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So I am ALMOST done writing this story, and I figured I would let you all see it here first, but if you want a chance to critique individual parts I also have it up on BetaBooks. Link to story

 

The Hijo De Dios district of la ciudád is not an official district, as it sits on the outskirts, up the hill where la ciudád’s peninsula connects to the land. It does not officially have running water, electricity, or school services, though such services are provided somewhat surreptitiously by people who have to be paid off well to keep quiet. It does not have fire-department services nor fire codes, not that the fire department would be able to get through the maze of corrugated-board shacks anyhow.

     One might call it a colorful place, both for the variety of its building materials, the occasional rainbow of vomit on the path, and the occasional splash of fresh blood, frequently accompanied by a green-uniformed man walking away laughing. One might call it a busy place, full of shouting vendors, arguing housewives, people bellowing for everyone to get out of the way, save for those times when the street is totally empty save for a green-uniformed man and their latest victim.

     Fortunately today the street was full.

     “Dangerous place for this Rafael to live,” said Alejandra, as she followed Maggie on a winding path through the shack city.

     “Why?” said Maggie. “Are you worried that someone will drop a match and the whole place will go up in flames?”

     “Or he’ll have a heart attack and the ambulance won’t come,” said Alejandra. “But more important than that, there’s a reason no war has touched this city in a hundred years. Who are these people to you? Friends? Laborers? Suckers?”

     “Strangers,” said Maggie, “not worth more or less than any other stranger I suppose. Maybe worth a little more to me since I grew up here. Why, what are they to you?”

     Alejandra said nothing.

     “Your silence is disturbing,” said Maggie, dodging a woman carrying a basket full of obsidian.

     “You asked me what I’d be willing to accept,” said Alejandra. “And who I’d be willing to lay my life on the line for.” She dodged a woman carrying a basket full of obsidian knives. “I have to say, for you everything, for these people nothing.” She dodged a woman carrying a basket full of dripping hearts.

     “Oh, come now, they’re human beings.”

     Alejandra gestured to a woman kicking another woman in the groin and laughing. “They’re terrible!” said Alejandra. She pointed to a man shaking a woman upside down. “They do these terrible things to each other!” She pointed to a man passed out drunk in a crude gutter. “They refuse to better themselves!”

     “And would you judge your own neighborhood any more highly?”

     “Well, uh – ”

     “Yes or no?”

     “Let’s say my own neighborhood is more genteel and more subtle about the whole business.”

     “So you lay your life on the line for just me. That’s sweet, Alejandra. Dare I venture to say it’s fairly typical. To put yourself on the line for a falling-down drunk jerk who doesn’t even thank you, now that’s a different thing, and much more difficult, much more rare.”

     “Is this one of those things you’re making up on the spot or – ”

     “It is already true,” said Maggie. “I have no need to call it into being. I imagine that whatever DOES happen to this shack city, happens because nobody in la ciudád proper is willing to sacrifice for them. So, tell me. What DOES happen? Wait, hang on a minute, I think I see someone familiar.”

     A thin, mousy slip of a woman was administering the final Eucharist to a woman who was dying in the street, with a crowd slowly gathering around.

     “This is something I do not know,” whispered Maggie in Alejandra’s ears. “Can women become priests and administer the last rites? Can priests work double lives as servants?”

     The woman, known to Maggie as Mademoiselle Le Chifre, completed the rite and regarded the dying figure’s last breath with silent contemplation. Then she looked up, scanned the crowd, and her eyes grew wide when she noticed Maggie and Alejandra. She made her face blank and strode to Maggie with the air and bearing of the priest of a prosperous congregation. She leaned in close to Maggie and whispered in her ear, “Café Bosque de Fideles, Seven-thirty tonight.”

     Maggie had that sort of expression that one has when too many thoughts are running through it at once. By the time she turned her attention back to her surroundings, Mademoiselle Le Chifre was gone.

