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Authors: Michael Gruber

Night of the Jaguar

BOOK: Night of the Jaguar
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Credibilium tria sunt genera. Alia sunt quae semper creduntur et numquam intelleguntur: sicut est omnis historia, temporalia et humana gesta percurrens. Alia quae mox, ut creduntur, intelleguntur: sicut sunt omnes rationes humanae, vel de numeris, vel de quibuslibet disciplinis. Tertium, quae primo creduntur, et postea intelleguntur: qualia sunt ea, quae de divinis rebus non possunt intelligi, nisi ab his qui mundo sunt corde.

There are three kinds of credible things: those that are always believed and never understood: such is all history, such are all temporal things and human actions. Those that are understood as soon as they are believed: such are all human reasonings, concerning numbers or any other discipline. Third, those that are believed first and understood afterward: such are those concerning divine things, which can only be comprehended by the clean of heart.

—St. Augustine,
Of Various Questions, LXXXIII, 48



Jimmy Paz sits up in his bed, folding from the…


Jennifer Simpson awoke early to birdsong, a mockingbird trilling in…


In the lobby of the office building, Kevin looked at…


Professor Cooksey didn’t drive, so Rupert asked Jenny to take…


The wailing dragged Paz out of the dream, brought him…


Jenny tossed a broken banana into the blender to keep…


At the sound Yoiyo Calderón was instantly up on his…


Jennifer sat on the floor of the fishpond just deep…


Another one that was wrong! Jenny rubbed her eyes and…


This isn’t the way to the beach,” Jenny said.


Paz got the news in the morning. He came up…


Onion sauce!” said Professor Cooksey. “Oh, bother! Oh, blow!”


The restaurant Guantanamera did not collapse when Jimmy Paz announced…


On Sunday night Nigel Cooksey told Rupert Zenger that there…


They finished setting out the booby traps just before it…


Morales left, but Paz waited in the shade of the…


I fail to see why everyone sort of turns away…


The next day, Paz stayed late in bed, drifting in…


While Paz is becoming a god, Moie appears in the…


Jaguar emerged soundlessly from the darkness and now stood full…

immy Paz sits up in his bed, folding from the waist like a jackknife with his heart thumping so hard he can almost hear it over the whine of the air-conditioning. A moment of disorientation here: the dream has been so vivid. But he looks about him and accepts that he is in his bedroom in his house in South Miami, Florida; he can make out the familiar shapes in the real glow from the digital clock and the paler beams of moonlight slipping through the blinds, and he can feel the warm loom of his wife’s body beside him. The clock tells him it is three-ten in the morning

Paz has not had a dream like this in seven years, but back then he used to have them all the time. There are families that take dreams seriously, that discuss them around the breakfast table, but the Paz family is not one of them, although the mother of the family is a psychiatrist in training. Paz lies back on his pillow and considers the dream he has just had, which was the sort in which the dreamer has Godlike perspective, floating over some scene and watching the players perform. He recalls something about a murder, someone has been shot in the middle of a village somewhere, and Paz and
some vast presence next to him, God or some powerful figure, is watching as the men who have shot the…Paz can’t recall, but it is someone of significance…as the killers escape into a forest of tall trees, and these men, to ease their passage
through the forest are…
the trees, touching them and making them disappear into red dust. The area through which they have passed is reduced to a rusty desert, and the dream carries a feeling of deep sadness and outrage about all this

The killers are fleeing from a single man dressed in rough animal skins, like John the Baptist. He shoots at them with a bow and arrow, and they fall one by one, but it also seems as if their numbers do not decrease. Paz asks the Someone what this all means and in the dream gets an answer, but now he can’t recall what it was. There’s a sense of a vast intelligence there, both ferocious and calm

Paz shakes his head violently, as if to make the scraps of dream-life go away, and at this motion his wife murmurs and stirs. He makes himself relax. This is not supposed to happen to him anymore, meaningful dreams. He has devoted the past seven years to expunging the memory of his previous life, when he was a police detective, during which career certain things happened to him that could not have happened in a rational world, and he has nearly convinced himself that they did not in fact occur, that
in fact
there are no saints or demons playing incomprehensible games in the unseen world, but that if such games did exist, as many believe, they would not involve Jimmy Paz as a player. Or pawn

Now the dream is fading; he encourages this, he wills forgetfulness. He has already forgotten that the skin-clad man with the bow had his own brown face. He has forgotten the part about his daughter, Amelia. He has forgotten the cat


