Authors: Enrique Laso
Translated by Rachel Christina Hopkinson
Written By Enrique Laso
Copyright © 2015 Enrique Laso
All rights reserved
Distributed by Babelcube, Inc.
Translated by Rachel Christina Hopkinson
“Babelcube Books” and “Babelcube” are trademarks of Babelcube Inc.
I. On the outskirts of the city of Guadalajara, in the state of Jalisco, Mexico
The girl had spent the entire night howling. It was a visceral noise, more commonly associated with a wild animal, than the gaunt, virtually emaciated body of a little girl, who was barely ten years old.
She lay curled up on a rough bed, which had been thrown together out of lumpy sacks of hay. Her parents, more out of desperation than resentment or fear, had confined her to a shed, which they used mainly for keeping the rain off the farming tools, and for storing a few low-value belongings that they had inherited over the years from different family members.
The doctor approached the child with apprehension; she seemed to be sleeping, although her breathing was broken by a constant shaking that was not of human origin.
“How many days has she been lying in this state?”
“A... a week...” the mother dared to say, certain that she was about to receive an immediate reprimand from the doctor.
The doctor heaved a sigh of resignation and, picking up the girl’s hand, he tried to measure her pulse. He felt a shiver run down his spine as he noticed that her heart was hardly beating at all... little more than 20 beats per minute! It was completely impossible. The parents were keeping to one corner of the darkened shack, gripping on to one another, worried, and a little ashamed. Their eyes remained glued to the physician, hanging onto the hope that, in the end, even if it came at the expense of a significant amount of their scarce savings, this seemingly good and wise man would pull Magdalena back out from the catatonic state into which she had so suddenly been plunged.
The doctor took the little girl’s temperature, and once more he felt a shiver run through his entire body: 31°C; again, another indicator completely incompatible with life. But the girl... she was breathing!
“I can’t quite get my head around this...” muttered the physician, almost to himself.
All of a sudden, the girl turned, as if recovering her strength. The doctor approached her a little, waiting. She opened her eyes, and he was then able to see, to his horror, that her pupils were completely black, and in the shape of an inverted cross; a sinister contrast to her irises, which were an intense purple, as if all of the blood in her emaciated body had been compacted within them, and putrefied.
“My God!” exclaimed the doctor, terrified, as he backed away from her.
Then the child suddenly sat up, as if propelled by a spring, and opened her mouth disproportionately wide to emit a cutting, and unintelligible roar. Then, she collapsed, as if she had breathed her final breath.
II. Mexico City, the editorial office of the newspaper, ‘Las Noticias’
José Antonio Sancho walked slowly between the tables in the newspaper editorial office where he had been working for the last five years. After a long time of drifting around, he had finally found some stability, and yet... Now his job was in danger.
had gone months without a single scoop to put in print: the newspaper was selling fewer and fewer printed copies, and there was not a great readership for the digital version, either. The result: advertising funds had fallen dramatically, and that was going to mean a reduction in the workforce. Everybody knew it. But for José Antonio, it was even worse. He had come over from his native Spain with the hope of leaving behind a chequered past that was marred by two unmitigated disasters: one professional, the other an affair of the heart. If they kicked him out of
, he would find himself unemployed, and in a country that was not his own. It didn’t even bear thinking about, although now it was almost impossible not to.
He reached his desk, and turned on his computer with despondency. He looked through his contacts list, to see whom he could call that morning. Perhaps there would be a new murder to follow up on, a kidnapping, or some dispute between rival mafia gangs that could be the story he had been searching for for so long: one that would kick-start his career and reawaken in the average citizen the passion to return to reading; to return to following a case from the independent perspective of a mature journalist who no longer had anything to lose. It was at that moment he jumped, as the phone on his desk began to ring.
“Sancho here, who’s speaking?”
José Antonio waited a moment. It was strange that he was being called on a landline, in an age where the whole world used their mobile phones. For a few seconds, he thought it might be Amador, the personnel manager, about to let him know he’d been fired.
“José Antonio, this is Liliana, from reception. There’s a call from somebody. They’re really nervous. I don’t know if it’s somebody just messing around... They’re saying that there are some strange things going on in the outskirts of Guadalajara. They want to talk to an unprejudiced journalist about the events, and I thought of you...”
Good old Liliana: always so attentive. Instead of transferring the call to the editor in chief, she had passed it on to him. This was an opportunity: even if it were just the ramblings of a nutcase he was dealing with here; but his intuition was telling him that this was just the thing he had been looking for.
“Put the call through to me. And thank you, I owe you another one...”
A few seconds later, he could hear the agitated breathing of an older man on the other end of the line.
“This is the enterprise journalist from
, José Antonio Sancho speaking,” he said in his best neutral, professional tone
“Listen, I’m calling from Zapotlanejo, Jalisco, near Guadalajara...”
“Yes, yes, I know the city. I’ve been there on a couple of occasions.”
The man seemed to calm down upon hearing that José Antonio knew where he was. He sounded afraid, and his speech was faltering.
“Strange things are happening...”
“Please, go on.”
“Possessions... too many possessions...”
