I meant to publish this on Friday the 13th but for some reason posted a more romantic short story instead. Let’s just pretend I somehow magically swapped these two, okay?
Superstition was for the weak minded and gullible. I had always believed that. Belief in anything without the vaguest hint of testable proof was insulting. How could anyone consider faith without evidence? The very notion baffled me. It probably didn’t help that my own family fell heavily under that category.
My father was a deacon at his church. My mother could be found helping out along with him or alone five afternoons a week if not more. My sister was not as intense as them, but she was easily on her way to approaching their level of commitment to the invisible man in the sky. My abuelita is the oddest. She combines her zealous adherence to Christian faith with an unencumbered belief in practices and ideologies of her past. You would think any reasonable person would find a discord with this, but my grandmother would not be swayed.
She would still have a red string ready at any birth announcement she happened to hear. There was an egg in her hand within seconds to repel any evil that had come upon you. Her purse was filled with just the right item to aid in the prevention of harm after a prayer had been said over someone. My abuelita was nothing if not consistent in her inconsistency.
I disagreed with my family’s beliefs but never absconded them for having faith. I was just not the same as them. The world had a system and structure that though majestic and wondrous was still ordered and understandable if one was willing to look and learn. The mysteries of the universe are simply unanswered questions that demand attention.
While most of my family would roll their eyes when such topics of conversation came up over a meal, my abuelita would instead stare at me with intense worry and concern. She truly believed that my dismissive attitude would result in some catastrophic event or supernatural force wrecking havoc on my life. I loved her too much to not listen to her even if I wasn’t really paying attention. I knew that her silly old wives tales were nothing more than imagination. Even so, there were a few times when her unwavering belief made me question my own perception, not enough to change but still enough.
It was after such a conversation over a family dinner when I went out for drinks with a few old college friends. It was a pretty uneventful night. Todd got a bit too drunk and had to be carried by Kim and myself. Jamal would stand by and laugh at Todd’s misfortune even though he was a lightweight himself. The night’s level of sobriety got progressively worse as the night continued on, but thankfully there were no major issues or problems. We carried on until Todd got to stupid drunk levels and started harassing people in the bar. Needless to say, we were all strongly encouraged to vacate the premises. Todd, of course, would not be deterred from his mission of being an ass. He just shifted his focus from bar patrons to the random homeless vagrants scattered on the streets and alleys. I didn’t want to have to fill out police reports or worry about frivolous lawsuits, plus who knew if any of the people Todd was talking to had a weapon, so I desperately tried to calm him down and move away from the cluster of tattered clothes and people. The smell was quite unpleasant as well.
I thought I had successfully removed Todd without incident. Unfortunately, I was not so lucky. One individual was not too pleased with Todd’s behavior and had just enough bravery to attempt a response.
“Que esta haciendo ese muchacho?” Great, of course she would speak Spanish. I would have to play the intermediary.
“Esta bien. No mas esta un poco borracho. No queremos ningun problema.” I smiled as a last attempt to appease the ratty woman. She looked me up and down and extended an open palm. I could not believe that this woman had the gall to ask for a handout after interrogating us. My response held back none of the annoyance I felt.
“Puta loca. ¿Piensas que te voy a dar dinero? No manches.” I couldn’t help but laugh at the woman before me. My friends responded in kind. The homeless woman did not. She merely stared at me almost like she was looking at something inside of me. She brought her index finger to her eye and then pointed it at me. Afterward, she kissed her thumb and signed the cross. I had no clue what she was attempting to do. We stared at her in confusion. Once she was finished with her random ritual, she turned around and walked away. No one moved for a minute or so. It was sort of like seeing a deer in nature. You kind of had to take a minute to recompose yourself. Thankfully, Todd started laughing at the ridiculousness of our situation, and we all soon joined in.
It was mean, perhaps, but ultimately a harmless event. We forgot about it the very next day as our attempts at relieving the detrimental effects of our hangovers were unsuccessful. I parted ways with my drunken friends after filling our stomachs with a stream of biscuits, eggs, meats, and gravy. I could not have known that that would be the last time we would all be together.
