Authors: Aiden James,Michelle Wright
eaching the house without hindrance was a blessing. We made great haste even while dragging a stubborn Rachel, who attempted to bite Juan on numerous occasions as he held her in his grip. A wildcat indeed!
“Now… where are the coins?” I asked her, once again.
“Why should I even care?”
“Because I can make life very difficult for you if you don’t tell the truth. Don’t you know what happens to bad little girls who lie?”
“I’m not a child, eighteen years in these parts is old. I should be married with four children by now. I do not fear you.”
“If you don’t tell me where the coins are, I will turn you into the authorities as the murderer of your father. Who will they believe? Me, a citizen of means… or you, the local mad girl?”
do such a thing? Go so far, knowing she would be hung?
The more evolved part of my conscience told me it was heinous and unforgivable behavior to even tease like this. My base nature, however, told me to go ahead and push as far as I could until she capitulated.
“Come now, Emmanuel, let’s think about what to do in practical terms. She will likely not cooperate even if you bully her.”
“You want me to leave her alone, Juan? The moment we’re away she’ll be gone.”
“There is nowhere to go, I’m at your mercy,” she said, reminding us this wasn’t a private discussion between him and me. “But I’m not lying… I don’t know where father kept his money.” She began to cry, and it was the sound of remorse
“I didn’t intentionally kill your father,” I told her, not sure why I made this statement, but felt all roads between us would be rooted in that event—even the procurement of property rightfully belonging to me. “In truth, I was trying to protect you. Not to mention, he wanted to take off my head. If I hadn’t defended myself, he’d have had a damn good try. The man was violent, and you know this.”
“So what makes you better than him?” she said, defiantly. “Having supposedly been around for so long, why haven’t you learnt your lessons?”
“I’m a work in progress, aren’t we all?”
“Your sarcasm does nothing to convince me of your so called good intentions. I see you as a bad man who pretends to all and sundry he’s good, a joke indeed!”
“Then, you would be wrong. Now, tell me…
are my coins?”
“I thought you could sniff them out, like a tracker dog?”
‘Damn it, Rachel—tell me where they are!”
No matter what she said, I knew she would lie. It wasn’t hard to understand why she refused to reveal the site of buried gold. But I wanted only what was rightfully mine, two silver shekels, of no modern worth. The gold would be her financial aid.
“You can tie me to this tree until I rot away, or throw me in the river with rocks tied to my feet. I don’t know
No doubt, Rachel hoped I would tire of asking. The gold could be hers easily, by concocting a story of her father’s sudden visit to relatives to explain away his disappearance. As for my coins, if sold into the right hands they would be on the move again.
“I know your game, and I’m prepared to wait, if necessary. I have all the time and patience in the world.”
“Are you absolutely sure of that, Emmanuel?” She glared at me with such contempt. I trembled with anger. “Or, will you tire of me and slit my throat!”
“I have no intention of harming you, in spite of the misery you’re causing me. Why do you think me a cold blooded murderer when I am no such thing?”
“Because you are,” she replied. “It’s in your eyes. I may be nothing more than a lowly mountain girl in your view, but I’m not stupid, and I
In no mood for her constant desire to bait me, I needed to try and find Isaac’s hidden vault. To keep her from disappearing on us, I bound her to the bed, tying her wrists secure enough to hold her, but without cutting into her flesh.
“Monster. You are an evil monster!” she screamed as I reluctantly bound her. “Juan, don’t you trust me? Why are you letting him do this to me? Like you, I’m innocent.
untie me!” She continued her pleading in the vain hope he’d be sympathetic.
“Tell Emmanuel where the coins are and he’ll set you free,” he said, with the gentleness her father could never deliver. “Lying means you become your own worst enemy, trapped by your denial. The longer it continues, the more isolated you’ll be and stay tied up. Is that what you want?”
Rachel didn’t answer. Instead, she closed her eyes tightly, her head moving from side to side, like a child in tantrum who’s wishing an adult away. I left her to it but soon was caught by surprise. Having lit an oil lamp, I went to explore the groaning sounds coming from her corner of the room. Pulling back the curtain I was faced with the sight of blood dripping from her forehead, the exact same spot for the crown of thorns placed on Jesus’s head before he was crucified. How she’d managed to do this while tied up was a true mystery. Her groans grew louder, summoning Juan to join us.
“Extreme hysteria brought on by her captivity perhaps?” I suggested.
“It doesn’t exist. There’s no proof, only speculation.”
“So you say, but what if it could happen? How do you explain the bleeding when she’s tied to a bed, unable to reach anything?”
True. There appeared to be no way for her to manufacture the experience.
“Perhaps we should untie her. Lying there with her arms outstretched and bound is like watching a crucifixion.”
“Bind me, unbind me, it means nothing. God’s great divinity has charged me with the wounds of Christ. I embrace each and every one of them because I deserve it!”
