Copyright © 2014 Chris Schnaufer
The early night with the moon newly showing and the stars spread across the heavens was Celestina’s favorite time. She sat at the table in the middle of her courtyard with sun baked stones warming her feet, waiting. The crescent moon and stars glowed brightly in the sky through the clearing in the trees. She sat there listening to the rustling of the dead leaves in the dry fountain as the night breezes stirred them until Papa came out.
“Ah, you are awake,” he said.
“Yes I am,” Celestina replied. “Is anyone else awake?”
“No they are sleeping. You are the only one. Aside from myself, of course,” Papa said with a small chuckle.
“Tell me the names of the constellations you were looking at.”
Celestina turned back to the sky. “I see Scorpio, the Big Dipper, and Artimis. I see the Turtle and its eggs. I see Lion huntress with the Onyx running from it.”
Celestina continued to name many more constellations. As she talked the courtyard was filled with the languages of civilizations long gone. Mysterious words that called upon spirits of bygone eras, the blood sacrifices of the past, the terrors that enslaved generations of man. The dust coalesced into hidden dreams that lurked at the edges of the courtyard. Their birth, life, and death framed by the length of the names Celestina spoke. These were the names taught to her by Papa.
As she spoke, Celestina closed her eyes and recited the names from her memory of the sky she had seen. Soon enough she stopped and looked over at her beaming Papa.
“That was wonderful Celestina”, her Papa said. “It makes me proud to hear those names spoken again.”
Celestina smiled back and fixed her thick ponytail. They both sat back and listened to the night. Celestina’s sharp ears picked up the large and small sounds of the night. The rush of the wind in the fig and olive trees, the flutter of the bat’s wings, the rustles of the mice and other small animals.
“I’m going to get ready for the night,” Celestina said as she got up from the bench and moved towards the house leaving Papa behind.
The courtyard stones now had a cool feel under her feet as she walked to the thick wooden door that lead from the enclosed courtyard into the house. She pushed against the door and entered the dark hallway closing the door behind her. The cool musty air of the hallway surrounded her as she made her way to the stairs leading up. The hallway floor was covered with a layer of thick, soft rugs that muffled her steps as she moved. Her fingers lightly brushed the closed doors lining the hall as she walked reciting the names of her family members that slept behind them. Her feet made slight scuffing sounds as she ascended the stone staircase in the dark.
At the top of the staircase she turned towards her room off the upstairs hallway.
Upon entering her room, she silently crossed it and opened a window.
In the distance outside her window was the town that had practically sprung up overnight. It was founded during a wet spell when some settlers proved that they could grow crops in the valley. Her house was built on top of a large hill and was surrounded by tall mountains with the town in the valley below. In the short time that followed the discovery, the valley was covered in a vast network of farms fed by the river that flowed through the center of the valley. The town grew and prospered and become a trading center. Soon imported exotic items and the latest fashions became available. Celestina still had some bolts of silk and velvet from that time hidden in cedar trunks in the corners of the attic waiting for her.
Then the customary dryness returned to the valley. Crops failed when the rains didn’t fall and the river dried up. This is when the fountain in the courtyard was stopped – Papa hadn’t thought it wise to advertise their water in such a blatant manner. The drought continued and after a few years of failed crops people began to move on again. The wealthy were among the first to leave. The town quickly shrank down until only a few handfuls of people remained to battle the constant dust and heat. They lived in a few of the houses. Most of the houses were empty.
Celestina and her Papa had stopped visiting the town soon after the dry weather had returned and the first farms failed. The usual sidelong glances the townspeople had always thrown at them had turned into blatantly hostile stares. It has been a while since Celestina went into the town.
As she stared out the window, the light evening breeze slowly stirred Celestina’s black hair and brought the sounds of the evening to her ears. She had was about to change for the night when she suddenly froze at what she thought were footsteps approaching the house.