They shot the priest on a Sunday in the plaza of San Pedro Casivare just after mass, which he had just said because the regular priest was ill and because he volunteered to do it. He had not said mass for a congregation of believers in a long time, years. The priest lay there for some minutes; none of the townspeople wanted to touch him, because of the trouble he’d made and because the gunmen were still there leaning against their car, watching the people with interest and smoking cigars. The people stood in silent groups; above, on the rooftops, hopeful black vultures flapped and shoved. The day was hot and there was no breeze,
so a few minutes before noon, the gunmen mounted their vehicle and drove away for some shade and a drink. As soon as they left, a group of Indians, six or seven of them, appeared as if from nowhere and carried him off in a blue blanket, down the street to the riverside, the path they took traced by drops of blood in the pale dust. At the edge of the wide brown water they laid him tenderly in a long dugout canoe, and paddled away, upriver toward the Puxto.


He didn’t learn of the shooting until two days later, although he dreamed of white birds and so knew that someone’s death was at hand. And he had seen the death of someone walking through the night, toward the river, and he knew from the look of it that it was not the death of a Speaker of Language, a Runiya, but of a
. So he knew who the person was, for there was only one of these in the village. The man was alone in his little compound, lying in his hammock, inhabiting the light trance that was his usual state of being, when he heard the rattles sound. Slowly, and not without reluctance, he gathered the scattered fingers of his being back into his body, back into the daily, leaving the timeless life of the plants and animals, becoming again a human person, Moie.

Standing now, he washed his face at a clay basin and carefully spilled the water on the ground outside the house, stirring the mud with his toe, so that no enemy could seize on the dregs of his reflected face to do him harm. He took a drink of cool chicha beer from the clay pot, using a gourd. The rattlings continued.

He stepped outside into the dull dawn and saw that two terrified boys were shaking the rattle made of armadillo scales that the people used to summon Moie and also to frighten away any unpleasant spirits. He shouted out to stop the noise, that he had heard them and would be along in a short time. He went back into his house and ate some dried potatoes and meat. Then he rolled and lit a cigar, and while he smoked he hummed the usual prayer to the sun, thanking him for rising another day, and gathered the equipment he thought he would need into a finely woven net bag. He put on his headdress and his toucan-feather cape, and last of all he took the otter-skin bundle in which he kept his dreams and tied it securely around his middle. He could feel the dreams clicking a little as he walked out of his house, a
comforting sound. The day was overcast, the air thick and thickening into mist among the taller trees. The mist muffled the forest sounds, the monkeys’ shouts and the birds’ cries; but Moie didn’t need sounds to know what was going on in the forest. He strode down the path, followed at a careful interval by the two boys.

The village was not distant, just far enough to be somewhat safe from the magical wars that raged around Moie’s compound, and far enough from the river to avoid the spirits of the drowned people and the water witches. A dozen or so clan longhouses were laid out along rough streets leading out from a central plaza around the father tree, and among these stood some smaller structures for the holy societies to meet in, and pens for the chickens and pigs. The father tree was what they called a
a big-leaf mahogany, towering 150 feet into the clouds; it took eight men clutching hands to surround its buttressed base. Moie greeted the father tree politely, using the holy language, and the tree answered that he was welcome to come into the village. Then, in everyday language, Moie asked the boys where the priest was. In the dead-singing house, they replied. The “church,” he corrected, using the Spanish word. In his youth, Moie had gone downriver to where the
came from, and lived among the dead people for several years, and still recalled their language. It was what he used to talk with the priest.

Moie entered the church, just an ordinary pole-built, palm-thatched longhouse, most of which was used for services. The priest was good with his hands and had built the altar of purpleheart wood and of the same wood had made a large crucifix to hang above it. Nailed to it with real nails was an image of the man the people called Jan’ichupitaolik, or “the person who is alive and dead at the same time.” Father Perrin had made him look like a man of the Runiya, with the bowl haircut shaved high on the sides and the facial and body tattooing. Moie bowed politely. Technically he was a Christian, having been baptized with the name Juan Bautista many years ago, but like many such, he did not practice the religion, nor did he believe in its creed. He loved the priest and had allowed the water to be poured on his head and on those of the others in the village as a courtesy. In return he had initiated the priest with the
and the other sacraments of the Runiya.