     …

     “Don’t know any specific Luis Alvarez,” said Rafael. His particular shack was well-appointed enough. It had windows and a closeable door, a television and a tiny fridge. It was set far back enough from the main way that las Tías de Ojos police would have to really work to find it.

     “Yes you do,” said Maggie. She grabbed Rafael by the shoulders and looked him dead in the eye. “Real prettyboy, fishes up big dolphinfish, slapped a guy in the market with an entire dolphinfish? Your bed-buddy? Ring any bells?”

     “Nope. Maggie, why are you making all this up?”

     “Because I un-made him in the first place, and if you don’t bother to pretend that he exists then there’s only so much I can do! Luis Alvarez the Fisher Lad!” She shook Rafael back and forth. “You’d never have another man but him and he’d never have another man but you! Surely love conquers memory loss? Like in the movies?”

     “Which movie?”

     “Just tell me you remember him dimly, for God’s sake!”

     “Who says I’d never have another man,” said Rafael. “I had you once upon a time.”

     “Excuse me?”

     “Bad news,” said Alejandra as she entered the shack. “Streets are emptying. Better keep your voices down.”

     “Don’t you remember?” said Rafael. “No, of course you don’t. You got your memory wiped. But, I’m pretty sure that the first, second and third times you got erased it wasn’t because of the foul language.”

     “What the hell are you – Are you making that up on the spot? Are you re-writing my history for me?”

     “I speak of what truly was,” said Rafael, “And what you were. Yet WHO you were was far more important to you, and ultimately to me. I don’t know which of us spoke the words, but in the next moment the great wind swept you away. I never asked how you returned. I may never know. I couldn’t call you back into being no matter how hard I tried. But perhaps Luis is an easier subject. Hm, what do I remember. Fishing pole, wavy hair, yelled at me for opening the window at any time of day…OK I’m getting something. Luis Alvarez, sailing partner, fishing fanatic, bedmate and confidante. I declare he will walk in through the door.”

     And there was Luis Alvarez the fisherman, with his fishing pole.

     “Sorry,” he said, “I’m being held captive.” And then he vanished.

     Rafael had been lunging forward to wrap his arms around Luis. When Luis had vanished, Rafael’s arms closed on nothing, and he thudded to the ground.

     And then a man in a green uniform stomped through the door.

     “There’s a huge granite block over your head,” said Maggie.

     Suddenly there was a huge granite block where the man in the green uniform had been standing.

     “Harsh,” said Rafael. “Also foolish. This place doesn’t have a back door.”

     “It’s a damn shack,” said Alejandra. “If you can’t find a door, make one.”

     It was not rare for a resident of the shack city to see an exterior wall fall to the earth. The reason people paid this wall heed is because three figures stepped out of the shack, none of them being the man in the green uniform, none of them worse for wear.

     “I didn’t hear a shot before he came in,” said Rafael. “Maybe we got rid of him in time, unless he used a knife on someone. Oh, hello.” He waved a hand at a familiar mousy waif. “No need for last rites, mother Marquez. You don’t have to play Angel of Death this time.”

“Indeed not,” said Mother Marquez, neé Mademoiselle Le Chifre. “I understand that the man under the stone is, shall we say, stone dead. Far too late for the final anointing. But I can at least say a prayer.”

“Yeah,” said Rafael, “but, I mean. Come on. You know who he is. Was.”

“Does that matter? Who would I be if I refused to intercede on behalf of a man’s soul? Is that not the primary function of a priest?”

“Mother Marquez…”

“I am conducting a Mass at 4 PM,” said Mother Marquez nee Mademoiselle Le Chifre, “In the usual place. I will include a prayer on behalf of Luis Alvarez.”

“Is ritual the most you can do around here?”

“It is what the people of this city need. Now, if you will excuse me, my super-hearing detects someone in need of anointing.” She bustled off.

