And now for something completely different: A short story for Thursday Thirteen.
Thirteen Trips to Mexico
The first time Mark went to Mexico was as a tourist, Lonely Planet style. He carried a wilderness backpack full of enough gear and food to survive 2 weeks. He saw Guadalajara, Mexico City, Veracruz, Oaxaca, Merida, the Mayan ruins of the Yucatan. He encountered 72 Iowans at a remote Caribbean beach. He wore his beard and hair long, and wore Ray-Ban sunglasses. Children pointed at him and cried “Dios! Dios!”
The second time was on a lark, with a spur of the moment flight to San Diego and then trolley, foot and bus to Ensenada for a few days of oddity, including an inadvertant stay in a brothel.
The third time was to see Rory, an ex-patriate friend in Puebla, who lived in a squat concrete home clinging to an unstable cliff above a small river below. Though it seemed like the trucks on the road that curved above would surely lose their traction crash into Mark’s bed, none did. But the place did flood that night in a down-pour and soak his passport and return ticket.
The fourth trip was again to Puebla, and also to Acapulco on ilicit business, and finally Mexico City to tour the treasures of murals and ruins and history. It was in Acapulco, of all places, that the strange things began to happen. The light in the sky at first appeared as a bright shooting star, then abruptly changed direction, flew south at a steady rate and stopped dead. It hung in the sky for at least an hour while Mark bullshited with his companions on the roof of a half-finished house, then it moved steadily across the sky to the northeast, where it stopped again. Felipe, Rory’s brother-in-law, got nervous. “I think they’re watching us,” he said, half joking, half serious. They all laughed, then made their way down the shaky ladder into the darkness of the unfinished house.
All that was nearly forgotten by Mark’s fifth trip south, when he met Rory in Mexico City. Rory had phoned Mark urgently the day before, insisting he catch the next flight out of Portland to Mexico City. They met at the Hotel Monte Carlo, where D.H. Lawrence is said to have lived. Rory continued to be circumspect about the nature of his urgency until they passed a magazine vendor at Alameda Park and he bought a tabloid with a headline screaming “UFOs Over Tepoztlán”. “We’re going here,” said Rory. They boarded a bus, and fewer than 24 hours after leaving Portland, Mark found himself lying on his back in the courtyard of a centuries-old church, watching points of light bob and weave over-head. When he left Mexico City two days later, it was an unusually clear day, affording stunning views of the towering volcanoes Popocatépetl and Ixtaccíhuatl. Between them lay the Paso de Cortés, the high passage from which Hernan Cortes first beheld the glorious Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, then among the largest cities in the world. From the air, it was clear to see how the causeways of the Aztecs are still main thoroughfares of Mexico City, dividing the old city into four quadrants.
Again, the memory of the lights in the sky, though they were surely unexplainable, faded into the routine of life back in Portland. Then five years later, a sixth trip became necessary. Rory sent urgent e-mail, explaining that his mother-in-law had died unexpectedly, and he needed help moving her belongings out of her house before the squatter in the upstairs apartment pilfered them. This seemed completely implausible, but, it being December in Portland, a trip to Mexico sounded pretty good. Rory insisted on meeting him at the airport this time, and they took a cab to a bus station, and then a bus to Acapulco. Mark was confused, knowing Rory’s mother-in-law lived in Puebla. “Felipe has something you have to see,” was all he would say, as the first class bus hushed into the chill of the mountain evening.
Felipe was agitated when they showed up at his apartment on the southern outskirts of Acapulco. His wife and daughters suddenly left when the two gringo travelers showed up. Felipe was sweating in the night, though it wasn’t hot by Acapulco standards, and he produced a small plastic box. In it was a small white rock, that seemed to pulse with a gentle glow. “What is it?” Mark asked, looking at Felipe and Rory. “We don’t know,” said Rory, “but it showed up right after we saw that light in the sky.” Felipe hadn’t thought anything of it, though the judicial police had showed up the next day asking questions of Felipe’s mistress. Did she see anything? Was there anybody in her house that she didn’t know last night? Being accustomed to lying about her relationship to Felipe, she had simply told them no, and they went away. Felipe then found the rock on the roof a few days later. Now, seven years later, the rock had begun glowing and humming, and Felipe was convinced the feds were going to come back for it. He was further convinced that he couldn’t let them, but he couldn’t express why. Mark was still trying to figure out what this had to do with him, when Felipe pressed the rock into his hand. It felt warm, and it sent a tingle down his spine when he closed his hand around it. “You have to take it out of Mexico. They won’t look for it in the north,” said Felipe. A calm descended on Mark. For a moment everything dropped away, and he stood alone in empty space. In that moment, he saw his own birth, his own death, and his ascendancy into an all-encompassing light, and he knew he was taking that small stone back to Portland. “He’s going,” said Rory to Felipe. “Put it in your pants,” said Felipe. “There are sometimes checkpoints between here and Mexico City.” “He means your shorts,” said Rory, “Put it in your skivvies.”
