The Source of Fr. Santiago de Guerra de Vargas' Monstrous Crimes Part 2
By: Robert Masterson

Santiago returned the paper to the casket, and he returned the casket to its hidden-in-plain-sight corner. He knelt in silent, futile prayer. He lay himself down upon his rope bed, pulled a thin blanket up across his chest, and closed his eyes. His dreams, if dreams came to him, were dark and full of confusing, disturbing turns. The tick-tock, click-clack of Mayan whispers insinuated his heated torpor, the meaning of the hellish syllables dancing just outside his consciousness. He moaned his heresy while his eyes jittered beneath their lids.

There is spectacle in the rise and fall of empire. Around such calamity lives the drama of all things human and the struggle to become and remain human in the grand gesture of civilization. But, so, too, there is marvel in the crossing of rivers, in the weaving of cloth from cotton fiber, in the simmer of beans in a kettle suspended over fire.

This army, if such a name can be rightly applied to such a gathering, quavers in near constant state of mutiny and drunken rebellion. His Excellency chooses to blind-eye the egregious nature of the assembled felons and sodomites and brigands that form his company. He speaks of them as children, reprobate children, in need of firm guidance and massive lashings of pulque and bacanora, daily confession and communion, and the leadership of true warriors of the Cross. His most considered opinion on the expedition is that of Crusade, that his crusaders are therefore divinely attributed, and that which is guided by Providence cannot be sinful. Our passage through the forest left the imprint of misdeed upon our trail, but His Excellency is manifestly incapable of looking back.

They are still here, these horribles with their feathers and with their drums, though we have slain them in multitudes. The essence of their being, their refusal to become past tense and "has been," remains to pollute our souls, and I alone can hear the doom to which we plunge.

Santiago drew his daily rations of corn, beans, and goat to deliver to the mute Sacniete, his designated and personal Mayan slave, for her to cook. She was a pretty girl with a smear of small pimples across her cheeks. While she labored over grindstone and hearth outside the hut, he removed his secret casket and placed it upon the table that was his.

'So small a thing,' he measured. 'So small a thing to be the largest thing left of the city from which it was fashioned. So many buildings, so much wilderness labored into angled form and structure, with this the largest unburnt fragment. That the whole of the city Nojpetén, burnt now with only its stone shell survived, should be reduced to this small box…'

He removed the sheaf of bark-paper and began to write.

When we burned the library at Zaculeu, the priests and monks and friars rejoiced. They chanted the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel Eph., 6:12.

In the Name of the Father,
and of the Son,
and of the Holy Ghost.

Most glorious Prince of the Heavenly Armies,
Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in our battle against principalities and powers,
against the rulers of this world of darkness,
against the spirits of wickedness in the high places.

The flames of the bonfire created a new kind of Inferno, and I turned to weep alone at such treasure incinerated. Oh! The Alexandrian Calamity and now this. The tongues of flame reached into my heart and burned my faith away. The language and the voice of murdered authors invaded me. I stood alone in the light of wisdom lost forever and prayed to nothing, felt no Divinity remained in this shattered world, as drunken caballeros sang barroom filth and danced intoxicated fandango in the light of Armageddon. I became the Keeper of Hosts, the Guardian of Forbidden and Forgotten Learning, the man to whom the ghosts and spirits spoke.

Impoverished Santiago lay himself down upon the thin pallet that served as his mattress, the secret box behind his head, and there he fell asleep again to dream confused betrayal and benighted landscapes. He twitched and groaned in desperate lethargy.

And the box moaned back.

The faithless priest jolted upright, unsure what had pulled him back to consciousness. The box made its presence known.

"Tick tock. Click clack," it said in Nahuatl.

Santiago, somehow now fluent in the language of the boxed specters of ruined countries, the language of ten times ten thousand murdered souls, could understand each rattle issued from the box.

