Monday, February 8, 2010

The Red Scorpion, Chapter 5 Part 2


One of the qualities many writers share is a love of research. When Michener got the assignment to write about Kent State, it gave him a chance to really dig into the details, not just through libraries, but through first hand experience. Hawaii begins with pages of detail about waves. When he wrote his novel about Mexico, some of the material he uncovered about the Mexican War didn't fit into the book, so he massaged it into another short book comprised of this excess fat.

This book, The Red Scorpion, was as enjoyable to research as it was to write. If your following along, I hope it is keeping you at least mildly leaning forward, wondering what will happen next. It will be worth waiting for.

The Red Scorpion
Chapter 5 Part 2

“I believe there was a man who once lived among the Aztecs, who called himself Quetzlcoatl,” Comstock said. “I cannot believe he was a son of the gods, but I do believe there was once someone powerful, someone who lived in these parts who went by that name, or was given that name.”

“Go on,” Chuchui urged.

“He was called the Feathered Serpent, perhaps because he wore feathers and garments of snakeskin or something like that. In some legends he is called Our Young Prince. In most legends he betrayed his father somehow and was banished from his homeland. It was supposed that he never died, and promised one day to return to liberate his people from the power of death.”

“Interesting stories,” Chuchui said. “Do you believe all these things?”

“No. No, I do not believe these stories. I believe there was someone very important, and the evidence of it is deep in the culture here. I am confident that if one knew where to look they would find evidence that he has passed on.” Comstock unbuttoned the topmost button of his plaid shirt.

Chuchui stared at him without blinking. “You have heard many things and studied well. Do you recall hearing of a place called Mictlan?”

“Certainly,” Comstock said. “Mictlan is the place of the dead. Or at least one of the places people went when they died, according to the Aztecs. Warriors went to the sun, and some went to the rain god’s mountain.”

“Quetzlcoatl went to Mictlan,” Chuchui said matter-of-factly.

“Then it’s true, he’s dead.”

“I did not say he is dead. I only tell you that he went to Mictlan.” Comstock attempted to speak, but the youth waved his hand. “Silence!” Then he told how all the legends about Quetzlcoatl were a cloud of mists designed to frustrate outsiders from learning the truth. Chuchui said that only a small handful of Nahuatl know the real truth, that a single clan has been entrusted with the secret truth regarding the bones of Quetzlcoatl. This clan, his clan Chuchui says, is called the Colos, which means Scorpions.

Chuchui shared how many of the places came to be named as they were. For example, the suffix “tlan” means “place near an abundance of.” Acatlan, therefore, means “place near an abundance of reeds,” because the word for reed is “aca”. Mazatlan means “place near an abundance of deer.” Chuchui’s village was called Colotlan, “place near an abundance of scorpions.”

The professor leaned forward, interrupted again. “You mean the Nahuatl deliberately tell lies about Quetzlcoatl to confuse historians, to hide the truth?”

“It is not the Nahuatl who tell lies. It is one clan of Nahua peoples. My clan, the Colos. We lie to preserve the truth. It is our mission.”

Comstock stood and began to pace. Of this moment he later wrote in his journal, “No wonder it is so difficult to know what is true and what is pure fabrication with these people.”

“Why have you come to tell me all this?” Comstock asked casually, taking great pains to restrain his excitement over these things. Questions were zinging through his head like bottle rockets the little boys had been firing in the street the night before.

“I am taking a great risk, you must understand.” Chuchui narrowed his eyes so that they became slits. Explaining it seemed impossible to him. It was the wrong question, because the answer was too complicated. Whether today, next month or next year, one day he would leave his people. Perhaps Comstock was not the one who would help him, but he refused to let the moment pass without making some attempt to try. If Comstock could not help him, perhaps the next American might.

He once read that each man who longs for a thing with all his heart obtains the thing he longs for by sheer force of desire. Is this how the gods answer our prayers, he wondered, by putting longings in our hearts and granting their fulfillment?

Their encounter had been a strange one. He had been delirious, fell unconscious in the street. Upon waking, he saw this face directly before him, this foreign face. It was not difficult for him to believe that fate had had a hand. As a consequence, he acted on this conviction. It was an intuitive leap.

“Tomorrow I will bring you to the place of the dead,” the youth stated simply. “I will meet you in Tepoztlan. From there we will go to see the scorpions.”

“What do you mean, see the scorpions?”

“I cannot say more than this. When you come, you will see and experience imatini.”

“And what, pray tell, is.... imatini?” Comstock asked. The game was beginning to annoy him.

“It is our word for knowing. I can tell you stories, but they mean nothing. For the Nahuatl what matters only is imatini; first hand knowledge.” Chuchui spoke as if he had just shared a sacred truth.

“How will I find you?” Comstock asked.

Chuchui turned and was opening the door to leave. “I will be waiting at the monastery,” he said without facing the American. The door closed with a click. Comstock scratched at his chin. He slowly unbuttoned his shirt, loosened his belt and began preparing for bed.


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