As per usual on the weekend, I ended up visiting my abuelita on Sunday. I would no longer step into a church with my family, but post service meals were never going to be missed. My father and uncles argued over which country had the superior style of futbol. The Brazilian World Cup team of the 1990’s had the most votes though a few outliers held fast that Argentina was more deserving of the title. No one at the table over the age of 30 would ever argue for a European country.
The afternoon seemed to be going smoothly. Everyone was eating heartily and laughing and avoiding any controversial topics of discussion. The only odd thing was that my grandmother kept staring at me, intently. It was unnerving to say the least. She never dropped her gaze from me countenance. At times, I felt like I should just leave without a word, but I couldn’t bring myself to move. Finally, sensing my desperation, she came to speak to me.
“Mijo, se que no me crees ni me entiendes, pero alguien te puso el ojo. Es muy fuerte y no creo que vas a poder escapar. Te amo y voy a orar por ti para que estes bien cuando pases.” She clasped my hand tightly as she spoke. Tears were welling up in the corner of her eyes. I understood about every other word she said, but instantly recognized it as more superstitious nonsense. Still, we were having a nice moment, so I just smiled, patted her shoulder, and responded, “Si, abuelita. Gracias y te quiero mucho.” Her stern expression barely lifted but she seemed resolved to what I had said.
The next day is when I heard about Todd’s accident. His girlfriend, or at least the girl he was with, spread the news like wildfire through Facebook and Twitter. She swore her first account testimony was completely true if not a little weird. He had drowned in his bath tub. Todd had never been suicidal and had big plans for his future at his uncle’s law firm. Hell, he had even bought tickets for a trip in Belize to celebrate his upcoming job. Yet, I was seeing pictures and reports across my screens of his apparent suicide. Though, according to the police Todd’s death was odd since there did not seem to be any drugs in his system to render him unconscious and there appeared to be small hand impressions on his chest as though someone was keeping him underwater. Of course, there was no other evidence of foul play to be found.
I could not wrap my head around the loss of a friend. I tried to go about my day with some sense of normalcy, but that was soon upended when I received a phone call from Kim about Jamal. Jamal had gone missing since our hangout last week, and Kim was starting to get nervous. He wouldn’t respond to any phone calls, texts, emails, or tweets. Phone calls and texts were one thing, but Jamal lived for the validation of social media attention. Kim was right to be anxious as I would later come to learn that Jamal in a supposed drug induced state of hysteria had gone into the woods and succumbed to the ravages of nature. His death would be reported as the result of dehydration, hunger, and a vicious animal attack all within the span of 48 hours disregarding that there are no vicious or large animals in the area.
I began to freak out. Every rational bone in my body was telling me that these were all unfortunate, freak occurrences and not the work of non-existent supernatural forces. I knew this to be true, but it did not stop me from driving straight home, opening the dusty bible I kept on my bookshelf for appearances, and grasping at the prayer beads my grandmother had given me in one of her desperate attempts to save my soul. I sat down on the floor in the middle of my apartment, lit a few of the “holy” candles my extended family had gotten in the habit of gifting me, and began to silently pray to whoever would listen.
I have been in my apartment for the last 3 days. I have not heard from Kim since yesterday as he shouted into my phone that he thought someone was following me before cutting off. My family has not bothered to try to reach me for some reason and none of them are answering my calls or text. Not even my abuelita.
I am writing all this down so that someone can know that if I die it was not by my hand. I don’t know what’s going on or why this is happening, but I know something is coming for my death.
There is a strange smell in the air. Slightly putrid and overbearing.
I am trying to come up with any possible solutions to save myself, but it is getting harder and harder to breathe and think. It is like my brain is slowly suffocating in this small apartment. The lights no longer work properly. I need more light.
Maybe staring into the flame of a candle will help me focus. Kills two birds with one stone. Wonder what that smell is though…