"Kenin chiua teuatl continue? Tlein propels teuatl axkan ikamo neltokokayotl ipan amoyolotl? Kenin uehka s teuatl ya nik kuepiltia mo sacred Christ?" the box asked with blood-sodden gloom. "How do you continue? What propels you now without Faith in your heart? How far will you go to avenge your sacred Christ?"

Santiago could not answer. He looked for Christ in his heart, looked for the shape of the Holy Cross, and found only emptiness where it had once been.

"I am bereft," he told the box. "I have nothing in my heart, my soul, my hands."

"S teuatl kuepiltia mo omopolo neltokokayotl? Teuatl kuepiltia in murder iuik to civilization? Teuatl kui ako ahkoltin nik ueikapa in itlakamiktilistli?" the box sang. "Will you avenge your lost Faith? Will you avenge the murder of our civilization? Will you take up arms to stop the slaughter?"

"I was a man of Divine Peace," he replied. "I came to carry the Holy Word to those souls doomed by ignorance. I watched the library burn and it burned my soul to nothing."

"Tikpia in uelilistli. Teuatl uel amotlaxtlauas in yolilistin teuatl trapped between mo paradise iuan to mahtlaktli omeyi heavens. Teuatl moneki xiximi in estli iuik omeyolomeh nik release tehuantin. Teuatl moneki carry forward ika mo task iuan amotlaxtlauas in yolilistin teuatl've enslaved ipan ayauitl between tlaltikpaktin," the box moaned. "You have the power. You can free the souls you trapped between your Paradise and our Thirteen Heavens. You must spill the blood of Papist hypocrites to release us. You must carry forward with your task and free the souls you've enslaved in darkness between worlds. You must murder the murderers."

"Break in hispantlahtolli teposmekameh teuatl forged nik tekipanoa tehuantin ueika iuikpa teotl. Kaua tehuantin ualtepotstoka se trail iuik estli toward melauak freedom," the box continued. "Break the Spanish chains you forged to keep us away from our Gods. Let us follow a trail of blood toward true freedom."

Santiago sat with his consternation, his dilemma, his last true test of Faith. Could he break all vows and assertions to become a new kind of Christian, an assassin for the Lamb?

The box grew and changed its form before him. Santiago was witness to wonder as the box became something entirely else, something that contained more than it could, a moving, shimmering tesseract of Divine Intervention, the Deus ex Machina which would define the end of his story. He held the world in his trembling hands, he felt the movement of multitudes, the cry of slain races for mercy and revenge, the music from broken drums and shattered flutes throbbing and shimmering the very atmosphere surrounding him.

"Notsa forth, niman, iaxka temamautik holiness, in ueytlahtoani yum cimil, in teotl iuik mikistli, iuan kaua yeuatl guide mo maitl nik to retribution. Kui se knife iuik tonaya tepostli iuan kaua yeuatl drink iaxka fill," the box intoned. "Call forth, then, his Terrible Holiness, the emperor Yum Cimil, the God of Death, and let him guide your hand to our retribution. Take a knife of shining metal and let it drink its fill."

Leaving his worn sandals upon the hard-packed dirt floor of the hut, Santiago insinuated himself into the camp. It was an easy matter to find a displaced falcata amidst the tumble of baggage and gear. The hand that had never filled itself with aught but Crucifix and Communion and Holy Text marveled at the dead iron weight of the thing, at its loathsome hunger to kill. Santiago licked the blade.

A Mighty Ghost followed him, a spirit composed of spirits, the multitude made one. It stalked him on his mission and wore the sacred raiment of befeathered divinity. For each step the Ghost took, it carried the weight of the hundreds, the thousands, the millions of murdered indios, and deep were the prints it left in the tampened soil of the camp. The Ghost sang, it chanted, it murmured, it howled in all the tongues of the slain, but only Santiago could hear its damn-ed voices. He continued as barefoot as that which trailed him, the fallen thorns and sharp pebbles a path of penance before him. He feared to look back, could feel the Ghost and its hot exhalation on his nape, but was compelled to stealth as he moved about the camp.

