Canto 2 – Astrophel and Stella
Rogelio met Maria at the bus stop on the corner of Mockingbird Lane and Brookriver Drive just as they had planned in Mrs. Broadbent’s English class at the end of a long high-school day.
“You see it?” Rogelio asked, pointing across the street. “The toy store is right there, just like Fernando said.”
“Yeah, but nobody proved that it was the place where Yesenia disappeared.”
“They found her bloody clothes in the alley behind it. What more proof do you need?”
“Well, I’m going in to look around. Are you brave enough to go with me, Roge?”
“Anything you can do, I can do.”
The two high school freshmen walked across the street at the stoplight. The building was spookily in shadow in spite of the gray-white sunlight trying to penetrate an overcast sky.
As they entered the shop together, the old storekeeper looked up from his old, leather-bound ledger at the front checkout counter.
“Little old for toys, aren’t we?” the white-haired loser asked. It made Rogelio a bit angry.
“We came because of the disappearance of Yesenia Montemayor a month ago. We need to look around. They found her clothes behind this place.”
“So, here to solve a Hardy Boys’ Mystery, are we?”
“Do I look like a boy?” Maria said, now angry too.
“Hard to tell nowadays. Nancy Drew, then?”
“You are just so old and out of date!” said Rogelio.
“Why do you really want to look for clues in my store then?”
“Yesenia was his former girlfriend.” Maria’s glare was defiant.
“And you’re his new girlfriend?”
“Well… yeah, I kinda hope so.”
“Then you probably don’t want to go digging up his old girlfriend, eh? Not in your best self-interest, I’d say.”
“We need to find out what happened to her,” Maria said matter-of-factly. “…So people don’t keep saying one of us had something to do with it.”
“Hated her that much, did you?”
“No! I didn’t kill her and eat her or anything! And I intend to prove that.”
The old man looked at Maria with eyes magnified by his thick glasses. He looked like a Lechuza, a soul-stealing barn owl, that one. Rogelio gritted his teeth.
“Can we look around your store, or what?” he said.
“Help yourself. If you want murder clues, there’s an old decorative Day of the Dead skull by the back door. Pick it up and ask about the missing girl.”
“Tell the cops to do that too, didja?”
“Yep. They didn’t take me seriously though.”
Rogelio simply turned and walked towards the back of the store.
“Do you believe that guy?” Maria mumbled as she followed him.
“I don’t know. I don’t know if I believe you either.”
“What… what do you mean?”
“Well, that remark about digging her up and you talking about killing her and eating her.”
“I said I didn’t do that. You believe me, don’t you?”
“Let’s see what that skull has to say.”
Eerily, the skull was right in front of them as he said it. It was a sort of Halloween decoration for the Hispanic holiday of the Day of the Dead, Dia de los Muertos in Spanish. It was a white papier-mâché skull with brightly colored flower blossoms painted on it for eyes, and an intricate vine design all over it in bright pink and orange outlined with green and dark blue.
“Hola, mi sabio amigo, ¿qué me puede decir sobre el asesinato de Yesenia Montemayor?” He used the Spanish because he knew Maria didn’t understand very much of it. She was raised in an English-speaking house with an Anglo stepdad.
“Ella no está muerta. Ella un juguete con el que juega Imelda.” The skull seemed to be speaking with no moving mouth.
“What? She’s a toy?”
Maria looked horrified. “Who are you talking to? And what’s this all about?”
“I… I don’t know. The skull says she is not dead. She’s a toy, being played with by someone named Imelda.”
“Ahora, Steven jugará contigo,” said the skull.
“Roge, the skull didn’t say anything.” Maria was as white as a ghost.
Rogelio’s mind, however, was being invaded.
“I am Steven, Roger. I will be playing with you until we find out what Imelda’s game really is.”
“Get out of my head!” Rogelio shouted. But his lips didn’t move. And he couldn’t put the skull down either. Instead, he walked to the back door and opened it. It did not open into the alley as it was supposed to. There was a dark room there, with a staircase going upwards, and at the foot of the staircase was Yesenia, naked as the day she was born. And her dark-brown hair was all bleached white like snow.
“Steven! No! You cannot be here. Not now!” shouted Yesenia.
“Stay where you are, Imelda. I am coming to you!” Rogelio heard his own voice say.
“No, Roge! Don’t go out there!” cried Maria.
Rogelio shut the door behind him so Maria couldn’t follow.