shot out of his mouth. The Little Man scooped the blood from the floor with his hands and smeared it over the two small horns on top of his head, and over his lips and face. “I will return for you, one day,” the Little Man, said. “Except it will not be the blood of the innocent next time.”
The next morning Andres gathered all the decks of playing cards he could find in the house and all the bottles of whiskey and tequila. Clanking as he carried them into the backyard, he set them down a few paces away from the cactus garden.
“Blessed is the fruit of thy womb,” his lips trembled and then he added some yellow newspaper to the pile of playing cards. He poured whiskey and tequila over the twenty or so decks of cards (some with naked women) and then he struck a match. He flicked the lit match onto the pile; fire whooshed quickly and loudly.
Flames scorched Andres’ eyebrows, searing them away, his face became blackened by ash. He rubbed the soot from his hair, and as he did, Andres swore for a moment there were two sharp nubs growing on the top of his head. I’m only dreaming, he thought, but the nubs didn’t go away. I can wake up at any time. “Wake up!” he shouted to himself, but the wind blasted fiery embers.
Mario Duarte lives in Iowa City, Iowa and is an alumnus of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His poems and short stories have appeared in aaduna, Carnival, Corazón Land Review, Slab, Huizache, the RavensPerch, the Steel Toe Review, and Storyscape, among others, with more work forthcoming in the Arachne Press.