The first soldado that Santiago the priest approached was nodding in fermented stupor at the flames of a dying fire. His name, the priest remembered, was Pedro Alacard.

"Oye, Pedro," Santiago said for greeting. "Still awake this lonely night?"

The drunken Pedro roused himself to see it was the good Father, the one with the pen who remarked the company's adventure.

"Oye, Padre," he slurred. "Awake and dreaming. Yes. Awake and dreaming both, I think."

He looked around and behind the priest to better ascertain the figure at the edge of firelight, the disturbance of the atmosphere with the glittering blackstone eyes.

"Who's that with you there?" Pedro asked. "Who have you brought with you?"

"This is my friend," Santiago replied. "This is my friend and my tormentor, my shadow and my Ghost. This is my devil and my redeemer."

"Huh?" Pedro grunted as he turned his slitted, bloodshot eyes up to glean Santiago's face.

And just that quickly, the priest's war-knife found and buried itself in poor Pedro's throat. The warm gush of blood washed hot and thick over Santiago's hand, the cry of surprise and outrage Pedro attempted reduced to gurgle and gasp as the priest drove him down into the Yucatan soil, the ashy margin of the firepit, there to choke and sputter his sinner's life-breath away.

"Por Jesús y maldita sea tu alma," Santiago whispered and made the sign of the cross upon the fresh corpse. "For Jesus and damn your soul."

The Ghost upon his heels raised spectral baying of hard delight. The priest wrenched the falcata free with some trouble. He would need a soldier's practice to handle the weapon with more skill.

With slow stealth and Mayan glamour encloaked, Santiago moved deeper into the camp. He walked a ring around the next smoldering fire, three men-at-arms asleep in their clothes with armor heaped behind them. The first, the priest dispatched by, again, ruining the man's throat with his blade. The two others stirred but did not awaken. Pulque dulled their wits and senses. Their dreams were too loud to properly hear the world around them, their doom approaching. The second, a large man who kept a beard and known to the camp as El Oso, clawed his way to consciousness and wrapped his weighty hands around Santiago's slender wrists and there to struggle against the thick bladed already sunk to the hilt in his chest. The priest recoiled in mortal terror having lost any sense of spiritual fear. Their push-pull enraged the Ghost who stamped its feet and shrieked its impatience.

"Tepopololiztli! Tepopololiztli!" it shouted a whirlwind into the priest's ears. "Kill! Kill the thing!"

The third soldier was awake and staring at the blood-soaked cleric with eyes wide open.

"Padre?" he said softy. "What are you doing, Padre?"

Santiago propelled himself in a lurching crawl to the man's side. His name was Porfirio.

"I have come to give you peace, my son," He told the drowsy, drunken, confused soldier. "I have come to send you home."

Porfirio did not understand, was troubled by the blood spatters the priest wore on his face and cassock. Santiago laid his palm against the man's wet mouth, and he slipped the blade under his ribs. When the tip touched Porfirio's beating heart, he could feel the vibration in the handle.

The Ghost was sniggering tick-tock click-clack glottal laughter.

"Yollo Tetecuiquiliztili," it snickered. "Take the pain of the heart."

And the murderous priest began to pry and lever his way through poor Porfirio's ribcage to make known the heart of the man. He cut, he pried, he pulled until the organ snapped free dangling vessels and webbed by pericardium. Santiago looked to the Ghost for instruction.

The Ghost, all feathers and black glass, brought its hand to its yawning chops. It repeated the gesture. And again, it pantomimed the directive.

Santiago had received and given innumerable Holy Communion, brought the Blood and the Body to lips in supplication and received the Sacrament himself inside the eloquent cathedrals of Spain as well as along the blood-choked dust of the conquistadors' highway. How, then, his brain churned, was this so different? Weren't all men possessed of God? Did God not bestow His Holiness on all creation? Was not all Blood and all Flesh both sacred and holy?