The seventh time Mark went to Mexico was in his dream as he jetted from Mexico City to Portland, a small, glowing stone tucked awkwardly next to his genitals. In his dream, he was visited in his bedroom by two small gray creatures, who took him aboard their space ship. On board the ship, they flew instantaneously to Mexico City, but it was quickly clear that they had not only skipped across a great deal of space, they had also skipped across time. For from their vantage point above the Paso de Cortés, the little gray travelers gestured for Mark to see the great city of Tenochtitlan, built on an island in lake Texcoco. As they gestured, it was as if they were summoning the vision forward, and Mark could suddenly clearly see a great churning of humanitiy at the main temple, people running, Spanish soldiers swinging swords, and suddenly the sound came to his ears: the shrieks of terror and then, finally, the smell of blood, rich and pungent in his nostrils as the stewardess abruptly woke him to tell him he had to put his seat back into the full upright position.
The eighth, ninth, tenth, and eleventh trips were also like this, in dreams, in the four nights after Mark returned to Portland. On each subsequent night, he was shown historical events of central Mexico. On the fourth night, the gray men in their space ship took him to Acapulco, and showed him three men standing on a roof top. “What was that?” asked one of them. “I thought it was a shooting star, until it changed direction like that.” “Look it’s still there. It’s got to be a machine. It is flying under control, not falling.” Mark watched himself and Felipe and Rory on the roof from seven years ago, and listened to them puzzling over the light. When the perspective shifted again, and the three of them laughed nervously and left the rooftop, Mark found himself descending bodily, the small white stone glowing in his outstretched hand. He placed the rock where his own past self had just stood, then woke up suddenly, his heart racing. On the fifth night, he couldn’t sleep, but it didn’t matter. The phone rang. It was Rory. “They’ve arrested Felipe,” said Rory. “I think they’re looking for me. Is the…” Rory paused. “Yes,” said Mark. He took the stone off his night stand. “Yes, everything’s fine.” The phone line went dead, and the neighbor’s dog started barking. Another dog across the street was barking, too. Mark went to the window and peaked around the curtain. A car was idling in front of the neighbor’s house with its lights off. A police car was down at the end of the block on the cross street, and another one at the other end of the street. Suddenly, there was total darkness. The power went out all up and down the street, including the streetlights. Mark stood at the window, trying to figure out whether to make a run for it, or to just hide the rock and act dumb. Before he could decide, he was blinded by an intense beam of light from the sky. A voice came to him: “Freeze! Don’t move! We have the house surrounded!”
The twelfth trip to Mexico was in the custody of two US Marshals. They bypassed security at Portland International Airport and flew first class to Mexico City via Houston. They encouraged him to drink on the flights, and bought him drinks at the Houston airport, where two Mexican agents dressed in black suits joined them. “We need to speak with you about your recent travels,” said one of the Mexican agents, by way of introduction. “We think you might have some information we need about Felipe Cordoza and Rory Peterson.” Mark thought about the trip, several years previous, when he accompanied Rory on a trek from Puebla to Acapulco to buy a half kilo of pot from Felipe. This was the same trip when they’d seen the light in the sky, and Rory had made the return trip to Puebla with a large parcel of marijuana in his shorts, just as Mark would do with the small stone on the later trip.
The thirteenth trip was in Mark’s dream as he slept, handcuffed to a bench at a judicial police office in Mexico City. In his dream, he returned to Mexico in 2012 as Quetzalcoatl, the plumed serpent, first as a light in the Eastern sky, then descending into view of all humanity in multi-colored glory. “I return,” he said, “to take away time. Behold the All, the Everlasting, the One.” He held forth the stone, which began to glow more brightly and grow and grow, until it completely obscured him in the view of all humanity. It was like a sun in the night sky, but it did not hurt to look at. All of the people of Earth gazed upon the light and fell down before it and they all cried out as one: “Behold, the beginning of the end, the end of the beginning. The circle is complete and we are as One.” Mark woke up in his own bed in Portland and squinted at the clock. 8:30. Fuck. He was going to be late for work again.