The sounds grew louder as the person approached her house and Celestina remain frozen in her place, unseen in the shadows of the house. She strained to hear or see who it was walking up the overgrown path leading to the front door. The dry leaves and branches on the ground made a silent approach impossible.
The footsteps stopped and were replaced by a loud knocking on the wooden door.
“Who could that be?”, Celestina wondered. She quickly and silently closed the window. Papa hadn’t mentioned anyone from their large family visiting. Nor would the town’s people come up to the house.
Perhaps it was the maid returning? She dismissed the thought. The footsteps had been too heavy to have been a woman.
She wasn’t worried, whoever it was. Papa was able to take care of himself and her as well; this had been proven a long time ago. Besides, she was pretty certain that Papa wouldn’t open the door at this hour of the night.
So it was much to her surprise when she heard the front door open and Papa inviting the stranger in. She became even more confused when she realized that Papa was talking in a language foreign to her. Her confusion caused her to remain rooted in place, undecided whether she should see who it was or to remain in her room.
The voices grew louder as she listened. The stranger and Papa argued over something in that strange language they were speaking. Suddenly there was silence. Next she heard boots walking to the front door and opening it up again.
The sound of the door opening shook Celestina out of her trance. She glanced towards the window and heard the sounds of many feet and voices coming towards the house. At the same time she heard multiple doors being opened on the lower level. Others must have come to the house while the stranger and Papa were arguing. And even more people were on their way!
Quickly she grabbed a satchel and began preparing to flee. She was walking to her room door when it flew open and strange men piled into her room. They quickly moved to surround her. One of them came too close to her. Before anyone could react or make a sound she had grabbed the man and threw him across the room into the wall. He hit and fell to the floor leaving a bloody spot on the stone wall.
Celestina moved into a crouch as the remaining men swore; they also spoke that strange language. She put her satchel onto the ground in front of her as no one moved. She would have to talk to Papa when she saw him next about letting strangers into the house.
Sounds of the house being looted began to come in through the open door. Doors were being forced open and glass was breaking. That could only mean that Papa has left and was no longer defending the house. What had caused him to leave? She turned towards the window for her escape when all the men looked to the door in one motion.
Celestina quickly spun around and a figure dressed in black with a little white square showing in the front of his collar walked into her room. Catching her breath quickly Celestina recognized a figure out of her mythology and nightmares. “Brujo!”, she screamed at the man pointing her finger, her muscles taut.
The Brujo gave a command and all the men rushed her as one.
She fought them but was quickly overwhelmed. There were two men on her arms, more on her legs, and one on her head, pinning her to the floor. The uneven planks of the floor dug into her back and the back of her head as she struggled to free herself.
The Brujo walked over and looked at her.
Celestina eyed the man back and thought about what she would do to him when she got free. There were more of them but they would tire before she did. She just had to wait and then make them pay dearly for what they were doing.
The Brujo said words that appeared to be some kind of prayer and then sprinkled her with the water that was in a small bottle he carried She began to chuckle as the water was absorbed by her gown and spread out. Did they think she would go away just because of some water?
The water began to feel warm as it spread and absorbed her body’s heat.
She stopped chuckling as the warmth was suddenly replaced with an icy cold. The cold spread and sent daggers of frost into her. It was beginning to hurt as the daggers of cold dug deeper and deeper sucking the heat from her body. She looked down in horror and saw that she was covered in sheets of blue flame.
The pain of the cold became unbearable as it spread and dug deeper and Celestina began to scream in agony. She struggled against the men holding her down to no avail. The cold relentlessly pressed on and she thrashed wildly, nearly unseating some of the men holding her down.
The Brujo was watching her without emotion when he noticed the necklace she was wearing. With a smile fitting one finding a hidden prize he reached down and took the necklace from Celestina’s twitching, screaming form.
Through the pain Celestina felt the heat of the man taking her necklace away from her. She could do nothing but writhe in the pain of the cold.
The cold continued until she was still and silent and was entirely consumed. Nothing remained to show she had existed except a pile of dried ashes that were stirred as the men got up and left with the Brujo.