The murderous priest brought the late Porfirio's hot heart to his mouth, stretched his mouth to receive the essence of divinity manifest in blood and flesh. But the muscle was strong and tough and resisted his effort to tear from it enough to swallow. Blood emptied from its ventricles and poured down his jawline, a thin tissue of membrane all he could wrench from its perfection. He swallowed the meat from the man and, again, tried to tear a mouthful away from the whole. He ground and sawed his teeth against its fibrous resistance, and he succeeded in pulling a slight shred of muscle free. He swallowed it as whole as any other Host he had received, blessed himself with its passing into himself, and made the sign of the Cross in blood at forehead, shoulder, and core.

The Ghost was ecstatic. It twirled in a vaporous enchantment, phantasmic feathers awhirl such as the columns of dust that rose from the northern plains. It barked its wonderous approval. It grinned a terrible grin.

The assassinations followed quick one upon the other with each that much more uncomplicated than the last. He moved from rough fire to greasy tent to lonely picket in each case propelled and guided by the spectral dervish whose grunts and yowls only Santiago could hear, the exhortations high-pitched and cadenced ceremonial.

"Yes," the priest would whisper at each blade thrust. "Yes. Yes."

The blood filled him, it covered him, it glistened on his face and hands even as it dried to be layered upon with blood anew. His cassock soaked in blood, it gathered the ground's particulates along the hem and at the knees where he genuflected to dispatch more souls. His holy costume grew heavy and made a new kind of sound, a rattle that would be his undoing.

Diego del Esparanza heard the murderous priest's approach and, springing to his feet, drew his long sword in challenge and in terrified awe at the apparition of the foul creature he'd only known in passing as Fr. Santiago. When the cleric refused to halt or acknowledge Diego's challenge, the miserable soldier ran his blade into the flesh of Santiago's left thigh. And still, while falling to the earth, the priest stretched out his killing hand as if to stab Diego despite his incapacitation. The Ghost was enraged at Santiago's failure and kicked him there in the dust. Diego saw the priest curl as if in pain, unknowing of the ghostly blows that drove the breath from his body.

"Alarm!" Diego cried, keeping the point of his sword upon the felled priest. "Alarm!"

As the camp aroused itself in reply, men ran, stumbled, shambled, and some even crawled to the spot still besotted with native alcohol. There was much shouting, calls of confusion and despair as torchlight revealed the desecrated bodies of their compañeros. They could not position the evidence of foul deeds and the man of the cloth writhing before them in the same place. It was beyond their ken to imagine the man and those deeds conjoined. They called for the captain. They called for His Excellency himself.

The caballero and the bishop considered the men, the events, and the evidence before them. Santiago's hut was searched and his precious box uncovered. The Bishop read the manuscript therein. The captain himself could not read, but accepted the clergyman's summation of the blasphemous narrative. The bleeding priest lay before them, the testimony of his very state of being the harshest of evidence for his conviction. The representative of the Spanish throne and the representative of the Crown of Thorns conferred swiftly. Their conclusion and their verdict was both precipitate, unanimous, and terminal. Santiago's brief rampage ended in the mud at his superiors' feet. Whatever consternation he had brought to the camp would be expelled with his summary execution. The verdict pronounced, his tonsured head pulled back, his heretical throat exposed and gashed open by firelight, the mad priest's blood contributed nothing so much as more thick liquid for the expedition's thirsty and already muddied camp.

They threw Santiago de Guerra de Vargas' body, his box, and his heretical scribblings on the same bonfire that consumed the corpses of the converted and the books that held their heathen history. Beyond the light of the conflagration, before the Maya and long after the Spaniards, green Yucatan chittered, whistled, ticked, and roared. As the poor, lost priest oxidized to lacy ash, the Ghost in the flames danced a glimmering dance of welcome for his soul.

The End


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