Canto 18 – Talking to the Dead
Stan took Maria to the study and made her bring the decorative skull thing.
“It’s time we look for the miniature radio receiver,” Stan said.
“So, how will you do that?” Maria asked.
“With an exactor knife.”
“But, if you cut into it, you are doing what the owl guy said you can’t do.”
“Surely you don’t really believe in demons and curses?”
“I believe in Science, like you. But I also worry about things we might not know enough things about.”
Stan smiled at her. Typical teenager with some knowledge, but lots of superstition and ignorance on the other side of the teeter-totter of the mind.
He looked at the thing Maria had put into his right hand as his left hand picked up the razor knife. It was a beautiful piece of work. Shaped like a skull, it was decorated with flowers and vines in bright, looping lines. Someone had taken great pains to make this object worthy of its religious purpose. And even if you didn’t respect the dogma and arbitrary rules of religion, Stan did have to acknowledge that somebody in the world cared a lot more about it all than he did.
“Gringo, if you cut me, you will regret it for the rest of your shortened life,” said the skull clearly and in English.
“What? Maria, could you tell where that voice came from?”
“You didn’t hear a voice?”
“Maria, I have a separate conversation to hold with you, Chica. But I have to threaten the stooge right now. Let me settle with him first.” Stan knew the voice was meant for both of them to hear that time.
“Okay, stupid one. There is a demon sealed into this paper skull. If you cut through the magical designs that hold it within, it will come out and possess you. You will kill pretty little Maria first, horribly with lots of blood, pain, and screaming. And then you will kill your wife even more horribly. And immediately call the police to confess your crime, not so you can pay for your crime, but to bring the police here to kill as many as you can, and then the demon will escape by possessing the cop who kills you.”
“Why is there a demon imprisoned inside of you?”
“He is bound there to provide the power I must use to perform the functions I have at Aunt Phillia’s. The things I must do for Maria to accomplish what she must accomplish among the Bones of the Lonelies.”
“Stan, maybe you should give the thing to me,” said Maria.
Stan was quietly thinking about any possible explanation that didn’t involve real demons to counter what the thing said, but he didn’t dispute it out loud. He put the thing in Maria’s hands.
“Maria, you know that Rogelio and Yesenia are both in the land of the dead though they are both still alive at this point.”
“Yes, I know…” She had tears in her eyes as she said it.
“There is a possibility that they will both die there and become permanent residents. You must now be honest about why you took Yesenia to the toy store to begin with.”
“I, uh… what do you mean?”
“You need to tell the Gringo Stan why you took Yesenia to the toy store.”
Maria looked at Stan. Stricken is the only possible word for how she looked.
“If you don’t admit it, you cannot go there and try to retrieve either of them.”
“I… I wanted her boyfriend to like me instead of her.”
“And what did you think would happen at the toy store when you took her there?”
She was ghostly pale. “I knew from the stories that something might happen to her that would separate her from Rogelio.
“And you got what you wanted. Why, then, did you take Rogelio there?”
She looked at Stan again. “I felt guilty. I had to…”
“You had to rescue her,” said Stan.
Her face crumbled and she was bawling.
“I can help you do that,” said the skull. “You will have to put your own life on the line to do it.”
Stan reached over to Maria and took hold of her shoulder. He pulled her to himself. She cried against his chest as he held her.
“Maria, it shows me you are a good person that you wanted to fix this.” Stan stroked the hair on the back of her head.
“You don’t hate me?” she sobbed.
“Of course not. You are my daughter now. No more question about that.”
The skull was laughing softly and creepily.