Eyeballs Deep in Scarlet Emerald


Fantasma Del Diablo

She came straight out of the burning train, walking toward me. 

I use the rangefinder on my Olympus to close the distance; not a scratch on her. What-the-hell.

I put down the camera and the distance distortion catches me by surprise. She’s way closer than I thought. Smooth steps crunch the gravel, but I feel the intent in those rolling hips. Definitely something about her.

“You must be the one.”

What a voice. A pretty smile beams out from under dark locks and aviator sunglasses.

“Huh? The one what? What the hell happened over there?”

She leans on my window like she’s ordering a malt shake. Despite my caution and the strangeness of it all, I’m open for business.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you, handsome. Smoke?”

The mystery woman shakes two Lucky Strikes loose from a soft pack. My hand hesitates but then takes one after pressing the truck lighter by reflex. I quit eight months ago. Dammit.

“Shouldn’t even be smoking these.”

The lighter pops out and she laughs, leaning toward me to puff hers alight. Her scent fights tooth and nail through the cloying tobacco smoke.

“You know what Bukowski says about that, handsome?”

“No, what?”

“Find what you love and let it kill you.”

“Wow, that’s a little fatalistic.”

She shrugs. “There are days when I understand it.”

“Is today one of those days?”

She smiles. “Are you saying you love me already?”

I smile back. “If I do, does that mean you’re gonna kill me?”

We share a laugh as she peers over her sunglasses.

“What’s your name?”

“Rick Springfield.”

We shake hands.

“Well, Rick, I’m Barbara Kicking Bird Orencia.”

Wow. Yep, figures. We keep on smiling and share an electric stare. I realize I’m still holding her hand and let it go. I know I’m going to regret this, but…

“I’m gonna ask if you need a ride now, okay?”

She opens the door and slides in. Great legs, beautiful skin. The wonderful scent of a woman fills the cab. I try not to stare.

“Thank you, honestly. You know I had a dream about this, about finding three things today.”

Here we go. My brain is flashing red alert, but my heart tunes it out. I take a drag off the Lucky Strike and fiddle with my Seabee ring, but then I start the truck and justify her words.

“You look American Indian. That’s a shamanic thing, right? Your religion and all?”

“Well, sort of, but I’m Catholic. My mom’s Mexican, so yeah. I just have these dreams and they guide me.”

“So what are they?”

“Huh? Oh, the three things. Now don’t laugh. Sometimes they seem weird or crazy until they happen.”

“Okay, I’ve gone along with this so far. Lay it on me.”

Barbara drags deep on her cigarette. She’s squirming, quite different from the cocksure mystery woman I met moments ago. My brow is knit and my jaw is clenched. She clenches her jaw too and breaths out.

“Screw it, here goes. The first is you, Rick. We’re going to fall in love and be together for a very long time.”

“Whoa. I think I like the sound of that one.”

I drive the truck through a scenic road I know leads to town.

“You do, because it’s true. The next thing’s going to sound weird out loud, so bear with me, okay?”

She tenses up again until I poke her in the side, smiling.

“The next one’s a singing rabbit!”

She actually lets out a sigh, takes off her sunglasses, and wipes her forehead. I laugh, perplexed but amused.

“Is that going to be at the state fair or something? Ow!”

Good punching arm.

“It’s not funny, okay? My grandfather raised me as a midewikwe, a ‘medicine woman,’ and in Ojibwe legends, the Great Rabbit sings to teach Otter to perform cures and miracles to help the Anishinaabeg people. I don’t know how it works, I just follow my instinct, and it leads me places - this time to you! We’re going to help save someone’s life, you jerk.”

“Hey, I didn’t mean to ... wait, save someone’s life? Whose?”

“A young girl. Her name’s Lucy. But not for a while. It has to do with the third thing.”

Barbara crosses her arms and stiffens, staring out the window.

“Okay, listen, I’m sorry. Man oh man, what a day. Alright, in for a pinch, in for a pound. Go ahead. Tell me now while we’re running hot. What’s the third thing?”

Beautiful hazel eyes lock onto mine. My hand finds hers without thinking.

“We’re looking for a book.”

“That doesn’t sound so bad.”

“No, not just a book, Rick. A … a grimoire.”

“Wait, like a spellbook?”

Barb looks surprised that I know what that is. I played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons in the Navy.

“Sort of. It’s a mish-mash of stories and folklore, secret routes across the border, maps to sacred places, plant lore - stuff like that. There are spells in it, some good, and some bad. I’ve never seen it in person, but I know what it looks like.”

I was alarmed, but intrigued – maybe too much for my own good. “If you’ve never seen it, how do you even know about it?”

“This girl Araceli showed me a Polaroid in Juarez. She called it the Texas Book of the Dead.”

“Oh-Kay, THAT definitely sounds bad.”

I’m a lot less intrigued now, but she’s got her hooks in me deep.

“I have to tell you something else up front, Rick. We’ve got some heavy competition for the book. He’s a murderer, a smuggler, and a human trafficker. They even say he’s a brujo who steals people’s identities and their souls.”

“What the…. Listen, I’ve been around some. I’ve seen things I can’t fully explain, but you’re not serious about this, right? I mean, you don’t honestly believe that, do you?”

My brain says get rid of her in town. My heart and body veto it.

“Look, I know it sounds completely crazy, but even if it is a spook story, Rick, he takes people. No one knows his real name. The cops here don’t even believe he’s a real person, but I’ve seen him, in an underground club in Juarez, seen the evil he does. That girl Araceli? Well she’s dead now because of him, probably because she showed me the photo. I’m going to make sure she didn’t die for nothing. On the street they call the brujo Fantasma del Diablo."

 “He’s called the Devil’s Ghost? That doesn’t sound good either.”

I think about the Navy Colt 1911 stashed under my dashboard.

“You speak Spanish?”

“Yeah, picked it up in the Philippines. So where are we headed anyway?”

“Where it all begins: Texarkana.”

I shake my head and chuckle. Guess it was good that I was packed for the next gig already.

“So I should step on it, right? We haven’t a moment to lose?”

We share another smile.

“Well, we’re on a timetable, but Lucy won’t disappear for quite a while, so no need to break the speed limit, trust me.”

She sounds complicit, like she hasn’t let me in on a private joke. She’s honestly the weirdest person I’ve ever met, but I just can’t take my eyes off her.

“You look like the cat that just ate the canary. What aren’t you telling me now?”

Barbara starts squirming again and lights another cigarette. I poke her again.

“Okay! We’ll help Lucy’s dad to find her by leaving the book at a sacred place called the Sun Dagger, but he won’t find it for quite a while.”

 She’s holding out, so I poke her again.

“Hey! Okay, we’re going to bury it at the Sun Dagger, and he digs it up in March!”

“March? That’s now! It’s the 22nd already.”

“No…. Thirteen years from now. March, 1994.”

I hit the brakes and really start to freak out. Before I yell five words, Barbara grabs my face and kisses me. When we finally part lips and stare into each other’s eyes, I can’t even remember what the hell I was saying.

“Ah, what the hell. Texarkana here we come.”

I put the truck in drive and she says something that sounds like, ‘Gee zah geen.’ Storm clouds are brewing the way we’re headed.

I smile ahead and say, “You know, we never did come across that singing rabbit.”

“It doesn’t always happen that way, Rick. Maybe we’ll see it on the road.”

She flips on the radio and lights a pair of cigarettes. Just then, the deejay announces the number one song in the country, and Eddie Rabbit’s “I Love a Rainy Night” drifts out of the speakers.

We both start laughing as the raindrops begin to fall.