El Bosque De Fideles is a park, formerly a wild forest, in the northern part of la ciudád proper where it meets the Shack City. In days of old, about 40 years ago, it was the place where a group of nuns stood up to Trujillo’s police and tried to prevent them from breaking up the festival of Maria De La Bosque. For this, the nuns were shot down in broad daylight. The resulting uproar across la ciudád made it very clear why Trujillo had preferred to disappear people quietly, and after the fires had all been put out, Trujillo himself had disappeared with most of the remaining treasury of la ciudád. Had Madame d’Uberville and her husband not previously robbed the central bank for themselves la ciudád would have been left with no money to pay its debts. Madame and her husband neglected to mention how much they had robbed, and no one thought to ask them, or perhaps they cared not to, so there was well enough left over for Madame to purchase another yacht.

The park was renamed “Bosque De Fideles” in memory of the slain, and the spot where they fell is now a shrine, close by the chapel of Maria Del Bosque. The place where stood the former police branch office is now a bar-slash-restaurant, one of those places where you order a meal with your drink instead of a drink with your meal, and you get food as many times as you order drinks. The place changes owners all too frequently, though the name remains ever the same. Too many ghosts in those walls, say the patrons. Too many ghosts in el Bosque.   

These days, the place is run by a manager who seems to be working a little too hard to paper over the ghostly reputation. The lights are bright, the music is loud, the walls are splashed in all colors, and las botanas are hot.

The table, where sat three miscreants and one priestess, contained a fair number of bottles and a few plates of tamales. Maggie had declared herself less than hungry, and pushed her plate over to the priestess.

“I had hoped to see you all at the Mass,” said the priestess.

“You were doing it the old-fashioned way where you face the altar,” said Alejandra. “You wouldn’t have seen us anyway.”

“Just so we’re clear,” said Rafael sitting across from her, “you’re not officially ordained as a priest.”

“No,” said the young woman, “I have never even bothered to ask.”

Maggie reached over to the young woman of many names sitting beside her, and took un tamale off her plate. “How comes it then,” she said, “that you feel you are able to administer any rites? Surely none of them would work to reach the ear of God unless you had undergone the sacrament of ordination?”

“I perform the rites,” said the young woman, “and pray that God will hear me.”

“Surely it would be more effective,” said Alejandra, sitting next to Rafael, “if an official priest were there to perform them?”

“Rafael,” said the young woman. “When was the last time you saw a priest enter Hijo de Dios?

“Uh…”

“The priests of this city are cowards,” said the young woman. “They will not venture into la favela. They will administer rites if someone wants to come to them, but for the sick and the dying who cannot get that far? That’s why I go to them.”

“A spiritual service,” said Rafael. “Tell me, Mother Marquez. My friends tell me that you also go by Mademoiselle Le Chifre, in your cover identity — ”

“It’s my pay-the-bills identity,” said Mother Marquez. “I was able to get a decent-paying maid job in the high-toting section of town by posing as someone French enough to qualify. I told them I was from Algeria. If you blow my cover I will cast you out of the Church Militant even if I can’t necessarily throw you out of the Church Triumphant.”

“Alright, alright,” said Rafael. He put up his hands in mock surrender.

“But you may call me Maria de la Nuu Savi, or Maria for short.”

Maggie stole another chip from Maria’s plate. “And tell me, Maria de la Nuu Savi. Why did you ask us to come here?”

“I wanted to get to know you better,” said Maria, “considering your rude entrance and fascinating ability.”

“You must have been listening in on our conversation,” said Alejandra. “Did you have your ear pressed against the wall? Surely you know that the best way for a servant to eavesdrop is to linger while pouring the tea, and let the people being served prattle on while ignoring your existence.”

“Monsieur Petain was able to do that for me,” said Maria.

“Why couldn’t you stay and do it yourself?” said Maggie.

“And have a servant accept such blithe familiarity from one of her betters? Madame D’Uberville would have had Monsieur Petain give me A Talk later, or perhaps even dismissed me from her house. It pays to keep up appearances. But enough about me.” She turned to Maggie just as Maggie was stealing a third tamale, and held her gaze. “My dear Maggie Noyr, you appear to possess an extremely dangerous ability. What prevents you from smothering the entire world in pink glop?”