Father Perrin was lying in his hammock in the little space behind a matting curtain he called the rectory, always with a smile. Moie didn’t understand this joke, but he always smiled, too. The priest had worn his
clothes to the town, which he never did anymore at Home. He had explained that no one would talk to him there unless he wore these clothes, especially the white collar around his neck, although it was no longer quite white, was gray-green with mold. And Moie had understood that very well, he himself always wore special clothing when he talked to important persons in his own work. The women had removed these clothes, however, and the priest lay naked in his hammock, looking more like a corpse than he usually did. He had three bullet wounds in his chest and belly, now neatly bound with poultices of holy plants. Moie placed his hand on these and felt the vegetable spirits murmuring as they worked, murmuring unhappily because it was past their time to work.

The people stood back silently while Moie made his examination, so he gestured for Xlane to come forward. Xlane was the vegetable spirit doctor of the village as Moie was the animal spirit doctor. They discussed the patient in low voices. Xlane said, “He was nearly dead when they brought him in. That’s why I had them call you. Also, since he’s a
I wasn’t sure what to do. I thought his death might be different from ours. Can you see it, Moie Amaura?”

Moie cocked his head and looked around the little cell in the sideways, squinting fashion he had been taught long ago. He saw them, the
of the people, hovering behind their left shoulders, vague and clouded in the young ones, more solid in those who would die sooner. The priest’s
was standing just behind the man’s head, as solid as flesh itself, partially obscured by the woman who was fanning the wounded man’s face with a palm leaf. Moie told that woman to stop and then told her and the rest of the people to leave the room. When they were gone, he lowered himself to the mat and brought out from his net bag a small stoppered clay flask and a tiny drum. He tapped a tune on the drum and sang his name song, so that the guards who kept the passes into the spirit lands would know him, that he was
an initiate, wise and strong, and also that he meant no harm
and that he was not a witch set on capturing any of the spirits they guarded. When he was done with that, he inserted a narrow reed into the clay flask and breathed the
into his nostrils, one long shuddering breath for each nostril.

After some time he saw that the colors were draining out of the ordinary things in the room. The hammock with its dying man, the roof beams, the thatch hanging down, the plants outside, and the few possessions of the priest all became gray and semitransparent like smoke, and all the color in the room was concentrated in the figure of the death and in his own body, which glowed ruddy as hot coals. This was as usual, but Moie was surprised that there were no glowing green and red threads connecting the death to the man it owned. He cleared his throat and addressed the bright figure in the holy language.

of Father Perrin, this harmless person sees that the threads have been broken. Why are you still here and not flying to the moon to join the other dead? Is it because Father Perrin is a

“So it appears,” said the death. “The
hold their deaths inside them and are dead all the time, but I seem to be different. It may be because he has spent so much time with you speaking people, or for some other reason. In any case, I can’t fly away, even though the threads are cut. I’m afraid I might become a ghost.”

Moie felt the cold sweat spring up and run down his flanks and face. There hadn’t been a ghost in Home for a long time. The last one was a murdered man, whose murderer had fled down the river and so could not pay the murder fee to the clan of the dead man. The furious ghost had killed dozens of people through disease and a variety of physical catastrophes—fires, drowning, the arrows of other tribes, the ravenings of animals. The Runiya have no word for
. It had taken Moie weeks of spirit travel to find the culprit and force him to make the world correct again. He sincerely hoped he would not have to do it again.

“Do I have to find the people who shot him and make them pay the fee?” he asked. “And how will I find Father Perrin’s clan in the lands of the dead people?”

“No, it has nothing to do with fees and clans. This is a
and they are not like you. He wants to tell you something, and until he does, I can’t leave for the places you know.” This was a polite expression for
the dwelling of the dead high above the world. “Now, hear what he has to say, and then I will leave you. It’s much too warm for me in this world.”

With that, the
breathed himself into the nostrils of the dying man, who coughed twice, opened his eyes, and raised his head.

“What happened?” he said in Spanish when he saw Moie. “I was talking with my mother and she said, ‘Oh, Timmy, you always were one for forgetting things. You have to go back for a while.’”

Moie was happy to see the man revived but uncomfortable with what he was saying. There were good reasons why Rain and Earth had decreed a barrier between the world of people and the world of the dead when the two of them had first coupled and brought forth Jaguar and then the first human children. The priest sat up in the hammock and looked at Moie and at his own body, feeling the wounds, touching his pale flesh. He was a spare little man, not much larger than Moie, darkened on arms and head by the sun. He had a nose like a parrot, though, and a short beard, the two things that marked him as a stranger. The women called him
which sounded enough like “father” to pass as courtesy but was actually the name of a small green parrot. Moie did not approve of this, but one could do nothing with women and their jokes. Moie always called him Tim, which sounded like a word the Runiya used for a clumsy but endearing baby.

BOOK: Night of the Jaguar
6.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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