Sancho felt himself sink down a little in his seat. Possessions? Liliana was right: just another crackpot who, disturbed as a result of having doused his bloodstream in beer and tequila, was calling to share his nightmares with the first person who would listen.
“Possessions? Could you be a little more precise...?”
“The Devil. We believe the Devil is behind all of this. Here in Zapotlanejo, there are already three possessed little girls; but the fact is that in Tonalá there are another three cases, in Puente Grande there are another two, and in El Salto, yet another two...”
The man talking to him did not seem like an idiot. Although a little confused, his tone of voice and mode of expression showed a certain level of education.
“And how have you come to know about these cases?”
“I’m a doctor. I belong to the
, the Mexican organisation that deals with bringing healthcare to those who would otherwise have no access to it, and I attend to the poorest and most troubled neighbourhoods... All of these girls are from humble families, living in virtual poverty. I have personally tended to seven of these children now. They’re all presenting similar symptoms, and in the end the cases have been falling into my hands. It’s horrible...”
“But, why turn to a journalist?”
“Because I’m a doctor! How can
go around telling people that I think a group of little girls is possessed? You don’t understand!”
José Antonio waited for a few seconds. His instinct was telling him that there was a story behind all this. Perhaps the
he needed. If he went out in his car right now, by the beginning of the afternoon he could be in Zapotlanejo easily, if he took the Federal 15 road.
“I need to see you in person. I need you to provide your information and corroborate this story face to face.”
“I’m prepared to co-operate. But on one condition... You must keep my identity anonymous. I want somebody to help these girls, but I also want to disassociate myself from this issue as soon as possible.”
“You can count on it.”
Whilst Sancho took down the doctor’s address in Zapotlanejo, along with his mobile number, he felt his legs shaking. It was a pleasant shaking of excitement, produced as a result of finding himself faced with a fantastic story. He was no longer in any doubt: this case was going to alter his destiny forever.
III. A small church in Coyoacán, Municipal District of Mexico City.
Padre Salas had just finished the afternoon Mass, and was tidying away the Holy Chalice, the stole, and the chasuble, and was folding them with utmost care, when he heard somebody come back into his small temple. He thought it must be some parishioner who wished to speak with him in private, once the rest of the parishioners had left the church. But when he turned around to greet his untimely guest, he discovered a familiar face. A sudden shudder made him drop all of the equipment he was holding in his hands, and the objects scattered around the floor by the altar.
“Padre Salas, after so long, anyone would think you’d just seen the very essence of
, as opposed to an old friend,” said the man, a smile spreading across his face, whilst he approached Padre Salas, and tried to help him put away the chalice.
Padre Salas realised that this was not a wayward member of his congregation, and he recognised him instantly as the right-hand man to the Archbishop of the Prime Archdiocese of Mexico: a man whose visit to his small refuge in the forgotten ruins of a church in Coyoacán could not bode well for him.
“What do you want from me?” enquired Padre Salas directly, speaking plainly to the man.
The visitor left the chalice on the altar table, and then came even closer to the priest, so he could place both hands on his shoulders.
“You’ve always been an intelligent man. Possibly one of the most intelligent I’ve ever known.”
“And you, one of the most astute...”
“I’m not sure how to take that... But I should be humble, and show myself to be resigned, because you are right: we need you.”
“You know well, just as the Archbishop does, that I’m not interested in anything you could need me for. That’s why I moved away to this little church. Here, I am at peace with God. Here, I help humble people, and I am of use to Our Lord,” replied Padre Salas, whilst he raised his gaze in contemplation, seeking reassurance from the crucifix.
The visitor stepped back a few paces, and directed his attention towards the two rows of ramshackle benches, which could accommodate at most one hundred souls, and which were looking the worse for wear.
“Padre, I would never have come to see you out of personal interest, and least of all would the Archbishop have obliged me to do it. It’s very clear to us that you don’t want to have anything more to do with us, and we have respected your decision for long enough, even though we did not agree with it,” the right-hand man of the highest authority in the Catholic Church in Mexico declared, with a certain sadness, before turning back to face Padre Salas. “If I have considered myself obliged to come here, it’s because we truly need you. They truly need you...”
Padre Salas took a few awkward steps backwards. He felt faint and confused. Episodes of his life were springing back to mind that he had believed to have left behind for good. And, under no circumstances did he wish to relive them.
“Who could need me?”
“Don’t you watch the television? Don’t you listen to the radio, or read the papers? Don’t you even use the Internet, now that it’s so in style?”
“Hardly... I dedicate myself to praying; to reading the Bible; to the faithful; and trying to help those less fortunate...”
The visitor handed him a newspaper from that very day,
; one of the most read in Mexico City.
“Well these girls need you, Padre Salas. You are the only one who can save them. Tomorrow, we’ll be waiting for you at eleven o’clock in the morning, in the offices at the Metropolitan Cathedral. It’s up to you what you do now; I’ve just passed on the message. Talk it over with God tonight...” the visitor muttered, as he walked away from him, leaving him alone once more in his wretched temple.
Padre Salas read the title, along with the five column article in
which the man had pointed out to him: ‘
At least eight confirmed cases of possession in Jalisco
’. The article was signed by some ‘José Antonio Sancho’.