Monday

Belize Survivor, part 96

A paragon of superstition, the old woman had lived alone for years in the house on the hill in San Ignacio. Even on the brightest days, she'd kept the boarded windows shut tight against the forces of the Evil One. The spirits were coming for her, she knew. It was just a matter of time. Ever since her son's funeral, she no longer left the house, not even to shop for provisions. If it hadn't been for the daily meals left at her door by her daughter-in-law, Carlita, she would have starved.

Two months before, her son had died a gruesome death. A freak accident at the lumber mill had occurred when the workmen were squaring a large rosewood log. The six-inch-wide blade on the huge band saw became lodged in the cut. The resistance of the wood broke the welded seam, and the fifteen-foot blade had sprung from the carriage. It coiled like a serpent around the man's body, cutting off anything protruding beyond its wicked teeth. Within five minutes the man had bled to death.

Life was already over for old Miss Carmen as she sat and waited for the demons of the darkness to come and take her. She rarely ate, she did not sleep, and the only word she spoke was her dead son's name. "Emil. Emil."

On the hill in San Ignacio, not far from the hotel, a little Spanish boy hesitated before he climbed the back steps of the old two-story frame house. The tin can he held contained a fat toad and his friend, Juan, watched from the soccer field behind the house to see if the dare would be carried out. On the landing at the top, Julio stopped and drew a deep breath. He pushed hard on the lower corner where the wood was rotten, and shoved the toad through the triangular opening. As the door sprung back into position, the toad's rear leg was caught and crushed. The boy ran away laughing.

Miss Carmen was familiar with the sounds of the kitchen, the cockroaches and scuttling rats. Now the mutilated toad, its one leg dragging, crabbed into the darkened room where the woman sat. She heard soft plopping noises and the scratching of tiny feet. Cold terror gripped her. She tried to focus her failing vision on the demon but could not see it. Suddenly the slimy body dragged itself across her bare foot. The old woman clutched her chest and something clamped down on her heart and lungs like a vise. She could not breathe.

"Emil, Emil," she cried as she lurched sideways and fell to the floor.

The next morning Carlita discovered the food still outside. She opened the door and called out, but heard no answer. The house was a tomb of stale air, further befouled by urine, lard, and human sweat. Cautiously, she entered the kitchen and opened a window. A beam of sunlight fell on the long forgotten dishes, scummy with thick mold. Pots encrusted with spoiled food squirmed with white wormy maggots. Steeling herself, Carlita walked across the living room floor stepping over heaps of filthy rags, soft drink bottles, wire hangers, papers, and trash. Flinging open another window, cruel daylight streamed in on the prostrate body of the woman. Miss Carmen had been scared to death. The hungry rats and cockroaches had eaten away most of her face.