The incessant hum
of airplanes drowns out thought,
“I’ve been travelling some time now. Up and down the roads of Guatemala. Most recently however, I’ve found myself hitch hiking back to Guate with my limited Spanish. I think my leg is broken, the splint I made was luck. if I hadn’t been touristy and snagged that machete. Well, I’m sure you hardly care. Trust me though, this story isn’t half bad.”
The man limps a step closer and draws out a long Cuban cigar. His caballero hat shadows his face and his long curly hair falls to his shoulders, eyes seem distant, a cool grey. The cigar is red when lit in the fading sunlight, the heat seems to be preserving him, as though he’s been in it so long he draws from it as it beats him down. His skin is burned. Raw and cracked lips clasp, like a baby to its mother, onto that cigar. Smoke billows out with his words. “Sometimes the people here just stare you down.. well… probably not you, but me… well me… I stand out most places.” He puffs deep and blows out little circles. “This story though is just about the weather getting to people or maybe just crazy coming out too strong.” Raising his hand as if in protest or stop a comment not coming he mutters, “trust me you want to hear this.” Two cars blow by and the man flinches. “I was headed back into Xela when something just felt wrong. DAMNIT I know.” Making air quotes, “you can’t feel things go wrong, no such thing as psychic powers.” Pausing to stare real hard and puff a couple times. A cough wracks his lungs and his whole body convulses. “I felt evil I tell you, felt it deep in my bones.” The sun drifts behind the mountains and it all grows that much darker, the air cools and the man sighs. His flesh seems to steam as the air hits it, his cigar a lone glowing eye in coming darkness. His own two peering, seeming calmer now, their grey seeming lighter against the shadowy mountain. The road winds off and around a bend in each direction. The trees in the ravine nearby are lush and green from the rain and a car speeds by headed North.
“You seen the buses here?” He ashes the cigar a bit, it seems to be burning fast. “Well they drive loco son, Pura Loca.” Shifting around he manages to seat himself half well against the mountain base behind him. “As I was saying… we were headed into Xela from a small town a ways out. So I hopped on a bus, shoved my way in amongst mother and child is more to the truth. Then everything was alright for a bit. Right up until about…” A cough cuts him off as he seizes, his whole chest heaving. The rattling of his lungs like an old beat up bladder pack is audible. “Eh-hem. We were on some piece of s—, tiny road headed out to the highway when the driver looked back and yelled something I didn’t catch, but the women screamed and looked around and a few men leaped up. The first to take the driver down grabbed the wheel and told the others to hold the man. This is when the evil was palpable, almost tangible.”
The man grunts and shifts himself up against another rock, ashing his cigar which is increasingly brighter as darkness settles heavier, shade by shade. Smoke seeps upward from it, hanging in the air.
“So, when we think it is all settled, the old driver breaks free and lunges at a woman, blood spurting from his eyes. Yeah. I said spurting. They were full of blood, red all through. Now people are screaming again as the man collapses and writhes, blood pouring out, his skin grows paler as it all drains onto the bus. Insane right?” Again he raises his hand, he isn’t looking for a response, he knows all the probable answers. “So we think we’re OK, then the new guy driving stops pulling over and punches it. Bags shift around and people are worried. His brother approaches, I think at least… cause he called him ‘hermano’ and the man literally tries to bite him. He of course steps back, shocked. He says something to the new driver as we round a turn, an oncoming truck cuts over to the other lane and our driver whips the bus into them. We all get thrown. People fly, babies are killed, mothers, men… All that saved me was the body I slammed into as the bus rolled right into the trees. If it hadn’t been for those trees though, it would have been a long way to the bottom of that drop. Nothing would’ve survived that.The newest driver lay impaled on a bent frame and a branch right in front of the door.”
Circles blow out and float up, the mans eyes flare in and out as he puffs now, it’s too dark to see them truly. The air is cold, very cold, the humidity settling like a blanket that sucks out all warmth. The man sighs deep and steam billows out, almost hissing, mixing with the smoke as it floats away. “I pulled myself out from under a body and some lady, real beat up looking, pried open the back door to the bus. You know, the ones in America with the alarms rigged up to them.” Coughing the man covers his mouth after pulling out the cigar and draws away his hand to find blood. He holds it up, displaying it, and just grins, “now that ain’t good.” He puts the cigar back and pulls deep, really lighting his face beneath the hat, his eyes seem sunken.
“So there I am crawling out of the bus full of dead bodies or the unconscious and screaming people and I see a man climb up to his feet holding the steering wheel, ya know… to balance. All of a sudden the son of a bitch convulses and bites the closest living person, a small girl strapped to what may be her dead moms back. For some goddamn reason, I yell at the f—er. His head pops up and he gargles at me.”
The man slips a little as a rock pushes out from beneath his foot. “His eyes were pooling up with blood and his head looked partially indented. All in all, he was in bad shape. The son of a bitch then proceeded to crawl over the bodies in the bus at me, eyes dead on me, even as they turned red.” A long cigar pull followed by puffs of smoke in neat rings breaks the moment. His hand lolls out to the side palm up, fingers half hanging down half curled. “So I took a deep breath, said a quick prayer and pulled out the machete I’d picked up. When the blood spurting prick got to the back door to step out I hacked into his neck. It was a nasty, bloody affair. Man dropped like a sand bag, just a sick thud to the ground.” Another cough bounces off the mountain as the mans whole frame seems to barely hold together.
“Whew! That was a rough one. Well as-I-was-saying… that’s when I picked up this hat off some poor sucker and ruffled through the bag of a newly deceased man I’d seen smoking and found these cigars and a box of matches. All the while these indigenous folk were hollering and screaming and trying to get off the damn bus. So I hopped on over to the edge of the road and found a nice branch and started making this purrty thing you see here.” Total darkness encases the man, a lone red light, puffing in and out, the shadows of trees lingering forms not far away.
“Hell of a story ain’t it”, he mumbles as the sound of a car and him raising up ring out together. At first, his disturbing the rocks is the louder and than the lights round the bend and the car is certainly ‘king O the jungle’. The man sighs deeply hand on his bad leg, takes two shuffled short steps, tips his hat back and gazes to the sky, stars alight. He tosses the remaining cigar out into the road and right as the car is almost too close, follows the red light flickering down to the ground. Enveloped in the yellow headlights of an old Acura NSX.
A goat scurries quickly snapping its rope taught at the sound of screeching and a heavy thud. Then it stands gazing for a moment, startled, and lies back down to sleep.