Monday, February 15, 2010

The Red Scorpion, Chapter 6a

SHORT STORY MONDAY

During our year in Mexico we visited Cuernavaca twice, and on one occasion went to Tepotzlan and saw the Day of the Dead festivities which are featured in the opening of John Huston's film based on the Malcolm Lowry novel Under the Volcano. For the wonderful flavor of this town, and a step back in time, check out Huston's film. Or even better, the film about making the film.

The Red Scorpion
6a

Comstock reached Tepotzlan a little after ten. Unscathed by all things modern, Tepotzlan is a secluded world where legends and myths live. Only twelve miles from Cuernavaca, the narrow winding road makes it seem further than that.

The bus stopped a half block from the small outdoor market. Beyond the market Comstock saw the dominating, centrally located monastery. Everything was neat and orderly.

The monastery, erected by sixteenth century Dominicans, has since become one of Mexico’s national treasures. For Comstock, the monastery created a mood -- somber, almost ominous -- set back away from the town in the midst of a broad expanse of lawn surrounded by isolating walls of rock and ivy. Within, the spacious rooms are nearly barren, except for the sanctuary, filled with artifacts, incense, votive candles and other regalia of Third World Catholic tradition. From the monastery’s arched fortress-like windows the view is wholly other, a majestic panorama of surrounding hills and two active volcanoes.

Comstock entered the sanctuary of the cathedral first. A sister came forward to assist him, but he slipped out without an exchange of words.

He then entered the monastery itself, which now served as a museum. He passed from room to room, till he came into one that was barren and devoid of furnishings. There he found Chuchui, gazing from a window that faced east.

Chuchui called him to the window and pointed to the mountain. “That is where we will go.”

“What is it you are taking me to see?” Comstock asked.

“The Cave of the Dead,” Chuchui replied. “The cave leads to the depths of the earth, to the resting place of the dead. Mictlan.”

* * * * *

The climb, leisurely at first, became arduous with the approach of evening. Comstock’s head throbbed. He perspired heavily. It began to dawn on him that if this boy were speaking truthfully, he had stumbled onto something remarkable. Or perhaps, that something had stumbled onto him.

Comstock could hardly believe his luck. The Nahuatl youth was going to bring him to the very cave where the legendary god/man was last seen.

As they crossed a catwalk-like ledge Chuchui began telling Comstock of how Los Diablos came to be. “Quetzlcoatl was banished from his people for having done a terrible thing. A Nahuatl appealed to the god and changed his mind. The father of Quetzlcoatl relented, and said that his son could go live for a season with the dead and then return to be with his people, the Nahuatls.

“His eldest brother Camaxtli, who was born red, was angry and hated him for what his brother had done. He was determined that Quetzlcoatl should never return to his people. Using the deep magic of the mountain, he called forth the red scorpions from the center of the earth to guard the exit of the cave. Quetzlcoatl, even if he tried, would never be able to escape alive from the cave of the dead.”

Comstock imagined other possibilities. Yes, perhaps there was a great leader named Quetzlcoatl who was banished from his homeland. To save face he made a big show of promising never to die and to one day return. He decided he would hide in a cave till the coast was clear, then sneak off and live as a free man in some other country far away.

“You believe this?” Comstock asked Chuchui, when Chuchui finished his story?

“How could I not? I have imatini,” which is to say he had first hand knowledge. He had seen the cave. He had seen the red scorpions.

Comstock could scarcely restrain himself. This was beyond all things believable, and even as he climbed he was disbelieving. Yet he was eager to see. The native had been so matter-of-fact.

Comstock knew from his studies that these people were good people. Their mission in life was to side with the sun in the cosmic struggle between light and darkness. They were people with a mission.

So why was the youth leading him here to this cave? Why was Chuchui betraying his people? Comstock did not understand.
CONTINUED

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