Blood dripped from her hands and feet. I tried not to look at her bleeding eyes and the deepening scratches on her forehead. Juan propped her up with pillows whilst I fetched a pitcher of water and cloth to wipe the wounds, giving me a lot of discomfort. I, of all people, didn’t like to see what was purporting to be the bloody recreation of the crucifix brought on by my hand. I desperately wanted to be far away from such a strange girl on this isolated mountain.
Nothing was going as I planned. Rachel deliberately intended to wound herself, and in effect, anyone else unfortunate enough to witness her charade. Despite my own misery, I was well and truly trapped in the sick world of a wretched peasant girl with a passion for Christ and blood. More like hell and damnation.
“What shall we do with her?” asked Juan.
Walking away and leaving her held too many risks. I was certain she’d talk and we’d become fugitives. Me, for killing someone, and Juan for helping to dispose of the body. I thought hard on wearing her down to such a point she would beg to confess. But I needed to do it without resorting to more violence.
“Until she opens her mouth, we take limited care of her. I don’t want her feeling comfortable until she reveals where the coins are.”
“May God strike you down!” Rachel baited me, her eyes smiling in satisfaction, believing she had the upper hand.
I thought about starving the information out of her until the door burst open, causing Juan to jump in alarm. And Rachel’s surprise told me that no one was expected to call that late.
“Who goes there?” I called, guiding the lamp in direction of whoever had entered.
“Emmanuel, Juan, it is I, Dario.”
His arrival couldn’t have come at a worse moment, with Rachel bleeding in her bed and no sign of Isaac. I hadn’t prepared a story, expecting to be long gone when he appeared. Now I had some explaining to do and didn’t know where to begin.
“I see Rachel is suffering again,” he said blithely pulling back the curtain.
“You know about the so-called stigmata?” I asked.
“Most people in these parts know of her and her affliction. Yes, it is stigmata, and Rachel has become quite a feature. For many, she’s revered, and pilgrims seeking to touch her wounds or kiss her feet often visit this place. It was only one month ago a pious man traveled all the way from Sevilla just to lay gold at her feet.”
“Do you seriously believe her wounds are those of Christ?”
“Personally, I fear it’s the work of the Devil. Rachel is possessed by a demon who takes her over to give a false impression and mislead those who worship God and Jesus…. By the way, where is Isaac so late in the night? I don’t see him.”
“He’s tending the goats,” Juan replied, when I couldn’t offer an immediate answer.
I looked to Rachel, praying she wouldn’t open her mouth and give us away. I didn’t know Dario well enough to risk trusting him with a confession.
“Isaac would never tend his goats this time of night, where is he? Something’s wrong, there’s tension in the air. Rachel, do you have something to say?”
Dario approached her while my heart pounded furiously, a mixture of anxiety and readiness to react. Juan stood quietly beside her, wearing a look on his face that said he believed she’d stand by us. He was wrong.
“They treated me very badly, especially Emmanuel who despises the very ground I walk on. He’s the one who harmed Isaac and threw him in the river. Now he plans to kill me because I won’t tell him where
gold is buried. He plans to steal it all.”
“Is this true?” asked Dario, placing his hand upon his dagger. “Have you killed Isaac?”
“There was a fight, he attacked me with an axe. It was purely self-defense, not murder.” There was no use avoiding the truth. Someone else would surely die if I didn’t come clean.
“I saw it all. Emmanuel had little choice but to defend himself,” said Juan.
Unconvinced, Dario looked to Rachel, wanting to hear her recollection of what had happened.
“All I want is my coins,” I said, not liking where things were headed. “You’ll never see me again in these parts. It was impossible to negotiate with Isaac, who demanded vast sums of money I was not prepared to pay, we argued, it got out of hand.” I did my best in spite of Rachel’s onslaught of damning words.
“You lie; the coins never belonged to you. They were payment for your betrayal of Jesus, which you discarded on the ground with guilt. Do you really expect their return to save your wretched soul? Coins, coins,
are all you care about.”
“That’s not true, I care about the fate of others,” I replied.
“Don’t you see, Dario, he and his coins are the work of the Devil, so… now I will pray for his lost soul.” Rachel clasped her bloody hands between a rosary and began to pray. I needed to act quickly.
“It seems I have a predicament. Emmanuel, you have committed murder, surely you can’t expect me to let you go unpunished for such a crime in spite of your immortality. Juan, you are also in trouble for complying. Rachel, so are you. Watching your father’s body being taken and then doing nothing to make your escape…. Why did you not have the intention of alerting the authorities?”
“Dario, I’m pleading to your better nature,” Juan said, attempting to intervene for us all. “I’m your friend, surely you wouldn’t hand us over for a crime against a man who didn’t deserve to live. The way he treated Rachel was abominable. Beating her regularly, using her like a slave. Emmanuel did an honorable thing. Since then, he has nothing back in the way of gratitude. She chastises and taunts him at every turn. An undeserved punishment for setting her free.”