“I don’t want to?” said Maggie. “I like the world.”

“But what about doing it to select people you don’t like?”

“Excuse me. Are you playing Devil’s Advocate?”

“Oh no, that’s only for arguing about someone’s sainthood.” She pushed the plate over to Maggie. “And yet…for you to be able to rewrite reality with a word, and yet hold yourself back from conquering the entire city? Maybe you are a saint. Certainly enough miracles have occurred in your presence.”

“The lady who chooses to be a priest and minister to the dying in a forsaken favela is calling ME a saint,” said Maggie. “How about that.”

“Perhaps we have two saints at the table,” said Alejandra, “and Rafael and I are truly blessed. Ah, but perhaps I should not swell your heads.”

Maggie held her hands in a position of prayer, tilted her head slightly to the side, and rolled her eyes upwards towards heaven. “Is it working?” she said. “Is there a light shining behind my head?”

“By sheer coincidence,” said Rafael, “From my angle your head is blocking an incandescent bulb.”

Maggie and Alejandra both doubled over in laughter. Maria elbowed Maggie and said, “Don’t make fun of my faith.” But she said it with a smile.

“Okay,” said Maggie, after she could breathe normally again. “Serious face.” She waved a hand over her face and adopted a neutral expression. Alejandra mirrored her. “I don’t want to drown anyone in pink Glop, Maria. Nor blow them to bits, nor erase them, nor…good God, I squashed a man flat today.”

“Ah,” said Maria, “I was going to ask about that. Why not go for the pink glop if you would go for the granite block?”

“It was the heat of the moment!” said Maria. “One might call it reasonable self-defense. I’ll ask you for the sacrament of confession later.”

“You are conflicted,” said Maria. “Absolution would do you good. In the meantime, let’s take a different tack. Why on earth do you even have this ability, to call things into being and to erase them at a whim, to order the world as you please?”

“Luis called me a dictator,” said Maggie, “and in some ways I am. For dictators likewise can order things into being and erase people at a whim, no? Yet if I try to step too far outside the bounds of reality, things tend to snap back. It’s as if the author can’t stand to make things too weird all at once.”

“Wait,” said Maria, “What author?”

“Maggie thinks she’s a fictional character,” said Alejandra. “She told me she was born this morning, and that everything before that point was a literary device.”

“But I have known you from old,” said Rafael, “and I have seen you erased three times. How could both of these things be true?”

“The past is past,” said Maggie.

Maria looked at Maggie like she was a lost puppy. “A fictional character? That sounds like a horror if you look into it. To have only as much depth as an author ascribes to you, to move only as an author lets you move? The very concept is — ”

“Much like St. Augustine’s concept of God,” said Maggie, “who exists at all times and all points within the universe, and outside of it, and knows all the past and all the future of the world, and knows just what we will do.”

“I’m not sure if that’s a comfort,” said Maria. “So how do you get to mess around with God’s creation and I don’t?”

“You would have to believe you were fictional,” said Maggie. “It would, in effect, be a great sacrifice, perhaps close to the ultimate sacrifice, to entirely entrust your depth of character and your every move in the hands of God almighty, just for the chance to alter his creation the easy way. If you are not willing to make that sacrifice, then you would have to affect God’s creation the hard way.”

“Are you saying you made that choice?” said Maria.

“It may have been made for me. Why was I erased the first time? I shall have to ask las Tias de Ojos. Then again, I shall have to ask them anyway, because who else could be holding Luis captive in a state between existence and non-existence? Who else appears to have the power to create and delete in an instant?” Maggie looked at Rafael. “Rafael, were you once un Tio de Ojos? Is that a thing? Why can YOU affect reality the same way I can?”

“Some things are hard to explain,” said Rafael. “Um. Why does this beer taste funny?”

“I removed the alcohol,” said Maggie. “I do not approve of strong drink.”

“Why you — you turned my wine into water! You’re the anti-Christ!”

Maggie folded her hands in prayer, tilted her head to the side, and raised her eyes to the heavens.

Next Chapter

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